Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday - Quicks Hits

So much for the 760. County to get new area code. UT NCTimes

La Mesa city council votes to bury the report on Mayor Art Madrid's drunk driving incident. UT

Effects of world food crisis having an impact among the poor here in San Diego. UT

Water Authority grants approval to increase the size of the San Vicente reservoir. UT

Tri-city looks to reduce the size of bond measure to make it more palatable for voters. UT

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rally to Block Blackwater Friday Morning

Full disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

When nobody was paying attention, Blackwater found another way into San Diego. After watching every friendly politician in Potrero get recalled handily in February, Blackwater West quietly started pursuing permits to open a facility in the City of San Diego just three blocks from the U.S/Mexico border. 61,600 square feet, zoned for a vocational school but which Blackwater plans to use for training Navy personnel in terrorism response. To echo recent comments by Councilmember Ben Hueso to local news, Blackwater has no business in the City of San Diego unless and until someone can say definitively what laws they are bound by. And certainly, setting up shop *on* the border raises all sorts of extra red flags.

The local response has been fast and furious this week. And thanks to leadership from Congressman Bob Filner, there will be a rally at the proposed site of the new Blackwater facility tomorrow (Friday) morning. Rep. Filner will be joined by Councilmember Ben Hueso, San Diego City Council President Scott Peters, Carol Jahnkow of the Peace Resource Center, Raymond Lutz of Citizens' Oversight Projects, and Sierra Club's Jeanette Hartman at 10:45am at 7685 Siempre Viva Road in Otay Mesa in opposition to Blackwater's latest shady dealings. Blackwater discovered once that San Diego isn't friendly territory. They're sticking around for a reason, and best guess is, it's not just for a Navy subcontract.

Among other organizations, the Courage Campaign is encouraging all local San Diegans to attend if they're able. If you want to read the email from Rick Jacobs, you can check it out here.

Eff It

The Jerry Sanders F-bomb saga made it all the way to the Sacramento Bee and I'm not convinced it's done spreading. So it's probably worth noting that Jerry Sanders has a pretty good point: so far this race ain't about the issues. The blame doesn't lie anywhere in particular, since for every fluff media story you can find a substantive one that everyone ignored and you can probably find a fluffy press release from the Mayor's office. For every substance-less maneuver by Steve Francis, you can find a substantive issue that Mayor Sanders would presumably rather not discuss (crumbling infrastructure, reductions in city services, catastrophic fire, Sunroad, Sunrise, City Charter, etc.).

If Sanders is frustrated by a perceived political superficiality in San Diego, I'm happy to welcome him to the party. But I'd also note that he's waking up in a bed he helped make. The Sanders years have done little to assuage the sense of distrust held validly by many in this city. His development plans have disrupted the development of neighborhoods, his backroom dealings and cronyism have fanned the flames of cynicism, and his transparent attempts to consolidate power undermine his credibility as a noble or honest broker.

He may be frustrated by the recent superficiality, petty behavior and lack of engagement around town, but if he's going to start throwing around the blame, he should remember to check the mirror too.

Thursday - Quick Hits

Total defeat to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, as Chula Vista Coucil member Steve Castaneda is acquitted on 6 of 10 perjury charges, with the other 4 declared a mistrial. UT

Mayor Sanders appointment of former State Senator Steve Peace to the Airport Regional Policy Committee cause SANDAG chairwomen Mary Sessom to walk out in protest. UT

La Mesa police officers didn't violate department rules in the Art Madrid case back in February according to a consultant. UT

City Attorney Mike Aguirre will not sign off on city's $103 million bond sale. UT

City of Escondido, decides to pay developer additional $2 million for a Marriott hotel in downtown Escondido. UT

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What Vocation is Blackwater Peddling?

Full disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

Cross posted at the Courage Campaign blog

The Union-Tribune's Anne Krueger is back with a command performance from the stenography pool today, delivering the latest "news" on Blackwater's Otay Mesa facility. Yet even she couldn't avoid the awkward break in logic that the various pieces of today's puzzle delivered:

“As long as it was an educational facility, if they're training future police or security guards, that would be considered a vocational trade,” Broughton said.

Bonfiglio said Blackwater has had a contract to train Navy personnel since 2002 through a subcontractor, American Shooting Center in Kearny Mesa. The training will be transferred to the Otay Mesa site once Navy inspectors give their approval to the new facility, he said.

Bonfiglio said Blackwater hasn't determined whether American Shooting Center would assist with training in Otay Mesa.

“We want to improve on the curriculum. We want to improve on the teaching,” Bonfiglio said. “We want to improve on the facilities.”

Bonfiglio said other agencies may use the facilities occasionally if it doesn't interfere with the Navy's training. He emphasized that no independent contractors working for Blackwater would be trained there.

addition: Brian Bonfiglio explicitly states that this facility will provide military, not civilian training in the article: "Already in place was a ship simulator – a miniature version of a Navy ship – that Bonfiglio said will be used to train sailors for crisis situations at sea...Although the facility has a shooting range, it will emphasize training Navy personnel to be better prepared for terrorist attacks, Bonfiglio said."

So as long as they're training future police or security guards it's vocational. But they're training Navy personnel to perform Navy duties. American Shooting Center (if you want to visit their website by the way, it's *ahem*), for its own part, is not new to shady training facilities. Last year, ASC tried to open a training facility near Cleveland National Forest without permits and was shut down by the Board of Supervisors. At the time, owner Marc Halcon complained about getting lumped in with Blackwater and

Halcon said he has had a subcontract with Blackwater since 2002 to train military personnel at his Kearny Mesa shooting center, though he said none of that training took place at Covert Canyon. He would not say how much he is being paid for the contract, which is due to end in September.

So Halcon's subcontract with Blackwater was due to end September of last year. And the contract was, even then, "to train military personnel at his Kearny Mesa shooting center." And now Blackwater is saying its new facility is for training those people. Did the contract get renewed/extended? If so, I guess it was changed to reflect a change of venue for the training, even though Blackwater had no facility lined up last fall. Going further, neither last year's article nor the new coverage suggests that the training of Navy personnel is to ease their transition into private-sector security jobs- quite the opposite. Given that Halcon was careful to note the differences between military, police and private training, it seems odd that it would consistently be referred to as training of military personnel unless it's exclusively is training of military personnel for military purposes. Which would not be a vocational or trade school. At all.

In this scenario, the only way around that rather major problem would be if Kelly Broughton's statement- "if they're training future police or security guards"- is given incredible latitude. I mean, Navy personnel may very well become police officers or security guards eventually. And those who do would likely utilize weapon and other combat training as part of their job. But that's a far leap from the notion that training military personnel to perform military tasks is the same as training them to be police or security professionals.

And while we're on the subject of what constitutes vocational training, Ray Lutz went ahead and checked the Yellow Pages, where Blackwater Worldwide is indeed listed under Industrial, Technical & Trade Schools (received via email). He also too the time to note the other businesses listed under the same heading:

A Academy of Bartending
California College For Health Sciences
Center for The Communications Arts
College of English Language
Contractor Schools Golden State
Contractors License Of California
Devry Univ. San Diego (career-oriented majors)
Foundation for Educational Achievement
ITT Tech
Language Studies International
Law School of National Univ.
Occupational Training Services
Pattie Wells Dancetime Center
Reliable Communications Incorporated
Schrader & Associates
Southwestern College
California College For Health Sciences
Seeds of Success Intl. Inc.
Comprehensive Training Systems
International Center for American English
Valley Career College
Advanced Training Associates
Wow Performance Coaching
Barrera Rick & Associates
Tomorrow's Communications Inc.
Vitality Inc
Palomar College
Healing Hands School of Holistic Health
Welsh Sales Group
Miracosta College
Spartan College Of Aeronautics & Technology
At Your Home Familycare Learning Academy
Beauty Boutique Colleges of Beauty
Dental Assisting Institute

Not so much shooting ranges or mercenary training. for jobs that actually contribute positively to society. One wonders how long it'll be before the U.S. government will finally break down and start classifying the nation's military as just an exceptionally well-funded jobs program. I'm kinda surprised the Bush administration hasn't seized on this as their version of the New Deal. Maybe it's cause nobody will sign up...

Wednesday - Quick Hits

They're back! After being rejected by the people in Potero, Blackwater now tries to setup an indoor training center in Otay Mesa. UT

National credit crisis hits San Diego County as they are forced to pay more interest on pension bonds. UT

Three PUC commissioners expected to attend next haring regarding controversial Sunrise Powerlink. UT

Oceanside councilman Rocky Chavez announces his intention to run for mayor. UT

National Gay rights organization withdrawals from schedule July event at Manchester Hyatt, because of Doug Manchester's financial support ban on same-sex marriage initiative. UT

Report on Art Madrid to be discussed tomorrow night before La Mesa city council. UT

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blackwater is Back and Badder Than Ever

Full disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

Cross posted at the Courage Campaign blog

Just when we thought we had won, Blackwater snuck in the back door and set up shop in San Diego with hardly anyone noticing. Citizen Oversight Projects started spreading the word today that Blackwater will be opening a 61,600 square foot training facility in Otay Mesa, just a block from the U.S./Mexico border. It's also about 4 miles from the Otay Mesa border crossing and about 6.5 miles from the San Ysidro border crossing. This is an indoor facility and obviously much smaller than the 824-acre project Blackwater had pursued in Potrero, but no less nefarious.

This comes at a time when national legislation to block Blackwater and other mercenaries is gaining steam. And perhaps this incident demonstrates that without a major shift at the federal level, we'll just be chasing Blackwater around in macabre version of whack-a-mole into eternity.

Ray Lutz, one of the key figures in the defeat of Blackwater in Potrero, visited the new site and reported back with pictures, impressions and particular points of concern. He notes 20 truck bays and its position not only near two major border crossings but also the Tijuana International Airport. And if there's any doubt about the facility being used to train more mercenaries (and pretty clearly in the art of desert AND border tactics), note the word from Kelly Broughton, director of the city of San Diego's development services department:

Broughton said the building was already permitted for use as a vocational trade school, and Blackwater's training activities would fall within that category.

Vocational trade school. That's what we're calling it. If ITT Tech and a career in medical transcription isn't for you, check out Blackwater West. However, I don't think I'd have the same concerns about a bunch of crazy dental-assistants-in-training being planted within four miles of five schools (including three elementary schools) as I do about mercenaries.

The new facility is within the City of San Diego proper, which means that city regulations- not just county regulations- are potentially at play. And that, of course, brings into the mix a number of political figures who might actually be moved on this issue. The site of the facility is in the 8th District represented by Councilmember Ben Hueso. The City Council President is Scott Peters who is termed out and in the middle of a contentious race for City Attorney. Councilmember Brian Maienschein is also termed out and running for City Attorney. Mayor Jerry Sanders has a heckuva battle brewing for re-election against Steve Francis [name corrected], a Republican dressing himself in progressive clothing to run from both directions. And that's before we (potentially) get Donna Frye agitated.

At this point though, the permit has already been applied for and granted (more than a month ago). Which means that opportunities for local recourse is likely limited unless and until something can be placed on the ballot. That is, what worked last time (wildly successful recall) is unlikely to be at play this time. What's particularly interesting about this process though is that Blackwater submitted its application for this Otay Mesa facility in February but didn't pull out of Potrero until March 9. So, at least in principle, it was after both spots at the same time. Or, more likely, it knew that the ship had sailed on Potrero weeks before actually pulling out, and dragged the process along in order to distract from its move on Otay Mesa.

The history of Blackwater and government-funded mercenaries doesn't need a full rehash here, we know the score. What we're getting here are better trained, federally funded Minutemen living in the shadow of the border fence and a couple minutes from the busiest land border crossing in the world. They're here to operate with impunity outside of the government doing the things this administration wishes it could be doing itself. And it won't stop unless and until we get the sort of systemic changes that can only come from the federal level. This battle of local citizens vs. the mercenaries funded by our own tax dollars isn't sustainable. Local action won in Potrero but here we are again. We'll mount up and take the fight to them again, but real change won't happen until this country dumps Blackwater and those like it once and for all.

Tuesday - Quick Hits

City Salary Setting Commission releases list of over 3000 city employees who make more than city council members. UT

Solana Beach mayor leads effort to change the auto allowance law. UT

PB church is allowed to continue its food-for-the-needy program without permit. UT

Two more city council members say they will stop using the auto allowance. UT

MiraCosta college trustees agree to faculty group pay structure. UT

City of Oceanside sued over concrete plant expansion. UT NCTimes

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reminder of Republican Campaigns: 7th City Council

Just a reminder at how predictable the Republican game plan has become. It will be as follows:

1) Bank as many absentees votes as possible

This has been the margin of victory for every close election and this race is no exception. Expect reliable GOP voters to be voting ASAP for April via mail

2) After the deadline for absentees has passed, go hyper negative
This depresses turnout across the board because it fits the narrative of “they’re all bad.” More to the point, it turns off Democrats who won’t bother showing up to vote because “they’re all bad.” Republicans don’t matter because they’ve already voted or, like cylons, will do as they’re told.

3) On election night, the Republicans have a massive absentee lead that shrinks but not enough to turn the election

This is the inevitable result. Barring significant shifts in the electorate, this has been the San Diego Story for years.

So there you have it. What this means is that, in the 7th, April will play nice until the absentee deadline has passed and then get to accusing Marti of being in league with Lucifer.

As the night follows the day, expect this from our brethren on the other side of the aisle. Let’s face it; they’re not known for innovation and are, by nature, conservative.

Beside, why mess with a winning formula?

Monday - Quick Hits

County planning on leasing three planes for firefighting. UT

Mayoral candidate Steve Francis is spending very generously on television ads. UT

All candidates for City Attorney agree on the role and functions for the office. UT

Thousands showed up to Balboa Park yesterday to celebrate Earth Day. UT

Day laborers are finding a harder time getting hired. NCTimes