2001 State of the East County Address


"Together We Stand Strong"

May 24, 2001

I've had the pleasure of representing the East County on the Board of Supervisors for eight years. In those eight years I have never experienced a more eventful time than the first four months of 2001.

The East County has stared down disaster on top of tragedy on top of crisis. The Viejas Fire and two schools shootings have tested our schools, our emergency agencies, our families and the character of our entire community.

This year I am aware of just how remarkable a place our East County really is. When life throws us curves, we respond with ability, dignity and unity.

When a 10-thousand acre brush fire swept across the beautiful hills near Alpine, we gathered at the Alpine Community Center, took stock of what our neighbors needed, supported our firefighters and supported each other.

While firefighters, many of them volunteers, surrounded homes and fought back flames, we made lists of names to help unite neighbors with missing neighbors. We kept track of lost pets and missing livestock.

Residents volunteered their homes for overnight shelter. Donations poured in from East County businesses. Local markets created separate aisles for tired and thirsty firefighters. In gratitude, the clerks would not accept money from those working to protect the community. Restaurants sent hundreds of meals. Stores sent clothes. Truckload after truckload of water and supplies arrived at the community center. I was truly moved. The East County tribal nations of Barona, Sycuan and Viejas made generous monetary gifts. East County children gave up their allowances to help fire victims recover from the drama. A Brownie troupe in Santee collected money in a jelly jar.

Believe me, I am determined to see that all monetary donations, collected to benefit fire victims go to help those fire victims!

It was simply overwhelming how quickly and seamlessly members of our community took care of each other. Everyone was pitching in to help Alpine recover.

I learned an important lesson during the Viejas fire. It was this: In the grimmest of times we are presented with opportunity; the opportunity to stand together, the opportunity to survive a crisis and the opportunity to be stronger because of it.

TOGETHER WE STAND STRONGER.

This idea was tested again when shots rang out on two of our high school campuses.

As a former teacher and past president of the California School Board Association, the events that unfolded at Santana and Granite Hills rattled me like none other.

We kept hearing the same words on our radios and televisions. Senseless. Unthinkable. Tragedy. All words that fail to describe our anguish. The true test of our community was our reaction to the shootings.

In the seconds and minutes following both shootings, the law enforcement response was flawless. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department, the El Cajon Police Department, the responding firefighter/paramedic agencies, the District Attorney's office... all are heroes. Grossmont Union High School District officials worked tirelessly and quickly to restore normalcy to Santana and Granite Hills.

Granger Ward and his staff of teachers and administrators knew that each school was, in a sense, its own small community. District officials had the foresight and diligence to bring the students back to campus, shielding them from the media, giving them the time and the protection to grieve and heal together.

We had two mayors who remained positive in the wake of the shootings. Randy Voepel and Mark Lewis served as calm voices of reason. They took care of hundreds of small details. They were consummate community leaders.

The East County business community allowed the moms and dads of Santana and Granite Hills students to miss work to care for their families. No questions asked. Some businesses even launched trust funds for the schools.

The County dispatched crisis counselors in record time to help students and their families cope with the situation.

The faith-based community gave of their time and facilities for gatherings and debriefing sessions. Community organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of East County provided a place for students to be together.

The students themselves were remarkable. They put on brave faces. They put on their school colors. They cheered and they vowed to keep up the spirit of their high schools.

And the community keeps talking. The dialogue continues. The school district, law enforcement and the County meet regularly to find ways to stop violence on campus.

School resource officers have been put in place at every campus throughout this school year and the move is on to fund additional officers for next year.

I want every teacher to have the phone number of the County's invaluable Community Assessment Teams. CAT teams respond to reports of troubled kids by making house-calls to link families with social services.

Whether it's a parent's drug addiction, or a mental health problem or the trials of divorce, CAT teams help families deal with problems together.... before kids get arrested.

After the shootings, the entire nation has grown to know about our deep community spirit.

TOGETHER WE STAND STRONGER.

And now we are facing yet another curve ball? The state's on-going electricity deregulation nightmare.

The County is standing firm.

The price tag of the power mess is potentially devastating to businesses and the County. $40 million of your tax dollars, which should be going toward parks, libraries, ball fields and County services, will be sucked down the state's power drain from our County budget.

Some people say the electricity crisis is hard to understand because it's so complex. But here are some facts that are easy to understand:

  • More power is off-line for mysterious "unscheduled maintenance" than has ever been off-line in the history of our state.
  • Our state used 5 percent more power this year than it did last year. Yet...one-third of our total power is somehow "not available."
  • The price of power has gone from three cents per kilowatt hour to an average of 26 cents per kilowatt hour in less than one year. At times, it's shot up to one dollar per kilowatt hour.

I ask you... is it a mere coincidence that the companies who are supposed to be generating power are rolling in record profits of 300, 400 and in one case 900 percent?

The Enron corporation has moved to number seven on the Fortune 500 list of America's most profitable companies. Duke moved to number 17 from 69. Reliant jumped 59 places to number 55. And Dynergy shot up to 54 from 112.

These are all unregulated wholesale generators. The same generators whose facilities conveniently go dark for unscheduled maintenance. This is unacceptable!

At all levels the County is working to take a bite out of the power crunch.

Wholesale Price Caps

Three times I've testified before Federal Energy Regulators demanding that they temporarily cap the price of wholesale power for the entire Western Region until a functional market exists.

Regional Emergency Stages

At the state level, we're working to change the way the state declares power emergency stages.

Did you know that just because we're in a Stage 3 doesn't mean the San Diego region is running low on power? That's because the agency that runs our state's power grid, the Independent System Operator, declares emergencies on a statewide basis.

The ISO says San Diego must share the burden of shortages in the North. I say that's wrong. If there is surplus power in San Diego, we should not be forced into an emergency or a blackout.

Voluntary Demand Reduction/Emergency Generation

Here at home, the County is looking out for our own region. We're on a mission to locate and permit every last back-up power generator we can find. We've even found a way to convert the methane gas given off by the Jamacha Landfill into electricity. We're just days away from putting a turbine on the site.

To date, more than 300 megawatts of back up generation has been identified and permitted. We're now urging SDG&E to immediately enter into agreements with owners to prevent blackouts this summer.

The County is working with businesses in our region to launch what's called a voluntary demand reduction program.

Here's how it would work: There are two times a day when power use spikes. These are the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. I am hoping that businesses and the County can find creative ways to "level out" those spikes on the grid.

We are talking about staggering production schedules and shifting work hours. By doing so we may minimize the threat of rolling blackouts.

TOGETHER WE STAND STRONGER

Support for Independence

Finally, the County has vowed to keep fighting for the right to create a Municipal Utility District. This will allow us to buy, sell and generate our own power. This will keep us from getting strangled in the state's electricity vice.

I'm going to sound like a politician for just a second while I issue this warning, but I want you to know this: There are special-interest forces who care more about profits than protecting your fundamental right to flip on a light switch in your home. This week, Sempra Energy, which is the parent company of San Diego Gas and Electric, along with the powerful labor lobby stopped our state legislation which would allow us to explore the formation of an MUD.

Why? Sempra doesn't want competition. If they can keep supply low and the price high and eliminate competition, they can keep raking in their obscene profits.

When I say obscene I mean obscene.

Sempra made record profits last year. Sempra's profits in just the first quarter of this year alone totaled $178 million. That's 65 million more than last year. This is a company whose CEO makes 7 million dollars a year. This is a company that holds its shareholder meetings in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Isn't this ironic:The day before the County's MUD bill was heard in committee in Sacramento, a paid political advertisement appeared in the Union-Tribune demanding that the County of San Diego cough up $15 million dollars to buy back-up power generators which would operate during rolling blackouts.

I believe, as do the other Supervisors, that the advertisement was nothing more than a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that Sempra, SDG&E and organized labor were working to kill our bill in Sacramento; a bill that would have freed us from the gouging of greedy generators like Sempra.

And know this: I refuse to spend $15 million dollars of your money on a plan that's not guaranteed to stop blackouts, when we have enough existing back up generation to compensate for our region's shortfall, and when Sempra Energy has more money than it knows what to do with.

$15 million is chump change to them!

Is the electricity crisis worth the fight? When I consider the exciting economic projects in the works for East County right now, the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" This is a fight worth fighting.

I want the East County to benefit from promising fields like biotechnology, software development, wireless and internet communications. I am convinced that East County is the perfect location for the nation's top minds to develop new technologies.

There are 100 acres in Santee's Town Center which represent a cutting-edge future for us. Working with the City of Santee, this summer, the Board of Supervisors will look at bids to transform those 100 acres into a new high-tech campus. Our East County is on the forefront of emerging business right now. I want us to stay that way in the future.

TOGETHER WE STAND STRONGER.

There are wonderful plans to expand the existing Space and Defense Technology Consortium with the exciting new SPIN project. This 4.5 million dollar Satellite Planning Information Network could mean up to 4-thousand high-tech, high-paying jobs for East County. Special thanks to the East County Economic Development Council for making this a reality.

Lastly, I want to look at the big picture for a minute. Let's think about the outstanding students we are honoring tonight. As we make plans to keep pace with the future, we must make sure our sons and daughters are prepared to embrace it.

The Grossmont High School District and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District have made it possible for these students to develop vital trade and technical skills that are so very crucial to the East County economy. More students should have the opportunity.

If you believe that vocational classes are somehow secondary to math or science, I want you to think of our state's electricity crisis.

Without power, there's no machinery. No saw, no product. No product, no business. No business, no future.

We cannot underestimate the value of fields like drafting, mechanics, automotive technology, woodworking, plumbing, working with electricity. They are the jobs that make up the backbone of our community.

We are dooming our own future if we don't encourage our young people to enrich their lives through vocational classes.

Let's say you need a plumber. You need an electrician. Your car needs repair. What if no one was there with the skill to do the job?

You'd be stranded with leaking pipes in the dark.

And now I want to issue a challenge: To the teachers that give of themselves in vocational classes and are often frustrated at how disproportionate the funding is compared with academic classes, write down a wish list.

Write down the things you need to teach young people about your trade. Hammers. Saws. Irons. Tools. Aprons. Safety masks. Write it all down. Send it to me.

To the businesses in the East County who've proven you can help your community even in the face of fire and violence. I want you to let me know if you are willing to answer those wish lists.

If your business has extra tools, call me. If you have old equipment, if your business can make a donation to make sure that East County schools get kids interested in the line of work that is the heart of your business, call me. If you have time to train students, call me.

To school administrators: Open the door to more vocational education classes in our schools and instill the value of these essential professions in our students.

A year from now, I'd love to report that our East County community pulled together once again and was able to enhance our vocational classes with the support they truly deserve.

Our future depends on it. This is called team work.

To anyone who thinks that "community" is an old-fashioned word...

To anyone who thinks that the days of circling the wagons to tackle community problems are over...

Having witnessed what I witnessed in the East County this year...

We're a place where people look you in the eye and ask you how you're doing.

We are a place that cares where our young people are and what they're up to.

We are San Diego's East County and together we stand stronger than ever before.