Training facility gets OK by judge
Union Tribune (2008-06-05) Tanya Mannes
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Sanders to obey Blackwater ruling
By Tanya Mannes
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
June 5, 2008
OTAY MESA – A federal judge ruled yesterday that Blackwater Worldwide can open its Navy training center in Otay Mesa, despite San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders' attempt to first require public hearings on the controversial project.
Blackwater Vice President Brian Bonfiglio said the company will begin holding training sessions there today. The company had hoped to open the center as early as Monday.
“We all really felt that since we followed the rules from the very beginning, this was what would be decided,” Bonfiglio said.
Sanders said he will obey the ruling. “I relied on the city attorney's advice, and we lost,” he said.
The military training contractor has leased a 61,600-square-foot warehouse in a business park three blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border near Brown Field. It has installed a shooting range, a simulated Navy ship and classrooms for counter-terrorism training.
The plans have sparked protests; opponents cited a lack of public notice and said Blackwater's permit applications were made not by Blackwater but under the names of affiliated companies.
On May 19, Sanders said Blackwater's project needed approval by the City Council and Planning Commission. The city had issued some permits for the project, but Sanders cited a legal opinion by City Attorney Michael Aguirre
in requiring the additional public review.
Aguirre's opinion was that the City Council must approve the use of firearms and that the Planning Commission must determine whether Blackwater's facility is a vocational school, as its application stated.
Blackwater then sought a temporary restraining order against the city of San Diego, saying it was entitled to open with its existing permits. The company said its due process rights had been violated and that failure to open on time would jeopardize its contract with the Navy.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff granted the motion, saying in the ruling that there is “a strong likelihood of success on the merits of that claim.”
Yesterday, Aguirre's office issued a statement criticizing Huff's ruling, saying it sets a dangerous precedent for federal intervention in local land-use decisions. Aguirre is considering a legal challenge.
The next court hearing on Blackwater's lawsuit will be June 17.
Raymond Lutz, an anti-Blackwater activist who successfully ran in Tuesday's Democratic primary for the 77th Assembly District, said he is disappointed but not surprised by the ruling. Lutz said he will continue to challenge Blackwater's permits.
In March, Blackwater abandoned a proposal for an 824-acre center in Potrero in East County, citing tests showing that gunfire would exceed local noise standards. Some of the activists who opposed the Potrero plan now are involved in blocking the Otay Mesa proposal.
Staff writers Ray Huard and Matthew T. Hall contributed to this report.