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Eagle Rock Training Center Should be Shut Down

Citizens Oversight (2011-09-10) Raymond Lutz

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More Info: Blackwater, Eagle Rock Training Center, War Profiteering

A huge wildfire recently engulfed the backcountry, apparently started by a disgruntled ex-employee of the Eagle Rock Training Center and his friend. The pair admitted that they set fire to the guard shack where one had just recently worked. News of his admission was promulgated before the fire was finally contained and extinguished -- quite unlike other fires where it typically takes months or years of investigation to bring the responsible parties to justice. Most people feel the investigation is therefore over. They say the man is obviously responsible for the fire since he admitted to the deed. But who is ultimately responsible?

To put this in perspective, a bit of history is in order.

The Eagle Rock Training Center was set up by former Blackwater V.P. Brian Bonfiglio after he failed to convince the community that a similar training camp was a good idea for Potrero. In that project, the community recalled all the planning group members who voted for the project in an unprecedented effort, getting nearly 70% of the vote. It would have despoiled the Round Potrero Valley, an amazing natural asset just north of the tiny hamlet of Potrero.

Within months after scrapping that project, Bonfiglio opened an indoor training facility in an industrial building in Otay Mesa. In that interesting case, Blackwater used pseudonyms -- Raven Development, Saf Child Engineering, and Southwest Law Enforcement, and even changed their own name to "Xe" -- to avoid public scrutiny.

When the city got wind of the scope of the project, including the use of firearms in an area that was zoned for light industry, the city Development Services Dept. manager decided to change the approval requirements from ministerial to discretionary, thereby providing for review by the public. But instead of allowing the public to review their training facility, Blackwater decided to work around all public scrutiny and sued the City of San Diego in Federal court. The judge decided it was appropriate for the federal government to ignore all notion of local government decision making power, ruling that the federal government had the right to tell the city how to handle even the most rudimentary procedure -- processing a building permit -- and force the city to accept the project without any further review.

The hearing was astonishing, not because anyone was surprised that a multi-billion dollar company can get its way in court, but because of the sheer audacity of the judge. Michael Aguirre felt, along with many conservative activists who value local control, that the incursion of the federal government at this level of the permitting process was obviously out of line. He promised to appeal the ruling, but unfortunately was unseated by Jan Goldsmith, who promised to let Blackwater have their way, and did.

It's too bad that the community did not have a chance to discuss the Blackwater facility in Otay Mesa. It may have been thoroughly embraced. But to get the federal government to force this down the throat of San Diego was typical of the audacity of the folks running Blackwater.

Later, we learned that Blackwater has spun off a new company under the wing of Bonfiglio and formed a "blackwater-like" training camp in the Los Coyotes Reservation, without any public review outside the boundary of the reservation. As an activist who worked with the community of Potrero to block the Blackwater expansion in their community, I was contacted by members of the Los Coyotes reservation who expressed their opposition to the facility, but they were not able to stop the project within the ranks of their own tribe. Residents of Warner Springs did not have any opportunity to express their views, concerns and suggestions about the training camp. Bonfiglio refused to work with the community, and instead pushed this through in the same way they did the Otay facility -- no input from the community, no concern for their concerns, do it my way or the highway.

Most developers complain about the need to have their projects reviewed by the community. They think it would be great if they could sidestep all public review and push their projects through. If there is no impact to the community, they will likely never care. But if there is, then review of the project by the public results in buy-in by the community regarding the risks involved. "You can go ahead and build your project, and we as a community agree to integrate you into the community, provide community services, and take any risks involved as well."

Some developers don't think of themselves as part of the community. Their agenda is to maximize profits even if the community suffers. Brian Bonfiglio has demonstrated that he is just such a developer, sidestepping community involvement in both the Otay Mesa training facility and now at the Eagle Rock Training Center (ERTC).

In April of 2011, a small fire did start at the training camp, and Bonfiglio and his business partner admitted it was due to the use of incendiary ammunition. It was only logical to suspect similar cause of the August 2011 file which grew to 14,100 acres, and required 2,000 firefighters more than a week and $15 million to extinguish. Almost immediately, the story surfaced of an ex-employee and his friend, both tribal members, who torched the guard shack using gasoline, and then drove their SUV into a ditch. Empty beer cans were found at the scene and they also had the same brand of beer in their SUV, and on top of that, they admitted setting fire to the guard shack.

Why did this happen? A recent North County Times Story "REGION: Suspect in Eagle fire was former Eagle Rock Training Center employee" (Read more: describes the fact that no official training programs were scheduled at the facility. Plus, with the admission of the two Keystone drinkers, it seems an open and shut case, with no culpability by ERTC at all.

But if you've watched these blackwater guys over the years, you know that almost nothing is what it seems. First, it could very well be that we should blame this whole thing on Keystone, which induced these two fellows, Ortiz and Durbin, to set fire to a guardshack for the fun of seeing a fire burn, and apparently, after they smashed the security camera on the guard shack, decided to have a beer before torching the place. But another scenario still needs to be thoroughly investigated. Perhaps the fire was started using incendiary ammunition, and this guard shack fire was started as a convenient cover story, with the local Keystone drinkers as the fall guys. I hope Cal Fire has enough money in their budget to do a thorough investigation and not accept the first lame story as the true reason for the fire.

But regardless of the actual details of the fire, the fact remains that this fire never would have started had the ERTC not been developed. With zero public scrutiny, they had insufficient fire fighting gear, insufficient water supply, and obviously lousy security at the gate. We the taxpayers are apparently expected to pick up the $15 million tab to fight the fire. We are expected to allow the training center to continue to threaten to start future fires and threaten homes and businesses in the community of Warner Springs and beyond. We are expected to allow a rogue developer to continue to create dangerous paramilitary training centers without any sign off at all.

I really don't think this is fair to the community at large, and especially California taxpayers. I believe ERTC should be held ultimately responsible for the fire. It, and perhaps Los Coyotes or the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) should compensate the state for the cost to fight the fire. The community did not approve this development, but they put it in anyway, and therefore, operation of the training center should cease immediately, and Brian Bonfiglio should be banned from further development in the county. And, we definitely need to review how the BIA and the county work together to make sure the community can review any project that will have such stunning impact.

The process of obtaining public buy-in of any project is not just a worthless exercise. It is essential. Especially if you are developing a paramilitary training camp in an area known to be prone to wildfire disasters and you are putting the entire county at risk.


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Title Eagle Rock Training Center Should be Shut Down
Publisher Citizens Oversight
Author Raymond Lutz
Pub Date 2011-09-10
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Note References Michael Aguirre
Keywords Blackwater, Eagle Rock Training Center, War Profiteering
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Topic revision: r8 - 17 May 2014, RaymondLutz
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