The war in Iraq and the war in Potrero (EDITORIAL + Letters)
Union Tribune (2007-09-27) Union Tribune, Steve Kowit, Fran Howard
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More Info: Blackwater
September 27, 2007
If ever there were a case history on the importance of voting, even for a panel so obscure most media outlets are unaware of it, it is the situation playing out in rural East County.
We're talking about the nine-member Potrero Planning Group, serving a community of 850 population 45 miles east of San Diego. It is a community whose 502 registered voters are now thrust into the middle of a national and international issue.
Life once was placid in the rural center. The weather or the level of the water table were much more interesting topics in Potrero than serving or voting on an advisory planning group.
My, how that has changed.
The peacefulness ended the day the planning group voted to support a proposal by Blackwater USA to build a training facility for war zone security forces on an 824-acre ranch.
Today is more than just another day in the controversy – it is the last day that Potrero residents who are registered voters can file to serve on the board, pending the results of a Dec. 11 recall election.
To recap, the planning group voted 7-0 last December to support Blackwater's land-use proposal. A firestorm of controversy erupted and a second vote was taken in July. Jan Hedlun, by then a new member of the group, was the only person to vote against.
Potrero residents easily gathered enough petitions to force a Dec. 11 mail ballot on recalling five office holders. Hedlun was not targeted. Three other seats have been declared vacant because the nominees were never ratified by county supervisors. Those seats will be left vacant, said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, until after the dust settles on the recall question.
So, Potrero residents will be asked two questions: Should five incumbents be recalled and, if so, who should replace them?
Pending last-minute filings, here is the field of candidates:
Joe Zatarain and teacher Tina Brown are seeking to succeed Thell Fowler.
Farmer Carl Meyer and community volunteer Brenda B. Wise are running for the seat held by Chairman Gordon Hammers, should he be recalled.
Communications consultant Terry Stephens wants to replace Jerry Johnson.
Income tax preparer Janet M. Goode has filed to succeed Mary Johnson.
Retiree Edward J. Boryla and executive loan consultant William Crawley IV have qualified to run for the seat held by Janet Wright.
Planning groups such as Potrero's are advisory; the Board of Supervisors has the final say. Typically, supervisors decline to overturn a planning group's recommendation.
It may be months or years before Blackwater's land-use proposal is resolved and the ideological debate on the company's international operations subsides. In the meantime, tiny Potrero will weigh in on the local aspects of what has become a national and international controversy. That is what democracy is all about.
Other events on a larger stage can play out locally as well.
California's bid to play a role in the selection of presidential candidates means the state will have elections in February, June and November of 2008. The Cajon Valley Union School District has chosen February to seek a $156.5 million school bond measure.
The city of Lemon Grove traditionally has decided its City Council positions in June, giving a rare stamp of municipal finality to the primary election. Now, Lemon Grove appears poised to shift to November, to avoid confusion and save costs because the election overhead is shared by more jurisdictions.
Letters to the Editor
Blackwater USA versus residents of Potrero
Many of us in Potrero, where Blackwater is trying to obtain a major use permit to open a training facility on 824 acres of agricultural land, have long understood that Blackwater will say anything it needs to in order to get what it wants.
Now, the whole nation has a sense of that organization's ruthlessness and its ability to do whatever it wants with impunity. It is unlikely that any Blackwater operatives will be put on trial for its recent slaughter in Iraq, no matter how many eyewitnesses insist the people they gunned down were innocent civilians.
Blackwater claims the heliport it plans a mile from my Potrero home would be used only for emergencies and that the dozen firing ranges it will be using night and day won't create much noise. The company says the enormous armory it plans would not create a nightmarish fire hazard in an already highly fire-prone community.
But few of my neighbors in Potrero put any stock in Blackwater's promises. Once the company gets that permit, it will do what it wants.
We know the company has good friends in the county Department of Planning and Land Use and that its vast political clout will put enormous pressure on county supervisors to approve the destruction of the lovely, quiet, rural mountain town of Potrero. Our only hope is that enough San Diego citizens will protest to the Board of Supervisors and help us save our community from the grips of the world's most powerful and dangerous army of trigger-happy mercenaries.
If there had been any doubt in anyone's mind that Blackwater might not be a good idea for San Diego County, it has been removed in the past two weeks. The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for our State Department to expel Blackwater from Iraq due to its latest crime, the killing of 11 Iraqi civilians.
A quote in a Washington Post article is instructive: “They (Blackwater) are the reason for all the hatred that is directed at Americans.” Worse even than the fact that this company is above the law, is that our very own State Department supports Blackwater, no matter what it does.
We have the opportunity to rid our very own San Diego County of this company that has helped take away our country's honor and good name. Let's all let our county supervisors know we cannot permit a company with this reputation, so protected by the State Department that it is “above the law”, to build in Potrero.
Blackwater USA has no place here, nor anywhere, representing itself as our country's militia and bringing the United States such dishonor as to have the Iraqi prime minister demand its removal.