Loud and clear
Union Tribune (2007-12-13)
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More Info: Blackwater, Blackwater West
, Local Politics
Potrero's anti-Blackwater vote sends a message
December 13, 2007
The East County community of Potrero has spoken emphatically that it does not want a Blackwater Worldwide training camp for security personnel in its midst.
Voters recalled five Blackwater supporters from the Potrero Planning Group by a decisive 2-1 margin in a mail election. They chose five opponents of the Blackwater proposal as replacements while rejecting three candidates who support Blackwater.
Only Jan Hedlun, a Blackwater opponent not targeted by the recall, remains on the board. Three vacancies exist, with prospective members to be nominated by the new panel and ratified by county supervisors.
Partisans on both sides billed the recall as primarily a referendum on a local land issue, not on Blackwater itself. It's not quite that simple. Surely an international security firm's role in a controversial war, its killing of 17 Iraqi citizens, its hustling of a drunken killer out of the country to avoid prosecution, and its relative lack of accountability to government agencies were in the background.
Look for Blackwater itself to be a much larger part of the debate when the land-use question moves to the county Board of Supervisors for a definitive vote, probably not before next summer. An environmental report is not expected to be finished until next year; then comes a 45-day public review.
Blackwater wants to develop 145 acres of an 824-acre holding, build facilities for 360 people and offer field training to security personnel. The company will continue to go forward, said Brian Bonfiglio, vice president of Blackwater West. The recall election results “have no bearing on the land use or environmental impact report issues ... we will work closely with the new planning board.”
Bonfiglio suggests that a planning group's recommendation counts for little, that the real decision lies with county supervisors.
Legal guidelines must be followed in considering a land-use request. Yet, supervisors hardly can ignore a lopsided show of community sentiment, whether it is directed at a land use residents consider inappropriate or a controversial company they do not perceive to be a good neighbor.
On much more mundane matters, a planning group's recommendation typically is supported by the supervisor for the district. The full board generally goes along with the district supervisor's position.
The Blackwater proposal is hardly routine. Neither is the recall of five planning group members, including a chairman who has served for 15 years.
So, Blackwater plans to proceed. Questions such as water availability in an area without piped water and whether quasi-military uses may pollute the community's aquifer will be debated hotly. So will the Iraq war and Blackwater's role in it.
This is an example of how international and national controversies can color a local issue. It is an example of the reverse as well. The world will be watching what happens as soon as tonight or next Thursday in desert's-edge Potrero and in coming months at the bayfront County Administration Center.