Blackwater proposal sparks partisan politics in rural Potrero
East County Californian (2007-07-19) Christy Scott
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At a contentious Potrero Planning Group Meeting, held last Thursday, July 12, it was ''obvious that the recent controversial Blackwater project has caused a rift in the community.
An understandably edgy board was on the defensive, due to the current recall effort of those members, who voted for the project
"Of course we're going to have differences, any time you've got two people you're going to have a problem," said board member Thell Fowler, ,"But we still have to work together as a community."
Although not listed on the agenda, many people were on hand to speak about the recall process, and at several points, board tempers flared and the discussion turned into an angry yelling match. Several board members directly and indirectly attacked residents and fellow planners, and outbursts from both sides interrupted the meeting and degraded the conversation to mere shouting over each other.
"People are recalling us because we didn't stop this process in the beginning," said, planning group chairman Gordon Hammers. "But no matter what you do to us, be it political, or people holding a grudge, this process is still going to go forward, and we have control over that."
One group of residents at the front of the room, clearly in support of the project, joined board members, audibly berating speakers, grunting, moaning, booing, and laughing at many comments from their neighbors.
"I'm getting really tired of watching this group denigrate others," said board member Jan Hedlun as the meeting went into its fourth hour. "I have to sit here and see you swearing under your breath; I have to hear you, and this board snort and snuff when some residents are talking... It's tiresome and it's rude."
Many Potrero residents, of all political persuasions, raised issue at the meeting regarding the recent, unsolicited phone calls made to area households. The recorded messages, featuring an unidentified female voice, talked about the current recall petition being circulated in Potrero.
"You may be aware that there is a recall petition being circulated for seven of the nine members of the Potrero Planning Group;" reads a transcript of the first message in late June. "This recall petition would stop the planning group members from carrying out the deed that they are elected to do."
Soon after, registered Republicans in Potrero received a letter from Tony Krvaric, Chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party.
"There is an effort afoot, managed and directed by radical activists and operatives from far outside your community to recall the Republican members of our duly -elected Potrero Planning Group," reads the letter. It continues to implore residents not to sign the recall petition, and Includes an offer of assistance from Krvaric to those residents who have already signed, but would now like to remove their names.
At the same time, general Potrero residents were beginnlng to receive another recorded message at their homes.
"If you think decisions that affect Potrero should be made by those that live in Potrero, then you shouldn't sign a petition to kick Potrero residents off our own planning group. The people driving this all live in La Mesa, El Cajon, Lakeside, Encinitas and other places. Please learn the truth and hear the facts before you sign or believe anything these out of town activists say to get you to support them and oppose our neighbors here in Potrero. These outsiders shouldn't be making our decisions for us."
Several audience members inquired about the phone calls and letter at last Thursday's meeting.
"I was responsible for it," admitted planning group chairman Gordon Hammers. He continued, with raised voice and pointed fingers, to blame some residents who are involved with the East County Democratic Club. "I am a Republican. I said to my party, 'Hey, the East County Democratic Party is doing this; what are you folkes going to do for me?' And they did."
"Only Potrero residents can initiate and sign this petition, said one resident ''This was completely organically from Potrero."
He continued to say the chairman was wrong; to which Hammers replied, "Who cares. Tough luck. I don't care if you don't like it."
Other residents in the audience, Republicans themselves, were also bothered by the phone messages and letters sent to their homes.
''The Republican party is going the get a backlash from this, there's a lot of mad republicans... This is not a democrat or republican issue... this is purely land use," said one man.
Hammers said that it is the ECDC that has made this into a political issue, not the Republican Party involvement. "They have made this an anti-war issue," he said. "No one can tell me that this recall is not a political action, rather than a land use action."
"A third of the residents in Potrero signed a petition against Blackwater... one third is not a majority... Showing your support for the current board, is showing your support for the majority of Potrero," said resident Brenda Wise, chairman of the local fire board.
"These petitions are based on nothing but a pack of lies," said Emil Susu, who, although not yet confirmed by' county supervisors to the board, was seated at the head table.
At several points, Jan Hedlun, and members of the audience, questioned why Susu was allowed to sit at the head table with the board as his appointment has not been confirmed by the Board of Supervisors. This complaint, however, was repeatedly dismissed by Hammers and the other board members.
"Mr. Susu has now defamed us -- again -- calling us liars, and I'd like to know what lie in the petition is he talking about," said one woman calmly.
The majority of the members on the board, however, cited issues that are not included in the recall petition, showing their confusion about the process.
"This is the reason that we as a community initiated this recall," said one resident named Roxanne. "Your attitude and your disrespect to the community members is exactly why you find yourselves in this position. It has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the way you are treating your constituents.
"You have recognized us with sarcasm and disrespect throughout this entire process, You have slandered us, you have belittled us, you have done everything to degrade us -- how can we respect you, when you don't respect us."
This again raised angry voices from the planning group. "Well, I don't much care for your attitude, and I really don't care what you think," said board member Mary Johnson.
At the end of the meeting, the board decided to hold off the approval of a conditional project approval resolution, including several requirements for Blackwater to meet. The community will have the opportunity to weigh in on the resolution at the next planning group meeting in August.
(Scanned by Raymond Lutz
- Potrero Planning Board chairman Gordon Hammers: