There is a Story Here
There is a story unfolding in this sleepy town of Homeland, a town still untouched by change in the modern sense. There are still many dusty unpaved roads in this rural setting, No money has been spent to repair them in the recent past or so it looks that way. When repairs are needed some of the residents fill in the ruts and gullies themselves instead of waiting for the necessary funding to appear. In such a setting where there is little clout and a lot less money to fight county officials on an issue as basic as road repairs, how do they even begin to unite as a group to fight against a controversial project planned in their rural environment?
This is the site where John Choate's "privately owned law enforcement, military, and governmental agency tactical training center consisting of...several mock streets arranged to simulate a town, an underground sniper tunnel, 6 indoor firing range [s] /simulation firing ranges, 3 indoor rifle ranges...and a tactical training driving test track and skid pad" (1) is to be built. Since October 12, 2006 the "sniper tunnel" has been removed from the Procintu Group's plans.
But plans were already in progress for this private military training center as far back as February 23, 2005.(2) On that date Riverside County Sheriff, Bob Doyle, responded to John Choate about the tentative construction of "The Ranch" in the Nuevo area. In May 2005 papers were being processed by the Riverside County Planning Commission for Procinctu Group Inc. The project was approved by Planning Commission on January 9, 2008, it was accepted by the County Board of Supervisors on January 29, 2008.
From its inception this private military project, Public Use Permit (PUP 885), was being Fast Tracked (FTA No. 2005-23) by Supervisor Marion Ashley, the supervisor of this Fifth district. During the legal process it was considered "unique" (3) and "controversial."(4) In the public documents; all that was required after the word "controversial" was a sentence describing why it was labeled as such, but no account was given
Yet, only one public hearing was required even though it was labled controversial. However, the planning commission initiated a second public hearing because of their generosity and concern for the residents of Homeland CA. The second meeting was held on January 9, 2008. Several residents were neutral or were opposed to this project, but it was stated in the summary that "no one spoke in neutral or opposition to the subject proposal." (5) Nevertheless, this enterprise was on a projectile course for certain passage by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
As one can surmise, there is concern in this tiny "blip in the road" of Homeland. These residents are concerned about the resale value of their property, and are wondering who would purchase their home, when it is located in close vicinity to a shooting range Others are concerned of a stray bullet igniting a fire in an already designated "high-fire area" as stated in the public records.
Other residents are disquieted by the fact that it is a private military facility or "proprietary" in nature. As a result, the public is limited in the information that can be obtained about this operation. If the company were public, they would have access on issues of concern. Since Procinctu is a private company its documents are protected from public view! Their documents can be considered "trade secrets" as described in the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C., Section 552 [b]  which states, (b) "This section does not apply to matters that are (4) trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential."(6)
On Sunday [March 18, 2007], training was in progress. "About a dozen khaki-clad special operations personnel from the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base near San Diego were on The Ranch receiving training from Choate's staff in navigating unfamiliar territory."(7) However, the project was not to be approved by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors for another ten months - on January 29, 2008.
The roads a little bumpier on this country road of Briggs, just as it was for the rural area of Potrero several months ago when Blackwater West entered their area with plans to construct a tactical training center. However, concerned citizens and activists like Ray Lutz combined their forces and talents to successfully curtail Blackwater West from constructing a site there. Petitions, anti-Blackwater protests, rallies, city-council members, congressmen, lawyers, etc. joined forces against this corporation. In March of this year "Blackwater abandoned a proposal for the 824-acre center in Potrero, citing noise tests that showed gunfire would exceed local standards."( 8 )
Other Blackwater sites and similar companies are under attack by local citizens in other areas of the country. So, yes, with a lot of gumption and perseverance small-town rural citizens, along with their city counterparts, can work together to save their communities from a corporate war machine marching into their lives. At the same time they can begin to uncover the politics behind these projects.
Perhaps they can begin questioning why their councilman, Supervisor Marion Ashley and the entire Riverside City Council, approved the project originally. We've ve heard some reasons, but they are shallow at best. These country folk want to find out the real answers! Why, Mr. Ashley, are you allowing a private military company to build in our valley? Perhaps there is a story unfolding here. Wouldn't you like to know the rest of the story? I know some of us would!
-- Ann Weston
- 3 August 2008