Watching the Implosion of the South Bay Power Plant From Imperial Beach

After more than 50 years, the South Bay Power Plant crumbled as a set of explosions demolished the facility, making way for the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan. Shortly after 7:00 a.m., on Saturday, February 2, 2013, here is what the implosion looked like from across the bay in Imperial Beach, Calif.


Co-curricular programs need more protection

Here is an exercise straight out of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Imagine Southwestern College never existed.

Science fiction’s iconic television series”Babylon 5” might not exist, nor any of the brilliant screenplays created by its gifted writer J. Michael Straczynski. Latin music superstar, songwriter and producer Julieta Venegas and her half dozen Grammy Awards might never have found voice. John Fox, a Super Bowl coach, and former Charger’s defensive tackle Ogemdi Sharron Nwagbuo could be selling footballs at Wal-Mart. Seattle Mariners clean-up hitter John Jaso might be sweeping out Taco Bell. Telemundo sports anchor Humberto Gurmilan might never have seen his way beyond his wheelchair. Ayded Reyes would likely have been deported.

Luckily this sample of brilliantly talented students began their journeys at SWC and had faculty who cared about them.

Straczynski began writing and producing plays here. Venegas wrote songs and perfected her performance skills in the SWC music department. Nwagbuo earned All-Conference honors as a sophomore when he recorded 55 tackles and 10 sacks. Fox played football on the same field. Now he is head coach of the Denver Broncos. California’s top-ranked 2011 community college cross-country runner Ayded Reyes is now on a full university scholarship and training for the 2016 U. S. Olympic team. Jaso played for iconic baseball coach Jerry Bartow. Gurmilan was News Editor of The Sun and a forensics star.

California’s theatre, sports, television media, journalism, arts and communication programs are being slashed and burned, all to balance the budget of a cash-starved higher educational system.

It is not a new story, but it is a sad one. America repeatedly stamps out enriching programs in tough economic times and seems doomed to let bad history repeat itself. Leaders in government and education making these decisions are doing so by dollars and cents. What we need is a way to budget this one-sidedness with dollars and sense.

SWC has some elite programs. Its Mariachi Garibaldi is the best collegiate mariachi on the planet Earth. Period. SWC’s brilliant Concert Choir is soon to add the Festival of the Aegean on the Greek Island of Syros to its long list of invitations. And the college’s journalism program is winning state, national and international awards. Its newspaper is ranked #1 in competition against cream of the crop universities across the nation.

For a college that few people in the nation know exists, co-curricular programs are ambassadors to the wider world and sources of pride for our challenged community. These programs inspire students to spend hours and hours working above and beyond to excel. Some enriching programs are expensive, but if our government and college administrators put in 10 percent of the time and effort that the students do to make these programs a success, our nation and our college would be humming.

Here is my challenge to SWC leadership. Do not settle for clichéd, two-dimensional thinking. Do not think you can cut your way out of our dilemma. Do not preside over the diminishment of this great college.

It is time to stop thinking like bean counters balancing books and save these programs with the spirit of entrepreneurs. Rather than paying expensive consultants, invest in grant writers to help the professors that spend endless unpaid hours begging for money to keep their programs afloat.

Ask even more from our dedicated Educational Foundation. Holding a gala every year to support student scholarships is terrific, but creating an event where proceeds spread across special programs can be just as valuable to student success. Our Associated Student Organization works to fund campus clubs that contribute to the community, but virtually nothing to support programs that invest in our students’ futures. Money is out there and many philanthropists are looking for viable programs to invest in. Build the programs, invest in organizing college and faculty alumni and start thinking outside the box to find a way. Many students’ livelihoods depend on it. Our nation depends on it.

It is time to stop treating these programs as burdens of a budget and celebrate them as gateways to the community and the world. It is possible that a future president, queen of country music, national watchdog reporter, hall of fame baseball player, Oscar-winning film director or concert violinist is spending hours investing in their future in one of SWC’s special programs.

When making fiscal decisions that affect student learning outcomes, remember this: If there is no way in, there is no path to success.

Director returns from war to battle for students

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

December 19, 2012


Courtesy Photos/ U. S. Navy Reservist, Lt. Cmdr. Luís Nuñez Jr.

Dry freezing temperatures and a whole lot of snow.

Dressed in full battle rattle—an armored protective vest, M4 semiautomatic rifle, a Beretta M9 semiautomatic pistol at the side, a Kevlar battle helmet, ballistic eyewear, strap cutters, tourniquets and several magazines in clear reach.

For U. S. Navy Reservist, Lt. Cmdr. Luís Nuñez Jr., that was last Christmas in Afghanistan.

It was at a spring administrative retreat training when Nuñez, director of the Medical Lab Technician (MLT) program at the National City HEC, received a phone call from his captain with news that he was “tagged” to go to Afghanistan. With less than eight weeks to prepare, he began to get his affairs in order, both at home and at the college.

“I was in shock,” Nuñez said. “I knew I would eventually be tagged. My orders came in the first week of June with a reporting date of active duty in July.”

Before he knew it he found himself in a hot, sticky Louisiana summer at Fort Polk for 10 weeks of rigorous combat training.

“We would qualify in weapons training then go into simulations out in the field,” he said. “We had IED training with simulated explosions. They had towns set up like in Afghanistan as they threw scenarios at us. They observed how we handled it, how we fired, when we called in for troops. They even had helicopters come in for evacuation drills, dealing with casualties, combat.”

Following active duty for 14 years, both as enlisted then as an officer, Nuñez began reserve duty in 2008. His background includes service as a Navy corpsman lab technician and Medical Service Corps lab officer. He said he had basic combat training as a former corpsman and a lab technician, but the intense combat training was more than he expected.

“I did fairly well with the transition to full combat readiness,” he said. “But the training they had there goes above and beyond what I would normally go through, or what a doctor or nurse would.”

Nuñez said his first stop was in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where his team split up. He soon was bound for Kabul. He said the capital of Afghanistan, with a population of about 4 million, was biblical at first sight.

“I saw so much poverty it was a shock,” he said. “People were herding sheep through the city, dirt everywhere, and dust and mud holes. The level of poverty they lived in was nothing I had seen before. I realize that there are different levels of poverty throughout the world, but I think it is more so in Kabul.”

Nuñez worked with the Medical Training Advisory Group in a mentorship program at the National Military Hospital of Kabul, a 400-bed facility built in the late 1970s by the Russians.

Nuñez said working in full body armor and being armed at all times was rigorous. Even the 400 meters to and from the compound to the hospital was dangerous. A force protection team comprised of the National Guard escorted them.

“They were all over the compound and in constant communications with the teams and there were several times we had to evacuate,” he said. “When threats were coming in, or gunfire in the background, unsure of where it was coming from, we would have to get out of the building and back to base.”

Picture8Nuñez went out on several convoys as part of the NATO team that took him to the opposite side of the city.

“We had to keep our combat skills up with quick reaction drills,” he said. “Or we would go to the large NATO base and meet with our leadership team. We didn’t mingle with the Afghans out in the streets, only with members of the Afghan National Army.”

His entire team was medical professionals. Americans, Canadians and Greeks worked together training Afghan professionals in every aspect of medical care and procedures. Interpreters translated everything into Dari, including documents. Nuñez said the Afghans had the knowledge, but as a population did not believe much in written procedure.

Teams trained and developed written procedures for the operation of all parts of the medical field, holding all hospitals accountable to a higher standard in procedures.

Col. Quadir, Nuñez’s Afghan counterpart, had 30 years of military service and worked with several previous American mentors. Quadir created a validation team of medical professional experts that traveled to the five regional hospitals with a standardized checklist for each part of the hospital. They would grade the hospitals on a number scale, determining if they could operate facilities without NATO support.

Nuñez said after six months of intense training they were able to start turning responsibilities over to their Afghan counterparts.

“The U.S. is pulling out in 2013,” he said. “And the training group grew smaller and smaller. At the height of my arrival, we had a large team of about 60 and when I left, it was cut in half. Most of this was the work done by the American teams. As the departments became independent we would send someone back early and not send in a replacement.”

Nuñez said he did a great amount of online training in the weeks before departure, got his family affairs in order and had to be sure the MLT program continued in his absence. Myrna Bryant, a clinical chemistry instructor, said he brought two professors from Balboa Naval Hospital to fill in as director. She said the program is independent and Nuñez’s experience was central to its status as one of just two accredited MLT programs in California.

“We run a tight ship here,” she said. “We missed him and were always happy to hear he was safe as he kept in touch. We knew he would do a great job in helping the people of Afghanistan.”

Former student Alejandro Tolentino, hired by Rady Children’s Hospital to operate a small lab at a local clinic in Chula Vista before his graduation, said Nuñez models hard work, high standards and leadership as a teacher.

“He is motivated, poised, structured, methodical and on point,” he said. “When he was in Afghanistan I was honored to be class president and share his motivation and dedication to future students as well as the community. Though he was back east, we all succeeded with a 100 percent pass rate for the entire class.”

Victor La Fond, a certified MLT and former student, said when Nuñez went to Afghanistan everyone worried. He said he first met him with his 3-month-old daughter as he was deciding whether to take the program. A stringent program, Nuñez warned him it would be difficult for a young family man. La Fond said he looked at his daughter and told him, “I’ve got to do something for her.” Nuñez let him in the program.

“I’ve been in his debt from that day on,” said La Fond. “Everything in my life that I have now is because of him.”

La Fond said Nuñez challenged him to do things he never thought he could and without his thorough process, starting the program and getting it accredited, things would not be as solid for his students in the workforce.

“Professionally and personally, Luís is a great guy,” he said. “I’m buying a house thanks to my education. A nice four bedroom in a great neighborhood near an elementary school my kids will go to. I think that about sums it up.”

Nuñez said the MLT program offers an Associate’s degree for graduates as technicians in clinical hospitals.

“It is a great paying job,” he said. “Between $24 and $26 upon graduation, take a national certification exam, get a state license and 95 percent of the program’s graduates have been hired.”

After a year-long active duty tour, missing Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, his anniversary and his daughter’s sweet 16 birthday, Nuñez said June 25 has new meaning.

“I’ll never forget that day I got back,” said Nuñez. “The sacrifices we made over there, being away from our family, I don’t know how we did it. I just spent my first Thanksgiving in two years with my family. I was so thankful to sit down and break bread with them, enjoy the moment and look forward to the Christmas break.”


Targeting the War on Drugs

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

November 28, 2012

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia lost his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco last year after going into a bar with six of his friends run by a drug cartel. All suffered a violent death.

After his son’s murder, Sicilia founded the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity) in Mexico. His crusade swept across borders in Latin America as many victims, like him, joined a movement to end what he called a lost and needless war.

Caravan for Peace is a call to action for the governments of the United States and Mexico to find solutions to the War on Drugs.

In a bi-national movement, political activists, citizens and 110 victims of violence in the United States and Mexico joined forces in San Diego for a 30-day, 6,000-mile journey to 27 cities and across 17 states to Washington D.C. Sicilia and his caravaneros delivered their message of peace and hope to the White House, calling for an International Day of Action for Peace in Mexico on September 12.

Led by Sicilia and Border Angels founder Enrique Morones, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity/Marcha Migrante VIII kicked off at Friendship Park on August 12, and began its sojourn to the White House. Morones said more than 150 civic organizations along the way provided food, shelter and care for all and the caravan met hundreds of volunteers, victims and supporters at each stop.

Morones said it is vital for people to realize the consequences of the escalating violence on both sides of the border since the two nations declared the War on Drugs. He said the campaign left innocent casualties in its wake, with more victims falling to failed policies and drug violence every day.

“Over the past six years the War on Drugs has left more than 70,000 dead and more than 20,000 missing in Mexico alone,” he said.

Los caravaneros called on Mexico and the U.S. to enter into a dialogue about alternatives based on evidence and forward-thinking options for drug regulation. Morones said it is essential that the importation of assault weapons into Mexico stops, that concrete steps are taken to combat money laundering, and that both nations re-examine the militarized border and criminalized immigrants.

As the activists gathered to begin their journey, California Senator Juan Vargas and U.S. Congressman Bob Filner met the caravan at Friendship Park with Senate and Congressional resolutions declaring August 12 a “Day of Peace” in San Diego County.

Filner said he stood with Sicilia to confirm their mutual humanity and call for new thinking by federal agencies in the U.S. and Mexico.

“I have worked in non-violent campaigns in the U.S. and throughout the world,” he said. “It is up to government of America to claim some responsibility here. This is not a Mexican problem. This is our problem.”

Dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil later that evening at Chicano Park. After moving a performance of “Misa Azteca” by the Southwestern College Concert Choir, one by one victims of the Drug War spoke of their losses. They hoped their heart-breaking experiences would be the beginning of change.

Gretchen Burns Bergman, lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign, said both countries have suffered senseless tragedies, the erosion of human rights and loss of liberties due to the punitive policies that fuel the violence of the drug cartels. She said her son spent more than a decade “cycling through the criminal justice system” for possession of marijuana.

“We are losing our sons and daughters to drug war violence, to accidental overdose death, and to mass arrest and incarceration,” she said. “It is time for families to unite, stand side by side, sister to sister, mother to mother, cross borders to demand no more Drug War for the sake of our children and future generations.”

Aracely Rodriquez, mother of Luis Ángel León, a federal police officer who refused to cooperate with a drug cartel, was murdered in the state of Michoacán. Rodriquez said the heartbroken people of Mexico found solace and a voice in the heart of Javier Sicilia.

“We have walked across this border with you to unite our pain with your pain,” she said. “I believe in my heart with all of the people with us here now that in uniting our pain we can create a change.”

Sicilia said he dedicated himself to protesting the War on Drugs and the escalating violence. His crusade travels across many borders of the world now and he said he brings his message for change in peace and love, not hate and anger. After 40 years of this war declared by President Nixon, “all is left are the dead, the missing loved ones and the innocent that lost their homeland,” said Sicilia.

“We are losing our democracy and we are losing our frame of reference of life-that we are human beings,” he said. “The only people that benefit from this are the lords of death, the lords of war and lords of pain.”

In Washington Sicilia and los caravaneros spoke to scholars, staff and guests at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, associate director of Latino Affairs and Immigration Julie Chavez Rodriquez, U.S. Mexican Ambassador Anthony Wayne, and members of Congress and the Senate.

Sicilia said there has been no reduction in America’s consumption of drugs, only an epidemic of murder and violence.

“We bring our disappeared children that never approached a dealer,” he said. “We bring defenseless orphans and widows. We bring young people, children of misery, because the Mexican government and the other places of Latin America allocate more American money to the promotion of war than to social programs that have found shelter in the crime and have ended up butchered.”

Sicilia said he dreams his daughter and his grandson will be able to go back to Mexico some day unafraid that someone will kill them like his son was killed.

“I dream that all those who have been displaced by this war and are absolutely defenseless will be able to return to their homes with their families while being assured that nobody will harm them.”

Campus Mourns Professor

By Nickolas Furr and Albert H. Fulcher

Michael Schnorr’s world-famous murals in Chicano Park tower over the small but revered piece of tierra santa that was once the epicenter of the Chicano Rights Movement and is the globe’s greatest outdoor Latino art gallery. His ambitious Dia de Los Muertos pieces span hundreds of yards of the Tijuana side of the border fence, warning would-be crossers that el norte can be peligroso for migrants.

Not bad for an Anglo man and Muslim convert.

America’s burgeoning border art community lost a visionary pioneer in July when Schnorr jumped from the same Coronado Bridge that features his stunning murals. His suicide shocked and saddened legions of admirers, including hundreds at Chicano Park who gathered for an emotional memorial. Schnorr had recently retired as a Southwestern art professor after 39 years.

Art major David Bonafede said he was devastated by the news of Schnorr’s death and that Schnorr remains a teacher, mentor and friend in his heart.

“No matter how hard or how easy you think something is, he always made you look at things from a different perspective,” he said. “He never let you quit and he always made you finish.”

Bonafede said he did a biography on Schnorr for his art history class and came to know his mentor well. He said he loved not only his art, but also his sense of humor.

“I remembered when I asked why he chose art, he looked at me and laughed and said, ‘To meet girls,’” he said. “But more than that, he taught me to never give up, never second guess myself, even though you are your own worst critic.”

Murals painted by Schnorr gazed down at family, friends, colleagues and students as they gathered on July 14 at Chicano Park to celebrate the life of Schnorr.

Tables of balloons, flowers, candles and notes to the artist were scattered throughout the iconic grounds. Pools and eddies of mourners and celebrants formed around each shrine, shapes changing as Schnorr’s friends moved from place to place. Hard hatted restoration workers stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity.

Under a gray, cloudy sky, all eyes turned to the park stage and the central shrine to the missing artist. As the first music notes dedicated to him and his family began to echo across the park, the gloom broke apart and the sun began to beat down on the celebration.

Schnorr’s admirers spoke of his talent and compassion, played music in his honor or told a story about him. Calpuli Mexica, a Mexican folk dance group that practices three days a week under Schnorr’s murals at Chicano Park, performed in his honor.

When Schnorr’s wife, Axa Negron-Schnorr, went forward with their four children and several nieces and nephews, they released a pair of doves. One immediately soared into the trees. The second one landed next to the central shrine and gazed up at the crowd placidly.

“Michael is with us!” someone shouted.

As his family, friends and vivacious art energized Chicano Park, it seemed that he was.

Schnorr, a soft-spoken man, created art that was loud, powerful and shouted down inhumanity. He once transformed a Southwestern College lawn into a symbolic migrants’ cemetery by planting hundreds of white crosses with dead inmigrantes’ names hand-painted on each one. He traveled to Afghanistan, Argentina and other troubled nations to create art that cried out for freedom and justice. A former Catholic who converted to Islam, Schnorr possessed an aesthetic that was stunning in its breadth and rich in its depth. When United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited Tijuana to study the immigration situation, she asked to meet with only one American. It was Michael Schnorr.

SWC’s quiet megaphone for human rights could seem sullen, his friends said, but had the heart of a revolucionario visionario. Schnorr painted injustice and protest, but spoke with eternal hope and optimism.

“Change is not a dream,” Schnorr once wrote. “We can leap over history and monsters. Not even the stars are out of reach. Barriers, walls and fences must be moved. Must be broken down between countries, between people, between neighborhoods.”

Schnorr’s paint brush moved barriers and moved people by prodding them to reconsider their points of view, his friends said at his memorial. Schnorr himself, they insisted, was a work of art.

True tolerance comes through self-acceptance

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

November 28, 2012

Without truly knowing all the origins of my genealogy, I am certain that the blood of many cultures runs through my veins. That is what makes me American. I am a self-contained mixture, a melting pot of immigrants and Natives blended during our country’s short life.

My father was in the military and I was born in Stuttgart, Germany. We returned to my grandparent’s home in Tennessee when I was a toddler. My first recollections of life are from a much simpler place in time.

Farm life shaped many of the characteristics that I have carried through life. Even at the age of three there was work to do. Everyone contributed to the home, safety and care of the family. In the beginning I worked with the women in the garden and kitchen. Sometimes my only job was to sit on the washing machine while it was spinning so it would not bounce off the back porch.

I learned as I watched my grandfather do his daily routine of tending to the animals in the barn, moving cattle from one pasture to another. He had fields, crops, woods, lakes and many animals during those years. Both of my grandparents influenced a strong family and work ethic that I use every day of my life.

I learned that work is hard, but fruitful. My family taught me the joy of many simple things in life. Even though at the time there were many new electronics emerging, we sat around on the porch to listen to stories about our heritage, religion and some good tall tales-or listened to radio and music. My grandfather was a preacher and built a church right down the road from the house so farmers in the area could meet and worship.

Most people have work to survive. Life can be wonderful and it can be just as cruel. Principles that I learned as a farm sprout follow me to this day. They are innate. Family, in any form, is one of the only truths in life you can count on. Though I protest religious dogma, faith and hope are a necessity.

Another part of me is rebellious, always asking questions folks do want asked. I have the spirit of a wanderer and am not afraid to venture into the unknown, unexpected or the “unacceptable.” My mother often referred to me as a gypsy. When asked who was the black sheep of the family, my two brothers lovingly point to me.

“Unacceptable,” I use loosely. What is unacceptable to one person can be a strong passion for another. This has roots in many things, including culture, family upbringing, life experiences and circumstance.

All of the traits, even those that I consider weak and dangerous, are the threads that make up the elaborate tapestry of me. I cling to these threads, for without them, my tapestry would unravel.

Woven together, the threads of my tapestry struggle against each other, but hold together as a single piece. Though many of them plague me, I learned to embrace the intimate diversity of myself.
That constant struggle is the journey of life. Learning to hold to these qualities takes me a step closer to accepting the diversity of the world around us.

A new home for battle tested Old Glory

HOME FROM THE BATTLEFIELD — Lt. Cmdr. Luis Nuñez director of the SWC medical laboratory technician program, presents superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish, an American flag that was flown over Kabul, Afghanistan. The flag is displayed at the National City HEC. / Albert Fulcher 

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

November 28, 2012

As the sun set over the dusty Kabul sky in Afghanistan, the red, white and blue symbol of freedom flew above the U.S. forward operating base. In time-honored military fashion, Lt. Cmdr. Luis A. Nuñez Jr., U.S. Navy Reserves, saluted as the color guard started down the flag, knowing its ultimate destination would be Southwestern College.

Nuñez, program director of the medical laboratory technician program at the National City Higher Education Center (HEC), said it was significant to him that he chose the flag. He said he wanted to bring home a symbol of his yearlong duty in war-torn Afghanistan where he and his comrades established clinical laboratories.

“I chose a flag for the National City Center because the closeness I feel with my team at the college is as strong as the team I served with in Afghanistan,” he said. “It was my way of letting them know that while I was away, they were there with me.”

As Southwestern celebrated its own time-honored Veteran’s Day ceremonies, Nuñez presented his gift to Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish.

“Receiving a flag from the field is a true honor,” she said. “It is a special symbol of recognition from Lt. Cmdr. Nuñez to all of us at Southwestern. This flag will forever be a symbol of all the contributions of veterans, past and present. On behalf of the entire Southwestern College community, I thank Luis Nuñez for this honor.”

In a smaller but emotional ceremony, Nuñez, along with Nish, brought the flag to its final destination.

Christine Perri, National City HEC dean, said the first thing that comes to her mind when she looks at the flag is that it is a privilege having Nuñez working there.

“Nuñez represents all the things filled with goodness and kindness in the world,” she said. “Through his willingness to protect our liberties and freedom here, I am grateful he is home safely.”

In traditional shadowbox fashion the red, white and blue adorns the National City HEC. A reminder that many past, present and future veterans not only serve the nation, but serve the Southwestern College community with as much honor.

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