San Diego News Room

South Bay wetlands restoration brings together SD county residents

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Environment and Resources Wildlife
Written by albert h. fulcher
Monday, 28 February 2011 17:46
Poway resident Mike Greene volunteers in Chula Vista’s Emory Cove to remove and replace plant life. Photo courtesy Albert H. Fulcher.

South San Diego Bay is in the midst of the Port of San Diego’s biggest environmental restoration projects yet.

Breaking ground in September, the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve restoration is the product of government, business, environmentalist and grass root volunteers, restoring more than 280 acres of recovered natural habitat. The Port anticipates renovation of the entire 280 acres in the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve and National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Pond 10 and 11 in the Salt Works near Imperial Beach, to be completed by September 2011.

Behind the South Bay Power Plant, 55 acres of renovated habitat finished by March. Already, dredging is restoring the basins by carving tidal creeks and channel, replicating the natural environment.

According to the Port, this process allows water to flow through the area more efficiently and creates new habitat for fish and wildlife. Graded at a slope, it supports a habitat for the variety of native plants and wildlife that depends on it. More than 35,000 cubic yards of soil have been excavated in the east and west basin. Work will transport the soil underwater through 10-inch pipes 7,500 feet to Pond 11 to restore the habitat there.

David Merk, Director of Environmental Services for the Port, said this new environment would become an enviable habitat to endangered birds, the Eastern Pacific green sea turtle and thousands of migratory birds. South San Diego Bay is home to many endangered birds like the California least tern, the light-footed clapper rail and the western snowy plover.

Merk said what intrigued him most about the project is that all of the agencies involved are pleased with the plan and its results.

Chula Vista’s Emory Cove. Photo courtesy Albert H. Fulcher.

“What you see is three years of hard work,” said Merk. “Look at the size of the project. Matching funds were needed. We had to draw in many agencies for funding and planning to pull it off.”

Funding for the project comes from $1.3 million of the Port’s Environmental Fund and contributions and grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California Coastal Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Megan Cooper, project manager for the California Coastal Conservancy (CCC), said they have managed funding and the project has taken two paths—the port side and the western salt ponds.

The CCC contributed $1.2 million to the project. It is managing more than $3 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and federal stimulus money.

“The federal stimulus money is being put to good use for the environment and the community,” she said. “We track every minute and report to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on all stimulus monies spent.”

Cooper said she was happy with all of the partners in this large project and its progress so far. Requests for Proposals are out looking for contractors to begin work in February in the western salt ponds.

“We are very excited about this project,” said Cooper. “It is not only good for the environment, but it is also great for the community as well.”

Cooper said the CCC has been working in the South Bay for 15 years. She said this project could not be accomplished without all its partners.

“I want to make sure people understand that we are not just taking care of the environment: We are creating jobs,” said Cooper. “Engineers, biologists, construction crews and all the other people that are doing work out in the fields [are] earning money.”

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said the Port’s wetlands restoration project will greatly contribute to the long-term health of the region’s valuable natural resources.

“When this project is completed it will complement the City and the Port’s bayfront redevelopment efforts anticipated through the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan,” said Cox.  “The Bayfront Master Plan will ultimately lead to a well-balanced development of a world-class hotel and conference center, condominiums, retail, parks, and natural open space areas.”

Much of the volunteer work already completed has taken place at Emory Cove off the Silver Strand. Volunteer efforts headed by the San Diego Audubon Society (SDAS) and the San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF)  began restoration of the cove, removing much of the non-native ice plant and planting native species in its place. Three volunteer workdays were held October through December, and Merk said more than 300 community volunteers have helped to remove invasive plants. The next step is replanting coastal sage and salt marsh plants.

Shannon Dougherty, conservation coordinator for SDAS, has worked on a variety of other habitat restoration and conservations projects. SDAS was selected as one of the nonprofit partners to recruit and coordinate community-involved volunteers. Dougherty said the SDAS is working in collaboration with the SDOF to coordinate these volunteer events.

“We have an established relationship with the Port as we both have a shared interest in protecting and restoring the natural communities and wildlife populations within the Bay tidelands,” said Dougherty.

Dougherty loves grassroots level projects because of the unique opportunity to engage and work with a diverse group of volunteers, some of which have little exposure to the kind of work done and the places worked.

“It’s fun to see someone experiencing a different part of their region for the first time and learning about the many local species and habitats that we have here in San Diego County,” she said. “For a project of this scale, it requires prep work and planning. We work with our partners from start to finish including any kind of pre-event prep work such as flagging planting areas, preparing an orientation session to teach volunteers how to plant and other similar kinds of activities that help the event run smoothly.”

Dougherty said this project would not happen at the current cost or scale without volunteers. By the end of the project, more than 1500 volunteer hours will be logged.

Shannon Dougherty, conservation coordinator for SDAS, headed the Emory Cove volunteer cleanup. Photo courtesy Albert H. Fulcher.

On Jan. 8, volunteers from all over the county assembled in Emory Cove to help remove and replace plant life. Dougherty headed the project. Volunteers pulled ice plant and hauled it to dumpsters, planted and watered California Sage, Lemonade Berry and Laurel Sumac trees along with Jumping Cholla, Barrel and Coastal Prickly Pear cactus. Volunteers then took trash bags and picked up debris throughout the area.

Emory Cove is a common stopping place and several species of birds surrounded workers. Black Brants, Marbled Godwits, great herons, osprey and snowy egrets continuously flew around the cove. They represented just a few of the thousands of species of shorebirds that live and migrate through the area.

SDAS president Peter Thomas said since 1948, beginning primarily as a bird watching club, they have naturally progressed into restoration and education projects.

“We are so fortunate [to have] volunteers,” said Thomas. “We could not do this without them. One large goal is to bring more of the South Bay community involvement to show people the beauty of the nature that surrounds them and provide education that will be passed on for generations.”

Mike Greene came all the way from Poway to attend the Emory Cove event. Green is a member of the SDAS and docent at the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve in Poway. An avid bird watcher and biker, he said he tries to come out and do the “grunt work” as often as he can.

“Reestablishment of the native environment is not just for the birds and wildlife, but for the people too,” said Greene. “Getting involved always sounds good, but looking at the people actually working towards the future is why I do this.”

David Kimball, SDAS board member, said he has been actively involved in these types of projects for more than 10 years. He said his pride and joy is the restoration work done at Sunset Cliffs and the San Diego Famosa Slough.

“I have worked from Vista down to the border,” said Kimball. “Today is a beautiful day — look what you see around us. I love doing this work. We are still expecting to place 800 more plants.”

Merk said volunteers bring a lot of energy to the project and they are always looking for more.


Government, Business

Imperial Beach, National City Mayors in Redevelopment Debate

In a debate held by the SCEDC, the mayors of National City and Imperial Beach debated a former director of the San Diego Redevelopment Agency and Housing Authority on the merits of redevelopment agencies.

By Albert Fulcher | Email the author | February 28, 2011

On Feb. 24 at National City’s South County Regional Education Center, city officials and representatives held a public debate to discuss the pros, cons and consequences if the state decides to get rid of redevelopment agencies as part of efforts to correct a $25 billion state budget shortfall.

Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney, National City Mayor Ron Morrison and former director of the San Diego Redevelopment Agency Fred Schnaubelt brought their points of view to the debate.

Janney said he is looking at the issue from the perspective of a small city that depends on redevelopment to help the 26,000 people who live in Imperial Beach. He said redevelopment money brought more sales tax producers to the city.

“It is not like we keep all of money that comes in,” Janney said. “We have done projects with the tax increase money along with the pass through that went through the county, school districts and community colleges.”

The 60-year-old redevelopment law has a lot of honorable intentions of eliminating blight, Schnaubelt said, but abuse by redevelopment agencies across the state since its conception has redirected the governor’s focus on the system.

“We have a serious issue before us in the governor’s attempt to dissolve redevelopment agencies,” he said. “What the governor is proposing is to go back to where all tax revenues are split in an ethical manner for the cities, ports, justice departments, libraries, schools, police and sheriff protection.”

In order for a city to have a redevelopment agency, the area must be considered blighted, Schnaubelt said. One idea is to take money from redevelopment agencies and not take them to the state, but to reallocate them locally to schools or other areas.

“What causes the blight seen all around us?’ he said. “I would claim rigid zoning laws that do not allow for new and different uses as consumer demands change. A secondary cause is capital gains taxes.”

Scott Lewis of acted as the debate’s moderator. The South County Economic Development Council organized the event.

Once an area is deemed blighted, he said, then a city can establish a redevelopment agency, receive a portion of property taxes and invest it in subsidized development for different projects, affordable housing or even a stadium.

A long time ago, he said, the state decided that schools could use themselves as an overseer of the system and monies lost by the schools in this process are backfilled by the state.

“The governor has decided this is something the state can no longer afford and suggested that this subsidy be cut off,” said Lewis. “This is causing anxiety with cities and school districts are getting more passionate with the chance of more revenue being directed at them.”

Janney said the people of Imperial Beach supported redevelopment after many years of debate.

“It wasn’t something that was just put forward. People got behind it,” he said. “They saw the advantage with things such as sidewalks, bike paths and public amenities such as soccer fields and skate parks—things that really make a community what it is supposed to be.”

National City Mayor Morrison said the current unemployment rate in California and the possibility of losing another 304,000 jobs should be considered.

“That is what we are looking at. That is how many people in the private sector are hired each year through redevelopment. Can you imagine our state if that is the way that unemployment goes?”

Altogether, he said, redevelopment agencies are the No. 2 provider for infrastructure in the state, contributing $40 billion a year to the California economy and $2 billion in state and local taxes.

“In National City, from 2008-10, we took $2.4 million and achieved $61 million in projects,” he said. “This created 150 new jobs and $772,000 a year in new taxes. That is what you do with redevelopment.”

Keeping money local is what redevelopment has done for Imperial Beach, Janney said. Residents deserve necessary public amenities, not things like the proposed $10 billion high-speed train rail.

“Redevelopment has made our beach better,” he said.

“Whether it be street ends, sidewalks or simple things like powered wheelchairs for those who have a hard time negotiating the sand, it brings entertainment amenities to the public.”

Using the Padres stadium as an example, Janney said people often see the larger projects but fail to see smaller investments made around big redevelopment projects.

Schnaubelt said people think Petco Park is a beautiful example of redevelopment, but there is the “seen and the unseen” to it.  

“The Padres pay less than 10 percent of the $17 million annual cost of that facility. That is the real cost,” he said.

“Giving the Padres a $100 million profit moving into a new ballpark is indefensible. The reason they can pay ball players $15 to $19 million a year is because they do not have to pay the cost of their stadiums. Now we are talking about doing the same thing with the Chargers. No more ballparks, no more stadiums.”

Lewis said one thing he has seen is a lack of jurisdictional leadership. Redevelopment agencies were originally set up with oversight by the local school systems.

“To see this type of jurisdictional fighting is frustrating,” Lewis said. “This point about the state raiding this money—it provides a subsidy to these schools for what is lost through redevelopment investment.”

Janney said redevelopment does not need more oversight and it is easy to say what is wrong and not look at what is really right. These things make it better for the people who live here and the ones that visit, he said.

“It is easy to take one or two areas of poor judgment and make a platform for major change,” he said. “I believe elected officials and people working in city government have it in their heart to do the right thing.”

“We do other programs that help those who cannot afford to move, put in a new window or a desperately needed water heater. These are creative ways of doing and making things better for a community, which is really the goal behind redevelopment.”

The possibility of redevelopment being taken away is disappointing, Janney said. Imperial Beach has survived by managing with the monies it has, he said. People have to look at available revenue and live within those means.

“I get the sense that this is trying to pit cities and redevelopment agencies against the school districts, special districts and counties,” he said. “It is our money and our taxes that go into the system. We do not build something that we cannot maintain the day after. We try to fund projects that are in scale with the city.”

Morrison said he thinks the state needs to learn lessons from the cities, who in recent years have had to live within their means, while the bureaucracy in Sacramento continues to grow.

“There needs to be compression of departments in Sacramento and some need to be done away with,” he said. “These are things that cities are doing right now.”

Schnaubelt said a survey by the Sacramento Bee found that 78 percent of people approve the elimination of local redevelopment agencies.

First in importance, according to the survey, is reducing the legislative budget. He said one solution is to do away with all the housing mandates and use vouchers as the federal government does.

“Why are we putting people with low incomes into the most expensive consumer commodity there is?” he said. “These projects run from $300,000 to $507,000 per rental apartment—four times the cost of existing housing in San Diego County.”

Morrison said many are asking for reform and legitimate oversight, not just more mandates.

“The building we are in now used to be the Pussycat Theater,” he said. “It is here now because of $20 million in redevelopment. The adult education center down by the trolley station was a $3 million redevelopment project.”

Facilities such as these only consume money and taxes, Schnaubelt said, rather than generate them.

“The money is not really going to the state,” he said. “It doesn’t go into the black hole of Sacramento. Redevelopment agencies do not send a proportional amount to the schools and the state has to make up the difference.”

He said all the state is saying is that it is going to balance the budget and cities will start giving money to schools that should be going to them so the state will not have to.

In the early part of this past decade, the state said it needed more money and started taking it from the cities, Morrison said.

Proposition 1A went on the ballot and passed by more than 80 percent and said the state cannot take money away from the cities. In November, Proposition 22 passed overwhelmingly, no longer allowing the state to borrow money from redevelopment agencies.

“Now the state is saying we can’t take the money, we can’t borrow the money, so why don’t we just abolish it,” he said.

“This is called circumvention of the California voters,” Morrison said. “Voters have twice told Sacramento what they need to do and twice the state has tried to circumvent it. This needs to be brought to their attention as we are dealing with all of this.”

That is why the state Legislature thinks it can get around Proposition 22 in the analysis from the legislative office, said Schnaubelt. It is not money really going to the state and they are not stealing the money from the cities or the counties.

“They are just having it reallocated to the traditional core values,” he said. “Now there is an assumption that if it wasn’t for redevelopment areas that nothing would be built.

“I think that that is pretty hard to maintain. Cities say that once you have a designation, everything that has been built from there on is attributed to their redevelopment. I think that is unsustainable.”

Janney said the people of California overwhelmingly supported leaving city revenues, including redevelopment, alone.

“It is going to be eaten alive to try and bail out $25 plus billion of gathered up state legislation debt,” he said. “The real money going to the state for the first two to three years might be only $300 million. It is not going to help anything and it is better to keep the money locally, putting it to good use for what the people locally want to do.”

Morrison said the city’s standpoint is to help the state out. He said the problem is, less than a month ago, city officials get an announcement from the governor saying, by the way, here is the plan, without talking to the cities about it first.

“It is the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said. “This thing keeps on going and we keep providing more and more. So the state looks at it and says you have two golden eggs, we want to take those right now and pay off our debts today. We have too many bills. And by the way we haven’t done a very good job so we are going to cook the goose too.”

Janney said the state is missing the big picture.

“The issue is huge,” he said. “Redevelopment is one of those things that bring jobs to those people who wake up on April 15 and realize they are broke because they had to pay taxes.”

The Human Chord

Rediscovering a grand South Bay treasure

By Albert Fulcher

News Editor

Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hiking the trails, I went with one objective—not to have one.

Driving slowly down Monument Road to Border Field State Park, rabbits and squirrels scampered about. Birds and insects fluttered and buzzed around the car.

It had been a long time since being in the park, it felt nice to be back.

Living in Imperial Beach, I consider the Tijuana River National Estuary my back yard. Whether from the road, the beach or walking in the estuary, I see a breathtaking picture of our coastline and the wildlife that depends on it.

Many days the estuary visits me. Barely a day goes by when I see a bird that I do not recognize. I am not a bird expert, or even an apprentice for that matter, but it is amazing how many different species I see go through this neck of the sloughs throughout the year.

Armed only with my camera, ears and eyes, my hike began. This area is beautiful and life was all around me. This region is unique. There are open spaces, mesas and hills leading to the border and down to the sand dunes and beaches.

Much of the vegetation in this area is now covered with invasive plants. They create a fire hazard in the dry season.

Many of them crowd out the indigenous plants that the wildlife and delicate ecosystem depend on for its continued growth and survival.

As the trail thins out and the brush thickens, there was a symphony of sounds from the thickets, trees and skies. Undoubtedly, I was in the wild. While walking, there were animal trails and tracks leading into heavy brush.

Many animals, seemingly unaware of the dangers that surround them move around speedily, doing what they do. I was mesmerized.

A jutted rock formation caught my attention. Its unique shape led me to think that erosion created this beautifully carved rock. But looking closer, there was a different story in this formation, seismically faulted upward eons ago.

It is a brief timeline of the evolutional history of this area. Old roots of trees mineralized through the ages show an ancient fossilized forest long forgotten.

Engulfed in my own little world of observation, walking around a bend, I saw it. I was left with my jaw hanging down, stunned.

It was my first close look. Stretched out in front of me stood the Great Wall of Mexico.

I opposed construction of this magnitude in this sensitive area. But the federal government waived all environmental laws from the land acquisition. I know what this project did to this environment. Seeing it is atrocious. There had to be a better way.

Now instead of a fence, we have a giant wall between two fences. Construction has left this area barren, paving the way for erosion during the rainy season to pollute the estuary even more.

Pollution is not breaking news in the Tijuana River. Environmentalists, governments and communities deal with this problem continuously. Great progress has been made finding comprehensive ways of reducing the amount of pollution this river spreads to the ocean every year.

With still such a long way to go, why did we take three steps backward? Destroyed are acres of the wildlife’s precious habitat, sending more pollution to the river in the process.

As I left the park, the moon was setting with the sun following closely. Like a curtain call from Mother Nature a hawk flew above me and a rabbit jumped in and out of the trail. As I came closer to the gate a full-grown coyote ran across the path in front of me so quickly it was startling. It was a beautiful day for a walk.

There is no better way to show support of protecting our local land treasures than to go out and visit them. If the community does not use them, it will lose them.

June tax package critical to college budget

College could lose more than $10 million if tax statutes are not extended by California voters

By Titan Daum and Albert Fulcher

Staff Writer and News Editor

Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

California community college leaders are bracing for the worst hit in the system’s 50-year history as the state’s financial meltdown and the national recession have created a perfect storm of fiscal chaos.

Southwestern College Superintendent Denise Whittaker said the budget crisis is an even bigger threat to the district and its students than a potential loss of accreditation.

SWC could lose as much as $12 million of its current $87 million budget, forecasters from the state Legislative Analysts Office predict. Even the rosiest, best-case scenario has SWC taking a $4 million hit.

Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a $433.5 million cut to California’s 110-campus community college system. A $1.7 billion decrease in the state General Fund and suspension of Proposition 98 education funding guarantees could further cripple the community college system.

Loss of state funding could end or severely reduce Cal Grants and other student aid. Tuition increases are inevitable, according to representatives of the California

Community College Chancellor’s Office in Los Angeles.

Whittaker said the Community College League of California provided institutions with three grim budget scenarios that have SWC cuts running from $4-$12 million.

“I am working with the vice presidents, constituent leaders and budget committee to prepare the next steps in addressing budget issues,” said Whittaker. “I am asking the budget committee develop to assumptions, priorities and potential areas for reduction.”

Anticipated budget cuts depend on whether voters approve a tax extension in June and whether legislators maintain or suspend Proposition 98 funding, which in better financial situations guarantees that at least 40 percent of state spending goes to education.

Southwestern College faces three stark scenarios:

Voters reject the June tax package and Proposition 98 is suspended. Southwestern College will lose between $10.5-$12 million.

Tax package fails and Proposition 98 is funded at minimum. Southwestern College’s budget will be reduced by about $7 million.

Tax package approved and Proposition 98 resources maintained. SWC’s budget is cut by about $4 million.

“If we go to the $10 million level of budget cuts you are looking at some pretty significant cuts that probably would look at programs,” Whittaker said. “There are some cuts you can absorb and some cuts you cannot. Let’s hope it doesn’t go that far.”

Whittaker said in past years SWC’s finances drove policy and academic decisions, which is backwards. Part of her mission to help get the college’s accreditation reaffirmed is reversing that process so that priorities generated by the college community drive budgeting.

“Priority number one is still number one regardless of the budget,” she said. “You don’t build the priorities on whether you have the money.

Priorities and budget are separate.”

Whittaker used layoffs as an example of priorities. She said if you do not enact layoffs, you are going to take big cuts elsewhere because 85 percent of expenses are employees, leaving only 15 percent of a budget to work with.

“You have to deal with these discussions honestly and respectfully,” she said. “The committee has to come forth with a priority list that the campus buys in to. I believe it is really a family event. It is really important.”

One side of the balance sheet is going to be funding cuts, but the other is seeking other sources of funding via grants and partnerships, a way of thinking that was discouraged by former top level SWC administrators.

“You can’t just cut supplies and then expect the faculty to teach,” she said.

California was to receive $6.3 billion from the federal government for education in Fiscal Year 2011-12, but that funding is now imperiled. Congressman Bob Filner voted against a recent proposal to cut $9.2 billion in educational funding, but the new Republican majority has expressed its resolve to eliminate much of the funding.

The National Education Association has projected California as one of the states that will be hardest hit by federal budget reductions. NEA forecasters predict the loss of about 1,000 teaching positions, larger class sizes, major hikes in tuition and fees, and cuts to Pell Grant funding up to $448 million.

Department of Education student loan defaults have spiked to 13.8 percent since 2008, according to a recent report. With the loss of jobs, inflation and lack of wage increases, students that graduate are finding it difficult to repay student loans.

Current students are affected because their pool of loan funds is drying up. Filner said cuts hurt low-income students, teachers and Pell Grants, all of which compound California school system’s financial problems.

“In the face of record state and local budget shortfalls, they want to shift even more of the burden of education funding to taxpayers in California or eliminate it entirely,” he said.

“Our children, our teachers and our country’s future deserve better than this.”

Filner said investment in education is needed in order to make sure the next generation of students is able to compete in the global economy.

“The federal budget needs to be cut, but we can do more to reduce our spending and the deficit by bringing our troops home now,” he said.

President Barack Obama’s 2011-12 budget proposal cuts $100 billion from education over the next decade. Proposed cuts directly affect poor students seeking education aid for higher education. Nearly 70 percent of Southwestern College students fall into this category.

Community college leaders in California have urged the governor and legislature to put a measure on the June ballot to extend the current tax structure that has kept the state afloat during the state and federal recession.

Early polls show voters wary of taxes, but willing by a slim margin to support the extensions if they directly benefit education.

Spirit of employees brings rebirth, hope and healing to SWC


Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Issue: Southwestern College was left in shambles by years of inept leadership.

Our Position: Faculty, staff and a new superintendent are leading us back into the light and off probation

As Southwestern College rises from ashes of oppression and hopelessness, flames of rebirth send a powerful newborn Phoenix into flight. It is a resurrection of hope and direction.

Left behind are ruins of the past. They are gone, but not forgotten. And the story is far from over.

In company with the recent upheaval of a turbulent leadership, the college is flying straight into the eye of the accreditation hurricane. Like the Phoenix, using the core values that survived three years of turmoil, the heart of SWC’s community is rising to the task.

Accreditation teams are focused, working relentlessly to prove that the college can continue to provide quality higher education. And this border community has the best and brightest of every world culture to ensure its survival.

With the welcomed resignations of former Superintendent Dr. Raj K. Chopra and former Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs Nicholas Alioto, the major roadblocks to full accreditation have been removed.

Accreditation is progressing so fast positive change is seen almost every day. Removal from probationary status is in sight.

A new governing board made more positive changes in 10 weeks than have been made since 2007. Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker hit the college running and is plowing through accreditation recommendations while pledging to support shared governance, freedom of speech rights, respect and collegiality.

Capricious letters of reprimand were removed from the personnel files of professors that stood up for students.

Chopra’s vicious treatment of Elisandra Singh is being reviewed. A new policy on freedom of expression is on the horizon. A strong and clear new policy protecting student freedom of the press will soon replace the nebulous document Chopra used to try to shut down The Sun.

Flames from the tail of the Phoenix are resurrecting the college campus. All constituents of the college are working collaboratively, without the fear and intimidation of the past.

Make no mistake, there is still much to do and very little time to do it. Everyone has to participate. As a community we have to look past the petty disagreements and get off probation, hammering out the differences in the process.

Student Learning Outcomes have to be done. A technology plan has to be in place. An integrated, institutionalized system guiding the budget and expanding the college’s mission is desperately needed so that academics and student services drive the budget, not the other way around like Chopra and Alioto did it. It’s do or die.

It sounds impossible. But it is not.

Choose battles carefully as the college moves forward. Regardless of personal feelings, think continuously of the overall goal. Do not let lingering ill-will stand in the way of the students’ futures.

Remember that every person faces their day of reckoning. Chopra and Alioto might be gone, but their names are almost certain to reappear in headlines. They left much unresolved and several issues deserve in-depth investigation.

The editorial board of the Southwestern College Sun is dedicated to doing its part to help ensure that the college continues its current focus to serve students and restore the name of the college to the lofty academic reputation it once had.

We are listening, watching and reporting. But most important, like all SWC students, we are learning.

Reprimand letters stricken from professors’ files



By Albert Fulcher

News Editor

Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011

Three professors who received letters of reprimand for accompanying students in an impromptu march to protest class cuts will have the letters removed from their personnel files following a unanimous vote by the new governing board.

English Professors Andrew Rempt and Phil Lopez as well as Professor of Spanish Dinorah Guadiana-Costa were barred from campus for two weeks after standing between college police and a large group of students participating in a march from the free speech patio to a hallway near the superintendent’s office in October 2009.

Accompanied by armed campus police, an administration representative delivered suspension notices to the professors’ homes that same evening pending a “criminal investigation.” The suspensions enflamed the campus and brought national medial glare. Civil liberties organizations from across America rained scorn on SWC’s administration and governing board.

Many faculty and campus employees said removal of the letters is a step in the right direction, but some insist it is not enough.

“Removing these letters was a big step in righting this injustice,” said Dr. Joel Levine, dean of the School of Language and Literature.

“I do believe that one more step is needed to right this injustice appropriately. The district should publicly apologize for the wrong done to these faculty members for sending an armed police officer to their homes and for taking them away from the students they love and who love and needed them.”

Levine said he was heartened to see the newly-constituted board make a “wise and fair” unanimous decision to remove the letters. He said it demonstrates welcome and necessary change in upper leadership at SWC.

Lopez said he appreciated and acknowledges the gesture.

“Removing this letter signals not only a change in direction for the college,” said Lopez, “but it is also a reaffirmation that higher education, and our entire country, is a place for the free exchange of ideas and opinions.”

Rempt said he is also grateful the letters were removed as they were “emblematic of a corrupt and wrong-headed” administration.

“While remnants of that administration remain and there is a lot of work to be done, putting this matter behind us is a good step forward,” he said.

Guadiana-Costa said being suspended for helping students totally devastated her. She said she was stunned by the fact that this was done with the cooperation of several administrators whom she said she believed were on campus to lead, not to “lie and crush.”

“It was a blow to the stomach,” she said. “I was kept away from my campus, my classes and my students.

I was in total shock and despair. I was smeared and slandered on global campus e-mail as Alioto (Nicholas Alioto, vice president for business and financial affairs) attempted to reduce me to the level of a criminal with constant allusions to criminal charges and tried to keep everyone in their place by assuring them that more information on me and on the two suspended professors was forthcoming. Of course, Alioto knew all along that this was a lie.”

Lopez said he had mixed feelings about the removal of the letter of reprimand from his personal file. He said the suspension of three SWC faculty members for participating in student protests over “unnecessary class cuts” brought national attention to the mismanagement of the college.

“It motivated several individuals to run for governing board ultimately leading to a new board majority and positive change for SWC,” he said.

He said in that sense, he is proud that he was suspended.

“Because the letter in my file was a kind of memorial of this struggle, I’m sad that it is gone,” said Lopez. “But I am also glad that it is gone.”

Guadiana-Costa said Alioto acted on the behalf of former superintendent Dr. Raj K. Chopra, several of his “lackeys” and with backing from four out of five members of the governing board at the time. The incident was the beginning of the end for Chopra, she said.

“That’s what hubris does to you. Is everyone listening?” she said. “Chopra is out. We have two new, caring, responsible board members. There is a good ending to this story and it’s good versus evil.”

Rempt said it was a difficult time, but also galvanizing. He said Board President Tim Nader stated repeatedly that the suspensions motivated him to run for the board.

“That in and of itself is gratifying,” said Rempt. “Knowing that our suspension played any role in getting Nader and Norma (Hernandez) on the board makes it a great deal easier to bear.”

Guadiana-Costa said Opening Day ceremonies this semester held a surprise for her. She did not know that Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb was going to perform his song “Phoenix.” 

“I cried all the tears that I had bravely kept inside,” she said. “I was so moved to see him up there. Of all people, the man who was most unfairly and falsely vilified, who persevered because of his love for his students against all attacks and threats, was singing a song of hope and rebirth and collaboration.” 

Lopez said the events of the past several years provide a lesson for students.

“Change does not happen overnight,” said Lopez. “And while democracy is messy and often contentious, it sure beats the alternative.”

Levine said a great injustice was done to the faculty members and reminded him of the statement by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice to anyone is injustice everyone.”

“This sincere public apology should be made to complete the process of righting this injustice and sending a message to the college and broader community,” said Levine.

Government, The Neighborhood Files

Fluoride Added to SD and IB Water; Debate on Safety Continues

San Diego started adding fluoride to its water supply Tuesday. While experts still argue over whether it is helpful or harmful to your health, federal officials are moving toward lowering the maximum amount allowed.

By Albert Fulcher | Email the author | February 1, 2011

The city of San Diego began adding fluoride to its water supply Tuesday.

Fluoridation will be implemented over the course of the next month, starting with treatment plants in Miramar and La Mesa before coming to the Otay Water Treatment Plant in mid-February.

Initially scheduled to begin Dec. 22, the process was delayed for more training, said Arian Collins with San Diego Public Utilities.

Experts contend that fluoride benefits dental health, while critics claim too much fluoride can cause cancer, among other health risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced plans for new recommendation standards in December 2010 to change the maximum amount from 1.2 to 0.7 milligrams per litre, the current minimum.

Previous federal recommendation levels were set by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1962. With the influx of dental products, fluoride supplements and fluoride treatments, there is a larger consumption of fluoride and factors in determining the lower fluoride levels, authorities said.

San Diego water is expected to have 0.8 milligrams per litre, Collins said. San Diego’s water supply is already partially fluoridated since 9 percent of the city’s water comes from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Collins said whether fluoride is good or bad for a person’s health wasn’t for him to decide. “That discussion happened on the state level when they passed the law. We really haven’t concerned ourselves with that,” he said.

“I had no idea about that, with the water,” said Imperial Beach resident William Morris. “But I don’t know. I’d like to believe the city is looking out for us. Plus you figure if it’s really that bad you’d see problems in other parts of the country. I’m not too concerned.”

New federal recommendations are scheduled to be published in the Federal Registrar this spring. Afterwards, the general public will have 30 days to comment by e-mailing

A mineral, fluoride occurs naturally in most water but the first effort to add fluoride to the American water supply was in 1945 in Grand Rapids, MI.

California state law requires water fluoridation for water agencies with more than 10,000 water service connections.

Fluoridation in San Diego is funded by $3.9 million from First 5 Commission of San Diego County, which approved the allocation of funds in November 2007 in a unanimous vote.

“The EPA’s new analysis will help us make sure that people benefit from tooth decay prevention while at the same time avoiding the unwanted health effects from too much fluoride,” said Peter Silva, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Water.

Approximately 70 percent of Americans drink and shower in fluoridated water every day.

First 5 Commission of San Diego County states in its Community Water Fluoridation Fact Sheet that, “Community water fluoridation is considered the safest, most effective, cost-effective and equitable means to provide protection from tooth decay in a community. In addition, it protects teeth and bones from infancy to old age.”

The Fluoride Action Network (FAN) suggested that fluoride levels be reduced to 0.7 ppm (parts per million) 14 years ago.

Its report states that 41 percent of adolescents 12-15 have dental fluorosis (streaking or staining of teeth due to excess floride), more than 100 studies show fluoride damages animal brains and 24 studies conducted show “association between exposure to moderate-to-high levels of fluoride and lowered IQ in children.”

African-Americans suffer disproportionate amounts of kidney disease, diabetes and disfiguring teeth damage from fluoride compared to whites, said Daniel Stockin with The Lillie Center Inc.

“I know the facts are embarrassing and potentially even lawsuit material against CDC, but it’s not morally right that CDC is not telling African-Americans of their multiple, intersecting risks for harm from fluoride,” said Stockin, a public health professional whose firm works to educate Americans about harm from ingested fluorides.

“How does CDC continue to say that fluoridated water is safe and effective ‘for all’? Do African-Americans not count?”

As part of new standards, the ADA and CDC now suggests “parents of newborns may wish to consider using unfluoridated water when mixing infant formula for their babies.”

FAN said the CDC does no outreach to inform parents or funds to pay for minority and low-income family alternative sources of water. FAN claims the controversial chemical fluoride is having harmful effects in black communities.

Water fluoridation is endorsed by the American Dental Association (ADA), a part of the association’s policy since 1950. ADA released a statement commending the new government recommendations and said, “The ADA will continue advocating for community water fluoridation at the proposed levels.”

“We applaud the HHS for reaffirming the safety and efficacy of optimal community water on their side,” said Dr. Raymond F. Gist, president of the American Dental Association.”

Dr. Charles Gordon Heyd, former president of the American Medical Association said, “I am appalled at the prospect of using water as a vehicle for drugs. Fluoride is a corrosive poison that will produce serious effects on a long-range basis. Any attempt to use water this way is deplorable.”

Dr. Donald W. Miller Jr., professor of surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a member of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, said fluoride is absorbed through the skin and inhaled when taking a shower and when washing clothes with fluoridated water.

He said fluoride is used in community grade sodium fluoride or natural calcium fluoride. Miller said promoters are pushing for mandatory statewide fluoridation in various states, but said “meanwhile there is growing evidence that shows fluoride damages health.”

Graig Graziosi and Khari Johnson contributed to this report.

So what do you think? Is it a good or bad thing that fluoride will be added to IB water? Tell us in the comments.
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