Condo Conversion, Ambulance Services and Beach Sand at City Council Meeting Wednesday

Condo Conversion, Ambulance Services and Beach Sand at City Council Meeting Wednesday

The city will extend its ambulance service contract, gather more sand replenishment monies and move forward with new redevelopment agency rules at their meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Four resolutions will go before City Council Wednesday evening for approval of continued emergency medical response services to IB.

The Public Safety Department recommends the city continue the First Responder Fire Paramedic Engine Company Program and Basic and Advanced Life Support Transport Services in Imperial Beach.

Imperial Beach is part of an American Medical Response (AMR) operating area that includes the City of Chula Vista and the Bonita Sunnyside Fire Protection District.

AMR has been the exclusive provider of ambulance services for the city since 1979 and have leased space at the Imperial Beach Fire Station since 2002.

The revised agreement will allow Imperial Beach to jointly fund and administer service contracts and develop common requirements for AMR to meet a larger service area of coverage.

The prior agreement expired May 31.

The agreement allows client cities to collect additional user fees in order to recover costs associated with paramedic services, fire department paramedic first responder and paramedic specialty pay. Firefighters and engineers trained as paramedics receive this extra pay for additional higher levels of medical training, biological hazards and duties.

Chula Vista is the lead agency and completed negotiations with AMR. Ratification of the contract by the city completes the EOA agreement.

AMR agreed to a rent increase from $2,200 t o $2,500 with a three percent annual escalator over the next two years. The city will receive $30,000 in rent for the first year of the agreement. Since 1979, AMR has been the exclusive provider of ambulance services for the city. The prior agreement expired May 31.

This is agenda item 6.1.

With the state’s reorganization of and new rules for redevelopment agencies, City Council will be asked to approve city expenses detailed in the warrant register with $1.9 million in accounts payable that includes $1.6 million for redevelopment agency pass through funds for fiscal years 2009-2011.

The payment would refund property tax to the County of San Diego, South Bay Union School District, Southwestern College, Sweetwater Union High School District, the City of San Diego, and the San Diego County Water Authority.

This is agenda item 2.1.

Implemented in 1991, the San Diego Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Service Authority (AVASA), added registration fees of $1 for vehicles and $2 for commercial vehicles in San Diego County. Senate Bill 106, passed in August of this year, allows extensions of these fees in increments of up to 10 years.

Used by the city since 1991 for the abatement, removal and disposal of discarded, wrecked, dismantled or inoperable vehicles as part of its Neighborhood Revitalization efforts.

With the program, the city will be able tto recover a considerable portion of the cost of abating nuisance vehicles. City staff recommends adopting the 10-year extension of vehicle registration fees.

This is agenda item 2.3.

In June, staff sent a Request for Proposal for brokers to review the city’s insurance programs, benefit administrations and maintaining compliance with state and federal laws pertaining to employee benefits. Four proposals received with one firm opting to withdraw. City staff determined a new contract with Keenan & Associates are in the city’s best interest. City Manager’s recommendations are to execute an agreement beginning Oct. 19 through Dec. 31, 2012 that is extendable for three additional years.

There is no additional fiscal impact at this time, but an emphasis to review insurance product alternatives and duplication of coverage for can result in additional cost savings.

This is agenda item 6.2.

An amendment of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the city focuses on additional contribution of funding to the Regional Beach Sand Project II Project (RBSP II Project).

Staff recommends adoption of the resolution authorizing the amendment between SANDAG and the City providing for the $5.2 million contribution to the construction of Alternative 2 of RBSP II. All available funding allows placement of 416,000 cubic yards of sand on the city’s beach in 2012.

This is agenda item 6.3.

A public hearing is scheduled to adopt a resolution to convert two existing residential units into condominiums at 253 and 255 Elm Avenue. City Manager Gary Brown recommends considering public testimony and adopting the resolution approving the Administrative Coastal Permit, the Tentative Parcel Map and Variance that defines conditions of approval. The existing structure, finalized in 2008 constitutes extreme hardship, requiring the property owner to demolish the existing structure to correct a 1.7-foot deviation. The two new residential units started construction in 2006 receiving final approval from the Building Department in April 2008.

Staff supports that the rear yards meet the intent of yard regulations and determined there are exceptional circumstances for a variance that does not interfere with the health, safety or convenience of the public or occupants.

This is agenda item 5.1.

Public Works is asking to transfer $40,000 from the Sewer Enterprise Reserve Funds to street improvements for the construction and installation of up to 10 new sewer manholes within the 9th Street and Elm Avenue portions of the Street Improvement RDA Phase 4/5 Capital Improvement Program.

This is agenda item 6.4.

City staff submitted a proposal for the Bayshore Bikeway Access Improvement project for a grant. Under a Proposition 84 Urban Greening Grand Program.

Submission date is Nov. 17. Project’s cost estimated at $590,000 and the grant is $396,002. Earmarked for the project is $290,000 from the Redevelopment Agency, enough to cover the difference.

This is agenda item 6.5.


New Life After A Near-Death Experience

New Life After A Near-Death Experience

Professor Deana Alonso-Post triumphs over tragedy

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Editor-in-chief

Published: Friday, October 7th, 2011 at 8:30 pm 

April Fool’s Day was a good day for Professor of Spanish Deana Alonso-Post. It was her first day back teaching after eight months of terrifying illness and tenacious recovery. It was a perilous journey and not the first time she overcame catastrophic life-changing events.

A native of Mexico City, Alonso came to Southwestern College in 1979, took English as a Second Language and earned an associate degree in mathematics. She made Southwestern home again in 1995, this time as a newly-minted professor.

Within a year of her arrival an unthinkable tragedy hit. Her husband, the brilliant Professor of Engineering Dr. Costas Lyrintzis, was murdered by a deranged student gunman at San Diego State University in 1996 in a crime that shocked the nation. In an instant Alonso was a widow and a single mother of a one-year-old daughter.

She dyed her hair black and solemnly mourned her husband for a year. Then during a stirring address during a memorial for Lyrintzis at SDSU on the one year anniversary of his murder, she pledged to get on with her life. Even in death Lyrintzis was a model husband and father.

“If I had not had that full-time job and my husband had not provided us with good insurance, I would have lost my house and my life would have been totally different,” said Alonso.

Alonso rebounded to become one of SWC’s most talented and respected professors. She authored two successful textbooks and was voted Outstanding Faculty Member. Her daughter Sofia was growing up a spunky and outgoing personality like her mother and a kind intellectual like her father. Alonso was happily re-married to Frank Post, an SWC adaptive computer specialist with Disability Support Services.

Life was good for Alonso when tragedy struck again last year in August, shattering her life and leaving her new husband, family and the campus community in shock.

She underwent emergency surgery for an aneurism that burst, spreading blood through her brain. After days of headaches, nightmares and hallucinations, a perforated colon led to a second surgery, triggering a stroke. Waking up the next morning, she found herself in terror.

“I could not speak,” she said. “I could think in Spanish, but I could not speak a word of it.”

Even with the headaches and hallucinations, she said she possessed all her thinking and considerable language abilities, but the stroke prevented her brain from connecting her language center to her speech center. She slowly began to speak in small words, but only in English.

“I really panicked,” she said. “Inside my brain was fully working, but I could not tell anyone. I realized I was stuttering and sounding like an idiot.”

Her sister, Professor of Spanish Esther Alonso, said it began during a trip to Italy. She said her sister had problems with dizziness and had tripped twice.

“We just thought she wasn’t paying attention,” she said. “When her husband found out that she had had dizzy spells and fallen, he insisted that Deana go to the hospital and find out why these things were happening. The neurologist saw her and told her we need to have surgery tomorrow.”

Alonso’s doctor found a nine-millimeter aneurism with a weird shape and a daughter aneurism attached. He told her if it burst she had a 30 percent chance of living and an unknown chance of keeping all her abilities. Deciding to go with the surgery, she wrote her family and colleagues hoping for the best.

“After having someone die in my life, I know how difficult it is to deal with,” she said. “So I got all my papers in check, gave them to my husband, told him to take care of my daughter in case anything happened.”

Alonso said Post never left her side. Without him she said she might not have survived. Post did everything she needed, even changing the dressings of her open wound three times a day for four months while they waited for her colostomy reversal.

“My husband was an angel,” said Alonso. “So I believe I had an angel up above and down here looking after me. But it was tough.”

Behind the scenes, headed into surgery, Esther Alonso said that it was Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, chair of world languages, who did most of the work to keep the classes going, relieving the family to face the crisis at hand.

“It is amazing how fast you can solve problems when it is imperative,” said Esther Alonso. “It was one day to the next without any preparation. That tells you how fantastic the department is.”

Guadiana-Costa said she did what she had to.

“When she was going in for surgery, no one was ready for how things turned out,” she said. “That is, that her aneurysm would burst in the middle of surgery and she would remain on the verge of death for weeks.”

Anguished day and night by her condition, Guadiana-Costa said she could not stop worrying about Sofia, Frank and her dear friend Esther Alonso. Guadiana-Costa said it seemed impossible to start the new semester without Alonso.

“I felt like a ghost coming back to classes—invisible, empty and lost,” she said. “I went through the motions but they were rote and totally meaningless. She just had to get better.”

Alonso did get better, but only after several setbacks. With the horrible headaches and hallucinations she thought people were there to sell her body parts and believed her husband wanted her deported. Even though she had just gone through the “hell of brain surgery,” her perforated abdomen could kill her, meaning another surgery.

“I kept thinking, ‘This cannot be the end of me here’,” she said. “It was hard to have so much fear, but I did not break down. I was very strong. The whole time I was in the hospital there was always someone with me, even every night. I was not alone for a minute.”

After the stroke, she said she felt lost and the loss of her native tongue scared her most of all. She said little by little, she spoke more English and eventually the Spanish came back.

“When I began speaking in Spanish it came stronger and better than the English,” she said. “I believe it is because it is my native language and always a part of my life. It was amazing that I began in English, but it was scary because I teach Spanish.”

Esther Alonso said Deana was finally able to come home while waiting to have the colostomy reversed. While Alonso recovered from the surgery and the stroke, she started feeling ill again. She went back to the hospital for five more days, once again faced with deadly consequences.

“She had a bacterial infection that ruins your stomach and intestinal lining caused by the colon surgery,” said Esther Alonso. “It was very dangerous and painful for Deana. She had lost weight through the prior surgeries, but this was the one where she lost the most. When released from the hospital, she started climbing out of the hole all over again.”

Alonso said it took about three months before she began feeling normal. Going to a speech therapist and with a colostomy bag, she said she came out of the hospital “like an old rag, walking with a walker.” She said she lost more than 30 pounds on top of wounds from two surgeries and a severe infection that set her back.

“It was very difficult, both physically and emotionally. I was just so depressed,” she said. “Then they could not reconnect me because I had a huge tumor in my uterus.”

It took four months before the two surgeons could work together. During that time she got a huge cyst on her ovary, once again in extreme pain and facing another surgery. She said she was amazed that her current health benefits covered it all.

“But that surgery was good and I felt normal,” she said. “It was hard, but now I think my brain is between 95 and 98 percent back.”

For 20 days faculty fed her family, Alonso said. Each day someone would bring food to feed the family for the day. She said her 76-year-old aunt came to take care of her twice after the first and third surgeries.

“My aunt is a swimmer, beginning at 15, and has won medals in her division,” she said. “And she is in better shape than anyone. She would help me bathe. She made me walk every day, even when I started at about 10 steps at a time. Now I walk three miles every single day.”

Esther Alonso said it was “Deana’s personality, strength and tenacity” that sped her recovery. She said the tragedies and adversities that her sister has faced would have made another person give up, but her sister never loses sight of her goals in life.

“Even when her husband was killed, she did not fall to pieces because she had a 14-month-old baby that needed a mother,” said Esther Alonso. “She is incredible. If those things would have happened to me, I would have crumbled.”

Alonso said she notices small grammar mistakes or forgetting the right word from time to time, and experiences sciatic pain due to weakened muscles.

“I am a fighter,” she said. “I am going to come out of all of this just like everything else. I have my life, my family and my colleagues to support me. I won’t take no for an answer.”

She came back in April with a reduced load for six weeks to see if she was ready to teach.

“It was invigorating to me,” she said. “I love so much what I do, the minute I got into the classroom I forgot all the pain, everything. So, this semester I wanted to come back with a full load. It’s good to be home.”

SWC has been home since 1979, she said, when her father decided to move the family business. He sold everything they owned to make a home for his family. With the exception of her sister, the entire family moved to Chula Vista.

“My father burned all the boats leaving Mexico City, like any great Spaniard would do,” said Alonso.

Alonso said she came to the United States well educated, just finishing her first year of university in Mexico City. Her parents went back home to Mexico after a few years because they could not recreate the lifestyle they had there in Chula Vista. Her brother moved with his family to Tijuana, leaving the Alonso sisters living in a tiny apartment. Alonso earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics because she felt she did not have a good command of English. Numbers, she said, are numbers.

Her experiences as a migrant and an English learner gave her empathy for SWC students attempting to learn English without having a proper structure of their native language. Alonso returned to college to earn her Master’s degree in linguistics with an emphasis on second language acquisition at SDSU. She later earned another Master’s degree in English as a Second Language.

“I became fascinated in the transition of going to English from Spanish,” she said. “I had gone through it, but for me it wasn’t hard. I had a very good educational background and you transfer all of those skills with you. You do not have to relearn how to think, or organize thoughts for an essay. But my students had a lot of problems because they had no skills in their native tongue to transfer into English.”

Alonso said she is a strong believer in bilingual education and giving students the language they already have, strengthening and solidifying the foundation of language to transfer to learning English.

Before coming to SWC she taught at Castle Park High School, Pasadena City College and Citrus College. She co-authored, along with her sister, two textbooks. Entre mundo and Invitaciones. After many rejections and unwilling to give up, she published Invitaciones with her own money and eventually sold the rights. It is now the official text in more than 100 college and universities in the United States.

“Destiny has interesting ways of finding what you are going to need,” she said.

Alonso said she did not want to be a “halfway-there citizen.” She wanted to make sure the United States did not become like parts of Mexico where they do not protect their people. In August 1987 she became an American citizen.

“I wanted to be part of the people, to have a say and this country has always been so good to immigrants,” she said. “Those of us who want to work hard and do something. To be industrious and creative, this country has always been there for us. It is just amazing. I think anyone who comes to this country and works hard can. It is not so in other countries.”

Through all her trials, Alonso said the people in her world, her country and her home inspire her.

“Life has hit me pretty hard,” she said. “But it has also given me many blessings, my daughter and my family. I have an awesome sister. And now I also have an awesome husband. That is good news. I believe I have been blessed all my life by having people around me that make me a better human being.”

District Prepares For More Budget Woes

District Prepares For More Budget Woes

 By: Albert H. Fulcher, Editor-in-chief

Published: Friday, October 7th, 2011 at 9:19 pm

With the California state budget fully loaded, state legislators are ready at the trigger and have made it clear the next round of fire will once again be aimed at higher education. Should another state deficit open up, automatic triggers will go into effect enacting mid-year cuts for community colleges. Southwestern College’s fiscal year 2011-12 budget, approved by the governing board Sept. 13, was created with the worst case in mind.
Bob Temple, interim vice president for business and financial affairs, said the proposed budget reflects the probability of future cuts from Sacramento and minimizes the risk of under budgeting. He said is it almost impossible to spend every bit of every line item in the budget and expects a fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2011-12.
“Within reason, the budget committee supported the recommendation to plan not for the worst-case scenario, but to make a budget to where the committee does not need to come back to the board with mid-year reductions,” Temple said.
Statewide, community colleges tuition cost raised $10 this fall and a $290 million in statewide community colleges cuts took immediate affect with the passage of the state budget. If projected state revenues fall short, two triggers could force an additional $72 million in community college cuts.
Revenue forecasts falling below $1 billion will trigger an additional $30 million in cuts to community colleges and a $10 tuition increase, and revenue shortfalls below $2 billion means a $72 million cut.
Governing Board Vice President Norma Hernandez said her concern is that members of the community do not know what is going to happen with the triggers coming down from Sacramento and the $2 million is a good buffer in resolving the consequences of state reductions.
State Controller John Chiang’s July report showed state revenues down by $538.8 million, with a large decrease in sales and corporate taxes. Chiang said every drop in revenue puts the state closer to imposing drastic trigger cuts next year.
On Sept. 20, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly BillX1 32, deferring a $10 spring 2012 fee increase to the summer. Chiang and Community College Chancellor Jack Scott said this saves colleges the challenge of collecting higher fees from students who have already registered and paid for spring classes.
Temple said the state postponing the $46 student fee increase removes an enormous amount of problems for the college, but at this time it is an unrecoverable revenue loss.
SWC’s 2011-12 adopted budget includes almost $90.25 million in total expenses and $85.3 million total revenue, leaving this year’s budget with a $5 million deficit. Part of the budget committee’s three-year budget plan includes a one-time $5 million dip into governing board reserves this fiscal year as the college works on ongoing expenditure cuts over the following two years to create a balanced budget, cutting more than $8 million in yearly ongoing expenses.
Governing Board President Tim Nader said he had a fundamental problem with approving a budget that shows a $5 million deficit at the end of the year, but his understanding of the proposed budget is that the college is working to save $2 million more than already proposed cuts, leaving only a deficit of $3 million.
Temple said the goal is not to spend $2 million of the reserve funds requested.
“We don’t have a specific way of achieving this at this time and we will be reporting monthly to the board with progress on our expenditures, our progress on obtaining revenues and any other questions the board might have,” said Temple.
Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker said the $2 million would not only come from salary savings and lower expenditures of supplies, materials, contracts and service.
“Our goal is to reach $2 million, if not more,” said Whittaker. “It would be savings in all parts of the budget. The salaries will be the largest part of that because of the vacant positions we are trying not to backfill.”
Nader said in reviewing the past few years of budget the actual ending fund balance has been about $5 million less than the projected ending fund balance.
“And if history held then the actual fund balance (2011-12) would again end up at in the neighborhood of a little more than $13 million as opposed to a little over $8 million,” said Nader.
Temple said the proposed budget makes the assumption that everything budgeted will be expended.
“You are kind of comparing apples to oranges,” said Temple. “That is where we are committing the fund balance of $5 million. Do we expect to spend all of that $5 million? No, we do not.” Temple said last year’s budget savings was due to a very conservative effort by the district in the spring semester not to use funds.
“There have been a number of years as I have looked at the budget where there have been cutbacks year, after year, after year,” said Temple. “I do not expect you to have that kind of fallout that you had in the past or unexpended dollars because there is a demand of need out there.”
Temple said much of budget misunderstandings are difficult-to-understand state requirements in submitting budgets and are most often higher projections than expenditures.
Professor of Japanese Andy MacNeill, SWC’s Budget Committee co-chair said what is seen in the proposed budget are imaginary numbers because the state has not yet released official figures to the district.
“This is a forecast and the expenditures are high and they are not going to be what we actually wind up with at the end of the year. This is the way it has always been,” he said.
Budget committee members have attempted to build a budget that will not disrupt programs with mid-year cuts, MacNeill said. The hope of the committee is that the SWC budget is a worst case scenario.
“It is not going to be this $8.6 million fund balance, it is probably going to be about $10.6 million,” said MacNeill. “For the very first time we are very comfortable with what these numbers say. We are all on the same page of what the numbers should say.”
Director of Finance Wayne Yanda said the phenomena that occurred over the past few years will not occur for fiscal year 2011-12.
“Five million is a stretch and trying to save an extra $2 million is very challenging,” said Yanda. “I think we could push it if we held back on some of the positions and cut some of the services. I would estimate that it would be between $10 and $10.6 million in the ending fund balance.”
Whittaker said her goal is to identify as soon as possible the $2 million in savings. She said the “big ticket items” are going to be in salaries of positions that are not backfilled. Once the $2 million target is reached additional savings beyond will divert to the Shared Conciliation Council prioritization list to meet some of the college’s unmet needs, Whittaker said.
“This is a real tricky process because we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. But the needs don’t go away so we still have to find dollars in the long run,” she said.
Nader said he heard members of this budget committee have worked this process better than any time in recent history.
“If we have to come back for any mid-year cuts it will not be because the budget committee has not done its job, but the state’s failure to do its job,” said Nader.

Newspaper Honored For Defense Of Free Speech

Newspaper Honored For Defense Of Free Speech

 By: Sun Staff

Published: Friday, October 7th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Following more than three years of strife where Southwestern College journalism students and faculty were harassed and punished by college administrators and some governing board members, the staff of the SWC Sun will be awarded collegiate America’s most prestigious recognition for defense of the First Amendment, the College Press Freedom Award.
Presented annually by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) of Virginia and the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) of Minneapolis, colleges nationwide are nominated for demonstrating “outstanding support for college press freedom.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, said the threats delivered to The Sun and newspaper advisor Max Branscomb were “almost inconceivable in America.”
“It is in no small part thanks to these students’ persistent and truthful reporting that the reign of President Chopra and his puppets on the Board of Trustees ended last year,” he said, “and that the new trustees enacted more protective policies to prevent such flagrant disregard for First Amendment principles from ever recurring.”
The Sun will join 25 colleges since 1984 to be awarded the College Press Freedom Award.
“For never wavering from their journalistic mission in the face of adversity, and for keeping the presses running when those in power wanted them shuttered, the editors and staff of The Sun are richly deserving of the College Press Freedom Award,” said LoMonte.
Before the turnaround in college leadership last fall, The Sun and SWC’s former administration often faced off over the paper’s coverage of plagiarism by the superintendent, misappropriation of college funds, conflicts of interest between governing board members and contractors, bribing of college administrators and many other controversies. The publication drew the ire of former superintendent Raj K. Chopra and other administrators for publishing content deemed controversial and unflattering to college leadership, said Albert Fulcher, editor-in-chief.
The Sun was out in front of coverage of issues that eventually generated wide-spread media attention. Local and national media outlets bombarded the college when four faculty members were suspended for attending a peaceful rally against class cuts and again when former vice president Nicholas Alioto solicited donations to support two governing board candidates from construction companies he had just awarded contracts to. Alioto was also exposed by The Sun for accepting personal gifts from the same companies.
Chopra and Alioto declared war on The Sun in the fall of 2009 after Branscomb refused to give Alioto the names of faculty members who paid for a full-page No Confidence in Chopra advertisement in The Sun. Alioto hired an auditor to “look for irregularities” in newspaper advertising sales. When that effort was unsuccessful, Alioto refused to pay printing bills and froze Sun budget lines. The college also stripped Branscomb of reassigned time for advising the Sun. Branscomb refused to resign and supervised the newspaper for two years without pay.
Preceding a closely contested governing board election in fall 2010, Chopra threatened the paper with a shut down, promising consequences for Branscomb and the Dean of Arts and Communications Donna Arnold if The Sun went to print.
Staff members decided to get creative, said Fulcher.
“We brought the matter to media attention immediately and started raising money to put that issue out ourselves,” said Fulcher. “We weren’t going to give in to threats. We did what we had to.”
Staff members raised enough money to print every issue that semester and hired an Orange County printer after school officials intimidated The Sun’s regular printer and threatened to cancel college printing contracts. Issue #1 of fall 2010 was lost, but Issue #2 broke the story of Alioto’s “pay for play” with contractors and architects. The Sun later broke a story about Alioto’s dumping of nearly $5 million in college funds that he miscalculated rather than funding hundreds of classes he had earlier recommended eliminating. SWC lost nearly half of its classes under the Chopra-Alioto regime.
“This award is to us as an Oscar is to an actor,” said John Carter, former editor-in-chief. “It reflects the integrity and passion with which our young journalists accomplish their tasks. The only difference is The Sun had no script to follow.”
Dave Waddell, newspaper faculty advisor of The Orion at Chico State University, said he recommended the paper to SPLC for its indomitable resolve to continue printing.
“I nominated The Sun for this award for its courageous defense of a free press against what I would characterize as a corrupt administration seeking desperately, arrogantly and ruthlessly to silence the student newspaper,” he said. “But they failed. They failed because The Sun would not be intimidated. I admire them for standing up to the attack and for winning this battle.”
Chopra and Alioto, along with half a dozen vice presidents and directors, resigned following the November 2010 elections that changed the board majority. At least two faced District Attorney and Grand Jury investigations.
Student leaders and Branscomb will accept the award at the ACP and College Media Advisors National College Media Convention Oct. 26-30 in Orlando, Florida.


SWC negligent not having an Emergency Plan

What happens when thousands of people on campus are left in the dark at Southwestern College? Absolutely nothing. We have no safety plan.

There is no excuse for this. It is pure negligence. This is especially disquieting for a 50-year-old institution for higher learning that has had its share of near misses in the recent past.

Walking around campus shortly after the largest blackout in San Diego County history, I saw that faculty had no choice but to make decisions on their own. Some gathered classes outside while others immediately sent students home. Faculty members did an excellent job in handling the situation as best as they could. But that is not enough in an uncertain, possibly dangerous situation.

I somewhat expected to see campus leadership spreading the word that the campus was closed, but I saw nothing. Most of them were just as much in the dark as the rest of us.

Someone from the college tweeted the news about the power outage and eventually the closing of the campus, but with only 332 followers, it is not even close to being an effective way to communicate to the 20,000-plus campus community. Two people walking the campus with a bullhorn is a better solution than relying on the college’s Twitter account.

Some cell phones died immediately and some maintained service but experienced delays in getting messages and calls due to system overload.

In this day and age, emergency text messaging systems like San Diego State’s are the quickest and most reliable way to reach a majority of the campus community. It is highly unlikely that there is any office, classroom or campus facility that will not have at least one person with a cell phone that has texting capacity.

My next-door neighbor works at Mendoza Elementary School in San Diego near Imperial Beach. Within 20 minutes of the blackout all faculty, staff and parents were sent text messages, and school grounds closed safely and orderly. She could not comprehend that SWC has no safety plan and expressed shock at the college’s inability to communicate with people on campus. She said bad management and poor planning is the only excuse for this and was happy her daughter no longer attended this college.

Her daughter was in class at SDSU and came home shortly after the blackout because the college has an emergency text messaging system in place.

Emergency text messaging is not the answer to all emergency situations, but it is a good place to start. In dire scenarios, emergency text messaging is not the answer if all service is lost. That is why it is called an emergency plan. Plans have to cover every contingent emergency.

Scenarios involving earthquakes, fires, predators, health epidemics and shooters need to be planned, practiced and understood by every person on campus. With our proximity to the border, SWC needs to address issues that many colleges might not, like the recent collapse of scaffolding at the San Ysidro/Tijuana border crossing.

It is fortunate in this case that it was only a blackout. If not for my android, I could have sat in the dark for a long time, completely unaware of what was happening and what to do. In a situation like this, faculty and staff could have just as easily led students out into the center of a major crisis, possibly even a shooting zone.

Now that SWC has cleaned out its corrupt former leaders and regained accreditation, it needs to get serious about a safety plan. Former Campus Police Chief Brent Chartier did not want the responsibility, so the college needs to find a competent grown-up to lead the effort.

Mother Nature has a temper and all the great engineering of man has flaws. Before our next cascading blackout SWC needs to employ some cognitive candlepower and come up with a workable emergency plan that is understood by all employees. Safety is job one, so it is time to get busy.

South San Diego Leaders Discuss Strategy to Fight Slow Economy

South San Diego Leaders Discuss Strategy to Fight Slow Economy

Political leaders and economic experts lead symposium on South San Diego County’s economic future in jobs, education and bi-national relationships.

In a sold out conference, consisting of elected officials, businesses, educators and community leaders, members of the South County Economic Development Council (SCEDC) met Friday at the San Diego Convention Center to network, listen to economic projections and vent their own challenges and accomplishments in facing today’s tough economy.
SCEDC’s 21st Annual Economic Summit held Sept. 30 tackled tough blockades in South County’s economic future, including education, unemployment, binational business relationships and the poor performance of the San Diego/Mexico border.

Divided into two panels, Economic Outlook and Elected Officials topics focused on the state of the South San Diego County Region and its future.

SCEDC government partners include the cities of Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego as well as San Diego County, Baja California and the Port of San Diego.

President of the San Diego Workforce Partnership Mark Cafferty said his office knows what unemployment looks like, as they see the faces of struggling small business owners and people below the poverty level seeking jobs.

“There isn’t any specific increase in any section of race or age, but a massive increase in the number of men that walk into our office,” Cafferty said. “And there are an alarming number of veterans that have served admirably and are trained professionals. I hope these are the numbers that everyone leaves here remembering.”

Cafferty said the unemployment rate for veterans is more than 25 percent and could reach an estimated 30 percent. With a 10.2 percent unemployment rate in San Diego County, South San Diego cities are higher, with August unemployment rates of 16.2 percent in Imperial Bebach. 11.8 percent in Chula Vista and 19.3 percent in National City, the highest of any city in the county.

“We need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach and not an ‘I win, you lose’ politics,” he said.

Professor Dr. Alan Gin with the University of San Diego and publisher of the USD’s monthly Index of Leading Economic Indicators for San Diego County said that so far it looks like 2011 has been a good year.

San Diego County lost approximately 70,000 jobs in 2009 and nearly 10,000 in 2010. Reports this year to August, show an increase of 16,000 jobs countywide. San Diego still remains about one percent above the national unemployment rate but below the state rate.

“Some say we are heading into a double-dip recession,” Gin said. “I don’t think so, but it is a hard possibility.”

Gin said job growth is greatest in leisure and hospitality, health care services, administrative and support services, scientific, and technical services. Construction and government positions were hit hardest with losses by the last recession, and he predicts a positive but weak year of growth in 2012.

Chairman Rafael Pastor said Vistage International Inc. is a data driven service, and combines what small to large businesses think about the state of the economy today. Vistage includes more than 15,000 CEO members in fifteen countries. Figures show a large lack of confidence in today’s economy from business owners.

“We showed a big lost this quarter,” said Pastor. “Most disturbing is 40 percent of our CEOs said ‘economic uncertainty’ is the most significant issue they face right now. When caution sets in, businesses back off hiring and growth.”

Imperial Beach Councilmember Jim King said it is important to realize it is a time of change.

He said economic breakdowns in the nation and state are creating financial difficulties for every city. Taxes are not coming in as expected and the governor and legislature’s attempt to redefine redevelopment agencies is having a huge impact on small cities, he said. King said the American Legion project to create low-income housing for veterans is potentially in peril due to the possibility of losing redevelopment funds.

“We have a small tax base in Imperial Beach, so every dime of resources we can gain through redevelopment monies is to our advantage,” King said.

“South County is in fact a mega-region and the infrastructure being done at the border with transportation, rail and other avenues of access are very important.”

California’s 51st Congressional District Congressman Bob Filner said he knows how much border waiting cost the state. He said despite a rich diverse culture that attracts people to this region, that many people are afraid of it.

“65 percent of San Diegans have never crossed the border,” Filner said. “We have to glorify this border. Not demagog it as some bad thing we have to be afraid of. We have to say this is what is going to be our city, our economy, our future and we have to be excited about it.”

Assemblyman Ben Hueso who represents Imperial Beach and the 79th district said reducing the border wait time by one hour would contribute $7 billion to the state economy every year.

Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante said $600 million of investment by the U.S. federal government and $200 million by Mexico will double the amount of gates on both sides and should reduce border-crossing time greatly.

“Tijuana/San Diego bi-national area is the largest and most dynamic area of the U.S. Mexico border region and for many decades they have been linked,” Bustamante said. “The Tijuana economy has developed mostly due to the economic exchange of the border region.”

Mexican Congressman Gaston Luken of Baja California said local official are not taking advantage of opportunities already in place.

“Build closer ties. Look south. The world is not flat,” he said.

Luken said many prospects in Mexico could help stimulate the local economy on both sides. “There are many things to do, but fix the border,” he said. Getting technology and looking at other countries (like Israel) that protect security without hindering the flow at the border is part of the solution.

Senator Juan Vargas said decreasing border wait time is not just a local problem and it is time for a public ownership of State Route 25 and a third border crossing is part of the solution.

“When you think about Tijuana and you think about San Diego, we are very similar in various ways,” Vargas said.

Mayor Bustamante said it is important for people in the San Diego region to know what the city is doing. He said it is working hard to change the perception of Tijuana as just a crime-ridden city caused by drug cartels fighting with each other.

Creating jobs for South County residents and programs designed to stimulate the local economy were the subject of several of South County’s elected officials.

Coronado Councilman Barbara Denny said he expects to see less traffic congestion in the future with recent changes made at the council level.

“I envision an expanded ferry system in San Diego Bay that is both cost effective and environmentally friendly,” Denny said. “I would like to reduce traffic congestion on Interstate 5 and in our town by connecting our communities with affordable service on the ferry for residents, employees and tourists.”

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox said at the county level they are working on a strong infrastructure and creating jobs.

“I don’t think there is anything as elected officials that we should be focusing on other than trying to create jobs locally,” Cox said. The county for example has completed the first phase of the County Operation Center, a $184 million project he claims creates 200 to 250 jobs a day.

He said several county infrastructure projects bring jobs to the local economy. Beginning next year, the San Diego Waterfront Park and the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility project will create more than 700 construction jobs.

Assemblyman Marty Block of the 78th district said it is important to form bipartisan relationships because California’s partisan stance hurts the state.

He said his new bill, AB900 allows the governor to pick 10 projects around the state over $100 million and allow a streamlined litigation process.

“This could include projects like the San Diego Convention expansion, sports stadium or any other projects move much more quickly,” said Block. “It will attract more money because of less delay. San Diego is sure to get a couple or few of these projects.”

Block said higher education is his passion and he is working closely with South Bay educators to create a center of higher education for the youth of South Bay, including a bill for a new four-year university in Chula Vista.

Hueso said he two very important legislative bills this year he thinks will bring money to his district. AB 981, California Capital Access Program targets small businesses in underserved areas that would increase the lending criteria so more businesses qualify.

“We leveraged $84 million into about $2 billion worth of loans for small businesses,” Hueso said. “The biggest issue in putting people back to work is to invest in the areas where most people work.”

Infrastructure State Revolving Fund, AB 696 has loaned more than $30 billion for economic growth since creation with about $500 million available this year for loans to businesses, non-profits, cities and government agencies for economic development projects, Hueso said.

California is unique in the nation, said Keynote Speaker Bill Lockyer, the state treasurer. He said that even in this economy the possibility of creating new businesses and jobs is strong. Well-educated, highly paid jobs are his primary goal in turning around the economy of the state.

“The largest challenge is training our future generation to fill these positions,” he said. “Higher education produces wealth and not supporting it is a long term mistake in generating the future economy.”

Lockyer said he had hope for the future, but many challenges from the state and national level block progress.

Lockyer said several “trends” in California are advantages at the local level. The state sits on the Pacific Rim. It is full of tourism possibilities and has a rich diversity.

“We have skimmed the planet for 300 years and brought the best of the world right here,” said Lockyer. “This is an incredible place of entrepreneurs and dreamers all with the fundamental principle that everyone counts.”

New American Legion Building, City Employee Benefits on Wednesday City Council Agenda

New American Legion Building, City Employee Benefits on Wednesday City Council Agenda

City Council will review two long-term code enforcement cases and move forward with an Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency funded American Legion Post project.

City Council will consider final adoption of resolutions for salary compensation plans for the next two fiscal years at their meeting Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Recent Memorandums of Understandings approved stipend and benefit increases for Service Employees International Union, Local 221 (SEIU) and the Imperial Beach Firefighters Association Local 4692.

Fiscal impact for stipend and benefit increases for SEIU is approximately $63,268 2011-2012 and $20,143 for 2012-2013. Fiscal impact for the Firefighters Association is approximately $63,268 2011-2012 and $20,143 for 2012-2013 and included in existing city budget.

Increased employee contributions towards pensions, reduced health care, and second tier retirement are expected to provide long-term savings to annual budgets.

These issues will be covered in agenda items 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5.

Also on the agenda is approval of plans to move forward with a new four-story American Legion Hall with housing for low income seniors and veterans. The project will receive $3.8 million from the Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency and is estimated to cost a total $7.4 million.

The public hearing will review permits received for the project and approve the demolition of a single family home, six residence attached to the Legion and the current American Legion Post to build 29 housing units and a 3,600 square foot new Post meeting hall. The project is being led by the Hitzke Consulting development firm.

This is agenda item 5.2.

Two code enforcement cases are before council after owners or occupants have not taken care of violations on two properties.

Property owners Miguel Del Rosal and Donna Musick of 741 Hickory Court are back to council after Musick-Del Rosa spoke at council receiving an extension of the public hearing on this case.

Staff is requesting adoption of a resolution declaring the notice and order to eliminate substandard and public nuisance conditions and authorize staff to continue to monitor the property.

An ongoing case since March 17, 2010 includes violations of visual blight, a unrepaired roof and a inoperable vehicle. Staff delivered repeated notices and issuance of Administrative Citation beginning May 13, 2010 with no response from property owner and no resolution of violations.

Currently the roof is not repaired, covered in tarps and an inoperable vehicle is still on the property. Civil penalties from May 9-18, 2011 are at $1,350.

This is agenda item 5.3.

City staff is asking for a resolution for the abatement of substandard and public nuisance conditions at 1257 East Lane.

According to the city’s Code Enforcement officer David Garcias, numerous citizen complaints were reported to city staff between 1997 and 2011.

Violations include visual blight, solid waste, inoperable/abandoned vehicles on property, overgrown vegetation, hazardous plumbing and mechanical equipment, improper occupancy, no building permits for new construction, displays in the public right of way (fixed) and holding garage sales without permits.

Property is now for sale. Civil and administrative penalty costs from Sept. 7-Oct. 5, 2011 are $13,100.

Staff recommendations include authorization of staff to obtain an inspection warrant to determine inside conditions and assess long-term abatement options. Staff is also requesting permission to seek legal action to compel owner to clean up property of obtain abatement warrant for abatement to be completed by city or private contract.

This is agenda item 5.4.

Council will be asked to approve city expenses between pay periods ending Aug. 29, Sept. 8 and Sept. 22, 20ll for a total of $2.27 million, $1.75 million in accounts payable that includes $466,461 for the San Diego Sheriff for July 20ll law enforcement services, and $513,544.31 in payroll expenses.

This is Agenda Item 2.2.

A resolution for final approval of the Annual Report of the Business Improvement District Board (BID) and authorizing an annual assessment for fiscal year 2011-2012 will appear before council for approval. BID expenditures for the 2010-2011 fiscal year is estimated at $56,015.

Total projected revenues are at $30,500 and the current reserve is approximately $35,000 with a projected carryover of $15,000 at the end of the 2011-2012 fiscal year. An audit of the organization stated that the BID should not accrue excess funds but invest revenue on ways to improve exposure for local businesses.

Fiscal year 2010-2011 accomplishments of BID funding were Taste of IB, partially funding new banners on city light posts, 4th of July fireworks, Sunset Celebration concerts, sound for the Beachfront BBQ, funding Woody logo street signs on commercial roads and conducting a Business Expo.

Fiscal Year 2011-0212 plans include Taste of IB, summer Sunset Celebration concerts, 4th of July fireworks, music for Christmas Comes to IB, Beachfront BBQ, painting electricity boxes, holiday decorations, another Business Expo and advertisement of special projects and newsworthy city projects. Surplus is down approximately $4,000 from the 2010-2011fiscal year.

This is agenda item 5.1

Mayor Janney is expected to sign a proclamation for Tijuana River Action Month. The 2nd Annual Tijuana River Action Month consists of a series of stewardship, public education and cleanup activities during Sept. and Oct. 2011. This period falls in between bird nesting season and before the start of the rainy season to remove as much ocean-bound trash as possible.

Upcoming events include:

October 8: Cleanup at Dairy Mart Road (Surfrider San Diego and WiLDCOAST

October 12: South Bay Water Quality Workshop

October 15: Cleanup in Los Laureles, Diary Mart Road, Tijuana Estuary Speaker Series

October 16: Suzies Farm Tour, Closing Ceremony, Press Conference

October 19: Border 2012 Conference in National City

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