La Paz, Marcha Migrante VII

By: Albert Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Monday, February 27th, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Nestled in the Tehachapi Mountains, between San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, rugged, peaks and great oak stand guard, protecting a sacred plot of land. In this safe haven stands a simple wooden cross, with an iron crucifix behind a small granite headstone. Saint Francis of Assisi and La Virgen de Guadalupe stand on each end of a consecrated rose garden in Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), the home and burial site of Cesar Chavez, one of America’s great humanitarian activists of the 20th century.

In the midst of a mountain chain that almost divided the state into Northern California and Southern California twice, Cesar Chavez started a revolution that united people to fight for the rights of the migrant farm workers. His bold but nonviolent fight for social change, influenced by his deep faith in God and examples of Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he fought this fight with boycotts, fasts, marches and strikes—and thousands of people joined his crusade. Cries of ¡Si Se Puede! and ¡Huelga! carried loudly across the nation’s streets all the way to Washington. He became the first American to found a successful farm workers union achieving bargaining power with growers in 1962, the National Farm Workers Association (now the United Farm Workers of America.)

His mortal remains lie at rest in La Paz, but his cause lives on in the National Chavez Center. His son, Paul F. Chavez, president, opened its doors and homes to Marcha Migrante VII travelers. This year, taking “A Walk with Cesar,” marchers celebrated the 50th year of service of the United Farm Workers following its footsteps into some of the pivotal and painful events and struggles of the past. Paul Chavez said after his father’s death that La Paz began to deteriorate with many projects started but unfinished. Promising his mother they would remain, he said they had to start thinking about the next 50 years. After several failed attempts, they found someone to work with to create a master plan with a vision of the future with his father’s cause at the forefront.

“The easy part was my father’s gravesite,” he said. “That is one thing that will never change. It is a two-person Catholic graveyard, consecrated by the church.”

Chavez said creating an atmosphere of remembrance of his father’s cause and educating people on the struggles of the migrant worker became the vision for the Chavez Center, targeting much of the education to children.

“Kids, they don’t know where the food comes from, they think it comes from the supermarket,” he said. “They don’t know that there are immigrants working hard every day under terrible conditions and being taken advantage of that labor to bring food to their tables. We use my father’s legacy to tell their stories.”

He said his father really believed migrant farmers could build their own union, be strong, independent and represent themselves fairly and peacefully.

“The poorest of the poor and the least educated of society could take on the biggest and most powerful industry and could beat them,” he said. “He really believed it. He saw migrant farm workers from San Ysidro to the Napa Valley coming here to be educated with the skills to negotiate as a collective bargaining unit and how to do arbitration.”

Set on a sprawling 187 acres, La Paz was a humble home for Cesar Chavez for more than 25 years, a respite from the battles in the fields and cities and a place to gather to unite for the cause. Paul Chavez took the group to the center’s newest facility, Villa La Paz.

Once a sanitarium and tuberculosis facility, the children’s hospital is now home to a state-of-the-art conference and educational center. Paul Chavez said this is just the beginning of a vision to bring in housing, gardens and facilities to accommodate people that travel to La Paz, added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2010. He said he waits for a call from Washington that declares the site as a national historical landmark and possibly an addition to the National Park System.

Paul Chavez said though the name has changed, he would always remember the place he grew up as “Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz, Our Lady Queen of Peace Educational Center, that is the name my father gave this place,” he said.

The queen of peace smiles beatifically at the peaceful place of rest for a humble American giant. La Paz is more than the name of a retreat, it was the strategy and guide for a loud but peaceful human rights revolution.


Border Angels March Recalls Chavez

ALBERT H. FULCHER/ STAFF A BLESSING — Mark Valdez receives a blessing from Father Dermot Rodgers after his 10-day fast that ended at the beach of Borderfield State Park.

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Exhausted after fasting and traveling for 10 days, Mark Valdez took the last weary steps towards the beach at Border Field State Park. He was met there by Father Dermot Rodgers, who blessed him for his prayers and dedication. Rodgers broke bread with Valdez, an historic echo of 1968 when presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy met Cesar Chavez to break bread with him after a 25-day fast in protest of the poor treatment of migrant workers.

“My fast is two-fold,” said Valdez, a member of the Border Angels’ board of directors. “First, in memory of Cesar’s cause and sacrifices that brings me closer to God. Secondly, to experience what migrants experience every day trying to get across the border, many of them losing their lives.”

Marcha Migrante VII celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United Farmers Workers, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962. Each day of travel was a tribute to his 10 core principles reflected in its theme, “Walk with Cesar.” Chavez’s principles were determination, acceptance of people, celebrating community, respect for live and environment, non-violence, helping the most needy, knowledge, sacrifice, service to others and innovation.

“This park is a sacred park,” said Border Angels founder Enrique Morones. “This is home to Friendship Park where we normally end our journey. The idea was to have a friendship between both countries.”

Beginning Feb. 2, at Cesar Chavez Park, marchers enjoyed a sendoff by the Hummingbird Aztec Dancers. Next was the drive to Holtville Cemetery, a somber graveyard of more than 700 unidentified migrants.

“The names on some of the crosses you carry are some of the names of some of the 10,000 people that have died crossing the border since October 1994,” said Morones.

In Yuma they saw where Cesar Chavez was born and the remains of the small adobe home where he grew up. They rumbled to Coachella to hear California Assembly man Manual Perez announce a three-bill package to assist communities that rely on the migrant work force. On the way to Los Angeles, marchers protested in front of an INS detention facility. That evening they rallied in Plaza Mexico, where El Pueblo Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula was founded. Morones said they spent a wonderful evening in Boyle Heights at the theater of iconic Latina playwright Josephina Lopez. After watching her production of “King of the Desert,” Lopez put the group up for the night at Casa 0101 Theatre.

During a day of fasting the group journeyed to the Cesar Chavez Center in La Paz, high in the Tehachapi Mountains (see Back Page.)

“This is a magical place, an historic place and also a sad place,” said Morones. “Sad only because Cesar is buried here. But Cesar is not gone, he’s with us and he will always be with us.”

Warm rooms and beds awaited 25 marchers, but several stayed up late painting crosses for their next day’s journey to 40 Acres, the place Chavez planned his most momentous initiatives, of including the 1970 signing of the historic UFW labor contract. His son, Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Center, said the center exists to fight for humane treatment of immigrants.

“(Latinos) have always answered the call to duty,” he said. “We’ve done the (worst) jobs, worked the hardest and we are not recognized for it. So let’s do it. Not so much on behalf of my dad, but we are going to do it on behalf of the larger Latino community.”

Moving on to Modesto, Morones said friends from El Concilio help the needy every day and do amazing work.

“We saw the work firsthand, from educating youth to visiting farm workers,” he said. “The work is exemplary and you can see the joy and the pride of the Concilio workers in the love they demonstrate.”

Many marchers headed to Sacramento and did interviews with local and international media. Morones visited offices of state legislators to seek humane immigration reform.

Marchers met in Escondido to support day laborers mistreated by the city’s law enforcement. Escondido has been dubbed “Little Arizona” by human rights groups.

Back home on the beach in the corner of the U.S., Morones gave thanks for everybody that participated in the march.

“There is so much work to do,” said Morones.

Chavez lessons continue.

AIDS epidemic still ravages central Africa, The Human Chord

By: Albert H. Fulcher

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 9:29 pm

One-third of their babies will be born with HIV. As many as 15,000 people will die within the next three years, and more than 1 million of their people already infected. Conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are dismal now taking death tolls and conditions back to the place it was before treatment became available, all because many the world countries of the Global Fund weaseled out of their promises to provide antiviral drugs. Out of more than a million HIV/AIDS patients, only 44,000 receive treatment today in the Congo.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) also blames the Congolese for not making this pandemic a priority. Conditions are horrifying as people flood to clinics with advanced illnesses and MSF doctors are crying out for help before it gets worse. The government ignores this silent massacre. It spends an average of $2 a year for every infected person.

Most of the world—including the media—has turned away from the atrocities of the region. War plagues its history in the fight to be the superior ethnic group and allows money-grubbing corporations to rape and pillage the land and wildlife as much as the government does its own people.

Though true figures are much higher, the United Nations recorded 11,000 rapes in 2010 with reports of mass rapes of women and children (both girls and boys) in the North Kivu province in July and August. Rape is a horrific weapon of war and more than 200,000 innocents from all ethnic groups in the region endured or died because of rape and violent sexual assaults by rebel forces and the Congolese army. At war with seven neighboring nations since 1994, the people and armies have penetrated the Congo for its rich mineral resources resulting in an ongoing battle for political power. Logging, poaching and mining are destroying this vast resource at an alarming rate, with little very little reported by international media.

War Child, a United Kingdom relief organization, calls the conflict in the Congo “Africa’s First World War” and is the earth’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

Statistics on the region are sobering.

With a population of more than 7.1 million, the Congo has lost more than 5.4 million people. One in five children will not live to see a fifth birthday. More than one million people have been forced to leave their homes torn by war and genocide, many fleeing into the depths of this tropical paradise and destroying the natural habitat that this planet depends on. With more than 20,000 peacekeepers, the U.N. reports 100,000 civilians have fled their homes because of raids on villages and clashes between rival militia groups since last November.

Conflict is rooted in gluttony. Gold is a large resource and responsible for the majority of the ongoing bloody wars and massacres. Government or rebel forces control mines and the conditions of the men and children miners are horrifying. Western consumers unknowingly fuel oppression of the Congolese. The Congo is the world’s supplier of minerals such as coltan, tin and tungsten, all minerals used for the fabrication of consumer electronics. Manufacturers continue to make disposable electronics as violence escalates.

Things look bleak and hopeless for the people of the Congo and very few are listening to the screams of the innocents. Before you rush out to buy your next piece of technology, use your cell phone to your ear, fail to recycle electronics, remember that lives are being abandoned, forgotten and lost for that luxury. Post that to Facebook via your mobile device.

Worldly Bakhiet Helps Others Find Greatness In Their DNA

Omar Villalpando/ Staff GREATER THAN THE SUM OF HER PARTS — Dr. Nouna Bakhiet is a DNA scientist but no reductionist. She encourages students to remake themselves into learned, potent beings who can advance human knowledge. Bakhiet was honored by her peers as the recipent of the 2012 Faculty Leadership Award.

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 10:15 pm

In the California deserts, lizards with heavy scales bask at the top of ravines to warm in the sun. Living in the dark, wet climate below are lizards smooth and sleek. Though different, they are the same species—a biological adaptation. Many spend their lives wandering up and down the ravines to mate, continuing the chain of life of a species not concerned with of the differences in their biological appearance.

Dr. Nouna Bakhiet loves metaphor. She also loves teaching science.

Beginning her journey in the hot desert sun of Sudan, Bakhiet, professor of biology, said her inner life is that of the wandering lizard.

“It’s all in the DNA,” she said. “There is an inherent nature for all populations that some of that population will venture away from that natural habitat. We are designed to do this so that we could populate the earth.”

Bakhiet wandered from the expected path. She was an accomplished research scientist in a modern day laboratory doing meaningful work. She came to Southwestern College in 1997 to work as an adjunct by night and lab rat by day. Her students won her heart and she left the lab for a professorship at a college that needed a new direction. Bakhiet was the first Ph.D. in the biology department when she was hired full-time in 1999. Her research colleagues did not understand her decision to walk away from a more lucrative career to teach.

“Really, my calling, my talent, my nature is embedded in what I do here at Southwestern College,” said Bakhiet. “This is who I am. This is what I was meant to do. I was able to bring all of my experience, inside or outside of the classroom or inside or outside of the lab and lay it at the student’s feet.”

Bakhiet is the recipient of the 2012 Faculty Leadership Award, chosen by her peers for her innovative teaching, grant writing and program creation. Nominated by Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb, he called Bakhiet a campus revolutionary who not only thinks outside the box, but destroys them.

“Dr. Bakhiet rocks her students’ world right down to the foundations and challenges them to throw off their old selves and become something greater,” he wrote. “Many of SWC’s best and highest achieving students of the new millennium were her students or are alumni of the programs she has created, inspired and fed over the past decade.”

More than just a teacher, Bakhiet is faculty advisor for the Biology Club and active in SWC’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program, directed by her sister, Dr. Raga Bahkiet. She designed curriculum as academic director of the biotechnology program providing teaching and mentoring for students, whether seeking a technical certificate or a full college education in biotechnology. She led the Bridges to the Future program collaboration between SWC and SDSU for underrepresented minority students seeking a future in biomedical research.

As head of internships for BETSI (Biotechnology Education and Training Sequence Investment), she began with a grant from the National Science Foundation. BETSI is now a national model that produces a 100 percent hiring rate of SWC students completing internships within the industry.

“We are the DNA people,” she said. “We are the ones that change, modify, and turn off and on DNA. The next level up from DNA is cells, which is our tool. At the training level here, we work only with bacterial cells. Students get the opportunity to work with mammalian cells in internships and hires.”

Bakhiet said the community college is the most basic teaching system she ever experienced, unique to America with a financially logical path for students. Community colleges have the same caliber of teachers as a four-year-universities, she said, but community college teachers that have more time to teach and spend considerably more time with their students.

“I have always known that I had the ability to teach and wanted to train myself to become a mentor,” she said. “I could be a holistic teacher, not just in the classroom but to anyone that walks in my office. I could leave them with something that would help them as well.”

Branscomb said her blend of Eastern and Western thinking embraces the communal learning system of Asian and African cultures with the individualistic and creative characteristics of the American system.

“Without trying to be noticed she is noticed,” he said. “Without putting herself in the limelight she is watched. Without striving to be out front, she leads. She is an indispensable part of the fabric of our college.”

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, Bakhiet said her wandering nature makes her comfortable living just about anywhere. She always sought people that were different from her she said, and confirmed to nothing. Her culture is a human culture, she said, not any restrictive labels or boxes.

One-half Saudi, a quarter Turkish and a quarter Sudanese, Bakhiet is part of the green people of the Sudan. Her features and color are common in the northern region. Sudanese language has no reference to black or white in regards to race. People of the nation are blue, yellow, green and red.

“I am green because I am a mix,” she said. “The blue people are the indigenous tribes of the Sudan. They are so dark they look purple in the sun.”

She said the yellow people carry the skin tones similar to Mexicans, Asians and Indians. Red is for Caucasians, the color they turn in the Sudanese sun.

Bakhiet spent her early years traveling and studying throughout the Middle East and Britain. Her native tongue is Arabic, but she was brought up to speak English and French. Her parents raised their children to be trilingual and able to live and thrive in an English-speaking country.

Sudan, a long time British colony, adopted the British educational system with a 10-year primary school and three-year universities. Her parent’s wandering culture took her education from the Sudan to England, where she earned her Certificate of Education (GCO) at the University of London. Her father’s work in irrigation engineering took the family to Libya where Bakhiet earned her first bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Tripoli.

While in Libya, her mother, only 51, died of breast cancer. Bakhiet said this is why she eventually moved into breast cancer research.

“On her deathbed, I sat next to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to do something about this someday’,” she said.

A short time after, her father died suddenly from a heart attack. Her family had already decided that she would take her younger sister to America. In 1980, with a sponsorship from American teachers who taught in Libya, they moved to Iowa.

At the University of Iowa Bakhiet earned a second bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a dual Ph.D. in micro and molecular biology. Though she was academically accomplished at a young age, she said she did not believe she had the life experience to become a teacher, her ultimate goal.

Bakhiet chose to do three post-doctorate tours. At UC Davis, University of Loma Linda and San Diego’s Sanford Burnham Institute she moved from microbiology to breast cancer research. She studied breast cancer for four and a half years and contributed to the creation of mixed drug cocktails used to treat breast cancer today.

Her gift for science blends seamlessly with her gift for teaching. Once she offered sage advice to Har Gobind Khorana of India, Nobel Prize recipient in 1968 for his “interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.” He received a quick tutorial in teaching from Bakhiet one day at a conference she attended with students at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Before the conference she saw Khorana sitting alone looking over the ocean. To her surprise, he motioned her over and confessed he was concerned about having community college and high school students in his audience. He had only ever spoken to post-graduates and professors.

“So how do I talk to them?” he wondered.

“I told him to tell them a story,” Bakhiet said. “There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Bakhiet said out of a folder of 300 slides of very high complex biochemistry work, Khorana picked 33 and gave his lecture.

“I then knew why he was a Nobel Prize winner,” she said. “Because it was a story, everyone understood it. Students asked questions and relayed it after we came back. It was a work of art.”

“Insights from a Wandering Lizard,” Bakhiet’s philosophical book of whimsical colloquialisms, evokes Mark Twain and Ramakrishna. East and West blend like Turkish curry.

“We, the wandering lizards, are the heroes of new memes,” Bakhiet wrote. “We strike out and away from tradition. We create what is different; we dare to live beyond what is known. We are human revolutions.”

“Woman without traditions,” she asserts, can create a brighter way of life.

She wrote the words, and then created the art from a Buddha board her sister gave her. Drawing on water, the picture disappears as the water evaporates.

“This is supposed to teach you impermanence,” she said. “However, being Western influenced, I took a picture of it. All of the drawings in the book were done in five minutes or less.”

She dedicated her book to President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, because she is from Kansas, married a man from Kenya and then a man from Indonesia.

“She is definitely a wandering lizard,” she said. “Socially, she wasn’t looking around her to fulfill her social life. She was looking way beyond that.”

Embargos and sanctions against the government of Sudan left Bakhiet’s American citizenship application languishing for years. Finally, in November 2010, Bakhiet became an American lizard. Returning to Sudan was never an option, she said. Despite some progress and many highly educated-women, the culture remains male-dominated.

“It doesn’t work for me,” she said. “I may be different from most Americans because I don’t have its culture, but I am an alien from outer space in Sudan. I would be very different in the Middle East, being a woman that has her own mind.”

Bakhiet said she studied her choices carefully in life, but with no “baggage” to bring with her, she feels free and accepted. Her inner freedom fuels innovation. Research is her passion, but teaching is her talent and she had to answer the call.

“Talent will not let you rest.”

Unsigned: College Needs To Remain Transparent

Carlos Magana/Artist

By: Sun Editorial Board

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 3:13 am

Southwestern College’s season in Hell is over, but the door of Hades has been left cracked open. Three new trustees are working feverishly to close it once and for all.
Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader and Humberto Peraza have the courage and vision to end SWC’s suffering and steer the college into an age of rebirth. Part of their wisdom is their understanding that the college has to come clean and put all of the misdeeds of the past out into the light before SWC can really be free.
Our college suffered on all levels – academically, administratively, publicly and politically – when SWC’s previous administration chose to erect walls of secrecy and chicanery. Backed by a dysfunctional 4-1 governing board majority, the prior administration’s lack of transparency and blatant secrecy from 2007 – 2010 disgusted the entire community, leading to a toxic atmosphere that has proved epically destructive.
Raj K. Chopra, Nicholas Alioto and the board led by Yolanda Salcido brought the college to the brink of being shut down by its accreditation body. Little did we know they would also lead us into the biggest corruption scandal in San Diego County history.
Captured by Chopra, SWC’s annual golf tournament and Educational Foundation fundraisers became vehicles for money laundering and influence peddling. Instead of filling scholarship funds, these once-cherished events filled campaign warchests. With no regard for the Brown Act or the American value of open government, the board and administration hid documents and punished inquisitive faculty. “Transparency” and “openness” vanished from the college’s vocabulary.
This clampdown left people questioning the closed-door actions of the administration and board, forcing the public and the media into antagonistic positions to uncover the truth. Increasingly desperate efforts to hide that truth led to the incumbents’ defeat at the ballot box and the resignation of more than a dozen administrators.
Hernandez, Nader and Peraza brought a passion for education that the former governing board sadly lacked. They have also been champions of transparency and openness. They meet often and keep the public, students and press informed.
This house-cleaning board majority will need to consistently remind nervous employees that the old way of doing business is over. There will be none of the reflexive administrative circling of the wagons or other defensive behavior. Record requests will be honored. Investigations will be made public. Questions will be answered forthrightly. Administrators will treat faculty, students and media as allies and stakeholders, not enemies to deflect and deceive.
People who act guilty in this time of search warrants and indictments will be presumed guilty and part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It is important for all college trustees and employees to remember that we are being closely watched, and that our behaviors and actions will have heightened meaning. Stay on the side of the angels.
Right now, the district attorney is in the middle of a huge investigation into past and present board members of the Sweetwater Union High School District and its former superintendent. Three are connected to our college. Arlie Ricasa, SWC’s director of student development and health services, is currently on administrative leave. Greg Sandoval, the former acting superintendent/president, and Henry Amigable, who oversaw Proposition R construction in 2009 and 2010, have been charged with multiple felonies.
Questions abound. “Who’s next?” Former V.P. Alioto and former facilities director John Wilson are likely candidates. Other contenders for headlines are Salcido, former SWC superintendent Chopra, and Dan Hom, president of Focuscom, a PR firm in league with Alioto, Wilson and Amigable.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis released the dogs on Sweetwater and she has a few more in the pen, warming up for Southwestern College.
When it came to the D.A.’s 2011 investigation, the new governing board had three choices: work with the D.A.’s office, work against it, or to simply let the investigation happen by taking as little action as possible. Hernandez, Nader, Peraza and former trustee Nick Aguilar opted smartly to work with them, opening SWC’s doors and books, and promising them the first results of an internal review of the college’s finances that has been underway for most of a year. This is the high road, and it sends a powerful message to the community that this college will no longer hide misdeeds and unethical activities.
It is up to the courts to determine guilt or innocence, but the evidence collected so far is shocking. Voters who tossed out two ineffective trustees at Southwestern in 2010 are getting out their brooms to sweep out Sweetwater corruption this November.
For our new leaders, this is the point of no return. It falls upon them to make certain that the promises of truth and openness are actually reflected by the actions and deeds of the administration. It also falls upon them to not let the fear of bad press and shocking headlines overshadow the promise made to be fully transparent.
Nelson Mandela knew that South Africa had to come clean before it could heal. Southwestern College is in the same place. Hernandez, Nader and Peraza understand that. Here’s hoping our new administrators get it, too.

An Interview With Councilman Bilbray Ahead of Campaign for Second Term

Imperial Beach Councilmember Brian Patrick Bilbray

Bilbray was first elected to a special two-year term. Here he discusses business development, the sandcastle competition and where the city has gone wrong in preparing for a new $29 million hotel.

Sitting in the living room of the Bilbray family home in Imperial Beach, Councilman Brian Bilbray took a break from helping his mother around the house to tell IB Patch why he thinks he should retain his seat on City Council.
Following the death of Councilman Fred McLean, Bilbray is serving a special two-year term.

Since being elected in 2010, Bilbray has advocated for relaxed rules at the Skate Park, accommodating facilities for medical marijuana patients and a dog beach when other Councilmembers gave up.

Patch: Tell me about your life here in Imperial Beach.

Bilbray: I was born in Coronado and lived here my whole life. My dad was mayor, so we have always had that tight connection with Imperial Beach. Learned how to surf here when I was seven, love the city and grew up going to the beach here. I have always enjoyed the people of IB, even though a lot of them did not like my dad (Congressman Brian Bilbray). Every time I have had to go away, I always come back. I miss it.

It has been fun to see the changes happen here. We don’t have the gangs running around like we used to have. It has definitely has gotten better, it is not “Venereal Beach” anymore. It is definitely Imperial Beach now.

Whenever I go out among the county and different cities, everyone talks about how the city is a good city now. It has good water, we still have a pollution problem of course, but everybody recognizes Imperial Beach isn’t what it used to be back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. It has changed. A lot of that has to do with the sheriff’s department and the hard work of past city councils.

Patch: Why do you believe you should remain on city council?

Bilbray: Honestly, I feel that we are at a tipping point right now and I feel that experience does matter. Now that I have been on for two years, if somebody else stepped in, it would take them another two years to get going. At this tipping point I feel we need people in there to do not only what is positive but can do what is best for the city now, and standing up for it.

I am nobody’s puppet.

I enjoy talking with everyone on the council, but when I think somebody is wrong, I will tell them. I’m not shy about that. I enjoy that we are able to respect each other, even when we disagree and not go into name-calling. That’s the main thing. It’s your job when you disagree with somebody to change our minds with good reasoning and intellect. It is not to get mad.
It gets heated at times, but that isn’t anything in politics when you are passionate about something.

It will be interesting this year, running for reelection, and hopefully I have done my job well enough to put me back on. Living in a small town where everybody knows everyone is a double-edged sword sometimes. People in a small town are going to vote for me because of my dad and others are just going to hate me because of my dad too. It doesn’t matter what I do. Word of mouth gets around a lot quicker, but I’d rather be here doing what I am doing here in the city compared with what my dad is doing now, fighting for his district.

Patch: If you are elected, you’ll have a bit more time because you only had a two-year term. What sort of things do you envision as some of your goals if you’re elected to a second term?

Bilbray: Really promoting development down on Seacoast Drive. Trying to get all those empty lots rebuilt or built and then getting mixed use rebuilt in all those old buildings that are down there. I mean we’re all in agreement on council that Seacoast is going to be our main draw because the beach is our main draw and we really need a push now to figure out how to get developers to come down and really revamp that old Seacoast area. Cause once that’s done it’s a catalyst for everywhere else in the city.

Patch: That’s something I was especially curious about because there was this workshop meeting held last fall where that was probably the topic of discussion, getting things moving on Seacoast, taking advantage of the fact that the new hotel’s going to be there and all that, but to my knowledge that has not moved.

That has not done anything since that meeting took place and we’re not getting any further away from when the hotel’s going to be built. In fact, the short term plan was six months and we’re coming up on six months from when the hotel opens and council hasn’t even had anything to do with that. So what do you think about the fact that the city hasn’t moved forward with those plans?

Bilbray: Yeah I think it should be… I mean at the last workshop it was a topic of discussion as well and we went into it.

Yeah well you’re right. The city hasn’t done what I think should be done. I mean everybody keeps on reiterating it, and finally they will hear us but we also have the chamber helping us out with all this too. I’m the Chamber of Commerce liaison too. They’re going through and trying to figure out what the city can do or anybody in Imperial Beach can do in order to get development starting to go on in Imperial Beach.

Yeah you’re right it’s kind of disheartening that we haven’t put the emphasis on getting more construction done in the city or just revamping everything. The buildings are all super outdated. Everything needs to be done.

Patch: Well whatever is going to get done, if it was worth enough time for council and city staff to meet for two hours to talk about this as a major subject and then when you emphasized it as being important, I understand that redevelopment has kind of gotten in the way of any sort of other plans, but this hotel has been on the way for a while, and [Councilman] Spriggs in one of the last times I spoke to him, he was saying something like this should have been in motion at least a year ago.

Bilbray: Oh it should have been two years ago. The way that government works it should have been two years ago. We’re trying to do all this at the last minute and government doesn’t work that way because you’ve got to get approvals through every bureaucratic red tape you can think of in order to get something even built down there.

Patch: What about the sandcastle competition? Have you heard anything about that? When I talk to people around town, that’s the one that they always bring up like why the heck would they let it fail? And I understand it’s all volunteer.

Bilbray: Yeah it’s all volunteer. It’s been volunteer since the very beginning. When my father actually was mayor at the time and appointed the two council members that were part of that original committee and my mom has helped as a treasurer since the beginning too. For the most part what I’ve heard rumors about is that somebody wants to take it over but move it up to San Diego.

Yeah we really have to fight tooth and nail. We really need to get some new blood in there. We need the mayor to maybe step up and appoint two more council members in order to get a new committee going and maybe we’ll figure it out. I don’t think it’s dead, completely dead. We’re going to miss it for a year and people are going to start stepping up in the city and really taking it over. Or that’s what I’m hoping.

It needs new fresh faces. Everybody’s just burnt out on it and we really need to look as a city at ourselves and why sandcastles failed. And I would like to really dive into that and maybe have a briefing from committee members, the sheriff and the city and see what they all have to say about why this failed. Cause there’s a lot of finger pointing going on, and if we’re really going to figure it out . We really need to talk to more people or get them on the record and what they have to say about it.

Patch: Tell me more about your thoughts on the beach and the Tijuana Estuary.

Bilbray: My passion for the estuary and the ocean comes from being out there all the time. My family has had different opinions about what could have happened with the estuary but it is there and we need to do everything we can to preserve it.

Right now it is silted in. If they silt in anymore then all the wildlife down there that we are trying to keep here for ecotourism will be gone. It is going to turn into a wasteland. They are there because of the fish and invertebrates in the water. Once those things get choked off the fish aren’t going to be there, therefore the cranes will not be there. The birds aren’t going to be there because they are there for the fish nursery that the estuary is. I recognize it, I believe it is beautiful, but we need to fight to figure out a way to preserve it.

Some concessions have to be made because if you want to stop the silting problem we are probably going to have to have a commercial company come in and do sand dredging in the river valley. That is letting somebody make a profit off it. You are taking taxpayers money, that is millions of dollars every year or two to make dredge out the silting ponds in the river valley. To me it is a lot more cost effective to allow somebody to go in and dredge it out. They can go deeper and they will catch more silt and then let them ship it out of there. Save the taxpayers’ money and you have a guarantee that someone is going to maintain it.

Patch: How does the Imperial Beach Master Plan work with Chula Vista’s Master Bayfront Plan and do you believe the fight over redevelopment agencies is over?

Bilbray: Chula Vista’s redevelopment will help the area. I think really concentrating on Bikeway Village and the bike path I think it will be an exciting time. It will be that catalyst the city needs to get 13th Street all redone, and that is really a forgotten spot in Imperial Beach. People forget that our city goes that deep. It will be nice to have all that done and then have our sister city of Chula Vista doing it at the same time. It will be quite a change there.

I hope the fight over redevelopment is not over, but I am leaning towards that fact that it probably is over. Which is a shame, because without redevelopment, everybody knows the hotel wouldn’t’ be happening, 9th and Palm wouldn’t be as close to happening as it is. A lot of things going on in the city wouldn’t be happening.

We might have to lay off some people that work for the city. It’s a shame that nobody saw this coming earlier because we have been playing Russian roulette with other people’s money for so long.

The hotel should have been put in a long time ago. 9th and Palm should have been done a long time ago. Hopefully, with this happening it will open everybody’s eyes that some concessions need to be done for development so we can sustain our surfer town way of life. Otherwise, we are going to be absorbed by San Diego and you can kiss our small town surfer town way of life goodbye. They are going to come down here and turn us into Pacific Beach or worse, South San Diego. That’s what I’m really afraid of.

On one hand, you have Coronado. That whole city is a redevelopment agency. Then, you have Imperial Beach where we actually need that money to get everything going. That’s who it’s hurting, it’s not hurting Coronado. Coronado could care less.

They have so many hotels there they don’t need the money. A town like us, we are struggling and just starting to come out of everything and now we get hit again. This is the second time Governor Jerry Brown has come down here and taken money from the cities. He did it back in the 80s when my dad was on the council.

Right now I want to push to find some developers to come down on their own, give them what they need to build another hotel somewhere on Seacoast, so you have two hotels. That way you can start getting the Transient and Occupancy Tax’s in, which will start bringing revenue in and will help businesses come into Imperial Beach. That means looking at what is inhibiting people to come down to IB; what are our policies that make people not want to come down to Imperial Beach and invest in the city.

Patch: During your first campaign, you advocated for cleaner water and beaches. Where does that stand now and what progress have you seen?

Bilbray: I am continuing to advocate for clean water. I’ll never stop that fight. It was my privilege to give a speech at the International Boundary and Water Commission sewage treatment plant dedication. People may not have agreed with what I had to say, but I told them exactly what I thought needed to be said, that it took us 34 years to get to this point and we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back. We should be hanging our heads in shame.
I enjoyed that and I will keep doing it. Unless we keep pressure on both federal governments than nothing is never going to happen. You can’t just sit back and expect something to change by being everybody’s friend. You have to poke them to get them going.

I will continue with that and working with the federal government, my friends in different places, to get every extra inch of new sand for our beaches. The beach is the number one draw to the city. It’s not ecotourism, it is the beach and that is what we really need to concentrate on doing is getting beach goers to come here. Then we can start working on the ecotourism more. First thing is getting the beach goers coming, fill that hotel and when they get tired of going to the beach then they can go down to the estuary and the bay and enjoy the wildlife.

Patch: Do you feel council is keeping up with the city’s master plan and are there any solutions or ideas that you have to make it better?

Bilbray: There are some things I would have done differently (with the Imperial Beach Master Plan), like looking at the height restrictions on the hotel. It is hard for me to sit and listen to Mr. Spriggs when he doesn’t agree with one part, because I don’t agree with everything, like the hotel height and the restrictions to the new zoning ordinance. A little more higher would not have hurt. It’s not how high you go, it’s how you go high.

Like 9th and Palm, it is only one story. There is no reason it couldn’t have been a two-story. It could have doubled residential like they have in Eastlake in Chula Vista. They did a really good job out there and that is what we should be modeling after. But, it is still better than nothing. It is better for the city to let the project go ahead instead of stopping it and redoing it. It would be another 10 or 15 years before anything is done. It is making those concessions.

Ten or fifteen years ago did you think you would ever be able to get internet wirelessly? What do you think it is going to be in 10 years? Everything is going to run off solar panels. We are not even going to have to wire anything. We just drop them in. The crosswalks are already solar powered. To stop a project for one thing would have stretched it out much longer. It would not have been two weeks. Concessions have to be made.

I understand wanting better lighting but that is why you set it up for the future when everything else needs to be put in that this is what we want in the future. Set the groundwork for it now because in 10 years everything is going to have to be changed out anyway, that how the infrastructure works these day.

Everything has to be upgraded, especially with California being the way it is, I guarantee that things are going to have to be solar powered in 10 years. It’s going to be federal and state mandated. I can see it coming. Therefore, we are all different in several things but we all respect each other. That was one of our more heated discussions.

Patch: You have pushed to get council to come up with programs and social networks to get young people involved in local politics, why is this important to you?

Bilbray: I am really looking forward in finding ways to motivate the young people to come out. Even if it is, just to get them to come out to the city council meetings. It’s getting the information out there. Yesterday, they were asking me to get the dates for Operation Beaver and Sandcastle.

So I went over the library where they have those binders of old newspapers they got from Chula Vista and I was looking through them and Operation Beaver, there is my dad with a radio in his hand and then there was Serge Dedina when he was 16 sitting on the dyke my dad was trying to build.

At 16, that is what started Serge Dedina’s career. It got him motivated and that is what we have to do. Get young people to come speak at the council meetings and demonstrate something and start following local politics, starting in high school. Tours, internships, something to allow them to come in and really work, that is where it all starts. That is where my dad started, in high school politics and my grandfather always talked politics with everybody in the city.


Southwestern College Reception Welcomes Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish

A reception for Southwestern College’s new superintendent drew a crowd of more than 100 people from the college and local community. Student musicians entertained the party as the college’s culinary students catered the event. Dr. Melinda Nish came to Southwestern on January 2, with more than 20 years of educational experience from Orange Coast College after an extensive search resulting in 34 candidates.

Governing Board President Norma Hernandez said the search began in February 2011 with the establishment of a process that was open and inclusive. She said a 19-member committee consisting of faculty, students, staff, administrators and community members had specific values in searching for a replacement.

Hernandez said specific qualities necessary to take the college to the next level of academic success identified were the ability to be consensus builder and problem solver and a collegial and collaborative leader that is accessible and listens. A supporter of the teaching and learning environment, a strong advocate for college constituents and values partnerships with other segments of education, business and community based organizations also factored into the hiring selection.

“We found a leader with all of these qualities in Dr. Melinda Nish,” said Hernandez.

Nish said she had never encountered such a warm welcome as she has in the college and its community.

“It truly is a very special place and I am honored to have become a member,” she said. “Indeed I hope an adopted daughter of Southwestern College and the South Bay community.”

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