"...The ACPG bent rules with both the Powerlink and High School Ad Hoc subcommittees that cost our community dearly."
By Lou Russo, Alpine Planning Group Member
June 29, 2011 (Alpine)--I began my tenure as an Alpine Community Planning Group (ACPG) member in 2007. In 2009, I resigned my seat for employment reasons, which took me out-of-state. Thankfully, my employer brought me back to our lovely community.
When I left, it seemed our community was set to get a beautiful new full service high school and reasonable compensation/beautification for the Sunrise Powerlink project. I continued to hear that while I was gone.
Upon returning, I learned we are likely not getting a high school and all we are getting are sidewalks and parking spaces for the millions in lost business revenues along Alpine Blvd, not to mention the daily dirt, noise, wasted time and general inconvenience to those transiting our main street.
I also learned the ACPG bent rules with both the Powerlink and High School Ad Hoc subcommittees that cost our community dearly.
In response, I felt compelled to run for re-election to the ACPG and was automatically appointed; there weren’t enough candidates for the number of open seats.
I have since been investigating these two issues, only to be stonewalled at every corner. The chief architects of the stonewalling have been Chairman Greg Fox and George Barnett.
What I have learned in spite of the stonewalling?
All of Alpine should know that the former Chairman of the PowerLink AdHoc, Mr. Barnett, and the ACPG used the cover of darkness, e.g. the Ad Hoc subcommittee rules, to avoid having the citizens of Alpine involved in the PowerLink project by having secret meetings and presenting the citizens with fiat correspondence.
What a horrible disservice that Mr. Barnett would choose to not blanket our community with information on something as impacting as this. There was no transparency into the Ad Hoc as they met in secret, by his own admission, before or after the regular ACPG meetings. There were no agendas, no minutes, no public input, just the “outcome” of the meetings; a letter here and there.
We, the public, have no idea how their decisions were arrived at, who had input into those letters or even if there was input. Only the Ad Hoc members had any input into whether simply writing a letter was even the proper approach! All we have are the statements of the former chairman that he met with the other members of the AdHoc. Was there impropriety? We don’t know. Were they hiding something? Again, we don’t know. Common sense says that if they weren’t, they had a funny way of showing it.
In a letter to the Sun, Barnett stated: "… approval power over the Sunrise Powerlink project lies entirely with the CPUC, a state agency with its own power and authorities; not at all with the County of San Diego from which the APG garners its influence."
Barnett’s statement that the CPUC was the sole arbiter of the SPL route is true, however, his statement implying that the public had no say is an outrageous lie.
(If he really believed this, why would he have the chairmanship of an Ad Hoc with no power for three years and why would so many others on the ACPG, including Chairman Fox, clamber to be on it? Have you ever heard of any politician wanting to spend three years in a powerless endeavor?)
The fact is that the northern route of the SPL was abandoned largely due to the pressure applied by those living in those areas. To this date, signs still litter the Warner Springs area saying "No to the SPL". If Alpiners had been more aware of what was transpiring in the subcommittee meetings, perhaps the public could have forced the CPUC to move the link around our city. We will never know.
In the event that we, as a community, were unable to change the route, we should have negotiated a much better deal for Alpine. Alpine is set to receive $10 million in revitalization of Alpine Blvd on a $1.9 billion project. (That’s ½ of 1% .)
Putting a severe financial hardship on most businesses along Alpine Blvd, while we are in one of the worst recessions in 40 years, and driving several businesses to close, for sidewalks and curbs is absurd. The ACPG should have negotiated something much better.
In my time in Alpine I have NEVER heard a citizen say, “Gee, we really need sidewalks and curbs.” I have heard many other things, such as the need for active parks for our children. Was there any thought to asking SPL to help us with our high school? How about sports fields and/or a pool? No, what the PowerLink Ad Hoc got us for our trouble, not to mention those in eastern Alpine who have to look at the towers for the rest of their lives, was curbs and sidewalks.
Bottom line, with no minutes from the former ACPG PowerLink Ad Hoc, the public has no accounting of what occurred on an issue that is so vital to our community and has irreparably damaged many businesses and our views.
In an era wherein transparency from politicians has been demanded over and over again, the members of the PowerLink Ad Hoc insisted on blind faith from our community. None of us should be surprised the same thing happened with the ACPG High School Ad Hoc in that three of the members of the PowerLink Ad Hoc, Mr. Fox, Mr. Barnett and Mr. Tuchman were either the sole member of the high school Ad Hoc (Mr. Fox) or deeply involved members of the now nearly defunct Alpine High School Citizens Committee.
Both of these Ad Hoc’s refused to let you, the citizens, partake in their decisions. They made the decisions for you and we see the results. One cannot help but wonder what “deals” were made with SPL. Are the BCLT and its current president Mr. Barnett, getting some land “donated”? Is SPL going to push for higher densities in certain areas so realtors, two of whom were on the PowerLink Ad Hoc, will have more homes to sell? None of us know, do we?
A final item should pique your curiosity; it did mine. Although he has been on the ACPG for years, Mr. Barnett, the chairman of the PowerLink Ad Hoc, “forgot” to travel to the Registrar of Voters and get his name on the ballot. (A number of ACPG members of this Ad Hoc had the same memory loss.) He was then forced to step down until the Mr. Fox could get him back on the ACPG. During that time, another member of the ACPG asked to take over the PowerLink Ad Hoc, a member Mr. Fox ( who participated in the secret meetings) knew was opposed to the PowerLink. Mr. Fox decided to abolish both the PowerLink and high school Ad Hoc’s. Does that timing appear odd to you?
Barnett has accused me of sitting on the sidelines and throwing sticks after the fact. The fact is that I asked to be on the high school Ad Hoc and was denied by Mr. Fox. Neither I nor anyone else knew when the secret PowerLink Ad Hoc meetings were. Finally, as Al Haven showed us, unless someone looks over their shoulders, the ACPG will approve a plan with over 160 fewer parking spots. I would hope they don’t accuse him of throwing sticks.
Since I have been digging into the facts and requesting more information from my fellow board members, I have been publicly and privately called names by many of them. I have been labeled as hateful and crazy. Chairman Fox has censured me and threatened removal. Mr. Tuchman claims I am angry. He’s right, I AM angry. I am angry that we have been deceived and continue to be misled and lied to.
The lying continues today. If you read the articles by those who want to discredit me, all is well in Alpine. Tell that to the businesses along Alpine Blvd and to the thousands of our young children who deserve a full service high school. The next time you sit in traffic just to get downtown, ask yourself if maybe citizen involvement might not have come up with something better.
I have been trying to get to the bottom of these two major issues and do what’s right for Alpiners. At a time when we see the utter contempt for rules and regulations in politics, and a disdain for common sense and what is “right”, I have been excoriated by those who wish to shut me down and to thwart my voice.
No longer. This former Marine Aviator will not take the lying - lying down. I will not falter in my desire to get to the truth. We, who live here, deserve so.
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Response to Mr. Russo
Several points of clarification and omission I would like to make in response to the above post.
1. Referencing the above original paragraph - "In an era wherein transparency from politicians has been demanded over and over again, the members of the PowerLink Ad Hoc insisted on blind faith from our community. None of us should be surprised the same thing happened with the ACPG High School Ad Hoc in that three of the members of the PowerLink Ad Hoc, Mr. Fox, Mr. Barnett and Mr. Tuchman were either the sole member of the high school Ad Hoc (Mr. Fox) or deeply involved members of the now nearly defunct Alpine High School Citizens Committee."
Since my initial appointment to the ACPG on March 26, 2009, at no time was I ever elected to nor did I volunteer to serve on, nor did I ever attend any meeting of the ACPG relating to the PowerLink Ad Hoc. While Mr. Russo has repeatedly stated the contrary rather matter-of-factly in print several times in several publications, it still does not change the REAL FACTS of the official records of minutes (which are on file and online) with the County of San Diego Department of Planning and Land Use. For those of rarified air, let me repeat in plain english...I have never served, volunteered, been elected to or otherwise participated, nor do I have any knowledge of any purported back room cabals; in the business of the Alpine Community Planning Group's PowerLink Ad Hoc Sub-Committee!
2. Again referencing the above paragraph as quoted - "...were either the sole member of the high school Ad Hoc...".
At the same meeting on March 26, 2009 that I was appointed and sworn in to a seat on the ACPG board, I accepted to chair the Trails & Conservation Committee as well as accepted to serve with Mr. Lou Russo on the Alpine High School Ad hoc, of which Mr. Lou Russo was the chair. Again, Mr. Lou Russo was in fact the chair of the Alpine High School Ad hoc committee. I was never a "sole member" of this Ad hoc. Further, I was never a member of the Alpine High School Citizens Committee. While I did attend several meetings of the AHSCC, I did so in the capacity as an Ad hoc committee member; serving under Mr. Lou Russo, who was the Chairman of the aforementioned ACPG Ad hoc committee.
I would further add that of the dozen or so meetings I did attend, I attended by myself. At no time did I ever witness Mr. Lou Russo in attendance of the AHSCC. I'm not saying he did not attend any AHSCCC meetings, but he definitely did not attend any meeting where I was present at representing the ACPG. My participation in attending the AHSCC meetings as well as the ACPG Alpine High School Ad hoc Committee ended when Mr. Lou Russo resigned from the ACPG, as the Ad hoc was left without a chairperson. To the best of my recollection (and the available minutes between March and December of 2009) Mr. Lou Russo never presented a single report to the ACPG on behalf of the Alpine High School Ad hoc committee. Mr. Lou Russo resigned his position in December 2009.
Mr. Lou Russo likes to speak, he likes to be heard and he wants to be heard. Certainly as evidenced by his recent enlistment of the ACLU to further solidify his right to free speech, Mr. Lou Russo has been very zealous in making sure that all of us in East County and Alpine do indeed hear him and see his published words; and we should see and hear what he has to say, we all have that right. But, we should do so with full acknowledgement and awareness that it is entirely possible that Mr. Lou Russo is stating opinion; as opposed to qualified fact. Whenever you see Mr. Lou Russo in print, it is either preceded by or followed by a disclaimer, to the effect of "The opinions expressed in this editorial reflect the views of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication." Opinions expressed, are just that - opinions. They are not statements of fact, thus the phrase "there are two sides to every story".
I have endeavored to craft this response as a matter of fact and not a matter of opinion. I have utilized as best as I can the available public records of fact in order to ensure the accuracy of my statement. I would posit that public records that were voted upon to be in acceptance would, in fact, qualify as factual representations of events and actions involving the ACPG, especially minutes that were voted upon for approval by Mr. Lou Russo. These would indeed qualify as factual representations and not opinion. While some of us no longer wish to lie down, I would suggest that some of us wish to only present to the public a singular sided opinion, that is bereft of any factual relevance whatsoever. While it is all of our rights to speak freely, without fear of reprisal; the public DESERVES to be spoken to factually. This is not a contest of who shouts the loudest must certainly be perceived as to be the most honest. As we all know, there have been times when the one who shouts the loudest may possibly win the contest if for no other reason then the rest of us are just tired of the noise, regardless of the factual (or the lack thereof) content of what is being shouted.
God Bless America and the Men and Women who have served and/or continue to protect this Great Country of Ours.
Happy 4th of July
These are the facts pertaining to Mr. Lou Russo’s allegations of my conduct with respect to the Alpine Planning Group’s Sunrise PowerLink Ad Hoc Subcommittee.
As confirmed by County Council during a Brown Act workshop with the APG about a year ago, attended by Mr. Russo, ad hoc subcommittees are for the purpose of gathering information for the main planning group body. An ad hoc makes no decisions, and in-part because of that, an ad hoc is not subject to the Brown Act, a state law prohibiting back-room decision making outside of the public participation and purview.
The SRPL Ad Hoc was given three tasks by the APG. The first was to present to the APG a synopsis of the California Public Utilities Commission’s Environmental Impact Report; in particular the potential impacts of the project on the Alpine Planning Area. The other two tasks were to draft a letter to the CPUC, and a separate letter to the Cleveland National Forest Supervisor, registering the APG’s position against the project, stating the reasons for that position, and asking the two agencies to not permit the project to proceed. All three tasks were eventually agendized for public APG meetings, reviewed in public before publicly-noticed APG meetings. The final versions of two letters were endorsed by APG members by a majority vote in public meeting, and dispatched under the chairperson’s signature.
Under a Freedom of Information request, I provided all communications between myself and fellow ad hoc subcommittee members to Mr. Russo. All were separately provided to a County Counsel representative for purpose of reviewing if any communications could be considered irregular for purposes of the Brown Act. Following my response to a few queries by Counsel, they were not.
Mr. Russo has stood before the APG in the Spring of last year alleging such Brown Act violations on a couple of occasions. He further has stated in public on a couple of occasions that he had brought the allegations before the representative of the County Counsel responsible for liaison with planning groups. Mr. Russo also stated that the County Counsel representative indicated that there was no Brown Act violation. According to Mr. Russo, on his further pressing the representative told him to bring his concerns before the District Attorney if he felt wrong doing had indeed occurred. Mr. Russo suggested at a later APG meeting that he did so. I took the occasion to then personally write both the 2nd District County Supervisor and the District Attorney, presenting the facts, and requesting, if it is judged that violations had indeed been made, I would most certainly wish to be so informed, and also informed as to possible corrective communications processes should they be needed. That was over a year ago.
As to the post-SRPL Alpine Boulevard improvements, Mr. Russo had never joined the Alpine Revitalization Steering Committee nor its APG counterpart, the Private Actions Subcommittee, that have jointly worked with 2nd District County Supervisor and the County Department of Public Works since the early Fall of 2010 on this project. Instead Mr. Russo tells us how “he wudda done it” after the several public workshops hosted by the APG and agendized and noticed as APG public meetings, are complete; and after the APG publicly voted to endorse the project’s designs – phase by phase as the DPW generated the hardscape designs.
It is indeed most regretful in the extreme that Alpine’s merchants are suffering through the SRPL construction process. Mr. Russo does not report, however, that the Revitalization Group and the Alpine Chamber, with APG support, circulated a proposal for merchants join in a professionally managed business community effort to protect each other as best they might during construction. Considerable effort was made in promoting this concept, including a number of concurrent meetings with SDGE. This proposal failed for lack of community support. Mr. Russo implies that he “wudda done it better”; but he never joined in the efforts many had tried.
As to Mr. Russo’s comments regarding the proposed Grossmont Union Alpine high school, his public position has been consistently against the project starting from a My Turn article in the Alpine Sun about three years ago urging Alpine voters to not support Proposition U. Mr. Russo followed that piece with others, has stood before the Grossmont Board of Trustees speaking against the high school, and surprisingly sent a couple of email letters to the Board of Trustees accusing the members of the Alpine High School Citizens Committee of being some sort of liberal/socialist cabal interested only in diverting the District’s curriculum to serving some undefined far left social agenda.
I’ve been an officer of the AHSCC since before Prop H, the first bond measure for improving District schools and for building an Alpine high school. I personally asked Mr. Russo to join the community effort; to be productively in favor of the school (rather than throwing stocks into the project’s spokes). He never accepted the invitations.
Some time ago Mr. Russo did attend a Revitalization Steering Committee chaired by the 2nd District County Supervisor at which he vigorously protested the location of the former Lazy A Ranch as the selected high school site location. Mr. Russo’s primary contention was that the site posed extremely severe fire risk. At that same meeting, the Alpine Fire Protection District reported on the status of its generally favorable review and was nearing signing-off on the high school facilities designs. Further supporting evidence was presented by a fire-fighter (who later published in local newspapers) that being across the street from the Alpine CalFire station and mid-way between Viejas and Alpine fire stations made the Viejas Creek stream fed riparian property particularly suitable. At that same meeting, the Alpine Fire Safe Council representative raised no objections to the site selection either.
Mr. Russo did not, to my recollection, participate in the Grossmont District’s EIR Alpine High School Site Selection Committee, nor participated in the APG’s extensive review of the site’s Environmental Impact Review, presented twice before the APG at agendized, publicly-noticed meetings, nor participated as a member of the Alpine Fire Safe Council. But he did try to tell all after the fact again as to how he "wudda done it".
By the way, Mr. Russo was the first chairperson of the APG’s Ad Hoc High School Subcommittee. That role was to gather information on the project and report back to the main APG body. During his tenure in that position I do not recall Mr. Russo ever conducting a “public meeting” of that ad hoc; nor publishing meeting agendas and/or meeting minutes; nor do I recall any published reports on the information he had gathered. Furthermore, I don’t recall anyone else being on his subcommittee other than himself. How he actually "done it" seems to be just about the same as how others "did it".
While I am a member of the Alpine Planning Group, having completed an initial four year term last January and starting another, and as I am the Treasurer of the AHSCC for the past eight years, these comments are my personal observations only and in no way represent any position of the APG or of the AHSCC. George Barnett
Paragraphs win the day
Mr. Barnett apparently doesn't believe in the basic concept of paragraphs. Mr. Russo's argument wins the day simply by virtue of being READABLE.
We added paragraph spacing.
Mr. Barnett's original letter to us had spaces between paragraphs. I suggested he post in our comments section so readers could see both sides, and apparently he wasn't aware of how to post with spacing for readability. I've since added the spaces, and thank you for pointing this out. -- Editor
Living east of you I love stopping in Alpine on my necessary trips to the city. My bank has a branch there. You have lots of nice places to eat and shop. About a month ago, after it took me 30 minutes to make the 5 minute trip to my bank was my last stop in Alpine. I will be back when it's over. As an ex small merchant I really tried to support Alpine but even retired 30 minutes in stop and go construction is too much!
It took me 30 minutes to get through Alpine a couple of months ago, too. It does seem to have improved since then. SDG&E made a bit more effort to not have so many road blocks at once. My last few trips there the delays were maybe 5 minutes.