By Van Collinsworth, Director, Preserve Wild Santee
January 14, 2020 (Santee) -- At the last meeting, the new Vice-Mayor Laura Koval waited until after I had addressed the council and returned to my seat to suggest that Preserve Wild Santee and/or other environmental organizations work is financially motivated. To be clear, and as has always been the case, I will engage with any council member at the podium to address their directed remarks, as I did with the mayor. From my perspective, waiting until I cannot respond to make this suggestion of financial motivation, demonstrates the weakness of your position.
Since I was not provided time to respond at the council meeting, I will do so In this open letter. First, In regard to other environmental organizations. It is my assessment that environmental organizations are motivated by their mission statements. If organizations invest the time and resources needed to act as enforcers of the law and that results in a court awarded attorney fee or settlement that furthers their environmental missions, then that is as it should be. It is called success and justice. Hopefully, successful action in the public interest helps them to continue their effective and essential work. In the words of JFK, “Here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
Preserve Wild Santee (PWS) has operated as a volunteer organization for the better part of 30 years as described above. PWS successful litigation on the Fanita Ranch project resulted in the court award of attorney fees and the recovery of hard costs covered initially by individual small contributions.
PWS does not employ any staff or pay any salaries. PWS depends upon donated time and synergy of effort. While PWS budget has been relatively small, it has been effectively utilized. PWS has never even paid for signature gatherers, despite leading 4 citizen’s initiatives and a successful referendum that required gathering thousands of signatures on legal petitions within a 4 week deadline and then successfully defending those petitions in court. There are now over 2 decades of financial disclosures filed with the city to document these facts.
Maybe the error in your position will be more apparent if we consider PWS relationship with Padre Dam Municipal Water District, for whom you are employed. PWS has never sued the District despite plenty of opportunity. In fact, General Manager Allen Carlisle thanked me for not including PDMWD as a defendant in our litigation against the Castlerock/Weston project. The record demonstrates that the District will issue a letter of service for any development proposal.
PWS did not sue the District for any of the sewage spills into the San Diego River. PWS has not sued on any District projects requiring CEQA review; not even the conversion of the Santee Lakes campground into a RV/trailer park. When I sat down with the District’s Allen Carlisle to negotiate the first public solar installation in Santee on the proposed RV storage facility, only one of us was being paid. Fact: it wasn’t me.
Perhaps because council members are routinely lobbied by development interests, and their financial statements reveal alignment with those interests, they have trouble understanding that there are still those primarily motivated by the love of our community and the public interest. PWS volunteers are among those individuals motivated primarily by community interest.
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