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“This is a major initiative about the future of East County,” -- G. Cole Davis, El Cajon Community Development Corporation

By Miriam Raftery

February 4, 2010 (El Cajon) – On Saturday, community leaders from throughout East County convened in El Cajon for “The Challenges and Opportunities of Imaging the Future of the Greater San Diego Region.” The event was the seventh such function held around the County by San Diego Foundation’s Civil Society. The goal?


To create a Regional Vision Initiative with a 50-to-100 year strategic plan that will encompass the shared values and priorities of residents.

Key challenges to be addressed for our region include water and energy needs, wildfires, border issues, the airport, fast-changing demographics , community planning for a sustainable economy, climate change, environmental protection, public health, and more.

“This is a major initiative about the future of East County,” said G. Cole Davis of the El Cajon Community Development Corporation, welcoming guests who filled the Ronald Reagan Community Center. “It has to engage the many faces in our community…we are but one facet of the jewel that is East County.”

Jennifer Adams Brooks, vice chair of San Diego Foundation and Chair of the Civil Society Working Group, called for creation of a “People’s Post” online to allow citizens to have their voices heard. “Let’s imagine San Diego as a blog,” she said, urging the public to envision “what we want for our children and grandchildren.”

Bill Geppert, chair of the Regional Vision Group for San Diego Foundation, expressed enthusiasm for gaining broad community support by leveraging social networking and the Internet. “We have a lot more opportunities to really engage people today,” he said. Geppert added that evidence have shown that a large group of people will come up with better solutions than small groups, even experts. “Vision without action is a daydream,” he noted. “Action without vision is a nightmare.”

“Our region is uniquely positioned to lead in a new economy based on green. San Diego could be the green technology capitol of the world,” said Mary Lydon, executive director of the Urban League.

She called for creation of a “whole new, vital market sector” and protection of San Diego’s key attractions: a desirable climate and environment. “Climate change could impact livability,” said Lyden. She who envisions “integrated sustainability” through “green neighborhoods” that reuse resources and provide walking paths to combat obesity. Transit fleets of electric cars and creation of new green sector jobs are also part of her vision.

“My vision for public health is a healthier America, one community at a time—a healthier San Diego, one community at a time,” said Wilma Wooten, MD, San Diego County public health officer. She noted that at present, seven of every 1,000 children in the U.S. die before their first birthday. Many live in poverty and every 30 minutes, a person under age 29 will contract the HIV virus.

Public health policies in the future must also address the aging population, emerging diseases and spread of disease in institutions including prisons, environmental health issues, and bioterrorism.

Changing three behaviors—smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet/nutrition—could reduce by 50% deaths from chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, Wooten said. Access to healthcare, health literacy and language barriers are also growing issues in San Diego, where residents now speak more than 100 different languages.

“Compared to other developed nations, we are lagging behind,” Wooten said. She wants to see more support for public healthcare clinics, parks, and libraries to promote healthy lifestyles. “Each of you can engage and inspire a future generation,” she said, adding that she aspires to make San Diego “one of the healthiest cities in the nation.”

Roger Roberts, chair of the East County Chamber of Commerce Board of directors and an engineer, observed that it’s hard to envision what emerging technologies of the future may be. “Google didn’t exist 20 years ago,” he noted.

His vision for the future would be to eliminate noxious emissions into the atmosphere. “I’m a proponent of nuclear, wind farms, and solar,” he said. Roberts wants to see a reduction in regulations that make it difficult to put up wind turbines in East County of desalinization plants on the coast.

“If we don’t solve our water problem, this place will dry up,” he said, adding that he would like to see a single water agency for all of San Diego County. He also called for water reclamation and said technology exists to assure safe outcomes. For those who object to `toilet-to-tap’ Roberts urged, “Get over it.”

San Diego’s region will need 450,000 new homes in the future to house a growing population, he said, citing data from the San Diego Economic Devleopment Council. “We need to have solar on roofs or better yet, integrated roof systems where the roof is the solar system.” The technology, while imperfect exists and will be perfected over the next 25-50 years, he predicted. Roberts also said plasma fusion technology is on the horizon, offering hope for producing much more power at minimal cost.

In conclusion, he offered these words to ponder: “You can’t discover a new ocean unless you have the courage to leave the shore.”

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