By Miriam Raftery
August 8, 2014 (Boulevard)—Donna Tisdale is the elected chair of the Boulevard Community Planning Group and has long been a champion fighting for rights of rural residents against an onslaught of industrial-scale development proposals. So why did Soitec Solar snub Tisdale in three invitation-only meetings with residents on Soitec’s controversial industrial-scale solar projects in Boulevard, held at a private ranch?
The snub was intentional, Tisdale confirmed when she sent an email to Jim Whalen, Soitec’s paid consultant, asking for an invitation. Whalen responded that while no “disrespect” was intended, the meetings aimed to allow community members to “speak with Soitec people frankly and individually without fear of being chastened.” In an e-mail to Tisdale, he dded, “Sometimes people who don’t have your expertise and experience might feel intimidated to speak up.”
Banning an elected official that Soitec’s own representative admits has “expertise and experience” seems a bizarre step. Even more bizarre givent that Tisdale's own property and her son's property overlook one of Soitec's proposed sites, giving her status as an impacted owner as well as a planning official. Plus the only people who are likely to be “chastened” in meetings Tisdale runs are developers who dodge questions or fail to respect the community’s collective concerns. So what was the real motive for keeping Tisdale out?
Planning group member Bob Maupin did get an invitation and attended the most recent Soitec meeting. Fortunately he brought a report back to planners Thursday night. His remarks suggest the session amounted to a propaganda ploy aimed at swaying opinions without the opportunity for Tisdale to correct inaccuracies. “Nobody’s mind was changed that I could see,” he stated, and offered these pithy insights on Soitec's closed-door meeting.
A former County employee involved in the Soitec project’s early stages and now working for Soitec touted a final groundwater report by the consulting firm Dudek as “exact science,” said Maupin. “There should be no argument anymore because they say so,” he added in a sarcastic tone during his report given at Boulevard's Planning Group meeting.
Maupin also noted that so-called mitigation pitched by Soitec fails to offer significant benefits for Boulevard. At the Soitec meeting, Maupin said he learned that “Soitec is going to fund an ambulance for Boulevard, because we do not have one. It will be stationed in Campo,not his fault, it’s the fire services decision. They are also going to contribute a couple of thousand to fire services. For Boulevard?” he observed. “We have a new fire station, the lights are on but nobody is home. It has two fire trucks, but no staff or firemen…Also ,to benefit Boulevard, they are going to donate to the Indian health center ( in Campo ).”
The meeting also included discussion among concerned residents over water sales for the project from water districts in Jacumba and Pine Valley amid the worst drought in memory. “They say that both districts have an abundance of water so , as per Dudek, there is no problem. They do not want to talk about Dudec being 100% wrong on the subject,” Maupin noted. (Dudek has severely underestimated water use in various major development projects, from Ocotillo Wind to a golf course in Poway. Residents have also voiced concerns over SDG&E's ECO substation, which used three times more water than estimated.)
He added sarcastically, “They also cannot help it if the things that they claim are being done for the benefit of Boulevard don't actually benefit Boulevard. After all, if they say that it does who are we to question them. Refer back to " exact science " because they declare it to be so.”
Maupin also cast doubt on groundwater claims made by Dudek on behalf of Soitec. “On their groundwater graph of my wells, they show the pump test as happening the day before there was a drastic drop in the water level. I thought that was very convenient and they believe that County staff is going to be dumb enough to fall for it.”