STORIES OF THE DECADE: 2009-2019

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By Miriam Raftery

January 1, 2020 (San Diego's East County) -- Our site was in its infancy when the past decade began in 2009, just three months after our launch. What a difference a decade makes! 

We've been there through it all, covering the burning issues impacting our region:  fire protection, energy projects, housing, homelessness, immigration, healthcare, actions of local city councils, school boards, and more. 

Our coverage has led to expansion of veteran's services in rural East County, saved local state parks from closing, stopped community planning groups from being abolished, and got fire stations closed during fire season reopened.  We've documented major social movements of the era, from the Tea Party to Occupy, from gay rights to gun rights. We've covered the issues of refugees from around the world, Native American tribes, immigrants at the border, Iraqi and Syrian immigrants in our local communities. We've covered national issues felt locally, such as healthcare reform controversies, government  shutdowns, climate change and impeachment. 

We've also had in-depth coverage of local land use issues, such as sand mines, major housing projects, and industrial-scale wind and solar.  ECM chronicled the achievements of local sports stars with East County ties, from Tony Gwynn to Jimmie Johnson.

We've covered election campaigns and political candidates, education issues, natural disasters from earthquakes to wildfires, power outages, extreme weather, shocking crimes, reform movements, our growing wine industry, historical milestones such as centennials celebrated by local cities, and so much more. 

We took a trip down memory lane, and invite you to join us.

Here are the top stories we covered in the past 10 years:

2009

The decade opened in January 2009 with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warning that the state was weeks away from insolvency and cancelling funds for major construction projects including Highway 52 in East County. The day before George W. Bush left office, his administration approved construction of Sunrise Powerlink through Cleveland National Forest and Gov. Schwarzenegger asked that the controversial project be expedited.

Later that month, President Barack Obama was inaugurated, with East County residents flocking to local inaugural events.

In Feb. 2009, Boulevard residents began sharing concerns over impacts of wind turbines on the Campo reservation – shortly before the first industrial-scale turbine projects sparked widespread controversy over noise, infrasound, bird kills and health impacts. These were the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.

Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency due to drought and urged residents to cut water use.

Lakeside residents voiced outrage over the state approving Powerlink after SDG&E failed to provide proper notice for public input; SDG&E paid a fine but state regulators let the project be built anyhow.

East County Magazine published claims by electrical transmission expert Ed Clark, who contended that faulty power line installations caused the Paradise, Witch and Cedar Fires. Clark and two other experts consulted by ECM contended that SDG&E installations of two down-guy wires connected by a single bolt were dangerous. SDG&E disputed those assertions, but by summer 2010, had quietly changed out the design at the pole where the Paradise Fire began.

In March, ECM published photos and observations of photographers who traveled from San Diego to Texas, documenting impacts of the new border wall on wildlife and humans.

Supervisor Jacob led opposition to Powerlink as residents in more East County communities joined the protest.

The County got its first federal stimulus funds under the Obama administration for local projects – but Chief August Ghio, president of the County Fire Chiefs Association, asked why the County never asked fire departments what they needed, such as new fire stations. This was many in our decade-long coverage of shortfalls in local fire protection.

In April 2009, the first swine flu cases were confirmed in San Diego, following a deadly outbreak in Mexico. Soon after, Gov. Schwarzenegger declared an emergency over the epidemic.

In May, ECM teamed up with 10 News for a special investigation of water rate hikes in the Helix district that prompted a ratepayer revolt and threats of legal action. We also published 68 letters from the public withheld by staff from board members before they voted.

The battle over gay rights heated up as the Supreme Court upheld California’s Prop 8, which legalized gay marriage and local leaders reacted. In Ramona, the ACLU threatened legal action after a school banned a sixth grader’s presentation on Harvey Milk; the Ramona School District later apologized.

In June, an Equality Rights Torch Relay through East County resulted in arrest of a counter-protester for assaulting a gay rights leader in Lemon Grove.

Supervisors urged the Calif. Public Utilities Commission to pull the plug on SDG&E’s new proposal to shut off power during hot, dry windy conditions to prevent wildfires – after SDG&E had been held liable for losses in wildfires caused by its equipment, the state found. A decade later, utility-planned outages during high fire danger periods continue to spark outrage statewide.

ECM broke news that a woman arrested for the murder of a little girl and her father had trained at a Minute Man camp in Campo.

In July, county employees introduced a ballot measure to impose term limits on Supervisors. It passed, setting in motion a complete changeover in Supervisors over the coming decade.

In August, the Border Patrol offered a huge reward for information leading to the arrest of two agents murdered in Campo. ECM obtained an exclusive account from a person who said they heard the fatal shots.

In September, the La Mesa Spring Valley School District’s censorship of an Obama speech to students nationwide drew hundreds of protests at the next board meeting from parents and civil liberties advocates over Constitutional concerns, prompting apologies from three board members.

An ECM special report revealed that Sheriff Bill Gore had purchased a sonic weapon used in Iraq and positioned them at townhall meetings on healthcare held by Congressional members. After an opponent brought up the issue at a Sheriff candidate forum, Gore announced that the weapon had been disabled.

Grossmont Hospital completed construction on a new emergency and critical care facility, greatly improving healthcare for our region.

Fire chiefs warned a legislative panel in San Diego, covered by ECM, that state budget cuts put public safety at risk in our region.

In October we became the newsmakers, as our media outlet swept up 18 awards from San Diego Press Club and our fledgling news site was named best general interest news site of the year.

In November, Chancellor Cindy Miles convened a forum on refugee issues at Cuyamaca College, documenting impacts of a flood of refugees from the Iraq War on the school district – and prompting hopes to create a national model for helping these newcomers to America.

In true holiday spirit, NASCAR champion and hometown hero Jimmie Johnson donated a half million dollars to help students in local schools.

El Cajon announced it was closing the East County Performing Arts Center for renovations temporarily, sparking public protests and concerns. The “temporary” closure wound up lasting most of the next decade, before Live Nation took over management and reopened the theater this year.

State Senator Joel Anderson was fined $20,000 by the FPPC for accepting campaign donations over legal limits, funneled through a Republican Central Committee from donors including a developer, a Native American tribe and Sempra energy. He ultimately returned the money to donors as well as paying a fine.

 

 

2010

In January, local Iraqi Christians commemorating a 1600-year-old synod shared memories of their homeland and hopes for their future in East County with ECM.

After a powerful earthquake struck Haiti, a local resident and International Rescue Team member became a hero for saving a boy trapped under rubble for eight days, sharing his story with ECM. We also covered efforts by local doctors and nonprofit workers to get help for Haiti’s survivors.

The rise of the Tea Party was documented by ECM, including our coverage of a rally held in February in East County, as well as our documentation of funders behind the movement.

The disappearance of teen Mickey Guidry in the Anza-Borrego desert is one of the most troubling stories we’ve covered; to this day he has never been found. The Sheriff did not issue a missing persons bulletin or launch a search until nearly two weeks after he went missing.

Days later, Poway teen Chelsea King vanished while jogging. The Sheriff launched a manhunt the same day, finding evidence that led to her killer.

In March, with a 28 percent increase in uninsured Californians, local residents began staging protests over the growing healthcare crisis. Soon after, Congress passed the Affordable Healthcare Act later signed into law by Pres. Obama.

In April, a 7.2 quake in northern Mexico was the strongest every recorded in the San Diego region. ECM won San Diego Press Club’s Wild Card award for our reporting on the quake with many articles, including coverage of local damage, photos, and relief efforts for 10,000 people left homeless in Mexico. We also raised questions on why the county’s emergency website never listed any information on the quake and aftershock. Our editor abandoned Easter dinner preparations to bring you timely coverage of this unfolding disaster when the quake rattled her home in East County.

In El Monte Valley, residents began speaking out against Helix Water District’s proposal for a sand mining project. A decade later, they’re still fighting a sand mine, now proposed by a buyer who acquired the land from Helix.

John Albert Gardner pled guilty to the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, teens he had kidnapped and killed. Soon after, Chelsea’s Law was introduced and eventually passed, mandating tougher penalties for those convicted of forcible sex crimes on children.

On the heels of immigrant marches, a national Latino rights leader in El Cajon became the target of a death threat and vandalism; ECM ran exclusive interviews.

In May, San Miguel Fire District faced budget struggles and grappled with possible firefighter layoffs, as ECM reported.

In June, our photographer documented proof that a Padre Dam Municipal Water District contractor was defying an order from the Native American Heritage Commission and desecrating a sacred site. This led to Viejas filing a suit the next day and Attorney General Jerry Brown issuing an injunction to halt the destruction. Viejas ultimately reached a settlement with Padre to protect the ancient sacred site.

We also covered an Alpine meeting where over 700 people spoke out to voice concerns over impacts of Powerlink in Alpine, where the high voltage line was ultimately built close to schools, homes and businesses over objections of many residents.

With waves of refugees from Africa finding homes in San Diego’s inland region, we interviewed some of these new African Americans, including in July 2010, a Ugandan man who has devoted his life to helping former child soldiers from his homeland.

Our photographer spotted a coach at El Capitan in Lakeside holding a football practice during a lightning storm – endangering students’ lives and violating district policy. Our coverage led to the district issuing reminders to all coaches of the policy.

Treatment of the homeless has been a major issue throughout the past decade. In July 2010, ECM went along on a sweep of a homeless camp along the Sweetwater River. It was eye-opening and heart-wrenching, seeing treasured belongings such as a teddy bear and a chipped china pitcher taken by law enforcement officers seeking to clean up a federal wildlife preserve and protect public health, as ECM documented.

In August 2010, we told the human stories of Iraq refugees including a man who recounted his escape from Saddam Hussein’s secret prison and reported on cuts in benefits to disabled and elderly refugees.

In our special report, ECM raised serious questions over state guidelines for opening charter schools, citing concerns over a La Mesa charter in a church basement without permission from the district as a key example. The state later tightened standards to give districts more control over charters seeking to divert taxpayer money from public schools.

During a fire in El Monte Valley, our photographer inquired about a pair of rock climbers stranded on the face of El Capitan. He realized that a mixup in communications during the emergency had led rescuers to confuse their call with others requesting help. His tip alerted dispatchers to the error and soon two Sheriff’s deputies staged a daring rescue, risking their lives to save the hikers in the nick of time. They were later awarded a commendation from Supervisors and the Governor’s medal of valor.

The state’s declaration of State Route 94 as a historic highway prompted an unusual ribbon cutting complete with vintage cars and costumed reenactors bringing history to life. We later took our own ride aboard a historic railway line in Campo.

In September, a federal judge declared the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy regarding gay and lesbian members to be unconstitutional. ECM’s former intern Joseph Rocha provided key testimony, as a young dog handler physically abused by his commanding officer. A straight female officer who tried to protect him was threatened and committed suicide, proving that the policy hurt heterosexual as well as homosexual soldiers. Rocha used his research skills to reveal that many others had complained of abuse by the officer, yet he had not been held accountable. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately affirmed that the ban was unconstitutional, thanks in part to the courage of our former intern.

The foreclosure crisis hit home when a cancer patient’s family faced eviction by a big bank. Congressman Bob Filner and local activist Ray Lutz led a candlelight vigil, fighting to save the family’s home, and we were there to cover this gripping story.

County Supervisors in Sept. 2010 announced plans to axe volunteer fire departments and consolidate rural firefighting agencies into a single County Fire Department. The intent was good, since some rural agencies lacked adequate staffing. But the takeover has prompted a firestorm of controversy in some communities, especially Julian where residents a decade later voice alarm over service that many believe has left them less safe, not more.

In October, we covered a debate during Duncan D. Hunter’s first run for Congress, also providing a fact check on all the candidates. A month later Hunter won the race, but a decade later, he has announced he will step down after the holidays following his guilty plea to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds for personal use.

In Nov. 2010, when Republicans retook the House but Democrats swept statewide races of representatives, we were at election central downtown to get reactions on this and other key races.

In December, we reported on the lack of winter shelter for the homeless despite freezing temperatures and 60 deaths on the streets in the past year, many from exposure to the elements.

A former Ramona man living in Escondido was found to have the largest stash of bombs ever in the U.S. He was also accused of robbing local banks. The “bomb house” was eventually blown up, deemed too unsafe for emergency responders to enter.

In December, we covered the groundbreaking of Sunrise Powerlink in McCain Valley, covering both dignitaries speaking and protesters gathered outside the historic event.

2011

We started the New Year off in January 2011 with a special report on revitalization of El Cajon’s Main Street downtown, where immigrant-owned businesses replaced boarded-up storefronts.

The foreclosure crisis led a long-time local teacher to take desperate and tragic action, killing himself and his wife, also setting their home on fire.

Our editor took a hike to Three Sisters Falls, documenting one of the most rugged trails in the region. It has since been improved by the Forest Service, yet numerous rescues continue on the steep yet beautiful adventure site.

The groundbreaking of Alpine’s Wall of Honor was a memorable occasion, providing a permanent place to honor local veterans.

In February, the Superintendent of the Grossmont Union High School District announced a delay in construction of the long-promised Alpine High School, sparking a massive outcry from Alpine families that ultimately led to a grand jury report, litigation, and in the end, still no high school built.

It was an honor to cover the swearing in of Viejas Tribal Chairman Anthony Pico, who promised “nation building” upon returning as tribal leader.

In Feb. 2011, we profiled efforts to help Somali refugees, including dramatic interviews with people who overcame incredible odds and hardships to find a new life in America.

A President’s Day visit to Palomar Mountain State Park inspired our editor to help save it, soon after when the Governor announced that 70 state parks would be closed forever due to budget cuts—including Palomar. She made a suggestion to a nonprofit foundation to seek pledges to stem the budget gap – and the effort succeeded. The action inspired State Parks to reach out to nonprofits and local government groups statewide, ultimately saving 69 of the 70 parks slated for closure.

After a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March that ultimately led to a nuclear core meltdown that caused 80,000 people to flee, ECM provided an eyewitness account from a former intern who was in Tokyo during the disaster.

In April, we toured businesses started by African immigrants across our region, profiling fascinating people striving to attain the American dream.

We also interviewed all four East County Mayors to get their views on findings of a new report on homelessness in their cities.

On the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Congressman Bob Filner provided an exclusive interview to ECM, sharing his recollections of the historic fight for civil rights – including his arrest.

In May 2011, faced with a deepening budget crisis, Lemon Grove’s City Council voted to eliminate the city’s recreation department. The struggle continues today, as voters will be asked in March 2020 to approve a sales tax increase to help save the city from insolvency.

In a shocking May 2011 report with major impacts, we documented FEMA’s demand for a Potrero homeowner to give back disaster money paid out for damage from the 2007 Harris Fire – due to an error made by the federal agency, not the homeowner. Even better, our report sparked anger from elected officials over FEMA’s actions and led FEMA to back off similar demands and/or issue refunds to 40 other California firestorm victims.

In June, an SDGE sky crane dropping a 16,000 pound Powerlink tower – for the second time in days, witnessed by an ECM photographer. An ECM special investigation documented a history of similar problems with the sky crane helicopter around the world – ultimately helping lead to a recall to protect public safety. We also found SDG&E had violated orders from the CPUC and FAA not to fly following the first accident.

The death of a teen at Cedar Creek Falls in July 2011, following other deaths there, led the Forest Service to ban alcohol, jumping, climbing and diving at all local falls. It also led to closure of the falls for changes to be made in trails and signage in hopes of saving lives in the future.

In Vine plantings: the new barn raisings we covered how our region’s burgeoning wine industry is bringing neighbors and friends together to help new vineyards take root.

The Eagle Fire torched over 14,000 acres on the Los Coyotes Indian reservation, injuring 14 firefighters. The reservation had leased land to a private military training camp run by a former Blackwater vice president, sparking community anger and later, intrigue when Cal Fire announced that arson was the cause.

In “A dream destroyed,” we exposed serious problems with phone service in rural Jamul, including death of a prized llama from a rattlesnake bite due to failed phone service that prevented dialing 911. What if it had been a child instead?

In August, Lakeside planners grilled Helix Water officials over plans for its controversial sand mine.

A double murder-suicide in El Cajon nearly claimed the life of a police officer, too. Fortunately he was saved by the quick actions of a trainee officer.

There comes a time in life when a person may decide to take a chance—to do something wild, so daring that it challenges the spirit and nurtures the soul. So opened our Sept. 2011 story,”The Mustang man,” profiling a Vietnam veteran and cancer survivor who attained his dream of training wild horses.

A tri-state blackout left millions without power, including here in San Diego, as ECM informed our readers.

When Jacumba residents took up picket signs to protest a local farm tied to an eye-gnat infestation, ECM was there to cover the community’s most pesky problem. The farmer ultimately opted to leave the community, claiming a water shortage.

Grossmont Center’s 50th birthday celebrated all things groovy from the ‘60s, and we were there to share the memories.

When the Occupy movement swept the nation and occupiers took over a plaza outside San Diego’s city hall, ECM was on scene to interview East County residents on why they joined the movement to take a stand against big banks. Photographer Ron Logan shot many compelling photos. At the other end of the political spectrum, we also covered a Tea Party rally in Escondido to hear from conservatives also disenchanted with their government.

Grossmont College turned 50, and ECM was there to cover the festivities in October 2011.

In November, the County’s draft wind ordinance drew harsh criticisms from rural residents.

Following crashes and close calls, East County residents fearful over increased flight training of foreign student pilots at El Cajon held a meeting with Supervisor Dianne Jacob and airport officials. To date, their concerns have gone largely unheeded.

In December, the U.S. Dept. of the Interior approved the Tule Wind project in McCain Valley, a federal recreation area and gateway to two federal wildernesses. Here, the push for green energy overrode concerns over preserving scenic natural beauty and protecting wildlife.

The state Supreme Court approved the Legislature’s elimination of redevelopment funds, a decision that has had major impacts on local communites’ revitalization efforts.

2012

In January 2012, SDG&E sparked outrage when it announced plans to charge ratepayers for its uninsured losses due to damage caused by 2007 firestorms that state regulators found were caused by the utility’s equipment. State regulators ultimately rejected SDG&E’s request; both the state and U.S. Supreme Court also rejected SDG&E’s appeals.

A 10-year-old Lakeside boy was charged with murder in January for the stabbing death of a playmate, leading to concerns over the appropriateness of the charge for such a young child, as well as questions over what role psychiatric medications may have played in his mental state.

The federal government’s designation of rural East County as an energy corridor continued to have impacts felt in 2012, including proposals for massive solar projects in Jacumba and an Ecosubstation also planned. In Jacumba, a town surrounded, we documented the cumulative impact of wind, solar and powerline projects transforming a rural community into an industrialized area.

In February, La Mesa rolled out its centennial, launching a year of celebrations.

The state Democratic Party held its conference in San Diego. ECM profiled Attorney General Kamala Harris, the woman who stood alone against the “thieving banks” to wrangle a better settlement deal for victims of bank misconduct resulting in foreclosures.

We also covered Nancy Pelosi’s speech to delegates promising to take back control of the House and regain the Speakership – an effort in which she ultimately prevailed.

Facing a huge budget deficit, San Miguel Fire Department in Feb. 2012 began considering outsourcing firefighting. Later, after closure of a station at Dehesa, San Miguel opted to turn over firefighting to Cal Fire – but when a new board was elected, the district cancelled the contract and took back control after a prolonged and fiery conflict.

Supervisors got an earful from the public after proposing a plan to eliminate community planning groups, a suggestion offered by a “red tape reduction” panel stacked with developers. The scheme ultimately failed by one vote.

In March 2012, El Cajon Councilwoman Jillian Hanson-Cox resigned amid a federal probe. She later pled guilty to embezzling funds from her employer and using them to fund the Mother Goose Parade as well as for personal expenditures, shocking colleagues and the community.

Our This land was your land special report painstakingly documented the cumulative loss of public lands in East County to wildfires and major energy projects.

News of pigs being shot and killed to train military medics at Covert Canyon in Alpine prompted Alpine residents to squeal in protest. When the owner attempted to bully us into backing off the story, we doubled down with evidence of past violations.

El Cajon Council’s announcement of an exclusive negotiation with a developer to tear down the performing arts center and build a hotel prompted community protests, ultimately saving the theatre.

California Energy Commission members got an earful in a hearing at Mission Trails Regional Park over a proposal to build Quail Brush, a gas-fired power plant, next to the park. The project was ultimately withdrawn after widespread community protests.

Local tribes implored President Obama to stop the Ocotillo Wind project and save cultural resources including sacred sites, but their pleas were not heard.

The former Anza Borrego State Park Superintendent became a whistleblower, telling ECM state park employees were muzzled from submitting comments to the federal government on negative impacts that Ocotillo Wind would have on the state park.

Part III of our investigation into Ocotillo Wind revealed dangers the project would pose to residents, from seismic risks to turbine collapses, water contamination and more – many of which ultimately came to pass after the project was built.

County planners in Imperial Valley also ignored tearful pleas from residents and tribes, recommending the controversial Ocotillo Wind project.

In April, we interviewed 100-year-old Frank Read on his memories of early La Mesa, just in time for the city’s upcoming centennial.

At a fiery CPUC hearing in San Diego over SDG&E’s plan to charge ratepayers for its wildfire costs, former city attorney Mike Aguirre leveled charges that some commission members were beholden to SDG&E and subverting the interest of ratepayers. Many local residents also aired their views.

Four candidates and an empty chair showed up to discuss issues in Ramona, since Rep. Duncan Hunter dodged the debate.

We toured the site of the proposed Tule Wind project in McCain Valley with representatives of Iberdrola, hearing the company’s perspective on the project.

We interviewed an energy expert who found stray voltage levels 1,000 times higher than normal in homes near the Campo wind farm, posing health risks to members of the Manzanita tribe.

In a special report, ECM documented the sketchy past of Pattern Energy, the company seeking to build the Ocotillo Wind facility.

We researched potential health impacts of wind turbines and the dubious effectiveness of radar to reduce bird kills.

Imperial County Supervisors ultimately approved the Ocotillo Wind project, bringing grown men to tears after hours of emotional testimony. Tribes filed a lawsuit but were unsuccessful in persuading courts to intervene.

When the Dalai Lama came to SDSU in May 2012 to bring his message of peace, ECM was on the scene.

East County leaders reacted with shock to news that Chargers star player Junior Seau was dead of suicide.

East County residents joined protests in San Onofre, seeking to shut down the nuclear plant permanently after the Fukushima meltdown. Ultimately, their efforts succeeded.

El Cajon’s initiative to become a charter city sparked controversy, but was ultimately approved by voters.

The invasive gold-spotted oak borer devastated local oak groves, killing thousands of trees.

Judicial candidates made their cases at the Foothills Bar Association and ECM was the only media to cover it. The race proved to be among the most controversial in recent memory. Our investigation titled Judicial temperament? revealed that candidate Jim Miller had been removed as a judge pro tem in the Superior Court—the same court where he sought to win a judgeship. We also published Facebook posts by Miller in which he disparaged litigants before him in pending cases, an apparent violation judicial canons of ethics, His endorsement from Lincoln Club was revoked due to our article and he ultimately lost his election to Robert Amador. Miller returned to politics and later won a seat on the Cajon Valley School board.

State Parks announced its acceptance of funds raised by Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park Foundation, with help from ECM, to save Palomar Mountain State Park from closure.

In July 2012, San Diego Supervisors approved a wind ordinance, opening wide the gates for industrial energy projects in rural East County.

As construction began at Ocotillo Wind, residents raised a flood of concerns – including over white, foaming chemicals washed through streets and onto lawns when it rained.

After six brush fires sparked by shooting, Cal Fire asked the Bureau of Land Management to ban shooting on federal public lands.

At the grand opening of Sunrise Powerlink, we covered dignitaries including Governor Brown and former Governor Scharzenegger. After Brown vowed to “crush” the opposition, our editor ran a rare but impassioned editorial titled, “The people our Governor wants to `crush.’

Cal Fire confirmed that a wind turbine caused a brush fire that charred over 300 acres.

In August, Meatball, a black bear, was saved from euthanasia after scavenging campgrounds and found a safe haven at Lions, Tigers and Bears rescue facility in Alpine. The placement proved permanent and LTB raised funds to build spacious shelters for Meatball and other bears later acquired.

Lightning sparked over 500 blazes known as the Vallecito Lightning Complex that August, burning over 22,000 acres. Two large fires merged, prompting firefighters to take a stand in Ranchita as some residents defied evacuation orders.

Residents in Ocotillo staged a “stand in the sand,” temporarily halting bulldozers at the wind farm.

A measure by Assemblyman Marty Block signed into law by Governor Brown allowed prosecution of human traffickers under civil as well as criminal codes, making it easier to crackdown on the alarming number of human trafficking cases in our region.

Why did the federal government host “listening sessions” with tribes nationwide on concerns over energy policies, but nobody took notes? ECM interviewed local tribal members who participated and raised this key question.

The first wind turbines arrived in Ocotillo and installation created shocking Dust Bowl conditions, as ECM documented.

On the 92nd anniversary of women’s right to vote, Congresswoman Susan Davis donned period attire to speak out on threats to women’s rights – threats that have grown in the years since.

The Shockey Fire burned thousands of acres in the Boulevard area in September 2012 and burned some 20 homes. ECM was there, documenting evacuations of livestock and humans amid harrowing conditions. An 82-year-old man was later found dead in his home, a victim of the blaze. We were also there when survivors returned to the rubble and at a fundraiser held for surviving families.

In October 2012, with much at state in the Grossmont Union High School district race, ECM conducted a fact check of claims made by all candidates running. We also hosted a candidate forum along with the League of Women Voters and posted video for voters to make up their own minds.

The La Mesa mayoral race in 2012 was one for the books. After a merchant accused Laura Lothian of a deceptive mailer, our investigation found a history of ethical concerns. Lothian was defeated by incumbent Art Madrid.

In November 2012, Bob Filner was elected mayor of San Diego, inaugurated as the “people’s mayor.” But it was a short-lived win for progressives. Soon after, he resigned in disgrace amid allegations of sexual harassment of several women and later pleaded guilty on one count.

Juan Vargas was elected to Congress in a district that includes the southeast portion of San Diego County.

El Cajon celebrated its centennial, also honoring our veterans.

In December 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal to Prop 8 filed by State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, East County’s representative. The high court upheld Prop 8, affirming the legality of gay marriage.

Ocotillo residents’ woes continued as the first operational wind turbines caused flashing lights and blade flicker to disrupt sleep.

Federal records revealed that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the U.S., which also suffered record-breaking wildfires, storms and hurricanes as evidence of climate change’s impacts continued to mount.

2013

La Mesans held the “party of the century” to celebrate their centennial in roaring ‘20s style in January 2013.

In “The betrayal of Boulevard” ECM documented the coming impacts of county zoning changes to enable massive energy projects in, this rural community. Long-time homeowners who bought there for peace and quiet in a natural setting were slated to be surrounded by industrial-scale solar panels and wind turbines taller than the highest skyscrapers downtown in close proximity to their homes – more than any other community we could find.

Later in the month, our “Battle lines drawn in Boulevard” documented seeds of community efforts to change that fate – a battle that they ultimately lost in the rush for green energy that failed to take into account environmental losses or establish sensible priorities, such as siting power production closer to urban areas where energy is used.

In the wake of mass shootings across the nation, Senators and Congressional members representing East County shared their views on legislation aimed at stemming gun violence. But seven years later, nothing has been done and the carnage continues.

In “Where is the wind?” we asked for records on wind energy produced at the Ocotillo wind facility. But initially, the federal government failed to turn over the records, claiming the public had no right to know. We had good reason for suspicion, given daily videos shot by a local photographer of wind turbines standing mostly idle, as well as calculations by a wind energy expert who advised the site lacked enough wind to be viable.

The Idle No More movement around the world has spurred indigenous people to stand up for protection of natural and cultural resources. When leaders met in San Diego to share their concerns, ECM was there to document their stories.

In February, El Cajon Councilman Gary Kendrick launched efforts to limit off-site liquor sales and sales to serial inebriates, ultimately winning passage. His efforts continued through the years, with measures to crack down on stores selling to minors and most recently, impose hefty fines and license revocation on repeat violators.

Coverup of radiation leaks at San Onofre nuclear generating stations shocked the region, prompting calls for regulatory reforms from environmentalists and accusations from Mike Aguirre of unlawful rate hikes by Southern California Edison to stick ratepayers with costs without regulatory approval. Mayor Filner warned that reopening San Onofre would be a “dangerous experiment” threatening 8.2 million people.

Indoctrinated,” produced by a Lemon Grove filmmaker, exposed the human trafficking trade forcing children into sexual slavery right here in the San Diego region, a national hub for this dark criminal activity.

Community gardens sprouted in El Cajon, providing immigrants and refugees with healthy, nutritional foods they could afford.

Local environmentalists shared angry reactions to a federal proposal to issue 30 year take permits allowing wind energy developers to kill eagles, our national symbol, without public input.

In March, facing a budget crunch, the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce eliminated its full-time paid CEO position and let go Scott Alevy. The leadership post has been a part-time revolving door since then.

Resistance formed in Julian to the County’s efforts to takeover the volunteer fire department, raising concerns over slower response times for fire and medical services. Later in the month, an anonymous donor pledged $80,000 to save the fire department, but the board refused to vote to do so. A closed-door meeting with county officials led to allegations of Brown Act Violations and ultimately a lawsuit that remains in court to this day. Soon after, the fire chief resigned, calling for the board members’ resignations.

Homes For Our Troops helped raised community funds to build specially adapted residences in East County for disabled combat veteran amputees, which we documented in a heartwarming story.

After two of our photographers were threatened with violence by a wind farm manager in Ocotoillo for covering the project built on federal public land, a judge granted a restraining order to protect them.

 Jacumba Hot Springs went back to its roots, petitioning the state successfully to take back its historic name.  The town’s downtown district also sold, along with the Jacumba Hot Springs resort, to entrepreneur David Landman, owner of the De Anza clothing optional resort. 

A federal proposal to close the Ramona air traffic control tower during a budget crisis was fought by a coalition led by Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who was vocal in opposing the dangerous shutdown of the tower used by Cal-Fire.

The federal sequestration hit working families hard in East County, and ECM was there to hear their stories.

The California Public Utilities Commission decision to reject the Quail Brush and Pio Pico power plants in our region was a win for environmentalists. ECM got reactions in the community.

Viejas opened its first hotel in March 2013, expanding its successful business ventures. By the end of the decade, the tribe had opened a second high-rise luxury hotel at its casino resort in Alpine.

Federal plans to cut postal service drew protests in San Diego, including from people concerned about loss of mail service in rural areas.

In April 2013, Penn Gaming signed an agreement with the Jamul Indian Village to operate a new Hollywood-themed casino in the rural area, a project aimed to bring economic prosperity to a tribe with most members living below the poverty level, but opposed by many neighbors concerned over traffic on a key evacuation route and loss of rural character.

The eagle expert hired by major energy companies to do studies on impacts of projects such as Tule Wind pled guilty in federal court to illegally taking a golden eagle and failing to file records for four years on birds he had banded. Frozen dead birds were found in his freezer. Yet the court never required new eagle studies to be done, raising serious questions over the integrity of the process.

The Sierra Club won a lawsuit declaring the County’s climate action plan invalid – a decision that would shape regional transportation and energy decisions for years to come.

Potentially deadly Valley Fever is on the rise across the west including in San Diego County, researchers warned. ECM sent a writer to a conference in Arizona to get the scoop. The next month we reported on cases tied to dust from industrial-scale solar projects.

A freeway shooting in La Mesa claimed the life of Xusha Brown, 22. The Sycuan tribe offered a large reward, which ultimately led to conviction of the killer.

Members of the Manzanita tribe asked Supervisors to revise a county health report on wind to protect their health, but the County ignored their pleas despite a Cal State San Marcos study linking their serious health symptoms to wind turbines near their homes.

The County pushed to take over the Rural Fire Protection District, where ultimately Lou Russo was the lone voice on the board advocating against dissolving the district.

In June, on the same day Supervisors approved a wind ordinance over objections of some rural residents, a wind turbine in Ocotillo hurled off an 11-ton blade. Our investigation revealed this was far from an isolated incident—and found a global pattern of documented corruption including the manufacturer, Siemens. The dangerous accident prompted worldwide curtailment of similar turbine models.

Palomar Mountain’s volunteer fire department hired a lawyer to try and stave off a county takeover, but ultimately did not succeed.

La Mesa rolled back Prohibition Era restrictions on winemaking, enabling the opening of its first urban winery in June 2013. San Pasqual now has two tasting rooms and has won many awards for the fruits of its labors.

 Local winemakers cheered a court decision upholding the County’s boutique winery ordinance. The ordinance has led to an explosion of new family-owned wineries. ECM’s editor Miriam Raftery picked up an award from Maness Vineyards for her in-depth coverage of our region’s fast-growing wine industry.

Following extensive opposition from neighbors, Campo’s tribal members voted down the controversial Shu’luuk Wind project on their reservation.  The move came after mounting evidence suggests negative health impacts on neighbors, including Manzanita tribal members.

KNSJ, a new, independent public radio station based in Descanso, went on the airways on the 4th of July, including an East County Magazine radio show.

The Chariot Fire in July 2013 scorched Mt. Laguna. Our reporter was on scene to report devastating losses including the Sierra Club Lodge, Shrine Camp, and many homes, as well as residents returning to sift through the ashes.

Donna Frye and other former supporters of Bob Filner called on San Diego's mayor to to resign over sexual harassment allegations; ECM covered the press conference. Filner soon after faced a lawsuit over sexual harassment in the workplace.

Warrantless surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records by the National Security Agency have sparked controversy nationwide. In July, East County residents joined a rally in San Diego calling on the federal government to restore Fourth Amendment rights.   

A grand jury issued a scathing report and recommendations on the Grossmont Union High School District’s failure to honor bond measure promises and build an Alpine High School, but the district’s board defined the Grand Jury and refused to implement its recommendations.

In August 2013, dreamers including young immigrant students from SDSU rallied against militarization of the border, and ECM shared their hopes and concerns.

When the state cut funding for inmate fire camps, the county stepped forward to protect these vital firefighting resources.

The kidnapping of Lakeside teen Hannah Anderson by a man who murdered her mother and brother before setting his Boulevard home ablaze prompted an international manhunt and candlelight vigils. Ultimately, authorities found Hannah and her abductor in the Idaho wilderness, where she was rescued and her abductor killed by law enforcement; Sheriff Gore provided details to confirm Hannah was an unwilling victim.

A dust storm sent 500-foot-tall billows across Ocotillo, swept in from Arizona, much like the Dust Bowls of the 1930s. ECM got dramatic photos of the spectacle. Could stripping bare topsoil across the desert southwest for big energy projects and other construction be the cause?

On August 30, Mayor Filner stepped down, ending a brief but turbulent tenure marred by sexual misconduct.

As the U.S. pondered waging war in Syria, ECM rounded up opinions on all sides of the issue from sources across the nation, to give our readers the opportunity to form an informed opinion on this important issue impacting lives of our soldiers and taxpayers’ money.

The Castlerock housing project approved by San Diego’s City Council had major impacts on Santee, raising concerns by residents and a challenge by environmentalists.

In September, Lemon Grove saw redevelopment take fruit in a new Pioneer Modernism Park and Citronica housing/business development.

Our story, Why is county veterans’ services ignoring rural vets? had a positive effect, resulting in rollout of veterans services in several East County libraries.

In October, our investigative report, Closed for fire season, exposed that numerous rural fire seasons were closed due to lack of county funding – some for months at a time. Our story led to emergency funds to restore staffing for the season. 

A Knight in Shining Armor chronicled how a Ramona man made his boyhood dream become a reality, launching an international Reinaissance-style jousting competition that became the Tournament of the Phoenix, rising out of the ashes of the Witch Creek Fire.

Comments about Chaldean immigrants landed El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis in controversy; he resigned a short time later. Bill Wells was appointed to fill the vacancy, and has been reelected ever since.

The 2003 Cedar Fire is scorched into the memories of many local residents. On the 10th anniversary, ECM covered reflections on the tragedy. In addition to our written report, we also produced a one-hour special report on our radio show, interviewing Cedar Fire survivors, fire chiefs, a burn victim and others on what at the time was the worst wildfire in California history.

When drone testing over East County was proposed, ECM covered the pros and cons.

The world’s largest solar facility, utilizing microwave beams in the desert, had an unexpected problem: burning birds alive, as ECM reported.

When Alpine teachers spoke on concerns over budget priorities including pay cuts for teachers and a raise for the Superintendent, ECM was there to report all sides.

A new documentary film released in October 2013 documents history of the Kumeyaay nation in our region from a tribal point of view. Read our story and hear our exclusive interview with Sycuan tribal chairman Danny Tucker on the Kumeyaay film, Our History, Our People, Our Culture, which later won an Emmy award.

Jimmie Johnson raced into the history books with his sixth NASCAR Sprint championship that same month.

A wind turbine in Campo burst into flames in December, igniting brush and threatening a home nearby.

2014

What could be nicer than to donate $3 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of East County?  Mary Alice and Ron Brady, founders of the Brady construction business, did just that in January 2014 – prompting even more generous donations from the community.

After the Grossmont Union High School District board voted to oppose unification efforts with the Alpine district to get a high school built, the Board majority sought to muzzle a dissenting board member, as we reported in ebruary, and pressure into silence a bond oversight committee member who was asking tough questions. A  lawsuit by Alpine taxpayers and Alpine’s school district was filed but ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Covered California rolled out as part of the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare,  signing up over a million Californians by March.

While other media outlets have covered energy projects in our region on a piece meal basis, we put together a comprehensive analysis on the cumulative impacts of proposed industrial-scale energy projects planned for our region following designation as an “energy corridor” by the federal  government.  Our effort, An ecological disaster in the making published in April 2014 won major journalism awards.

Our investigative story, Was it fraud? raised serious concerns about low-first year energy production at Ocotillo Wind—and the dubious claims made by the wind developer in order to win approvals and pocket taxpayer subsidies.  We showed the torment caused by the project to residents, who liken the turbine noise to a living hell.”  Wondering how such flawed projects can get government backing?  We also covered the sordid story of a Department of Interior official who was dating an energy company lobbyist and seeking a job with the wind industry while involved in decision-making on local energy projects.  We raised additional concerns about wind safety, including  a fire at a wind farm owned by Iberdrola.

In 2014, rooftop solar finally became competitive with the grid in the U.S., as we reported

The biggest sports story of the year was a tragic loss for fans: the death of Tony Gwynn, Aztecs head coach at San Diego State University and former Padres superstar, in June. The Baseball Hall of Famer and 15-time All-Star lost his battle with salivary gland cancer, prompting local athletes to speak out on the dangers of chewing tobacco.

The most inspiring sports story of the year is without a doubt the Boston Marathon victory by Meb Keflezighi –a San Diego refugee who has become a symbol of the American success story.

NBA Superstar and Hall of Famer Bill Walton from La Mesa is a hero with a heart. He’s championed  a drive to build a new gym for underprivileged children at the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown in July; giving a heartwarming speech that we shared on tape.

East County Magazine was one of the first media in the world to publicize atrocities committed by ISIS, due to our first-hand sources in the local Iraqi-Chaldean and Kurdish community.   We helped the world learn of Christian homes marked and families killed, also covering a rally to save Iraqi Christians in July and a prayer vigil held in El Cajon.  We covered a Kurdish rally and interviewed a local Kurdish woman whose family was imperiled.  We interviewed Chaldean community leaders such as Mark Arabo and , Ben Kalasho,  who  offered diverse views on how to stop the genocide.  We covered the historic House measure by Congressman Vargas calling for protection of religious minorities in Iraq and a petition launched in support of the effort. 

When local Chaldeans held a fundraiser in El Cajon to help Iraqi refugees, we were there to cover it.  We also covered an appeal by the local Chaldean church to Pope Francis to save priests ordered to return to Iraq, where their lives would be in danger.  Plus we covered the Chaldean American Association’s awards, where leaders spoke out for unity and two members of Congress addressed the need to help Iraqi refugees.

he North County firestorms resulted in San Diego County being declared a disaster area by the state during May 2014. Thankfully East County dodged the bullet this year.  WE covered the fires’ toll and a report to Supervisors by fire chiefs and public officials on what went right—and what could be improved.

We also broke a story about readers’ concerns over a “controlled” burn in Cuyamaca that burned areas of new growth after prior wildfire, complete with photo documentation.

Plus we interviewed a whistleblower on our radio show, who shared his concerns for public safety regarding county fire protection.

If a cure for Alzheimer’s is found, it may well come from the San Diego region –thanks to a regional plan pushed through by Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Hear our interview with her on KNSJ in June 2014.

Local officials grappled this year with the worst drought in California history. In July 2014, the County approved mandatory water restrictions and local water agencies across the region followed suit.  Four massive solar projects proposed by Soitec posed related risks; an SDSU hydrology expert warned that groundwater proposed for use during construction could deplete aquifers so severely that they could not be recharged through rainfall, destroying the entire ecosystem.

On crime issues, an East County Magazine investigative report raised concerns over long response times by the Sheriff’s office in some rural areas. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced break-up of a major gang conspiracy that included sex trafficking of East County school girls, handing down numerous indictments.

New sentencing guidelines paved the way to shorten sentences for thousands of drug offenders in federal prisons, leading to more releases in turn from county jails.

Capture of Amber alert suspect Daniel Perez in Santee and the rescue of four children he had kidnapped made national news. Another major crime story was the trial of Kassim Al-himidi, which ended in his conviction in June or murdering his wife, Shaima Alawadi,  then attempting to make it appear she had been a hate crime victim

In July, Supervisors officially voted to eradicate the wild pigs that have been rooting their way across East County, running hog wild in recent years.

2014 brought a wave of immigrant children from Central America seeking refuge in America from gangs, death threats and hunger in their homelands.  When protesters blocked buses in Murrieta, Border Angels rallied support for the children in San Diego, as ECM reported. The controversy spilled over into East County, where a La Mesa church took action, launched a petition to help refugee children and met with Congresswoman Susan Davis. Church members also hosted a forum on the border children, highlighting problems and compassionate solutions solutions.

The killings of unarmed black men by police in Ferguson, Missouri and New York “hands up, don’t shoot”  and “I can’t breathe” protests nationally and locally over perceived racial bias and police brutality in 2014.   Here in East County, the controversies prompted the El Cajon Council to consider body cameras for police.  One abuse of authority allegation surfaced in East County – involving Metropolitan Security transit officers beating a Hispanic passenger, caught on video in August.

Local legislative bodies moved to snuff out unregulated use of e-cigarettes vaping in 2014, amid growing evidence of health concerns and increasing use by young people.   County Supervisors passed an ordinance regulating e-cigarettes and vaping.  El Cajon voted to regulate hookahs as well as e-cigarettes despite popularity with many Middle Eastern immigrants in the city.  La Mesa’s Council also voted to restrict e-cigarettes, even as one Councilwoman lit up in protest, sending a fellow Councilmember with allergies fleeing the dais.

Crackdowns continued on unlicensed medical marijuana cooperatives around the county. But 2014 also saw the opening of Outliers, the only legally licensed medical marijuana collective in the county near Gillespie Field in El Cajon, in August.

In September, The Chairman of California’s Public Utilities Commission resigned in disgrace amid revelations that he engaged in unethical back-channel communications with his former employer, Pacific Gas & Electric.  He’s also been accused of overly cozy relationship with San Diego Gas & Electric and with Southern California  Edison over San Onofre nuclear concerns. 

Helix Water District’s board majority was on the verge of voting to shut down Lake Jennings, when the public spoke out and asked that public access to the Lakeside facility be preserved.  By September, losses had dropped 56 percent, and the lake’s future looked far promising.

When Pres. Obama announced plans to send troops to train Kurdish and Iraqi forces to help fight ISIL, or ISIS, ECM brought you reactions from local immigrant communities.

In November, President Barack Obama announced immigration reforms that drew reactions ranging from immigrants’ advocates voicing joy to conservatives denouncing the changes. But relief for young immigrants and their families proved short-lived, with most protections later stripped away by courts and the Trump administration that followed.

In November, the East County Economic Development Council celebrated its 30th anniversary.

At San Diego State University, a high number of sexual assaults led to suspension of social activities at all fraternities and the shut down of one frat house completely due to harassment and hazing complaints.

As for the University of California, regents approved a 25 percent tuition hike over the next five years, ignoring student protests. 

Republican sweep at the polls gave the GOP control of the Senate and House. But at the state level, Democrats remained solidly in control – and San Diego gained some political clout in the state Legislature, with San Diegan Toni Atkins named Speaker of the Assembly.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells had good news to report in his December state of the city address: the economy was finally on an upward trend. The city attracted new car dealers, opted to let a  decade-long sales tax increase roll back, voted to proceed with bringing a Marriott Hotel to town, and formed a plan to fund renovations needed to reopen  the East County Performing Arts Center  by leasing it to the Rock Church, a plan later nixed after a watchdog group threatened legal action over church-state separation issues. But poverty and unemployment remained high.

In La Mesa, Mark Arapostathis defeated 25-year-incumbent Mayor Art Madrid in an election that also brings two newcomers to the Council,  Bill Baber and Guy McWhirter, both conservatives with major backing from the pro-development Lincoln Club.  La Mesa residents also approved a term limits initiative, making Madrid the last long-serving La Mesa politician. 

Also, the American Legion stunned everyone at a planning commission meeting by announcing withdrawal of its support and partnership on the Park Station proposed high-rise. La Mesa planners later recommended denial of the high-rise project, but it will be up to the new Council to determine its ultimate fate.

Jennifer Mendoza, a Hispanic woman, defeated incumbent Republican Howard Cook to win a seat on the increasingly diverse Lemon Grove City Council, joining Raquel Vasquez, the first African-American Councilwoman in Lemon Grove, and Mayor Mary Sessom for a majority that was both Democratic and female.  

The biggest story of the year in Santee was the cancellation of the controversial Quail Brush gas-fired power plant, which was withdrawn by the applicant. Santee got a new face on its board with election of Ronn Hall, former Chamber of Commerce president.  Two incumbents won reelection easily, retaining Santee’s all-Republican control. 

In a win for environmentalists, Wilderness protection was granted to 43,000 acres in the forest in November.

The State and federal governments both launched investigations into the California Public Utilites Commission this year amid allegations of corruption. Citizens Oversight, a watchdog group based in East County, sued CPUC officials in November on behalf of ratepayers, alleging that utilities billed for power that was never produced at San Onofre.  A settlement was approved by the CPUC but opponents pledge a court battle.

Following a march for climate action in San Diego and around the world, Mayor Kevin Faulconer issued a sweeping climate change plan.   At year’s end, the Pope has joined the call for climate action—at the urging of a San Diego scientist.

Also in December, State Senator Ben Hueso pled guilty to reckless driving, a reduced charge after being picked up for driving under the influence in Sacramento.

As 2014 drew to a close, news broke of Soitec’s serious financial situation, even as the county moved forward on Soitec’s EIR for the projects, which ultimately were not built when Soitec later withdrew from the solar business. Meanwhile residents voiced opposition to proposed  industrial-scale solar projects in Lakeside’s El Monte Valley as well as in Pine Valley, Potrero and Descanso.  Most want to see their government investing in rooftop solar, not projects that despoil the backcountry. But few officials were listening.

2015

We started the year in the worst drought on record, which led to mandatory cuts in water use ordered by the state.  In the Helix Water District, a hefty multi-year rate hike drew protests from 500 people.  Meanwhile Pine Valley Mutual Water District shareholders fought back against water sales to an industrial solar developer, seeking to protect their precious water resources. 

Measles exposure that started at Disneyland led to an outbreak in East County in January and elsewhere in California.  The scare prompted legislation signed by the Governor that mandates vaccinations for public school children statewide, with exemptions allowed only for medical reasons, not parental choice.

The massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January shocked the world—and had an East County connection.  Online publications by Anwar Al Awlaki, former imam at a mosque in La Mesa, reportedly inspired the Hebdo terror attack even after Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen, as we reported.  Awlaki, whose religious services in our area were attended by two 911 hijackers, has also been blamed for masterminding 911 attacks. At year’s end, a federal indictment tied Awlaki’s teachings to radicalization of the Islamic couple that dropped their baby off with a grandparent before opening fire in San Bernardino, killing 14 people. The Hebdo massacre also inspired a hate crime locally; a La Mesa man pled guilty to threatening the Council on Islamic Relations.

The County terminated its contract with a long-time ambulance provider and shifted coverage in rural areas Mercy Medical Transportation without public notice, as ECM reported in March. This led to a multi-part series examining shortfalls in local ambulance coverage – including revelations that the only mutual aid contract signed was with Imperial Valley. Mercy added an extra ambulance after our report, but delays in response times in some rural areas remain far below national standards due to inadequate county funding.

 A public records request by East County Magazine revealed a high number of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries,  as we reported in March.   El Cajon Police responded to the growing problem by holding a public safety forum  in November and creating a pedestrian safety video in English and Arabic, as we reported,  to educate both long-time residents and the many immigrants and refugees who now call El Cajon home.

An El Cajon Police officer was demoted, but not fired, following sexual harassment claims including allegations of texting nude photos of himself to women on the force .  A lawsuit has been filed against the city over the most recent sexual harassment claims.  An ECM investigation in March found a string of other sexual harassment and sexual misconduct cases involving the ECPD dating back two decades.  We interviewed former officers, employees and a past victim, also checking old news stories and court records for our piece. The story led to citizens rallying for reforms and testifying before the City Council.  But the Council held firm, insisting the City Manager’s decision not to fire the officer was appropriate.

Days after parents filed a lawsuit in May 2015 against a company accused of dumping toxic wastes for years next to Magnolia Elementary School, the Cajon Valley District voted to shut down the school for a full year.  According to the suit, 7,000 gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE) chlorinated solvent waste dumped by Ametek has created an underground plume over a mile long, extending to Gillespie Field—the largest such plume of TCE in California.

In June, we reported on a county proposal to restrict ban free speech outside the County Administration Building,(where East County residents have  previously held rallies on issues ranging from immigration to wind energy projects.  The American Civil Liberties Union sent the County a letter advising that its proposal appeared unconstitutional and citizens testified against forcing protesters into “free speech zones” away from view of Supervisors entering the building.   In the end, Supervisors tabled the ill-conceived plan, granting victory to First Amendment and free speech advocates. For our coverage, we won the First Amendment award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

In July, Hurricane Dolores walloped our region, with Ramona hardest hit.

In August, hundreds of local Chaldeans held rallies in El Cajon and at an immigration detention facility in Otay, calling for safe haven here for Christians being slaughtered or persecuted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and for freedom for Iraqi asylum-seekers placed in detention here. But despite personal pleas made to the President, Secretary of State and others by local Iraqis, few Iraqi Christians refugees were approved for admission.

Mosquitos were the buzz in 2015. As if fatal cases of West Nile Virus borne by mosquitoes in East County, including death of an El Cajon man this year, aren’t enough to send you reaching for the bug spray, the first Aedes Aegypti mosquito was been found in several locations countywide in October. It carries Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever, plus at year’s end Brazilian health officials warn that the bite of this mosquito—which breeds indoors—may be linked to serious birth defects in children. It has since spread to many communities across our region.

Grossmont Union High School District filed a lawsuit seeking to shut down certain charter schools it claimed were violating the law by operating in its boundaries without the district’s permission, as ECM reported in November 2015.  A large crowd of students and educators turned out to protest the action, saying the charters are serving needs of students not met by the district, including refugees and minorities, pregnant students, drop-outs and kids who are too old to get a diploma in the public school system. 

Residents in Julian raised concerns in December 2015 over the  Hoskings Ranch housing development  that some feared could deplete groundwater—a valid fear given that wells have run dry in several rural communities locally. It took until 2019 for a court victory by the state Supreme Court to halt the project and preserve the land as agricultural.

We also reported fire board members in San Miguel raising concerns over ambulance response times.

The County Planning Commission gunned down an appeal, allowing Covert Canyon to continue its shooting range amid Cleveland National Forest over objections from neighbors and environmentalists.

Supervisors approved the Alzheimer's Project, a measure brought forward by East County's Supervisor Dianne Jacob to make San Diego County the center of medical research efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer's, also helping to improve the lives of 60,000 Alzheimer's patients and caregivers in our region.  Hear our interview with Supervisor Jacob on her efforts here

2016

Flooding and mudslides wreaked havoc in rural East County in January 2016.

We interviewed investigative reporter and filmmaker Greg Palast on his investigations into a conspiracy to steal votes though a software program.

Zika Virus, linked to brain damage in infants, prompted the CDC to issue travel warnings to many parts of the globe, also sparking concern in San Diego, where the mosquito that carries Zika had been found.

In February we went to the border station in Jamul in response to residents’ complaints over long border checkpoint lines on highway 94.

A community meeting in Alpine over concerns about electromagnetic frequency exposure from Powerlink at a school drew hundreds of residents, and ECM was there to document their concerns plus officials’ responses.

The Grossmont Union High School District voted to move to trustee districts, prompting heated debate.

Former Mountain Empire School District Superintendent Steve Van Zandt pled guilty to felony conflict of interest and agreed to repay $50,000 to the district. He was accused of overseeing charter schools in other district and pocketing consulting fees through a company that he ran.

In our radio interview with world famous climate scientist Jeffery Severinghaus, who pioneered measurement of carbon bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, he explained why he’s sure climate change isn’t cyclical. There are two forms of carbon measured and only the form released through burning fossil fuels has skyrocketed; natural seepage in oceans has not.

Borrego’s groundwater shortage deepened, prompting a call for adjudication.

Ocotillo Wind failed to produce the power promised for three years in a row, a damning ECM investigative report revealed in March, after we finally got records initially denied by the federal government.

As the presidential campaign advanced, we ran many important stories. We covered several candidates’ visits to San Diego including Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. We also covered controversies such as ethical issues Clinton faced over her emails on a private server and a letter signed by 84 Republican foreign policy leaders saying they would not back Trump if nominated due to national security concerns.

Our report on the county changing ambulance services without public notice prompted a multi-part investigation throughout the year. Our reports revealed mutual aid coming from Imperial County with no other contracts signed, as well as long response times in some areas, and prompted Mercy to add another ambulance to its coverage area.

When Governor Brown signed a bill to raise the minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour over several years, we sought reactions and found a split in the local business community.

In April 2016 the Federal Elections Commission announced a probe into Rep. Duncan Hunter’s campaign finances – an investigation that ultimately led to his guilty plea in Dec. 2019.

AT&T’s plan to eliminate land line phones drew objections from rural residents in areas with poor cell phone service.

Vintners warned that proposed winery regulations could quash Ramona’s wine industry, as ECM reported in April.

In May, we covered a fundraiser held by local Iraqi-Americans that raised over $270,000 to help bring hope and supplies to Iraqi Christian refugees overseas.

Revelations of video cameras filming women surgery patients at Grossmont Hospital raised privacy concerns. The hospital contended it was seeking evidence of drug theft.

Unsheltered homeless in our region jumped 19% in 2016, prompting ECM to interview advocates for the homeless on causes and potential solutions.

A poignant exhibit at the La Mesa Historical Society documented stories of Japanese American students from Grossmont High interned during World War II, compiled by modern day students. Our Japanese-American intern interviewed the historian on parallels between then and now.

June, we interviewed prominent San Diego women leaders after the historic primary victory by Hilary Clinton, the first woman nominated to a major party ticket. In July we covered the Republican Party convention’s nomination of Donald Trump and Democrats’ nomination of Clinton. Throughout the campaign, we covered key issues in the race and even reviewed books by and about the contenders. We alsocovered controversies including allegations over a private server used for Clinton’s emails and potential leaks of classified materials, as well as an FBI investigation. We also covered controversy over Trump’s call on Russia to steal emails on Clinton’s server, Trump’s call to deport all undocumented immigrants and his boast of sexual misconduct caught on tape.

During the Border Fire in June, we documented the unfolding humanitarian crisis and bureaucratic bungling that threatened lives of people, pets and livestock. We ran many articles during and after the crisis. Among the most poignant, a chicken farmer ravaged by major losses from fire for a second time, the ordeal of a rancher with 55 miniature donkeys, and most heart-wrenching, neighbors launching a desperate search for a missing couple after authorities failed to launch a timely search, and the women finding their friends’ burned bodies – right where their loyal dog led the searchers.

Community members voiced concern and outrage over County responses at a meeting with Supervisor Jacob in Barrett Junction and at a planning group meeting in Campo, as well as a later meeting in Potrero. ECM was at the fire scene and at every meeting. But a county report on the fire shamefully whitewashed most concerns. We were there for them all. We also attended a Potrero meeting at which citizens advocated for a shelter in place policy, after the harrowing evacuations and botched responses in the Border Fire.

In July, San Miguel Fire District’s Board voted by a one-vote margin to end its contract with Cal Fire and return to being a free-standing district after heated debate.

Despite a ruling by Pope Francis to protect him, Father Noel Gorgis was ordered by a new bishop to leave the Chaldean Diocese and his congregation in El Cajon.

In an exclusive interview with ECM, Bishop Mar Schlemon Warduni, the new interim Chaldean Bishop for our region, discussed the plight of Christians in Iraq and in refugee camps,  the challenges of keeping Chaldean culture alive,  the controversy over Father Noel being asked to leave the diocese, and Bishop Warduni’s hopes for the future.

In August, El Cajon rejected findings of a grand jury for police oversight and steps to address homelessness.

Where are the weasels? Gone for three years since the County applied gopher poison at Lindo Lakes Park, ECM reported.

A new La Mesa Village Association had big visions to improve La Mesa’s downtown village for merchants when it formed in 2016 to replace a former, troubled merchants’ group. But its original president, Aaron Dean, later left after his plans for a brewery fizzled due to a string of financial troubles. ECM interviewed Dean who responded to critics in Sept. 2016 and later published results of our investigation.

ECM covered La Mesa City Council candidate forums in a race that saw Democrat Colin Parent win election over incumbent Ruth Sterling, as well as reelection of Republican Kristine Alessio, who later changed to no party preference. La Mesa now has no party in the majority.

The shooting of Alfred Olango, a black immigrant, by a white El Cajon Police officer in September 2015 sparked a week of civil unrest. ECM ran numerous stories on protests, officials’ responses and background on Olango, and what might be done to prevent such a tragedy in the future. The incident prompted shutdowns of Parkway Plaza and a car show downtown in mostly peaceful protests, though tear gas was used on at least one occasion. We raised questions over the lack of a mental health PERT team available and over El Cajon’s shortage of women officers, who statistics show are less apt to be involved in officer-involved shootings.

We ran the video of the shooting and an image of the gun-like vaping device Olango pointed at police, also interviewing experts. We reported on the officer’s record of sexual harassment and the force’s past history of police shootings, but also that El Cajon had sought help from the County for its police with mental health counselors in June, before the deadly encounter. The public also weighed in. Plus we covered a meeting of SURJ, a racial justice group. The shooting was ultimately ruled justifiable by the District Attorney and a suit filed by the family was dismissed, but questions remain over how such a tragedy might be avoided in the future.

When investigative journalist and filmmaker Greg Palast came to town for the premier of his film, “Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” we interviewed him on our radio show about his documentation of a conspiracy to steal minority votes through a software program touted as removing duplicate voters, but that in fact removed non-duplicates, primarily those with African-American and Latino surnames.

When Barona tribal member Bobby Wallace led caravans of supplies to Standing Rock, North Dakota where Native Americans were taking a stand to protect their water resources and try to stop the XL Pipeline, we interviewed him on his eyewitness accounts. The stand-off sparked international media coverage of oil company security forces and law enforcement in brutal clashes including using attack dogs and spraying water on unarmed Native Americans in icy conditions.

ECM hosted a Lemon Grove mayoral candidate forum at which all three candidates participated. We included audio recording for readers to hear the full debate, unfiltered. The race was won by Racquel Vasquez, making history as the first African-American mayor in San Diego County.

We also covered a Lemon Grove mayoral and council candidates’ forum hosted by the League of Women voters.

The Lemon Grove Council announced its Connect Main Street concept to revitalize downtown.

ECM also hosted a lively Helix Water Board candidate forum. Rate hikes were top of mind for voters, who ousted long-time incumbent Hal Linden, voting in Mark Gracyk and Dan McMillan, who promised to hold the line against future rate hikes. Joel Scalzitti also won reelection unopposed.

In October we toured the new Hollywood Casino in Jamul, the pride of the Jamul Indian Village and hope for economic prosperity. But opening day traffic also caused long delays for neighbors.

We interviewed all six candidates for the Grossmont Healthcare District board on our radio show.

We also covered a Santee candidates’ forum in a race won by John Minto and Stephen Houlahan, an environmentalist joining the traditionally pro-development council.

Our coverage of local races went beyond forums and interviews, as we also provided key fact checks, information on funding, voting records, hot issue stances, and any deceptive campaign mailers.

A welcoming resolution in Lemon Grove led to an anti-immigrant backlash and threats against the mayor’s family. But the Council held firm, with even Jerry Jones, who initially opposed the resolution, voting to keep it after racism surfaced.

A diverse field of 10 candidates ran for El Cajon’s City Council. ECM co-moderated a debate, inviting all, and seven showed up. Read a transcript here and view video highlights here. Incumbent Starr Bales lost her seat. Challengers Ben Kalasho and Steve Goble won seats and incumbent Bob McClellan won election.

We went to Crest to hear from all nine candidates running for San Miguel Fire District’s board. At stake was the future of the district, with one slate wanting to go back to Cal Fire control and the other committed to keeping the district independent. The independence slate won.

The GUHSD completed many major campus upgrades using bond funds, including a $33 million upgrade to Valhalla’s Theater and main building.

When a Grossmont High School football player was hit by lightning and injured, we asked why a practice was held during a thunderstorm – when we’d been assured a couple of years earlier that this was prohibited.

Two pro-labor teachers won election to the Grossmont Union High School District board in November, ousting conservative Jim Stieringer and defeating a Bible instructor to break the right-wing monopoly on the board, though Republicans still hold a majority.

The election of Donald Trump cheered conservatives but struck fear into local Latino leaders.

ECM investigated a wind turbine collapse in Ocotillo and the manufacturer’s troubled history, prompting State Senator Ben Hueso to seek answers in December to prevent a future collapse.

Fleeing violence in Syria, the first Syrian refugees in the U.S. arrived in El Cajon – and we were there to tell their harrowing stories. We also did a radio interview with Dilkhwaz Ahmed from License to Freedom on how community members can help these new neighbors.

2017

After five years of drought, we started 2017 with the wettest winter in 100 years, filling up local reservoirs. Those storms also caused damage, however, leading to a county emergency declaration

The year opened with a historic women’s march that drew millions of participants nationwide, including 40,000 here in San Diego. ECM interviewed East County participants in the march to protect women’s rights. We also interviewed women’s rights advocate Bonnie Price on the changes she’s seen through the years, and why she believes it’s important for women to stand up against efforts to erode hard-fought freedoms.

We started the year with an upbeat story on Ramona’s winemaking industry coming of age, with dramatic expansion. Later in the year, Ramona launched a successful community grape stomp and Jamul held its first wine festival. Travel and Leisure magazine put our wine region on the map by naming Vineyard Grant James in Ramona as the second best winery in the U.S. to visit. Plus Ramona Ranch Vineyard and Winery became the first in our county to be certified as a California sustainable wine growing business. Cheers!

A new state website discloses that many communities in East County’s mountain, desert and rural areas have drinking water contaminated with uranium, nitrates, arsenic and more, including schools and public water systems, as ECM reported in March.

 

Winter rains brought super blooms—and flocks of tourists—to the Anza Borrego desert in spring, causing wildflower traffic jams.

Congressman Duncan Hunter faced a raucous town hall in Ramona in spring, fielding tough questions after his staff banned constituents with the group Indivisible from his district office and threatened protesters with arrest.  Congresswoman Susan Davis also drew a large crowd at her town hall, though the tone was far more sedate.

Hunter’s troubles mounted. The U.S. Justice Department launched a criminal probe into Duncan Hunter’s campaign finance controversies, which included spending lavish sums on personal expenses such as a family vacation to Italy, high end jewelry, oral surgery, tuition at his children’s school, and airfare for his son’s pet rabbit. Hunter has denied wrongdoing but did take out a loan to repay his campaign over $65,000. We interviewed Morgan Cook, journalist at the San Diego Union-Tribune, who won a major award for her investigative reporting uncovering Hunter’s campaign finance irregularities.

Hunter took huge campaign contributions from the tobacco industry, then introduced a bill to ease regulation of e-cigarettes and vaping. He also took big money from the telecom industry before voting to sell out consumers online privacy, a measure that was signed into law. His actions posed conflict of interest questions: just whose interests was he representing?

Rep. Hunter’s call for a first strike against North Korea, an action that could trigger a nuclear war, drew condemnation from both his Republican and Democratic opponents.

Caused by shooting on public Bureau of Land Management property, the Gate Fire in the Dulzura area rekindled calls to ban shooting on BLM lands, prompting a heated discussion at the Jamul-Dulzura Planning Group in June, with passionate arguments on both sides.

In a year when climate change has been blamed for the worst wildfires on record in the west, President Donald Trump’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate accord drew condemnation from world leaders. California and other West Coast states fought back, forming their own alliance in June to combat climate change. World famous climate scientist Jeffrey Severinghaus, PhD, from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, called Trump’s energy plan “tragic” in an exclusive interview with ECM. We also interviewed Walter Oechel, another top climate scientist at San Diego State University, who warned about rapid release of carbon dioxide from melting arctic tundra ice.

Iraqis driven from their homeland, including some 50,000 Chaldean Christians in East County, took heart in news that ISIS has been driven out of Mosul and other cities in Iraq. ECM published dramatic photos from the battle of Mosul. But the victory proved bittersweet. In El Cajon, Chaldeans held rallies to protest a proposal by the Iraqi government to curtail women’s rights and called on the U.S. and Iraqi government to save Christians from genocide in Iraq, where Islamic extremists continue persecution of Christians and moderate Muslims.

Despite unsafe conditions in Iraq, President Trump ordered deportation of many Iraqi immigrants, a move temporarily halted by a judge after the ACLU and the Minority Humanitarian Foundation filed suit to protect detained Iraqis.

 A homeless mother of seven who came to the aid of a police officer who was shot received help from grateful El Cajon officers, who set up a fund in July to help her family obtain a home.

The La Mesa-Spring Valley school district board drew controversy this summer for filling a vacancy by appointing a church administrative assistant, Rebekah Basson, over other applicants including a former teacher’s union president and a past PTA president who served on the district’s bond oversight committee. That controversy grew hotter when allegations of voter fraud by Basson surfaced.

 After a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd in Charlottesville, killing a protester at a white supremacists march, students held a vigil at Grossmont College in August, where the chancellor also spoke out against racism.

Lemon Grove celebrated its 40th anniversary in August 2017.  The City Council also approved an ordinance to allow breweries, wineries and distilleries to open up businesses, so watch for some big changes in the near future.

Citizens Oversight, an El Cajon-based watchdog group, reached a landmark settlement with Southern California Edison that aims to provide safer storage of nuclear wastes—ideally, away from the beach at San Onofre. The deal drew both praise and criticism; it remains to be seen whether the outcome will protect our region from the chilling prospect of nuclear contamination.

After the Oroville dam spillway failure, ECM sought records on safety of local dams. Our request was at first denied on national security grounds, but ultimately state regulators turned over the data – which shows that nine dams in San Diego County fall below satisfactory on safety, we reported in September.

The County declared a public health emergency in September due to a hepatitis A outbreak that included cases in many East County communities. The outbreak is believed to have started in a homeless individual in El Cajon, which took proactive steps to help bring the outbreak under control.

La Mesa’s City Council grappled with state regulations mandating trade-offs of parking for affordable housing, giving a green light in September to Silvergate’s housing project on the site of the former Little Flower Haven convent despite objections from neighbors. The City Council also turned over running of La Mesa’s car show to a new merchants’ group, but without the long-time DJ.  

Santee will soon be getting its first movie theatre (other than a drive-in) thanks to the Council approving Cinemark to build a theatre multiplex. But the city also had to pay nearly a half million dollars to fix sink holes after a water pipe undermined homes.

In September, Trump ended Obama-era protections for Dreamers, or young people brought to the U.S. as children of undocumented immigrants.  The President gave Congress six months to save Dreamers from deportation, but that clock is swiftly running out. ECM profiled the anguish of a Dreamer student at Grossmont College to put a face to this national news story. Meanwhile California filed suit in an effort to block the DACA repeal.

The president’s sweeping orders to deport many undocumented immigrants, even some who came here decades ago, led to a crackdown on immigrant neighborhoods in California after Governor Brown signed a “sanctuary state” bill.  Raids sparked fear in immigrant communities, going far beyond targeting criminals, tearing apart families, and even deporting spouses, children and parents of military veterans. Rep. Hunter introduced a bill to defund sanctuary states, cities and colleges, even though that would mean huge funding losses for California communities and students.

The President’s ban on travelers including refugees from mostly Muslim nations was met with numerous lawsuits and several court decisions that struck down most, but not all, of the ban.  ECM interviewed leaders from the International Rescue Committee and Survivors of Torture on how the ban impacted local refugees and those hoping to come here to find safe haven or reunite with family.

Trump sought to fulfill his campaign promise of tighter border security, authorizing construction of border wall prototypes in San Diego. But some local leaders including San Diego’s mayor concerns  such as cost, diversion of FEMA funds meant for emergencies to build the prototypes, and impacts locally on tourism.

El Cajon’s Councilman Ben Kalasho proved a lightning rod for controversy.  He threatened to sue the City over a redistricting map,  threatened another suit when Council sought to limit how many items any member could add to the agenda, and filed a discrimination complaint with the state after Council banned use of personal electronic devices by members during public hearings.

Kalasho also suffered business setbacks including revocation of his Chaldean Chamber of Commerce’s trademark by the federal government and  the state Attorney General ordering cancellation of nonprofit status for a beauty pageant that he ran. After he failed to recuse himself from a Council vote on city trash collection liens despite his Chamber getting hefty funds from Waste Management, the city had to hold a revote at taxpayer expense and Waste Management withdrew its support of his Chamber.

He also faced legal challenges.  A dethroned pageant contestant filed suit accusing Kalasho of posting fake nude photos online and running a fraudulent pageant; a second pageant queen sued and accused Kalasho of offering to trade sex for the crown. A taco shop owner claimed Kalasho defamed him on social media. Kalasho denied the allegations and filed a countersuit, which was dismissed by a judge who found it to be an illegal SLAPP suit filed to retaliate against people exercising their constitutional rights. The embattled Councilman also threatened and insulted a Union-Tribune reporter, drawing sharp criticisms from First Amendment lawyers. He also threatened and defamed ECM, continuing his pattern of attacking media for publishing truth.

After two years of decline due to the drought, the agricultural industry locally saw growth again in 2017, according to a county report in October.

A bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017 makes college more accessible and affordable, providing one year of free tuition to all full-time community college students in California.

Ten years after the 2007 firestorms, the county voices concerns that residents may not be prepared for the next big wildfire.  Our editor shared her reflections on covering the October 2007 wildfires, and we profiled Deerhorn Valley’s rebirth out of the ashes of the Harris Fire. 2017 broke all records for fires across California, devastating the wine region and large swaths of Los Angeles, Ventura, and Riverside counties. Locally the Lilac Fire burned a terrifying swath from Bonsall to Oceanside, killing 45 racehorses and destroying many homes, leading to state and federal disaster declarations.

Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District’s board voted against consolidating with the County and Cal Fire, making it the only hold-out to remain an all-volunteer fire district. The bitter dispute has led to a recall effort against a board chair who backed consolidation and a no confidence vote by a firefighters’ association board against their chief. At year’s end, Cal Fire ended its paramedic engine service for Julian-Cuyamaca, heightening the importance of a ballot measure this year asking voters to hike fire fees.

One bright spot is a set of new fire watch cameras installed by SDG&E that are now accessible to the public.

If a national opioid addiction crisis isn’t bad enough, lethal elephant tranquilizer drugs are now turning up in counterfeit pain pills in our region, we reported in October.

An East County Magazine investigation in October found that invasive Aedes mosquitoes capable of carrying diseases such as Zika Virus and Yellow Fever have spread across the county, including plaguing residents in several East County communities with aggressive daytime biting.

If you lose your possessions in a fire, flood, burglary or other crisis you can no longer take a tax deduction for your personal casualty losses, under the new federal tax bill.

The tragic death of Cal Fire Captain Ryan Mitchell, who took his own life at the Pine Valley bridge in November, highlights a disturbing fact: more firefighters commit suicide each year than are killed fighting fires. But now one former battalion chief is working to reverses that trend and save firefighters’ lives with a new program to prevent suicides.

Sheriff’s deputy Richard Fischer has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault, including several alleged victims in East County, as we reported in late November. 

El Cajon celebrated opening of a new Mercedes Benz dealership in November and a Courtyard Marriott Hotel also broke ground on construction

A decade after the deadly 2007 firestorms, the California Public Utilities Commission in late November denied SDG&E’s request to charge ratepayers for its uninsured losses from three fires that state regulators found were caused by the utility’s equipment.

Days after the CPUC decision, SDG&E shut off power to thousands of residents in rural and mountain areas during a red flag warning, stating the action was meant to prevent wildfires during high winds.  Some were left without power for days or had repeated outages, causing residents to voice outrage and seek changes for the future to prevent being left without communications or electricity to power wells needed for drinking water, livestock and fighting fires. SDG&E’s response, and denial of loss claims for food spoilage, did not allay those concerns.

Covert Canyon, a controversial shooting range in Alpine used by military, law enforcement and private gun enthusiasts, defaulted on payments and facef foreclosure and possible sale at auction by November.

A federal tax bill signed into law at year’s end brought sweeping changes, including deep and permanent tax cuts for many businesses.  But it also eliminated many deductions and incentives to itemize for self-employed business owners, as well as taking away incentives for charitable giving.

 A bright spot in this year’s health news was the county expanding firefighter paramedic services to five more mountain and rural communities—an action certain to save lives.

Trump’s first year in office proved turbulent.  In his fiery inaugural speech, Donald Trump pledged to stand up for his “forgotten” base of supporters. He pushed through appointment of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and rolled back numerous regulations on the environment and more. By year’s end, his most significant legislative achievement was a tax bill signed into law.  The tax bill brings biggest benefits to corporations and the wealthy, along with smaller cuts to others that are largely negated by eliminating many popular tax deductions. It also ends the healthcare mandate under the Affordable Care Act, an action that nonpartisan budget analysts predicted would raise the cost of healthcare for many Americans.

The President’s first year was marred by the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian election meddling and Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign. By year’s end, Trump’s Trump’s foreign policy advisor pled guilty to criminal charges regarding his dealings with Russians and two others, including his campaign manager, were indicted on felony charges including conspiracy.

The state Supreme Court upheld California’s concealed carry handgun restrictions. That triggered efforts by local gun rights groups and the city of Santee to push Sheriff Bill Gore to ease requirements to obtain concealed carry permits locally. By year’s end, feeling the heat, the Sheriff pledged to issue more concealed carry permits.

In a win for public access, California’s Supreme Court ruled that when public officials use private emails or text messages to discuss the public’s business, those communications are public records that must be disclosed on request.

It was a sad year for football fans, with the Chargers abandoning San Diego fans after 55 years to move to Los Angeles. But you can always root for the Aztecs, who signed on two Helix High graduates to their team that has a winning record.

Native American tribes gave back to local communities in substantial ways this year.  The Jamul Indian Village presented $2.6 million to the County Fire Authority to improve fire protection, also handing over keys to two new fire trucks. Sycuan, meanwhile, donated $25,000 for flood relief to help victims in Houston.  

El Cajon began implementing a package of actions to help the homeless, proposed by the East County Regional Task Force on the Homeless. The city also took heat for a temporary ban on feeding homeless in public places due to a hepatitis emergency. But Mayor Bill Wells, in an exclusive December interview with ECM, shared his vision for supportive housing for the homeless in the future.

Spring Valley residents scored a victory, persuading the County to purchase land atop Dictionary Hill as a nature preserve.

Although California voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana effective January 1,  2018, a patchwork of conflicting ordinances remain in our region. County Supervisors voted to outlaw all marijuana sales and commercial growing, even phasing out legally licensed medical marijuana over the next couple of years. ECM toured the County’s only legal facility and reported on the contrast between conditions there and at illegal outlets.

The city of San Diego opted to allow sales, delivery and agricultural operations.  La Mesa took action to implement the will of its voters to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and deliveries. Lemon Grove  is working to comply with a ballot initiative passed by voters. In El Cajon and Santee, however, all marijuana sales, delivery and commercial growing remain illegal.

In a landmark announcement in December, El Cajon’s City Council announced it has forged a deal with Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter, to finally reopen the East County Performing Arts Center that has been closed for nearly a decade. Bravo!

2018

Backcountry Hidden Pleasures: Weekend Getaways in San Diego’s Inland Region” is a special East County Guide project ECM created throughout 2018 highlighting the best of lodging, activities and attractions in San Diego’s East County regions. You can read our stories, funded with help from a county community enhancement grant, in our special section that includes these regions: mountain and gold rush, Ramona wine, rives and lakes, desert, Alpine-mountain empire, centennial cities, historic highway 94, and northeast San Diego County. Happy travels!

Customers lined up before dawn to buy the first legal recreational marijuana at a San Diego dispensary, and ECM was there to document the occasion.

In January a Grand Jury subpoenaed documents in a criminal probe of Rep. Duncan Hunter’s campaign finances that expanded to include his wife. Soon after, details of alleged womanizing and heavy drinking were revealed.

A Calif. court issued a nationwide injunction to protect Dreamers from deportation.

Redevelopment of Casa de Oro took a step forward with an advisory group recommending a plan that Supervisors accepted.

El Cajon Police arrested activists for feeding the homeless in a public park on Martin Luther King Day in defiance of a ban imposed during the hepatitis outbreak. The action drew international press and threats of lawsuits. The city later dropped the charges and soon after, the feeding ban ended due to a sunset clause when the county hepatitis emergency declaration ended.

A federal shutdown occurred in January after the new and divided Congress failed to pass a spending bill, prompting demonstrations in San Diego. The government later reopened after Democrats won concessions to fund children’s healthcare, but could not get protections for young immigrants, the Dreamers.

Use of force against a female Helix High student by a La Mesa Police officer went viral in a video, prompting protests and calls for reforms. An independent investigator found no wrongdoing, but the incident led to formation of a citizens police oversight commission in 2019.

The Safeguard our San Diego Countryside (SOS) initiative petition drive launched in January to give voters a say on large housing developments that require waivers from General Plan requirements.

Two court rulings against district unification and forcing the GUHSD to fund an Alpine high school marked death knells for two decades of Alpine parents’ efforts.

In news to cheer about, former Padres star relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jerry Brown, California’s longest serving governor, gave his final farewell speech, leaving office due to term limits.

Sycuan Casino announced plans to add 700 jobs for its hotel and resort expansion.

Viejas held a grand opening of its Willows Hotel and Spa.

In February, the state closed the case filed by Councilman Kalasho against El Cajon and key officials.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians for meddling in the U.S. election.

The Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers could be detained indefinitely without a bond hearing – even legal residents, a decision that alarmed many immigrants and their advocates.

Councilman Kalasho faced new allegations of fraud - -this time, involving real estate transactions, we reported in March.

Lemon Grove Councilman David Arambula claims injuries he inflicted on a cannabis dispensary applicant at his home were in self defense. The victim, Christopher Williams, disputed Arambula’s account and filed suit against the city and Arambula. ECM had exclusive interviews with each. Mayor Vasquez was present before the altercation but left, yet neither she nor Arambula recused from voting on Williams’ projects, also giving rise to claims of bias. The case is set for trial in June 2020.

SDG&E held a forum in Descanso to hear from residents upset about repeated power outages—over a dozen in the past year.

Former Cuyamaca College president Sam Ciccati showed his angel wings in March, donating a million dollars to the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.

The Cajon Valley School Board in April drew fire for its response to students and parents speaking out over concerns about gun violence in schools. Trustee Jim Miller, in particular, drew heat for speaking on behalf of a gun owners group and donning an NRA hat mid-meeting at the dais.

County Supervisors voted to support a Trump administration lawsuit against California over sanctuary state status, with support of Supervisor Jacob but opposition by Sheriff Bill Gore, who said having law enforcement officers enforce immigration could make the community less safe by resulting in immigrants afraid to report crimes.

Assemblyman Randy Voepel would not respond to claims made by an opponent, former Navy Seal Larry Wilske, accusing Voepel of inflating his military record. Besides photos on Facebook that appeared to show Voepel wearing medals he did not earn, tapes made on the Assembly floor revealed Voepel talking of being in “heavy combat” in Vietnam though records indicate he was on a ship offshore. Voepel won reelection despite the controversy.

Some La Mesa merchants raised concerns over the financial stability of Aaron Dean, head of the new La Mesa Merchants Group, at a time when the organization was asking the city for funding to support events. Dean was deeply in debt, ECM found, and had a record of stiffing some prior creditors.

La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board Member David Chong drew criticism in April 2018 for his remarks as a gun shop owner and a video on his Facebook page claiming legislators seeking to restrict firearms access were taking advice from “kids who eat Tide Pods.” Chong did not seek reelection.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking at the San Diego border in May 2018, announced a policy to separate immigrant children from their parents, an action that later led a San Diego judge to order that families be reunited. Despite the court ruling on one of the Trump administration’s most divisive actions, thousands of children remain separated from their migrant parents. Thousands marched in San Diego calling for an end to the separations.

After years of doggedly determined planning, El Cajon opened its new animal shelter in June 2018 paid for with a bond approved by voters. Councilman Kendrick noted that El Cajon is not a wealthy city, adding, “This is all about love.”

Judge Gary Kreep, with 29 counts of judicial misconduct, face a slew of challengers in the 2018 election and later lost his seat to Matt Brower,whom we interviewed.

Congressional Democrats toured a child migrant detention facility in El Cajon in June, where protestors called for an end to family separations.

In June 2018, the County Fire Authority celebrated its 10th anniversary, but also drew sharp criticism. Julian resident Lori Foss called Cal Fire’s contentions of response times of just over 10 minutes “garbage” and said 14 Cal Fire vehicles in the unincorporated region of 1.5 million acres equated to one truck with two or three firefighters per 107,000 acres. She voiced concerns about county plans to put Cal Fire and County Fire Authority in charge, replacing Julian’s volunteer firefighters. “We can’t wait 30 minutes for Cal Fire,” she said. ”Someone’s going to die.”

The Courtyard Marriott Hotel held its grand opening, a cornerstone of El Cajon’s downtown redevelopment.

In a civil suit against El Cajon Councilman Ben Kalasho, a judge found evidence “true and admissible” that Kalasho engaged in sexual harassment, faked nude photos, defamation of character and offering to trade sex for the crown in the Miss Middle East Beauty Pageant that he ran along with his wife, Jessica.

ECM was first to alert residents about the West Fire in Alpine in July 2018, which destroyed 18 homes. We kept residents abreast of evacuation notices, documented heartbreak and heroism, injury of a firefighter, return of burned-out residents, assistance center location, profiled families of survivors and how to help them, covered a foundation set up to assist survivors, and a fundraising benefit in our award-winning coverage of this fast-moving fire.

El Cajon residents packed the city council chamber in July, calling on Councilman Kalasho to resign over sexual harassment allegations and threatening ECM reporter Paul Kruze with a trained attack dog. Society of Professional Journalists also spoke out on behalf of our reporter, denouncing Kalasho’s actions. ECM received the Gloria Penner Award for our reporting on Kalasho’s threats against others – even before the dog threat against our own reporter. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker also reported on Kalasho’s dog threat against Kruze.

When Twitter dropped fake followers, Ben Kalasho’s list of followers shrank by over 50%.

In July, Julian firefighters filed an emergency appeal seeking to prevent a county takeover.

Boulevard planners took a stand against yet another mammoth energy project proposed for their small town, Torrey Wind.

In August, we profiled Syrian refugee families finding new homes in El Cajon, but still facing trauma.

In “Stalking a bus station,” ECM writer Mimi Pollack shares insights into her own project to find families released from ICE detention at a local bus stop and give supplies including toys for the children.

A judge deemed admissible evidence that Kalasho comingled his personal assets with those of a Chaldean chamber of commerce and the beauty pageant that he ran, and also found that he defamed attorney Lina Chary.

An ECM investigation found Bessmon “Ben” Kalasho had pled guilty to worker’s compensation fraud in 2015 and remained on probation as of August 2015, but failed to disclose his criminal record when he ran for office using a different first name.

Santee’s City Council delayed until 2020 a citizens’ vote on a Santee slow-growth initiative despite enough signatures for an earlier vote.

ECM celebrate our 10th anniversary withEast County Fest” at Mission Trails in August 2018, joined by headliners including NBA superstar Bill Walton, artist Chuck McPherson and author/humorist/columnist Richard Lederer – who all donated items for our auction, too. Here are photos from our memorable event.

Congressman Hunter was indicted on 60 federal corruption charges, along with his wife, in August 2019.

State Senator Joel Anderson was accused of making a verbal threat to “bitch slap” a lobbyist at a Sacramento bar/restaurant. Anderson claimed he was misunderstood but was later reprimanded by the Legislature in a bipartisan action.

Electric scooters began popping up across East County in 2018, prompting local cities to step in and wrestle with how to regulate the latest ride-sharing craze.

LAFCO voted to dissolve the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District in September 2018, the last of the county’s volunteer fire departments. Residents later exercised their right to protest the takeover with a ballot measure, but those seeking to save the volunteer department later narrowly lost at the polls.

Julian scrapped its Apple Days festival, a celebration that dates back more than a century, replacing it instead with a series of harvest-oriented events. But did Julian lose its roots?

The Kendrick-Kalasho race was one of the most contentious on record locally. We fact-checked flyers sent by both Kendrick and Kalasho to help El Cajon voters separate fact from fiction. Kendrick’s son filed a police report accusing Kalasho of stalking him on the campaign trail.

Kalasho was served with a federal lawsuit by Mark Lane after Kalasho blocked Lane’s comments on his Facebook page. He quickly settled the suit, since courts have issued clear precedents that no public official, not even the president, can block members of the public from commenting on social media pages where public business is discussed.

SDG&E announced some positive news: it would station its air crane year-round to fight fires in our region, also providing generators to some communities to keep power on during outages implemented to prevent fires.

The Santa Ysabel mission celebrated its bicentennial in September 2018, and we were there to commemorate the occasion.

In October, a process server accused Kalasho of threatening him with an attack dog, echoing the police complaint previously filed by our reporter. Kalasho lied and said the process server didn’t notify police, but police records prove he did. Kalasho later ranted against the media, speaking from the dais to urge citizens not to talk to the press.

The Washington Post ranked an attack ad by Duncan Hunter “four Pinnochios” for spreading anti-Muslim bias and false statements suggesting his opponent was tied to terrorism. His opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, is actually Catholic. The tactic may have backfired; Campa-Najjar subsequently outraised the indicted Congressman five-to-one in fundraising. Hunter held onto his seat by a slim 3-percentage points in the conservative-leaning district.

ECM interviewed all four candidates for the La Mesa City Council in-depth. Dr. Akilah Weber won a seat, bringing a fresh face to the Council. Bill Baber, who was reelected.

A Greenfield Middle School principal accused of bullying a Muslim student was moved to another school in the Cajon Valley district, but a prominent Muslim group argued he should be fired instead.

California must get 60 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy sources by 2045, under the landmark Senate Bill 100 signed into law by Jerry Brown as one of his final acts as Governor.

Climate change may be accelerating spread of deadly Valley Fever in California, ECM reported in October.

Some Santee candidates ducked the community’s hottest topic – Fanita Ranch – at a political debate. We later interviewed seven of the eight candidates on our radio show (one had dental surgery and declined). Anti-sprawl candidates lost their bids to win seats on the City Council.

Some 500 irate Lakeside residents gave county planners an earful over a proposed sand mine in El Monte Valley during a meeting at the Lakeside Community Center. Lakeside planners later unanimously voted to recommend the County reject the project.

Our radio interviews with Julian’s volunteer firefighter chief, a firefighter-paramedic, and a citizen who lost her home previously in a fire were among the most heart-wrenching we’ve done as they made their case to save their district.

We interviewed all four Lemon Grove Council candidates in a race that could determine the future of the city faced with a budget shortfall and some calling for disincorporation as a city. Voters returned both incumbents, Jennifer Mendoza and Jerry Jones.

We covered a forum with La Mesa-Spring Valley Council candidates. The election broke a conservative stronghold on the board, with two progressive women, Charda Fontenot and RebeccaMcRae, winning seats along with Republican Megan Epperson.

When Trump’s budget proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, breaking a campaign promise to voters, ECM let readers know.

A gag order in a settlement agreement between the Alpine Union and Grossmont Union High school districts prevented anyone involved in the litigation from speaking about the Alpine High School issues, effectively preventing the most knowledgeable participants from running for the GUHSD board, an ECM investigation found.

A Helix High student body-slammed by a La Mesa Police officer filed a lawsuit against the city in October.

An ECM special report revealed that El Cajon mayoral candidate Joel Scalzitti had a string of tax liens – including numerous sewer and tax liens filed by the city of El Cajon, the city he aspired to represent. He lost resoundingly to incumbent Bill Wells.

In November, Councilman Kalasho settled a lawsuit filed by the city over illegal use of city resources.

With two empty seats due to term limits, two new Supervisors were elected in November: conservative Republican Jim Desmond, whose district includes portions of East County, as well as Democrat Nathan Fletcher.

East County got a new State Senator when Republican Brian Jones won election.

Democrats swept all statewide races, also maintaining control of both houses in the state Legislature.

Power outages shut down five school districts in East County as residents’ outrage over outages mounted.

Lights, cameras, action! Santee’s Council unanimously approved bringing a multi-plex movie theater to town, along with new restaurants.

In stark contrast to a decade ago, when Gov. Shwarzenegger faced a dire budget shortfall, Governor Gavin Newsom won election in November and prepared to take office with a $30 billion budget surplus.

Failure of a Borrego water bond measure left the district in dire straits, with a water shortage looming large.

After Thanksgiving, the Trump administration quietly erased a dire climate report off a federal website. We published it to educate our readers.

The U.S.shut down the border at San Ysidro on the busy holiday weekend, gassing migrants including children and costing our region millions in economic losses.

Disturbing reports of abuse, neglect, and children missing from migrant child facilities surfaced in late 2018, raising concerns over the children’s welfare. El Cajon’s City Council approved sending a letter to state agencies seeking a review of a child migrant facility in El Cajon.

The Trump administration soon after announced a “wait in Mexico” policy to stem the flow of migrants, despite winter cold and unsafe conditions south of the border for refugees and asylum seekers.

Eric Bauman, California Democratic Party Chair, resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Residents concerned over a sand mine proposed at Cottonwood Golf next to the Sweetwater River and a federal wildlife preserve filled the Rancho San Diego Library community room in early December, swiftly mobilizing to gather signatures and mount a formidable opposition.

Mt. Helix residents organized a successful effort to stop a parole office from opening in their community. We interviewed the activists who started it all on our radio show.

Despite not resolving health complaints over its existing wind turbines, the Campo tribe rolled out plans for yet another wind project in Campo at a scoping meeting in December.

Borrego Springs celebrated opening of a new park, library, and Sheriff’s station.

After Julian voters gathered enough signatures to put the future of their fire station on the ballot in a special election, County Fire/Cal Fire removed protective gear from Julian’s station.

At year’s end, Trump ordered a controversial troop withdrawal from Syria, but Congress also passed an Iraq and Syria genocide relief measure. The new law could impact families, friends and loved ones of tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian immigrants and refugees who now call San Diego's East County home.

2019

County Supervisors, seeking to address the housing shortage, waived fees to make it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling units, or granny flats.

La Mesa debated the future of its farmer’s market, with Council voting in January to keep the market downtown for at least six months.

La Mesa citizens and some Councilmembers voiced dismay at the sketchy nature of a report on the police takedown of a Helix student – and shock to learn that key details would not be divulged even to councilmembers.

In early January Congress deadlocked once again, forcing another government shutdown with effects that rippled across our region.

After Democrats retook control of the House of Representatives, they voted later in January to elect Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.

State Senator Brian Jones was elected chair of the Calif. Republican Caucus.

California’s Attorney General filed a brief with 21 other states to protect the Indian Child Welfare Act, facing a court challenge that would undermine it. The outcome could impact the 19 Native American tribes in San Diego County.

With deaths from fentanyl on the rise, Border Patrol agents unpaid during the federal shutdown made the largest-ever seizure of fentanyl at our border in February.

A judge denied Lemon Grove’s request to dismiss the city from the suit filed by a cannabis dispensary applicant against Councilman Arambula alleging assault and bias. A witness, Taisha Brown, disputed Arambula’s denial of knowledge about the reason for the meeting, and that Arambula even showed a briefing booklet on the dispensary application during the meeting.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells held a forum to get community input on homeless problems.

The feds raided jeweler Leo Hamel’s Jamul estate as part of a gun trafficking investigation that also resulted in Rancho San Diego Sheriff Captain Marco Garmo being put on administration leave.

Cajon Valley Union School District told ECM it destroyed a recording of a public meeting despite our timely records request just one day after a meeting. Open government advocates denounced the district’s action. What was on the tape, which we eventually did get with help from a Calaware attorney? A parent voicing concerns over many schools failing state academic testing in math and English, plus a consultant reporting on gaps in school safety.

The board also voted to keep records for a year instead of three months, but has since reneged on making them public.

Cal Fire claimed reports of it’s engine stuck in snow was a hoax. Julian residents promptly provided drone footage to prove otherwise. Why hasn’t the county equipped its engines and ambulances with snow tires, four wheel drive, and a snow plow stationed in Julian, a mecca for tourists during each winter’s snowfalls?

La Mesa approved a granny flats ordinance – and a cit-zens commission on homelessness.

Heavy snows and record-setting cold hit our region in Feb. 2019.

Cajon Valley held a series of meetings with parents on school safety concerns.

President Trump in 2019 proposed a budget that would slash Social Security and Medicare in violation of his campaign promises, sparking protests.

Lemon Grove’s school board faced controversy over alleged forced resignation of 16 teachers in March.

Julian voters narrowly approved a measure to abolish the county’s last volunteer firefighting department. But a lawsuit now on appeal, alleging illegality in the approval process, could still reverse that action.

Gov. Newsom declared an emergency for wildfire prevention – a novel approach, freeing up funds for brush clearing in areas including Crest and Guatay in East County.

When the hate group Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest at Cajon Valley and Monte Vista high schools, counter-protesters turned out in overwhelming numbers to take a stand against hate.

Disgraced El Cajon Councilman Ben Kalasho resigned in March, after settling a lawsuit over fraud and harassment charges. But a defamation charge filed by attorney Lina Chary remained pending.

A crowd turned out in Jacumba to voice concerns about a massive solar project proposed in the sleepy desert community.

A Superior Court nullified a decision to dissolve the Juilan fire district. But LAFCO defied a court order and ordered Julian’s fire district dissolved anyway, prompting volunteer firefighters and supporters to stage a sit-in at the station. Playing hardball, the county shut-off the volunteers radios and froze bank accounts for the volunteers’ fire and medical services. The judge urged a compromise.

A Passover shooting at a Poway synagogue killed a woman and wounded three others, including the rabbi, drawing national attention and outrage over the hate crime. The victims showed courage and heroism in the face of the cowardly attack.

A major measles outbreak in Los Angeles triggered health warnings across our region in late April.

Tamara Otero, chair of the Cajon Valley Union School District, failed to disclose that her son owned a construction company awarded a lucrative contract, raising ethical concerns. The district stands by the action and Superintendent David Miyashiro blasted ECM for reporting on the controversy. The board refused to reconsider the contract.

A new county budget focuses on the most vulnerable San Diegans.

El Cajon’s City Council appointed Phil Ortiz to fill the vacancy left by Ben Kalasho’s resignation.

After the Cajon Valley school district threatened to arrest our reporters for taping public meetings (unless we would move to a back row under a noisy air conditioner) attorney Cory Briggs sent the district yet another cease and desist letter on our behalf. The district backed down.

29% of Cajon Valley’s schools were found to be failing state academic standards as measured by the Dashboard tests and flagged by the state as needing improvement. But Superintendent David Miyashiro says the state is measuring the “wrong metrics” (math and English).

At least 19 illegal hash labs have sparked fires and explosions locally.

A rare mountain lion attack on a child at Penasquitos Preserve in May pointed up the need for vigilance when hiking; the lion was shot and killed.

Two East County Superintendents were charged in a statewide charter scheme. San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan announced 11 indictments, alleging over $50 million in public funds were stolen.  Those indicted include Nancy Hauer, superintendent of the Dehesa Elementary School District in El Cajon, and Steve Van Zant, former superintendent of the Mountain Empire Unified School District that services Descanso, Pine Valley, Potrero and Campo.

The race to replace Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who will step down after 2020 due to term limits, is taking shape. The contenders are Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, former State Senator Joel Anderson, both Republicans. Democrats Tom Lemmon, and Kenya Taylor, a mental health counselor and NAACP board member.

Rep. Duncan Hunter drew fire for admitting that he fired at civilians in Iraq while serving combat duty with the Marines, also posing with corpses of dead enemy combatants. Hunter was vocal in his public support of Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher, a San Diego-based Navy Seal charged with war crimes including shooting at civilians and fatally stabbing a young wounded prisoner, then posing with the corpse. Gallagher was later cleared of murder charges.

The County took over Julian’s fire station in defiance of an appeal in June.

Two local school districts announced plans to purchase Cajon Valley’s World of Work program that has attracted national attention.

A conference at Sycuan highlighted the nationwide problem of missing and murdered indigenous people.

Insurance companies refusing to renew fire insurance in fire-prone areas was one of the hottest issues of 2019. Supervisor Jacob asked help from the state insurance commissioner in July.

A battle brewed n 2019 between SANDAG and East County cities over how transit funds should be spent, with cities such as Santee urging hands-off highway funds while SANDAG pushed for transit projects instead. We also interviewed Colin Parent and Kristine Alessio for two views on the future of transportation in our region.

La Mesa opted to lease its former police station site for housing instead of a public use such as a library.

La Mesa residents succeeded in getting approval for citizens’ oversight of police. Hear our interview with Jack Shu and Janet Castenos on this issue.

At least 7,000 migrants have died since the border wall was built, trying to cross in rugged terrain. Eagles of the Desert (Aguilos del Desierto) volunteers save lives, search for lost migrants in coordination with Border Patrol. Hear our interview with Henri Migala and Vicente Rodriguez.

Cities in East County have adopted climate action plans, but some environmentalists say El Cajon’s climate action plan did not go far enough.

A Kumeyaay land trust filed a notice seeking to evict the County Fire Authority in Julian, claiming the land should revert to the Kumeyaay under terms of the original land transfer since Julian volunteers are no long allowed to run the station.

La Mesa winds up with two farmers markets: Grossmont Center launched a Wednesday farmer’s marketplace, while the city council voted to keep a city-sponsored market downtown on Fridays, under new management.

A lawsuit was filed against the County over its approval of a large housing project in Proctor Valley near Jamul in a high fire risk area.

In August, we interviewed Ammar Campa Najjar,the Democratic candidate running for Duncan Hunter’s seat on his goals if elected. We also covered his townhall in Alpine.

Lemon Grove residents launched a ballot measure to increase the sales tax by three-quarters of a cent to shore up the city’s budget shortfall. We ran arguments on both sides of this juicy debate.

Santee rolled out ambitious plans for an arts and entertainment district.

La Mesa moved to adopt community choice energy in conjunction with other cities, to give residents an alternative to SDG&E for buying power.

Helix Water District voted to raise rates, with only Director Dan McMillan voting no.

Police will have a tougher standard for using lethal force under a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber signed into law in August.

At long last, the former East County Performing Arts Center reopened as the Magnolia Center under management of Live Nation in September, after announcing its initial lineup of performers in July.

The CDC issued a warning over deaths and serious, sudden lung illness tied to vaping in August, including many cases in young people.

Measles exposure at Disneyland and L.A. International Airport rekindled urging from public health officials over vaccinations.

Invasive Aedes mosquitos are expanding and plaguing local residents, as we reported.

Virulent Newcastle Disease was confirmed in Ramona, prompting euthanasia of up to 100 chickens and prompting concerns among local bird owners aired at a Ramona forum. The case was caused by illegally moving a bird from a quarantined area.

La Mesa legalized recreational cannabis businesses in September. Hear our interview with Councilman Bill Baber, who proposed the measure.

Congresswoman Susan Davis announced she will retire, creating an open seat in the 53rd Congressional district for the 2020 election to fill.

Julian residents are moving closer to their dream of a town square amphitheatre.

Cory Briggs announced he will challenge Mara Elliott as City Attorney. Hear our interview.

In late September, State Senator Brian Jones announced his intent to run for Hunter’s seat. Four other Hunter rivals announced they were dropping out to endorse former Congressman Darrell Issa. Carl DeMaio held a dueling press conference outside city hall in El Cajon at a spot that’s not in the district. Neither Issa nor DeMaio are residents of the district, either. Jones cheekily invited to give Issa and DeMaio a tour of the district in his off-road vehicle.

We interviewed Helen Horvath, an independent also running for Hunter’s seat.

The County GOP voted not to endorse Rep. Hunter for reelection.

In October, hundreds rallied in El Cajon to show solidarity with protesters in Iraq where authorities have brutally cracked down on demonstrations.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is the first major candidate to come to San Diego this primary season and ECM traveled downtown to provide coverage.

Supervisors approved a new evacuation route for Crest during wildfires.

Supervisors voted to withdraw the county as a groundwater sustainability agency for the Borrego Valley groundwater basin.

The County Supervisors also voted 3-2 to adopt a ban on e-smoking/vaping products amid growing health concerns.

Cajon Valley Union School District spent over $600,000 on promotional videos over the past several years, as ECM reported. The district told us it had “no responsive documents” when we asked for documentation of any revenues those videos produced.

Devastating wildfires ravaged California from the wine country to the coast in fall 2019; later fires threatened much of Southern California.

Sup. Jacob held a town hall in Julian – just as a fire broke out in Ramona. The former JCFPD chair informed her that all Cal Fire firefighting equipment had just left Julian to fight the fire, leaving the community bare without its volunteer firefighters.

Pres. Trump threatened to end federal aid to fight California wildfires, but offered help to Russia to fight fires in Siberia.

In late October, Gov. Newsom asked the CPUC to revise power shut off rules and penalize utilities for excessive outages, as well as seek compensation for ratepayers for the future. The CPUC later opened an investigation into the outages.

Gov. Newsom in November called for funds for generators and solar power to keep schools open during outages.

The Grossmont Union High School District rejected Steele Canyon’s charter renewal application and revised bylaws, after complaints that the process was undemocratic.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob continued to speak out against the disproportionate number of sexually violent predators released into rural East County.

A scoping meeting for Cottonwood Sand Mine drew unified community opposition.

Lemon Grove Councilman Matt Mendoza resigned. We got applications and published qualifications of all the candidates. Council appointed Aldira Altimirano to fill the vacancy.

Jimmie Johnson announced plans to retire after winning seven NASCAR Spring championships, but will continue chasing number eight for his final season.

Former Sheriff’s Captain Marco Garmo was indicted for gun trafficking and tipping off a relative to raids on an illegal pot shop. Several others were also indicted including jeweler Leo Hamel and a Sheriff’s lieutenant.

Following a court ruling favorable to the county, Cal Fire/County Fire Authority removed all fire engines and ambulances belonging to the former volunteer fire department, dashing hopes of those hoping to revive the department that once had 60 volunteers capable of responding to five or six incidents at a time.

Cajon Valley Union School District trustee Jill Barto filed a federal against the district, Superintendent Miyashiro and fellow board members, alleging violations of her civil and First Amendment rights. The district later filed a counter-suit.

A centennial celebration commemorated the 100th anniversary of completion of the San Diego & Imperial Railway, complete with an actor portraying John D. Spreckels driving in a replica of the historic golden spike at the Campo Railway Museum and Park.

With a focus on asylum seekers from Africa, the Congressional Black Caucus held a foreign affairs subcommittee field hearing on the issue locally, and ECM was there to provide coverage.

In December, Congressman Hunter pled guilty to conspiracy to divert campaign funds for personal use and announces plans to resign after the holidays. The House Ethics Committee then stripped him of all voting rights.

Opponents of Lemon Grove’s sales tax measure filed a lawsuit against its organizers and the Registrar of Voters, but the challenge won’t be heard in time to keep the measure off the ballot.

El Cajon’s Council voted to stiffen penalties against tobacco stores selling to minors, but rejected a proposal by Kendrick to ban flavored vaping products and vape devices attractive to children.

During heavy snow in Julian, a Mercy ambulance dispatched from distant Valley Center became stuck in snow, leaving the community with no medical coverage for hours--the first of many incidences of long response times since the County takeover of fire and medical services.

A boil-water order in Poway due to stormwater contamination lasted a full week, as the city gave out bottled water to residents. Afterwards, Chamber leaders urged the public to support Poway restaurants hurt by the shutdown.

Supervisors adopted developer-backed language on an initiative over the Newland Sierra housing project, much to the consternation of the ballot measure’s backers. Supervisor Desmond withdrew similar developer-backed language on the S.O.S. (Save our San Diego Countrywide) initative.

Hundreds held a rally in El Cajon calling for impeachment of President Trump. Dozens of major newspapers also called for impeachment.

In late December, the House voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The Senate must hold a trial in January on whether or not to remove Trump from office, but Speaker Pelosi has delayed sending impeachment papers to the Senate, voicing concerns over a fair trial after Senate leader Mitch McConnell openly declared he is “not impartial” and is in “total coordination” with the White House lawyers. That conflicts with the Constitution, which mandates that Senators take an oath pledging to be an “impartial justice” before an impeachment proceeding.

Why is it so hard to close down illegal pot shops in Spring Valley and other unincorporated areas? ECM spoke with a Sheriff department official to find out. Meanwhile El Cajon shut down an illegal dispensary near a school just days after it was reported.

A major snow storm at year’s end shut down major highways, but delivered a white Christmas across East County’s mountains.

 

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