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January 3, 2010 (San Diego's East County)--What were the stories that captivated our interest and attention in the past year?  Stories that were newsworthy, tugged at our heartstrings, impacted our lives, or fired up indignation in San Diego's eastern regions?  Which images most indelibly reflect the changing times in East County--or captured key moments in time?


We've compiled our most compelling stories and images from 2009, starting with the first quarter (January through March):





They've got Hope 

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

The inauguration of President Barack Obama, our nation’s first African-American president, elicited cheers and tears of joy among audience members watching the historic occasion on TV at the Malcolm X Library in East San Diego.




Border closure

Photo credit: Karl Hoffman

Construction of the border fence has cut down on illegal immigration, but not without costs. Since construction of the border fence began, thousands have died crossing, including many children. The wall has also separated families. Photographer Karl Hoffman has captured many moving images of life on the U.S.-Mexican border, including this haunting photo of a father and child peering longingly into America from the Mexican side of the border.


Multi-cultural celebration

Photo credit: Leon Thompson

La Mesa’s Multi-Cultural Festival, where these dancers from Ballet Folklorico performed, showcased a range of entertainment reflecting East County’s increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural diversity.





Fighter jet crash

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

A fighter jet crash near Miramar Marine Corps Air Station killed a family and sent up toxic smoke, prompting closure of a freeway exit and new questions about safety of the region. The crash was among several dozen regional emergencies in 2009 for which East County Magazine issued emergency alerts via e-mail including wildfires, freeway closures, police SWAT team actions, flash flood warnings and a tsunami. (Sign up for the free Viejas wildfire and emergency alerts at the top of our homepage.)



Saldaña sworn in as Assembly Speaker Pro Tem

Photo credit: State Assembly

As Speaker Pro Tem of the Assembly, San Diego Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña became one of the most powerful women in the State Legislature. Retiring next year due to term limits, she has announced plans to run for County Supervisor against incumbent Ron Roberts.





Powerlink protests

Photo credit: Jody Morgan

Without doubt, SDG&E’s proposed Sunrise Powerlink high voltage line emerged as the hottest issue in East County in 2009. Cedar Fire survivor Jody Morgan was mortified to learn that portions of his land in Lakeside’s El Monte Valley could be taken by SDG&E for construction of Sunrise Powerlink. He created this computer-generated image to show the visual impact of Powerlink, which he calls a “crime against nature.” The California Public Utilities Commission rejected a norther route through Anza Borrego, but approved the project’s southern route through East County. Now several lawsuits aim to halt it in court, arguing that the State's environmental impact link failed to assess severe fire dangers, water usage and other impacts of the southern route. The East County Community Action Coalition, a local citizens' formed to battle Powerlink, now claims to represent more than 79,000 members.




Sex education?  Superintendent grills Helix officials on misconduct

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

Grossmont Union High School District Superintendent Bob Collins grilled Helix Charter High School officials on mishandling of sexual misconduct cases at a February hearing after four teachers were convicted of sexual relations with students—giving new meaning to the term “sex education.” By July, facing threatened revocation of its charter, Helix agreed to implement reforms.





Wind farm stirs controversy

Photo credit: Basin and Ranch Watch

This construction project shows the scale of massive wind turbines proposed for East County’s McCain Valley area near Boulevard. In a probing three-part series, ECM’s Gayle Early interviewed rural residents and revealed compelling information on potential impacts of wind farms in East County, earning a San Diego Press Club award for her efforts.



Closure of Friendship Park

Photo credit: Gayle Early

Girls slip through border fence behind the backs of U.S. Border Patrol agents stationed at a rally protesting closure of Friendship Park, a gathering place for families opened by former first lady Pat Nixon on the U.S.-Mexican border in 1971. Many East County residents turned out to join the protest, where Rev. John Fanestil was arrested for offering communion to families at the border fence.



Amber Alert

Photo credit: courtesy of the Dubois family

Our hearts were moved by images of Amber Dubois, an Escondido teen who disappeared on her way to school in February 2009 and has never been found. Her story made national headlines, as her family continues the search, holding out hope that Amber will someday be found.




Whistleblower’s Fiery accusations

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

Insurance investigator-turned whistleblower Ed Clark, in exclusive interviews with East County Magazine, accused SDG&E of covering up dangerous conditions on its lines which he believes caused three fires for which the utility has not yet been blamed: the Witch, Paradise and Guejito wildfires. SDG&E maintains Clark is not credible (though he has represented SDG&E as an expert witness in the past) and the PUC  opted not to intervene. But two electrical experts confirmed Clark’s contentions that the lines remain dangerous—and one termed the utility’s failure to fix the problem “negligent.” Our editor scrambled up a poison oak-covered slope to photograph this pole where Clark believes the 2003 Paradise Fire began--and evidence he presented to bolster his claim.



Hollingsworth named Senate Minority Leader

Photo credit: California Legislature

Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, who represents East County, became the Senate’s most powerful Republican when he was sworn in as Senate Minority Leader. A staunch conservative who has held the line against all new taxes, Hollingsworth replaced a minority leader who had been ousted for breaking the Republican stronghold by voting with Democrats to pass a budget that included a tax increase. That budget was later vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.




Team assesses border wall impact on wildlife

Photo credit: Krysta Schyler

A team of international photographers spent three weeks traveling the length of the border wall documenting its impacts on wildlife, humans and the environment. East County Magazine was the first local media to report on their findings—including impact of the wall on animals that have their migration routes disrupted and access to water sources cut off. This photo shows javelinas, or wild pigs, dwarfed by a 15-high-foot section of the border barrier.



La Mesa Chamber celebrates first year

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

In honor of its first year, La Mesa’s Chamber of Commerce hosted a Casino Royale fundraiser with a James Bond theme—plus Chamber president Mary England elegantly attired as a “Bond girl.”





Viejas named business of the year

Photo credit: Viejas

Viejas was honored as Business of the Year for 2009 by the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce for the tribe's many contributions to the community, including generous donations to improve education and strengthen firefighting resources for our region.






Bound for the NCAA Championships

Photo credit: SDSU

San Diego State University's women’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA championships for the first time in 12 years, giving local college basketball fans plenty to cheer about.