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Part four in our four-part Year in Review (fourth quarter 2009)






Poverty Rising in East County

Photo credit: Gayle Early

New census data released in October revealed that poverty in San Diego County has shot up 50% in the past year. In El Cajon, 40% of the population is economically challenged—and many faced foreclosures in 2009. This file photo, though taken at a food bank in late 2008, illustrates another aspect of the economic downturn—hunger that has risen even more in the past year.



Not for the birds: Cable Ski Park is approved in Santee

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

Santee’s Council approved a cable-ski park for Santee Lakes by a 3-2 vote in October, over strenuous objections from many area residents concerned over noise, traffic, alcohol, and impacts of towering motorized cables on birds and other wildlife.




Marching to a different drummer

Photo credit: Leon Thompson
Only in sunny San Diego would Halloween parade traditions include mermaids, cheerleaders, and SDSU’s homecoming king and queen marching in the Boo! Parade, a college-area event since the 1930s.









Students protest SDSU admission changes

Photo credit: Pat Washington

Local students staged massive protests after San Diego State University’s president announced elimination of guaranteed admission for local students who meet California State University requirements, citing budget cuts as the reason for the unpopular action.  The move prompted a hearing chaired by Assemblyman Marty Block, who has proposed allowing community colleges to offer some four-year degrees to make higher education more accessible for local students. Block also wants to build a new CSU campus in Chula Vista.


Dark Skies in the Desert

Photo credit: Dennis Mammana

Thanks to the leadership of night sky photographer Dennis Mammana, Borrego Springs became the second city in the world to receive the International Dark Skies designation. The community has taken steps to protects its premier stargazing by restricting night lighting. This breath-taking image shows a rare Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) visible in the Anza-Borrego Desert.

Schools Going Green

Photo credit: Scripps Ranch High School

Students at Scripps Ranch High School will soon be learning about sustainable technology careers in the greenest educational facility in San Diego County. A model of the school’s planned Green Technology Complex (photo) was unveiled October 16 at a “Growing Green Careers” forum at Cuyamaca College, also a leader in green careers training. Later in the year, San Diego County received millions in federal stimulus funds for green job training and sustainable energy projects.



Arts Renaissance in La Mesa

Photo credit: Takayuki Higuchi

Opening of Bella Mesa Gallery and O’Dunn Fine Arts are part of an arts renaissance in La Mesa’s downtown village. At Bella Mesa, nationally acclaimed artists’ works are displayed—including Sean Didiker’s portrait of President George Washington crafted from folded dollar bills. The artist recently landed a commission from the Obama campaign to create a portrait of President Barack Obama, drawing the attention of national art critics to La Mesa.




Voices against hate 

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

A hate crimes summit in East County drew attention to racially and ethnically motivated violence—bringing together law enforcement, faith-based leaders, victims and concerned citizens to seek solutions. Denise Brown (photo), whose son was brutally beaten in a hate-motivated incident in Deerhorn Valley, was among the panelists who courageously spoke out, calling for increased prosecution of hate crimes--and encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward.




Fire agencies consolidate

Photo credit: City of El Cajon

Three East County Cities – La Mesa, Lemon Grove and El Cajon – signed a joint powers agreement for shared firefighting services to better protect our region.This agreement created a shared management team to coordinate fire and emergency medical services, firefighter training, fire prevention, emergency planning, and community preparedness.


Refugee hopes

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

Somali refugees in Lemon Grove are among 300 to 400 refugee families each month being settled in East County by the federal government. In October, a refugee summit convened at Cuyamaca College revealed how the growing number of refugees are straining local resources—and sought to find solutions for helping refugees from Iraq, Burma, East Africa and other war-torn regions start new lives in our region.

Everyday heroes

Photo credit: Steve Russo

Lakeside Fire Department rescues two people trapped in this vehicle rollover, all just part of a day’s job for rescue workers and emergency service providers in East County.








Truck hits planes:

Photo credit: William Thorn

Planes normally crash into vehicles on the ground—not the other way around. But when a driver lost consciousness in El Cajon, his pickup crashed through a fence at Gillespie Field and destroyed two airplanes.





Ready to roll

Photo credit: Leon Thompson
These giant boulders form a natural cathedral at Sacred Rocks Reserve in Boulevard, where ambitious owners have built California’s largest labyrinth, hosted a writer’s retreat and Thanksgiving campover, and next aspaire to create a resident artists’ colony in East County.







Saving Mother Goose

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

Ahoy! When budget cuts put El Cajon’s Mother Goose parade on the chopping block, the Mayor called in Johnny Depp look-alike Sam “Cap’n Jack” Sparrow to commandeer a city council meeting and pull together a crew to save the cherished tradition. East County’s own pirate captain staged a fundraiser starring celebrity look-alikes and coaxed corporations to pitch in, saving the famed holiday parade.







Clinching the CIF Title

Photo credit: Chris Mohr

Oceanside Pirates relish their victory over the Helix Highlanders, capturing their sixth straight CIF title for San Diego County after dousing the Scotties' championship dreams overboard.






Block’s bright idea

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

With University of California tuitions jacked up 30% and SDSU admissions tightening up for local students, freshman Assemblyman Marty Block (D-Lemon Grove) came up with a bright idea. The new kid on the block wants to allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in some majors, keeping college accessible and affordable to East County students. This photo shows the new library at Cuyamaca College (photo), which has seen enrollment soar to 10,000 students—but is only being paid for 7,000 students due to state budget cuts.


Criminalization of homelessness

Photo credit: San Diego Coalition for the Homeless

Two local stories in December reflect a national pattern of criminalizing homelessness. Sheriff’s deputies raided a homeless camp in Lakeside, and the ACLU sued the City of San Diego for destroying property of homeless people who left photos, medicines and other belongings outside a shelter while showering. Nationally, 39% of all homeless people now are children (including this local child, photo, 23% of the homeless people are veterans, and families are the fastest growing sector among America’s homeless. In East County, where homelessness is on the rise due to job losses and foreclosures, these stories beg the question: why doesn’t East County provide a shelter for the homeless?



A Skyscraper in La Mesa?

Photo credit: Kristin Kjaero

The largest crowd ever to attend a scoping meeting in La Mesa turned out to voice concerns over an 18-story high rise project proposed near the downtown village.







Hometown hero

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

Five-time NASCAR racing champion Jimmie Johnson, a native of East County, received a hometown hero’s welcome at Lowe’s in Santee. Johnson donated half a million dollars to help local schools—and was later named male athlete of the year by Associated Press. Photo: Santee Mayor Randy Voepel presents Johnson and his wife with keys to the city--and jests that he'll raise the speed limit just for Johnson.





Anderson takes heat

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) got some uninvited guests at his holiday party, where some constituents called for his resignation over news that his campaign took illegal donations in excess of amounts allowed by state law. Anderson returned $100,000 and was later fined $20,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission.





Murder-Suicide at Barona

Photo credit: Miriam Raftery

A former Barona employee and ex-Marine strode into the Gaming Commission office at Barona with a shotgun and killed his former manager, Raymundo Casillas, then took his own life in a tragic ending to the year. 




Hope Dawns in winter solstice sunrise

Photo credit: Wendy Esterly

In ancient times, the winter solstice, shortest day of the year, was a time of celebration signifying the dawn of new hopes on the horizon. Wendy Esterly captured this winter solstice image atop Cowles Mountain in December 2008, then led a hike to the top again in 2009 to witness this inspiring annual sight. We hope it portends a better year for all in 2010.



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