Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stolen Street Signs

sign post without sign
As you've no doubt noticed, the street sign from the top of Lawson Valley Road and Skyline has gone missing. So too has the sign at Wood Valley Trail and Lawson.

Whether the work of bored kids seeking a thrill, recent high school grads looking for a neighborhood souvenir, or a poor soul suffering from roadside kleptomania, these sign thefts (which typically seem to occur during the summer months) put our community at risk in the event of an emergency.

What might seem like a minor nuisance can quickly turn into a matter of life and death if first responders can't find someone who has summoned for help. In the case of a major disaster--like a wildfire--a sign's absence endangers the entire valley: resources from around the state are mobilized for large fires, and there's no guarantee responders will be local; in fact, it's highly unlikely. Combine smoke, lack of familiarity with the area, and no street sign . . . well, you can imagine the consequences.

Important to note: while sign theft is generally a misdemeanor, if damage, injury, or death occurs as the result of a missing sign, the perpetrators can be held liable.

Missing signs can be reported online via the San Diego County of Public Works Road Service Request form or by calling (858) 694-3850. I have already reported both missing signs. Unfortunately, replacement will take 6-8 weeks--right in the midst of the wildfire season.

If you are aware of other missing signs, please report them immediately--don't assume that someone else already has. And please share with others the disastrous results these pranks can have. Your life may depend on it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Today's Good News: Thank You from a Neighbor

Lawson Valley Confidential co-conspirator Shelly--or rather her dog Xena--has been having some nasty run-ins with coyotes lately. After a recent pack attack, Warrior Xena has been even more intent on extracting her revenge, so when she spotted some coyotes while on a walk this morning, she took off, leash and all, to chase them. Thanks to several neighbors who were passing by, a possible tragedy was averted. Shelly's thank-you follows:

To the following compassionate people who took time out of their day on a Saturday morning to help us find our wayward dog, Xena, we wish to express our most heartfelt gratitude. 
To the man in the truck pulling the boat on Dirt Rudnick who stopped to give a ride to a frantic and desperate husband who must go home and admit to his wife that he has lost her dog: thank you, we are grateful. Much time would have been lost making the long walk home. We found her tangled up in the brush and caught fast by her leash, but she had not strangled because we found her in time. 
To the woman on the motorcycle who freely offered to go off-road into the brush, take the high point and scan until Xena was found: thank you, we are grateful for your kindness and generosity. It was a great comfort to have another set of eyes broaden the search. 
To the white truck that stopped in case assistance was required. Thank you for caring.
It is uplifting to know that there are good people in the world, but it fills our hearts to know that such people are our neighbors. Thank you. 
Shelly, Michael & Xena

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Response to Raftery's Far East Editorial

(Disclaimer: I have not read the book [though I did order it yesterday]; some of my photos are featured on the site and in the exhibit.)

It was with great disappointment that I read yesterday’s editorial about The Far East Project in Miriam Raftery’s East County Magazine. I have long been a supporter of Raftery’s work in this one-of-a-kind online publication, so it was with an especially heavy heart that I saw her dismiss another unique attempt to give East County a voice.

The Far East Project, headed by Justin Hudnall and funded through a small grant from the San Diego Foundation, resulted in a website, book, exhibit, and readings focused on East County. Hudnall hopes to continue the project (sans funding), expanding to oral histories and multimedia accounts from residents.

Raftery’s headline sums up her position: “FAR EAST PROJECT PRESENTS SKEWED AND OFFENSIVE VIEW OF EAST COUNTY.” You can read the other 3,000 words for yourself; I will attempt to reply with fewer.

The crux of Raftery’s argument is that the project is rife with East County stereotypes, that it is “filled with ugliness,” “devoid of inspirational value,” and “culturally insensitive,” among other sins. Since she refuses to link to the website or present more than a handful of carefully selected images, she also asks us to simply take her word for it.

What Raftery fails to mention is that every single contributor is a resident or former resident of East County. The Far East Project isn’t a case of outsiders bashing the region; it’s an attempt (albeit limited) to give first-person voice to some of the insiders. To that extent, Raftery is ridiculing the very population she claims to defend.

One gets the impression that Raftery went into the book and exhibit intent on that ridicule. She interprets every word, every image negatively. Mention a hooker? Oh, that’s bad! (Never mind the poetry of the writer adding dimension to a character that I guess Raftery would just as soon remain hidden.) A photograph intended to show the unanticipated beauty of a late-winter snowfall is described as “a deer with a broken-off antler.” First of all, it’s not a deer; it’s a fake plaster garden deer and just one element of the photograph—tellingly, the only element Raftery focuses on.

Raftery writes, “Efforts should have been made to reach out to local publishers and photographers to assure balance.” I’m not sure why Raftery thinks the views of publishers and established photographers are more legit than those of local residents, but the statement itself speaks to her misunderstanding of the project.

In addition, Raftery overlooks that Far East is a fledgling effort: it’s new, the organizers are young, there’s no template to follow, and they had only a year to complete the work. Was the project overambitious? Perhaps. Would we be better off had it not even been attempted? No way.

Raftery also glosses over the distinction between journalism and a creative endeavor such as the Far East Project.  Far East was intended to present individuals’ perspectives; by definition, such accounts are situated and limited. I’m guessing, but I doubt that anywhere in the proposal or other associated materials did the organizers suggest that this project would result in a comprehensive 360-view of the region. 

I do agree with Raftery on one key point: the quality and breadth of the project could have been enhanced with a broader range of submissions. Publicity of the project was thin. A resident of East County, I found out about it only through a friend who was on the mailing list for the San Diego Foundation. I don’t know what outreach attempts were made by project organizers—small ads in some local publications would have no doubt elicited a response that went beyond the arts community. 

However, I do know that as soon as I found out about the call for photographs back in September, I immediately posted about it on the Lawson Valley blog (which is probably read by all of three people) and contacted Raftery  (whose publication is probably read by thousands) to let her know. She indicated that she would definitely publicize the event. Unfortunately, that never happened.

I hope that Justin Hudnall and others who worked on the project, contributed submissions, or otherwise helped out will not be discouraged by this one negative response. Indeed, Raftery’s editorial suggests that more, not fewer, perspectives are needed in the region. Let’s get to work.

Correction: Although I searched East County Magazine for an announcement regarding the call for photos and didn't find it, that was my failure. Raftery did in fact run a story on the project: My sincere apologies for the oversight.

(Postscript: I attempted multiple times to post a version of this response in the comments for the article, but despite trying two different browsers, was unable to do so. Probably just a glitch.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fire Fee Update: Recommendation from Jacob

There has been much talk and discussion in our backcountry about the new state fire tax. Supervisor Jacob has just sent these comments and suggestions regarding the tax:

"County Supervisor Dianne Jacob advises residents in her district to pay a new state fire tax now being levied on tens of thousands of local homeowners, but to do it under protest.

"In recent weeks, many rural and semi-rural residents of District 2 - a sprawling region that includes the bulk of the San Diego County backcountry - have started to receive bills asking them to pay the state up to $150 annually for each habitable structure on their land. Approximately 400,000 people in the region will be impacted by this tax.

"Jacob has long opposed the tax, saying it stems from the state's failure to adequately fund Cal Fire. "It's blatantly unjust and borders on cruel that the state would hit homeowners up for more money when they already pay property taxes to help fund public safety programs and, in many cases, special local fees for fire protection," she said.

"She noted the county also spends $15.5 million annually to augment rural fire protection. More than $10 million of that money goes directly to Cal Fire.

"The supervisor recommends that those receiving the tax bill:

  1. Pay it within the 30-day due date and write "UNDER PROTEST" on the notation line of their check. Make copies of the check and send the original with the bill.
  2. Go to and click on the link labeled "Petition for Redetermination." Fill out the petition to formally challenge the fee.
  3. Send a copy of the petition and a copy of the check to these three addresses: Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA, 94585; Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA, 94244; and the Board of Equalization, P.O. Box 942879, Sacramento, CA, 94279.

"All three steps must be completed should any lawsuits prevail in overturning the fee and should the court order the state to issue refunds."

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Fire Fee

By now, you should have received a heads-up notice about the fee, if not the bill itself. The fee, levied on property owners in high-risk rural fire areas, is intended to shore up the state's depleted CalFire budget (only one budget among many shriveling in the state).

As someone who just lobbied—hard--for the passage of Prop 30 to save California public education from imploding, I feel ambivalent about the new fire fee.

Do we want less firefighting capabilities? Of course not. Should a select group of property owners be targeted? That's a good question.

Most challengers use the “this is an illegal tax” argument: Because the fee can be interpreted to be a tax, and because it wasn't passed by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, it is therefore unconstitutional. Additionally, they point out, many rural residents already pay fire taxes, so the fee is a tax on top of a tax.

If you're an anti-tax type, these arguments are pretty compelling. I'm not though: I think paying taxes is the patriotic thing to do; it's what holds us together as a society; it's where we look beyond our immediate interests to the greater good.

But here's the thing: I think this fee is taking a very different position. In effect, it is saying that if you live in the backcountry, where many wildfires start, you've got to pay the bill. And that's just plain wrong.

As the Cedar and Harris Fires showed us, what starts in the backcountry doesn't necessarily stay in the backcountry. (Remember the directives to evacuate Del Mar?) And what used to be country is now town—the back keeps getting pushed back.

If anything, rural residents provide a huge service to our suburban neighbors: we are quick to spot and report fires that would otherwise smolder and make their way to more populated areas. As a result, fire towers are now quaint artifacts. Why pay a fire watcher when you have hundreds of residents on high alert during the fire season? And the fire that gets doused in, say, Dulzura, is the fire that didn't destroy your home in Eastlake.

Wildfire in California is a statewide issue, not one limited to a select population. As with education, if a statewide solution is necessary, all Californians should step up.

I'm not sure the below resources agree with my sentiments, but if you're interested in fighting the fee, here are some places to start:

Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s letter to constituents

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voting in the Dark

"Voting in the Dark" is not a metaphor or philosophical statement (though there could be places to go with that . . .). If you visited our assigned polling place after 5 pm today, you know what I'm talking about.

Below is an email I sent the Registrar of Voters. If you had a similar experience, please do the same--they are very responsive!

Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 7:48 PM
Subject: Cal Fire Lyons Valley Station Polling Place
I voted this evening and wanted to share some concerns about my assigned polling location. The people working there were great; the polling site was not.
Lyons Valley Station is along a stretch of Skyline Truck Trail where vehicles regularly drive 60 mph (or more). Worse, the station isn’t on the road; instead, it is back a ways. Other than a small sign depicting a fire engine, there is no signage indicating the location of the station, and it is not visible from the road. (The yellow and black “polling place” signs are very hard to see in the dark.) As a result, it is difficult to find and dangerous to enter and exit this location, especially with the fast traffic.
Once I located the station, I was further dismayed to find that I had to park a distance from the polls in pitch darkness on uneven dirt. I almost tripped more than once making my way to the station. Leaving was also difficult as the “parking area” wasn’t really designed for entering and exiting vehicles—there was no room to turn around, so it took some creativity to get out of there without taking some trees along.
Finally, there was no marking of the exit. Since there are several off-shoots from the entry, it was confusing to figure out how to leave. I waited until headlights sped by on Skyline so that I could tell which route to take.
Again, I want to emphasize that the people working the polls were lovely; they did an excellent job. But I do hope that this site will not be used again, or at the very least, more provisions will be made in consideration of the location and darkness.
Name and address

Friday, September 14, 2012

Photographers: Help Tell East County's Story!

The San Diego Foundation Arts and Culture Program announces a new opportunity for local photographers. So Say We All has issued a call for photos for The Far East Project, a print/multimedia anthology and performance, comprised of curated personal narratives, interviews and histories from across San Diego’s East County communities and their residents.

So Say We All seeks images that best capture the soul of East County as you see it. Submissions may include scanned family photos, portraits, landscapes of places or other subjects. Whether you shot on an expensive SLR, used your cellphone’s camera or opened up the photo album and started scanning, you can contribute to their mission to create a living people’s history of San Diego’s East County.

Chosen entries will be printed and displayed at showcases and galleries throughout the fall and winter of 2012 as part of El Cajon and La Mesa Centennial celebrations, Far East performance showcases, and future print publications.

This year's deadline is Sunday, 07 October. See for more info and guidelines.

Lawson Valley, let's represent!