Saturday, May 31, 2014


via Deerhorn Valley Antler Alert: 

Shooting on BLM land is now illegal for the rest of fire season. Battalion Chief Clayton Howe says, "Doesn't mean people won't do it but gives the agencies the ability to enforce," and  recommends contacting the Sheriff's Office if you see anyone shooting. The BLM South Coast Area and Eastern San Diego East County Mountains Area now fully restrict any recreational shooting for the balance of the fire season.  In 2012 seven nearby fires were caused by shooting during the Shockey Fire. Last year's Otay Fire was also caused by target shooting. Time to go to the gun ranges for practice.  PLEASE don't take unnecessary chances.  —Thank you to Robin B and Coral T for  forwarding this info.
Non-emergency Sheriff Dispatch (858) 565-5200
Sheriff Admin. Center Front Desk (858) 974-2222

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Farm Fresh Fraud (three years later)

February 2011                     
            Though the weather report predicted rain, the sun was still shining when the white truck pulled smoothly up my driveway. Odd, I thought, I wasn't expecting any deliveries. Maybe they were lost?
            Two well-groomed, thirty-ish white men in green shirts crisply embroidered with a company logo hopped out. "Hey," said the red-haired one. "Maybe you can help us out."
            What followed is a bit of a blur, and like many the crime victim, I struggle to put the pieces together: Where did everything go wrong? Why was I so stupid? How could I possibly fall for this?

            Here is what I remember:
            The men said that a neighbor up the street turned down her regular meat order because she was recovering from a root canal. They wouldn't be back in the area until next week, so they'd really much rather sell the meat to me at cost than have to take it back to the warehouse.
            At this point, I was pretty disinterested, especially after they handed me their brochure with their regular prices:  $529 for a box of meat? Yeah, right. But then something happened. I was charmed, enchanted. The sequence of events is unclear, as happens in seduction. I do know that they complimented my chickens, my house, the landscape. Affable, chatty, and relaxed, they talked about everything from the weather to the fire history of the area. I recall their mentioning the company's A+ BBB rating. I know I thought a company doing business out here would have to be legit--the backcountry grapevine runs thick and wide.
            They asked how long I'd lived here. Maybe that should have tipped me off: a newcomer would be less likely to have connections, and I'd been out here less than two years. It all just seemed like small talk at the time.
            But they were pulling individually wrapped steaks and pieces of seafood out of the truck bed freezer now, laying them out for inspection. "See the marbling? See how all the excess fat has been cut away? This is choice meat or better, restaurant grade. You just can't get this in a store."
            They were willing to sell me the meat at their cost, half the usual $1350. (Of course, I now realize that was part of the trick. Start with an outrageously high figure, and then any price mentioned afterwards--even if it's also outrageous--sounds pretty darn good.)
            They told me that meat like this would be at least $12/lb. in the store, and I was getting it for $3.
            I certainly didn't need that much meat. But $3 a pound sounded pretty good. I could . . . use it for parties? give it as gifts?
            The red-haired guy said the other man was his supervisor and he was actually being evaluated that day. "If my boss weren't here," he said, "I wouldn't normally get to do this."
            I said yes.
            They unpacked the meat quickly, expertly fitting it all in the freezer of my garage refrigerator.
            Heavy, dark clouds rolled in as they took my credit card info.
            They pulled away, smiling and waving and have-a-nice-day-ing, and the storm's first rain drops began to fall. 
            I walked back to the garage through the rain and looked in the freezer. I laughed: this had to be one of the nuttiest things I'd ever done. I looked again . . . $3 a pound? No way was there over 200 pounds of meat in that freezer. I estimated it at no more than 60 pounds; that means I paid over $10/pound. The spell was lifting.
            Time to hit the internet: their web site, though poorly designed, checked out, as did their BBB rating. Maybe most people would stop there. I'm not most people. A dogged researcher, I was on the trail now and not giving up.
            Googling "meat delivery scam" generated 726,000 hits. From news reports to government publications to personal testimonies, site after site told the same story: The delivery truck pulls up, says an order fell through, you can get the meat at a steep discount. They fail to divulge the price per pound (or lie about it); they do not inform you of your 3-day right cancel as required by law. They take the boxes with them, destroying the evidence that the meat was not sold per pound, also required by law. The meat turns out to be utter crap.
            So I picked up the phone, called the number on the brochure, and to my surprise, a pleasant-sounding woman answered. (After skimming the internet, I was fully expecting an automated "disconnected" message.) I started off, "This is sort of awkward . . ." and explained that I had to cancel the order. The pleasant woman put me on hold while she connected me to someone who could help me. Jason Russell was as warm and calm as his salesmen. Operations manager for Farm Fresh Foods, Inc., he said it was indeed a shame that some companies used such unethical tactics and that they hurt honest businesses like his, especially in this economy. When I raised the $3/lb. issue, he said I had misheard, that the price they gave me was $3 per piece. He reminded me of the one-year guarantee on the meat and urged me to try it and see for myself what high quality it was. He said that if the meat was returned, they would have to simply grind it up since it had left their possession.
            And I said, okay, I would try the meat and see.
            Meanwhile, I did additional research, this time focusing more closely on California. (The majority of hits from my first run were, interestingly enough, mainly from Iowa.)
            I found that, yes, California does also have a 3-day right to cancel law on door-to-door sales, and moreover the law requires both oral and written notification of this right at the time of sale. I received neither.
            I learned that this scam has been going on for decades, essentially unchanged. According to the California Department of Agriculture, Division of Measurement Standards, the practice may violate any or all of the following:

Citation or Criminal Complaint
1.    B&P (Business and Professions Code) 12024 Selling in less quantity than represented – misdemeanor
2.    B&P 12024.2 Unlawful computation of value - misdemeanor or infraction in certain circumstances
3.    B&P 12024.5 Sale of meat, poultry or seafood other than by weight – misdemeanor
4.    B&P 12024.55 Door-to-door meat sales, price per pound – misdemeanor
5.    B&P 12611 Unlawful Acts: Selling, etc., commodity in non-conforming container or with non-conforming label – misdemeanor

Criminal Complaint (Citation under certain circumstances)
1.    PC (Penal Code) 484 (a) Money obtained by fraudulent representation - petty theft
2.    PC 487.1 Value exceeds $400.00 - grand theft
3.    B&P 17500 False and misleading advertising
Civil Action
1.    B&P 17500 False and misleading advertising
2.    CC (Civil Code) 17200 Unlawful business practice
3.    CC 1689.5 Three-Day Notice to cancel
CC 1689.6
CC 1689.7

            So what to do? Simply proceed with cancelling my order, or try the meat?
            I decided to give Jason every benefit of the doubt. (Why I felt compelled to this degree of generosity for a total stranger is a mystery for another day.) I chose what should have been the best piece: a bacon-wrapped fillet mignon.  I cooked it according to the directions. Finally, the moment of truth. . . . And the meat was, in a word, horrid. You know that really cheap stew meat, the stuff where the longer you chew it, the tougher it gets? The "fillet" was just like that, and it tasted weird. I'm not even sure it was beef.
            Disgusted, I went to bed, vowing to call Jason back first thing in the morning.
            When I awoke, I realized that I'd fallen right into Jason's trap: by trying the meat, I'd sullied the order. Jason would say now that the order is incomplete, it doesn't qualify for a refund.
            I spent much of the morning considering my options. I certainly didn't want to talk with Jason again. Then I realized that I didn't have to. In fact, I needed to cancel the order in writing, which is exactly what I did. That afternoon, I sent the following email:

Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 1:25 PM

On Friday, 18 Feb. 2011, two representatives from your company came to my home and sold me 2 cases of steak and 1 case of seafood. After doing some research, I reversed my decision to purchase these products and so contacted your office that afternoon. I spoke with Jason Russell, who discouraged me from cancelling the order.

After further research, I learned that per California Civil Code sections 1689.7, 1689.10 and 1689.11, I have a right to cancel the order. In fact, your representatives were legally required to inform me of this fact both orally and in writing and to provide me with a copy of "Notice of Cancellation" (C.C. § 1689.7(c)). Because they did not, my rights of cancellation extend beyond the three days regularly provided by law; however, I am still submitting my notice within that timeframe (3 days excluding Sundays and holidays).

According to C.C. § 1689.7(c), my payment of $684.38 must be returned within 10 days following receipt of this notice.  I will make available at my residence the goods purchased, and if they are not picked up within 20 days, I may retain or dispose of the goods without any further obligation per California law.

A copy of this email will be sent separately via certified mail.

I hereby cancel this transaction.

Jason soon replied:

From: "Farm Fresh Foods, Inc. Information" <>
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 2:54 PM

After our conversation the same day as your purchase, I was under the impression that I had satisfied your concerns and that it was your choice to keep the product. I am very curious why now you have decided again to cancel your purchase, what is the reasoning behind it? I did, during our conversation, notify you of the 3 day buyer right to cancel verbally, and I also notified you that it is in writing on the back of your receipt.  Also, so you are aware, a 3 day buyer right to cancel only applies if all of the product is accounted for, unopened and unused. So, if you have consumed any portion of the product we will have to negotiate a different resolution.  Please let me know of your intentions and the condition of the product.

 Jason Russell
 Operations Manager
 Farm Fresh Foods

            Exactly what I'd expected. I hate lying, but this situation certainly seemed to warrant a fib about "consuming any portion of the product." I shot back,

To: Farm Fresh Foods, Inc. Information
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 4:55 PM

The product is as delivered.

I do not recall you notifying me of the 3 day right to cancel. I found that information from my own research. Nor did I receive a receipt with the notice. The only receipt I received is the credit card slip copy.

Please note Part C of V. of C.C. § 1689.7: "The buyer may cancel the contract or offer without giving any reason until midnight of the third business day after the day on which the buyer signed the document. 'Business day' means any calendar day except Sundays and specified holidays."

I have satisfied my end of the legal requirements; now you must satisfy yours. I am done discussing the matter.

            Later, a very dejected Jason called me. He barely sounded like the same person. The old Jason was jovial, robust, inspired confidence. This new Jason was flatly soft-spoken, grief-stricken almost--obviously the boss wasn't happy. We set up a time for an employee to come out and pick up the meat (which was never counted but unceremoniously tossed into the back of a truck), and eventually I received my refund (though of course not within ten days).
            Over six months later, I'm still appalled that human beings can be this deceitful--and do it so well! I'm still mortified that I could be so completely suckered, but I've gotten over the initial post-traumatic urge to suddenly become suspicious of everyone and everything. And I still haven't filed a formal complaint with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Division of Measurement Standards. Maybe it's because I feel guilty about that little lie.

            But there's also this: I'm grateful because confronting this fraud led me to connect with the larger Jamul community in a way I hadn't before. The moment I realized I'd been scammed, I contacted Kim Hamilton, who, I knew, published the local Deerhorn Valley Antler and ran the Antler Alerts that subscribers can receive via email. No matter how embarrassed I was, I did not want what happened to me to be repeated in this neighborhood. Kim responded swiftly by sending out an Antler Alert and posting on the web page a warning about MEAT DELIVERY SCAM. (You can read the alert--and some interesting comments it generated--here:           
            We've been friends ever since, and my Tuesday visits with Kim and her husband Rob are a highlight of my week. I'm now a member of the Deerhorn Valley Community Association and write on occasion for The Antler. I'm not sure any of this would have come to pass were it not for Jason and the other crooks at Farm Fresh. So I really have to say, thanks, guys! And have a nice day.

Post-script: At 12:45, Saturday, 24 May 2014, as I was tending plants outside, a sleek white truck once again pulled up to my house. I immediately spotted the cooler in the back. The smiling man who jumped out of the truck announced himself as being from Farm Fresh Foods and launched into the usual routine about the wonderful deal he was about to offer me on my lucky day. As I shook my head, he said, “Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?” I said, “No. Illegal.” After some b.s. banter back and forth, he and his buddy finally left with a closing shot of “You’re crazy, lady. Go back to bed!” I laughed. And then I posted this.

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