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The good and bad of 2013 Staff | Tue, Jan 07 2014 12:00 PM

The year 2013 started with a postponed arraignment.

At the end of the previous year, the San Diego County grand jury named an additional 10 people in what District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has characterized as the largest corruption case in San Diego County history.

Four current and former members of the Sweetwater Union High School District board of directors and one construction industry executive had already been indicted in what prosecutors painted as a pay-for-play way of doing school business in South County.

The grand jury’s 2012 December indictment brought the grand total of defendants in the case to 15.

But defense attorneys said they needed additonal time to comb through the thousands of pages of legal documents and charges their clients faced.

While all the defendants pleaded not guilty a few months later, as the year progressed many of them struck deals with prosecutors and plead guilty to fewer or less serious charges.

Most recently, Arlie Ricasa pleaded guilty Dec. 18 to one misdemeanor act of accepting gifts above what is allowed by state law.

She resigned her seat on the school board the next day.

Ricasa joined the ranks of former Southwestern College president Raj Chopra, executive Henry Amigable and San Ysidro School District trustee Yolanda Hernandez, among others, who changed their pleas from guilty to not guilty.

Those still facing charges are Sweetwater Union High School board members Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl

Quinones and former school board members Greg Sandoval and Jesus Gandara.

Their trial is expected to start in February.

•••

After years of crossed fingers, held breath and political wrangling, the South Bay Power Plant was finally destroyed in the beginning of 2013.

City of Chula and Port of San Diego officials, along with hundreds of curious residents and onlookers, gathered at the city’s bayfront one February morning and watched as the power plant was imploded, making way for development along city’s valuable coastline.

“We accomplished the impossible,” said former Chula Vista mayor and State Assembly member Shirley Horton. “We are power plant free.”

•••

The first phase of rennovation along Chula Vista’s historc Third Avenue was completed.

Improvements included a reduction from four to two lanes; shorter pedestrian crossings, wider sidewalks for outdoor dining, energy-efficient pedestrian lighting, more trees and new directories.

The entire project was not able to be completed all at once because of the demise of redevelopment agencies.

•••

The districty attorney’s gain was the city of National City’s loss when former police chief Adolfo Gonzales decided to  leave the department to lead the law enforcement division of the DA’s office.

“I’ve spent six months working for the FBI and six months working for the DEA and I really enjoy the administration,” Gonzales said. “This is a chance to work countywide. Now I have the opportunity to serve the residents throughout San Diego.”

•••

A collaboration of law enforcement agencies from the county, including police departments from Chula Vista and National City, coordinated an inaugural gun buy-back in Chula Vista.

Law enforcement officials retrieved nearly 90 weapons, ammunition, toy guns and one discharged military AT4 single-use rocket launcher.

As an incentive, participants received a $50 Albertsons gift card for each firearm and $100 for assault weapons they turned in.

Lead buy-back coordinator Lt. Roxana Kennedy said the wet weather might have limited the numbers of people participating.

“But that number is important in preventing guns potentially landing in the hands of criminals,” she said.

•••

Chula Vista residents taxed on their cell phone bill by the city received a pleasant surprise when an $8 million settlement between the city and two residents was reached.

Gayle Blatt, an attorney who sued the city, said Chula Vista had no right to apply the tax.

“The class rep and we agreed that the city of Chula Vista did not have authorization to tax service on mobile phone service,” Blatt said. “And that tax was being collected by the cell phone carriers and remitted to the city.”

Chula Vista City Attorney Glen Googins said the tax was never illegal and that it is in line with the 1970 utility users tax, which is a city tax on electricity usage, natural gas usage and telecommunications.

Googins said the city chose to settle the case because litigation would be expensive, so it is in the best interest of the city and its citizens to settle.

The $8 million settlement will be used to pay claims, administrative costs and legal fees, the city attorney said.

The money, Googins said, would come from the same pool where the money was collected.

•••

Representatives of Sweetwater Union High School District and Alliant University were giddy when they cobbled together a partnership that would bring a four-year university to South Bay.

Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand and Alliant International University President Dr. Geoffrey Cox signed a memorandum of understanding during the summer that allowed the private university to offer undergraduate degree programs in business, psychology, child development and criminal justice to students in the Sweetwater district.

The partnership called Alliant International at Sweetwater was to be located at the National City Adult School at 517 Mile of Cars Way.

Sweetwater Union High School District board member John McCann said the partnership would encourage local high school students to attend college.

“This is going to increase access and opportunity for our students,” McCann said. “When you’re looking at the number of students we’re sending to San Diego State through the Compact for Success, we want to see even more of our graduates be able to take advantage of going to college.”

But the partnership faltered after public outcry.

Members of National City’s planning commission said they were never consulted about the use of the adult school as a venue for a college.

Alliant subsequently withdrew its appplication to have their campus at the adult school.

Instead district and university  officials hoped to set up shop on the campus of Sweetwater High School.

Many critics cited the cost of tuition at the not-for-profit colege as one reason they would not support the campus.

Without any financial aid assistance, tuition to attend Alliant in the 2012 fall semester as an undergraduate was $620 per unit.

However, because so few students from the district have signed on with Alliant, Alliant has chosen to shuttle students from South County to Alliant’s main campus in Scripps Ranch.

•••

Sweetwater trustee John McCann returned to the Sweetwater school board last summer after he was involved in a serious automobile accident.

“I’m just very thankful to be alive, originally the call was a fatality accident,” McCann said.

McCann’s wife told a local television station her husband had suffered head trauma.

McCann said it was a priority of his to get back to the board meetings so he could continue to serve the students in the district.

“I’m technically not back on my job, I’m still going to rehabilitation during the day,” he said last fall. “But I thought it was important to get back on the school board, it only meets once a month.”

Earlier in the school year an attorney for the school district sent a cease and desist notice to a man who wrote a letter to the editor in The Star-News criticizing McCann.

Attorney Dan Shinoff said the letter made false statements about the board member and was intended to harm McCann’s reputation.

•••

As the summer drew to a close members of the Eastlake Little Legaue baseball team captured the hearts and imaginations of residents after securing a place in the Little League World Series.

The team from east Chula Vista battled through a week- long tournament and won the national championship but lost the world title to the team from Japan.

The Little League team from Tijuana, Mexico, also participated in the tournament.

•••

The community rallied around the Living Coast Discovery Center after administrators told the public the center was in danger of closing at the end of 2013.

Ben Vallejos, chief operating officer, said a lack of finances would have caused the potential closure of the Discovery Center.

He said the center faced a  $200,000 deficit over the next  12 months.

But after a rush of fundraisers and donations from corporations, foundations, local businesses and community members the center raised $401,064.

“We look forward to being here for the long haul,” said Vallejos during a press conference. “And basically what this (money) allows us to do, it allows us to remain open to the end of 2014, at the very, very minimum. It gives us reserve funds to plan for 2015 and beyond.”

Vallejos said the money will go toward animal care and rehiring a director of redevelopment to lead fundraising efforts.

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sosocal Says:

Fri, Jan 10 2014 08:44 AM

I am hoping that this time my comments will not disappear into cyberspace.

There is much at stake here in Chula Vista these days: a major bayside development, key to the future of this city; property values and therefore new builds are rising; and the opening on the Sweetwater board following the departure of Arlie Ricasa brings a minute chance that something could be done right.

Why is the chance minute? Because I doubt if anyone in living memory of Sweetwater's history would predict that the board and Brand would do the right thing.

Why would or should they start now. They have been acting purely in their own financial interest for so long--the voting majority board, that is, that I doubt their capacity to find "the right thing" if it was the only pulsing dot on a radar screen.

So--the bad of 2013...there is always a chance to turn bad to good. Will Jim Cartmill, the esteemed president of the board of trustees of Sweetwater find within himself the wherewithal to stand up for right, for the students, and the future of this community?

Or, have all the influential people decided that everything south of 8 has no future?


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