VIEWPOINT: Wakefield SVP Fight
Last updated 9/23/2021 at 10:39am
Interview with Ramien Shalizi, Vice President of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce and General Manager of the De Anza Desert Club
Borrego Sun: What most affected you about the proposed placement of a Sexually Violent Predator in Borrego Springs?
Ramien Shalizi: “Like most residents of our lovely town, my family was attracted by the safe, small-town atmosphere and relaxed pace of life here. Borrego Springs is truly a haven of low crime and good honest & friendly people. I often find myself comparing our town to Mayberry, there’s not many places left where strangers smile and wave at you.
It was truly impressive how as a community we came together when COVID hit in March of 2020. As soon as people were in distress, we saw the community, churches and businesses come together to donate food and create the Resource Center. When the SVP proposal was announced, it was like a tsunami had hit us. Our perception of safety changed rather quickly as I imagined life with an SVP less than 1,400 ft. away from our home. The proposed placement instantly threatened the safety of our community and our Borrego way of life. We sprang into action very quickly as we had a very short window to respond to the court and make our community’s objections known. Early on it became apparent that we had to take a multi-pronged approach to win this battle.
Sun: How did you see this coming together in the community?
Shalizi: With the assistance of our Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Françoise Rhodes and President Clint Brandon we began the resistance. We set up a town-hall at de Anza’s clubhouse and were very fortunate to assemble a panel of experts which included Timothy Cohelan – Attorney, Sarah Rogers – retired Naval Officer/PsyD, Rich Freye – Mt. Helix Community Leader, Donna Cleary- Supervisor Desmond’s office and Jeffrey Mowers – Deputy Sheriff. We were amazed to see the hundreds of our fellow Borregans and even folks from Ranchita attend this standing room only gathering. The town-hall was informative and was expertly moderated. Materials provided by Rich from the Mount Helix group, Sarah and Lee such as background on the SVP, key bullet points and sample letters were well received. The town-hall created huge momentum in the opposition.
Borregans took to the local Facebook group Borrego92004 and started spreading useful information and hope. Our Chamber of Commerce sent eblasts, while in the de Anza Estates community there were homeowners meeting by phone. People in Borrego called and knocked on doors to talk with neighbors who don’t have internet. Celina Delgadillo encouraged people and children to write letters in Spanish and English, letting the court know that placing the SVP in Borrego would threaten their safety. At the Resource Center, the volunteers obtained signatures on petitions.
Members of de Anza reached out to their professional contacts to gather information on the inner workings of Liberty Healthcare and the Department of State Hospitals. In the weeks following, we learned more about the extent of crimes committed by the SVP. Knowing what crimes had been committed was critical to understand what we had to defend against. There was a mountain of information on the placement process, conviction and court records that were unearthed by Sarah & Lee Rogers and others. They and our Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Françoise Rhodes worked closely with Supervisor Jim Desmond’s office throughout this process.
Sun: Did others from outside help?
Shalizi: The Borrego Sun and KUSI were also big players in this resistance. The Borrego Sun obtained information to Wakefield’s criminal record, which included the number of sentencings and repeat offenses, critical data for ascertaining an SVP’s likelihood to repeat his sexual offenses. The newspaper published this important information both to educate the public and also as a key point in opposing any outpatient placement for Wakefield. Additionally, Rich Freye’s attendance at our town hall and his informative Facebook posts on our local page was immensely impactful, while KUSI interviews with Sarah Thompson, another Mount Helix community leader, provided helpful support from afar. Finally, hundreds of letters, especially those who bravely shared their past traumatic experiences, along with hundreds of petition signatures were sent to the San Diego Superior Court to show our objections to placing an SVP here.
It’s a hard thing for everyone to have to consider – defending ourselves and our community against the proposed actions of our own State. The good news is that through everyone’s efforts we prevailed. The better news is that we found ways to come together that brought us closer together than the pandemic ever did.
Liberty Healthcare and the California Department of State Hospitals have never visited our community. They have also not visited other unincorporated locations where Sexually Violent Predators are placed. What they didn’t count on was the Borrego Springs spirit! The real silver lining in this is that we are now much better able to help ourselves and others.
Sun: What do you see as the next steps?
Shalizi: The battle continues as our goal now is to change the way these placements are vetted in small communities in all of California. We have formed a group called PeopleSafeBorrego. The Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce will provide updates for distribution through eBlasts as needed. The PeopleSafeBorrego team will stay in touch with the San Diego District Attorney’s and Supervisor Desmond’s office and are linking with KidSafe Mount Helix and other groups, including our friends in Ranchita. Our website will go live in the coming weeks. Also, communities around Borrego Springs are looking at their CC&R’s to see how these can be reinforced.
Sun: You’ve been called the Man behind the Resistance. Is there anything you can tell us about the property on Yaqui Road?
Shalizi: I cannot comment on that. The group has declined to comment on details of the home purchase at this time.