Supervisor Desmond BS Revitalization Committee Updates
Last updated 11/2/2022 at 11:40am
“From the very beginning of Jim Desmond’s term as the San Diego County District 5 Supervisor, he has focused on how Borrego Springs works as a small rural community with no local government. He started by bringing County staff members to meet with Borrego residents to establish ways to bring county resources to support the needs of Borrego,” stated Jim Wilson.
“This effort has continued through the various committees that were organized as a result of Jim’s leadership. At the start of each meeting with Jim and his staff the question is always asked ‘What else can we do to make Borrego Springs a better place?’”
Borrego Springs was the first community Supervisor Desmond visited to announce his run for District 5 County Supervisor. When elected in 2018, he initiated a regular community forum for Borrego residents to meet with the Supervisor and county staff to address local problems and collectively work on implementing improvements.
“I began the regular meetings of what I called, the ‘Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee’ to get to know the people, Borrego’s problems, priorities, and, hopefully, develop a consensus of the community’s concerns. The purpose was to stay in touch and involved with Borrego leaders on a regular basis, and to initiate action agendas without anyone having to drive to San Diego. The goal was to solve community-driven issues by connecting them with the appropriate county staff, ensuring action, and following up with reports.”
The follow-up has been one of the key elements of the Committee’s success.
As everyone knows that has worked with an organization as large as the county, getting the attention of County staff at the department head level is even harder than finding them. Through the Revitalization Committee, Supervisor Desmond brings them to the table to help find solutions to problems in Borrego from the mundane to the overwhelming.
“The point is to make things happen by connecting with county staff and having a continued dialogue with the right staff people. My job is to raise the money when needed, and occasionally use my office to connect with other governments if a solution is beyond county authority. The neat part is that people get to see things they care about actually getting done,” Supervisor Desmond explained.
“An example is when the committee brought up the fact that most highway and freeway directional signs heading east from San Diego, point to El Centro, Ocotillo, and other locations, ignoring Borrego Springs. Julian is a natural location for directions to Borrego Springs. The signs are important to guiding visitors and tourists. Because the signs that the committee sought to have placed were on state highways rather than County roads, my office was able to intercede with the state Department of Transportation.”
Adding, “Thanks to the work of Mike McElhatton, of the Revitalization Transportation subcommittee, there are three new signs on Highway 78 with more to come,”
The Revitalization Committee is like a county government subcommittee created especially for Borrego Springs. A committee that is not advisory in nature, but about implementing actionable projects.
Bruce Kelley, chairman of the Public Health Sub-Committee, describes the Revitalization Committee as a great resource for the community. “
The Supervisor and his key staff have arranged for County employees to provide advice and assistance to groups of volunteers in Borrego Springs so we can address issues important to the vitality of our town,” Kelley explained.
“Our Revitalization Initiative has addressed and continues to address issues in the areas of Infrastructure, Economic Development, Environment and Public Health.”
The outbreak of COVID-19 was the first test of the Revitalization Committee, something Betsy Knaak, chair of the Economic Sub-Committee, remembers well.
“Bruce Kelley said that Supervisor Desmond has been a ‘godsend to Borrego Springs.’”
His intervention and help protected our residents from what undoubtedly would have been much more dire effects of the surges of COVID from February 2020 through May 2022.
“Our first Public Health issue was to help our residents get vaccinated for COVID-19. Our local capabilities were limited and many in our population were at high risk and faced travel barriers. Early in the pandemic, residents of larger towns and cities and people, who could make appointments via the internet took up the limited supply of vaccines. Rural towns, like Borrego Springs were unable to get many residents vaccinated,” Knaak remembered.
“We appealed to Supervisor Desmond for help from the County. He arranged for CAL FIRE and other rural fire departments to provide mobile vaccination clinics at the library. Within a week CalFire informed us that they would vaccinate 400 residents. They returned three weeks later for the second shot. Thereafter, CalFire held vaccination clinics repeatedly until they had vaccinated 68% of our residents by the Spring of 2021. CalFire returned several times in 2022, until few unvaccinated residents requested appointments.”
As an outgrowth of the positive vaccination experience with the county fire department paramedics, Supervisor Desmond saw an opportunity. He began working with county staff and the state to see how the duties of paramedics could be expanded in rural communities. For example, paramedics could make home visits, deliver and administer medications, do tests and provide a certain level of treatment for ill and homebound individuals.
“Through discussions, I could see more health services were desperately needed; and wanted to see if paramedicine could take on wider scope, especially where communities had limited capacities to deal with mental health and substance abuse. A new paramedics regulated by state statute is due to take effect January 1, 2023. And we need legal allocations from the state to partner with the Health and Human Services Agency and allow paramedics to act as community clinicians,” Supervisor Desmond said.
“Examples are for the paramedics to be the first contact; and, then, connect patients with HHSA services; keep the vaccination program in place; post discharge follow up could be handled by local firefighters/paramedics, like safety checks in home after a fall; and having a nurse practitioner to accompany paramedics when needed on patient visits.”
Supervisor Desmond concluded that, “Fire department paramedics aren’t busy every day except when called on. The idea is to legally give them health care responsibility and tasks that could be performed not based on emergency-centered calls. For Borrego, this could fill a gap left by the limited services being provided by the local clinic, especially for the elderly and disabled; and to cover evenings and weekends when the clinic is closed and working people may have medical problems.”
On the economic front, Betsy Knaak, chair of the Revitalization’s Economic Sub-Committee, which includes tourism and education, gave an update from Sara Agahi, Flood Control District Manager/Water Resources Manager County of San Diego, on the October 2012 county board authorization to study Borrego Valley for floodplain and floodway issues. Studies have been conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA (the federal Emergency Management Agency), which would respond to a flooding emergency.
The county authorized updates to better understand the economic impacts of both the zoning and potential flooding on Borrego’s economy. The plan was to hold public meetings on the studies and findings. When the process is completed, the Army Corps will submit findings to FEMA to update the agency’s maps. This is important as current and accurate information is necessary to apply to FEMA for federal and state grants. However, this initiative is on hold due to a lack of Army Corps of Engineers’ staff and funding.
The report on the ‘Let’s Go Borrego Transportation Program’ by Lorry Seagrim, detailed how well the program was working and statistics on dollars spent and use. The pilot program was initially funded by the county until the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund took over the program of paying for seniors’ transportation to medical care, grocery shopping, etc. The senior is given the money to pay one of the volunteer drivers associated with the program, and is operated out of the Senior Center. According to the report, Let’s Go Borrego has hired a program manager and are hoping to increase marketing outreach and expand services.
The accomplishments of the Borrego Public Health Subcommittee, chaired by Bruce Kelley, began with the COVID vaccinations and Borrego’s own COVID Task Force, setting up a webpage; updating information; along with notifications and signups for shots.
Under the heading of a new topic, Kelley advised the committee, that a number of county department heads from the Medical Care Division and Health and Human Services Agency were invited to the meeting to discuss, what if anything, they could do, given the Borrego Health crisis and impact on the Borrego Springs Clinic. In reality, they reported, with the exception of helping to transfer patients that are members of Managed Health Care plans, the county has no role or jurisdiction, given that Borrego Health is licensed by the Federal and California governments, both of which also supply the funding.
Supervisor Desmond retorted, saying, “Regardless, I am keeping an eye on the situation and hoping to ensure access and expanded health services through the paramedic’s paramedicine program to fill in service gaps.”
On the subject of paramedics, Kelley reported on the community’s work to supplement other gaps in the fire and paramedic services provided by the Borrego Springs Fire Protection District. He talked about the progress of the transfer of Borrego Springs Fire Protection (BSFPD) to the San Diego County Fire Protection District, which offers more services; funding for higher salaries and benefits; and the purchase of new vehicles to replace outdated equipment, without new taxes on Borrego residents. Also, the new paramedicine programs would only be available to county operated fire departments.
Last week, Supervisor Desmond introduced the resolution to begin the transfer process, and said that he will be, “monitoring the consolidation as it goes through the hoops through both the County Board of Supervisors and the Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO).”
“I will be looking out for both the community and the firefighters and paramedics throughout the process,” he added.
Chief Tony Mecham of the SDCFPD, at the recent Revitalization Committee Zoom meeting, reported that the county had already ordered one fire engine and two new ambulances for the new consolidated department, as well as expanding the number of paramedics per engine and ambulance.
Kelley added that 400 meals a month have been delivered to seniors’ homes.
“The Children’s Home needs teachers and funding. It’s currently supporting 15 students, two with scholarships. Research showed children cared for in the Children’s Home program grow up to become student leaders,” he stated.
At the Resource Center in The Mall, the Borrego Food Pantry still is feeding up 200 families every Tuesday; and is also offering social services, Cal Fresh, medical aid, CalWORKs enrollment aid, free legal and mental health counseling by appointment.
According to Supervisor Desmond, along with issues of economic viability, increasing crime, and the county’s inability to attract deputy sheriffs; problems with the county jail, homelessness, and the need for low to medium income housing are among the bigger challenges facing the county.
“In Borrego Springs, I have learned, the biggest issues are a sustainable and viable economy, while balancing water supply; environmental concerns and maintaining the character of the town; transportation, into and out of the community; preventing the placement of Sexually Violent Predators; gaps in health care, particularly mental health; and low income housing.”
The Supervisor discussed the need for mental health programs and announced there are three, new 7/24 drop-in mental health clinics, along with extra beds in hospitals and treatment facilities in District Five. In addition, the county has stepped up the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) program.
Reached through a 911 call, the PERT program is a law enforcement-based mental health crisis intervention team that pairs a licensed mental health professional with a law enforcement officer. Also, the County of San Diego’s Behavioral Health Services Department (BHS) launched a Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) designed to help people who are experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis by dispatching behavioral health experts to emergency calls instead of law enforcement, when appropriate.
Chairperson David Garmon, of the Environmental Subcommittee stated that, “Supervisor Desmond’s unwavering focus on Borrego has opened doors and created connections with county staff that would not have occurred without his support. From the perspective of the Environmental Subcommittee, the Supervisor has helped our community address issues ranging from obtaining permission to treat invasive species on private property to the decommissioning of improperly abandoned wells. The work of our subcommittee has been made possible by the Supervisor’s support.”
According to Garmon, “Invasive plants are a real problem. They destroy the wildflowers that attract so many visitors to Borrego Springs. Henderson Canyon, once a show place, for example, has been hit hard by the Sahara Mustard weed. However, through work with scientists, we have been able to discover the origins of the Borrego Species, which is Egypt. This knowledge improves our ability to use genetic breeding and biocontrol agents to stop the reproduction cycle.”
Garmon, also reported on the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems grant received from the state Department of Water Resources (Discussed in a separate article in this issue of the Borrego Sun on Page 5). In addition, he talked about the integrated planning grant of $250,000, from the same source, awarded to the Stewardship Council. The purpose is to educate the community about the water situation in Borrego and seek solutions through integrated planning, beginning with the County’s General Land Use Plan update. “This is extremely important, considering that over the next 17 years, Borrego Springs must reduce water consumption by 75%.”
Good things are happening on the infrastructure front, according to Chairperson Marsha Boring, who with help from the Supervisor’s office, has been working with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) to update the Borrego Springs microgrid, which now covers 85% of the valley during a power outage. “We still need to have access to 100% coverage during outages and an onsite staff,” Boring reported, adding that, “the sub-committee has also been working with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to replace and add roadside emergency call boxes.
“The call boxes are still a necessity since we drive in areas where there is no cell reception on roads. Some have been added and replaced on Route 78, thanks to the help of the Supervisor’s office,” she announced.
Denise Russell, San Diego County Planning and Development Services, reported on the Palm Canyon projects the committee brought to Supervisor Desmond as a priority. This includes, identifying and filling gaps in sidewalks along Palm Canyon, a project Supervisor Desmond was able to fund which includes 2300 feet of curb gutter/sidewalk installations to start in early spring 2023. Riley De Witt-Rickards of the County, reported on the Shelter Shade Project, which in coordination with the sidewalk improvement plan, is providing shade cover from Christmas Circle to the library. Construction of the $2 million plus project will begin in early spring 2023.
Another hot item on the Revitalization’s agenda is internet access: The county is identifying gaps in connectivity in unincorporated areas, like Borrego Springs, and planning to expand broadband coverage. Currently working with a consultant to finalize plans in the fall, the county is looking for potential grant funding sources and to open a portal to the entire community.
Finally, the committee had an update on Dollar Store General and the code compliance issue by Mike Johnson, of the county’ department of Planning and Development Services. After reviewing grading and building permits, the county opened a code compliance case, forcing the construction company to remove open storage and materials on site.
A concern raised by the Revitalization committee; the issue was resolved with the case closed in July. Johnson further reported that the big box giant is a few months away from pulling building permits, which gave rise to the question of whether Borrego Springs can change zoning to prevent big box stores from building in the future through the General Plan zoning amendments?
Supervisor Desmond cited other accomplishments of the County-Borrego committee endeavor in addition to those covered in the recent meeting. These are: linking Borrego and Julian into one Dark Sky protection zone. Identifying lists of abandoned wells, and their status, another project of the Borrego Environment sub-committee, that was challenged in its work by prohibitions on entering private land. At the Supervisor’s direction, county staff talked to landlords, providing for entrance into private properties.
“As an engineer, I have always been interested in how things work, and how to make them work better, which I think is needed when looking at large upcoming situations, like the one Borrego Springs is facing with its water situation,” stated Supervisor Desmond.
“I like being part of solutions, and making sure the county steps up. I particularly enjoy the feeling of having an opportunity to make the world – at least the world of Borrego Springs – a better place. I am, also, a firm believer that the definition and vision of a “better place” belongs with the community, not the government.
He added, “I believe the Revitalization Committee as a collective, cooperative effort between the county and the community makes this possible.”