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Stewardship Council, Visions


Last updated 5/24/2023 at 12:53pm

Visions Du Jour:

What are the main characteristics of a vision? Research on visionary leader – suggests that visions have five characteristics: a picture, a change, values, a map, and a challenge.

At the recent Stewardship Council meeting a speaker brought up the need for Borrego to have a vision of what it wants to be.

Howard Blackson, the presenter, was quite eloquent and passionate in his presentation of the need for a vision – something, he says, “combines the past and the future.”

It reminded me of a similar meeting early in the Stewardship Council’s development days, where a vision of Borrego was presented by consultants, including Blackson, who were provided by the Stewardship Council. The vision was seemingly adopted by the business and community leaders, who were present. Although there was no vote; the consensus was that Borrego Springs’ vision should be: “A “Gateway to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP).”

At the time no one objected. It was a theme that evidently was working well for the consultants, who were involved with other “gateway communities,” including a marketing person from National Geographic magazine.

Not sure what working well meant, since I noticed little difference in the way people aspired to live their lives or run their businesses in Borrego because of the new vision. Assumptions were that the best way to economic development is through the focus of Borrego Springs – as a gateway to the park.

One can imagine this working for parks, like Zion National Park, and most other national parks that have one or two entrances. The auxiliary businesses embedded in the area preceding the entrance, are hospitality and focused on providing for the individuals and families entering the park. There are hotels, restaurants, and retail related to the park.

That works for businesses dependent on Zion. It’s hard to imagine Borrego Springs’ major economic future as being dependent on only meeting the needs of guests visiting the ABDSP.

First, Borrego Springs is its own destination: People visit and live in Borrego because of the climate, the sun, the natural and open vistas; and the slower pace of a rural town. The Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) collected from Borrego’s lodgings – hotels, motels and resorts – funds a number of Borrego’s assets – one being the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is the Borrego Springs Chamber, implying the boundaries of the unincorporated town are a legal entity as a recipient of the countywide tax, which is collected and a percentage returned to the originating community.

This money comes from Borrego Springs – the destination – in its own right – a vacation and residential community that boasts warm sunshine, and sun tan lines when winter has befallen other communities, including San Diego and Los Angeles. Borrego offers destination golfing, birding, astronomy, eateries, events and entertainment – none of which is bestowed on the community by the park.

Borrego offers dark skies, clean air, open horizons, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and wild critters and native plants. One could say, Borrego shares all of these with the 600,000-acre park. The reality is, if one were to have a vision, it would be of a synergy of the two –the park and the town – each complementing the other and each with their own target markets.

Hikers do not generally stay at the La Casa resort if they intend to spend their days hiking in the park. That’s more like the tent and camping trailer crowd, who have the entire park to drop their anchors in – except in restricted and dangerous areas. Golfers do not stay in tents.

The town may benefit from the park goers through the purchase of groceries, retail, and exposure, which may lead to a more permanent relationship. And there may be crossovers from the different markets. The same is true for the town, it opens vistas and doors to the park, including the Visitor’s Center and central camping area at the end of Palm Canyon.

The vision of Borrego as only an asset to the park is too small to fit reality. Plus, the ABDSP is porous. There is no one entrance, rather roads to trails and cities off of Interstate 8; State Highways 79 and 78; county roads 2, 22, and 3. All provide access, discounting the idea of one gateway, or controlled park entrance.

A more realistic vision both from a geographical and marketing point of view, is that Borrego Springs is the “Beating heart of the Park’’ – the “Park within the Park.” Few know where the boundaries to the community and the park meet, even though they may travel on them daily. The two are intertwined with each contributing complementary assets and resources.

Borrego does more than accommodate seasonal visitors, like Zion’s gateway. It provides sheriff and fire protection, emergency responders and medical airlifts, it stores and moderates the use of water, caters to residents, as well as guests. There are laws, zoning and land planning and development set by the county.

The park, on the other hand, is subject to the authority of the state park officials. This, of course could lead to a conflict; and some bad planning that might destroy the magic that the combination of town and wilderness supply.

And that leads to another vision – equally out of step with what Borrego Springs might see as its vision of the future. That is San Diego County’s recent Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the Decarbonization Framework designed to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030-2045. The Decarbonization Framework is part of the county’s environmental plan, which is required by the state to identify what and how the county is going to reach zero emissions.

While limiting carbon emissions through alternative energy, like Solar, is absolutely something the town needs to incorporate in its vision. Because reducing carbons and dealing with extreme heat is needed to protect all the natural beauty and experiences Borrego Springs and the park offer from climate change.

However, the county’s vision for Borrego Springs is to build large-scale, industrial Solar plants. “No problem,” says the report, “with all that cheap land, and a lot of dead stuff and sand, turning Borrego into a Solar desert will create jobs, improve Borrego’s economy, and solve the urban cities’ emissions problems.”

This vision includes SDG&E running transmission lines through valuable protected and preserved open spaces. What’s wrong with this picture? It will destroy the picturesque ambiance and natural surroundings that Borrego and the park enjoy as neighbors. The Borrego vision should be maintaining its “Park within the Park ‘’ residential and businesses settings; and make sure the county vision does not come to pass.

But that’s negative action and a vision is, by its nature, more productive as a positive. No one wants or needs anymore negative visions. The question is how, and will Borrego Springs assert itself? Borrego needs a vision. Perhaps, the Stewardship Council is the place to begin the exercise. However, our vision should not be limited to what consultants want, what the county wants, or what the few, who vote at meetings, want as our vision.

Borrego’s future should be framed by what the people – the people, who live and work here – want our future to look like – a mental and graphic picture, change, values, map and challenge. And while a vision is an important start, it will take strategies and even sacrifices to preserve the past, present and future of Borrego Springs and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Without accommodating the reality of life in Borrego Springs, any vision is a hollow quest.