Revitalization Meeting Full of Surprises, All Good
Last updated 6/15/2023 at 10:31am
At the Revitalization meeting held on May 16, San Diego County District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond has County staff on hand to respond to issues raised at the meeting and follow-up when called for. The objective is to create a two-way dialogue with county experts to solve problems and address concerns that arise from the meeting.
At the meeting, there was a larger than usual crowd, along with virtual attendees, anticipating a discussion with the Supervisor about the County's Regional Decarbonization Framework (RDF). The plan would include utility Solar plants in Borrego Springs to meet the renewable energy goals, and mitigate carbon use in the coastal areas.
This RDF plan would also require a SDG&E transmission line through preserved public lands and parks at a cost of $39 billion. Meaning that SDG&E investors would make out like bandits, while the public would be forced to pay for an expensive infrastructure scheme through an increase in future electric bills.
Supervisor Desmond came prepared to respond to what he knew was a burning issue in Borrego. He began by announcing an item his staff has placed on the County's, May 24-Land Use meeting agenda, which essentially directs the County Administrative Officer (CAO) to take another look at roof top Solar as the solution to meeting the RDF goals.
Betsy Knaak, chair of the Economic Subcommittee, also had a surprise presentation from the Committee for Primary Healthcare on a multiservice community care complex adjacent to the library. The vision includes combining a new fire station with an adjacent primary health care clinic, emergency heliport, expanded paramedic healthcare duties, the Senior and Children's Centers and other future projects benefiting the community, on 6 acres of land donated by Dan Wright.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, member of the Infrastructure Subcommittee, raised another burning source of community concern – the Dollar General Store. She has been the most passionate and outspoken opponent to the store's construction in Borrego. Given that the developer found a perfect zoning for the store – one that is not discretionary. Meaning it's a done deal, if it meets the zoning requirements, it will be processed administratively, without the Planning Commission, or Supervisors' vote.
Still looking to find a way to at least improve the project, Rodriguez reminded the Supervisor of the developer's promise before the Sponsor Group to work with the committee on Borrego's architectural standards with a "design review;" and that the developer reneged on this and other promises, claiming lack of funds.
As a generous concession, Supervisor Desmond agreed to meet with the developer of Dollar General and Rodriguez. "I can't promise anything, and have no power to direct the developer to do anything, but, maybe, I can mediate a solution," the Supervisor stated.
Supervisor Desmond introduced the County's Regional Water Equity Project to address the increase in Drought impacts, the Office of Sustainability and Environmental Justice (OSEJ) is leading a region-wide effort directed by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on September 14, 2022 to analyze Drought management and water sustainability practices to proactively address the challenges of our region's reliance on water sources.
This regional assessment, including binational cities and Imperial County, will identify recommendations that equitably address the Drought crisis. The proposed recommendations will be aligned with California's Water Supply Strategy.
This report will include & identify opportunities for:
The whole region, including local municipalities, Imperial County, and binational cities
Stormwater capture and reuse at County parks and facilities
Water diversion, capture, and reuse on County roads and highways
Incentives for affordable housing developments to integrate and install stormwater capture and reuse systems
Identifying financial risks caused by extreme weather conditions
Identifying financial investments needed for resilience approaches
Researching what other jurisdictions are doing with gray water reuse
Identifying risks, opportunities, and incentives for sustainable agriculture projects
Marsha Boring, chair of the infrastructure subcommittee reviewed the Palm Canyon Shade and Sidewalk project initiated in 2021. There were questions about progress and timeline for the completion of the project. The $1 million Shade and Sidewalk project is being managed and funded by the County Parks and Recreation Department. The plan is to create a continuous sidewalk on the west side of Sunshine Drive, on the northside of Palm Canyon Drive, connecting Christmas Circle, the post office, library and Borrego's park.
In addition to the improved walking pathway, 13 separate shelter structures will provide shade areas spread throughout the walkway. There was a display of the variation in patterns selected for the shelter structures. Along with complaints about the time it has taken to get to the point of putting out a bid for the shade structures, there were comments from the audience, questioning the expense and value of the project.
Riley Dewitt Richards of the County's Parks and Recreation Department, the project manager, stated that, "The shelter covers are going out to bid in June."
The Supervisor introduced the County's new composting ordinance to reduce impact of organic waste in the county's landfills and meet the new state requirements on organic waste disposal. SB 1383 is a bill passed by the California State Senate in 2016 that implemented a swath of strategies for the state's Air Resources Board to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, including greenhouse gases like methane.
Among these strategies is a requirement for reducing statewide disposal of organic waste by 75% by 2025, going into effect at the beginning of last year. Part of this guideline requires every jurisdiction in the state to provide organic waste collection services to residents and businesses.
Most people are not aware that 40% of what is discarded in landfills is organic waste. Beginning in 2022, residential, commercial, and multi-family properties were required to start recycling, composting or otherwise diverting their organic waste from landfills.
Within the unincorporated areas of the County of San Diego, residents may now be able to add food scraps and food-soiled paper to green, curbside bins along with yard trimmings and nonhazardous wood waste.
The County also offers free composting workshops and discounted compost bins to unincorporated area residents. For more information go to the County Public Works page on composting.
What is organic waste? If it grows, it goes! Frequently Asked Questions about composting.
Finally, a report on the status of improving broadband in Borrego. One of the problems with the existing system, is that when Borrego experiences an overflow of visitors with mobile phones, the system breaks down; and merchants cannot ring up sales, and visitors cannot get service, leaving everyone frustrated. Members of the Revitalization Committee asked the Supervisor for help. There are Additional broadband challenges in the unincorporated communities as shown by a county survey:
92% of surveyed residents in the unincorporated area did not maintain an at-home internet subscription as a result of availability, reliability, or affordability concerns
58% of these residents say internet access is not available in their area
19% say internet access is too expensive
15% say internet speeds are too slow.
Supervisor Desmond responded by introducing the County's Comprehensive Broadband Plan. A recent analysis of census data as part of the County Comprehensive Broadband Plan showed that approximately 37,000 households in the unincorporated area of San Diego don't have a broadband internet subscription. This places them at a disadvantage when it comes to things such as online education, healthcare services or emergency notifications.
According to Supervisor Desmond, "The report is the latest effort by the County to address inadequate broadband infrastructure and improved access in communities, like Borrego Springs."
The Plan supports the County's efforts in attempting to close the digital divide in the unincorporated area by identifying problem areas and the partnerships, infrastructure and education needed to change that. The report helps the County's expansion of its own infrastructure and identifies the need to work with the private sector, other public agencies and local stakeholders to deliver needed changes, including necessary funding.
Actions the County has already taken to improve internet access: Thanks to a $4.3 million federal grant, the County Library was already able to create the Tech Connect program, which puts laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots into the hands of 7,000 people in its service area, who lack access to the internet and a computer. Library card holders can check out a laptop and air card for one year, free of charge.
The County has also partnered with SANDAG on its Get Connected Campaign to advance affordable internet service and digital literacy programs.
Through a partnership with Caltrans, the county has identified opportunities to leverage already planned roadway projects to deploy fiber and expand high-speed broadband service to underserved communities at the same time.
The Plan identifies areas with connectivity gaps and prioritizes them by greatest need, including lack of access and affordable options.
The County will use the Plan to identify the type of infrastructure projects to increase connectivity in these areas, such as installing more fiber optic cables in certain areas. The Plan will also help the County determine how it can best collaborate with others.
Supervisor Desmond explained, that Borrego received priority numbers of #3 and #8 in the category of "greatest need" based on the last Census. Zito, the local provider, has been meeting with the county about acquiring funds from a $2.8 billion grant available in June. Desmond stated that they are working on a plan to, "kick off a public private partnership grant, uniting the county, Zito, and Borrego to expand broadband access.
"Count on community involvement once the consultants have completed their analysis. You can expect to hear from Stephanie Johnson and Nicole Andros, county staff working on the Borrego broadband engagement," Supervisor Desmond announced.