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La Mesa News Briefs – Oct. 23, 2015

La Mesa wins statewide award

The League of California Cities has selected the city of La Mesa as a 2015 Helen Putnam Award-winner. The 2015 award winners were honored during the opening general session of the League’s annual Conference & Expo at the San José Convention Center, held Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.

The city of La Mesa received the CCS Partnership Intergovernmental Collaboration Award for its Intergenerational Safe Routes to School Program. Since 2010, the city has partnered with the La Mesa Spring Valley School District in the La Mesa Kids Walk ‘n’ Roll Safe Routes to School Program. Working with community partners, the city implemented an intergenerational program to enhance the safety of students at critical high-traffic intersections, walkways and bus loading zones at elementary and middle schools throughout the city. Participating schools have seen an increase in the number of students biking and walking to school. This change has made the city to become more pedestrian and bicycle-focused when planning for future infrastructure.

Established in 1982, the Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program recognizes outstanding cities that deliver the highest quality and level of service in the most effective manner possible. Particular attention and credit is given to applications specifically advancing the League’s strategic priorities which are determined each year by the board of directors. You can read more about the League’s priorities at cacities.org/priorities.

The award was given this year in 11 categories, although it is usually given annually in 12 categories: CCS Partnership Intergovernmental Collaboration Award; Community Services and Economic Development; Economic Development Through the Arts; Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics, and Community Involvement; Health and Wellness Programs; Housing Programs and Innovations; Internal Administration; League Partners Award for Excellence in City-Business Relations; Planning and Environmental Quality; Public Safety; Public Works, Infrastructure and Transportation; and the Ruth Vreeland Award for Engaging Youth in City Government. Of 139 submissions, 12 were recognized for their outstanding programs.

Jacob gets San Diego city mayor’s endorsement

The 2016 election is still over a year away but County Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s campaign is already getting some support for her re-election to the District 2 office.

On Sept. 28, Jacob’s campaign announced that it had received the endorsement of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

“Although most of District 2 is outside of the city of San Diego, the neighborhoods of San Carlos, Allied Gardens, Grantville and Del Cerro are part of the district election,” Jacob said. “A portion of my district includes eastern parts of the city of San Diego, and I know Mayor Faulconer is respected by many of these residents, so his endorsement is a big step forward for our campaign,” Jacob said in a statement released by her campaign.

Faulconer cited his work with Jacob on a number of issues for his support of her re-election, especially their work on the Alzheimer’s Project, which works to accelerate research for a cure.

“I appreciate Dianne’s dedication to serving her constituents and her enthusiasm for addressing challenging issues facing our country,” Faulconer said in a statement.

La Mesa Aztecs named Prebys Scholars

Two La Mesa locals who are students at San Diego State University were among this year’s recipients of the prestigious Conrad Prebys Scholarship. La Mesa resident Madison Prior is being awarded the scholarship for her excellence in studying management at SDSU. Helix High School graduate Molly Wells is studying art.

The scholarships were created when San Diego philanthropist Conrad Prebys gifted $20 million to create several endowments which support at least 150 SDSU high-achieving students each year in a variety of different fields.

Although there is no specific GPA requirement set to be eligible for the scholarship, potential recipients are identified and nominated by a collaborative process across campus, including faculty and staff from the Weber Honors College, the College of Sciences, the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, the Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center, and the Zahn Innovation Center. Recipients are then awarded by the scholarship committee, which considers the nominees’ strengths in the areas of leadership, entrepreneurship, creative and performing arts, and leadership, among others, as well as the candidates’ academic achievements, distinctions, and involvement in the community.

EDCO opens La Mesa CNG Fuel Station

Drivers of vehicles that run on natural gas will be pleased to know that there is a new CNG filling station in La Mesa.

EDCO opened its third open-to-the-public CNG station last month at the convenient location of 8173 Commercial St. in La Mesa, which is one block from Interstate 8. In addition to its three public CNG stations, EDCO also operates five other stations for its fleet of waste management vehicles.

As part of this new facility, EDCO has also invested in 11 new over-the-road CNG powered tractor-trailer combinations. EDCO’s ever growing CNG powered fleet now numbers over 150 total vehicles in a variety of applications, from pickup trucks, bin movement units, to residential and commercial collection trucks and now over-the-road tractor-trailer units.

“This facility will be a key part of the regional infrastructure necessary to expand the use of Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV),” said Steve South, President and CEO of EDCO in a press release.

As both private and public fleets continue to search for environmentally safe, financially stable alternative fuels, CNG has emerged as a safe option that can reduce smog-producing pollutants by up to 90 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by 50-70 percent, compared to gasoline.

EDCO also operates a North San Diego County CNG Public Fuel Station, located one block south of state Route 78 at 168 S. Las Posas Road in San Marcos. In addition, EDCO operates a third Public CNG facility in North Orange County at 6762 Stanton Ave. in Buena Park.

The new La Mesa filling station will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will accept all major credit cards.

County buys new ‘copter

A new firefighting helicopter is poised and ready for duty in San Diego County, just in time for peak wildfire season.

Based at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, the Bell 205 A-1 ++ joins two other firefighting helicopters flown by ASTREA, the Sheriff’s Department aviation unit. It can hoist equipment, ferry firefighters and carries a 375-gallon water tank for fire suppression.

“This third helicopter means we will always have two helicopters ready to fly when a fire starts to burn,” said Chairman Bill Horn, in a press release by the County Board of Supervisors. “Attacking a fire quickly from above and containing the flames to 10 acres or fewer is critical in saving lives and property.”

Horn called for the new helicopter in the wake of the May 2014 wildfires. Following those blazes, Supervisor Dianne Jacob initiated a county study that spurred additional fire protection improvements.

“The new helicopter brings more muscle to our firefighting efforts as we enter the most dangerous time of the year,” said Jacob. “Attacking fires quickly from the air can keep a minor blaze from becoming a regional catastrophe.”

The addition of a third firefighting helicopter makes it possible for ASTREA to operate at least two of the aircraft at the same time, giving fire authorities greater flexibility during a crisis. When the county only had two helicopters, routine maintenance or repairs often limited flight time.

The new helicopter, which cost $4.4 million, seats nine passengers and can haul a 4,000-pound payload.

In the past 12 years, the county has invested more than $320 million on fire protection improvements, including new stations, equipment and a more professionally trained firefighting force. It created the county Fire Authority in 2008 to bolster fire and emergency medical services.

SDG&E wants rates to pay for 2007 wildfire costs

On Sept. 25, SDG&E asked the California Public Utilities Commission for approval to use rates to cover the costs of settling the 2,500 lawsuits related to wildfires in 2007. The utility initially faced $4 billion in claims arising from the fires, but the company settled as many as possible to reduce the customer cost impact, according to a statement released by SDG&E.

The total cost of the settlements was about $2.4 billion, the majority of which were paid with liability insurance or recovered from third parties. SDG&E is proposing that its shareholders cover $42 million, or 10 percent of the cost.

The utility wants the remaining $379 million to be paid by increases in customer rates over the next six years. A residential customer who uses 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month would see his or her bill go up about $1.70, SDG&E said.

Since 2007, SDG&E has installed over 170 weather stations throughout its service territory to enhance operational and system safety and improve situational awareness to reduce the potential for utility facilities to be used as an ignition source. Every circuit that serves the high-risk “fire threat zone” in the back country has at least one weather station that provides wind speed, direction, temperature and humidity every 10 minutes — critical information needed to evaluate the possible impact of weather on system operations. All of this data is available to the National Weather Service, fire agencies and the general public.

“With technology, we now have access to so much more information than we had then about the truly unprecedented strength of the Santa Ana winds in 2007, when we had to rely on just a handful of weather stations,” said Steve Vanderburg, senior meteorologist for SDG&E. “As part of the research to develop the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index, we looked at the hourly weather data over the past 30 years in Southern California and then overlaid the fire weather history. What we found is that the winds in 2007, near where the Witch Creek Fire started, were blowing at more than 90 mph — that’s almost as strong as a Category 2 hurricane.”

In 2008, when deciding where to install the first of its new weather monitors, SDG&E looked for areas with strong wind activity. As a result, one was placed in west Santa Ysabel, which is one of the windiest spots in the back country and close to the ignition site of the Witch Creek Fire.

A final CPUC decision is expected in the first quarter of 2017. Customers would not see any bill impact before then.

By law, SDG&E is required to serve all customers in its service territory regardless of where they live. California courts have found that utilities like SDG&E are automatically responsible for damage linked to their equipment, regardless of fault or negligence, even where the utility equipment is only one of several concurrent causes. Many factors outside of SDG&E’s control — most notably the Santa Ana winds — played a major role in the ignition and spread of the 2007 wildfires.

Regulators in past cases have ruled that costs reasonably incurred by a utility in fulfilling its obligation to serve all customers can be recovered in rates.

Wildfire risk in your neighborhood?

As San Diego County enters the perilous fall wildfire season, residents can now tap into a new online map to learn the level of fire risk in their immediate area.

The digital tool, which went online on Sept. 30, allows San Diegans to search the county by address or place name to learn the degree of wildfire hazard and how to better prepare for an emergency. Many of the county’s biggest blazes have struck in the fall, fed by Santa Ana winds and tinderbox conditions in the backcountry.

“Wildfire is a year-round threat in our region, but fall can be especially brutal,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said in a statement released by the county. “The online map is an eye-opening reminder of the risks we face, but it also provides critical information on fire protection and preparedness.”

A link to the new Wildfire Hazard Map can be found at ReadySanDiego.org. It draws on existing data collected by California fire officials to assess conditions on properties statewide.

“The more you know, the better you can protect your family and property when the next wildfire strikes,” Board of Supervisors chairman Bill Horn said. “This new online map offers personalized information about your neighborhood and if you’re living in a high risk area.”

The map shows large areas of the county, mostly in the backcountry, are in “high” to “very high” hazard zones, as defined by state officials. Other areas fall into the “moderate” category or are not considered a serious risk.

When an address or place name is entered, the map provides the hazard designation, along with related links and information, including the name of the fire protection agency for that location, the closest fire station and a detailed guide to fire preparedness.

Many addresses also provide contact information for the local Fire Safe Council, a network of nonprofits that promote fire safety and preparedness.

The map is available on both desktop and mobile devices.

Since the fall of 2003, when a string of devastating fires swept the region, the county has spent at least $320 million to beef up backcountry fire protection, including investing in new engines, stations, aircraft and a better-trained firefighting force.

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