Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Fifth Annual Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition

The fifth annual Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition was held in Imperial Beach Saturday. Despite the big surf and cloudy, cool weather, the dogs and their owners shared the stoke in the contest, which drew an estimated 2,000 spectators and their four-legged friends.

The contest was a fundraiser for the San Diego Police Department's Canine Unit. "Loews Hotel is very pet friendly," said Public Relations Director Anne Stephanie. "About six years ago we launched a dog surfing program at our hotel. The response that we got from that program was overwhelming, so we've turned it into an annual fundraiser."

There were three categories in the competition: small dogs under forty pounds, large dogs over forty pounds, and the tandems, which consisted of the dogs and their owners on the surfboard together. This was the very first year that this category was added. "Kalani won the contest last year," said Andra Lew of her Golden Retriever, who also won the tandem contest this year along with Lew's other Golden Retriever, Ricochet. "I don't think that it had anything to do with me. It had everything to do with her staying on the board and impressing the judges." Kalani is two and a half years old, and in addition to being a talented surf-dog, she is also a certified pet-therapy dog, and an accomplished dock dog-jumper. 'Her personal best at dock dog-jumping is eighteen feet one inch," said Lew. "She's been surfing and dock dog-jumping since she was five months old."

To get a closer look at the surfing pooches, many on-lookers braved cold water and the occasional drenching clean-up set. Several times the MC of the event had to remind them to stand clear of the strategically placed cones so that the contest judges were offered a clear view of the dogs in the water. Many of the spectators brought their own dogs, many of which were clad in very unique costumes.

April Pasko of Encinitas, who also participated in the competition, had her two Nova Scotia Duck Talling Retrievers dressed in bright-colored dog bikinis. "They're more commonly known as 'Tollers' in the dog world," said Pasko. One of the dogs, Torri, was also the third place winner in the small dogs category. "Torri has been surfing since she was eighteen months. When we would run down the beach she would always watch the dogs and surfers like, I wanna do that." According to Pasko, the best way to teach a dog to surf is to take them out on a very calm day and let them get comfortable in the water and on the surfboard.

Just before the winners of the competition were announced, a member of the San Diego Police Department's Canine Unit fielded questions about their program, which the contest directly benefited. There had been a police dog demonstration planned, but it was cancelled due to the large amounts of dogs in the crowd.

With the sun finally breaking through, the winners of the contest were announced. In the small dogs category, an Australian Kelpie named Abbey Girl was the standout. The large dogs winner was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Stanley, and the winners of the tandem category were the two dogs Ricochet and Kalani, also known as the 'Twisted Sisters'. The first place winners of the contest walked away with a one-night stay at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, with their furry friends of course.

GPA: A Profile

"When I was nine years old, I found a body in a dumpster," says Gilbert Ardilla; there is a strange and faraway look in his eyes as he tells the story. Then he suddenly looks up at the ceiling as if in deep thought. "But it didn't look like a body. It was real purple and dark, and it stunk real bad." He pauses for quite a long time before he goes on. "That was the first time that I realized people die," he says finally.

Gilbert Pico Ardilla Jr., 35, is a fairly well-known rapper in the underground hip-hop community. Known to his fans as GPA, he carries himself with steady confidence of a big man, despite his five feet six inches. His most popular album, Hard Times, was released in 1999, and has sold over 5,000 copies. His music can be found on iTunes and YouTube, and he has quite a following of local hip-hop enthusiasts.

Growing up in Paradise Hills, which is a rough and tumble area of South San Diego County, Ardilla was exposed to violent inner-city life at a very early age. "Gangs have always been in my life. I think that I learned to write PH, which is the neighborhood that I'm from, before I learned to write my name. This was all before I was in kindergarten," he says with an uneasy chuckle. As an only child from a broken home, Ardilla looked to his older cousins and uncles, who were mostly members of neighborhood gangs, for guidance. At the age of twelve, he began smoking crystal meth.

Music has always played a large part in Ardilla's life; his father was a musician who played with several prominent artists. Ardilla recalls his parents putting him down for his nap as a small child by making him listen to a Commodores album front to back. When he was twelve years old, he discovered the rap group NWA while on a trip to Los Angeles. Rappers like NWA's front-man Eazy-E glorified life in the rough neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, which were much like the neighborhoods where Ardilla grew up. It was the song Eazy Does It that inspired Ardilla to begin writing rap lyrics. "For like four years, I wrote raps," says Ardilla. "I never told anybody I wrote raps until I got into tenth grade. I used to write raps about a guy with one leg, and that was when my friends realized that I could flow. When my family finally found out that I could rap, it was like the floodgates had opened."

Ardilla formed rap groups for the next couple of years, recording music when he could. It was during this time that he was selling crystal meth, which he was also heavily addicted to. "I was smoking anywhere from a half a teener to a teener of crystal a day," says Ardilla, shaking his head at the memory. Gang life suddenly became real to him when a close friend was murdered. Soon after, during a neighborhood party, Ardilla found himself on stage for the first time. This spontaneous performance caught the eye of a local music producer, whom he began recording for shortly thereafter. He formed a close association with another rapper named Lil' One, who was also putting together an album for Ruthless Records, which was owned by Ardilla's hero, Eazy-E. When the two of them made a trip up to Los Angeles to the Ruthless Records studio, Eazy-E himself made an appearance, and also sat and listened to Lil' One's latest record, including a track that Ardilla rapped on. "So Eazy got to hear me on one of the songs, which was bomb," says Ardilla. Two weeks later, Eazy was diagnosed with AIDS and died suddenly. Because of some internal politics, the Lil' One's record with Ardilla's track was never released by Ruthless Records.

After some personal issues with several of his associates in the business, Ardilla became somewhat disillusioned by the personal politics that were transpiring, and decided to give up rapping altogether. With his musical focus behind him, Ardilla once again became caught up in life on the streets. He began drinking heavily, and also returned to crystal meth. "I was selling crystal to support myself at that time," says Ardilla. "And I was making a lot of money and moving a lot of weight." He made the colossal mistake of obtaining an ounce of crystal meth towards the end of the month when most of his customers were low on cash. Owing an
associate $1200 for the meth, he returned home one night to find him there to collect his money. When he asked for the $1200, Ardilla was forced to tell him that he did not have it. "He pulled out a strap and put it to my head, then clicked the damn thing. But the bullet got caught in the chamber," he says. It is obviously a cold and unpleasant memory; Ardilla pauses, then looks at the floor. "I was at a point in my life where I was stressed out and awake for so many days that I told him, Fix your gun and handle it. I'm tired." The dope dealer not only allowed Ardilla to walk away, but in an ironic twist, told him that he needed to leave the life he was living.

Shortly after this life-changing experience, Ardilla recorded a song with one of his associates in the business, therefore returning to rap after nearly eighteen months. Back in the game, he began recording his first full-length album, Hard Times. Other than his decision to stop selling drugs, Ardilla's life had not changed much. "There were the groupies, the drugs, the partying," he says. "I was really a selfish person." Ardilla describes the theme of the album Hard Times as a mirror of the anger that existed within himself. "There was so much turmoil in my life at that time, and I was about to have a baby. But I was still addicted to drugs," he says. Ardilla finally got sober, and was hired at Taylor Guitars, a job he still holds today, nearly twelve years later.

While recording his second album, Ardilla discovered that a friend was using some of his music without his permission. Once again, he decided to leave the music business behind him. He got married, and established a new life for himself as a devoted father, husband, and employee. He still enjoys music, but chides himself for not having been more involved in the business side of the industry; today he receives no royalties from his music.

"I wanted to make sure that I made a footprint in this world," says Ardilla. "By being a father and a husband, I think I've done that. And those are the two hardest occupations." Despite his major musical accomplishments, Ardilla is most proud of his small family, which he is passionately devoted to. He considers himself retired
from hip-hop, and only records when he feels that he needs creative release. "My goal in the next five years is to make sure that every single one of my kids plays an instrument," he says. "My kids are my legacy."

The New Home of the San Diego Chargers?

Will the proposed downtown stadium site be the last chance for the Chargers to stay in San Diego? Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani believes that it is.

The San Diego Stadium Coalition held a town hall meeting Wednesday in order for the public to address specific concerns to Fabiani. "The San Diego Chargers have done everything possible to get a stadium deal done," said Fabiani.

The proposed ten acre site sits adjacent to Petco Park, and will be much less expensive to build than any other site because of the existing infrastructure, Fabiani said. The new plan is estimated to cost nearly $200 million less than the sites which were proposed in Escondido, Chula Vista, and Oceanside. There is also a plan to attach a retractable roof to the new stadium, which will allow for events to take place there year round. "It costs the city $17 million per year to operate Qualcomm stadium," said Fabiani. "And it sits vacant for much of the year not earning any revenue from tenants." The proposed plan will possibly serve as a venue for sports and events that take place in the San Diego Sports Arena, which, as Fabiani also pointed out, sits vacant for much of the year as well.

In addition to being the 'greenest' building in the world, the new stadium will be built with fewer seats than Qualcomm, which will guarantee sellouts for each game. This will eliminate the possibility of television blackouts. Some of the land at the proposed site will have to acquired, but a large portion of it sits atop the current Petco Park tailgate parking area. "The transit yards there will also have to be relocated and cleaned up," said Fabiani.

But not everyone is happy about the proposed stadium. Unlike the previous plan that involved the development around the Qualcomm site in Mission Valley, the area around the downtown site is not quite large enough for private development, which would have helped to fund the stadium. Because of this, some taxpayer dollars will be needed to finance it. In a tough economy, and within a city that has had severe financial difficulties, some citizens find the proposal a tough pill to swallow. "My concern is all of the traffic and the crowds that it will bring," said Martin Balfour. Balfour, 62, is a resident of the East Village, and lives just blocks from the proposed site. "I'm also not convinced that the taxpayers should have to help pay for it," adds Balfour. "The city is already in financial trouble, they're cutting police jobs, firemen, teachers. Should a new football stadium be our priority? I don't feel that it should be."

Many San Diegans are very excited at the prospect of a new stadium. "I think that it's a great thing for the city of San Diego," said 42 year-old Matthew Seller of Little Italy. "A new stadium will be a huge money-maker for the city with super bowls and the crowds that it will draw. Even if taxpayers have to chip in, it seems like a good return on our money. I see it as an investment."

Before the stadium plans can move forward, there is a critical study that must be commissioned by the Centre City Development Corporation, or CCDC. The San Diego City Council will vote on the proposal to increase the spending cap of the CCDC on June 22. The study is estimated to cost the city $500,000. Fabiani stressed the importance of this study, calling it a 'last chance' for the stadium plan, and possibly for the Chargers future in San Diego.

Oil Spill Response

In response to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, specific questions have been raised regarding the possible effects of such a disaster in the San Diego area.

Many of the environmental regulations that are in place today are the result of a massive oil spill which occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara in January, 1969. The spill lasted a total of eleven days, during which time over 200,000 gallons of crude oil bubbled to the surface, then spread into an 800 square mile slick. Tides carried the oil to nearly 35 miles of California coastline. It is estimated that over 3,000 birds were killed the in disaster.

"In the event of a spill in the San Diego area, three government agencies would be directly involved: the US Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Game Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, and the California State Lands Commission," said LTJG Marc Mares of the US Coast Guard in an email response. Each of these agencies have specific duties within what is called the ACP, or Area Contingency Plan. Each agency also has specific jurisdictions. The ACP is updated by the Area Committee, or AC, which is composed of local, state, and federal employees as well as industry and concerned citizens. The AC meets quarterly to discuss oil spill prevention and response, in addition to conducting training exercises.

"From an ecological standpoint, a spill in the Southern California area would differ greatly from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to the massive kelp forests here," said Ryder Gamboa, who is a senior environmental specialist in water toxicology in Orange County. These forests would be impacted on a far greater level than that of a rocky ocean floor. The currents in the Pacific would also play a far different role. "Pacific currents run from north to south," added Gamboa. "This would more than likely push a great deal of the spilled oil towards Mexican waters." The impact upon marine life would also be substantial, with effects lasting decades. "Toxins will find their way into the endocrine systems of fish, which in turn effects their hormone levels and reproductive systems," said Gamboa.

The local seafood industry would also be greatly impacted. "All of the catfish and salmon that we buy come from farms," said Bert Amador, who is a manager at Anthony's Fish Grotto. "But we also buy a lot of local seafood such as swordfish. If there were to be an oil disaster here, we would be forced to buy these types of fish from other places such as Mexico, which in turn would raise the prices for the customer."

Public opinion of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is varied. "I think that it's a crying shame what's going on down there," said 37 year-old Justin Francon of Linda Vista. He shakes his head as he casts his fishing line into the San Diego Bay. "I only hope that this sends a message to people in charge to stop off-shore drilling. I sure don't want to see something like that happen here in our backyard." His fishing companion, who is also casting a line not far away, also chimes in. "I don't really agree with that," said 41 year-old Nat Davis, also of Linda Vista. "You can't just stop drilling for oil because of one spill. But they should be doing something to make it safer, that's for sure," he says.