Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Roy David Rogers: A Profile

As you can imagine, a name like Roy Rogers can cause quite a bit of kidding. But Roy David Rogers is no singing cowboy. In addition to being an accomplished artist, he’s also a professor at National University.

Rogers sits on a couch in the living room of his Escondido home, which offers panoramic views of the valley below. He’s dressed comfortably in a black shirt and blue jeans, which complement his silver hair and beard. Almost everywhere you look, there are examples of his creativity and eccentric personality. Above the fireplace, a model train is suspended in motion, coming out of a tunnel in the wall. It hangs in midair where the track ends. Upon closer inspection, you can see that Rogers has placed miniature passengers in the crazy scene, some of which are leaping from the doomed train. His eyes smile from behind his dark-rimmed glasses as he points out his creation.

Born in Lake Elsinore, CA in 1946 and raised in Los Angeles, Rogers majored in art in high school, but it was difficult for him to envision art as a profession at that time.

“My parents were normal working-class people, you know, my father built houses,” says Rogers. “So they didn’t actually encourage me.”

After graduating high school, Rogers attended a community college in Los Angeles, but did poorly and soon dropped out. It was the mid-1960’s, and the Vietnam War was in raging. Less than one year later, Rogers was drafted. Soon after, he joined the Navy.

After his service, Rogers decided to give college another shot. Using his GI Bill, he enrolled at Arizona State, this time majoring in architecture. He felt that architecture was a good way to make a real living while drawing upon his creative nature. But eventually Rogers grew weary of the program.

“At the time I was going to school there, the program was really more engineering than it was an art, and that didn’t interest me at all,” he says. “And everyone seemed to agree in the program that I had a lot of talent and that my buildings were very interesting, but they’d probably fall down.”

It was during this time that Rogers discovered the art department, and began taking classes in art education. In a way, his choice to study art education was an effort to show his parents that he was doing something that they may consider to be worthwhile. It was at this point in his life that Rogers decided that he would make a serious commitment to being an artist.

“I made a decision that no matter what happened to me or how my life played out, that’s what I was going to do,” he says. “And I just sort of went after it. Sink or swim, here I go.”

His studio, which is a converted garage he jokingly refers to as his “two-car studio”, Rogers shows his series of miniature homes. He’s dubbed them “One Hundred Days of Solitude”, after the novel of the same name by author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Many of them are elaborately detailed, some sitting high atop pedestals or stands. One is covered with playing cards, another is surrounded by sand. The series was shown at Grossmont College in 2000.

Professor Roy David Rogers in his studio
“They’re meant to be funny in a way,” laughs Rogers. “Sort of little stories of my life.”

There are also a series of toys in the studio that Rogers has modified. A couple of years ago, he and some friends did a show of this series, which he describes as ”toys from toys.” He points out a black battleship with legs attached to it, and guns protruding from every conceivable spot.

Rogers also re-designed a Clue board game, which is complete with different characters and a more complex story than the original.

“In this game you don’t try to find out who the murderer is,” explains Rogers. “You may become the murderer.”

In the 1970’s, while working in a gallery and practicing an old form of print-making, he was introduced to Fran├žoise Gilot, who had been Pablo Picasso’s lover, and the mother of two of his children. Rogers and Gilot soon became close friends. One day, Rogers confided in Gilot that he had decided to be a painter, and that he needed to go to Paris to study. She told him that he should stay at her home. He needed little convincing.

“So in 1978 or so, I packed up all my stuff and moved to Paris,” he says. “I really didn’t have any plans of coming back.”

Eventually he did return to the states. After working several part time jobs which allowed him to scrape by, Rogers really began to feel that he wasn’t getting anywhere. After some soul-searching and working in solitude, he began showing his work and experiencing success.

Soon after, Rogers began working as a substitute teacher. He found that the schedule worked well for him, and taught only Tuesday through Thursday, which allowed him four solid days to focus on his art.

At this juncture in his life, Rogers felt a creative shift take place within himself.

“Even though it was very personal and I knew the people I was painting and that kind of stuff, I had this nagging sense that I wasn’t really talking about anything that I wanted to talk about,” he says. “The thing that was really motivating me at that point was that I had this kind of skewed vision of family. I was adopted before I was born and I never knew who my biological parents were.”

Rogers feels that his adoption was the cause of his deep-rooted sense of abandonment. Later on, his adopted parents ended all contact, favoring his first wife over him.

“I started looking at family, emotionally, and what it meant, and in a way, it really didn’t mean anything to me because all the people I knew who were quote family, they’re not related to me,” he says.

Rogers then began collecting old black and white photographs, some of friends and family, while others were found in antique and thrift stores. And so he began a series of paintings about family, using the photographs as a way to express the fact that the people in them were family, but not his own.

From a distance, the paintings appear to be plain black and white photographs. But they certainly are not;
 Rogers has painted the pictures to look exactly like a photograph, in turn creating his idea of a “skewed vision of family.”

Several examples of this series hang on the walls of Rogers’ home, one of which took third place in a show in San Bernardino.

When the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art finally opened one of its shows to artists who lived and worked in San Diego, Rogers’ work was displayed.

“So I got into that show,” he says. “I was still pretty young then, like early thirties, and everyone who was in it, we all felt like, wow, we just got like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”

While Rogers was happy with the success of his family photo painting series, he didn’t want to be known for that alone, or to be expected to produce the same kind of work in the future.

So in order to prevent this from happening, Rogers stopped painting. He showed his work at some galleries in Los Angeles, but explains that it took him a couple of years to regenerate.

“I started working with the theoretical side of art,” he says. “And trying to understand it from a different perspective rather than what I had always read to believe and been taught to believe and what it was, and what it is.”

Rogers shows some of his work

Rogers then embarked on what he called a “failed experiment to sort of re-invent the wheel”, in which he tried to work out a system that incorporated representation within abstraction. He was looking for an ideal balance between the two. And so he began painting still-life with a unique spin. Even though he wasn’t particularly happy with the outcome in the beginning, he did grow quite fond of the series of work that resulted.

After placing a piece in a show at Palomar College, Rogers was invited to teach painting and drawing classes there. He ended up staying for almost 15 years and enjoyed it, but he the administration was more interested in teaching art the traditional way, while he wanted to teach a more modern version.

In 1996, Rogers had a series of heart-attacks.

“I had angioplasty, then went back to work for about another month and I had another heart attack. I barely made it to the hospital on time to get the drug that could clear that up a bit otherwise I would have been a goner,” he says.

While in the hospital, Rogers came down with the flu. His doctors were leery of performing bypass surgery on him in his weakened state. Then, while he was recovering, he suffered another heart attack. Luckily, at the time of this third attack, the doctor on call was one of the best heart surgeons in the United States.

“They gave me all new wiring,” he says. “I woke up five days later from an induced coma with tubes running out of every orifice of my body. They told me later that they had put me on a drug with the initials LFD, and the doctors and nurses joked that it they called it ‘leave him for dead’. They didn’t think that I was going to come back, and for some reason I did.”

In 1990 a general rule was enacted requiring anyone teaching at the college level to have a master’s degree. At the time, Rogers was the only professor at Palomar College who was teaching with a BA. And so he applied for graduate school at UCSD, walking away three years later with his MFA.

Stacked neatly against one wall of his studio are many of Rogers’ paintings from the 1980’s.

“I guess it was sometime in the late 80’s that I gave up trying to sell to galleries,” he says. “And since then I haven’t shown many places other than schools, museums and exhibition spaces.”

A few years ago, however, he began showing a few things at the municipal gallery in Escondido. Rogers explains that he’s more interested in the art and personal satisfaction that it gives him rather than any financial rewards.

“I’d really rather kind of avoid it,” he says of fame and fortune. “Because it places all sorts of restrictions on you. And there are all sorts of people who want to make you do certain things.”

Rogers in front of his bible collection

In a corner near the door of his studio is Rogers’ curious collection of bibles. He had been collecting them for some time and was planning to make a pillar of them, but it didn’t quite work out the way he wanted it to. He likes having them, but is still in the process of finding a creative use for the dozens of bibles.

After teaching at MiraCosta College for a bit, Rogers got a job teaching at National University, taking on some literature and adult experience courses. When art and art history classes began to be added, Rogers began teaching those, and has been doing so ever since.

“He’s a very engaging teacher,” says Professor Annette Cyr, who is the lead faculty of the arts department at NU. “He encourages his students. He even encourages me.”

Cyr also points out that Rogers was instrumental in the creation of the 214a Gallery, which utilized storage space in room 214 at NU’s La Mesa campus. The Spiral Bound opening resulted, and began June 18, 2011.

“I probably would never have thought about a closet as a gallery,” says Cyr. “But he was the one who said, ‘just get me a closet, and I’ll make something out of it.’”
Cyr also respects Rogers’ work as an artist.

“There’s always a lot of humor,” she says of his work that she’s seen. “And a lot of sophistication, conceptually.”

Rogers says that while has done many other things in his life, art is a necessity.

“I have to do it because I have to feel I’m doing something good,” he says.

High Fuel Costs Mount for Local Fishermen

Every time lobster fisherman Dan Riley pulls his boat onto the fuel dock before a trip, he knows it’s going to painful.

The 30-year-old entrepreneur owns and captains his own boat, the 40-foot Caitibeth, which is named for his two twin daughters. The diesel engine on the Caitibeth is fed from four tanks, each holding 80 gallons. With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, Riley’s stop at a fuel dock off Harbor Island in San Diego Bay runs him roughly $1,000.

Due in some part to the unrest in the Middle East and a poor economy, recent spikes in prices of fuel are always making headlines. Almost daily, you’ll hear about how gas prices are affecting prices of airline tickets, and about how people are feeling the pain at the pump; people cutting back on extras, making their coffee at home rather than stopping for that latte at the local coffee shop, people riding their bicycles to work. But how have those high prices affected the fishing industry, an industry that is heavily reliant upon fuel to bring seafood lovers their lobster and swordfish?

San Diego's G Street Pier

“That’s the hard thing,” Riley says of the high fuel costs. “Along with the restrictions from [the Department of] Fish and Game, it almost drives out the one-man fisherman. Of course, it’s easier on the big guys because they can absorb the cost, and they can also come up with tons of fish. There’s a lot of talk about sustainability and all that, but they’re driving out the people who make it sustainable.”

Riley, a San Diego native who looks more like a football player than a fisherman, is one of the few in the business who don’t have a family tradition in the fishery. Because the Department of Fish and Game only issues a certain number of licenses to prevent overfishing and promote sustainability, many licenses are passed on to relatives. In fisheries like Riley’s, a license can cost $75,000.

“I’m lucky to be where I am,” he says. “I knew the right people at the right time.”

Riley explains that other than repairing and replacing his gear, fuel is his biggest expense. Additionally, he needs to buy bait and pay any crewmen he hires to help him on the Caitibeth.

“To be honest, I’ve never heard of any alternative to using gas to power our boats,” Riley says. “No matter what, we need that petroleum. What are we supposed to do, put sails back up on our boats?”

San Diego has been home to a vibrant fishing industry for thousands of years. Even before Cabrillo sailed into its big bay in 1542, Kumeyaay Indians were there fishing from canoes. Later, scores of Italian and Portuguese immigrants formed the backbone of prosperous fishing communities such as Point Loma and Little Italy. Until heavy regulations forced them to relocate to other countries in the 1980’s, the embarcadero was home to numerous tuna canneries and purse seiners; of all the fisheries in the world, those in the United States, and more specifically in California, are the most regulated.

According to the Port of San Diego, there are more than 130 commercial fishermen in the area, and their catch includes rock crab, California halibut, shark, rockfish, albacore tuna, spot prawns, swordfish, red sea urchins and the California spiny lobster.

San Diego's Tuna Fleet

The Port has also stressed the importance of the fishery upon the overall financial health of San Diego’s economy. A 2007 survey by Responsive Management, a research firm focused on public opinion, showed that 70 percent of Californians either moderately or strongly agreed that they like visiting working waterfronts, and even visit places specifically for that reason.

But that’s not all. People love to eat seafood.

According to a study conducted by the Port of San Diego in which restauranteurs, retailers and processors were interviewed, there is a high demand and interest for locally-caught seafood.   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that on average, Americans eat nearly 17 pounds of seafood each year, which is up from 12.5 pounds in 1980.

While prices of fuel are high enough for those who drive automobiles, prices are that much higher for fishermen who fill up at fuel docks.

“Marina fuel distributors appear to have a monopoly with no incentive to be competitive,” Utilities Consumers’ Action Network Gas Project manager Charles Langley states in an email. “Marina prices tend to be excessively high, and are in my opinion, often guilty of price gouging.”

“We have people that come in, and because the red diesel we sell doesn’t have any excise tax, people are upset because we’re not cheaper than people on the street,” says Erik Poole, the owner of High Seas Fuel Dock, a family-run business that has been operating on Shelter Island since 1972.

According to Poole, the costs of operating a fuel dock outweigh those of their street counterparts. And because the dock is floating in salt water, maintenance costs are extremely high. Additionally, because of safety reasons, fuel docks are full service operations; dock employees fuel the boats, rather than allowing boat owners to do it. The Coast Guard and the Department of Fish and Game have strict regulations in place for fuel docks in order to prevent spills.

“Also, if I could have a girl sitting behind a glass window selling cigarettes and soda pop, and it was completely self-serve like gas stations, yeah I could lower my prices big time,” Poole says.

In fact, business for the fuel docks has declined recently, and owners have struggled just like the fishermen who buy gas from them. Poole points out a cold spell last summer that limited the number of sportfishing boats going out on trips. Big boats mean big numbers, and High Seas offers discounts for volume, or what Poole considers to be a kind of transaction fee in order to keep customers.

Poole also says that he sold half a million gallons less of diesel in 2010 than he did in 2009. “In fact, I’m still owed a lot of money,” he says. “Not just from sport fishing guys, but from other companies with boats who couldn’t pay because it was such a horrible year.”

“As far as a gouging and a monopoly,” Poole continues, “There’s four fuel docks in San Diego Bay, and we’re all competing for business. A majority of the year, for about seven months, it’s pretty slim pickings. We fight tooth and nail for sales.”

Fuel Dock, San Diego Bay

 Poole also makes clear that if High Seas were the only fuel dock in San Diego Bay, he would have no problem lowering his prices, simply because of the increase of business it would create.

And while fuel costs are as high as they are, fishermen such as Riley are reliant upon markets such as Chesapeake Fish Company, where he often sells his catch, to set a price that reflects the costs he has to incur. And of course, there has to be a demand for what he catches in order to turn a profit.
The prices of certain species of fish are affected even more.

According to Sean Shannon, who owns El Pescador Restaurant and Fish Market in La Jolla, prices of harpooned swordfish will soon be on the rise. Swordfish caught this way require not just a boat, but also employ a spotter plane that tells the boat where to go.

Shannon has also noticed some fisherman not finishing a season, but instead dropping out when the fishing gets slower.

“They’ll say ‘forget it, I’m not going to go out there and spend one hundred fifty bucks on fuel and get ten lobsters, so they’ll just quit for the season. So that’s another effect that it has on us,” he says.
El Pescador, which opened in 1974, sells a great deal of locally caught fish from June to November.

“My prices will go up,” Shannon says. “But I’ll usually kind of absorb it for a period of time and maybe bump it.”

Riley, like many fishermen, has to be versatile in order to make a decent living, and also fishes other species.
From April to September, the off-season for lobster, he’s really a jack of all trades in the fishery.

According to another Port of San Diego study, commercial fishery-related workers earned an average of $40,026 in 2008, which is some $6,000 less than the average county worker.

“Right now I’m getting to the point of wanting to go out more,” Riley says. “You know, there’s a lot of fish coming up and a lot more stuff I can be doing, so gas is going to be a big concern for me.”

Despite the hazards of the job, and its many financial pitfalls, Riley reveals a deep-rooted passion for what he does, and doesn’t plan on letting anything stop him from taking the Caitibeth out for another trip to the grounds.

“I’d never do anything else,” he says with an enormous smile. “Nothing beats it. I love being out on the water, and I love being my own boss.”

The Shepherd of Occupy Seattle

Amidst the hordes of chanting young protestors in Seattle’s Westgate park stands 45-year-old Delmar Bryant. But Bryant isn’t the garden variety protestor. And if you couldn’t figure that out on your own, the words written on two pieces of tape attached to the front of his jacket may give you a better idea. Scrawled in black ink, they read: Ministerial Staff.

As a Christian minister, Bryant felt an obligation to participate in the Occupy Seattle protests, praying over not just the demonstrators, but the police officers who are there to make sure that all remains safe and peaceful. And just like the other participants, Bryant has been camped out in the rain for four days. He’s also carrying his own cardboard sign which reads: “If you need a prayer, just ask.”

“I’ve never been in a protest about anything in my life,” he says. “And I wanted to be here in a nonviolent way. Any violence and I’m out of here.”

Originally from Guthrie, Oklahoma, Bryant has lived in Seattle for three years. In addition to counseling friends and family, he also sings in the choir at Seattle’s University Presbyterian Church. And while he is a minister without a specific congregation, he feels a need to look after people, even when it may bring him into potentially volatile situations like that of the Occupy Seattle protests.

“I understand that we don’t want the police to police us,” repeats a growing crowd of protestors behind Bryant, taking the cue from several people standing high atop a wall. “We also need to be accountable for accurate information,” they say.

While the protestors maintain a peaceful disposition about them, none ever really shouting, the air is thick with tension as Seattle Police watch from under the awnings adjacent to the park, an area they have set as off-limits to the protestors.

“Two days ago, a bunch of these people went and sat down right there on Fourth Avenue blocking traffic,” says Bryant, pointing to the street next to the park. “The police came and told them to move, and they got up and moved.”

On the other side of Bryant, another large group of protestors mill around the edges of the park, many carrying homemade signs that read things like, “You are the 99 percent! Wake up! No more corporate control of congress!”

What looks to be a chaotic scene is actually a very choreographed and organized demonstration. There is an information booth set up, and a primitive display of the leadership is detailed on a board there, explaining the different colored armbands made of tape. Different colors represent those who, for example, have medical and legal training. Nearby is a large tent containing food and water for the protestors, all of which has been donated by both individuals and businesses.

According to Bryant, the water and food supply have reached critical stages several times. But after administering prayers for them to be replenished, someone always appeared with donations. Bryant sees those situations as nothing short of miracles.

Bryant plans to stick out the protests in Westgate Park, and sees his role as an important one, making sure that everyone is safe.

“There are a lot of bright young people here,” he says with a smile. “They are going to be potential future leaders.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reduction in Force

Cuts made to the Cajon Valley Union School District preschool program.

When Barbara Rymer began teaching preschool in the Cajon Valley Union School District in 1983, she never could have envisioned being laid off just two years shy of receiving her full retirement. But this is exactly what happened.

Initially, Rymer, along with nearly 200 other teachers received a RIF notice, which stands for ‘reduction in force’, more commonly known as a pink slip. School districts in California are required to give them to employees by March 15 each year if there is the possibility of layoffs. When each of the 24 preschool teachers in the district received pink slips, rumors circulated that the state-funded preschool program was going to be cut. But the district refused to admit that it was on the chopping block.

While some of the pink slips handed out were rescinded at an April 25 contract hearing, Rymer’s was not. In fact, each of the 24 preschool teachers in the district lost their jobs. It was at that hearing that the district finally admitted to the end of the preschool program.

Rymer, who recently turned 60, has a passion for teaching children. Just one day after learning her fate, and the fate of the program she has been so passionately devoted to for nearly three decades, she stands with an enormous smile before her preschool students at Sevick Elementary, maintaining a positive and cheery disposition. She wears a bright pink shirt that reads, “Got Preschool?” which was made by the preschool teachers at Cajon Valley.

Nearly forty years ago, Rymer began volunteering at the preschool at her church, then started taking child development classes. After working as an aide for several years, she became a teacher. A friend referred her to the Cajon Valley Union School District in 1983.

“My favorite part of teaching these kids is allowing them to achieve independence,” she says. “I like to see when they’re able to do things for themselves.”

The state-funded preschool program is designed so that children from low-income families can prepare for kindergarten. Rymer sees the program as essential for many of her students, and an invaluable resource for young children.

 Rymer is not alone in this opinion. According to the Child Trends Data bank, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, “Participation in high quality early childhood care and education programs can have positive effects on children’s cognitive, language, and social development, particularly among children at risk.” 

There are unforgettable looks of amazement and wonder in the children’s eyes as Rymer sits before them reading a book about insects, and she listens attentively as they raise their hands to tell her about the bugs they have come across in their own homes.  

“What they get here is all they’re going to learn about books and reading,” she says. “So those kids are just going to get lost in the shuffle when they get to kindergarten.”

The Cajon Valley Union School District blames the state budget deficit, which is nearing $27 billion, for cuts they’ve made. Governor Jerry Brown had hoped to bridge the budget shortfall by holding a special election to vote on tax extensions, but as it turned out, voters in California didn’t agree. The district was hoping for those extensions to keep the state from deferring payments, but is now facing a $7.6 million deficit in the 2011-2012 school year.

According to Cajon Valley School District Superintendant Janice Cook, in the next year, 45 percent of the funds that the state owes them will not be provided until the following school year. 

The district, who can’t defer payments to its employees and suppliers, must rely upon its reserves to meet those financial obligations, Cook says.

In the last two years, Rymer has seen her pay drop roughly 13 percent, including furlough days. Her insurance co-pay has risen from nothing to over $200 per month. Additionally, Rymer, along with many teachers in the district, spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars out of their own pockets for supplies in their classrooms, supplies that are not provided by the district.

“Our employees have made huge concessions,” Cook says. “They have accepted furlough days and reductions in salary…yet, they continue to work hard.”

Christopher Prokop, President of the Cajon Valley Teacher’s Union, has been an outspoken critic of the district, and believes that they have not done all they can to keep the teachers from losing their jobs. Prokop claims that in addition to the school board overstating their cost and understating their revenue, they also underestimate the budget by half.

According to budget projection documents from the 2009-2010 school year, the Cajon Valley District began with a balance of$38,806,431. When the year ended, the balance was $34,376,956, just over $17 million more than the $17 million that had been projected. Records from ending balances of the previous 8 years show an average of 206 percent of over-projection.

While Prokop agrees that the state is certainly at fault for the current fiscal crisis, he also feels that the district is planning for worst-case scenarios that never come to fruition. 

At a March 22 school board meeting, many of the teachers who were given pink slips showed their solidarity by wearing black clothing and packing the board chambers. During a public forum, several teachers, and one student, spoke of their distaste of the manner in which the board and the district is treating its teachers.

“Superintendent Cook is one of the highest paid superintendents in the county of San Diego,” said one teacher during the forum. “She’s taken raises while we’ve all had our pay cut.”

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Janice Cook’s current base salary of $203,304 is among the highest of the 45 districts in San Diego County. Her total compensation is nearly $250,000, and according to her contract, that number includes a $360 a month expense account, and a $400 dollar a month mileage allowance. She has, however, taken reductions in her salary in recent years, and has also been forced to take furlough days like other staff members.

“I requested that the Board not provide any raises allowed in my contract starting in 2009 when the current fiscal crisis began,” Cook says. 

Cook's contract also shows that she has not received a salary increase since 2008 when she was given a raise of 3 percent.

According to Cook, if an all-cuts budget is adopted by the state, the Cajon Valley District will lose no less than $330 per student, which equals $5 million per year.

“I truly believe that we are damaging a generation of students and we will lose a generation of teachers who just don’t want to deal with the uncertainty any longer,” Cook says. “There has to be a better way of doing things and I hope the Legislature and the Governor work together to permanently solve this problem.”

Just two years short of receiving her full retirement benefits, Rymer is in a difficult position. Her 62-year-old husband is also near retirement. She doesn’t like the prospect of having to pay for health insurance until age 65, when she would be eligible for Medicare.

Rymer’s last day at Sevick Elementary is May 10.

“Probably what I’ll do is go on unemployment until I’m eligible to retire,” she says. “But if I walk away from here, I don’t know if I would want to go back to working at a school. I just don’t know if I could start over somewhere.”

Saturday, April 30, 2011

National University's Third Annual Eco Fair

"Save Green by Going Green"

National University's Spectrum Campus hosted the third annual Eco Fair Apr. 16. This year's theme was "Save Green by Going Green", and focused upon household products that promote energy sustainability.

Spectrum's main hall and front entrance were filled with over 25 companies and organizations promoting their products and services.

This year's fair wasn't short of entertainment, either. The musical group Caprice Strings, which was set up near the reception area, charmed visitors with melodious sounds of the violin, viola, and cello.

Among the groups represented at the Eco Fair was Project Wildlife, an organization that cares for injured or displaced wildlife including bats, raccoons, and deer. "We get about 10,000 animals in a year," said Project Wildlife volunteer Cindy Meyers. "And we rehabilitate and get them ready for eventual release."
In order to show visitors an example of the animals that Project Wildlife rehabilitates on a regular basis, Meyers brought along a Mexican Free-tailed Bat, which she referred to as an "animal ambassador". "This bat came to us five years ago and all the fingers in his left hand were broken," she said. Since the bat can no longer fly, Project Wildlife applied for a permit to keep him as a non-releasable educational animal.

In addition to the many organizations and companies present, there were several student presentations from an NU environmental science course, and from students of National University Academy, which is a charter school for K-12 students that utilizes several National University campuses.

The 2011 Eco Fair was planned and organized by professors Mike Maxwell, Melinda Campbell, Annette Cyr, Maryam Davodi-Far, Huda Makhkuf, and was sponsored by NU's Center for Cultural and Ethnic Studies, and Ssubi Beads.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tackling San Diego's Homeless Situation

A new settlement gives the SDPD the ability to ticket people for sleeping on the street.
After a three-year legal battle with homeless advocates, the San Diego Police Department is now able to step up efforts to reduce the problem of people sleeping on the streets.

2007 saw a lawsuit against the city by homeless advocates who didn't feel it was fair for the homeless to be ticketed when they had nowhere to go. For three years, the SDPD was not allowed to issue citations to the homeless between 9 p.m and 5:30 a.m.

A settlement was reached in the lawsuit in Feb. which would allow the SDPD to enforce the illegal lodging laws, but there is one stipulation: the police can only cite a violator if there are no beds available at shelters, or if the person contacted refuses help.

In a Feb. press conference, city Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the law will help to not only to clean up the streets, but it will help people who are in desperate need of treatment.

According to Sergeant Rick Schnell, who heads up the Homeless Outreach Team of the SDPD, there have only been a few cases of persons being cited for refusing help.

Anyone who has visited the downtown area can see the problem for themselves; scores of homeless are camped out along sidewalks and in parks, causing concerns for residents and business owners.

Visitors to San Diego have also taken note of the problem. In a February letter to the editor in the San Diego Union-Tribune, a tourist from Auckland, New Zealand wrote a fairly scathing account of his experience in seeing the number of people sleeping on the streets.

"Where am I supposed to go?" exclaimed Ralph Horstman. "Great, they can force me out, but I have nowhere to go." Horstman, a 62-year-old-homeless veteran of the Vietnam War, moves from place to place to avoid scrutiny from the police.

According to Sgt. Schnell, the SDPD does not target the homeless, and usually will only contact them when there are complaints from residents or business owners.

Bob McElroy, chairman and CEO of the homeless advocacy group the Alpha Project, feels that the law puts a burden on police officers. "It's not the cop's job," he said.

What the city really needs to do is build some new shelters," said Schnell. "That's what's going to help the situation."

 The city is currently trying to get a permanent shelter built which would have 220 beds.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Man Arrested in Santee After SWAT Standoff

A Santee neighborhood is evacuated.
Several homes in a Santee neighborhood were evacuated Mar. 16 when the San Diego sheriff's SWAT team responded to an alleged kidnapping. The standoff resulted after a man reportedly took his girlfriend hostage. Neighboring homes were evacuated for over four hours.
Authorities were alerted to the 10900 block of Chantilly Court about 5 a.m. after a neighbor called to report that they had heard a disturbance, sheriff's deputies said.
When deputies arrived, the suspect, 31-year-old Sean Arevalo, refused to come out of the house, then took his girlfriend hostage. "He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the room," said Sergeant Tom Poulin of the San Diego Sheriff's Department. Arevalo also refused to speak to deputies and was armed with a knife, Poulin said.
The sheriff's SWAT team was notified and quickly arrived on the scene. Several neighbors were also evacuated.
Phyllis Birrouty, who lives three houses away, was out watering her flowers when sheriff's deputies, detectives, and members of the SWAT team arrived.
"A man came up and said ‘ma'am, we're having a hostage situation. This isn't the best place for you to be', so I went inside," she said.
"They looked like they were going off to war," said Joseph Birrouty, describing the SWAT team. "I've never seen anything like that before."
The standoff lasted until about 10:40 a.m. when the SWAT team made entry into the home using a flash grenade, Poulin said. "The suspect was then taken into custody without incident," he said.
According to sheriff's deputies, Arevalo was a former resident of the home, but was kicked out when he and a female roommate had a dispute. On Mar. 10, deputies arrested Arevalo after he threatened to shoot the female roommate. She was in the process of filing a temporary restraining order against him.
Dan Steele, who lives two houses away, has noticed sheriff's deputies arriving at the home numerous times in the several months that the tenants have rented there. In what he describes as a community of "quiet, hard-working people", the residents of the home were not well-liked.
"I'd like to see them go," said Steele. "It's just a bad environment."
Arevalo is scheduled to be arraigned Mar. 18.

Preliminary Hearing For Murder and Arson Suspect Postponed

A man accused of murdering his estranged wife to appear in court Mar. 30.

The preliminary hearing for the estranged husband of a woman whose body was found burned on the UCSD campus last October has been postponed until Mar. 30. 50-year-old Julio Angel Garcia-Puente is accused of murdering his wife, 38-year-old Carlsbad resident Lorena Gonzalez, then burning her body.
According to Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney, a witness for the prosecution was not able to make the initial Mar. 10 preliminary hearing, and a motion to postpone was filed. "The witness is out-of-state," she said.
Garcia-Puente first appeared in court Nov. 10, and pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and arson. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

Firefighters discovered Gonzalez's charred remains when they responded to a vehicle fire in the 1600 block of Voight Drive Oct. 30. According to police, neither the suspect nor the victim were in any way connected with UCSD; the reason her body was placed there remains a mystery. Garcia-Puente is accused of burning Gonzalez's body to destroy the evidence of her murder, police said.
The Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy on Gonzalez's remains Nov. 1. The cause of her death was strangulation, police said.  "Initially the cause of death was sealed because they didn't want the suspect to learn we knew that it was a homicide and he would flee, which he did anyway," said  Sergeant David Johnson of the San Diego Police Department.
Shortly after Gonzalez's body was discovered, Garcia-Puente was named a suspect by San Diego police. According to authorities, he was an unemployed transient who frequented Carlsbad and San Marcos. Additionally, Garcia-Puente was not a legal resident of the United States. He was later found in Tijuana by Mexican police Nov. 5, and surrendered to US authorities at the port of entry in San Ysidro.
According to a search warrant affidavit, neighbors of Gonzalez told police that she had changed her locks to protect herself from Garcia-Puente, whom she had described as abusive. The couple had been having marital difficulties, but no restraining orders were ever filed, police said.
If convicted of both charges, Garcia-Puente could face 26 years to life, Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney said.

Mubarak Steps Down After Egyptian Protests

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak hands power over to the military.
After 18 days of protests on the streets of Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak agreed to relinquish power Feb.11. Mubarak is rumored to have fled the country.
Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on Egyptian television Feb. 11.
Elated Egyptians flooded the streets in celebration, many chanting "God is great!" and setting off fireworks. The Middle-East News Agency reported that many people had fainted as a result of the news. There were also reports of several heart attacks.
"President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as President and has assigned the Higher Council of the Armed Forces to run the affairs of the country," said Suleiman.

Following Suleiman's announcement, the Swiss government has also announced that they have frozen all Mubarak's assets, including those of his family.
"By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people's hunger for change," said President Obama. "…For Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day."
Perhaps inspired by the Jan. uprising in Tunisia, the protests began Jan. 25 with demonstrators demanding that Mubarak step down immediately, ending what many have called a ruthless regime.
Because most of the demonstrators were sharing information via social networks and cell phones, Mubarak had ordered all phone towers and internet connections shut off. But the protests continued.
The streets of Cairo erupted in chaos, with protestors squaring off with both Mubarak's security forces, and with the Egyptian military. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have lost their lives in the demonstrations since Jan. 25.

Originally, Mubarak had agreed to relinquish power after the country's September elections, but this did not satisfy the people in the streets. In a Feb. 10 speech, Mubarak stated that he was handing power over to Vice President Suleiman. But there was no mention of resignation.
It is unclear what the next step will be for the Egyptian government. According to Egyptian military officials, the army is meeting to decide what to do with Mubarak's parliament. They will also decide when to hold an election.
Egypt does have a constitution, which was implemented in 1971, and it calls for the election of a new leader within 60 days. But it is uncertain if that stipulation will be enforced; Mubarak's decision to hand over the government to the military was obviously unconstitutional.
But despite these details, most Egyptians remain optimistic about their future and the new freedoms they stand to gain with the regime change.

*Information contained in this article was gathered from CNN & The Associated Press

The 2011 State of the Union Address

Obama: "The Idea of America Endures."
President Barack Obama delivered the second State of the Union Address of his presidency January 25 to a divided Congress. The main points of his speech included the economy, education, innovation, and bipartisan cooperation.
Because the mid-term elections gave Republicans control of the House, Obama focused upon the need for bipartisan support. As a symbol of that support, some lawmakers chose to sit with members of the opposing party. The act, an idea of Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), was unprecedented; for over 100 years, lawmakers have sat divided at State of the Union Addresses.
“What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow… That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us,” said Obama.
While the idea showed a desire for bipartisanship, a majority of the 535 members of Congress did not participate.
In light of the recent tragedy in Tucson, the President mentioned Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from gunshot wounds.
“…we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague and friend…” he said.
“…Tucson went on to remind us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater,” he added. “Something more consequential than party or political preference.”
Many gun-control advocates later criticized the President for not using the tragedy in his speech to lobby for tougher gun laws. Among the groups that were critical included the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. A Jan. 31 Tweet from the group read, “Hold President Obama to his promise to speak out about our nation’s insane gun laws!”
As most Americans are concerned with the state of the economy, Obama explained that the stock market has rebounded from what he called “the worst recession that many of us have ever known.” He went on to claim that tax cuts are responsible for helping along businesses with new investments, and that more than a million jobs in the private sector were added last year.
Education was another of Obama’s key points, and he made several references to global competition, naming China and India as some of America’s strongest competitors.
“When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test,” he said. “The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.”
Obama used the topic of education to discuss illegal immigration, calling for an end to the deportation of students who are the children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are deported after they’ve received advanced degrees here. “It makes no sense,” he said
Calling the issue of illegal immigration a difficult one, Obama stated that he wished to work with Democrats and Republicans both to protect the borders, and to address the issue of millions of undocumented workers who are currently living in the United States.
In terms of technological innovation, The President called for Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” He added that the government needs to assist companies in basic research, which in turn will spur technological advances.

Obama also tackled the subject of the crumbling infrastructure.
“We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges,” he said.
The President proposed to pay for this work by private investment. He also insisted that all infrastructure projects be chosen according to what is best for the economy, not by politicians.
The President touched briefly upon the health care debate, stating that he was more than willing to listen to ideas in how to fix the situation.
‘What I’m not willing to do is to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone’s coverage because of a preexisting condition,” he said.
Another hot-button issue is the national deficit. Obama claimed that the overspending began many years before he took office, and proposed a five year freeze on domestic spending. He admitted that many of the cuts were going to be painful.
“I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without,” said Obama. “But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
He went on to discuss reducing health care costs, and strengthening Social Security. The President also reinforced his idea that extensions of tax cuts for the wealthy should not be made permanent. He said that it was not meant as a punishment for their success, but a means of promoting America’s success. In addition, he plans to attempt to simplify the individual tax code.
Discussing the situation in Iraq, Obama stated that members of the armed forces have left that country proudly, having done their jobs well. He also claimed that the people of Afghanistan are safer today because of American troops, and that the Afghan government will soon be capable of self-reliance. In July, he plans to begin the process of bringing troops home from the region.
The President is also calling for new alliances with nations like Chile, Brazil, and El Salvador, and will be traveling to those countries in March. He stressed the importance of cooperation with other nations, and also the importance of enforcing tighter sanctions on countries that refuse to abandon a commitment to nuclear weapons.
Obama closed his speech by recognizing business owner Brandon Fisher, whose small company in Berlin, PA designed and built the drilling equipment that would eventually rescue the trapped miners in Chile.
“From the earliest days of our founding,” said Obama, “America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.”