San Diego Lonnie Glasco shows off photos of a bevy of 18-wheelers and cars parked up and down his street, Dunbar Lane, in the East County community of Blossom Valley. Pictured also are vehicles strewn all over the hillside field immediately to the east of his home. The scene comes from the time Interstate 8 was shut down due to the Viejas fire in January 2001. It repeated itself with a vengeance during the recent Cedar fire.
In the photo, a large truck with the hazardous materials placard on its side sits directly in front of Glasco's house, which is one of the first homes on Dunbar off the freeway. "We couldn't get out," he says, emphasizing that what happened that day is far from an isolated incident. On Labor Day weekend, it took only a small hillside fire on the opposite side of the freeway to cause the same kind of blockage. Every time a fire occurs in the area, or an accident on the freeway nearby, law enforcement diverts traffic onto Dunbar Lane, the local exit off the freeway. Similar events have occurred at least four or five times since Glasco and his wife built their house and moved into it three years ago.
A group of local residents had been trying to impress these facts onto the Cajon Valley Union School District when the Cedar fire stormed the area, burning 30 homes and other structures on Dunbar Lane. The district has plans to build a middle school next door to Glasco, on the site that his photo shows to be filled with vehicles waiting out the Viejas fire. Unlike that fire, the Cedar fire didn't spare the property, burning off its brush and reducing it to a blackened hillside studded with embedded boulders.
Now the Cajon Valley District is attempting to turn the logic of this warning on its head. According to the November 14 East County edition of the Union-Tribune, Wayne Oetken, assistant superintendent of business, is promising homeowners on Dunbar Lane that the cleared areas, fire-retardant materials, and parking lots of the new Los Coches Creek School, projected to open in fall 2006, will help protect the community should another fire approach. Also, says Oetken, seven fire hydrants planned for installation will allow the school to be "a major tank-up facility for fire crews."
But this tactic sidesteps the issue of any emergency access in and out of the area. "We're saying to the school," Glasco argues, "that if there is not a secondary access put in for us to get out, and you come in with all these kids, you could get trapped in here sometime as well." But the Cajon Valley district maintains the environmental impact report written for the middle-school project does not express a need for secondary access to the school site.
A maze of intersections sits at the base of Dunbar Lane closest to the north side of Interstate 8 and within several hundred feet of the proposed school. Bridon Road descends from the hill to the north before turning abruptly right into Dunbar. Not even a block south, Chocolate Summit Drive intersects it after dropping off an eastern hill. And directly across the street from this point, Old Highway 80 ends at Dunbar. Bridon, Chocolate Summit, and Dunbar all dead-end to the north. Old Highway 80 runs toward San Diego, but it is often closed, too, when emergencies occur on I-8, which runs parallel.
Students, parents, and visitors to the proposed school would approach it from the first leg of Dunbar Lane, which eventually jogs to the left, and then onto a new link to Bridon Road running along the school's western side. "They are saying that they're going to improve the road," says Glasco, "but all they're going to do is realign it. And they're not even widening the street. Dunbar right now is 36 feet wide. Part of the new road that they plan to put in, which isn't a through road, will only be 28 feet wide."
If built, the new school will sit on a plane where a gradual slope now leads to a hilltop. Cut-and-fill work will gash the hill on the school's east side, while on its west, new dirt will raise the level by 20 feet.
Evelyn Provaznik, president of the Dunbar Lane Task Force, cites the danger posed by boulders embedded in the earth higher up the hill. Even before the recent fires burned off ground cover around them, she says, "The environmental impact report stated that the boulders could become unstable in an earthquake or heavy rains. One of those boulders is 10 or 15 feet in diameter. To protect the school property and children, they're putting in a ditch and a berm with a chain link fence on top of it." Provaznik tells a story she heard that a bulldozer working on a nearby hill once dislodged a boulder that rolled down and smashed the contractor's truck. She wonders whether the school's precautions will be enough.
In the current plans for the school, a gate will allow buses to enter its southernmost grounds. And local residents can expect to see many buses, since estimations are that 60 percent of the school's eventual 1200 students will have to be bused in. That's because the Dunbar Lane site chosen by Cajon Valley lies at the eastern limit of its district, almost in Alpine.
District superintendent Janice Cook, who has been on the job a year, explains why her new colleagues chose a middle-school site so far from the center of their jurisdiction. First of all, she says, "It is a challenge to find any place to build a new school in the district. And then, the area around Dunbar Lane is growing."
At one time the district considered a flat area near the Map Center exit off westbound I-8 as the middle school's location. Behind the freeway and to the northwest, sprawling palatial estates are visible. They have been built to stand out: white stucco walls, entry posts, red tile roofs -- a few even have horse corrals.