Carolyn Morrow, a resident of Grapevine Canyon, near Ranchita, remembers a presentation SDG&E gave on Sunrise during a meeting at the Warner Springs high school. “It was a very complicated project,” she says. “All of us, by now, have had different experiences with it and learned a lot in the process. It’s a David and Goliath story.
“I have 160 acres in Grapevine Canyon, where I raise horses,” Morrow continues. “It’s in an agricultural preserve, which means we can’t develop it or sell pieces of it off. Quite a few landowners out in this area have agricultural preserves. If Sunrise is allowed, they would be commercializing something that is not supposed to be commercialized. A 69-kilovolt line now runs right through our property. It’s the same line that runs through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. And that’s the route they want to take for the Sunrise Powerlink.”
I ask Morrow if her property would be subject to eminent domain.
“They only do eminent domain if you refuse to sell at a negotiated price. A real estate lawyer told me that SDG&E would have to buy our entire ranch, as the line would make it unusable. They want to put one of those awful towers right in the middle of my driveway.”
Morrow is worried about the effects the powerlink would have on towns in east San Diego County. “Julian, Borrego Springs, Warner Springs, Santa Ysabel, and Ramona, all those towns are reliant on tourists. And if Sunrise goes through, with all the construction and disarray, those are going to be ghost towns, because the roads out here are two-lane. And they’re going to construct not just the power line but 130 miles of access roads to support it.
“After the fires in October, when they were trying to remove trees that fell in the road and fix the telephone and electricity wires between Santa Ysabel and Ramona, some days it would take two hours to get to Ramona. Normally it takes 40 minutes. That kind of thing is going to destroy the tourism out here. People aren’t going to want to sit in those traffic jams that the construction is going to cause.”
Morrow gained some notoriety after SDG&E workers started going onto her land. “I held them off,” she says. “I made them take me to court last year. SDG&E’s business and professional code says that if you deny them access, they have to take you to court.
“I don’t want people chasing around my property. What if somebody gets hurt? You know I’d be liable. And I wanted to have it stated in the court papers that I would not be liable. I mean, we have wild animals out here; we have mountain lions and bobcats and deer. And my neighbor has cows. What if one of them got out, which happens all the time? We have dead wells and gullies on our land. People that aren’t hikers could easily get hurt.
“The judge eventually allowed SDG&E workers access, but a very limited one. And they have to call and let me know in advance that they’re going to be on the property. They can only do surveying; they can’t displace any of the land. Before, they weren’t even telling us they were there. We’d just see them, and they’d take off without even telling us who they were. That really upset the judge. So he gave them a bunch of rules they have to abide by — and covered my liability issue.”
Have powerlink proponents accused Morrow of NIMBYism?
“Not anymore,” she says. “Not since they found out how many of us there are.” Morrow is a codirector of the “loosely knit” Community Alliance for Sensible Energy. The group has members from Ranchita, Warner Springs, Santa Ysabel, and Borrego Springs. She also works with Protect Our Communities Fund, which by now has raised $1.2 million to fight Sunrise.
There is a “community” organization that supports Sunrise as well, but it’s funded by SDG&E. The group is called Community Alliance for the Sunrise Powerlink. On its website, the organization lists numerous businesses, public agencies, politicians, and private individuals who back the project. The website offers playful videos portraying misguided alternative-energy solutions. The first shows two high school girls rubbing balloons on their clothing. The resultant static electricity turns on a bulb in one girl’s mouth. The other video features a wild-haired man chasing several weasels around a stage. He wants them, like hamsters in a wheel, to turn a generator belt attached to a juicer full of fruit.
On April 4, SDG&E’s alliance announced it was starting a campaign to educate the public on the benefits of Sunrise. To find out about the education, I called former San Diego councilwoman Barbara Warden of the Downtown San Diego Partnership. The alliance identifies Warden as one of its directors.
Several days later I received a call from Jonathon Heller, who works for SDG&E’s public relations firm Southwest Strategies. Heller asked what kind of information I wanted. He then promised to arrange for me an interview with a representative of the alliance. But he didn’t call back.
I Was Mad as Hell
In early 2006, the California Public Utilities Commission sent Sunrise back to the drawing board. In its application to have the project approved, SDG&E had not included a required Proponent’s Environmental Assessment. It wasn’t until August 4, 2006, that SDG&E was able to file its next application. Subsequently, the commission began holding scoping meetings.
Tim Stahl is a San Diego photographer who loves to spend time in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. He used to do contract work for SDG&E. “One time, the company was sending me out to Coronado,” he tells me. “I was supposed to take pictures where they planned to put underground power lines. Of course, the photos showed the overhead power lines still running in front of houses. I used Photoshop to take out the lines and power poles. Then the company could send out the shots and say, ‘See how much better your neighborhood will look without the lines up above.’