Donna Tisdale’s home office looks like something out of an episode of the TV show Hoarders. Paperwork spills off a crowded desk. Boxes are strewn on the floor. Every inch of space is consumed with reports, educational mailers, studies, and oversized maps of green-energy projects slated for the community of Boulevard.
“Unfortunately, this is my full-time job right now,” she says. “It’s a whirlwind. Sometimes I stay up all night. Basically, it’s a shit storm, and it’s coming from all angles: our federal government, our state government, and our local government. They all want these green-energy projects.”
California has mandated that by 2020, 33 percent of our energy must come from renewable sources. As of 2010, only 14.5 percent of California’s energy came from renewable sources, resulting in a push to create more solar and wind farms. In 2012, California’s wind-energy generation soared, and we are now second in the nation for wind-generated electricity.
The community of Boulevard is transitioning into an industrial, green-energy zone. Wind and solar companies have descended on the area with plans to erect wind turbines, solar panels, electric substations, and access roads. Iberdrola’s Tule Wind (15,000 acres), Invenergy’s Shu’luuk (4739 acres), and Enel’s Jewel Valley (8000 acres) are all green-energy projects currently in the works for this small backcountry community. If they are approved, thousands of acres in Boulevard will be consumed.
Donna Tisdale is doing her best to prevent it.
Attempting to find Tisdale’s Morning Star Ranch, I make a wrong turn at an oak tree and end up on a rocky dirt path surrounded by horses and pick-up trucks. I consult a map.
A man in a dusty sedan bearing a “Where in the Hell is Boulevard?” bumper sticker pulls up beside me.
“Where are you headed?” he drawls.
I mention Morning Star Ranch and the man nods. “You’re trying to get to Donna’s?”
He scrolls through his cell phone. “I should have her phone number in here. I can call her.” But his search does not yield a result. Instead, he rattles off the names of a few roads. Then, “you wanna go past a group of Budweiser horses and turn at a cluster of mailboxes near an oak tree. That will take you down a dirt road. Keep on driving, even after you see ‘No Trespassing’ signs. When you go past the sign that says ‘No Off Road Vehicles,’ you’ll be on her property. She has a big gate with cowboys on it. You can’t miss it.”
He sends me off with a friendly wave.
I follow his directions, ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs, and wind up on a dirt road reserved for the Border Patrol. I stop my vehicle near the big metal fence. A patrol agent with a gun holstered to his hip and binoculars around his neck approaches my vehicle. To my relief, he is also familiar with Donna.
“Everyone around here knows Donna,” he says. “She’s like the unofficial mayor of Boulevard. She’s a local hero.”
The agent draws a map in the dirt with his steel-toed boot. I take a photo with my phone.
“If you get lost again, knock on someone’s door. Anyone around here can tell you how to get to the Tisdale ranch.”
Ten minutes later, I drive through a gate that features an large wooden sign with three cowboys on horseback. Underneath it reads: “We don’t dial 911.” I have found the Tisdale ranch.
A tail-wagging beige mutt greets me. Behind him, a horse stands lazily in its pen near a hillside covered with tangled chaparral blackened by the Shockey Fire, which ripped through Boulevard in the fall of 2012.
Tisdale opens her screen door and without a word guides me through her kitchen and into the dining room. She motions for me to take a seat at a round dining table. She stands next to a group of large maps and immediately gets down to business, handing me a stack of paperwork on green energy. She then goes into a lengthy explanation of where the turbines and solar panels will be placed. The presentation is like a college lecture. It’s clear she’s done this before — many times.
Five minutes in, she’s interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s a neighbor, a petite, middle-aged woman with jet-black hair. The woman hands Tisdale a 50-dollar check to help fund the educational mailers that she sends out to the community.
“People do what they can [to help],” Tisdale says, “but most are working full-time or have kids in school. Frankly, this is so overwhelming for most people that they don’t know what to do.”
She points out the living-room window. “See that hill right there? We fought for 25 years to keep out the 600-acre Campo landfill.”
When the Campo Band of Mission Indians first proposed the landfill in the late 1980s, Donna and her husband Ed Tisdale contended that it would have negative impacts on the community of Boulevard. The dump, they believed, would create pollution and poison water wells. Tisdale created the Backcountry Against Dumps organization. She educated the community and got the citizens of Boulevard involved in fighting the landfill. As a result, in 2010 the Campo tribe voted it down.
“They had permits and everything,” Tisdale says proudly. And now, “after all that, the same location is going to be used for 300 acres of solar panels.”
Tisdale grew up down the hill in Imperial County, in Brawley, and has resided in Boulevard for over 30 years. She feels an obligation to protect her community’s beauty and integrity.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything when the Southwest Power Company came through here in the ’80s. I was pretty young, in my 20s, and I didn’t understand what was happening. Looking back now, it was as big of a fraud as all these other green-energy projects. But when the Kumeyaay wind turbines went up [on land adjacent to Boulevard], we thought, They are clean and green.”