Origin of dirt (covered in plastic) at Southwest High is still under investigation
  • Origin of dirt (covered in plastic) at Southwest High is still under investigation
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Sweetwater Union High School District students return to campus July 25. Some people might wonder what the district has done with the 10,000 tons of dirt on the Southwest High campus, reported on by Channel 10 and the Reader in June. The short answer is — the district is still investigating.

According to the district, the dirt was moved to the Southwest High campus sometime in the spring of 2010. Where the dirt originated and who authorized it to be dumped there is still under investigation.

At a Sweetwater Bond Oversight Committee meeting on July 12, district representatives Dianne Russo and Paul Woods tried to respond to questions about the sequence of events from committee members.

In May 2012, the district paid $15,000 to have the dirt tested. According to Russo, the test results showed minimal levels of toxic substances. However, after the district received the testing results, the San Diego office of the California Water Quality Control Board told the district to get rid of the dirt within 90 days or pay fines.

Paul Woods told the committee that the Department of Toxic Substance Control asked the district why they were looking at the dirt. Woods said he was not certain that the department would put that in writing.

In the meantime, the district ordered the dirt to be removed for approximately $490,000.

Russo told the oversight committee, “We are still investigating. We found out after two days of work [removing the dirt] that the dirt is just dirt…it’s not contaminated. In fact, the report says if we want to redistribute the dirt on the campus, we can; but if we want to take the dirt and remove it from the campus, it has to go to a regulated landfill. So, we believe the price we’re paying to remove the dirt is too expensive. We’re having Otay landfill do some more testing and if that shows what the new proposal says, it is saving the district $250,000, so we’re willing to wait the two weeks to get that work done…but we’re still investigating.”

Members of the committee expressed frustration with the report and with the district’s process.

Member Bernardo Vasquez asked Russo and Woods, “Did we pay the full $15,000 for test results?” Russo answered “yes” and stated that the report showed no measurable results of toxins.

Member Kevin O’Neill asked, “Then how did it escalate to a purchase order of $500,000 for removing the dirt?”

Vasquez suggested that some steps had been missed in the process.

O’Neill expressed unhappiness that when he requested to see the test reports he was told to put in a public records request.

He also commented, “There’s no way the district is going to win on this. You're going to have egg on your face for jumping ahead and spending money that didn't need to be spent, allowing the dirt to be brought in without any documentation — you cannot win on how you handled things from the beginning to the end."

Russo did not return multiple phone calls Friday, July 13.

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eastlaker July 15, 2012 @ 3:05 p.m.

Again, this clearly demonstrates that the people who have been and currently are "in charge" in this school district are:

1) Incapable of honestly explaining what the situation is; 2) Uninterested in informing the public regarding the severity of the situation; 3) Completely unable to truly rectify the situation; and therefore 4) Acting the only way they know how--by throwing money at the problem. Money that really is not theirs to throw, as they have thrown teachers out of jobs--because they have run out of money.

Can we please stop this bunch of bunglers before they do any further damage?


Susan Luzzaro July 15, 2012 @ 5:14 p.m.

I believe it is worth noting that I have requested a copy of the original soil test/s that were performed. My request was forwarded to one of the district's attorneys.


anniej July 16, 2012 @ 11:07 a.m.

Susan: transparency - sweetwater does not know the meaning.


Jmbrickley July 16, 2012 @ 9:54 p.m.

Susan, if the dirt was clean, why the need for an attorney?


erupting July 16, 2012 @ 8:40 a.m.

I for one am glad that we have a no fear Prop O committee now. I recently read that Mr. O,Neill was involved in questionable Brown Act Violations by the Chula Vista City council. It will be interesting to see what these guys do from here on out. Ido not believe Ms Russois going to be able to control this team. I truly would like to know where the dirt came from. Someone ther knows. Maybe someone should ask Armstrong. The district let her go maybe she would be willing to talk. Where did Channel 10 disappear to?


Greenville July 16, 2012 @ 9:12 a.m.

Has anyone considered sending a delegation of citizens to a SDCOE board meeting? I'm pretty sure they follow Robert's Rules of Order and would accept public comments about the countless examples of crime, corruption and mismanagement that have surfaced over the past year or so. Take a rep from the media with you to emphasize your concern.

And at risk of beating a dead horse...someone had to let those trucks onto campus. There are people living in those homes overlooking the field. Has anyone talked to them? And speaking of the field, if the district has $500,000 to move the dirt, I say let's keep the dirt and use the half million to recondition that and other fields!


eastlaker July 16, 2012 @ 10:29 a.m.

Where to begin...the county Board of Education has been informed of all of this and more. They prefer to sit on their hands. Apparently there are some long-standing friendships that mean more than honesty and truthful public service. Or, maybe they like to think of it as biding their time until they can retire, pensions safely in hand, and someone else has to clean up the mess that accumulated on their watch. I wish things were as simple and easy to deal with as you suggest. The soil is still probably as toxic as the first testing indicated, but the $15,000 Sweetwater spent to retest appears to 'whitewash' the dirt. I am highly skeptical of any information that Brand or his paid lackeys provide. If Brand, etc, were honest, they would not have had to manipulate the agenda at the board meeting, thereby eliminating the public's right to speak. Brand is a thoroughly despicable character and the sooner he and his minions are gone, the better. This board and Brand have had ample opportunity to act in an honorable fashion, and they have failed miserably. To coin a new phrase, "They do not serve, who only serve themselves."


anniej July 16, 2012 @ 11:15 a.m.

Greenville: while i do not mean to speak for them, a group did go and speak before county board of ed last week. the result - well lets put it this way, like schultz in hogan heroes - they know nothing they do nothing.

according the county board of ed they basically have no control over sweetwater.

i wrote to the president of the county board of ed approximately 2 years ago, his emailed response was basically "we have no control over sweetwater".

so folks, i guess that about wraps up that idea -

Anderson Cooper has an investigative unit - that is my next step!

can you imagine that guy when he gets all of my attachments with all of The Reader and Union Tribune articles? i think my opening line will be "you have to read this to believe it" - and i will end with "no, we are not the sister city of bell, california; but we sure as hell feel like it".


Jmbrickley July 16, 2012 @ 9:57 p.m.

It would only take two questions to ascertain where the dirt came from, yet the SUHSD pretends to think it takes a higher degree in rocket science to find the truth.


erupting July 17, 2012 @ 8:12 a.m.

The last SCOE meeting is on their websit. It was televised. Take a look at the interaction of the board members. Do not miss the last 20min.


joepublic July 16, 2012 @ 10:48 a.m.

Mr. Woods says the Department of Toxic Substance Control asked why the district was looking at the dirt, implying there was nothing wrong with it. He then goes on to say he wasn't certain they would put that in writing. Why not? This sounds like a few of the "good ol' boys" talking instead of a communication between public agencies that are supposedly serving and protecting the public. Their findings should be in writing and posted for us all to see.


eastlaker July 16, 2012 @ 11:03 a.m.

Excellent deduction, outstanding conclusion.


anniej July 16, 2012 @ 11:04 a.m.

the dirt is here - the dirt is going the dirt is moving - the dirt is no longer moving the dirt is tested - it is bad the dirt is tested - it is not so bad the dirt is tested - well, it is sort of kinda bad

well the freakin dirt is still there, blowing in the winds of otay mesa, right into the condos of unsuspecting taxpayers and homeowners.

why is it that every single thing that brand touches seems to blow up in his face?

it is because he continues to try and outsmart the taxpaying public vs. simply speaking the truth and acting with integrity. then he goes on vacation and leaves russo to field the questions (which she apparently is refusing to do any longer - "russo did NOT answer numerous phone calls") and explain all of the bait and switch tactics.

the south bay has totally lost confidence in brand and is infuriated by the boards lack of presence on ANY of the issues.

i believe that a jury of their peers will take care of ricasa and quinones, and can not wait until jim cartmill and john mccann ARE GONE. at this point neither of them had better not set their aspirations on any public position - NOT EVEN DOG CATCHER.

the four are a total disgrace - THEY HAVE SOLD OUT THE STUDENTS OF SWEETWATER UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT - and basically abandoned the taxpayers of the south bay.


eastlaker July 16, 2012 @ 11:32 a.m.

anniej, I am starting to really wonder what is going on here in San Diego county. It is as if there is a communicable disease infecting the various 'leaders'--with Balboa Park being offered up to the biggest political donor...with Southwestern College still appearing to be in the hands of those undermining the public trust...and here in Sweetwater, with lists of problems, scandals, misappropriation of funds, probable (multiple) conspiracies, toxic dumping, lies, obfuscation, bumbling--and our fearless leaders with no shame carry on. They live to scheme another day.

It really looks like we are being abandoned. What a disappointment it is to realize this. We are being abandoned by those who are supposed to protect us. And they have become toxic specimens themselves.


anniej July 16, 2012 @ 3:01 p.m.

Eastlaker: the ONLY way we are going to get anything done is if more taxpayers start attending the board meetings and speaking out. discussions at Vons, dinner parties, or after a hole in one at Bonita golf course just isn't going to cut it.

it is one night a month, people where are you?????????????????? mccann and cartmill they are our neighbors - we need to hold them accountable. currently the only voice we have on the board is Lopez, but she can not do it alone - nor can the 'antagonists' - they need the masses - they are looking for reinforcements.

you know if john mccann took as much offense to the alleged corruption and cover up currently going on at the district level as he did to being called 'howdy doody' - oh hell, what am i talking about - this is john mccann - he took one of the antagonists to court after providing chula vista's Finest with a tape of the infamous comment and WE PAID FOR HIS LEGAL DEFENSE - and here i am expecting him to do what he was voted in to do. JOHN McCAIN, mccann is NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

just my opinion


oskidoll July 16, 2012 @ 11:39 a.m.

Sigh! It seems the San Diego County Office of Education just does not understand its role. In order to help them get it, here is a section posted from a document titled "Statutory Functions of County Board of Education and County Superintendents of Schools", available at www.scoe.org/files/statutory_function...

IV. GENERAL DUTIES OF COUNTY SUPERINTENDENTS OF SCHOOLS Education Code § 12402 describes the general statutory duties of the county superintendent. This section was significantly amended by the legislation enacted to implement the settlement of the Williams, et al v. State of California, et al. lawsuit. Section 1240 states that county superintendents shall: (a) Superintend the schools of his or her county. (b) Maintain responsibility for the fiscal oversight of each school district in his or her county. (c) (1) Visit and examine each school in his or her county at reasonable intervals to observe its operation and to learn of its problems.

While it seems the San Diego Office may not understand this statute, perhaps the Grand Jury can help dissuade them of the notion they are not responsible for these duties.


eastlaker July 16, 2012 @ 11:43 a.m.

Let us hope that is the case. How do we find out if the Grand Jury is paying attention? Or, as in film noir (of yore)...has someone gotten to them already?


anniej July 16, 2012 @ 3:03 p.m.

Eastlaker: you raise many good questions - it is my understanding that the new Grand Jury is getting ready to be seated. perhaps now is the time - 'antagonists' are you reading this?


erupting July 17, 2012 @ 8:23 a.m.

I attended the last SDCOE mtg. When the three of us left the mtg. One of the board members stated we can't help you. I proceeded to tell her that the Sweetwater said the same thing to us before we contacted the FBI and the DA's office. She walked away. Our request is supposed to be discussed next mtg. I do not have great hopes.


oskidoll July 16, 2012 @ 11:52 a.m.

You can always ask them that question. Here is a piece copied from their website www.sdcounty.ca.gov/grandjury

What is the jurisdiction of the San Diego County Civil Grand Jury? The San Diego County Civil Grand Jury has jurisdiction over all local governmental entities within the County of San Diego.


bonitaresident July 16, 2012 @ 8:27 p.m.

It appears things have gone from bad to worse in our once reputable community. The leadership, or lack thereof, that Dr. Brand, John McCann, Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa have shown leaves one speechless. Pearl Quinones was and has always been a no brainer, literally. Bertha Lopez appears to be the only board member who will not cow tail to the wishes of the others.

Talk of insolvency abound. If this happens the County Board of Education will have quite a bit of explaining to do.

It is time to once again bring in the Grand Jury as oskidoll suggests. They are no strangers to Sweetwater, Dr. Brand or Bond monies; as they were contacted under Proposition BB.

Perhaps if several taxpayers submit the paper work it will more than get their clear attention. What is happening here must be investigated by the highest authority.

I agree with others comments regarding the need for new board members. However, it must be established that anyone running has no ties, of any kind to Dr. Brand, John Mc Cann, Jim Cartmill, Arlie Ricasa, or Pearl Quinones. The last thing that is needed is more of the same. Origin of campaign contributions will be a major factor in the upcoming election, as will affiliations.


Jmbrickley July 16, 2012 @ 10:13 p.m.

"According to the district, the dirt was moved to the Southwest High campus sometime in the spring of 2010. Where the dirt originated and who authorized it to be dumped there is still under investigation."

Isn't "still under investigation" what they used two weeks ago? Get a clue.There are only two questions that need to be answered; who brought the dirt onto the campus? and where did it come from? The first can be answered by the Principal of the moment, and the second by the people who dumped it on the property. Give me the info and I could have your answer in 30 minutes. Yet, SUHSD needs weeeks and weeks to "investigate." Only a concerted effort to obfuscate the truth explains the obvious. Brand KNOWS where the dirt came from and he knows who brought it to SOH. He's just posturing for the public.


anniej July 16, 2012 @ 10:56 p.m.

Jmbrickley: brand posturing? tell me it isn't so!


Jmbrickley July 16, 2012 @ 10:21 p.m.

Look at the photo of the dirt once more. Look at it! Really look at it! Closely. Gee... where did the dirt come from? How did it appear here? Must be magic. I hear SUHSD has been "investigating" where it came from. It's beeen several weeks now, and they are still investigating. Yup, I says magic. One day it wasn't here, and the next day... shazam, there it was. Only in a fairy-tale...


anniej July 16, 2012 @ 10:55 p.m.

Jmbrickley: didn't howdy doody have magical powers? oh, that is right howdy doody was a dummy


anniej July 17, 2012 @ 7:10 a.m.

Jmbrickley: "LOOK AT THE PHOTO OF THE DIRT ONCE MORE" - i did and just had a thought.

think of the hundreds of students who have to look, and have HAD TO LOOK at that dirt for over a year now - day in and day out.

wow, what must they think of we adults, the ones supposedly charged with protecting them? bet they are wondering why they do not matter?


Jmbrickley July 17, 2012 @ 8:29 a.m.

What must they think of we adults? I already know. They stand up and turn their backs on the leadership of our district.


erupting July 17, 2012 @ 8:31 a.m.

Hopefully the kids won't loose another football season with home games. I understand the district folks call it Lake Armstrong int the wet weather because of the contamination of the backed up drainage problem, with the dirt on the drains. Isn't that a health issue? I guess Mt. Armstrong was deposited by those pesky neighborhood people Brand talked about,all 10 tons.


Badhand July 17, 2012 @ 9:36 a.m.

Haven't there been reports of a lot of drug tunnels to and from the border lately?

I think I know where the dirt is going.


anniej July 17, 2012 @ 5:04 p.m.

Badhand: now that is funny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


angrybirds July 17, 2012 @ 10:13 a.m.

Jesus criminy can this district get anything right!!!! Release the reports and if it is not toxic why the hell are you moving it and how the heck did 10 tons of dirt magically appear? You know now I understand those people who go to board meetings month after month and their frustration holy crap. If there is nothing wrong why the heck was it tested twice? If there was nothing wrong why does another agency say there is something wrong? Transparency my big fat a--, this board and the people who are running the district should be given a shovel to dig themselves out the pile of crap they are giving to the public and then start removing the dirt.


oskidoll July 17, 2012 @ 11:25 a.m.

Kudos and thanks to 'Erupting' and the two others who addressed the County Board of Education July 11. I encourage everyone to view the archived video on the CBOE website. You do know the importance of keeping their feet to the fire, because they do not like to be 'called out' and embarrassed, no matter how much they protest that financial oversight just isn't their job. IT IS! and they are shirking that responsibility, if not aiding and abetting the slight of hand at SUHSD.


eastlaker July 17, 2012 @ 2:54 p.m.

I watched archived meeting from July 11--or some parts. (I admit to fast-forwarding through some of it). The four individuals who addressed the board during the time allotted for public input all did a great job touching on the various problems that need attending to. I did note that Mr. Rindone requested that the items brought forward by the public be added to the agenda for next month's meeting, and I believe that was seconded and passed.

Is anyone interested in attending the CBOE financial meeting that is coming up? I would need to look up the info again. I posted it in the comments for another story, but sometimes it isn't easy to track things down.


anniej July 17, 2012 @ 7:55 p.m.

Eastlaker: your level of expertise on the issues is impressive. hopefully you will be able to attend board meetings. next one is this coming monday. perhaps you could bring a friend, or two, or ten, or twenty - ha ha


jibaro July 17, 2012 @ 1:29 p.m.

Want to know who dumped the dirt and when? Talk to the Head Custodian ! ! :} :}


anniej July 17, 2012 @ 8:54 p.m.

EyesWideOpen: "but that is a tough way to go" - well, anything worth having is fighting for, and while i am not a part of the RECALL i do support their efforts, and do believe integrity is worth fighting for. oh goodness, i used the words 'fighting for' before i continue on let me clarify that word - I DO NOT MEAN 'fighting for' IN THE VIOLENT SENSE OF THE WORD. that is all i need, a TRO filed by mccann because he felt threatened by anniej; and the expenditures of even more south bay tax dollars used for his legal representation against me in court.

as i often share with my children, i am a product of the 60's and 70's. yes, i was one of those "hell no we won't go" - (as if i was going anywhere) . my dad, who served two tours in vietnam, who loved me dearly, had visions of putting me up for adoption vs claiming that this zealous hellion was his pride and joy - oh the memories........ ha ha i believe in showing up, i believe in speaking up, and i believe in putting up (time and effort to ensure change). persons like my father, and his father and most likely many of your fathers fought to protect our rights, as well as many fathers, brother, uncles and cousins today - and they fought to make this nation great! they did not fight for the right for alleged corrupted public officials to use the system vs serve the taxpayers.

as i sit here and think about the validity of communities having control over the education i consider the options - and am not of the opinion where i would want others to have that control. lets face it, the system is broken at sweetwater and SWC due to the public falling asleep at the wheel. the masses voted and then trusted that those given the power would use their expertise to establish the best education possible. what we never banked on was the alleged corruption that has been exposed. what we never banked on was a board president who would seek out a past superintendent who initially left under a cloud of suspicion i.e. grand jury that looked into prop bb. when 'the gandara' was retired not fired FOR CAUSE we applauded, we celebrated. he was gone, he was outta here. little did we know that a second legal opinion had been kept from the other board members by john mccann, then board president - that second opinion had to do with the fact that 'the gandara' could have been fired for cause. why hasn't john mccann ever answered the question "WHY DID YOU KEEP THE SECOND OPINION FROM YOUR FELLOW BOARD MEMBERS?" another question i continue to ask is this:

HOW THE HELL DID BRAND FIND HIS WAY TO OUR BOARD MEETING AT 2:00 am that eventful day? who had the discussion with him? who invited him? surely it was NOT john mccann????????????

what was it my grandmother use to say "honey, that is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and that is the way i feel with brand heading up this cast of fools. are they fools anniej?


anniej July 17, 2012 @ 10:36 p.m.

ALL: while it may not be proper protocol and while i do NOT, in ANY WAY, want to disrespect the excellent coverage that The Reader and reporter/writer Ms. Luzzaro have done reporting on sweetwater and swc i simply MUST refer all of you to the SD Rostra for a great read of fiction regarding john mccann. i mean this nonsense was written either by his mother or his wife -

it is hard to believe the lengths that mccann will go - mccann has surely dealt his fellow board members a very low blow and thereby exposed the REAL JOHN MCCANN. the real mccann does NOT need to stand up, he is the little man sitting there at the end of the table with his little red camera acting like a spoiled child.

here is another one of my grandmothers sayings: jim cartmill, arlie ricasa, pearl quinones take heed:

"with friends like him (mccann) , who needs enemies?"


angrybirds July 18, 2012 @ 9:35 a.m.

AnnieJ I went onto the Rostra and it looks like Ms. McCann is hard at work trying to excuse her husband of the idiotic things he has done. It doesnt take someone with a lot of brains to understand that his political career is over. His aspirations of running for higher office are finished!


anniej July 18, 2012 @ 2:03 p.m.

Angrybirds: well if you went there today, they are now claiming that all of the posts that offered a different point of view were written by the same person. holy moly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Jmbrickley July 26, 2012 @ 6:46 p.m.

According to documents released by SUHSD on July 19, 2012:

On April 29, 2011 Maria Armstrong gave permission to Southland Paving, Inc. to dump dirt on her property at 1685 Hollister St., San Diego CA 92154.


jibaro July 30, 2012 @ 8:25 a.m.

I can not help but wonder if any of this would have happened if a trustee lived in that area. How many current trustees live in the Bonita/East Chula Vista ? I'm just saying....


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