Piled dirt (covered in plastic) sits near the football field, adjacent to a condo complex
  • Piled dirt (covered in plastic) sits near the football field, adjacent to a condo complex
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A large pile of contaminated dirt was reportedly deposited on the Southwest High School campus in the spring of 2010. After 10News.com reported the story last week, the district shrouded the dirt pile in plastic — and in mystery.

Where did the 10,000 tons of contaminated dirt originate? Sweetwater Union High School interim superintendent Ed Brand told 10News.com on June 15, “I can’t tell you specifically where it came from. I believe it was a group of volunteers that brought the dirt in.”

Several days later, Dianne Russo, interim deputy superintendent for the district, told the Proposition O Bond Oversight Committee that Southland Paving Company put the dirt there and that it was going to cost $498,000 to remove it. Nick Marinovich, the new chair of the oversight committee, has stated that the money will not come from Prop O funding.

A June 26 interview with a spokesperson from Southland Paving contributed to the mystery. The spokesperson, who declined to give her name, said the company did have a contract with Sweetwater to move dirt onto Southwest High School’s campus.

However, the spokesperson said the company tested the soil prior to moving it and that it was not contaminated. She said the company had a copy of the test report and the contract with the district but declined to share them. She also said that other companies dumped dirt on the site. The spokesperson, like the district, declined to say where the soil originated.

District representative Russo was unavailable throughout the day for comment.

The district has yet to release the soil report to the public; however, according to 10News, “Out of 14 samples, 10 show elevated levels of lead, pesticides — including DDT — or petroleum hydrocarbons linked to underground gasoline storage tanks.”

The dirt mound, which is deposited at the rear of Southwest’s football field, abuts the Evergreen Condominium complex. Robert Griffin, an HOA manager for the condos, said in a June 26 interview that he has been receiving calls from residents who are anxious about the toxicity of the dirt. Griffin said he is “in the process of communicating with the district about the problem.”

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cvres June 27, 2012 @ 11:31 a.m.

When is the district going to get it right? I wonder if they have opened themselves up to lawsuits?


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 8:48 a.m.

CVRES: where is "1-800-need a lawyer" when you need them. the district has obviously been misreporting the facts all along, perhaps being slapped with a law suit might open up their box of ethics, that is if they can remember the combination to the lock they put on the box.


eastlaker June 27, 2012 @ 1:23 p.m.

When, indeed?

As has been mentioned many times, there is a serious lack of intelligent leadership in Sweetwater. I've seen better and more coordinated efforts back when I was still watching Saturday morning cartoons, and that was from animated characters on the screen.

So--one company claims they were allowed to dump dirt, and that dirt was just fine. It was all the other companies who later added to the dirt that brought in the toxic stuff. Really? Were truckloads of dirt just allowed onto school property with no supervision or clearances then?

What time frame are we talking about?

Why is it that everything is just a bit hazy when it comes to explanations for Sweetwater messes? Is it something in the water?


joepublic June 27, 2012 @ 3:37 p.m.

The article quotes Dr. Brand, Interim Superintendent: "I can’t tell you specifically where it came from. I believe it was a group of volunteers that brought the dirt in.”

For $20,000 dollars a month, the taxpayers deserve a better answer than that.

Then, Brand's assistant tells the Prop O committee something entirely different.

Shouldn't Brand and Russo be talking to each other?

Hopefully no one is harmed by this toxic dump, and if someone sues, it will be another in the list of the many shameful ways this district has wasted money that should've been spent on educating students.

By the way, that cheap plastic wrap just doesn't seem to convince. Well, at least it's the one and probably the only transparent thing we have in this district.


eastlaker June 27, 2012 @ 4:59 p.m.

I may be going out on a limb here, but--is it possible that a construction company would 'give' the dirt to a school, so that they don't have to dispose of it properly? Or, alternatively, is it possible that the dirt would be dumped at a school, so that another (possibly connected/related) company could then be paid to remove it?

If the company that 'donated' the dirt takes a tax write-off for it, and then a company makes money for the removal, the companies both win, and the school district and students lose.

But this is just what I can--suppose, I guess you could say.

Any further thoughts?


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 8:45 a.m.

Eastlaker: something is definitely going on here. and have you noticed NONE of the board members have said a word. they appear to be MIA, out of the line of fire - but what else is new.


eastlaker June 28, 2012 @ 12:59 p.m.

I'd say they had their heads in the dirty sand, as per usual!

Maybe it is vacation time, and they are sunning themselves somewhere nice where cell phone and internet coverage isn't that good...maybe they are too busy calling up all their friends and telling them to keep their mouths shut...maybe they are continuing the truncated board meeting behind closed doors in a secret undisclosed location, such as a Dick Cheney-style bunker...who knows what they are doing, but they aren't doing the jobs we have put them in position to do!

I keep wondering what it will take before something will change!


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 8:49 a.m.

Joepublic: brand and russo are talking to each other - THAT IS THE PROBLEM!!!!!!!!!!!


sohmusicparent June 27, 2012 @ 6:04 p.m.

One of our band parents had received an email from the previous principal regarding the field, as the field being closed off affected several student groups. Apparently, due to many years of neglect, the field was, and still is, hardened and uneven.

A previous coach had sought out private donors to assist in leveling the field. (Don't know whether donations were funding or dirt.) They (I'm assuming coach and principal) apparently got approval from a previous Asst. Superintendent of Facilities (gee, everyone is previous) to use the dirt to level the field and plant seed, plant donated palm trees, and create some sort of berm covered in iceplant and the school logo.

Of course, we don't know how much of this is valid, or if any of it was spin. This was from an email back in August. Back then, all we knew was that the dirt had too many rocks to be used.


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 8:43 a.m.

Sophmusicparent: if southland is stating that the dirt they deposited was clean and the district is claiming they (like schultz on hogans heroes) 'KNOWS NOTHING" perhaps the city attorney might be able to make them talk.

i am saddened that your child and all of the students at southwest have been treated in such a manner - and,,,,,,,,,,,, what about those condos on the other side of the fence? they have had to breathe that air for over a year - this is UNACCEPTABLE!!!!!!!!


Susan Luzzaro June 27, 2012 @ 7:21 p.m.

eastlaker, thank you for your comments. I did find that southland had other contracts in the area, but that finally doesn't tell us anything. The Southland spokesperson did say there was a contract and sharing it with the public would be the best solution for everyone.

Of course, the real problem for the faculty, students and neighbors is to remove the dirt.


erupting June 28, 2012 @ 8:16 a.m.

So the plot gets even dirtier. If the company can prove that the dirt they delivered was clean, who put the contaminated dirt on top? The plot only gets more mysterious. What is going on here. Why all the secrecy, we know it is contaminated? I can't believe this another twist in the story. So Brand knew the district had a contract to movethedirt to Southwest High School even if it was not on his watch. Could it be that the contaminated dirt came from another school and the districts hiding this. Why would the company not disclose where they picked it up if it was not a freebie to the district? This article is very disquieting. What the h---- is going on?


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 8:39 a.m.

and so it is AGAIN, that The Reader is the entity that the south bay parents need to go to for the information. WHY? our district spouts off over and over again about transparency, and yet this group at the sweetwater district does more covering of their own a**** than any group of publicly elected officials than i have ever seen?

take a look at that picture folks, that is a mighty lot of dirt to be trucked in by a bunch of ford pick ups! brand must really think we are a bunch of idiots to sit there and state ON CAMERA that he 'can't tell you specifically' how the dirt got there. he knows darn well how the dirt got there and he sat there looked into that reporters face and cameras lens AND LIED. even the reporter rebuked his statement, "so you are trying to tell me that a bunch of parent volunteers trucked this dirt in"? 'the gandara' knows, the CFO knows, the then head of operations knows, the then football coach knows, brand knows, hell - even the then janitor knows - everyone knows but us - THE ONES FOOTING THE BILL.

and so i raise a question that you all need to ask yourselves - why is it that this reporter sees this is an important issue and our own interim superintendent does not?

and finally WHERE THE HELL ARE THE BOARD MEMBERS?????????? are they all vacationing with brand?????????????????????????? but not to worry we here at home are fighting the fight to clean up the mess, because after all it is OUR DISTRICT and these are OUR NEIGHBORHOODS - FULL OF OUR CHILDREN THAT THE DISTRICT IS PUTTING AT RISK.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

the south bay is indebted to Susan Luzaro and The Reader for these much needed facts.

in truth the picture tells it all::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

look at the plastic it is indicative of what our district does best -



bonitaresident June 28, 2012 @ 9 a.m.

I believe anniej about it summed it all up in her last two sentences - COVERUP.

Dr. Brand and Ms. Russo need to be held accountable for this situation. I am told that others who were there at the time and now brought back were aware of the situation as well.

There are rumors that this dirt might have come from property or other school construction sites that the district owns. Apparently Southwest Middle had an underground gas tank that was found and also the District yard had a tank that needed to be disposed of - could one of these be the hidden source of all of this contamination? Rumors, why are we even listening to rumors? Perhaps because those persons that we elected to represent us have failed to do so.

Susan, thank you for shedding light on a very troublesome issue.


angrybirds June 28, 2012 @ 9:50 a.m.

OK so Brand doesnt know where the dirt came from? Do the residents of the So Bay have STUPID written on their foreheads! This district has ruined the football season for these kids among so many other things. We have kids doing PE on this field breathing in the dirt, we have residents next door breathing in the dirt as it flies away WTH. If this stupid A** board and the superintendent wanted to the right thing for the kids they are suppose to take care of they wouldn't have allowed it to be dumped there in the first place. THIS DISTRICT IS SINKING FAST AND THEY CAN'T SEEM TO KEEP ON TOP OF ALL THE LIES THEY TELL. WHAT AN EMBARRASSMENT WE ARE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE ENTIRE STATE.


eastlaker June 28, 2012 @ 11:04 a.m.

It is looking like the school district was trying to pull a fast one and combine contaminated soil from the above-mentioned school project with the soil dropped off by contract--and just hoped that they could get away with it.

When will these people (i.e. Brand, his adminstrative hench-people and the board members) learn how to act in a socially responsible manner? We all know they can't be fiscally responsible, but one would hope that they wouldn't be so callous as to put students (not to mention coaches, maintenance people and those who live in the area) in harms way, exposing them to chemicals labeled toxic.

What more do we need to know about how they go about 'doing their jobs' before they can legally be removed before they do even further damage?


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 10:12 p.m.

Angrybirds: as stated before, brand knows exactly where the dirt came from - there are several remaining issues here as i see it:

1- all of those who were complicit in this issue need to be be exposed 2- the true origin of the dirt needs to be investigated and disclosed 3- the trucking firm who alleges that they are an environmental safe company needs to be ordered to produce the paper work 4- a meeting needs to be held - the topic ALL ABOUT THE DIRT 5- the community (especially the students, staff, and residents living around the field) need to be advised of any current or potential health hazards 6- the board members need to have their behinds held to the fire as to why they have remained mute on the issue 7- the interim superintendent MUST be held accountable for his 'bald face lie' - (no pun intended) given in the interview with channel 10 (please view his words for yourself by listening to the on line interview) - no pun intended. 8- documented information as to where the dirt will be dumped next.

nothing short of full disclosure will suffice.


eastlaker June 29, 2012 @ 8:40 a.m.

I think I am beginning to see why some of these people left the district when they did. Probably part of covering their tracks, or at least trying to cover their tracks. Maybe they felt they were 'in too deep'--it is a sad situation. The sooner the clean-up starts, the better.

Reality is, we would probably all rather go to a barbeque or the beach, or a ball game or enjoy some other summer past-time than keep hammering away at the problems within the Sweetwater School District (not to mention lingering Southwestern Community College issues and other concerns about the Chula Vista bay development prospects, etc.)--but we will not stop until this situation in Sweetwater has been resolved and corrected.

The alternative is to leave the entire educational community to succumb to the process of festering moral decay--and do we really want to abandon our future this way? We have got to stand up for ourselves, our kids, our community and our future.

What has the Sweetwater Board of Trustees and Acting Superintendent Brand really been communicating to us by their actions? That they can't be touched, that they can do what they want with our resources, our funds and all the potential that we and our children have been given. Fritter, despoil, waste and ruin. What a legacy.

We need them to know we see through their miserable lies, tricks and evasions. The charade is over. If they were smart, they would resign--but then, if they were smart, none of this would have happened.


bonitaresident June 28, 2012 @ 11:26 a.m.

Eastlaker - I am wondering if there would have been a difference if this was a school on our side of the 805? Dr. Gandara professed his deep interest for the youth, spoke about specific demographics needing the protection of persons like himself. If, as rumored, he signed off on this dumping, it is indeed a crime of dereliction of duty at the very least. All of those at the district who have had knowledge of this situation and failed to act on behalf of the students, staff, and residents should resign immediately. Has anyone contacted State regulators to ensure that they are monitoring this situation, to in effect protect those who will be receiving these toxic substances into their community?


eastlaker June 28, 2012 @ 11:51 a.m.

Bonitaresident, I wish I knew the answers to your questions.

I can guess that Gandara wouldn't have taken the risk to ok a contaminated soil dump on a school property east of 805; he may well have been banking on the fact that many parents on the west side are too busy working long hours to keep track of what happens with the schools in their neighborhoods. Or that--even worse, because it would have to have been a very calculated move--in areas with higher percentages of Spanish-speaking families, they language barrier would help to insulate the community from what goes on at the school.

His betrayal of his own ethnic group underscores the complete lack of compassion coupled with the overwhelming desire for endless power, money and control that ultimately lead to his departure.

And the Board of Trustees let him get away with it. We don't even know how much he has 'gotten away with'.

Whose responsibility is it to contact State regulators? Are all the civic leaders too wary of crossing some sort of line of solidarity, so that they will not say or do anything? Or maybe there is so much 'history' that all sorts of little secrets might get out into the open if anyone starts talking.

I certainly don't know. I just know that I am dumbfounded at the levels of abuse of public funds and public positions.


bonitaresident June 28, 2012 @ 8:40 p.m.

Eastlaker - The fact that Brand lied to the entire city and county of San Diego is simply beyond comprehension. He is well known for his arrogant audacity, but this borders on dereliction of his position as superintendent.

Sooner or later one of these incidents is going to tip the scales and when it does all gloves will be off. I believe there are some not known to the general public who now believe it is time for Dr. Brand to go. The recall that has been put in motion no doubt will be successful at the rate signatures are being collected. More and more of those I know have signed, those that have not are planning to do so. Some are simply tired of lack of representation by the four board members who live in our community. As far as Ms. Quinones is concerned popular opinion is that she is no longer an issue, as she will be voted out of office. Why on earth would Ms. Ricasa and Ms. Quinones have chosen to continue as board members?

No matter how you look at it it is becoming embarrassing to say what district you live in. It is long past a time for real change.


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 10:19 p.m.

Eastlaker: any person who professes to be a protector and turns out to be an abuser needs to be exposed. and so it has happened to 'the gandara' - he has been exposed - not for what he is but for exactly what he is not - 'a descent human being'. he rode in here on a tricycle (this is true i am not being funny) and will hopefully ride out in a bus labeled - california state prison.


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 10:22 p.m.

Eastlaker: i realize those who are suppose to be protecting our children are busy what with traveling, vacationing, seeing the world so i will take that task on - 'contacting state regulators'.


eastlaker June 29, 2012 @ 8:10 a.m.

I hope that you will be taken seriously when you do this. We all owe you many thanks for holding Brand, the Board, Gandara and others accountable for their actions and non-action that jeopardize the community's right to a strong educational system here in the Sweetwater District. As you have said many times, we will not put up with 'business as usual' from this bunch!

If it takes a coordinated effort, please let us know what we can do.


anniej June 29, 2012 @ 8:58 p.m.

Eastlaker: i was taken seriously, now we wait.


angrybirds June 28, 2012 @ 12:34 p.m.

oh yeah i just thought of something else what about that kid that got expelled from school and sent to alt ed for spitting out the window can we do the same thing to this board and superintendent and the cfo? Can we exile them like they do the students? Really pissed off in south san diego..


eastlaker June 28, 2012 @ 12:50 p.m.

Wouldn't it be great if we could exile the board (or a majority anyway) and the acting superintendent and the CFO--they would probably want to join Trujillo and Gandara--then we in the Sweetwater District could sing that country song, "All my Exes live in Texas"!!!

Forgive my joke, but humor is great for stress-relief.


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 8:45 p.m.

Eastlaker: now that is about the funniest post i have read in a very long time. AND IT IS A BINGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Visduh June 28, 2012 @ 8:05 p.m.

Isn't the matter of toxic dirt just symbolic of the toxic, dirty atmosphere that permeates the entire school district? Brand "knows nothing, sees nothing, . . .) yet draws $20K a month to be a fill-in supe. Except we all know that slot isn't temporary at all: he wants it for good, and the board would probably accede if the members dared. Each of these new revelations displays the utter incompetence and corruption of the entire district and its board and administration.


anniej June 28, 2012 @ 8:48 p.m.

Visduh: corruption, dirt, toxic, cover up, bribery, misuse, unethical campaign donations, - oh that is right let me be sure to be alleged in front of all of these words that would describe the goings on at our district.

did i miss any??????????? oh, that is right i forgot HOWDY DOODY


Susan Luzzaro June 28, 2012 @ 11:17 p.m.

I must say, the blog comments are almost...as entertaining as the board meetings. I wish more people would go to the board meetings, although attendance is pretty good already.


erupting June 29, 2012 @ 8:05 a.m.

I know that the EPA has been contacted what other agencies can we get in contact with? I'm so tired of these shenanigans and the brazen attitude this district puts on display. The constant cover ups, and the arrogance is getting to me.


angrybirds June 29, 2012 @ 9:32 a.m.

after reading all these blogs and great stories by ms. Luzzaro I can see why. This district has serious issues and they lie all the time to get out of messes and then the right hand doesnt know the lie the left hand said.


Visduh June 29, 2012 @ 9:04 p.m.

With all the crud that has gone down, why do well-meaning folks keep referring to this charlatan as "Dr. Brand?" Call him Brand, call him "Brandara", call him Fatso, call him a crumb, but don't glorify this creep by honoring his probably-bogus doctorate in education. It is an insult to those honest players who really did earn their doctorates.


eastlaker June 29, 2012 @ 11:36 p.m.

...Just don't call him late for dinner?


bonitaresident July 1, 2012 @ 9:42 p.m.

Visduh - Why is it that the board has hired such imposters, foxes in sheep clothing? I found Mr. Gandara's thesis on line. I am pretty certain that he did not write it himself. I have been looking for Brand's but have not been able to locate it so far. Having said that, neither one of these men have helped the district any; it appears they have only helped themselves, to anything that would benefit them.


eastlaker July 2, 2012 @ 8:53 a.m.

It all goes back to the continuing legacy of Trujillo. Apparently there is some deep attraction within some forces in the Sweetwater District to 'bad practices'; that is the 'business as usual' that anniej has referred to.

I really don't know what pre-dates Trujillo on this topic. But it has seemed to me that the School Boards, school bonds and related civic issues here have been almost tightly wrapped up.

"Pay to Play" sort of ensures that only the people with the support of the monied interests end up winning the elections. And when a voter looks at their options, many people just vote along ethnic lines. So the very astute bunch that wants to influence the outcome of political races will try and find someone who fits the profile they want, who will agree to play the game.

Thus we end up with the Sweetwater Board of Trustees who, if recent events are a clue, seem lucky if they can find the bathroom, let alone what is important to keep the schools functioning and flourishing.

As anniej says, "just my opinion". And thanks, anniej for fighting the good fight!

What we need is new blood--people who know that nepotism is not the answer, corruption is not the answer, but instead giving the job to the best candidate is the answer. Giving the contract to the bid that did NOT come with strings attached, that is reasonable, is the answer.

Why, in Sweetwater (and the Chula Vista Elementary School District) are the second and third choices sometimes given the job or contract over the committees first picks? Because there is corruption, there are deals, and we are living with the result: complete dysfunction. Board members who have 'gone to ground' rather than even try to defend this overweaning mess. And school is supposed to start in just a few weeks--teachers pink-slipped, multiple classrooms of students signed up for courses with no one to teach them.

More ploys by the failing Sweetwater Board and Brand to get all of us to knuckle under to their actually hideous ineptitude. Well, can we say we will not knuckle under? I hope so.


Purocuyu July 3, 2012 @ 10:48 a.m.

Southland Paving does big projects for the local governments (they just finished the 43rd and Logan intersection). A reporter could go to the City of San Diego and ask for the contracts dating to that time, and then do the same for National City, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. The answer is probably there. And as far as the soil being clean or contaminated, construction sites may have contaminated soils right next to/on top of clean soils. The distinction can be hazy on a job site. So while it is doubtful, SP could have been informed by their inspectors, that the soil was clean-enough, when it wasn't. This could be much more complicated than it seems, but in the end, no potentially borderline clean soils shoild have gotten on school property.


sohmusicparent July 3, 2012 @ 9:11 p.m.

Just had an automated message from the current principal about current projects at the school including the removal of the dirt. He said the dirt had been tested and was found to be non-toxic, and not harmful to humans. Um, did they test a different pile of dirt that happens to be sitting on the campus?


eastlaker July 5, 2012 @ 12:01 p.m.

Maybe they tested a different area from the pile of dirt--but still, I wouldn't think that a clean test would negate a test that came back showing toxic elements--wouldn't you need to test from multiple areas? Then if only one or some of the samples test positive, that's great, but it doesn't mean that the soil dumped is not toxic. It would just mean that not all of the soil is toxic.

Some toxic soil = toxic soil.


anniej July 6, 2012 @ 6:02 p.m.

Sophmusicparent: so lets say for the sake of argument that the dirt is safe - the issue is the dirt being dumped there in the first place. it was simply dumped and left. and so for over a year the students and residents were left to deal with the mosquitoes that became a problem due to the fact that the much needed drain was covered when the dirt was dumped.

next, is the issue of lack of responsibility - currently, according to the interim superintendent, the dirt got there by way of zealous parent volunteers who jumped into their datsun pick up trucks '''FOUND''' the dirt SOMEWHERE and thus began the task of trucking in all of that dirt in the back of their little old pick up trucks. and then about 50,000 trips later batta boom batta bang - folks, we got ourselves a birm, now what? hypothetically lets say it took those unnamed volunteers about 3 months to complete the task (conservatively) - this district is attempting to make us believe that noone happened to look over yonder and ask "well now what in the hell is going on over there, on school property".

the fact that we, as taxpayers, are treated with so little respect is irritating to say the least and infuriating at the most. yet this is exactly what is being done. we are shown no respect, because in truth we are not respected. we are not, if you want to know the truth, even considered.

i mean who are we to them? well here is a 411 we are the ones footing the bill, we are the ones that this board is suppose to be reporting to not hiding from.

just my opinion.


eastlaker July 7, 2012 @ 2:57 p.m.

Yes, and again there is more silence.

What can we say or do that will enlist the aid of our governmental representatives?

I'm starting to think that we really don't have any representatives, because we certainly have no one publicly recognizing what is going on here. When there is this much of a disconnect, can we even say we are a part of a participatory democracy? Once again, the people who are supposed to be representing us, represent their own self-interest, time and time again.

We are left with silence, and the thought that it should not be this way.


sohmusicparent July 7, 2012 @ 3:35 p.m.

I agree with you and eastlaker. I'm thinking that we're getting the auto-call saying that the dirt is fine, when news reports have stated otherwise, as you say, the district is definitely showing no respect.
When Brand was brought in, he vowed to get the district back on track, fixing the mess it was in, wanting total transparency. Well, where is the transparency? Where is the information about the dirt? I realize that Brand inherited this problem. So why does he not reveal any details. It doesn't hurt him. They know it was brought in by the paving company, who has a contract with the district. The paving company has signed contracts to move the dirt. Who signed for it. Where did they move the dirt from. These are very simple questions to get answered. What are they hiding? Who are they hiding? The previous principal apparently worked on getting this project started. Whether it was initiated by her, or the previous football coach (who is no longer in the district?) she is still here. Does she not know? Why all the hush-hush? And, if they are alleging that the dirt is non-toxic, why cover it up with the tarps? After all, at the end of the day, all they have is just a big pile of dirt.


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