Writer's LAFCO hearing takeaway helps spur a contemplative moment
Last updated 6/14/2023 at 4:59pm
Special to the Village News
A recent public hearing over the fate of our future water costs and services turned out to be a bust. But the foreboding remarks by a Fallbrook community leader caused me to explore my own observations. But before I can peer into our region’s prospects, I should set the stage.
On June 5, a dozen of us concerned citizens boarded a bus chartered by the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce. The bright yellow school bus seemed strangely empty, almost cavernous.
Many of our thoughts drifted into the topic of community apathy. Is that the best turnout we could muster for a San Diego public hearing that could determine if our two water districts may trim their costs through what should be a simple jurisdictional shift?
Moses was our bus driver. We left Fallbrook on an upbeat note. I tried to boost our
morale by quipping that Moses was leading we 12 community disciples into an H2O promised land. Most of my traveling companions and I spoke during the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission public hearing. It turned out to be a 12-hour door-to-door disappointment.
But first – for those of you who haven’t bothered to learn how regional government works – LAFCO is a board made up of elected and appointed officials who determine the boundaries and services provided by special districts, cities and other public agencies.
Every California county has its own LAFCO. I have attended scores of LAFCO hearings in my 42 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist. I have scribbled notes while cities were formed, development land was annexed and open spaces protected.
We arrived at the bay-front County Administration Center under brooding skies. The June 5 hearing was only the second time that I have spoken to a commission. At this one – since I planned to write a column where objectivity is not an issue – I spoke about how I picked Fallbrook 22 years ago because of the thrill of owning a 1.6-acre piece of heaven populated by about 60 avocado and fruit trees.
At a quick pace – each speaker got only three minutes – I explained how I had to let my trees die and be cut into firewood when my monthly water bills hit $700. I told the panel that now I just water patches of cactus and flowers and feed two pigmy goats and six chickens.
Other Fallbrook speakers also urged the commission – in their own words – to help us get lower water rates as a way to ease the pain that inflation, rising water costs, development pressures and other forces inflict upon our local farmers.
One speaker lamented that “we’ve been in a state of disaster for so long.” Another said Fallbrook-area agriculture has been “decimated” by its invisible opponents. Yet another described the issue before LAFCO as “the largest water decision to affect San Diego County in a long time.”
County Supervisor Jim Desmond, the current LAFCO chairman, was our champion, but he failed to garner enough support and the item was kicked back for more study. Further discussion was postponed until Aug. 7.
It was a long bus ride home in rush-hour traffic. As we slogged our way north, the words of Jackie Heyneman – a longtime resident and activist who has a pocket park named after her – stuck in my mind. She, like others, described the decline of local agriculture and the ripple effect it has triggered in our economy, ecology, outlook and aesthetics. She expressed misgivings that Fallbrook seems to be fraying at the edges.
I’ve had those same thoughts lately. Many may see it, but they can’t define it or articulate it or quite put their finger on it. Many of us are grappling with the same unsettling thoughts of community confusion, homelessness and unmet needs amid an aging population and dwindling volunteers.
We lost our hospital, and with it disappeared scores of doctors and specialists. Many storefronts are vacant and gang graffiti seems to spread like cancer. We periodically hear reports of stabbings, shootings and speed-fueled traffic collisions.
Our public transportation services are dismal. We are frustrated and fragmented.
Agriculture – once our lifeblood – is vanishing. The future of our little community newspaper – which has thanklessly toiled for 25 years to take the pulse of the people – hangs by a thread.
We were eclipsed by Temecula long ago and our fast-growing neighbors to the north. They have formed cities, sustained their existing hospitals and built new ones, attracted jobs, funded government services and are a wellspring of entertainment, innovation and imagination.
There is always hope, of course. We live in a friendly, beautiful community. We have strong people here, able leaders, and worthwhile causes.
But I find myself wondering – and maybe you do, too – what lies ahead. Are we letting what we have, what we had, slip away?