‘I made it over to the Borrego Sun newspaper office well before my interview appointment with Supervisor Bill Horn, but when I arrived, he was already sitting out front visiting with Ellen and Anita. He called out as I picked up my pace, “I’m early.” I mumbled something about seeing him the other day (at the symposium at the theater) and commented that he seemed like a “real person.” I can’t believe I said that, I thought to myself. What I meant was that he related to the people in the audience in a common way, with a sense of humor too. Anyway, he probably didn’t hear what I said in all the commotion of people moving around and bits of random conversation as we prepared for the interview.
After posing for several pictures, he came into the office and we settled in for our one-on-one interview. I don’t know if I looked nervous or what, but he got in the first question with, “How long have you been here?” I told him only about five months or so and then he offered, “I’ve been at this for nineteen years. I have 35 districts, and I know every one of them.” He then explained that this was why he doesn’t like term limits. “In two terms, you can’t know everybody and every situation.”
I’d wondered why Borregans, living here in the valley that generated so much solar power, couldn’t somehow directly benefit from residing in the place the solar originated from. “Our nearly year-round sunshine here doesn’t really pay for our local use in any way, does it?”
“It goes into the grid,” he answered. “It’s in your lines, so whether they transport it out of here… it’s in your grid. So the question was asked, ‘What about in case of an earthquake or a cut-off?’ Your power has been generated here so obviously, there’s enough power to get out of your grid. So, you’re winding up with two Solar plants in Borrego, generating more than enough for what you need… moving out of the area. So, does Borrego benefit? It’s not going to lower utility rates, but there’s always going to be more than enough power for Borrego. The solar is produced here. It goes into distribution lines and out of here. So, I don’t see them cutting it off.” He then spoke a little about the Sunrise Powerlink struggle several years back. “There was a line that was going to come from Arizona into San Diego County. It’s now in the other district. I kept it out of North County as much as possible because people didn’t want it. I prevented it going through the Borrego area.” I thanked him for that much.
“I understand,” I switched subjects, “that you had an opportunity to meet with Chinese businessmen in Rincon recently. Can you tell me a little bit about that?”
He laughed, “That’s kind of a funny story. I have this thing called ‘Prosperity on Purpose.’ We bring businesses to North County and try to keep them here. We advertise this area as a great place to work, great place to live and a great place to visit. I made an application about a year ago to extend the runway at Palomar Airport by about 1200 feet, so that will make the runway in excess of 5,000, which will put it on major charts. This opens up the arena for corporate jets with long fuel ranges, from China, Japan, the Philippines… all the way from France, England… You can leave from Palomar with a full fuel load and get back to your destination in one shot. So anyway, the Chinese were visiting California from Shanghai and I guess one of their consultants or something read about the runway project. These are people with $5 Billion to invest.”
“Anyway, they made an appointment with me and my staff, and they wanted to meet with the Indians also, so we arranged a meeting at Harrah’s Rincon with the tribal chair. They’re interested in buying a casino. I told them I’m trying to move ahead on the airport runway improvement but it’s going to take 5-7 years to make that happen. It’s a government airport, so it’s not for sale, but we appreciate your interest.”
“They’re very interested in the bio-tech industries in Carlsbad, and the casinos. I thought it was good for all of North County, so, anyway… I did meet with them and tried to explain how we do business here. We just had that meeting 3-4 weeks ago. It’s amazing. I was so surprised that someone from China would come here wanting to invest.”
“Are they still looking to invest here?”
“Oh yeah. They love this area. I don’t know how we could capitalize on it, but they were interested in Harrahs Casino.”
“That’s interesting,” I said.
“Very interesting,” he agreed.
“I understand that you are also interested in the County’s Focus on disaster preparedness and have directed money from the County’s Neighborhood Reinvestment for equipment and supplies to volunteer fire departments.” I told him I’d recently completed the CERT training and had once been a volunteer firefighter myself.
“So was I, years ago. I’ve been Supervisor since 1995 and we’ve had a lot of major fires. We can’t afford to make everybody a full-paid firefighter. I mean, I have so many communities that it’s the volunteer units that make it happen [like Save Julian Fire]. I’ve bought them engines, tankers… and try to supply them with enough equipment as possible. We need this volunteer core. You have a paid department here, but we supply them equipment too. We try to augment as much as we can. We are not a County fire department. We contract with CAL FIRE. We get their equipment, plus, their personnel. We don’t have to pay for it. We just augment it with volunteers. I recently met with CAL Fire and we talked about the coming fire season. We always have to be diligent. I’m a rancher so my biggest threat is fire, not to get personal, but this benefits me too.”
Bill Horn was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors during the 9-11 terrorism in New York and Washington D.C. He told me, “I pulled into the parking lot at the moment the plane went into the 2nd tower, so I knew right away that we were under attack. Having been a former Marine Corp officer, I just put martial law into effect in the County. The City of San Diego closed down. Only two of us- myself and Supervisor Jacob- were here. I was Chairman so I took over. I did a lot of things I got in trouble for but I think they were appropriate. I closed the airports and made sure they got all the airplanes on the ground as quick as possible. When I saw the Navy Destroyer pull into the bay, fully armed with missiles ready to fire, I knew we had a serious problem. You don’t know. Now, you can look back and say it happened in New York and on the east coast, but we didn’t know it wasn’t happening here. No idea. I didn’t get into too much trouble when we closed the airports, but I got into a heck of a lot of trouble when I closed the border.”
“It seems like a reasonable response,” I offered.
“Yeah, you tell that to the U.S. Attorney. Anyway, that was the day I discovered the County didn’t have an appropriate network. I couldn’t tell you how many hospital beds I had. So consequently, we spent $5 Million that year to replace and network all of our computers. Now I can tell you we have a state-of-the-art center for operations. We used it during the 2003 and 2007 fires. We used it when we had a big black-out. We had the only operation center up with power. I had an operations facility up and running. The only thing missing was pizza. Usually when these things happen, we send out for pizza, but when there’s no outside vendor available… so I told the morgue next door, ‘I want you guys to keep some frozen pizza over there in case this ever happens to us again.’”
The center is on Kearny Mesa and is earthquake proof. It houses 911 facilities, CHP and the Sheriff Department. It also houses the means of keeping in contact with five satellites at all times, that are watching over San Diego County. “This is live, present-time footage. If there’s a fire, we can adjust the satellite to zoom in on that territory. Yes,” he nodded, when I looked surprised, “big brother is watching.”
After attending Mission Bay High School and San Diego State University, Bill enlisted in the Marine Corp. He spent five years on active duty and left the Corp as a Captain. He has numerous combat decorations and was wounded twice. When he became a civilian, he ran a grocery store and started a construction company. He basically retired at the age of thirty-nine but said, “I got so bored in five days, it was unbelievable… I don’t play golf so… anyway, I volunteered to go to Israel to drill water wells. I did that during the period the County tried to take one of my ranches for a park.” He ended up settling out of court, but it cost him. “I was so mad, I couldn’t see straight,” he said. Around this time, Bill got onto the school board in Escondido. “I got thrown off the school board because I refused to censor the book, ‘Death of a Salesman.’ A couple of religious-right people objected to the book because a character curses God. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ We’re not talking about Penthouse or Playboy magazine in the school library. We’re talking about an American classic. I said, ‘Don’t ask a Marine to interfere with the 1st Amendment. This is a liberty I have and I intend to keep it. Anyway, they got a petition and signatures and threw me off. So I decided to run for reelection. My campaign slogan was, ‘Don’t ask a Marine to do away with the First Amendment.’ So, I got 80% of the vote.” When Bill finished with the school board, he decided to take on the County. “I figured the next time that county job comes up, I’m gonna run for it. I don’t know what Supervisors do, but it’s got to be cheaper than paying for a lawyer… so I ran for Supervisor and won. I’m a farmer and a former Marine, so I don’t deal with b.s. I want what’s good for people. I like safe neighborhoods. I hate gangs.”
“I read that you created the North County Gang Force,” I say.
“I want kids to get on the right track and prosper. I can’t support schools, but I certainly support their activities. I support every Boys and Girls Club I can. It’s not quite schools, but they’re doing good programs. I put out a match grant for the Boys and Girls Clubs. If they can raise $10,000, I’ll give them another $10,000. I don’t give the State or the schools any money. We don’t do that.”
Supervisor Horn did say that he can give money for volunteers, for example, in the Paleontology program. “If you need shovels, tents or even a vehicle for your volunteers, you make that specific request and I will get that. Don’t ask me for ongoing operations. I’ve built seven libraries since I was Supervisor, and I’m looking to build one here in Borrego. Your library has done very well and has very good usage. I’d like to get to the point where I could build a permanent facility. I think a library would be a good project for Borrego. I told the Friends of the Library, if you want to proceed on building, then I’ve got to have a letter from the Friends, saying they’re committed to raising money. They’re going to have to show good faith to the Board of Supervisors. So, instead of leasing a building, we could do this, but it would have to be acted on soon. We’d have to get it done in four years. I have term limits now.”
“We’re the sixth largest county in the country. We have the highest credit rating of any government in the U.S. And we’ve had it for thirteen years, so my fiscal conservatism is very beneficial to everybody. We’re not into ideology here. We’re into no taxes, make my fire department safe, make my neighborhood safe… let’s have some after-school programs. I’ve actually gotten a lot of criticism from the Republican party because I finance a lot of after-school programs. They cost $50,000 each and I probably have twelve of these. It’s to keep kids out of gangs. It’s so much cheaper for me to spend that money than it is to prosecute someone for murder. I see the value of prevention. You’ve got to get back to the motivation. Why are people in gangs? Because that’s their acceptance, right? So if they’re not getting acceptance here, they’ll get it over there. It’s hard to leave a gang but I’ve had kids leave gangs. I want them to have the options. And…” he laughed, “I was in the biggest gang of them all… the Marine Corp.”
“I appreciate your interest in Megan’s Law,” I said. “Can you talk a little about that?”
“We have the alert system that goes on the freeways and that’s important. Our problem is, we have this current release program. The State is releaseing prisoners to us.
They’re under a court order to reduce the prison population, so they’re giving us all these criminals- just releasing them. They should be on probation or in jail and that’s a big issue for the County. It’s costing us a lot of money. I want it posted if I get sex-offenders who haven’t served their sentences or shouldn’t be released, coming into neighborhoods. I’d like to notify the neighborhoods right away, but the law tells me I can’t do it. I can’t advertise it. But if you ask me for it, I can tell you. So what we do now is we post the fact that someone is being released. If you want to know who it is, you can call the Sheriff’s Department and ask for specifics. Then we can supply you with the name, the face, the address, etc. I would love to change the law on this and just notify everyone right away, but I have to deal with the law.
“I suppose it’s time to ask you what you think about the Rams Hill situation,” I said.
“I think they should have gotten a court injunction against the guy who sold away the water rights. How can you go back? I think the Water District ought to work something out with them because, you know, not to have that golf course… it doesn’t make any sense. It’s already got the infrastructure in there. They just need the water to operate it. If they’re worried about the aquifer… get water from somewhere else, or let them drill. I was reading your editorial in the paper there… They have to work this out. It’s no use having this Hatfield and McCoy thing. It’s not good for the community, not good for the investors. The people have lost money on their places in there. It’s a bad deal. Anyway, I think it needs to be resolved so they can get back up and operating. What else would you like to know?”
“Well, I am curious about the drone situation,” I admitted. “A lot of people are concerned about safety and privacy issues.”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I got a letter about it the other day from a guy in front of the market. I don’t want drones any more than you do. I don’t want them flying over my property… photographing me. Who wants that? But anyway… Ron Roberts, my fellow Supervisor, he looked into drones and uh… it wasn’t a bad thing. He wanted to use drones for border surveillance and… I wouldn’t mind having them for firefighting, if they were available. Right now, we rely on satellites, but satellites aren’t always in position.”
He talked a little bit about how fortunate we’ve been in arresting fires early, these past three years or so. Even though several fires have started in the unincorporated areas, we’ve managed to put them out while they were still small. This was the result, he said, of a quicker response time, and then he told me about having given out a grant, several years ago, for restoring the fire observation towers. The County has also put in a request for thirty airplanes the Air Force no longer needs. This, he hopes will also aid in firefighting. “I believe if you’ve got a problem, and you’ve got five people with a solution- don’t just pick one.”
“But if San Diego County becomes a test site for the drones, what kinds of things will they be testing?”
“I have no idea. I don’t know anything about it. I just know what we requested… how we’re gong to use them… We do have “constitutional rights” you know. [that’s debatable] One of them is a “right to privacy” – the fourth amendment. I never was a lawyer but I understand the constitution and I live by it. People will try to violate it, but they’re wrong.”
“Do you think there will be strong regulations put into place for them?” I asked.
“Oh yeah… or you could shoot them down,” he joked.
“I’ve heard that suggestion already,” I said.
“Have you ever shot a spud-gun?” he continued. “One of those nice unbaked potatoes…” and he explained for me how effectively they worked.
“Okay,” I stifled a laugh at the absurdity of, not only the drone situation, but mine too. “One more question… There will be a town hall meeting in Julian on December 4th, [hosted by ‘Back Country Voices’ | Citizen’s Action Group] for experts, pro and con, to give their opinions and ideas about the test site situation. I understand they would like to have some Supervisors attend. Would you be willing to show up for that?”
“Julian? That’s Supervisor Dianne Jacob. You contact her office. Ask her. So, do you live in Borrego or Julian?”
I tell him I went to Julian High but have lived here for at least fifteen years. “I also went to S.D.S.U.” I say, trying to maintain a connection.
“I guess I graduated before you were born,” he says, and I can tell he’s tired. I realize he’s had a packed schedule for the past few days and needs to be at La Casa for a fundraiser soon. “You should come over to the fundraiser,” he says, standing up to go.
“I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me,” I tell him.
“See…” he says, “I am a real person.”
“Yes,” I agree. “You are.”
Supervisor Dianne Jacob discussed San Diego County becoming a federally designated test site for drones
- Petition for Accountability and Transparency: Citizen’s Concerned About Drone Testing In San Diego County (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Drone Testing Area Creates Huge Liability, and Many Questions (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Proposed drone test site worries the backcountry (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Supervisor Dianne Jacob discussed San Diego County becoming a federally designated test site for drones (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Borrego Solar lands $36 million in project financing (venturebeat.com)