REVISITING PEOPLE, PLACES OF 2021

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In July Angelica LaBrake was one of the artists who is featured at a new installation at Sycuan Casino Resort.“I am so grateful for this opportunity to share with you a piece of me and what reminds me of my people’s land. I hope you enjoy,” she said. La Brake is from Sycuan reservation of the Kumeyaay Nation.

JANUARY

Ex-La Mesa cop charged

In the beginning of the year District Attorney Summer Stephan announced a criminal charge was filed against former La Mesa Police officer Matthew Dages in connection with the arrest of 23-year-old Amaurie Johnson near the Grossmont trolley station in La Mesa on May 27, 2020.

Dages was accused of falsifying the reason for Johnson’s detention as well as his actions in a police report he filed on May 28, 2020. He was charged with one felony count of filing a false report and faced up to three years in prison.

NEW SUPERVISOR

On Jan. 4, former state senator Joel Anderson took his oath of office for county supervisor representing District 2. Anderson was the successor to Dianne Jacob, who left her seat on the dais after serving 28 years as East County’s representative at the Board of Supervisors.

NO AGAINST CONSEQUENCES

For weeks leading up to and after the 2020 presidential election President Donald Trump had been telling Americans that the only way he could lose the election was if it was rigged and subsequently stolen from him.

After a Jan. 6 “Save America” rally  nationalists, white supremacists and Trump supporters stormed the nation’s Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow election results that saw Joe Biden defeat Trump for president.

Members of both political parties thought Trump had incited thousands of supporters to subvert the electoral process and suggested Trump be removed from office or impeached.

Rep. Darrell Issa

East County Congressman Darrell Issa, however, did not agree.“This won’t do anything to bring us together – and I fear will do much to drive the Congress and the country even further apart. Rather than a time for conflict, this is an ideal opportunity to turn down the rhetoric in Washington and strengthen the ties that bind us. What we should be doing right now is uniting as Americans and doing our part in the peaceful transition of power.”

Closer to home, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells  said like most Americans, he was appalled to see the Capitol invaded.

“To be honest I’ve also been appalled to see cities burning and violence in the streets from the Left. I also believe it’s too early to come to a judgement about who was involved and why,” he said. “In any event, this hatred for the Left or for the Right and the converse, is a cancer. Plans to impeach the president again, with only a few days left for him to be in office, only serve to solidify more hatred. It is a horrible mistake in my opinion.”

PLAY THEIR GAMES

Granite Hills athletes gathered in solidarity with other Grossmont District high school students in January for a rally intended to convince authorities to end pandemic-related restrictions on youth sports.

Hundreds of East County students gathered in front of Granite Hills High School one Friday evening, dressed in school colors and gathered with teammates.It was one of 138 rallies held simultaneously throughout California on Jan. 15 by Let Them Play, a group of more than 35,000 parents, coaches and youth advocates who say continually delaying sports seasons to potentially slow the spread of COVID-19 is not worth the psychological toll it takes on children.

“Honestly, we don’t just want to play sports, we need to play for our physical and mental health,” said El Capitan High School Katie Romero.

FEBRUARY

VAX CENTER OPENS

A walk-up COVID Super Vaccination station opened at Grossmont Center in La Mesa.

Vaccines, however, were limited to a select demographic.

The clinic was operated by Sharp HealthCare an provided between 1,000 and 5,000 vaccination doses to anyone in California state priority group 1A, including healthcare workers, pharmacy staff and funeral workers.

San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said the county was prepared to vaccinate as many San Diegans as possible when more doses come to the region.

“We understand some people want to get vaccinated right away, but, unfortunately, we don’t have enough vaccines to give a dose to all San Diegans who want one,” Wooten said.

MARCH

Classwork in PROGRESS

El Cajon Valley High School’s Oralia Ventura (right) was recognized by the Grossmont Union High School District as “School Counselor of the Year” on Feb. 3. Also pictured are GUHSD Governing Board Trustee Dr. Gary C. Woods and Superintendent Theresa Kemper.

Grossmont Union High School District moved to level three of their five-tier reopening plan on March 1.

By moving to level three students in the hybrid learning model participated in on-campus classes two days a week and distance learning for the remaining three days a week.

DELIVERY FEES LIMITED

The La Mesa City Council unanimously approved a resolution which capped restaurant delivery fees from third-party providers such as GrubHub, UberEats, Postmates and others at 15% in an effort to support small business owners.

Little Roma restaurant owner Sergio Bellofatto said delivery services are a classic case of a big fish eating a little one.

“It is like someone coming tomorrow and telling you that you have to pay for the air that you breathe. You don’t agree with that, it is not fair, but you need the air to breath. So you have no choice but to pay,” Bellofatto said.

EX-DEPUTY SENTENCED

Retired sheriff’s captain Morad Marco Garmo was sentenced to two years in federal prison for selling firearms from a sheriff’s station without a federal license.

The “sentence demonstrates that no one is above the law—not even a high-ranking law enforcement official,” said Suzanne Turner, FBI special agent in charge, who added that Garmo “failed his department, his sworn oath, and the public trust.”

“Garmo was sworn to uphold the law, but instead he abused his authority and the legal privileges he enjoyed as a police officer for his own personal benefit, and then lied to cover it up,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Frakes.

APRIL

STOP THE ORDER

California Constitutional Rights Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom, the county of San Diego and the city of San Diego on behalf of more than 40 businesses and individuals who challenged emergency closures as unconstitutional.

The group questioned in court if the California State Emergency proclamation declared by Newsom on March 19, 2020 to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic met the statutory threshold for declaring a state of emergency.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who spoke at the announcement, said one of the things that has bothered him from the beginning of the lockdown is it favored conglomerate stores over locally run, smaller businesses.

“You saw profits going up exponentially at those large stores while others were unable to survive,” Wells said.

LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE

The county began construction of the new Lakeside Library. The library is a two-acre site. The building will be 16,400 feet and the total budget for the project, excluding land acquisition is $18 million and expected to open in Fall 2022.

BACK IN CLASS

The Lakeside Union School District entered its third phase of allowing all students in the district to return to class for in-person learning at all its elementary and middle schools.

LUSD Superintendent Andy Johnsen said students would be  back to five days a week full time instruction and roughly 90 percent of the student population would be back by fall.

MAY

The Lakeside community turned out May 27 to celebrate Lakeside seniors participating in a parade down Maine Avenue after picking up graduation caps and gowns.

A WHIFF OF DOG PARK

The Lakeside Community Planning Group unanimously voted for the beginning negotiations of an off leash dog park in Lakeside at its May 5 meeting.

Judy Scheuer, Tail is Up Foundation president, said an animal welfare project formed to establish to form the off-leash dog park at Borrego Springs County Park.

“Since then, I have had my sights set on an off-leash dog park in Lakeside. In 2018, I spoke with former chief of development Jill Bankston and she told me that an off-leash dog park was on their radar according to its five year plan and scheduled for 2021/22. So here we are, right on schedule,” said Scheuer.

VOTERS WILL VOTE

The La Mesa City Council voted unanimously to fill former La Mesa Councilwoman Akilah Weber’s seat by special election, but held off on deciding when that vote will take place.

Earlier in the year Weber won a special election to fill the vacant 79th Assembly District seat.

NEW COLLEGE LEADER

Denise Whisenhunt was selected as the president of Grossmont College.

Whisenhunt had served as San Diego City College Vice President of Student Services since 2013. She has also held other positions at the college since she began there in 2001, Dean of Student Affairs, Interim Dean of Student Development and Matriculation and Associate Dean of Student Se vices and Outreach.

JUNE

NEW FACE ON BOARD

The Lakeside Union School District unanimously appointed Don Whisman as trustee, replacing Rhonda Taylor who vacated the seat in April to be considered for the job of LUSD superintendent. LUSD Superintendent Andy Johnsen left his position June 30. Whisman was immediately sworn into office.

RESTRICTIONS REMOVED

The county of San Diego  lifted most of the restrictions that were in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through 2019 and 2020.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said county cases were “pretty flat” and state monitoring metrics continue to be almost flat as well and generally, almost all restrictions have been lifted.

TAYLOR GOT THE JOB

Rhonda Taylor was selected to lead the Lakeside Union School District as superintendent on June 14. Taylor served on the LUSD Board of Trustees since 2016 but resigned in April to apply for the position.

Taylor worked in the district as a teacher, vice principal, and principal. She currently is principal at Morning Creek Elementary School in the Poway Union School District, and an adjunct professor for National and Ash ford universities.

JULY

VIKING VISITS

The last flight-operational S-3B Viking reached its final destination at Gillespie Field near the San Diego Air and Space Museum annex in El Cajon. After performing a final touch-and-go, the plane landed at the rural airfield for the last time after nearly half a century of service.

A Navy workhorse that was originally designed for anti-submarine warfare during the cold war and then reconfigured with updated systems in the 1990s, the Vikings were last used by the Navy as a refueling plane.

EXPO’SED ONCE MORE

The La Mesa Chamber of Commerce Summer Bash held July 21 was the first in-person event the group has presented since August 2019. Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Mary England said the Business Expo had organizers laughing behind the scenes as they opened boxes that had been in storage for a year.

“It certainly gives you a new appreciation of what we all did in the past on automatic pilot. We had to reacquaint ourselves with doing an event. It was exciting but we forgot how much work it was,” England said.

AUGUST

CLASS GUIDELINES 

As students and their teachers statewide prepared to return to classrooms this month, the California Department of Public Health issued safety guidelines  regarding the use of face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essentially the department required face coverings to be worn   by all individuals while indoors on campus, regardless of vaccine status.

The state directive differs from that of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which only recommends face coverings be worn indoors on campuses.

In both instances face coverings while outside were optional.

PARADE, RODEO RETURN

Following in step with the Lakeside Rodeo, the Lakeside Chamber of Commerce welcomed back its 56th Annual Western Days Parade in historic downtown Lakeside after its cancelation last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Held in conjunction with the Lakeside Rodeo, this year’s theme was “Thank You, Healthcare Workers,” with the Grand Marshal Dr. Benjamin “Ben” Aaron, a Lakeside resident, the cardiovascular surgeon who operated on President Ronald Reagan after a 1981 assassination attempt, removing a bullet from the president’s chest.

SEPTEMBER

IN-PERSON THEATRE

Lamplighters Community Theatre opened its 83rd season with “The Front Porch” on Sept. 3, directed by George Bailey.

In 2020 the theater group attempted a few virtual appearances but this will be the first time they perform in person in a while.

Board of Directors President Paul Ericson said the community group “pretty much exhausted all of our resources during the year and a half of COVID” but is optimistic as they once again begin live performances.

RUN FOR GOVERNOR

A La Mesa  doctor set his sights on the California governor’s office when he declared himself a candidate in the 2021 recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Brandon Ross, a practicing physician and surgeon who also holds an active license to practice law, called it a stopgap measure.

“I don’t want to see a Republican in the governor’s chair and when I looked at the candidates, I just didn’t see anybody that was qualified. I thought ‘Okay, I’m a doctor, I’ve got a business background and a law background. I don’t want to be a career politician but I have the right background’,” Ross said.

The recall effort ultimately failed and Newsom remained in office.

In October West Hills High School teacher Tiffany Jokerst was recently named one of five 2022 California State Teacher of the Year by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Jokerst teaches math and Project Lead the Way Aerospace Engineering.

OCTOBER

MEN CHARGED

The District Attorney’s office announced charges against Brad Christian Davis, 40, and David Hott, 34, in connection with an ongoing investigation of sexually abusing students at Christian Youth Theater San Diego in El Cajon.

Davis, a former employee, is charged with one felony count of sexual penetration by a foreign object involving a then 16-year-old in 2010. If convicted, Davis faces up to three years in state prison.

Hott is charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 14 that occurred in 2007 involving a 13-year-old and if convicted could face up to 10 years in state prison.

PLANE DOWN

A Cessna 340A en route from Yuma, Arizona to Kearny Mesa’s Montgomery Field tore through a United Parcel Service truck at the corner of Greencastle and Jeremy Streets in Santee before crashing into two homes that immediately broke out in fire.

By the time Santee Fire Department and Santee Sheriff’s deputies made it on scene both houses had gone up in flames along with several parked vehicles.

Lakeside and San Miguel Fire Protection Districts, as well as Heartland Fire and Rescue, were called in for support and Federal Aviation Administration representatives were on scene by 3:30 p.m.

In November Ryan Ingersoll (right), a U.S. Marine veteran from El Cajon, was one 45 veterans nationwide who received keys to vehicles in Progressive Insurance’s Keys to Progress program, giving these veterans reliable transportation and helping them “get back on the road and move forward in life.” He was pictured with his wife Irene and their son Omar Treo.

NOVEMBER

NEW COUNCIL MEMBER

Republican Laura Lothian was elected to the La Mesa City Council, filling the vacancy left by Akilah Weber, who went on to serve in the State Assembly.

The real estate agent ran on a pro-business platform.

DECEMBER

MASKS ARE BACK

Fully vaccinated or not, San Diego county residents are required to wear a mask while indoors in all public spaces following a new statewide mandate.

According to the San Diego County News Center, the mandate went into effect on Dec. 15.

This comes in response to the increase in cases and hospitalizations in the state and the detection of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The mandate is effective at least through Jan. 15, 2022.

• On Dec. 10, former La Mesa Police Officer Matthew Dages was found not guilty in a criminal case where he stood trial for allegedly lying on a May 27, 2020 police report detailing how he arrested 24-year old Amaurie Johnson, for suspicion of smoking near the Grossmont Trolley station.

Dages was later fired from LMPD.

Now, the only thing standing between Dages and his old job is an upcoming April 2022 civil court case which has nothing to do with whether Dages violated the law with Amaurie’s arrest, and instead hinges on the potentially invalid process of how the city of La Mesa handled terminating him from the police force.

REVISITING PEOPLE, PLACES OF 2021