CALEXICO — Calexico, with its unique position on the border, has always operated a little different than other communities in Imperial County, a fact not lost on county District 1 Supervisor Jesus Escobar.
At once insular and inward-looking, this city of some 40,000 residents can close ranks to the outside world yet fight fiercely amongst itself, Escobar observed. Before winning election to his county seat in 2018, he was a Calexico City Council member since 2016.
Taking an initial cue from some of his fellow supervisors, Escobar recently established a community-focused committee for Calexico, albeit with a targeted twist.
“I’m kind of following their example but taking it to a different level,” Escobar said of the inspiration behind his Imperial Valley Southern Border Committee.
He is recruiting members after its creation and bylaws were approved by the county board on Nov. 5.
“If you are aware of Calexico, we’ve always been stepping on ourselves, working in pockets of ourselves,” he explained during a Nov. 21 interview.
Escobar noted he has seen this so-called “stepping on ourselves” play out time and again and added, “I do feel that Calexico needs assistance” to work as a united team.
As he explained to the Calexico council on Nov. 20 when he was there to recruit two committee members: “We want to avoid the innuendos, avoid the chismes (gossip in Spanish), avoid the backstabbing and really move this city forward. That is what this is really all about.”
He followed a format first used by county District 4 Supervisor and county board Chairman Ryan Kelley. After being elected to represent the northern part of the county in 2012, Kelley reconstituted the West Shores Advisory Committee in 2013 to provide a unified voice for the residents living on the west side of the Salton Sea.
It has proved such a success, Kelley said recently, that in March, he did the same for other rural communities in his district with the formation of the Northend Action Council made up of residents of Bombay Beach, Niland, Calipatria, Westmorland and rural areas of Brawley.
Likewise, District 2 Supervisor Luis Plancarte did the same in June for two areas of his district, forming advisory committees for Heber and the west-end enclaves of Ocotillo/No Mirage areas.
All largely drawing from members of the community, Escobar did the same Nov. 5 in creating an advisory committee in the Winterhaven-area, which he also represents.
Calexico’s Committee to be Distinct
For Calexico, however, Escobar is digging a little deeper, mining other agencies in the city and asking for a specific makeup of committee members.
To be comprised of 10 members, Escobar first recruited Imperial Irrigation District board President Erik Ortega, who represents the Calexico area as Division 4 director. On Nov. 20, the Calexico council appointed Assistant City Manager Miguel Figueroa and Mayor Pro Tem David Romero to the committee.
Escobar is also seeking to recruit one member each from the Calexico Unified School District board and the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District board, as well as five members of the public.
Of public members he said, “We are looking for individuals that bring the most to the table,” adding he wants people there to work, not pad their resumes. “I feel this is what’s most needed, bring area players to the table to attack more issues a lot quicker.”
Applications for the committee are due to Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Blanca Acosta by Dec. 2, and Escobar said he hopes to have an initial meeting in mid- to late January.
The committee is an intentionally “interesting mix” that Escobar said he hopes will be about “working as a team, to promote the border area, hand in hand to make Calexico a better place to live. … I do want things that are better for Calexico.”
The committee will work with a “sense of community,” addressing issues of economic development and job creation, education, healthcare, pollution, water and power issues, and other matters important to the community, he explained.
Opinions Shared About Committee
Figueroa, the assistant city manager who will be part of the committee, wrote in an email to this newspaper he is optimistic about its prospects.
“I believe this group will be a body that can address lingering community service and economic issues in Calexico. As a city, we welcome this inclusive effort spearheaded by Supervisor Jesus E. Escobar that will look to provide holistic strategies and solutions through a collaborative of representatives from local agencies and community leaders.”
Council Member Romero, meanwhile, predicted the group will make progress due to its cross section of members.
“I believe in trying to achieve unity, where all entities start working as one to benefit the city, putting all of our efforts together to put Calexico on the map. … I feel like it would certainly create more momentum in the city,” Romero said. “As an entrepreneur, I feel like some of the tools I bring to the table are useful.”
Romero added the committee could ease divisiveness among local governmental bodies.
Gloria Grijalva, a trustee with the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District board, said the panel was to hear from Escobar its Nov. 26 meeting.
“I think we need to work together to get Calexico to be number one again,” Grijalva said Nov. 21. “I think it should be good for us (the community), to know what’s going on, what’s available, what can be improved.”
If she gets the support, Grijalva said she wants to be appointed to the committee.
“I want to serve … My parents were pioneers. I’m a third-generation Calexican,” Grijalva explained.
As of Nov. 20, neither the Calexico Unified School District administration nor any of the district’s board members had been made aware of the committee, board President Michael Castillo said. Still, he expressed interest and enthusiasm about participation.
“I like the idea, the collaborative interagency partnerships … I like the idea to bring the group together and bring that network and pipeline to share with our supervisor, Mr. Escobar,” Castillo said during an interview Nov. 20.
“When we do receive that correspondence at the district, I will be in favor of appointing a representative to the body. I think it will be received favorably. … We look forward to any opportunity to provide input in education in Calexico,” he said.
Other Committees Show Benefits
County board Chairman Kelley said the advisory committees can make a difference in engaging the community and getting real results for their respective areas.
“The reality is, you can’t do everything, but you can try to make improvements,” Kelley said Nov. 20. “I go to every one of these meetings. I listen, and if questions are posed to me, I’m there to answer. … I write down everything and report back.”
Neither of Supervisor Plancarte’s committees have met yet, although he explained the county has more than enough applicants and will likely start meeting for training sessions in December.
Kelley said the West Shores committee has met regularly since it was reconstituted in 2013 and the Northend group, which he said rebranded itself as an “action council” complete with its own Facebook page, has met five times and was scheduled to meet a sixth time Nov. 25 in Westmorland.
For the West Shores committee, an example of what can be done was finally seeing a traffic signal put up at the dangerous intersection of Highway 86 and county Highway S-22. Kelley said a new Arco convenience store and Jack in the Box eatery had been developed and opened before signalization was ever installed.
Kelley said in 2015 the committee was successful in getting support from the county to push the state Department of Transportation to allocate regional transportation dollars to put up the signals at the Salton City intersection.
Already, the Northend Action Council and the county board have been successful in getting Caltrans to take the moving mud-pot geyser near Niland seriously. The state agency allocated about $11 million in emergency funding to move Highway 111 out of the way of the sinkhole.
Kelley said the council and county are now working on getting Clinicas De Salud Del Pueblo Inc. to deed a large parcel of property it owns in Niland for “open green space” for the community.
This story is featured in the Nov 28, 2019 e-Edition.