Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Guest Posting: What The Construction of Jamul Casino Could Mean to Local Cycling

I average around 200 miles per week on my bicycle, riding in and out of the city of San Diego. Many of those miles are spent on Otay Lakes Rd, Honey Springs Rd, Lyons Valley Rd and bits of SR 94 in Jamul because they are often the shortest and least hilly way for me to take to go visit Black Jack the perpetually hungry donkey, the adorable Beacon Hill llamas, all sorts of cool mountain birds and flowers and a particularly adventurous and friendly pack of house dogs along Mother Grundy TT. 
The mostly shoulderless Otay Lakes Rd at lower lake.
These roads are mostly sleepy (the busiest of them all, SR 94, is still pretty sleepy compared to anything closer to the coast), but they are all quite unforgiving when anything happens. The more traffic on them, the more chance of things happening, however, and since there aren't many (and in some parts of Jamul, 'any') alternative routes to get to and through the area, when something like a crash or a fire or a stuck giant super semi-truck happens, it really causes problem both for the local residents who are just trying to get home from work (or work from home) and for passing-through traffic like me. 
SR94 east of Jamul Butte.
With the current (and apparently not-very-legal) construction of a casino off SR94 in Jamul that would increase traffic through it and the nearby feeder roads, I have been eying this project with alarm. So many previously cycling-friendly rural roads have been rendered nearly unridable post-construction of a casino (Pala Rd into Pala Mission, Valley Center Rd between N Lake Wohlford Rd and Hwy 76, Wildcat Canyon/Borona Rd, Dehesa Rd in Sycuan area). I wondered what can cyclists like me do about such a project... and so I decided to ask Kim Hamilton, a Deerhorn Valley resident and the editor of the Antlers, the area's newsletter, for a guest blog post on the subject. Here is her response:

A Chance For Cyclists And Drivers To Work Together
(...What A Concept!)
If you have ridden Otay Lakes Road or Rural 94 (Campo Rd) during the last couple of weeks, no doubt you have encountered large numbers of heavy-duty trucks plying the narrow roads. Double yellow lines are no deterrent to wide swings on tight (even blind) curves. In straight sections they push the 55 mph limit in a rush to dump off their tons of rock, dirt, and debris. And we’ve been told to expect this for the next 18 months.

Map of affected area.
The trucks are hauling excavated material from the Jamul Indian Reservation on Hwy 94 and Melody Rd (the Jamul terminus of Proctor Valley Rd). The tribe and their backers have launched a desperate attempt to construct a mega-sized Jamul Hollywood Casino on a tiny 4-acre parcel of disputed land. 
The problems for this big-city construction on this rural site are huge. Most serious for cyclists and drivers are the impacts on two-lane highway 94 (Campo Road) and rural feeder routes like Otay Lakes Rd. 

In a stark turnaround from normal protocol, Caltrans required no road safety improvements before it granted access to Hwy 94 for hundreds of daily trucks along two of the most popular and heavily used cycling routes in South and East County—part of the Great Western Loop that the Campagnolo Gran Fondo, the Olympic Training Center, and hundreds of cyclists use regularly.
One of the casino construction trucks was recently photographed having difficulties staying on the right side of the road on SR94 near Steele Canyon Rd. (Photo: James McElree)
Some history: Over the past two decades, four big-money corporations* bankrolled efforts to build a Jamul casino — to no avail. Tribal members collect monthly payments, but the legal, environmental, and safety issues are huge. The first three backers withdrew, losing millions in the process. The tribe itself is now more than $60 million in debt. A year ago Penn National Gaming came in with some (conditional) financing—and an in-your-face attitude. This is Penn’s first experience in California and they hope the Jamul’s proximity to San Diego might boost depreciating stock prices. So far Caltrans has made sure it hasn’t cost them much: a couple of flaggers and some caution signs. They approved the tribe’s Traffic Management Plan that included not one reference to cycling or cyclists. [*Lakes Entertainment, Station Casinos, Harrah’s Casinos, and Penn National Gaming]

So here lies an opportunity for drivers and cyclists to find some common ground—a chance to prove cyclists and rural drivers can co-exist and share the rural byways. The payoff could be in preserving access and improving safety for us all, and bolstering understanding that roads are for everyone. After all, they are shared public assets.

This Hollywood-themed Casino is no done-deal by a long stretch. San Diego County is suing Caltrans over their approval to allow hauling trucks such unrestricted access to Hwy 94, Otay Lakes Rd, and other feeders. The Jamul Action Committee (JAC) is filing a separate suit, and expects support from the Rural Fire District—with its concerns about increased crashes and a slowed response time to wildfire and medical emergencies. In fact the land itself, JAC argues, was never taken into “trust”— a vital pre-requisite for gambling, and upheld by recent Supreme and lower court decisions. That suit is due to be heard in federal court beginning March 28th.

I encourage the cycling community to stay informed and lend their voice and actions to this fight.  Rural roads are already the most dangerous in California, and Hwy 94 stands at the top of the list for fatalities and crashes. As the lawsuits wind their ways through the court system, it will take some organized action to keep the public informed. A mega project like this has no business being built without the space and infrastructure to keep roads safe. Period.

Here’s how the cycling community can help:
1) Register for email updates at: They won’t share your info with anyone else. 
2) Contact your county and state reps and share a cyclist’s perspective about Hwy 94 and Otay Lakes Roads would be impacted by casino traffic.
3) Consider joining together with rural drivers, pedestrians, and others to demonstrate the implications of thousands of trucks, cars, and buses added to Hwy 94.
4) Check out JAC’s Facebook Page:
This needs to be a shared fight with a positive outcome for all travelers, riders, and drivers.
Thank you for this opportunity to reach out.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Guest Announcement: San Diego Opera Presents Duo Amal in Free Concert (25 Feb 2014)

San Diego Opera Presents Duo Amal in Free Concert
Israeli and Palestinian Piano Duo Bridges Borders, Cultures and Differences Through Music
Free Concert on February 25, 2014 to Launch San Diego Opera’s “50 Events for the 50th Anniversary”
San Diego, CA – San Diego Opera is proud to present Duo Amal, an Israeli and Palestinian piano duo who bridge borders, cultures and differences while creating a dialogue of peace through music.
San Diego Opera is honored to be presenting a free concert to the public on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 7 PM at Congregation Beth Israel (9001 Towne Centre Dr., San Diego, CA 92122). This concert will launch San Diego Opera’s “50 Events for the 50th Anniversary” which the Company will celebrate during the 2015 season. Duo Amal’s appearance is made possible by the generosity of San Diego Opera board member Moses Urbano and Eckard Weber

Although this concert is free, attendees must RSVP online at

About Duo Amal
Protégés of Maestro Zubin Mehta, Palestinian Bishara Haroni and Israeli Yaron Kohlberg decided to join forces for a peace concert at the Oslo Opera House in 2011. The concert’s tremendous success resulted in a permanent partnership, aptly titled Duo Amal - a musical collaboration that transcends political and national differences. Amal - the Arabic word for ‘hope’, reflects the meaningful message behind this duo's work. Together, they are not only a unique collaboration, but also aim to spread the urgent message for peace, within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Duo Amal have performed before enthusiastic audiences in many significant venues worldwide. Among these are the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Beethovenfest Bonn, Melbourne Arts Festival, Beijing Concert Hall, Tokyo’s Musashino Center, and Korea’s Goyang Center of the Arts. They have also performed with some of the world’s leading orchestras, such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). As soloists, each of the duo’s members is an accomplished virtuoso in his own right. Haroni completed his studies at the Hanover Hochschule für Musik und Theater. He has performed under the baton of such prominent conductors as Lorin Maazel and Daniel Barenboim, and collaborated with major orchestras including the London Philharmonic and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestras.
Kohlberg is the winner of ten prestigious international piano competitions, among them the Cleveland International Competition (second prize), Parnassos International Competition (first prize), and Top of the World, Norway. He has performed worldwide in some of the most renowned venues including Carnegie Hall, the Kremlin in Moscow, the UN Hall in Geneva, among many others.
Their repertoire, ranging from baroque to modern, also includes commissioned works by both Israeli and Palestinian composers. 

Known for their mixture of humor, playfulness, and absolute meticulousness, Duo Amal are rapidly becoming a highlight in the international scene of classical music and a true testament that music can indeed break through the greatest of boundaries.   

Purchasing Tickets
Tickets for the Duo Amal concert are free but a reservation is required. Visit to reserve tickets. Single tickets for all mainstage operas are on sale. Single ticket prices start at $35 and can be purchased by calling (619) 533-7000 or online at
Subscriptions range from $105 - $1,120 and can be purchased by calling (619) 533-7000 or online at
Tuesday Night Senior Discounts are also available for a full series four-opera subscription. Proof of age is required. Call (619) 533-7000 or online at for more information.

The 2014 International Season
Pagliacci                                                              Ruggero Leoncavallo                  January 25, 28, 31 and February 2 (mat), 2014
The Elixir of Love                                               Gaetano Donizetti                      February 15, 18, 21 and 23 (mat), 2014
A Masked Ball                                                   Giuseppe Verdi                            March 8, 11, 14 and 16 (mat), 2014
Verdi Requiem                                                   Giuseppe Verdi                            March 20, 2014
Don Quixote                                                       Jules Massenet                             April 5, 8, 11 and 13 (mat), 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

Renee Fleming and the Super Bowl National Anthem

Chances are good that if you live in the USA then by now you'd have heard about Renee Fleming, that opera soprano that blew just about everyone (well, at least all the ones with good hearing and functioning ability to recognize great singing when they chance on it) away singing one of the most abused national anthems on the planet before the Super Bowl started last Sunday. Clips of it are now all over Youtube... for good reasons:

I'm not necessarily a Fleming fan, but dudes, she was much better than the football that followed and a real class act in her rendition (and could give a masterclass on how to cope with that tune's many technical difficulties). If you had never experienced opera before, there is plenty more where this came from, you know? If you liked (or, like most of us, opera fans included, are blown away by) this singing, go look for more Fleming and her many amazing operatic colleague on Youtube and at the opera house near you.

And if you are here in San Diego... the opera season is on now at the Civic Theater in downtown! I'm afraid I missed Pagliacci, the first show of the season. I'm hoping to catch one of the upcoming L'Elixir d'amore in February, though, and the one off performance of Verdi's requiem is not to be missed either. Why leave singers like Fleming just for the obnoxious opera fans? Come join the fun and the thrill! :oD

Music for after-winter-rain San Diego: Kasarova & Stoyanova sing Pique Dame duet.

We are FINALLY getting some winter-like weather here in seasonally tardy San Diego. It rained a bit last night. Not nearly enough, but every bit of moisture that reached the ground is very welcomed at this point of our prolonged drought.

Anyhow, it is cool and cloudy and utterly beautiful outside, though I'm still stuck indoor for a few more hours (work has a way of doing that to you)... and basically can't think of a more fitting music for the moment than the charmingly melancholic duet between Lisa and Polina from Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spade. This one courtesy of the amazing Bulgarian dual of Krassimira Stoyanova (Lisa) and Vesselina Kasarova (Polina) from a live concert a year or so ago. It's a pirate recording, so the sound quality is iffy, but what does come through is earworm-worthy in my book!