By Tanya Mannes / UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF / June 11, 2008
OTAY MESA – About 70 people, many wearing green “Stop Blackwater” T-shirts, protested Wednesday afternoon across the street from the warehouse facility where Blackwater Worldwide is training Navy sailors in law-enforcement tactics.
Tom Lamb, a retired geologist who lives in Deer Horn Valley, held a sign that said, “Don’t drink the Blackwater Kool-Aid.” Lamb said he opposes Blackwater and what it stands for: outsourcing military functions. “We definitely need a strong military, but tax dollars should not be wasted on private armies,” he said. “This particular company, Blackwater, in my opinion, has done our service people a disservice by creating more enemies each day than our military can handle.” Lamb said he was involved in the opposition effort to Blackwater’s proposal in the East County community of Potrero.
Area residents learned about the Otay Mesa facility in April, a few weeks after Blackwater canceled its controversial plans to open an 824-acre military training center in Potrero.
Also protesting Wednesday was Judy Hess, a Chula Vista resident. Hess said she lives in Eastlake, and the Blackwater facility is “just a few miles away from my neighborhood.” She said she opposes “everything Blackwater stands for. It stands for mercenaries in Iraq; it stands for the slaughter of innocent Iraqis; it stands for danger to our border.” “We do not want San Diego County to stand for this carnage,” Hess said. Hess doesn’t have specific concerns about the Otay Mesa facility, but said Blackwater “doesn’t belong anywhere.”
Blackwater opened the 61,600-square-foot industrial building last week after a judge blocked San Diego from stalling the project for public hearings. On Wednesday, a banner hung on the building that said: “Proudly serving the United States Navy.”
Public opposition centers on how Blackwater obtained permits for the Otay Mesa facility through the city’s routine administrative process rather than through the City Council. Other concerns include the facility’s proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The industrial building is near Brown Field. Inside, Blackwater has installed a shooting range, a simulated Navy ship and classrooms. The training includes marksmanship and police techniques, such as arrests, for handling terrorism incidents and other emergency situations at sea.
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Tanya Mannes: (619) 498-6639; firstname.lastname@example.org