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160 local residents are among 3,400 notified of possible medical equipment contamination

 About 160 Ramona-area residents have been notified that they could
have been exposed to infections during medical procedures at a number
of Palomar Pomerado Health (PPH) departments from Dec. 1, 2008 to March
22, 2010.
   Certified letters were mailed early last month to a total of  3,400
patients in the county who were informed that techniques used to
disinfect equipment during a 16-month period could have put them at
risk for hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV. Patients were directed to
contact a call center, staffed by registered nurses, and set up an
appointment for a free blood test. 
   As of last Friday, 1,112 patients had been tested and not a single
infection has been found, said Opal Reinbold, chief quality officer for
PPH.
   “We knew that the risk was very low, but we just took this extra
step because we did not want to take any chances. Consideration for our
patients comes first,” Reinbold said.

SDG&E may shut off power in high-risk conditions

   San Diego Gas & Electric Co. is once again talking about
shutting off power during high-risk fire conditions, but this time the
winds would have to be much higher and the affected areas would
probably be smaller.
   Last fall the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) rejected
an emergency shut-off plan proposed by SDG&E but made it clear that
the utility has a “statutory obligation” to protect public safety by
operating its system safely—a responsibility that could include
shutting off power.
   “There is no dispute that SDG&E may need to shut off power in
order to protect public safety if Santa Ana winds exceed the design
limits for SDG&E’s system and threaten to topple power lines onto
tinder dry brush,” the commissioners said in their ruling.

New criteria set for red flag warnings

 New criteria for red flag warnings, which place more emphasis on high
winds than low humidity, are being given positive reviews by fire
officials who serve Ramona.
   In the original standards set by the National Weather Service in
2003, a red flag warning could be issued if the relative humidity was
expected to be 10 percent or lower for 10 hours or more.
   But now the weather service is saying that a humidity of 15 percent
or lower for at least six hours must be combined with sustained winds
of at least 25 mph or frequent gusts of 35 mph to justify a red flag
warning.
   “We agree with this philosophy,” said CalFire Battalion Chief Nick
Schuler. “Even though low humidity is a problem, what really fuels
fires is extreme winds, especially Santa Ana winds.
   “Under the old criteria, normal weather patterns in Southern California—for example, low humidity—would trigger a warning.”

SDG&E, critics take another step toward agreement

 An attempt by San Diego Gas & Electric and its critics to reach
consensus about a comprehensive fire prevention program for the county
took another step forward recently.
   A group of about 50 stakeholders in the process met with a federal
mediator to finalize a list of mutual interests, which were drawn up by
a volunteer subcommittee of seven, representing the county,
telecommunications, water authorities, fire agencies and SDG&E.
   “We came up with a list of 85 interests, and 73 are considered to be
mutual interests, so I think we’re ready to move on to step three,
which is the brainstorming of ideas that will help prevent catastrophic
wildfires in San Diego County,” said SDG&E spokesman Stephanie
Donovan.
   To speed up the process before the next meeting on March 5, the stakeholders were given some “homework,” Donovan said.

River park’s future tied to San Diego’s budget

 The future of the San Dieguito River Park, which runs from Del Mar to
Volcan Mountain north of Julian, is being threatened by the San Diego
City Council’s decision to eliminate its annual contribution of
$295,000. That amount represents 36 percent of the park’s operating
budget.
   A possible solution—to transfer the budget responsibility to the San
Diego City Water Department—was proposed more than two months ago but
no action has been taken, so the park’s executive director, Dick
Bobertz, is asking citizens to contact San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders to
express their concerns.
   “We’re just trying to get the case in front of the major,” Bobertz
said. “I know that he has big problems that overrule our little piece
of the pie, but we just want him to know that there are people out
there who care about what happens to the park.”

Intermountain rating means lower fire insurance

   A new and better insurance rating for the Intermountain Fire and
Rescue Department could save some residents in that area $1,000 a year
in homeowners’ insurance and allow others who have been uninsurable to
get coverage.
   For the past 18 years, the department has had the worst rating
possible—a 10—issued by the Insurance Service Office (ISO), an
independent advisory organization that serves the insurance industry.
Living in an area with a 10 rating makes it extremely difficult, if not
impossible, to get insurance.
   The department recently asked the ISO to review the rating and has
been informed that, as of May 1, those living within five miles of the
department’s station, which is eight miles east of Ramona’s town center
on Highway 78, will now have a 4 rating, said Chief Cary “Dusty”
Coleman. The remainder of the district will receive a rank of 9.

Six-member panel to help break SDG&E stalemate

   The attempt by San Diego Gas & Electric and its critics to reach
consensus about a comprehensive fire prevention plan for the county
took a different turn at the group’s last meeting on Jan. 8.
   To counteract concerns that the process is moving too slowly, a
six-member subcommittee was created to make some decisions that have
eluded the larger group of about 50 participants.
   “Fewer people in the room will make it a lot easier,” said Mikal Nicholls from the San Diego County Office of Education.
   Nicholls will serve on the subcommittee, along with attorney Karen
Landers, who is also with the County Office of  Education,  Gary Eaton
from the San Diego County Water Authority, Viejas Fire Chief Don Butz,
Dave Geier of SDG&E and Susan Lipper from T-Mobile, representing
the telecommunications industry.
   The subcommittee, assisted by a federal mediator, will meet on Jan.
19 in place of a regularly scheduled group meeting. Its findings will
be posted on a federal mediation Web site, which can only be accessed
by the stakeholders, and will be discussed at the next meeting of the
entire body on Feb. 12.

Ramonan is finalist for state Educator of Year

 This weekend, Ramona resident Mary McDonald will be competing for the
title of state Educator of the Year at a California League of High
Schools conference in Monterey.
   McDonald, who is head counselor at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High
School, already holds that title for Region 9, which includes San Diego
and Imperial counties. She received that award on Dec. 15 in
recognition of her accomplishments as a change agent and advocate for
students at her school.
   McDonald was nominated for the award by Mira Mesa Principal Scott
Giusti, who praised her “consistent leadership and guidance.”

Region 9 Educator of Year Mary McDonald lives here

   Ramona resident Mary McDonald, head counselor at San Diego’s Mira
Mesa High School, has been selected California League of High Schools
Educator of the Year for Region 9, which includes San Diego and
Imperial counties.
   In receiving the honor, McDonald beat out nine other finalists,
including Robert Grace, a popular Ramona High teacher who was profiled
in the Sentinel on Dec. 10. Her win came at a league banquet on Dec. 15 at the Admiral Kidd Club.
The next step for McDonald will be to vie for the state title at a league conference on Jan. 15-16 in Monterey, Calif.
   The fact that she is part of this competition at all is still a
shock to McDonald, who had no clue that her principal, Scott Giusti,
had nominated her for the award.

SDG&E continues power shut-off talks with critics

  The process being used to create a comprehensive fire prevention plan
for San Diego County continued to inch along last week as officials of
San Diego Gas & Electric met with critics who had opposed its plan
to shut off electricity in times of high fire danger.
   This group of stakeholders in any plan to prevent wildfires had its
second meeting with a federal mediator, Jan Sunoo, hired by the utility
under a four-month contract.
   “We’re still finding out how the process works, using the
methodology brought forward by the mediator,” said Ramona’s Diane
Conklin of the Mussey Grade Road Alliance.

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