Michael Thometz, an activist from Campo who’d fought to preserve the character of the East County backcountry, died last week at 70.

I’ve been out of town, but I wanted to add a few belated thoughts about Mr. Thometz. We first spoke in late 2006: I’d photographed carrot fields while hiking east of Jacumba. When the photograph was published, Mr. Thometz e-mailed to ask whether I had news about a housing subdivision proposed there.

That conversation, which morphed into a discussion about the role of agriculture in the backcountry, served as the spark for a story we published in late 2007 about the sustained decline of cattle ranching and its implications for East County development.

I interviewed him as I was preparing that story, and we discussed his views about whether clustered development — building a few homes close together and preserving the rest of a ranch — was better or worse than having an active cattle operation. We were specifically talking about Star Ranch, a 460-home subdivision proposed on a cattle ranch near Campo.

He was loaded with documents about Star Ranch: Every letter the developers had sent to the community (with photocopies of the envelopes), archival newspaper coverage, copies of letters he’d written to editors of community papers.

His comments got cut as I edited the story down. I wanted to pass them along now, they seem to sum up the man and his passion. His argument wasn’t about how the homes were built; it was whether they were built at all. With a developer arguing that the project would benefit the community, Mr. Thometz said this:

You can say we’re Luddites, you can say we’re no-growthers, but we want to preserve the rural character. We don’t care if there’s a cleaners or a latte shop down at the corner.


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