e all have our favorite places. It might be a particular stretch of shoreline, a grassy pasture or wooded hillside or maybe just your own neighborhood. Let's face it, this is San Diego: you probably have many favorites.

And if you have lived here for more than a few years, the chances are good that you've seen some of these places change for the worse, or disappear entirely. The most common cause is the developer's bulldozer, but neglect, illegal activities or simple overuse can also take their toll.

While these changes may be disappointing or even upsetting, the social and political systems we live in rarely encourage us to step up, stand out and try to make a difference. Caught between the irresistible force of financial interests and the immovable object called "city hall," the only sure outcome seems to be being ground to a pulp by endless conflict. This perception, of course, serves the purposes of those with the money and power. Empowering you is not a priority. In fact, it's not on the agenda at all.

So we get angry or sad, complain a little or a lot to our friends and family, and mostly just get resigned to "the way things are."

It is against this backdrop of resignation that the individuals in the next four stories stand out in sharp relief. When their favorite places were violated, they actually had the nerve to take it personally. They didn't know how to fight, and they fought. They didn't know how to organize, and they built organizations. And where defeat was certain, they have tasted some measure of victory.

Some define heroes, not as extraordinary men, but as ordinary men with extraordinary commitments. Are these heroes? You decide.

- Chris Klein

Santee's Fanita Ranch: open space or urban sprawl?

Famosa Slough has some Friends ...

We pledge allegiance... to the Earth

For our community, for our neighborhood ... for the oaks