Julia Ritzo is a quiet-talking environmentalist who lives in an old country house warmed only by a fireplace and a wood-burning stove. It's all part of her experiment in minimalist living.
Normally, she's happiest penning poetry or short stories on her lantern-lit front porch overlooking Warner Springs. But lately, something has altered her designs on the simple life.
San Diego County is considering turning a nearby canyon into a landfill.
Ritzo, surprising even herself, has decided to buck incredible--perhaps impossible--odds by becoming the only candidate seeking to topple incumbent county Supervisor John MacDonald in the June 5 primary. MacDonald is seeking a second term.
It won't be easy. Ritzo, a 44-year-old political unknown, has only three weeks and a shoestring budget for a write-in campaign to galvanize the pro-environmental and slow-growth vote throughout North County's sprawling 5th District.
An independent who thinks of politics "as being kind of a messy business," Ritzo reluctantly entered the race against MacDonald, 68, whom she castigates for supporting a landfill at one of three North County sites.
"I kept waiting for some other big-shot politician to go up against MacDonald, but it never happened," Ritzo said, "so I came forward. When I first started, I didn't have the objective of winning, I just had some statements to make."
But two weeks ago, the licensed family counselor, former county social worker and current part-time schoolteacher decided to wage as serious a campaign as her circumstances would allow.
Despite her rather basic lifestyle, she doesn't want to be painted as some granola-munching environmentalist, but rather as a candidate with broad appeal to voters who are weary of traditional growth and wasteful technology.
The linchpin of her effort is the widespread public sentiment against the site finalists for a North County landfill: rural Fallbrook, Pauma Valley and Blue Canyon near Warner Springs.
Ritzo said supervisors are "pressing people into panic over what to do with the trash" generated in the county, while MacDon ald is "going to have his dumps even if it costs him the election."
She favors "landfill mining," a recovery process that extracts recyclable materials from existing landfills. "I don't even know if we're considering something like this," she said.
But Ritzo, whose parents are state legislators in New Hampshire, also espouses a total environmental platform, saying that "we need to stop making the gross national product our god" and emphasize reusing resources.
"This idea of constant growth has to turn around; we can't support it as a people or a planet," said Ritzo, who believes that many voters know the ecology is in peril and will support her candidacy.
Yet, for all her idealism, this single parent of three daughters, two of them grown, has flung herself headlong into the cold world of political reality.
"She hasn't got a prayer," said Jack Orr, a well-known political consultant in North County.
Acknowledging that money truly is the mother's milk of politics, Orr said that "it would cost $30,000 simply to let every household where there's a chance of somebody voting even know you're a write-in candidate. It always comes down to economics."
He figures that direct mailers alone would cost $100,000, which happens to be the sum MacDonald's campaign spent on his 1986 election to the Board of Supervisors. He defeated Clyde Romney, an Escondido lawyer, by garnering 59.8% of the vote.
The numbers could favor MacDonald again this election, as 54% of the district's 253,365 voters were registered Republicans as of May 1. MacDonald is also Republican, although the office is nonpartisan. He needs only a simply majority to win.
Ritzo says MacDonald is ignoring her and refuses to debate. "I'm the only candidate running against him, and he won't even acknowledge me," she said.
"I wish her well, but I don't plan to campaign against her," said MacDonald, who is amazed that his only competitor is a woman who doesn't watch television and hangs her clothes out to dry.
"I'm surprised we didn't have somebody file against me," he said.
A former Oceanside City Council member and community college president, MacDonald acknowledges that the proposed landfill is highly controversial, but says it is also critically needed.
"Whether you recycle, burn or compost, you're always going to have a residual you're going to have to get rid of," he said.
Ritzo's landfill stance is clearly winning her support. Volunteers are helping, and one of her neighbors, who owns a marketing research firm in San Diego, is donating services.
While the odds are great and time is short for her grass-roots campaign, she is taking any and all speaking engagements and soliciting donations.
Charisse Krieger, president of the Neighborhood Alliance of Oceanside, said that "as far as I'm concerned, for North County there has really been no other issue" besides the landfill.
That being the case, Ritzo "would have a broad appeal in North County. . . . The lady has some terrific ideas that are workable solutions to the trash problems."
Still, "unless she raises enough money," Krieger said, "MacDonald will win."