Lisa M. Gallinat :
The Valley’s Greatest AssetBy Gary Redfern
In the vast open desert of western Imperial County newly built 142-foot-high towers gleam in the bright sun, heralding a new era for electric power. They will carry electricity from the county’s burgeoning renewable energy industry led by geothermal, solar and wind. Those power-generating plants are carved from desert and farmland crisscrossed with myriad canals, roads, highways and utility lines, and pipes both above and below ground, creating a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of absolute beauty when it all fits together and potential disaster when it does not.
If anything, IID could have been something she sought to avoid. When Gallinat was just 6 years old her father, Marley Darr, suffered a near fatal 33,000 volt electric shock while attempting to repair a power line
“Water and electricity do not mix,” Lisa M. Gallinat exclaims with a hearty bellow.
As a land management specialist in the Real Estate Section of the Imperial Irrigation District, Gallinat understands her community as few do, much as a physician sees a person yet is attuned to the human body’s complex physiology.
“I joke and I say I know all the dirt in town,” she laughs again. “I manage the district’s land assets, the real property, the rights of way, the easements. Most projects that occur affect the District’s system or its facilities. We work with all agencies. Where there are railroads and highways, we work with all those issues as well.”
From her small windowless office in the IID Valley Plaza complex in El Centro Gallinat plays a vital role in orchestrating many of the area’s most important projects. The aforementioned towers are the Sunrise Powerlink, a power-line expansion needed to move megawatts of renewable energy generated in Imperial County to customers in coastal urban areas. Imperial County’s potential benefits are more jobs, commerce and tax revenues that will come, it is hoped, without detriment to anything pre-existing.
Gallinat’s duties also include selling off tens of thousands of acres the IID acquired from Western Farms in the wake of Western’s ill-fated 1990s play to buy up Imperial Valley land and then sell off the water rights. It turned out they could not sell the water rights, so IID agreed to buy the land. A large landowner, IID has been selling the inventory, with some to renewable energy developers.
“We’ve sold land to solar developers for well over $10,000 an acre that was worth at best $3,000 an acre for farming,” she says. “We can’t stick our heads in the sand. Solar is here. We need renewable energy, and California has mandated we add it to our portfolio. Those are developers that will contribute to the economy.”
Yet any time someone wants to develop land, build a road or drill a hole, IID must get involved to sort out land ownership, water and power rights of way and easements so the district customers do not face adverse impact.
“My job is to protect IID and figure out how to balance all those things,” Gallinat says.
An Imperial Valley native and third-generation IID employee with experience in law, insurance and urban planning, her varied background and knowledge of the area are strong assets. Her ambition, keen intellect and patience for detail, have allowed her to ascend throughout her 27-year IID career. Yet she bristles at accusations of nepotism at the district.
“My grandfather worked in the auto shop and my father was a lineman, but I had no family members working here when I came on board,” she says.
going into the Naval Air Facility El Centro. He survived despite severe burns, but his lineman’s career was over. It was district employees who helped the family recover from the tragedy.
“One of the things I remember is the IID employees association paid for a television for his hospital room. The district employees, the Imperial Baptist Church, the Imperial credit union, they all helped. People don’t see that side of IID, but it really is an extended family,” Gallinat explains.
“When I came to work here I had that pride that those people had helped my family. I can now help people as well. There is an employee organization that focuses on this, but the public doesn’t see it.”
Gallinat is no stranger to public service. She is the president of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Navy League, a national organization that works in a variety of ways to make life easier for military members on active duty and their families. She became familiar with the organization through her late husband, William “Bill” Macklin, a well-known Imperial Valley attorney who also served as a Municipal Court judge and who passed away in 2001. Besides her work with the Navy League, her penchant for a big laugh might be among her greatest testaments to him. An engaging public speaker, Macklin was the go-to guy to emcee local events, a role he truly loved.
“He was very outgoing and a funny, funny man,” she fondly recalls. “He was a deputy sheriff and an undercover narcotics officer and taught school before becoming an attorney. I remember he and his cousin sold flowers on street corners in San Diego to help put themselves through college.”
Gallinat recalls meeting Macklin when he was the new attorney at an El Centro law firm where she worked and that she very quickly realized they would get married. They were married for 19 years.
After Macklin’s death Gallinat dedication to the Navy League remained. Besides the public service, the camaraderie and friendships are long lasting, especially for her.
While volunteering to ferry cold beverages out to arriving performers for the NAF El Centro Air Show in 2008, she met a sailor who was the Flight Engineer on a P-3 Orion aircraft that had flown in from Jacksonville, Fla.
“We showed up with the golf cart. He was coming down the ladder of the plane. I thought ‘what an interesting man.’ We stayed in touch and developed a friendship,” she recalls.
Three years later at the NAF Air Show at the bottom of the ladder of a parked P-3 Orion she married that former Flight Engineer, now NAF El Centro’s Command Master Chief Ted Gallinat.
“My father and drove up in a golf cart. Ted and I wore flight suits. Our reception was in a chalet at the air show. We’re just enjoying life. I am completely content,” Gallinat says.
Content in her personal life, her drive to succeed has not eased in her professional life. As a Navy League regional president she mentors and oversees 24 local councils with more than 6,600 members. It is a duty she cherishes.
“The average person doesn’t remember we have a war going on. Our military is in a constant state of readiness. We need to let them know somebody cares,” she explains of the Navy League’s efforts, which range from helping military families with day-to-day living challenges to advocacy to recognition for sailors and Marines who excel at their duties.
Looking to the future, Gallinat sees perhaps a larger role for NAF El Centro and as such she is co-chair of a local coalition working to have the base be the home of the Navy’s new F-35 squadron. The highly advanced jet fighter will be the successor to the F-18 Hornet, a stalwart fighter most known as the jet used by the Blue Angels.
“We think it would have an enormous positive impact. It could create up to 5,000 jobs (military and nonmilitary). Imperial Valley is on the final list with Lemoore (Naval Air Station). If we are proactive, we have a better chance,” Gallinat says.
Her professional disposition might best be delineated by the head of a large longhorned steer mounted on the wall behind her desk. A sign nearby reads “My cow died so I don’t need your bull.” It demonstrates her toughness but also that she has a sense of humor, two attributes she notes are integral to her job.
“I’ll have my plan for the day, but I don’t know what’s going to walk through the door,” Gallinat explains about why she enjoys her work. “If it’s a special project, ‘Lisa’ gets it. It’s probably because I’m good at figuring things out.”