Welcome to Day 8 of the SDFP Virtual Mayoral Forum.
All of the candidates running for mayor were invited to participate in this forum, where their verbatim answers to questions posed by our editors and contributors would allow readers to get a different look at these aspirants for higher office than they might see in a TV interview or a panel debate.
Of the major candidates only Kevin Faulconer’s campaign decided not to participate. They didn’t say “no”. They didn’t say “we’re too busy”. They didn’t say anything. And that speaks volumes about both the candidate and the campaign, we think.
(You can read the other topics we’ve covered at the following links – Day 1, Asking about managed competition, here , Day 2, Looking back on the Plaza de Panama controversy, here, Day 3, The Building Permit Process is a Hot Mess and Plans for the Planning Department, here. Day 4. Walkable/Bikeable Neighborhoods and Public Transit, here. Day 5, Fixing the Infrastructure, here. Day 6, What About the Homeless?, here. Day 7, ObamaCare in San Diego, here.)
SDFP will follow up next week with some analysis of the candidates’ responses, talking about whether they did or did not correspond with out values.
Today’s topic was in fact an invitation for the contenders to speak in depth about any one (or more) of four issues.
The issues were: Human Trafficking: Sex and Labor (do you know there are an estimated 38,000 forced labor trafficked persons in the County of San Diego?), the Environment, Abandoned Animals / Need to Spay and Neuter Animals, and Domestic Violence.
All the respondents elected to speak to the environmental question. SDFP editor Annie Lane has written up a little background on the subject.
According to the League of Conservation Voters, San Diego leaders have a less than glowing report card when it comes to making environmentally conscious decisions regarding our city. While most city council members managed to improve their report card in 2012, the majority still earned an unimpressive C. An in-depth breakdown of how grades are awarded can be found here.
One exception to this is potential mayor David Alvarez, who scored the highest among his colleagues — a B grade — which he earned with his stance against the approval of the Convention Center expansion environmental review and a contract for legal services that would allow the city to continue ducking an environmental review for fireworks and special event permitting. Carl DeMaio and former Mayor Jerry Sanders flat out flunked their report cards. (Nathan Fletcher received the League’s endorsement, a source of controversy covered this week by SDFP columnist Jim Miller and a couple of dozen plus commenters, many of whom had other points of view.)
With issues looming like the expansion of the convention center; the decade-long threat of/hope for a new football stadium; the Water Purification Demonstration Project (formerly Indirect Potable Reuse); the need for an updated Climate Action Plan; and community plans for a cleaner environment — especially in underserved neighborhoods — there’s plenty for San Diego’s mayoral candidates to address.
8. Under the Radar
There are significant and troubling under-reported issues that we face throughout the city and which a number of our communities face much more than others. Please choose one (or more) of the following issues and discuss what you would do as mayor to acknowledge and address it.
The Environment. What are the most pressing environmental issues that the City of San Diego faces?
As recently as 1995, the San Diego Water Authority relied on imports for 95% of the San Diego region’s total water supply. In 2012, the water supply had been significantly diversified with only 45% imported from the Metropolitan Water District.
After severe drought in the 1990’s, San Diego’s water supply was cut by 31%. For a county importing more than 80% of its water supply, a 30% reduction was a serious threat. Shortages meant higher prices. If a drought 20 years ago resulted in such a significant of a cutback, imagine the consequences of a drought today.
The San Diego region imports the majority of its water from the Colorado River. The City’s almost complete reliance on outside water sources are risky and can lead to significant shortages and price increases in the face of droughts, natural disasters or regulatory restrictions.
The states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming all draw water from the Colorado River, its tributaries and reservoirs and serves 40 million people, nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland, seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and 11 national parks under a compact between the states that dates back to 1922.
California is allocated 4.4 million-acre feet of water (an acre-foot of water is equivalent to one acre with 12 inches of water on it, and a million acre feet is abbreviated “maf”), but regularly diverts almost 1 maf of unused water apportioned to other states not using their full allocation.
However, that will change because of record drought and overuse of water. Tree-ring reconstructions of stream flow suggest the past 14 years rank among the lowest stream-flow periods in 1,200 years, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. Lake Mead, an essential source of the Colorado River basin water, has lost the equivalent of one entire year’s worth of flow, or 8 million acre-feet of water. Lake Powell also is missing a year’s worth (about 15 million acre-feet). Drought is the main culprit for Lake Powell, while Lake Mead’s issue is overuse.
As part of its ongoing management of Colorado River reservoirs, the Bureau of Reclamation has determined that under 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, a release of 7.48 million acre-feet (maf) from Lake Powell is required in water year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013 – Sept. 30, 2014). An annual release of 7.48 maf is the lowest release since the filling of Lake Powell in the 1960s.
The second greatest amount of water San Diego County obtains is from the Sacramento – San Joaquin Bay – Delta. Over the past five years, the Bay-Delta provided 20% of San Diego County’s water supply.
For years, the Bay-Delta has been afflicted by environmental, structural and water supply problems, which, among other impacts, has resulted in a decline of its water supply reliability. If the water supply from the Bay Delta were cut off for any reason, it would have a catastrophic effect on the state’s economy.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act was signed in 2009 and was designed to reform water policies and launch plans to restore the Bay Delta. Consequently, water agencies, environmental and conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, and other groups have collaborated to develop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).
The latest BDCP administrative draft proposes a series of alternatives that center around a 50-year permit to build a new conveyance system in the north Bay Delta, construct three new intakes, insert two tunnels that would transfer water to the existing plants in the south Bay Delta, and implement conservation measures to protect the Bay Delta’s endangered species.
The entire 50-year implementation of the plan would cost about $24.5 billion to be paid for by water consumers throughout the state. The official draft of the BDCP and its environmental review should be released this month so state and federal authorities, as well as local agencies, can submit formal comments on the plan. State officials intend on making a decision on the plan in spring 2014.
While it’s agreed that the state of the Bay Delta is in decline and needs to be improved in order to secure southern California’s water supply, not everyone is ready to endorse the BDCP.
Due to ongoing problems with both the Colorado River Basin and the Bay Delta, the San Diego County Water Authority recently approved a 30-Year Water Purchase Agreement from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, under which the Authority will purchase 56,000 acre-feet of water per year starting in 2016. By 2020, the Water Authority’s goal is for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant to produce about one-third of all water produced in San Diego. This would result in a reliance on outside water sources of less than 30%.
I believe what we n eed to do is look to other countries that face drought conditions on a regular basis due to their location and climate, like Australia, and solicit their assistance.
As the driest inhabited continent on earth, Australia’s water resources are scarce and must be carefully managed. It ranks 40 out of 188 countries for water availability. The prevailing drought conditions, aggravated by global warming, demonstrate that levels of water use are completely unsustainable. The seas surrounding Australia make up 70 percent of its sovereign territory, yet 96 percent of this rich resource remains unmapped and unused. Therefore, the real challenge lies in conserving water properly and rationing its use according to need.
Responding to these challenges, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization ( CSIRO) is developing scientific solutions for more sustainable, efficient and innovative use of Australia’s marine and fresh water resources. These involve better understanding of ocean systems and climate processes, more efficient land-use practices, improved irrigation, new water re-use and treatment technologies, integrated social and economic analysis, and monitoring and predictive tools.
In 2007 and 2008, CSIRO undertook the world’s first water resource assessment of its scale for the groundwater and surface waters of the Murray-Darling Basin, reporting on current and future climate scenarios and possible land management changes. In March 2008, the Council of Australian Governments expanded this assessment to provide a comprehensive scientific assessment of water yield in all major water systems across the country to allow a consistent analytical framework for water policy decisions across the nation.
Over the past few years, Australia has proven to be among the most progressive countries when it comes to environmental sustainability, particularly in the field of water conservation. To tackle the issue of water sustainability on a nationwide scale, the Australian government has been particularly intelligent in creating awareness as well as generating interest among its people through the policies that they develop, the resources that they make available, and the incentives they provide.
The current situation in Melbourne, Australia, which has watched its water reserves decline from 100% in 1997 to 30% today, represents a likely scenario for the southwestern U.S. and for San Diego. The four years from 2006 to 2009 were the driest for the river that supplies Australia’s second-largest city, and the problems are expected to get worse. Melbourne’s population is projected to grow by 2 million in the next 10 years, and the city is building a second desalination plant because it outgrew the one that came online in 2011.
In Queensland, Australia’s fastest-growing state, with 2.7 million residents, the Water Commission has implemented a variety of measures. From a management perspective, it reduced the number of utilities in the state from 23 to seven. It built a desalination plant. In addition to developing a system to connect dams supplying the area, it installed an indirect potable reuse system similar to what currently exists in Orange County.
On the consumer end, Queensland instituted an aggressive campaign to change the behavior of its residents. In 2006, when Queensland’s dams had declined to 30% capacity and water restrictions were already in place, it prohibited homeowners from watering their landscapes and washing their cars and homes’ windows. Yet, further water restrictions were necessary. So, Queensland gave residents goals. Specifically, residents were asked to use just 35 to 40 gallons of water per person per day – a savings that could be attained if residents reduced seven-minute showers to four minutes.
In addition to giving residents free shower timers, that message was widely advertised on television and in outdoor advertising. Those who significantly exceeded the goal were sent letters asking them to explain their water use; of those, 34% reduced their consumption to the appropriate level immediately and 9% discovered they had a leak.
In addition to outreach, a $261-million rebate program provided residents with 508,000 water-saving devices, rainwater tanks, low-flush toilets and water- efficient showerheads. The result was a population that didn’t just meet the stated goal but exceeded it. Although rain has since returned to Queensland, and water use levels are now less restricted, one of our objectives is that residents use only what they need. By Queensland standards that’s about 30 gallons per person per day, compared with 200 to 300 gallons per person per day in Southern California.
California is the largest, and 18th fastest-growing, state in the nation. L.A. County alone is projected to grow from the 18.6 million residents today to 26 million by 2030. The City of San Diego is expected to surpass 1.7 million by 2030 and 1.9 million by 2015, a 49% increase in population from 2000.
Australia’s programs for water sustainability have proven to be very effective, as reports show the improvement in consumption and wastage as compared to previous years. Knowing this, it should serve as an example for San Diego so that the efforts to conserve water as well as sustain the current supply will not just be local, statewide or nationwide, but worldwide.
For the remainder of 2013, the dry winter, below average rainfall and snowpack, and reduced supply from the State Water project has created what may turn out to be drought conditions, making San Diego resident’s water conservation efforts critical to helping manage the extremely low water supplies.
From July 1, 2005, through July 1, 2010, the City Council raised residential water rates between 16% and 22% a year to pay for capital improvements to water conveyance and other related infrastructure improvements, as well as to cover the increasing costs of imported supplies.
During that period, the average residential water bill grew by between 82% and 111%.
A February 2012 report by Investigative Newsource, the nonprofit journalism center based at San Diego State University, found that five years after the City Council implemented a series of utility rate hikes in 2007, only 39 of 111 projects had been completed. In addition, $214 million in the water account and $419 million in the sewer account, both accumulated from rate increases and unspent bond proceeds, sat idle.
The Investigative Newsource report also stated that the city was supposed to conduct an independent audit annually to examine the rate-hike program, but that none had been undertaken.
The City established the Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) by municipal statute in 2007 to serve as an official advisory body to the Mayor and City Council on issues relating to the oversight of the City of San Diego’s water and wastewater services. IROC’s charge was to assist the City in tracking and reviewing the use of rate proceeds to advance water and sewer infrastructure improvements.
IROC was also tasked with independently evaluating information and conducting its work in a manner that balanced the interests of both the Public Utilities Department and the ratepayers.
On December 12, 2012, IROC issued a report to the Mayor and City Council recommending that, “no further water rate increases or sewer rate increases be adopted – either retail or pass-through – until the current rate structure [could] be recalibrated through the “Cost of Service” study currently underway.” The report also determined that water and sewer rate increases be halted until IROC could “review revenue, expenditures, and sales volume assumptions underlying the study.”
With a looming water availability and cost crisis, and the documented issues concerning San Diego’s water supply and affordability, the City cannot afford to seemingly misplace over $630 million – $214 million of which was for the purchase, distribution and upgrades to ancient conveyance infrastructure for water. Nor should ratepayers be forced to pay the City for water and sewer access and upgrades that never take place.
When it comes to water and wastewater, easily preventable mistakes like these are not just issues of fiscal mismanagement, but also negligence on a large scale given the water availability, sustainability and cost issues that are upon us and that will only continue to get worse.
It’s time for the City of San Diego to take center stage and be a world leader in taking action to address climate change, the biggest threat to public health. It’s time for San Diego to be a role model for other cities to demonstrate how communities can address the climate challenge and thrive and prosper while doing it.
Adopting and implementing a meaningful Climate Action Plan is critical to protecting the health and well being of San Diego’s current and future residents, and rebuilding our economy in a sustainable way.
We can plan for and lead on climate change, and, by using our resources more wisely, we can also make our homes and buildings more energy and water efficient; build local clean energy like solar on our rooftops and parking lots throughout the City; make our neighborhoods and streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians; improve our public transit system and ensure affordability to all residents; and add more parks and native landscaping in our urban neighborhoods.
Ultimately, given the threat of climate change, we must also help our residents and businesses prepare for some of the unavoidable impacts of climate change like sea level rise, more intense heat waves, and more intense storms, by taking action to make our buildings and infrastructure are resilient against the impacts and ensure our residents have access to services like cooling centers and medical services, especially for our disadvantaged communities.
Again – all above – without solving financial + pension crisis; all you can do is to coordinate with appropriate agency.
What are the most pressing environmental issues that the City of San Diego faces?
Preserving and enhancing our environment is of utmost importance to me. This week, I was honored to receive the endorsement of The League of Conservation Voters. Listed below are some of the most pressing environmental issues that San Diego’s communities face and what I will do as mayor to address them.
As a father of two young boys, I’m committed not just to protecting but enhancing our canyons, beaches, bays and water supply for our future. San Diego’s economic prosperity and quality of life are dependent on how we manage our natural resources and our precious water supply.
Despite San Diegans’ high degree of environmental awareness and concern, our beaches, bays and ocean are plagued by pollution from sewer discharge, trash and stormwater runoff. In addition, inadequate infrastructure at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant makes our treatment plant the last in the state to comply with federal sewage-‐discharge regulations.
As San Diego’s next mayor, I’ll act to protect our water quality today and for future generations by immediately addressing pollution that forces closure of our waterways and beaches, threatens our tourism industry and disrupts our ocean and bay ecosystems.
Here’s my Clean Water & Safe Beaches plan, which I released on Oct. 23rd.
Improving Access to Affordable and Reliable Public Transportation
Local leaders have not properly prioritized the need to serve the residents of our communities with the transportation needed to get to work or to access job centers and public services in a timely manner. As Mayor, I’ll work to ensure the equitable expenditure of our transportation dollars on transit projects and operations that can have a huge impact on our environment by lessening our dependence on single-‐rider automobiles while also creating a positive economic impact through increased mobility for underserved residents and increased ridership among residents who will find it easier to take public transportation.
Improving Access to Nature and the Environment for all San Diegans
San Diego has nearly 40,000 acres of developed and undeveloped open space, more than 340 parks, and 25 miles of shoreline. However, the majority of these assets are concentrated north of the 8 Freeway. The most park-‐poor areas of our city are also the areas with the highest concentrations of low-‐income households and people of color. In fact, there are few areas in the region with high concentrations of low-‐income households and people of color that are not park-‐poor. As Mayor, I am committed to refocusing our Parks & Recreation Department on addressing this inequity.
Eliminating Lead Paint Poisoning of Children
In many of our older communities, lead paint is still causing harm to a large number of economically disadvantaged children and children of color. Although San Diego has a lead paint ordinance, more resources are needed for retrofits and to encourage residents and property owners to make repairs. As Mayor, I want to strengthen the lead paint ordinance while also providing additional resources in order to increase the number of lead paint abatements done each year.