By Doug Porter
A little less than two months ago, the San Diego City Council declared a ‘state of emergency in advance’, based on predictions of an unusually intense El Niño weather pattern.
What this meant in practice was the potential for more immediate access to State and Federal emergency funding. And now it’s looking like those funds will be needed. A procession of storms is coming through the area and the city’s already poorly maintained infrastructure is proving to be unable to handle the stress.
Scattered bands of showers turned into intense downpours on Tuesday afternoon. Roads throughout the region were closed by flooding. Lifeguards and fire rescue teams responded to 75 emergency calls in the late afternoon, most of them dealing with vehicles stranded in flooded intersections.
Three thousand homes and businesses lost power in parts of Encinitas, Solana Beach, Olivenhain, Rancho Santa Fe, Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs and Point Loma. The San Diego River rose much higher than predicted, crossing the flood stage threshold 9pm on Tuesday evening.
All this rain might cause some people to think that the California’s record-breaking drought is over. Sadly, that’s not true.
From the Union-Tribune:
Meteorologists are predicting rain and snow for San Diego County until Friday, and perhaps even Saturday. The forecast then calls for a few days of drying out, but preliminary computer models are indicating that another storm could reach Southern California by the middle of next week.
Amid this backdrop, state regulators on Tuesday cautioned that even the wettest of winters can’t replenish depleted reservoirs and aquifers over the long term unless residents continue to reduce their outdoor irrigation and indoor water usage.
They conveyed the message as they released residential water-use figures for November, revealing that Californians missed the governor’s drought-related 25 percent conservation mandate for the second straight month.
City Councilman David Alvarez created a website in the run up to the emergency declaration (yes, he had to lobby for the action) that has a handy-dandy map showing channels likely to overflow from runoff and other resources for further reading on the local impacts of El Niño.
I’ve found Twitter to be a useful tool during emergencies. One good resource–besides the obvious ones like Caltrans, the SDPD and the County–is Union-Tribune weather writer Robert Krieger’s Twitter feed.
‘We Told You So’ in Ocean Beach
One condominium complex in Ocean Beach was featured on newscasts throughout the region. Resident Johnny Caito made a YouTube video featuring the area around Saratoga and Abbott Streets.
The OB Rag ended up calling the units The Million Dollar Condos. Years of community opposition to building what some considered to be a fortress-type structure on the beach front ended with the OB Planning Board approving the plans in November 2011.
In September 2015 the OBRag reported that a brand new Lamborghini and seven other cars parked in the development were damaged by flooding.
The condos and the underground garage were built after years of community opposition to the project – and after umpteen warnings from OBceans about the natural flooding that comes – literally with the territory – the OB beachfront.
It has always flooded in that area. Either from high tides, big rains – or both – this area has always been subject to overflow water.
The pre-construction promises made by the developer of the complex depicted in the video included a 27 car subterranean parking garage to be “water-proof and be designed with a de-watering system.”
Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the California Coastal Commission granted a construction permit, based on a staff report declaring:
…over the last several decades there has been no shoreline retreat in front of the site; it has not been subject to significant flooding, erosion damage or wave run-up attack in the past, including the 1982-83 El Niño winter; and the proposed habitable improvements are above any potential coastal hazard.
Here’s Stephen Scatolini, via the San Diego Reader back in 2009:
It should be noted that during the heavy rains of the 1982-83 El Niño event, runoff from the hillside above the beach was so extreme that I was able to sail a windsurfer — with center board in place — down Abbott Street from Santa Monica Avenue to Saratoga Avenue. So, the water in Abbott Street was at least 40 inches deep — that’s a block uphill from the proposed entrance to the subterranean garage.
When the surf is up and the tides are high and the rain is dumping, storm drains are ineffective and the water backs up into the streets. (Ask Steve Goebel of Cleanline Carpet how many times he’s vacuumed out flooded businesses along the bottom of Newport and Abbott Streets.) Even if the new sub-grade garage has a de-watering system, there is nowhere for the water to go once it’s pumped out of the garage.
Remember this story the next time you hear a politico-apologist for developers complaining about the building process in San Diego.
The Really Big Disaster at Porter Ranch
A natural gas leak in Porter Ranch has been spewing methane into the air every hour since October 23. Infrared photos of the site show a huge plume. One activist described it as the equivalent of a volcano erupting.
From Common Dreams:
Thousands of residents in the San Fernando Valley community, roughly 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, have been forced to relocate due to health problems caused by the fumes—including, in some cases, bleeding eyes and gums.
However, officials recently announced that fixing the broken pipe will take more time than initially planned, with emergency crews unlikely to finish closing it up before March or April due to unexpected safety concerns.
Methane emissions are up to 87 times more polluting than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span. Advocates for the residents warned there could be untold public health consequences, while environmentalists note that the size of the leak, which continues full force, is roughly a quarter of California’s total annual methane emissions.
From the Rachel Smoker, writing at the Huffington Post:
The gas leaking in California is coming from a storage well that is fed by a network of old and leaky pipelines. In fact we are learning that there are some 400 such underground gas storage facilities around the U.S., and they are essentially exempted from federal regulation. Many are old, leaky and could erupt into similar disasters. Meanwhile, the fracking boom in Oklahoma has left areas of that state so astonishingly pock marked with drilling sites and wastewater injection wells that the earth is groaning and shifting with earthquakes. Concerns are mounting that the quakes are a “threat to national security” as they could disrupt one of the largest crude oil storage facilities in the country – yet another potentially monumental ecological disaster waiting to happen, and ultimately related to fracking, and the “bridge” fuel.
Such “accidents” are on track to contribute more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere than any Paris climate agreement, with its’ “intended nationally determined contributions” can or likely ever will address. Especially troubling is that the IPCC determined that the global warming potential of methane (natural gas) is actually 40 percent higher (over a 100 year period) than previously assumed.
The natural gas “bridge” appears to be leading us over a cliff, with fugitive emissions and mounting disasters.
You might be wondering what ‘fracking’ has to do with a natural gas well. Wonder no more… From the Los Angeles Times: [emphasis added]
Southern California Gas Co. crews are erecting mesh screens around the utility’s leaking natural gas injection well to prevent an oily mist from drifting off the site and across the nearby community of Porter Ranch, company officials confirmed on Monday.
The move comes as the company continues to fix a leaking natural gas well that has displaced thousands of residents, a process that is expected to take several more months.
The structures under construction on the west side of the well head are designed to capture airborne droplets of a brine solution that “may have contained trace amounts of oil naturally occurring within the leaking well’s reservoir,” said Trisha Muse, a spokeswoman for SoCal Gas.
Activist Erin Brockovich (who lives nearby) is declaring the Porter Ranch leak to be the biggest man-made disaster since the BP oil spill.
Sea World & Mission Bay: No Place to Play?
A group called Save Everyone’s Access has filed suit, seeking to halt construction of SeaWorld’s Blue World Project. The proposed addition to the waterpark would incorporate a 50-foot-deep, 1.5-acre-wide, ten-million-gallon tank to house killer whales and a 40-foot below-grade viewing area for visitors.
According to a story by Dorian Hargrove in the Reader, the group is asking a judge to order the park to study the potential environmental impacts related to toxic waste buried in the area back when it was used as a city landfill.
“The toxic waste has never been removed or remediated,” reads the writ of mandate. “The city and Sea World know about the history of toxic waste disposal in the South [Mission Bay] area. The city and Sea World also know that the South Shores area produces subterranean methane and hydrogen sulfide gasses, some of which escapes into the atmosphere while some of the gasses concentrate in pockets beneath the surface. The landfill is not lined on the sides or bottom to prevent migration of toxic waste. The South Shores area, where not covered with hardscape, has a permeable earthen cap of approximately 15 feet in depth.”
If allowed to proceed with the Blue World Project, says the group, remnants of those heavy metals as well as methane and other gases will be released into the water and the air.
“The excavation will cause the release of toxic waste into Mission Bay. There is no plan for testing, treating, or removing the contaminated soils. [Save Everyone’s Access] has an interest in preventing further contamination of ground water subject to tidal flushing. [Save Everyone’s Access] also has an interest in seeing to it that the Project does not pose a threat to…members of the public through releases or combustion of toxic or volatile gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide.”
The use of the area as a landfill and its potential dangers was brought to light recently by OBRag editor Frank Gormlie in an article (reposted here, also) entitled Why SeaWorld Can’t Build a Hotel at its Location on Mission Bay.
The City, the Navy, and the aerospace industry all poured their waste or dumped barrels of toxins into unlined sand pits at the site, located between what’s now I-5, south to the San Diego River, north to the water of the Bay, and west into land now occupied by parking lots and … SeaWorld.
This is why SeaWorld cannot build a 3 story hotel and resort, as it wants to, next to Perez Cove. There’s an old toxic landfill within yards away. Any 3 story building, I am told by an engineer, would require at least one story underground and steel beams driven into the sandy soil down 30 feet. This excavation into what’s below could very well disturb toxic gases and who knows what else.
Publication of the article unleashed strong reactions, many of which amounted to little more than personal attacks on Gormlie.
A group calling itself Orca Action, with apparent support from the Evans Hotels, went so far as to create a WordPress page to ridicule his assertions, calling him a “self-proclaimed activist.” (He’s been active in community issues since 1970 and even ran for city council in 1987)
About the same time –and maybe this is a coincidence– inflammatory comments started appearing in the Rag, purportedly from this writer, author Judi Curry and even Gormlie himself. The comments were posted by spoofing the email addresses during the submission process. Given SeaWorld’s history of playing dirty (24,000 results on Google), it certainly seems reasonable to wonder about their potential connection in this situation.
On This Day: 1916 – Eight thousand workers struck at Youngstown Sheet & Tube. The following day the strikers’ wives and other family members joined in the protest. Company guards used tear gas bombs and fired into the crowd; three strikers were killed, 25 wounded. 1975 – About a thousand Led Zeppelin fans rioted while waiting for tickets to go on sale at Boston Garden. About $30,000 was done in damage and the show was cancelled by Boston Mayor Kevin White. 1994 – Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the right leg by an assailant at Cobo Arena in Detroit, MI. Four men were later sentenced to prison for the attack, including Tonya Harding’s ex-husband.
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