by Carolyn Chase
relief is all the rage. Who could be against streamlining and
reducing red tape? The casualties of irresponsibility - that's
who. Regulatory Relief has turned into Responsibility Relief
and Democracy Avoidance.
Aside from the Mayor's high-minded rhetoric and platitudes about "the sacred obligations that we in public service owe to those whom we govern," a closer look reveals that the most local elected officials and agencies govern more and more to benefit some at the expense of others - rather than actually defending the public good. The County motto "the noblest motive is the public good" is hard to implement when private good is consistently allowed to off load costs and risks inappropriately.
Regulatory relief is often contrary to acting in the public interest. Instead of businesses, developers, and agencies paying for the costs their projects bring to bear on us, we, the public pay with our health and our quality of life. Failures to properly enforce and implement many statutes has led to a cavalier attitude toward laws enacted to protect the public good. When it's a law they agree with, it's a law. When it's a law you don't like it's a regulation. Regulations get relief. Laws get enforcement.
Environmental and infrastructure laws are circumvented and ignored. Community Plans and General Plans are treated as jokes. Promises to protect resources are routinely broken or unfunded. Industry lobbyists have done a good job: regulations have been gutted so that there are all kinds of ways to avoid them (emergency variances, alternative compliance, categorical exemptions, deviations, waivers) or there are no regulations at all (e.g. lead abatement.) or unenforceable "guidelines."
Who is holding the line for responsibility? I am not against projects as much as I am for responsibility. What I'm against is off loading of responsibilities and costs onto others.
In the spirit of this season in which our City's administration has brought forth items for "regulatory relief" this week, I'd like to submit the following list of suggestions
for regulatory responsibility.
In a region committed to regulatory responsibility:
... New growth would not be permitted without identifying and funding infrastructure requirements, especially transit, but also open space, reclaimed water, parks, libraries, police, fire etc.;
... CalTrans would stop shoving their sprawl-including freeway extensions down the throats of communities that don't want the nightmare;
... All pollution-related permits would be reviewed, updated and renewed or revoked on time;
... Cities and County would stop permitting development in natural wetlands and floodplains, buffer zones and wildlife corridors;
... The public would receive notices of pollution as required without a legal battle;
... All jurisdictions would require designs and best management practices to deal with polluted urban runoff;
... Army Corps of Engineers would stop battling nature with walls, dams, and cement channels and protect and restore rivers and watersheds;
... the Air Pollution Control District would stop giving out variances to entities that seek to pollute outside of air pollution limits; On a related note: ..the Navy would not be allowed to declare "emergencies" to get out of regulations they did not want to comply with. The most recent example is dredging the bay and demanding to be allowed to emit hundreds of pounds of additional nitrous oxides into the air;
... The Navy would recover lost munitions and deliver sand to local beaches as promised;
... the Regional Water Board would issue permits requiring industries to
evaluate eliminating and reducing pollutant discharges and implement them where feasible. Currently industries fight requirements for pollution prevention;
... Cities and industries would be held accountable to the terms of their storm water permits, which they considered appropriate at the time of application and under which they have the right to operate;
... Navy vessels would have to comply with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Although Navy vessels spill the most oil into San Diego Bay, they are exempt from the major federal environmental law regulating oil spills (or maybe because they are exempt they spill the most oil);
... Navy nuclear power plants would be regulated with similar disclosure, buffer, and emergency planning requirements as commercial nuclear reactors;
... City of Coronado would stop the dewatering operation that is contributing to the closure of their famous North Beach or provide monitoring, disclosure and remedial action;
... Chevron, Kettenburg Marine, Koehler Kraft, Nielsen Beaumont, South Bay Boatyard, Shelter Island Boatyard would submit complete required reports to the Regional Water Board or be fined significantly or lose their permits; and
... The Port would spend the money to treat or otherwise prevent pollution of the bay from the dewatering operation at the Convention Center.
All of these items are related to the obligations that any entity should have to the community at large. The bottom line is for everyone to be responsible for their impacts and not to shove them off into the public sector and the environment. The definition of responsibility is: moral, legal or mental accountability, trustworthiness.
Why do we have "Nintendo politics"? Because elected officials attempt to evade both honest public dialogue and the letter of the law. Pursuit of deals which increasingly require the pubic to assume the risks of development while neglecting infrastructure, will continue to attract the very responses the mayor's complaining about. Methinks she doth protest too much.
If our leaders want honest public dialog, it is within their power to engage it. Instead they deal with the electorate as a great unwashed obstruction to progress. I suspect that most people are willing to listen to and even support sensible proposals for San Diego's progress that are presented openly, honestly and as part of some sensible plan. But no progress will happen -- in the arts, sports facilities, libraries, sewers, water supply or habitat preservation -- unless our elected leaders show some concern and respect for the whole community. Engage, listen, educate, listen, decide, vote, explain, listen. Instead we have: receive contribution, decide, vote, hide, blame.