Public speaks out against growing navy nuclear risks

by Humberto Tessada

n February 15, 2000, an estimated one hundred and fifty people, including members of several major environmental groups, attended a hearing of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) to raise concerns about the environmental and community risks of home-porting two more nuclear carriers in San Diego Bay. Many were adorned with badges that stated "CCC Protect our air, water, and community safety," and carried signs reading "Navy Nuclear risks are growing, it is time to speak out." During the four-hour hearing, more than 30 people testified in opposition to the project

Testimony was given in Spanish by several Logan and Sherman Heights community members, for which the CCC provided translation services free of charge (originally, the CCC staff had declined to provide translation for Spanish-speakers, but they agreed after a direct request to Commissioner Cecilia Estolano from EHC a few days prior to the hearing). Overall, the opposition to this project had an overwhelming amount of support from residents of many of San Diego County's cities and communities, as was evident by the end of the hearing, when it was still standing-room-only.

In contrast, the establishment did not turn out in public for the Navy project. The Navy had very few community speakers on its behalf, in addition to their cadre and civilian personnel, and the Mayor and Fire Chief of Coronado.

Presentations by the Environmental Health Coalition and its members and allies were joined by Bob Filner's staff, who read a very strong and supportive statement from the Congressman demanding public accountability and disclosure of information from the Navy. Also, a strong letter was submitted by Port Commissioner David Malcolm, who was concerned about the fact that the Navy is being held to a lower standard than private industry and local government with regard to storm water discharges.

Once again, Commissioners demonstrated their concerns about the impacts of the project. Commissioners Pedro Nava and David Allgood opened a long and rigorous line of questioning of the CCC staff and the Coronado Fire Chief. The issues of concern were insufficient stormwater monitoring and the lack of availability of emergency plans in different languages, respectively. In both cases, the Commissioners were able to put the spotlight on some of the serious inadequacies of the Navy's plan.

In the end, however, the final vote was 5-2 in favor of consistency, with Commissioners Nava and Allgood voting against the Navy's plan. While this was not the result we wanted, it did go a long way in terms of exposing the Navy project as harmful to the bay and unsafe for San Diego. As Chairperson Wan stated at the hearing, thanks to EHC's and the public's involvement, the Navy was held to a higher standard than ever before. Additional improvements were obtained around stormwater pollution prevention, and at least a verbal commitment was made by the Navy to raising the standards and awareness in our communities for emergency planning.

The issues of emergency planning were heightened, and there was an agreement to include Coronado's emergency plan in the County plan. This is still insufficient, and we must continue to hold the Navy accountable for each action in this matter until we are satisfied that their plan and its measures are effective and appropriate for San Diego.

The community appears to be almost evenly divided on this issue. Channel 10 conducted a survey of 500 San Diego residents and asked whether they think nuclear carriers pose a danger to the area. They found that 44 percent said they thought it did pose a risk, while 46 percent said they thought it did not. What is interesting is the demographics of the respondents: women, young people, Asians, and Hispanics tended to believe there is a danger; middle-aged and senior white men tended to say there is no threat.

Clearly, our aggressive efforts created a very strong and overt presence at the hearing, which put the opposition solidly on the map. The supporters of this cause are dedicated and numerous, and we will continue our efforts until the impacts of this project on neighboring communities and the bay are minimized.

The Environmental Health Coalition filed a lawsuit against the CCC in early February. Since the CCC did not act to improve the project so that it did not impact environmental quality, the lawsuit is expected to move forward. A Navy and CCC response is expected in early March.

For more information or to help support this effort, please contact Humberto Tessada at (619) 235-0281, ext. 104, or send email to