Environmental update

New developments and late-breaking news on major issues reported in previous issues of SDET.

by Carolyn Chase

he ancient Chinese considered the phrase, "May you live in interest- ing times," a curse. For better or worse, we certainly live in interesting times. The following are updates on important local and regional issues, some of which SDET has been following and reporting on for years. For more background information, visit the SDET Web site at: www.sdearthtimes.com. And, contrary to oriental expectations, some of the news is pretty good ...

Multiple Species Planning marches on

Accompanied by much hyperbole and rhetoric in five hours of public testimony on March 18th, the San Diego City Council unanimously voted to adopt the "Multiple Species Conservation Plan" (MSCP). The MSCP seeks to balance species protection and development in a the 900-square-miles from the Mexican border north to Del Mar.. Among those commenting on the "historic" nature of the action were Governor Pete Wilson and United States Secretary of the Department of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

According to Babbitt's representative, "MSCP will give a refuge from effects of urban sprawl.... the MSCP sets forth a comprehensive blueprint reconciling the needs of man and nature... and will spur other communities to seek balance between conservation and economic vitality.... a death defying high wire act, ambitious, bold, and a new era of conservation. San Diego's very sense of place is defined by its beaches, canyons, rolling hills, bays, lagoons.... What surrounds you is a landscape worth saving with a compelling power and beauty all of its own and I hope this is your enduring legacy."

Other comments were less enthusiastic.

Dr. Ellen Bauder, plant ecologist from San Diego State University stated, "This is the most important land use decision since the establishment of the Forest Service Lands... the purpose of this plan is actually to facilitate permits for mega-development projects that will leave isolated undeveloped areas in a sea of urbanization. ... it is not science-based... linkages and corridors are inadequate, don't exist or border on the ludicrous."

Biologist Dr. Oliver Ryder stated: "We're taking a risk with the future - our children... Biologically, the environment will benefit with each small piece of contiguous habitat that you save.... there is no way to replace it.... I wish to draw attention to the uncertainty... the risk is substantial and if monitoring and maintenance are not successful there will be no fix.... The standard of not-precluding-recovery may contribute to further endangerment.... and saying all that, I am willing to roll up my sleeves and get to work."

There was also testimony from at least a dozen hard-core "citizen's for private property rights." They used much more "colorful" language to describe their view of the MSCP: theft; socialism; communism; central planning; simple extortion; appalling; unconstitutional; Communist Manifesto; "we will replace you;" morally, ethically and constitutionally wrong; evil; appraisals are too low; assault on private property; we will litigate against it.

In the end, the politicians took the high road and stuck with the process, if only because the alternative is unthinkable. At least they see that something must be done before we truly consume all the open space areas and all the wildlife, plants and watershed along with it.

What's next? Several features of the MSCP critical to environmentalists were deferred. These included the development decisions in the Del Mar Mesa area: Carmel Mountain/Neighborhood 8A (see SDET 11/95), the route of State Route 56, proposed through Deer Canyon; the status of "Community Open Space;" and most importantly, plans to gut the City's wetlands definitions.

Pollution to be diverted from storm drains and beaches - finally

On March 25th, San Diego Council- men Harry Mathis and Byron Wear announced plans to upgrade thirty storm drains (see SDET 11/96) with diversion structures that would allow runoff to be channeled into the city's sewer system. Right now the drainage flows through city drains and onto beaches or directly into the ocean The storm drains would be outfitted with structures that allows low-level runoff to flow directly into the sewer system. However, higher water-level runoffs would still flow down to the beaches. Under this system, the excess runoff from daily activities, legal or illegal, would end up in the sewer, but a high flow of water from a rain storm would still head out to shore.

The first phase of ten sites will be funded out of sewer money that has already been set aside by City Manager Jack McGrory in next year's budget. Design work could begin as soon as the council approves the budget this spring. A second phase would upgrade 23 more sites at a total cost of $2.2 million. Wear estimated the project would be finished by the year 2000. Each drain would cost between $55,000 and $110,000 to upgrade, depending on factors such as location and whether a pump would need to be installed.

David Bainbridge, local sustainability expert and Environmental Studies Program Coordinator at United States International University suggests another approach. "This is not rocket science," he states. "A good water treatment engineer should be able to slap something together for these low flows that would cost only a few thousand dollars... make it a design competition for local colleges civil engineers and biologists and offer a cash prize. Help start a new industry for San Diego that could sell products throughout the nation and the world."

Healthy Beaches, Healthy Oceans Bills

On March 20, a coalition of environ- mental and fishing groups declared "that the health of California's coast is in jeopardy," and asked for support of a bipartisan package of more than 30 bills that, if passed, would be the "most substantial" coastal protections enacted since 1976.

Included in the package is the "Healthy Beaches" bill (see SDET 3/97) sponsored by local Assembly Member Howard Wayne. This bill would require regular testing of coastal waters for pollution, with "immediate" postings of health risks. This posting requirement in San Diego was fought for by local Pacific Beach activist Donna Frye and Surfers Tired of Pollution. Their efforts led to conquering the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" mentality of local politicians and tourism interests, and to the proposed installation of devices to divert polluted low-flows from the beaches.

"The health of California's families and its economy depends upon clean coastal and ocean waters and a thriving sea life community," said Warner Chabot, Pacific Region Director of the Center for Marine Conservation. "Eighty percent of California's families live on or near the coast. They rely on coastal waters for drinking, fishing, swimming and, in many cases, their livelihood."

Other bills would:

Contact your state representatives to ask their position on coastal resources. All state congressional members can be reached at: Sacramento, CA 95814. The general information line for state contact information is: (916) 322-9900.