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Roundtable: Border Patrol Hiring; Guest Worker Program; Gregory Canyon; Plaza de Panama; Coastal Commission Sues Navy

February 1, 2013 1:38 p.m.

GUESTS

Mitch Blacher, 10News

Adrian Florido, KPBS Fronteras Desk

Alison St. John, KPBS News

Kelly Bennett, Voice of San Diego

Related Story: Roundtable: Border Patrol Hiring; Guest Worker Program; Gregory Canyon; Plaza de Panama; Coastal Commission Sues Navy

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

SAUER: I'm Mark Sauer, good afternoon, it's Friday, February 1st. Thanks for being with us. Joining me today on the Roundtable are Mitch Blocker for 10 news, Adrian Florido, Alison St. John.
ST. JOHN: Great to be here.
SAUER: And Kelly Bennett.
BENNETT: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: The crackdown along the U.S./Mexico border has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents. Between 2004 and 2012, the number of agents swelled to 20,500. Mitch, your reporting found the expansion ordered by president George W. Bush has compromised training. Outline the problems:
BLOCKER: There are a couple of main problems being outlined, the main one being that people are not background checked in a timely manner. There are a number of cases where people were arrested on-site because it was discovered they had felonies, when they were already admitted to the academy. Then there were cases where people were Border Patrol agents for two, three years before a full background check was performed. Also you talked about the doubling of the size of the force under president Bush after 911, it was a national security issue.
SAUER: So they were concerned about terrorists coming up from the south.
BLOCKER: Absolutely. So we go from 11,000 agents to more than 20,000 today. Our sources allege that the training was diminished. They were literally recruiting in swap metes.
SAUER: Wow! So any warm body, it sounds like.
BLOCKER: Sure. No doubt the majority of Border Patrol agents are well intentioned, trying to do a good job, I would assume.
SAUER: What does this job pay?
BLOCKER: It completely depends. It fends on experience. Some people come from the military, some people come with very differing backgrounds.
ST. JOHN: You mentioned the military, and I've been to these job fors at camp Pendleton, and the Border Patrol counter always has a very long line because that is quite a desirable job if you come out of the military, and it's a very good option.
SAUER: And one of the few places they were hiring in bunches during the long recession and the downturn in jobs.
BLOCKER: It is the physically largest, numbers-wise, place in this country.
ST. JOHN: And the pay is as good as the police force, for example?
BLOCKER: You're talking, obviously, some people make in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But for the most part these are $70,000, $80,000, $90,000.
ST. JOHN: Those are liveable wages, yes.
SAUER: So what does the Border Patrol say about this in terms of cutting corners?
BLOCKER: Of course they say it's not true. There's been stories, San Diego, a center of stories of excessive force within the Border Patrol, things they simply -- I don't know if it's from a PR perspective, a national security perspective, but things they have to deny. However, there are government accountability office report, congressmen, United States Senator, some in our area have asked questions about this training. They have wondered the same things we have. Of course our stories were generated after three specific incidents that we reported.
SAUER: And we want to get to one of those in a minute. Now, you wanted to tour the agency's training facility.
BLOCKER: We wanted to see what we were dealing with, and the department of homeland security would not let us on the property. We went well above the local sector of the San Diego Border Patrol. We went to Washington, to El Paso, which is a major hub for the Border Patrol as well, and talked with two of their communications guys. And you know, they did their job, they got us information, they passed along our public information requests, but ultimately, at the end of the day, they gave us the runaround, you could say, as to whether or not they were going to get us onto the training facility. And this is in Artesia New Mexico, a very remote area of the country, four hours south of Albuquerque. There's not anything there other than some oil fields and the Border Patrol. So is this the big industry in that area. Firing ranges, driving courses, other training facilities and buildings, there's a dorm that houses we were told up to 5,000 training agents at any one time.
FLORIDO: Is this the academy that all agents go through?
BLOCKER: Correct. They all go through there.
SAUER: Now, you talked with one 9-year veteran who said he quit over this issue of abuse.
BLOCKER: Yes. Efrem Cruz. We had two human sources in this reporting, one of the confidential variety that I can't talk much about other than to say we found him incredibly credible. And Efrem Cruz who has been a critic of the Border Patrol ever since he left. He detailed specific incidents of excessive force that he had seen at the hands of his fellow agents, and he was highly critical so that he reported these things to his upper management, and nothing was done.
SAUER: We mentioned some of the cases of excessive abuse here, 10 news has done some.
BLOCKER: The overview is the agent's name is Justin Tackett, and the woman who was shot and killed, she was in a home that was being raided by agents. They were looking for a felon, and she just happened to be in the home, she left the home, she was not the one they were looking for.
SAUER: They were serving warnants?
BLOCKER: They were, and agent tackis was in plain clothes with another agent, the Border Patrol said that she left the scene, tried to get into her car, he told her to stop, she drove away, somehow he winds up on the hood of the car, and fears for his life, according to the Border Patrol, and unloads 10 rounds into her.
SAUER: The autopsy on that case was sealed for a time, but it was then unsealed?
BLOCKER: Yeah, it's admissibly available.
SAUER: And what details did you learn?
BLOCKER: They talk about the bullet trajectory, which is important because it shows where the shots came from. And many of them entered from a more horizontal plane, and there have been questions about where he was standing. Some eyewitnesses say he was standing on the street, some put him on the hood, the Border Patrol says he was on the hood. And they were 14 exit wounds in her body. There are also eyewitnesses who say he didn't help her as he is supposed to per his training. There were just a lot of questions about this shooting. We delved into his background.
SAUER: Right, he had some problems before.
BLOCKER: Right, he was with the imperial county sheriff's department. We found pending termination letters. I believe your station, KPBS, did much reporting on this as well.
ST. JOHN: Well, the sheriff's department has also had its share of questions over the year, as to behavior. There were capeses in Vista of excessive force. And with the sheriff, the DA is the one who investigates. So who investigates the Border Patrol?
BLOCKER: Well, they're under the department of homeland security, and they have the office of the inspector general. A lot of journalists ask that question whenever they do stories on the Border Patrol because it essentially is a federal agency investigating itself.
ST. JOHN: That has always been a problem with the DA's investigations, they always seem to come out in favor of the law enforcement agency, in spite of there being some citizens' review boards. I don't know how effective they are. Is there any talk about getting some other level of investigation into what's going on in the Border Patrol?
BLOCKER: Here's what's interesting. The congressional letter that I mentioned after Anastacio Rojas was tased to death at the border, 16 different members of Congress sent a letter to the office of the inspector gentleman. They chose that agency because that is the investigative agency for the department of homeland security. Susan Davis and Bob Filner sought out the only recourse at this point that we have.
ST. JOHN: Does it seem like the budget, the whole issue of keeping the border secure, let's beef it up, but it's been beefed up too fast, and the budget to train the force adequately needs to be reviewed.
BLOCKER: As far as whether they have enough money to do what they want to, I don't know that that's an issue. Have you found that?
ST. JOHN: I'm not aware of that.
FLORIDO: The Border Patrol did recently announce that it was going to be conducting an overview of its training policies, and this was a direct result of the pressure that was coming from activists here in San Diego and across the border, but also from Congress people. That's one of the outstanding questions, oh, as this internal review goes forward, what are the results going to be? I think one of the things that people tend to be really upset about, is there doesn't seem to be anyone monitoring or policing the agency itself within the federal government. And we constantly see cases where there seems to be a migrant is killed or someone along the border is killed, an investigation is done, as you were just saying, the investigation always comes out favoring the agent. There was this one really well known case in San Diego of Anastacio rohazwho was tased to death, it was all caught on tape, and we're still waiting to see the outcome of that investigation. If that comes out in favor of the Border Patrol agents, there's going to be huge uproar.
SAUER: Huge backlash. Absolutely.
FLORIDO: Because this man was literally incapacitated on the floor.
SAUER: Roberto, you're with the panel.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much. Very informative, and it's a topic that needs a lot of exploration, and I'm really happy that KPBS and fronteras desk is finally getting into some of the more investigative type of situations along the border. I had the opportunity to be able to be the investigator in the Eduardo zamorass case when he was shot in complex co by a Border Patrol agent that said that he was throwing rocks at him. During that investigation, we were able to uncover that the Border Patrol agent had shot him with a 9-millimeter exploding head, something that is outlawed by the Geneva convention. When I was a young reporter in the '70s, there were constant reports of undocumented people coming across the border in Juarez and El Paso that were captured and detained by the Border Patrol, and they would put them in the summer with temperatures over 115 degrees sometimes in the desert, put the people in the back of their vehicles and turn on the heater in order to be able to torture them, not including the rapes and the variety of different other constitutional violations that the Border Patrol has always done with Mexicans.
SAUER: All right. Thank you so much. Appreciate your call. Mitch?
BLOCKER: Well, I think this is the ultimate characterization of journalists talking about open government, things that should be available publicly. Obviously the department of homeland security can use the guise of national security whenever it feel, and obviously there are certain cases where that's prudent and should be respected. But there's a lot of things that we just simply don't know about these training practices, we don't know about the backgrounds of the people who are given a badge and a gun, and when we find questions there are not always the answers that satisfy.
SAUER: That's why so it's important for the press to ask these questions and shine the light on this continually.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: We're going to shift to a somewhat related topic. Adrian, this week, you looked into a federal guest worker program for the fronteras desk immigration series. Tell us why some people think we need a guest worker program in place.
FLORIDO: Well, I spoke to farmers here in San Diego County who say they need guest worker, they need to be able to bring in foreign workers because they say there's a labor shortage in San Diego County, and over the last few years as a result of the bad economy and a pretty significant increase in border enforcement that there just is not the labor force that they used to have to pick tomatoes and avocados, and oranges, so they would like to make it easier to bring workers in.
SAUER: Now, this is a program, a government acronym, H2A. What is that?
FLORIDO: The theory is that this isn't be a problem. This allows the government to bring in as many foreign temporary workers as they need if they can't find the local labor. But farmers say it's just so incredibly cumbersome, because they have to try in good faith to find local labor, they have to provide housing and food for the workers, they have to bring them across the country, so there are various federal and State Departments to make sure all these needs are met.
ST. JOHN: There was that tomato farm in camp Pendleton, and they did use that program, one of the few who did. And they built up a labor force over the years that was consistent, but they did go out of business! And I'm sure that the pressures, the economics of that permit process just didn't work.
FLORIDO: They were a huge operation, one of the largest farmers in San Diego County. I think they brought in between 30,400 workers each year. When you're talking about a scale that large, make it makes sense. But we're talking about a lot of small early scale farmers.
ST. JOHN: Ah, ha.
FLORIDO: Who could benefit from the guest workers. They're saying it's just not worth it.
SAUER: You interviewed for your story Eric Larson with the San Diego County farm bureau. What's his point of view?
FLORIDO: I think we have a clip of him saying his perspective.
NEW SPEAKER: The H2A program says bring farmers in, but it doesn't work. So far nobody uses it. We've got one farmer in San Diego County that uses the H2A for about 8 workers, where in reality we have ten thousand to 12,000 farm workers in San Diego County.
FLORIDO: That was one of the most surprising things I found out. We've got a nearly $2 billion economy, farm economy here in San Diego County.
SAUER: It's huge.
FLORIDO: It's huge. And farmers have been saying for years that they're short on labor, and yet they're not participating in this program. One of two things are happening. Either the farmers are not being upfront and the labor shortage isn't as bad as they say it is, or this program really is absolutely impossible.
BENNETT: What about the wages they would be paying these farm workers? One of the first steps is the good faith, you know, demonstrating the good faith search for local workers. There's obviously tons of people out of work in San Diego. Is it that the wages they're willing to pay is so low or the work is so hard?
FLORIDO: This is where we start to get into why some people unlike the farmers think a guest worker program -- well, this idea that the H2A program is so difficult is not necessarily a bad thing from all people's point of view. I spoke to a woman who is a labor attorney which provides legal aid to farm worker, and see says that's a good thing, and they've tried that make sure it's difficult to bring in temporary workers. One of the reasons being they don't want local labor to be affected. And one of the things that you have to consider is wages. Farm workers make very low wages here in San Diego. So low, if you do participate in the H2A program in California, you have to pay a wage higher than the minimum wage.
BENNETT: And you're housing them and paying for meals?
FLORIDO: Right.
SAUER: And doing a bunch of paperwork just to get them involved.
ST. JOHN: That's really interesting.
SAUER: In the national debate, which as we know, the national immigration reform debate heated up recently with the election and Senate McCain from Arizona the other day said we got killed at the polls, the Republicans. ! So has this issue come up?
FLORIDO: It's obviously not the debate that's getting the most attention. That's the path to citizenship
SAUER: And securing borders.
FLORIDO: Right. But farmers are trying to make themselves heard. They're saying we need to reform the legal immigration system as well to ensure we to bring in people more easily. So Eric Larson who we just heard wants a program that would be like a card that you give to workers. He was focussing on Mexico, in which they could basically cross the border any time they needed labor on farms here in San Diego or any place in the U.S., and witness the need was over, they could return.
SAUER: Now, let's talk a little bit about the farm workers' point of view. You interviewed a worker in Oceanside. And this was an older fella, right?
FLORIDO: This was a man who came to the U.S., San Diego, illegal in the '70s picking fruit, and got amnesty in 1986, has been a citizen since 1987, and has been working on farms ever since. His concern with the H2A program is this: He is now middle aged, probably in his mid-50s, and the H2A workers who farmers contract are young, agile workers who can come in, work long hours --
MAUREEN SAUER: Maybe 30 years younger than this guy.
FLORIDO: Right. And keep this extraordinary pace in picking fruit. His concern is that which he works alongside his guest workers, he has to keep up with them. So his concern when I spoke to him was that this next summer he may not have a job because a farmer is going to prefer these H2A workers. In theory this wouldn't be legal because the farmer is supposed to ensure he's employing local people first. But in practice, are the H2A program when it is used is used to abuse work ors, and farmers don't comply with the rules.
SAUER: You interviewed an attorney with the California legal assistance group. What was her position?
FLORIDO: Basically this H2A program creates a second-class labor force here in San Diego -- I'm sorry, in the U.S. one of the interesting things about the worker program, if you are a guest worker who's contracted and brought in by a specific company, you're bound to them, are essentially. You're not allowed to switch employers once you're here. If you do find yourself in this situation where you're being abused, overworked, there's little recourse you have except to go home or stick it on out. Generally these people are uneducated, don't know how to advocate for their right, so they're essentially bound into what is called a sort of indentured servitude situation.
ST. JOHN: So we've got a guest worker program, a path to citizenship, and Eric Larson doesn't like the guest worker program, and there are powerful arguments against it. What would you call the middle way that he's talking about with a card? Has anybody in Washington DC considered what Larson is talking about?
FLORIDO: Well, are the president in his speech earlier this week didn't specifically address the guest worker program but said the overhaul of the illegal immigration system was an important part of immigration reform, and they said they did need to cut red tape on the legal immigration system. So presumably this would fall under that. The details are being hammered out in Congress.
SAUER: A caller, Chris, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: I was wondering if it would be possible to partner with Mexico, specifically on a guest worker migrant program, where the workers could consolidate in one part of the border preps and have a background check instituted or initiated at that end. Then the farmers or whoever their agent would be would then transport the people to where they needed to go. Because it's difficult to be a farmer, small or large, and get off your farm, pick up workers, get them back.
SAUER: Right. Streamline it that way. Thanks very much for your call.
FLORIDO: That's something for example that the Singh farm in orbed did used to do. They would drive workers back. The proposal she's mentioning is something that's done between Mexico and Canada. They have a close partnership to recruit labor, make sure they're delivered to the farms, and make sure they go back once the season is over. There are a lot of citizens about that, some of the same concerns about worker protections and whether employees have rights to switch employers.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: Judge Timothy Taylor issued a tentative ruling in the lawsuit filed by SOHO, the historical group, against this big project in Balboa Park.
BENNETT: In is a plan to get rid of cars out of the Plaza de Panama. It would append a new bridge to the Cabrillo bridge. You'd go over the bridge, and before you'd get to any of that ornate architecture, it you would turn right over the new bridge.
SAUER: A ramp, a spur.
BENNETT: Yeah, a new ramp, and into a new parking structure behind the organ pavilion. And this was pushed by mayor Jerry Sanders and Irwin Jacobs with some other backers behind it.
SAUER: We should note Irwin Jacobs is a major supporter of KPBS. And the holy water was thrown on it, Bob Filner wasn't crazy about it, but it was moving along. And then all of a sudden -- well, not all pave sudden, the savoir heritage organization, weren't keen on this idea.
BENNETT: The biggest center point for debate was that new bridge. The Cabrillo bridge, as well as a lot of the architecture there on the front where the museum of man is, and the California tower, is original architecture from the 1915 exhibition that made Balboa Park what it is today. So this group, SOHO, really, really hates that new bridge, it says it damages the historic character of Balboa Park. They have posited that it might affect the registry for the park as a national historic landmark district which is an important national designation. Though that's unclear whether that would actually happen. So there was a lot of back and forth of whether this plan should go forth based on that.
SAUER: And the timeline was to get it done by 2015.
BENNETT: That's right. The 100 year anniversary of that exhibition would be in 2015! So that's a consideration in looking at this plan and try fog get it done.
ST. JOHN: So the judge said he had to rule this way with regret because it's against the municipal code.
BENNETT: That's right. He was saying it would be a sad day for San Diego if it didn't get bill, and was talking about the pledge to put $30 million, private dollars, into something that would become part of a city asset. There were big arguments SOHO lobbed at the city saying you didn't follow this 1870 statute that said the park needs to be free and public, the judge said that's a historical curiosity, the second one was whether the city had done an environmental review, and the judge said yes, that was proper. But the third argument, the municipal code, the judge tentatively ruled, and that's what we'll be hearing later this afternoon, that the city broke its own laws, so when the city is make a big substantial alteration to a historic resource, there's a line in the municipal code that says the city must make a finding that without the project, there would be no reasonable beneficial use for the property.
ST. JOHN: Whoa.
BENNETT: So when the City Council voted 2-1 to approve this project, the City Council had to hear these arguments and basically sign off on them. Saying yep, we agree without this project, there would be no beneficial use for this property. SOHO said what! What are you saying? How could Balboa Park not have any reasonable beneficial use? The city said that'sing are, let's just define it as the Plaza de Panama. The judge agrees with just the scope of the property. But the city says the thorough for a that's there is not a reasonable, beneficial use.
SAUER: Yet they're building a new parking lot!
BENNETT: That's a bit of irony. And the judge said gist because you don't like a parking lot in a park doesn't mean it's not a use.
FLORIDO: We were sitting next to each other at that hearing, and I remember SOHO's attorney came up and warned the City Council about this, said this is what we're going to use against you. So be forewarned. And the City Council went ahead anyway.
SAUER: Prophetic. A caller wishes to join us.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you, my family has been Californians since 1871. And this whole thing with this bypass, it just destroys the character of the bridge. And we don't just live in San Diego, and you'll probably get why I'm saying that, we actually are Californians. And the Latin heritage and the beauty of that entrance, which is copied from Spain, would be destroyed. And I am so against it.
SAUER: All right. Thank you.
NEW SPEAKER: And I'm so glad we have taken a turn to revisit this issue, and I have called council members in my district about it.
SAUER: Thanks very much for the call. I appreciate it.
BENNETT: And I want to point out that the park was set aside in 1868, so a few years before our caller became Californian, I suppose.
[ LAUGHTER ]

BENNETT: But even the placement of the grounds of controversial back in the day. The architects quit in disgust over siting the Cabrillo bridge there, over putting the California tower there.
SAUER: These were the guys who made central park in New York.
BENNETT: Right, their dad was the architect for central park. So in some of my report, it's been instructive to remember that we have had controversies just as long as we have had this park.
SAUER: Mel, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, I think if the parking in the Plaza de Panama is the problem, the simple solution is to put a few signs which would say no parking. That's a lot cheaper than building a huge garage, which is what they want to do, and charge for parking, taking away all the free parking that now exists behind the organ pavilion. The whole thing is a terrible idea. It wasn't really the City Council's proposal. It was Irwin Jacobs' proposal. And the council are just obedient sheep.
SAUER: All right, thank, Mel. And we've heard this point of view.
BENNETT: We have, and it's important to remember, SOHO doesn't want there to be parking in the Plaza de Panama either. The difference is how you would get rid of that parking. There have been many plans floated about how you would get rid of Plaza de Panama parking. One of their plans would keep the traffic going through the Plaza, you would just not be able to stop this and look for a parking spot. But when the mayorasced Irwin Jacobs to be park of thinking what should happen there, he said we need to get rid of cars all together in that plaza.
ST. JOHN: If the sticking point is all this debate, one line in the municipal, is there a possibility the city could just change its code?
BENNETT: That's the really interesting thought. All it takes to make a new law is write a new one, right? I mean, it's more complicated than that. But the question is would they have to do a separate environmental review to just exempt parks from this municipal code line, and if so, that puts us fast 2015 anyway. So if terms of timing it'll be interesting to see if the judge does decide I'm sticking with this tentative ruling that the city broke its own law, and therefore we got to stick with it.
SAUER: Another caller, Margaret, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: How does this affect pedestrians walking across the bridge? Is there a traffic light at the point. Where the ramp begins?
SAUER: Thank you for the call.
BENNETT: That's a good question. I don't know if there's a traffic light. But I know they've done a lot of mapping and schematics for how pedestrians would use the bridge.
SAUER: I hadn't even thought of that.
FLORIDO: The idea that this ongoing legal battle could drag the completion of this project beyond 2015, which is what the mayor and Irwin Jacobs have put forward as a deadline to meet for the project is interesting to me. I looked at in the past, the preservation battles across the state and the country, and often what has doomed these projects, try to alter a historic property, isn't so much that the government or the municipality can't get them done, it's that they have to go through all these legal battles which ultimately end up dragging the project on and on and on. And proponents will just say we could do it if we really wanted to, but it's just not worth the fight.
MAUREEN SAUER: Especially with the timeframe you're talking about.
BLOCKER: And I'm constantly wondering, what is the precedent for progress? You talk about these legal battles, and you talk about the fact that Balboa Park has had these kinds of things happen before in the past cases where they've wanted new things in the park --
SAUER: To make a big change.
BLOCKER: Is this something that 100 years from now, we're going to face again?
SAUER: I guess it depends on your definition of progress.
BENNETT: And some of the reasons for these kinds of rules come from the very changes that have made Balboa Park different over the years. When a Navy hospital is -- goes up in the middle of the canyon, when a freeway goes through the park, when the city puts its trucks in the corner. When the city decides to throw 2 million tons of trash in the middle of another canyon, these are big things that have changed Balboa Park, and people who have protected the park have said we need to change law, we need to add rules to protect the park from these things happening again. So sometimes we, in doing so, so many sweeping plans, end up boxing ourselves into the way things are.
SAUER: We're going to have to park it there on our discussion.
[ LAUGHTER ]

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: In the hills north of Escondido, Gregory canyon, nobody wants to live near a dump, but this is a fairly remote area. Why is this such a big deal?
ST. JOHN: North County's landfill closed in 1977. And they have been looking for some place to replace it ever since. There are hardly any new landfills sited in California because it's just so difficult to get the permits from them. It's a big deal because we always -- it's a big deal to get rid of our trash, and the changing ways we're trying to get rid of our trash, and is this really necessary?
SAUER: You've been to the site. Where is it?
ST. JOHN: If you're going up the 15, past Lawrence welk, and up to 76, you turn right, go inland 3-mile, it's pretty in there.
SAUER: Yes accessible for trucks and things.
ST. JOHN: Well, only 3 miles from the freeway. 76 is narrow, but Caltrans has the money to expand it. And you've got the Pala band reservation down there, a casino down there, and the San Luis ray river runs right through it.
SAUER: That's part of the issue. How big would the landfill be? And how much capacity?
ST. JOHN: We're talking a 300-acre footprint of the landfill, although the whole site is a good deal bigger than that. A million tons of trash every year, and it would last for 30 years.
SAUER: Do we need another landfill? We're so good at recycling.
ST. JOHN: This landfill does have a county and state permit, but it's looking for its federal permit. One of the people who testified said that cal recycle says since 2005, till 2011, we're throwing away 30% less trash.
SAUER: That's good news.
ST. JOHN: And the goal is to get to 75% by 2020. So the need for landfills is definitely on the decline, and a lot of existing landfills are potential to be expanded. It's much easier to get a permit to expand an existing landfill. We're all familiar with Mira Mar, there are some cells that will probably keep us going until 2037.
SAUER: Room for expansion at Mira Mar.
ST. JOHN: Yes, along with other landfills in the region.
SAUER: So the situation has changed in terms of back then when it got the initial approval, and there was a couple of favorable votes. And now.
ST. JOHN: I think that's true. That's what I'm taking away from this. Nobody is quite sure. I spoke with Steve Greeley who is the deputy director of waste disposal at the city, and he said we as a government have to make sure we're covered for the future. And we know we're covered till 2037, but it does take a couple of decades to site a landfill! So to be responsible, it might be a good idea to have another landfill. But it's unclear over the next few year, will we be able to recycle more so we don't need to open anymore landfills?
SAUER: The watershed and the river, that's part of it. The folks say this is the superduper lining, the world has never seen such a thing.
ST. JOHN: To give them credit, it does sound like the best liner you could possibly have. But the critics argue that liners leak. The newly elected director made the comparison with San Onofre. We were told that wouldn't leak and now we're in a crisis. So the issue of water is becoming more and more important all the time. We're always hearing about how we're not keeping enough drinking water. And Oceanside is downstream on the San Luis ray river and is investing millions of dollars right now to reclaim the drinking water, 20% of the residents of Oceanside use reclaimed water, much of which comes from the San Luis ray river.
SAUER: That's a significant concern.
ST. JOHN: And in the next 30 years, they're planning on investing another $100 million! So that could all be to nought if they're -- and we're thinking like the native Menshes think. We're thinking in generations here. We can't just think of our lifetimes and our children's lifetimes. It's necessary to think in terms of generation, and will this liner hold up? That landfill ain't going anywhere.
SAUER: And the Pala band, they have other concerns.
ST. JOHN: They see the Gregory mountain right next door to it as a sacred mountain. So they compare it to piling trash up against the wall of a church, and they are very concerned about preserving that whole area.
SAUER: Greg from Oceanside. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: I have a question. Since this is a private enterprise, would is this group be able to bring in trash from, say, other counties like Riverside or San Bernardino and thereby limit the actual amount of trash that San Diego got in it, and then cut down the life of the landfill for San Diego County?
ST. JOHN: That is an excellent question. It all depends on what they charge in tipping fees. But at the moment, that's what some people are saying, this is more likely to be a landfill for Riverside County. Certainly some North County cities might be able to use it. The further south, probably not. They might get five years of use after it after 2037 if the northern counties haven't already filled it up. But it does seem very possible that it could be for other counties. And of course the private company is making the point, they cannot limit it. By law, they have to accept trash from wherever people are willing to bring it.
SAUER: Now, the California coastal commission has sued the Navy and the development firm owned by Doug Manchester over the 1.2 Broadway development. Give us an overview.
ST. JOHN: Imagine this, it's one of the most valuable pieces of property in Southern California. Of it's right there on the elbow of the bay, looking out over San Diego bay with downtown. It could be the site of the Sidney opera house, that kind of thing. It could define San Diego.
SAUER: A prime piece of real estate.
ST. JOHN: Exactly. And that's why it's a really important decision to get it right. Like the Gregly landfill, going for years, and the California coastal commission has just weighed in with a suit against the Navy, and not Manchester himself, but the company that has a contract with the Navy to build this project. And they are saying that, look, since we granted you this permit in 1991, because it too had a permit back in 1991, since then, things have changed! The plan has changed! There are more high-rise hotels in it. They're saying there Neds to be more public space to meet the California coastal act, and they're asking the Navy to make some changes in the plan. They're not saying don't build it, and they're not opposed to the Navy headquarters, which other people have filed suit against. They're just saying this project is too darn dense! And if you look at the plans, it's pretty dense! And it's not that imaginative it. There's a lot of tall high-rises, it would not define San Diego or the waterfront in any particularly special way.
SAUER: So what's the status of this project now? Ism well, are it's bogged down. And the fact is there hasn't been the money to build it either. So the developer, Manchester Financial, is not being held back so much by the legal as by the financial situation. However, it is difficult to get investors when you still have outstanding lawsuits. And the Navy Broadway complex, trying to get the headquarters blocked, that lawsuit is on appeal, and now the coastal commission is saying it doesn't meet the California -- and things have changed.
SAUER: So a long way to go.
ST. JOHN: We're not there yet.