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San Diego Environmental Groups Outline Key Issues In 2011

Audio

Aired 1/17/11

How to manage San Diego County's growing population will be at the core of many issues this year. Proposals include expanding freeways and managing growth. We talked with some of the county's environmental leaders to get their take on what issues they see as priorities this year.

From the forests and freeways to the ocean, San Diego environmental leaders say 2011 will focus on air and water quality and open space.

"I think it's a lot of the same things that we have been dealing with this whole decade," said Gabe Solmer of San Diego Coastkeeper.

"Water supply - where our water is coming from and how we use that water once it gets here. And then, another big issue is transportation. What that means in terms of how we build our city and continue density and in-fill development and what that means for water quality, water supply, how we get around."

Carolyn Chase with the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club agreed. Chase said planning for the future seems to be stuck in the past.

"The plans to widen I-5 are emblematic of just continuing doing what we've always been doing through the 20th century,” Chase said. “There's no 21st century vision for our region."

Chase said plans to expand Interstate-5 and other freeways are not the best solution to reduce congestion.

"How we design the road system has impacts on public health, individual health and the environment and the atmosphere,” said Chase. “So, also transportation is the number one cause of greenhouse-gas emissions for climate change."

Another concern: San Diego County's General Plan Update.

The plan is intended to shape the growth of the county's unincorporated, semi-rural communities by using those areas to accommodate future population growth and development.

"Well you know if there's one thing we've learned in San Diego it's that our historic pattern of sprawl development hasn't worked," said attorney Marco Gonzalez with Encinitas-based Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation.

"It has caused us to have gross water-quality violations throughout the county, we have horrible traffic, we have air-quality issues, we spew tons and tons of greenhouse gases into the air as a result of that," Gonzalez said.

But Gonzalez said the general plan update is an opportunity to fix some of those issues.

"And so I think now is the time for us, with the focus on sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions, to look inward, to look at infill, and look at the opportunities to put people where people already are and make sure we have the infrastructure to support that," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said planning for growth in the smaller, unincorporated cities of the county, such as Valley Center, Alpine and Lakeside, will create more sprawl.

"You can go out to Ramona, you can go to Rancho Penasquitos, Rancho Bernardo, Poway and you can really see where the sprawl development has caused us to eat up our open space,” said Gonzalez. “We've impacted watersheds, we've impacted species and we haven't really created livable and walkable cities."

Gonzalez said instead of sprawling into the back-country, the county could use the larger cities.

"But, of course, that also means we're going to have to learn to live closer and we're going to have to provide more infrastructure in the way of parks, schools, fire and of course, mass transit,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez also said the city of San Diego’s demonstration water recycling project starts this year.

“The IPR (indirect potable reuse) project will provide critical data necessary to convince regulators that a much larger project will be viable,” Gonzalez said. “At the same time, San Diego will release a study that will identify the means for achieving affordable secondary treatment of sewage at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment plant through the diversion of some sewage for indirect potable reuse.”

Serge Dedina with Imperial Beach-based WiLDCOAST said protecting local sources of the county’s water supply is one area he is focused on this year.

“Restoration and conservation of watersheds and wetlands, including South San Diego Bay, Otay River Valley, Tijuana River Valley, San Diego River, San Dieguito River, as well as significant areas of the back-country are priorities,” said Dedina.

Angela Howe with the Surfrider Foundation outlined some key coastal environmental issues and challenges for San Diego County: plastic pollution; sea level rise; and seawalls.

“The trash picked up off of the beach by caring volunteers is indicative of a larger problem that is killing our ocean with plastic pollution and accumulating in the five ocean gyres,” said Howe. “San Diego has been at the forefront of encouraging reusable products, such as reusable bags and bottles. We will likely see more efforts for city Styrofoam and plastic bag bans in 2011.”

An effort to enact a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags failed in the California legislature last year.

Howe said development along the coast combined with sea level rise will present other challenges for San Diego County.

“There will be more requests for ‘emergency’ seawall permits in San Diego,” Howe said. “Surfrider has filed suit against the City of Carlsbad for permitting a seawall without sufficient review or analysis of the issue. This is something the cities and the California Coastal Commission will have to be more proactive in addressing before we see a fully armored California coastline.”

Carolyn Chase with the Sierra Club said people must continue to protect the diversity of San Diego County's environment. Chase said without that effort, by groups and individuals, San Diego might be a different place.

"And the things that we love are still there in this city and in this region because somebody stood up for them and fought for them so that we could enjoy them today," Chase said.

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