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North County Update: Safety At San Onofre, Tri-City Board, Oceanside Budget


Hear an update on the top stories coming out of the North County, from the safety of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station to the current status of Kathleen Sterling, a controversial member of the Board of Trustees of Tri-City Hospital. We'll also discuss the budget problems in Oceanside, and the abandonment of the crash tax in that city.

Hear an update on the top stories coming out of the North County, from the safety of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station to the current status of Kathleen Sterling, a controversial member of the Board of Trustees of Tri-City Hospital. We'll also discuss the budget problems in Oceanside, and the abandonment of the crash tax in that city.


Logan Jenkins, North County columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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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.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: North County has got a reminder that there is a nuclear power plant in the neighborhood. The crisis in Japan has put a spotlight on a potential problem. That is just what the headline story is ahead in our North County update. I'd like to introduce our guest. Logan Jenkins is North County Contributor for the San Diego Union Tribune. Logan, good morning.

LOGAN JENKINS: Hi, Maureen. Welcome back to North County.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Now give us a sense of some of the issues raised in San Onofre in light of the Japan nuclear crisis.

LOGAN JENKINS: I recently ran across a Gallup poll that said 7/10 Americans were more fearful now of nuclear disasters. I would put the figure closer to eight or 9/10 in North County. It is a red alert for us. One of the things we've also always believed here in North County or been told is that there's basically a 10 mile footprint for immediate problems if there were something able to happen at the San Onofre plant. What happened in Japan really suggests cost you cannot rely on that initially and then Japan decided there's a 20 mile footprint and our own Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it is 50 miles but we have people flying out of Tokyo for their safety. So it kind of raises the specter of what would happen in North County and south Orange County if there were to be a problem along these lines.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So people looking at these evacuation guidelines and in other words if something did happen at San Onofre is there a orderly plan to evacuate a large number of people in North County?

LOGAN JENKINS: I think in the real world orderly plan might be asking too much. I think maybe the word cluster should be involved because if we had a major earthquake is it really reasonable to think that I-5 would just be passable. I-5 in normal times can be difficult. But I think really the mind reels at what might happen. I ran across a quote from Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine. She said no amount of planning, no skills or specs or spreadsheets can stop a force that moves the planet. And I think that is the kind of, it is human nature to fear mother nature and I think in North County more than other places in San Diego County we have a sense of, gosh if the unspeakable were to happen, we would be on the line.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Has anybody asked officials at San Onofre how there will be a determination if there is any problem that requires an evacuation?

LOGAN JENKINS: I think that our local disaster preparedness folks have their own methods. They claim anyway that they have their own monitoring stations so it really doesn't depend upon Southern California Edison to send out the alarm. There is a plan in place. For example, I've heard that if we need to get a large numbers of people one way or the other we could actually turn out five into a one-way highway. But you know ironically according to how the wind might be pulling that might be mean taking people in San Clemente and driving them pass a plan to get themselves out. It's a very scary thing to imagine a plume of radioactive diocese hopes and you know what we get from 703 and you know we have to be fair they say we have redundancies in the system I'm sure you've heard that all let me of reasons why we are a lot safer than Japan. But you know we are still vulnerable and I recall talking to an author whose name is Jim Houston, a very good author in Escondido and an attorney who writes kind of in the Clancy vein and he wrote a book in 2001 right before 9/11 in which he hypothesized that a terrorist could, training actually his theory was that a Pakistani pilot was training in top gun and they took an F-16 and bombed for cooling pools which are much more formidable than the reactors themselves. In his hypothesis a couple hundred people were killed immediately in the explosion and area of Southern California was radioactive for 100 years which would put a certain improper tourist industry around here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It certainly would not. Getting back to reality in a sense because I've got to talk about Washington DC we've got our Sen. Barbara boxer grilling someone from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about the evacuation principles at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre. Do you expect to see in light of what's happening in Japan and these hearings a really more concrete idea how to tell those people that would need to leave the evacuation plan if they needed to go?

LOGAN JENKINS: I think that the players are out there, but I think that there is going to have to be more outreach to calm people's fears. One of the other things that could be considered as getting more potassium iodide out in their hands because those are the immediate danger when this stuff is released of thyroid cancer. So that kind of prophylactic measure has certainly been discussed and I think there's just going to be more and more interest in how will it actually work if the unspeakable were to happen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A sort of growing interest in this and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

LOGAN JENKINS: Not at all.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Logan Jenkins North County columnist for the Union Tribute. From the serious to the strange and in Oceanside the Tri-City Hospital has a governing board that is frequently in the news. This time board member Kathleen Sterling allegedly drew blood at one of the meetings. Logan, what is going on here?

LOGAN JENKINS: Kathleen Serling has been a very difficult trustee of the Tri-City public health District for going on 12 years now she has been publicly censured and six times. She basically is a gadfly, somebody who really believes that there is a lot of malfeasance going on at the hospital. Under a various leaderships and for your listeners who don't know, it's going to be difficult to absorb all this but there's a restraining order where she cannot come within 100 yards of any of the other board members. She attends meetings by phone in another room and participating via telephone. She has been accused of a felony, bribing fellow board members in a kind of vote swapping proposition that she's made and she is the subject of a civil lawsuit claiming that she roughed up security personnel in the hallway before a meeting. So it's a very difficult situation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now is there any reason to this? Is there something that she's trying to accomplish with these actions?

LOGAN JENKINS: Well that's difficult to say because her personality is so prickly and she has alienated her fellow board members so much that sometimes it's very difficult to know what Kathleen Sterling is after.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see and do we know, Logan, when her term might be up, are there any recall efforts underway? Are her constituents in any way displeased with this behavior that you can tell?

LOGAN JENKINS: I think she might have a small cadre of supporters. I've from some who say that she's fighting for the nurses, the nurses union was one of the reasons why she was elected in 2010. She was part of a slate. However that same nurses union has come out and formally asked her to resign. So her support is probably pretty sketchy in this body. But the only way that she's going to leave office it appears is if she can resign for her own mental and physical health, one imagines, or she could be found guilty of that felony and then be taken out of office. There's been no formal recall effort, although up here in North County we've had a couple recently, one in Oceanside and an attempt in Vista. So it is possible.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's talk about some budget problems in the North County. First in Oceanside what kind of budget problems is the Oceanside city Council talking about?

LOGAN JENKINS: Like most cities the city is experiencing kind of a structural deficit. It takes in about 112 million and revenue but it's facing about a $4 million deficit. The San Diego taxpayers Association recently did an audit and according to Lani Lutar, the president, she says it is the same old song, we have everybody crying the budget blues and dipping into emergency reserves while providing generous pension benefits to employees that it cannot possibly sustain.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know that we heard a story from Vista a while ago that they are having terrible budget problems in fact that they are turning off half the streetlights, is that it?

LOGAN JENKINS: That's correct. Vista tried this once before and ran into a roadblock several years ago but this time the budget problems are so dire that they are turning off half their streetlights. And they are cutting a lot of youth sports programs and they are even considering a very controversial crash tax where residents and nonresidents would have to pay extra fees if they cause a traffic accident.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's very interesting because Oceanside actually had a crash tax in effect. It would only apply to people who are visitors to Oceanside but they decided to repeal that. Tell us why, Logan.

LOGAN JENKINS: One of the council members, kind of a freshman, Gary Felien came forward and said that he thought it was double taxation, that people who were visiting the cities should be treated better than that. They paid sales-tax and TOT taxes and whatever and that he thought that it was the wrong way to raise funds. Plus he said that it really wasn't raising that much money. There was an underperforming program relative to what had been promised. But to what you might call the liberal members of the Oceanside council said it is a reasonable way to raise money and they were defeated 3 to 2.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think the pivotal point to something that you just mentioned is that they were promised that it was going to bring in such and such amount to Oceanside and they really sort of didn't live up to that promise.

LOGAN JENKINS: Right and I think this is being experienced by other cities that have adopted it. A little while ago there were several dozen cities around California that have it, Oceanside and one city further north have repealed it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think there's one story that I saw that was really sort of indicative of a lot of problems not only in the North County but that a lot of smaller cities are facing. Oceanside is having a problem as cities all over San Diego County with potholes but they are having trouble coming up with the matching funds so that they can actually take advantage of County transmit money to fix the potholes.

LOGAN JENKINS: That is just crazy. That is just crazy. Pot holes are the kind of things that drive citizens crazy. There are a lot of (inaudible) and a lot of repairs and so for them it's just outrageous.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today. We covered a lot of ground, so to speak. Logan, thank you so much.

LOGAN JENKINS: Thank you, Maureen

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Logan is the San Diego columnist for the North County Tribune. If you would like to comment please go online and Days. Coming up when will spring warm-up in San Diego? We will talk to a meteorologist as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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