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Roundtable: Dam Trouble, Labor Union Difficulties, Carlsbad's Power Plans

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February 17, 2017 1:15 p.m.

Dam Trouble, Labor Trouble, Power Trouble


Randy Dotinga, Voice of San Diego

Claire Trageser, KPBS News

Eboné Monet, KPBS News

Ingrid Lobet, iNewsource

Related Story: Roundtable: Dam Trouble, Labor Union Difficulties, Carlsbad's Power Plans


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.

As they are billed and crisis recedes, concern turns to other dams statewide, especially Sweetwater in the south bay. Powerful San Diego labor leader, Nikki Kes variant is fighting off allegations of sexual harassment and workplace retaliation. And the insane a power plant in Carlsbad will be replaced by a new plant that some say is not really necessary. I am Mark Sauer, the KPBS Roundtable starts now.
Welcome to our discussion and the week stop desktop stores. Thanks for joining me is reporter Randy per tingle. Hello Randy.
Good to be here. Hello Claire. And Ebony Monet, anchor of KPBS evening edition. Hello Ebony. Good to have you here. And reporter Ingrid Lopez of I new source. Hello Ingrid.
Well, it is the tallest dam in the nation, supplying a third of Southern California's drinking water and the -- in the dry summer months. That would rivet attention to the crisis playing out the Oroville Dam, hundreds of miles north of San Diego. We have Artie set the scene for us. How may people are affected and a few days ago it looked like this thing could actually blow.
This is a huge dam, it creates the second largest reservoir in all of California. It is north of Sacramento, they have had a problem the last few weeks with what is called the spillway. A spillway is where you have to release water from a dam. That makes her a dozen overflow part, and it had a fracture that develop. And there was talk that water would come over the emergency backup spillway which has never been used in 50 years, and that had arisen problem. So you had a risk with either spillway that the water would break through. That would flood downstream were a couple hundred thousand people in. And that many were evacuated. It is a huge crisis. Is not that the dam itself would fail, the whole thing is not what they say, is not going to blow, but if you lose one of the spillways, you could have a huge rush of water out of the dam and a lot of chaos that would affect us all the way down here in San Diego.
And a terrible public safety issue, obviously.
Safety in terms of flooding, and people losing their lives, and a lot of potentially -- when there's a flood, you can pull trees into the rivers, and that causes floods downstream, it is a whole cascading effect.
Obviously, we've had so much rain this year, we haven't had this kind of discussion about spillways and dams going to the brim, and several years. Do we get complacent in those drought years, how did this problem happen?
It is kind of a mix. If you talk to the infrastructure people, the experts, they say the whole country and California are pretty bad bad at dam safety. California has a lot of high hazard dams, include including 20 in San Diego. If they were to fail, people would die. So there's a lot of concern about their safety, but on the other hand, these experts say California has a good dam safety inspection record. They say that dam safety in general, in this country, is pretty poor but California is the best of the pretty poor bunch.
This crisis last week, it was front page news, everybody nationwide was riveted. But they been able to with a little bit of a lull, they been able to release a bunch of water and ease the immediate crisis.
They have been able to release water and they say that they should make it through the weekend. And the start of this weekend. And not have any major failures.
They have been able to release enough that is not quite to the brim like it was.
Are they able to repair the spillways on the fly?
They were able to, you can see pictures of the construction trucks, they were able to shore them up. They could sure of the emergency spillway. But there have been a bit -- they wanted to fix that earlier, to make it concrete so it would be stronger. And there was a lot of fuss between the people that wanted to make it happen, but they didn't want a different solution, and then the water districts that run the dam, didn't want to do it, and there was a lot of controversy but nothing happened. Now you find out what happens when you don't do your maintenance.
Right, and this catastrophe could have been
It could have been major. There was a dam break in the 1920s, the St. Francis dam, north of LA, that people forget about it. But it killed over 600 people.
It wiped out a bunch of houses, too.
It still is the biggest disaster in California history. In terms of lives lost.
We have, speaking of the dam, we have a bite from a state assemblyman, Jim Patterson of Rick Fresno. Let's see what he has to say.
We see the result of essentially ignoring the maintenance and the management and the capacity of her assistance. Statewide.'s are Bill is not the Oro there are other dams are overflowing. That tells us that the capacities are insufficient and we need to build the capacities. If we do not, we will learn nothing from this near disaster.
All right, so we see a lot of dam building and shoring up all summer. Is there money for that? I heard somebody say that no politician ever wins a race on the platform of deferred maintenance.
Not that sexy of an issue. But there is something like this, there will be plenty of blame for it.
Even locally, the Sweetwater dam, -- Sweetwater has a really interesting history. About 100 years ago during the storms of 1960, the Sweetwater dam failed. That killed about 16 people. That was a major disaster that actually affected how the state regulates dams. It was a huge thing. A few months ago, the state dam safety director came down and talk to the Sweetwater dam, the dam that runs it, and said you need to fix it. If they had not done that earlier,, a couple of the board were surprised and said they did know it had to be done. They have allocated the money, but it has not been done yet.
We've got a lot of dams in the county, don't we? About 58, and some going back to 1887. They have been around forever, creating the reservoirs that collect the water. When were not drinking water from Lake Oradell.
Water is a huge problem for California.
What about inspecting all of those dams and how save can we be with those folks living downstream wicks or all of us
I heard of one writer who writes about dams, and he said these big huge dams are like a loaded gun pointed right at communities with hundreds hundreds of thousands of people. It is hard to really know how save the dams are, they are inspected, and the state has inspectors but it is hard for us as laypeople to really understand exactly what risks that they posed was. Those of us who live downstream, with 50 dams in the county, there are a lot of us who may not even know that we are in a valley that could be affected.
And of course we've had several years of drought here, we are all living with the effects of that on the other side of the flood issue. So do we get complacent? The experts say that yes, the infrastructure experts issued a report and said that the whole nation as a whole, is poor at keeping dams safe and maintaining them. On the other hand, there have been fairly few dam disasters. In the history of California specifically. We have the one in in LA and then another one in LA in 1963 that destroyed hundreds of homes. In general, dams have been say. It is always safe until one day when it is not.
We will see how that plays out as we go forward into the summer months.
We will move on as the kingmaker when it comes to democratic politics in San Diego. Mickey Experian headed one of the biggest units and can make or break an issue candidate or issue. Now the kingmaker is in trouble. Ebony many, many Democrats are pushing for Casper into step down.
He is facing serious allegations, some former employees are accusing him of gender discrimination, specifically sexual harassment and even retaliation. So there is a letter that has come out with some notable Democrats signing onto this letter. It is asking for independent investigation and asking that Nikki miscarry and be put on leave. That would be pending the investigation. Some of those people include lawmakers past and present, city councilmembers, David Alvarez, and other members as well. They're calling on the San Diego Democratic party, they're calling on the UFC W, local 135, and they're asking for organizations where he held his power to act.
We will get into specifics and allegations of moment. Claire, I want to ask you about this go. Who is Mickey Kes Perry and and what is the key role he plays in the local union hierarchy.
He is head of the UFC W, local 135, and he's the president of the labor Council, the UFC W is one of the biggest unions locally. So there's a lot of power there. Then the labor Council is even more power, so he has a lot of sway locally.
When we set top, when election time comes, you got volunteers, got phone banks, money, people knocking on doors, important stuff.
Definitely. There is one aspect which is kind of the brand of having union backing. That is important for Democrats because it shows you are the side of working people. Then there is just the money, and the ground game where unions get all of their members out to make phone calls, knock on doors, rally for candidates.
We do have a bite here that talks about this and underscores it. It is Richard Ochoa who represents local unions. Explaining the power.
One of the very powerful things that unions are able to do is they are able to aggregate the power of working people. Who individually would not be able to influence politics in the same way. And so by organizing, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of working people, they are able to generate votes, through the recommendations of their members, they were able to generate volunteers for candidates, so it really makes a big difference in the local politics.
All right, so the Kes Perry and as we said is also presently San Diego labor Council here, and they have arrival.
A recent rival. So the labor Council is a union of unions, local units belong to the labor Council which again aggregates their power. And then another large union, the building trades Council, has been split with the labor Council on some recent local decisions, including who to support for city Council President for example. Building trades, supported David Alvarez, and the labor Council supported Arnold Cole, and we know that Arnold Cole is the present. Obviously the labor Council came out on top on that one. Another one is the contract with the city's nonprofit redevelopment, civic San Diego, building trades oppose renewing the contract, labor Council supported. The contract was renewed.
So you can see there that some of the power and the clout here. Let's turn back to the specific allegations here involving Mickey Kes Varian. You've got a couple of lawsuits, at least two, or is another one about to be found? There have been three formal come plants and another woman has come forward. Two lawsuits are filed and they both fall under the umbrella of gender discretion. One of the women is saying that she was wrongfully terminated and she said it was a form of retaliation. Another woman is alleging sexual harassment. And then a third one has come forward and she is saying that she was also retaliated against in the form of a demotion. Because she was siding with the other two women.
So what has Mickey experience response been. In light of these complaints. I reached out to them a number of time dashed to him and number of times, and he has not got it back. I wish he had spoken and given his side, but he has spoken to other locations.
The Union Tribune had a interview with him.
He said he denies all the allegations against him. He describes these four employees as disgruntled employees that were on their way out. He also said that every organization UFC W is no exception, will have these disgruntled employees. The UFC W is filing a counter suit against one of the women, alleging that she missed used anytime.
You interviewed the two plaintiffs and that suit. You just referenced her, tell us about the specifics.
She is a young woman from San Diego originally, she told me that she has always dashes at the young age, wanted to work for the labor movement. Her father was in a union and she appreciated the work that the unit had done for her family. She said it was a dream come true to get a job with UFC W.
Let's listen to this plaintiff.
I admired him. I loved the way he's used to speak about workers and worker justice. He offered me the job, and I knew that this was a job that I wanted. This is the person I want to work for.
All right. And the specific complaint in her lawsuit? She is alleging gender discrimination. The woman who came forward, they say it is a hostile work environment. It is fueled by intimidation, there's a system of bullying, and you are either in or you are out. To be in, you have to basically job at test variance ever demand. And these can come at all hours. It is difficult to have a personal life because it is all a test of loyalty, and they are micromanaged. This is very difficult, especially for women. She's alleging that she was wrongfully terminated in part, due to her husband's lyrical dealings because he is a leader of another union representing electrical workers.
The other -- Elizabeth Vasquez filed another suit.
She worked for UFC W local 135 for about 15 years, she said that she was the victim of sexual harassment. She says this harassment came from Kes Perry and directly.
So what was her way to resolve that?
Basically she said that she never knew when the sporadic harassment what happened. She would be called into his office and this is where the alleged abuse took place. She said that she felt powerless, that she couldn't do anything to stop it. So she eventually retires early, she said that the only way she sought to and the abuse. The alleged abuse.
We do have -- speaking to that point. We have another bite from Naranjo. Regarding working with him.
This man, he's dangerous. And he's corrupt. And he exploits women and I want to show my daughter that we have to stand up.
All right. We should say that even though KPBS didn't get an interview, he has publicly denied these allegations. What is the timetable on these suits? Do you know what the status is or I assume it will take quite a while.
Quite a while. Naranjo, she was just recently fired. This is all developing since December. It was best guess who felt her suit after Naranjo was fired in December, and bask as work for the company as recently as the summer. So at this point, they are gathering testimony and like I mentioned, there is a countersuit that was filed in the last few weeks.
As we alluded to at the outset here, Kes Perry and obviously is not elected, so what are the pressures to leave the post? How likely is that? Like we said, I think the most recent and most visible was that the former city Councilwoman Donna Frye and Irene McCormick who worked for Bob Miller, went to a meeting and had a protest outside saying what Ebony said the beginning, that Nikki Casper is to be put on leave while they do this investigation. And that along with that, was the letter signed by 46 people, I think, calling for the same thing. So where is that pressure that is building. I don't know what will come of that.
There may be parallel to that, and more allegations may come up. And of course the lawsuits will proceed. What you're reporting on that, that is a very interesting story.
Over how long appeared this take place? Was this a long period? It depends on the cases Naranjo, she worked for UFC W41 35 for about 3 years, and basket for 15 years. Naranjo was a an organizer and best guess was a union Representative. Other women have come forward and basically described the environment as a hostile environment. They have not filed suit but they offered their testimony to corroborate that.
We will see what happens when we go in.

The Encinal powerplant was slated for closure and it is obsolete, yet the plant figures to keep operating through next year. That is a lot longer than it was going to, why is that? It needs to remain in operation because the new Carlsbad energy Center hasn't been able to get started with construction. They broke ground, but they haven't been able to get going on construction because there are lawsuits, energy energy said challenging it. And I want to say one thing, that it was a polluter, the Encino plant is still operating, so it is having those problems on marine life.
It was considered urgent to close the plant as soon as possible because of these issues? My understanding is that the plant as it operates now, is actually violates the Clean Water Act. Our modern Norn -- our modern informal norms, it sucks a huge amount of seawater from the ocean, and people in San Diego know that, the life gets caught in it, and that it discharges water that were back into the ocean. It has air emissions, but it is the water problem that puts it in violation. You either have to put quite a bit of investment into changing it, or shut it down.
And the new plan would be air cooled. You would not have that water problem.
It would be cleaner burning.
There is the emergency is talking about, with the new plant and the no bid process. It was picked without a competitive bidding process.
The California Independent system operator use this word, emergency, when it said that we really think that there may not be time for a full bidding process. We have this plant, the Carlsbad energy Center, that has already been through the blueprints and the permitting periods. It is kind of well along in the pipeline process. So given the fact that we have subtly lost these powerplant, that is what they said, there are people that argue about that, they say no there was a separate process that dealt with the urgency, but when the California Independent system operator said, that the Encino plant needed to close by the end of 2017, failing an emergency. That they were the ones who sided.
The environmental's are not buying the emergency idea.
Environmentalist that is not just environmental, we have green energy, clean energy operators and more and more we have nonfossil fuel alternatives for providing energy, either generating or now storage of energy. They feel that we might have a different type of power source built in Carlsbad if there had been an open competitive bidding run.
And you interviewed environmental engineer, we will hear that clip in a moment, here's what you think.
Ridiculous. We are putting old-fashioned stuff that is harmful and spending a lot of money on it. We can put something in that's much better it really does a good job.
So, what kind of plant is that one that is being slated to be built?
It is a modern plant, but it is burning fossil fuel, it is pretty natural gas, and critics say that is too late to climate change to be continuing to build fossil fuel burning plants. This has an entire regulatory scheme built around removing carbon in the economy, to do its part to ameliorate a better climate change. Where was I going with that, I lost my train of thought? You're saying is too late in the game, and the environmental's are saying they're trying to shut it down.
At this point there might be other alternatives, like battery storage, or fuel cells, or some people say did we really need that much electricity in the first place? Perhaps we could've gotten by with less. A lower amount than 500 MW.
And since we lost said I know free, that big issue, it really hasn't been a big follow-up here. We have had a power, we've had some hot summers there, and we still got through the peak moments and these peak plans, and they have worked okay.
And people are starling so much more slowly installing so much more solar so that has helped. On the other side, it is not just have we had enough electricity, it is if you have very high temperatures and if a major transmission line went down, then would you have enough been. That is what the regulatory authorities are looking at. They're looking at extreme circumstances that could happen. Would there be enough electricity for that? That is always the question here, how much of a cushion, how much of an oversupply do we have for these times of year. And there are some people now that are saying, and the times to the big story about this, we have too much, we have a glut of power and it is darned expensive in the state, compared to the average.
We have long been told that the reason why is that our energy is cleaner. It is been a long time since we were burning coal, which were long time was the cheapest form of electricity. Now, it begins to look as though part of why these crises are -- prices are higher in California, is because the regulatory authorities say yes to new power plants. And people say they say to yes yes too much.
How does that square with cities like San Diego, who has 100% renewable energy goal. That would mean they would not be using power from this plant. Is that right? Well, I mean that's a good point, no they will not have separate sources, and they will get electricity from San Diego gas and electric. That is the customer of this new one.
Will have to look at your next door to that topic. We have run out of time. That recipe another week of stories at the roundtable. I like to think my guess, Claire triggers her of KPBS news, Ebony Monet, also of KPBS news, and Ingrid Lovette of I knew source. And a reminder that all the stories that we discussed are available our website,