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San Diego City Council Declares El Niño Emergency

Photo caption:

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez at a council meeting, February 25, 2014.

The San Diego City Council Monday unanimously declared a state of emergency because of anticipated El Niño rain conditions this winter in an effort to ease the regulatory burden for clearing clogged storm channels.

Councilman David Alvarez said numerous channels in the city are choked with vegetation, sediment and other items like mattresses, and are prone to flooding if the expected heavy and repetitive rains hit.

He said the declaration will be transmitted to Gov. Jerry Brown, with a cover letter urging him to declare a state emergency before the bigger storms hit in order to ease the regulatory process. Brown is considering such a declaration, according to state officials.

In emergency situations, such as when a major storm is imminent, the city can go to the Army Corps of Engineers to get the necessary permits, the councilman said. However, that has to happen a few days before a storm hits, and he wants work done well in advance.

Councilman Scott Sherman said permits necessary to clear the channels in normal situations have to go through the five or six regulatory agencies before they are approved, because of environmental laws.

Photo caption:

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

San Diego City Councilmember Scott Sherman at council meeting February 25, 2014

A member of the public, Charles Douglas, told the council that he's very concerned with the condition of South Chollas Creek near where he lives.

"We had a rain in September — it kind of rained — and the channel filled and there was concern it was going to overflow," Douglas said. "That was only after two or three hours of rain."

Kris McFadden, of the city's Transportation and Stormwater Department, said city crews cleared out six channels in the most recent fiscal year, including two in flood-prone areas — Murphy Canyon Creek near Qualcomm Stadium and Soledad Creek in Sorrento Valley.

Work has resumed in the Tijuana River Valley, and Alvarado Creek was cleared out recently, McFadden said.

According to Alvarez, 25 channels are at risk for flooding. The worst, besides South Chollas, are:

• Via de la Bandola in San Ysidro

• Engineer Road in Kearney Mesa

• Pomerado Road in Rancho Bernardo

• Washington Street in Hillcrest and Little Italy

• Parkside in Paradise Hills

• Section Four of Auburn Creek in City Heights

• Cottonwood Channel in Shelltown

• Chollas Creek in the College Area

• Red River Drive and Conestoga Drive in Allied Gardens

The mayor's office has not supported the call for a declaration, in part because of concern over lawsuits. Mayoral officials have said the lawsuits aren't just costly to the city, but prevent storm channel maintenance from taking place.

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