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Roundtable: Gas Leak Stopped, Lester Fired, Chavez Quits, Veteran Suicides Raise Alarms

Associated Press
Matt Pakucko, president of Save Porter Ranch, right, speaks to a reporter after testifying to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors about an uncontrolled methane gas leak that has sickened residents in his Los Angeles neighborhood, Nov. 24, 2015.
Roundtable: Gas Leak Stopped, Lester Fired, Chavez Quits, Veteran Suicides Raise Alarms
Gas Leak Stopped, Lester Fired, Chavez Quits, Veteran Suicides Raise Alarms HOST:Tom FudgeGUESTS:Ingrid Lobet, inewsourceAlison St John, KPBS News Michael Smolens, The San Diego Union-Tribune Jeanette Steele, The San Diego Union-Tribune

They use methane gas in the Porter Ranch in Europe seems to be under control. The coastal commission voted director Charles Lester off the island, the presidential race gets more surprising I day so that the California Senate race. 27 local and have committed suicide in a year and a half, Kumar had been done? I tent Tom Fudge. The Roundtable does not Welcome to our discussion of the week top stories. I'm Tom Fudge, joining me at the KPBS Roundtable are Ingrid Lobet, investigative reporter for inewsource, thanks for coming in. Also try for, North County Bureau reporter for CBS news thank you Allison. Tran06's politics editor for the San Diego Union Tribune thank you Michael. And Janette Steele, military and defense reporter also for the San Diego Union Tribune. That notorious and obnoxious methane leak in the Porter Ranch area of LA County has been brought under control. After four months of tons of methane spewing into the atmosphere Southern California Gas announced yesterday a relief well had reached the base of the leaking well and a great, what exactly happened how it is in the flow discuss? Me for any well to penetrate directly to the casing of the old well and that allowed them to push material down where they can overcome the upward pressure of what was coming up on the old well to the probably put that down there and I'm working concrete to create a more permanent. Actually cut yesterday when we were talking, they cast the well, and he said is incorrect. They have not done that quite yet. They have to permanently lock off the flow far below the surface with concrete. The last time we talked we still don't know or at least San Diego gas, I'm sorry, Southern California Gas, will not tell you how to the occurred. That's not exactly low yet. We know that as well as other pressure, it was old, it ruptured anything that content to be vulnerable in older well, we know it was being injected under pressure when the spirit was discovered by we don't know exactly why. .gif Elizabeth of perspective while in this insanely so damaging to the environment? Methane just by itself is quite damaging to the atmosphere close to the earth that because this particular chemical bond have the ability to observe a lot of energy to the earth beneath that radiates off the earth is more easily tracked closely to the earth where can affect our climate when others more methane in the atmosphere, so really try to minimize how much may be used in the atmosphere this is a very large amount. Methane more damaging than say carbon dioxide. About 85 times more damaging or written to you.. We spent a lot of time talking about this particular gas leak editing a story along with the LA daily news that have to do with the fact that this site has been in methane for quite a long time. Mike an investigative reporter I've been working with data from the environmental protection agency and matching it together with other data from the energy information administration, and that we have ranked what are the largest I think that gas storage of a long the country and Alisa Canyon is the largest. Ordinary cases where there is not a catastrophic leak in anything will is is also the largest one in the country? It is but not all large storage areas are necessary largest emitters and when you do take into account size I want to say that Southern California Gas and Alisa Canyon Falls far down the list. I don't others, there is another that all that happened with respect Alisa Canyon and I think it's worth mentioning, this week, and that the US Los Angeles daily news reported that those things which are articles, symptoms people have reported respectively, are not is a they get from exposure to scientists tell us. In other words people have been told that the main thing they been exposed to our captains but sacrifices are saying captains the cause nosebleeds. I understand they block the flow but how safe is it for people to return home? Audited company want people to go back home but as was possible but is this really you can something you can rely on? Is looking that they have successfully blocked the well. When the you that there would be anything in the area. Somebody from being able to return home. I think people are encouraged to come home and I think a lot of people really do want to couple. I was going to say they had a seven day. After they stopped is to get people to come home. Of that taking automatically or do you know if there wiggle room? 8:00 is being negotiated right now because it actually over until the state division of oil and gas resources said is over. I think people are will start only one declaration comes. I think were going to have to wrap this up but I is in addition to capping this well, Southern California Gas which is a subsidiary of San Diego ace Sempra Energy is losses. Quite a few losses, more than 20 lawsuits and criminal charges. Thank you very much. Hundreds of people living on to the next subject, hundreds of people crowded into the moral day on Wednesday with all with the same message for members of the California coastal commission and that was don't fire Charles Lester. He had an executive director of the commission since 2011 and he was highly respected by members of the environmental community us commissioners fired him on a 750. For reasons we still don't fully know. Allison, leading to you. Yesterday was quite a day in more of a conquest all of it. Can you paint a picture. I watch a lot of hearings and I've never seen one like this where there was literally almost virtually nobody who was arguing in favor of firing him. Everybody without exception was seeing his praises. To have a position in the face of such a long period of public testimony for a public commission that went against the grain enough to reveal the actual reason, I think I just don't see that people are going to be satisfied leaving it they need to know why this vote was taken. Was the story of Lester? What did he do to deserve this? It sound like you're saying we may not know. Into that there is a story about the reason why he was fired is a completely different story we know about it. Of course people are worried that Pressey might have been fired because he was defending the coast to rigorously and there are development pressures and the people were being lobbied to get rid of him. All the obvious was from San Diego sees the Escondido city Council who was on the commission actually standing in, set very distinctly I was not lobbied by anybody before the vote, no developers ever called me, no businesses ever called me, I was my own Friedewald, she said when she arrived at the meeting, she was wondering why this is the commission thinking of firing. She to let the audience was not quite sure why was the reason were, where they were that serious. She said she learned something while she was there, there was a short closed session at the beginning, that fill in some gaps in at the end even though she knew it would be politically unpopular but she was on the Senate voted to fire. I don't think it's to do with pressure from the developers although you can never completely untangle all the strings of political motivation in a boat. Left with this conundrum of what is the reason and for a publication agency of the significance it seems it will cut the mustard. Whatever the reason Michael certainly seems to be running very high in favor of the sky I think that the commission is in a difficult position. One of the things that Lester left a little bit of doubt about the whole situation because he couldn't wait this privacy rights and wanting introduce going to his personal evaluations. He is the one that has a right to call his meeting but it seems to me that I think the commission has kind of transparency, I think Lester also has two as well because he called this but big public meeting to let everybody out but he didn't agree to let everything out and it seems clear that when we would agree with it or not there was something in these personnel evaluations that triggered that, the holiest situation because she didn't know before hand and would be nice was that really enough and that we can make a better decision whether this was driven by the development versus protecting the coast situation or something more. In terms of the passions in favor of Lester, we actually do have a supporter of him let's take a look. This commission today is poised to meet the challenges of the California coastline faces and there are many. You have letters from over 100 NGOs, 35 former commissioners, 68 listeners, 10 members of the house of reps and some 14,000 letters of the public all expressed their faith and support of Dr. Lester. I mean it was just massive talk, even the staff of hundred 53 staff with letters in support, 28,000 emails saying that they supported him. The vote did not match up the public sentiment at all. Is it a done deal or does he have any recourse? If it's a done deal and the vector is going this huge trust doubt that there would have to overcome because of this feeling in the public debate is is behind closed doors. It's a big mystery copycats talk about it and their usually so contentious in the first place. I wonder how they're going to overcome that. Environmental organizations are literally hands tied because they don't know what the reason is. I don't some legislators including Tommy Atkins with the speaker of the assembly who were trying to pause legislation; have lobbying of commissioners would have to be more transparent but it seems to be that is not, in the event read Harry is what we need is for Dr. Lester and so to say okay, I wait my privacy rights and will take him in the commissioners agreed to do that. There's something that we don't quite understand because one of the commissioners that if we knew then what we know we might as differently. In which take both of those agencies to change their mind (see should be Allison, there is a limit of a division between the staff of coastal commission the commission itself. Doesn't the commissioners frequently orchard recognition by the staff? That was one of the main things you could sort of pull out the haystack of things is communication between the staff of the commission. That's the job of the commission, to make decisions based on research and reports presented by the staff. Charles Lester made the point that you cannot have the staff into cozy with the commission because that in fact compromises independent of both. This is a set of the they do remain to separate approaches to the issue. It is true even the commissioners all the commissioners even the ones that voted to keep Lester, said yesterday to work more on communication between staff and commission. Michael, you want to have a last word? It has been notable situations here at the San Diego convention Center the staff voted against the expansion of the limbo and the commission overturned down but on the other hand it was very interesting there was a island hotel project the staff over the recommended to go forward that commission said no because it's essence of affordable lodging component which is a big issue along the coast. This was being affordable lodging and lower income people and that not happening. It's a mixed bag. The defendant overturning in favor you can say of the regular folks in the developers And even if the commissioners voted in favor of the Sea world, so controversial of the commission off the staff. This, and right distinction. You very much for covering this. The leading Republican in the race for Barbara boxer U.S. Senate seat was San Diego, that was last week. On Tuesday this week sentiment Rocky Chavez Oceanside pull out of the race. Today he endorsed Duf Sundheim that at least their credit candidate, Harris and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez on the Democratic side meanwhile in the presidential race party outsiders Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Wednesday in New Hampshire. We will get to in a bit but Michael, let's start with the Senate race. Why does Rocky Chavez? Rocky he had a lead and it was a two to one lead over his opponents but he only had 7% in the latest poll. And the other two had 3% each. When Apple came out Rocky Chavez came out and urged the other two to drop out for the good of the party under the math which I don't quite work out that would be 30% I think that people had come all areas of 25%. February drops out and one point behind Loretta Sanchez maybe I can get in. Remember we are in the top two primary systems so right now we would have to do is drop in November which will be a huge embarrassment for Republicans. But 7% only get you so far. He raised about a 10th of that he didn't raise a lot of money and he ended up with over $50,000 of debt. You can be able to run for U.S. Senate in that regard. Just one final thing both 2011 -- Rocky Chavez has quite a resume that might seem attractive on the state those to have the political connection and I think there were some having been done behind closed doors really narrowed the field. Maybe Tom will sooner or later. He used to be on the Oceanside city Council cytolytic about him and he has always had a little bit of a rocky relationship with the Republican Party. I remember him telling me that process community better if he had paid more attention to what the party wanted but he's always state his own man in the party establishment wants and is within saying look, understated, some of them and get some more votes that might help us in this way and the party did not come to rally behind him. Allison, I spoke with Rocky Chavez on Tuesday he said something similar to me he was making the point that in California the GOP is so marginalized, we don't have one statewide Republican elected to political office. Why do you think that is? Because they are very weak, it's a very democratic state but adversity in the presidential primary core vote of the most party are very conservative. The Republican Party is controlled by a real right-wing it wasn't always that way. We did have moderate governors, Republicans from peoples and, that really was talking about a generation ago conservative have really consolidated. They would rather put forth conservatives that are going to lose quite frankly and moderate right Rocky Chavez Broncos because there's an orthodoxy that a line can be crossed. Not everyone feels that way. Some leaders would like to be more flexible and when actually because it really are is a say in the wilderness in California. Let's move on to the presidential race. We had to gravity New Yorkers in the New Hampshire primary a lot of Sanders, Vermont, presenters, and Donald Trump. What happened there? Trump had been sort of a force of nature as we have seen. I think that's surprised everybody a lot of people took him as a joke but he clearly is frankly a different way is frankly a Different Way, Bernie Sanders. I think speaking to the anxieties and fears of the concert of people in a different way. Talk focuses on immigration, and other aspects of he thinks are hurting America. Bernie Sanders is really talking to economic injustice and one thing that would appeal to people more on the margins and lower income folks, everybody from middle-class to lower upper class are looking over their shoulders about health care, job security, usually starting a core in that regard. I don't know how much information we have on this Michael, what people tell us about California voters? Do we know California may supported the primary? Not at this stage. The last poll in early January and Hillary Clinton had an 11 point lead, that's irrelevant that this point. Crews as strong ties for the Republican lead, is all smiles and lifetime ago in politics especially after people have voted. The one thing that's interesting about that only did show what we've been seeing in these first to context which are really diverse and representative of the country of the over 40 voters were going for Hillary Clinton and we know that Sanders despite being looking like somebody's grandfather has really captured the young voters. It's really a testament of how his message resonates. She also attracts well among minorities, and diverse group of voters, which will feel that pays off in the coming primaries. Thank you very much Michael we have to move on that point. Artists subject throughout 2014 in the first half of 2015, 27 San Diego that's who served in combat zones committed suicide. What's the story behind it? Well, depression and PTSD to be sure to add to that access to God, leader, and the revolving door of healthcare providers. Jeanette wrote about these suicides in a special report from San Diego Union Tribune and Jeanette offers a question about your reporting, how did you find out about these suicides? In October 2014 there was this Jeremy the Oceanside fiery rage and veterans advocates came to us and said wait a second, this guy was not handled right by the VA report about it in and thought that line that has been asked for investigation shows that the San Diego be a botched this case. Postman that's from the case and what we did is after month and month of looking into it, we found out that the San Diego County medical examiner's office action tracks veterans and military government records so when I found out we realized we had something here that we can look at each case here in San Diego or certain. That's what we did. Tell us, what did all the suicides have in common? Let me just clarify. We chose those under 45 because it will want to the 9/11 generation, that is San Diego has 28,000 post-9/11 events largest cluster in the country so we thought that was our demographic. We looked at them not all of them had deployed to combat zones but the major findings were the majority that had PTSD or depression or were suspected of it after deploying to combat zone that aside from academic research and says there is no link will make you more likely to be suicidal. We found that some other interesting things like the families I interviewed said they felt shut out by private privacy laws, Hezbollah brought protection right, candidate excludes your family. Your appointment of a good jump in and help you. We actually have a bite to show about this. Let's take a look at I was that person who thought people were crazy and they ruin the family's lives. I have learned that not the case. My husband was not crazy. He was in pain that he couldn't he didn't feel whatever, that's when he made a decision that was a very bad one. General X, first of all tell us a little bit. Who was that? That Aaron, she's a widow Russell he retired after 20 years in the reading to back-to-back trips to Iraq. Less than two years later he takes his life. He had been waitlisted for PTSD, been involved in a study that changed his medicine, he had a hard time finding a job, real identity issues coming out of the Marine Corps, trying to find out who he was. His story echoes a lot of the things we saw in the other stories in his life wife said I wish I had known he stopped going to the appointment because of the have made sure he went. Because of his but nobody told him. And his eyes would protect patients privacy but it also means that if I'm a doctor, I can't go in and say to his wife, hey, here's what's going on that a problem. It can be a problem. I interviewed the outgoing San Diego director of healthcare was that maybe we need to look at this issue nationally if people are fragile and this particular demographic may be something we should address. Access to guns. For most of these suicides by gone? Gone is the favored waiting for people to kill themselves especially among veterans. We found interesting among people who kill themselves because more than half had been drinking or at least sometimes three times the legal limit? Were invited to present this is something maybe we need to look at and the VA is doing the infected trigger locks but because the guy so lethal, if you make a decision in a moment, this probably going to be lethal as opposed to the thinking life like overdose. How was the treatment? We heard a lot of criticism of the VA, and a mess it up in these cases? They are all individual cases. The recognition came back in his case infected they have given 22 month of narcotic painkillers without requiring a face-to-face visit which is against their standard. In this other case where he had himself look at his case internally and well we didn't do enough with the handoff from the psych unit to the treatment unit he went into. We will see. There were is going to be more investigations. Very quickly, were there any success stories that you saw, times with the treatment really worked, whenever the cost of 24 perhaps they were going to commit suicide? Give us somebody who we can interview and they couldn't give us anyway. Of course it's a really private thing and I found that out trying to interview these families, this whole issue a statement silence it's really difficult to talk about. Well, that wraps up another week in stores educated yes Roundtable. And you very much to Ingrid Lobet, and Michael Smolens, and also to try for, for joining me. A reminder all of the service we discussed today are available on our website Tom Fudge . And thank you for joining us today.

Gas leak stopped


The alarmingly huge methane gas leak from a damaged well in the Aliso Canyon storage field near Porter Ranch in Los Angeles County seems to be under control at last.

A relief well reached the base of the leaking well on Thursday, and workers were able to begin pumping heavy liquids to control the flow of gas, a first step. It could take several more days to pump concrete into the well to seal it permanently.

Even without a monstrous leak like this one, which spewed more gas into the atmosphere than than any other facility in California, the Aliso Canyon field releases methane into the atmosphere around it every day. Methane is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases.

Some 4,000 residents in Porter Ranch were relocated by the well owner, Southern California Gas, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy. Many suffered nausea and headaches from an additive to the gas, and many also suffered nosebleeds, a symptom which is so far unexplained.

Charles Lester is shown the door


This week the California Coastal Commission fired its executive director, Charles Lester. It's the first time the commission has taken such an action in its 40-year history.

After hearing testimonials from many of the hundreds of people who showed up to support Lester's tenure, the commissioners voted to fire him during a one-hour closed session. Escondido's Olga Diaz, a city council member, participated as an alternate to Commissioner Greg Cox of Chula Vista, who could not attend. Diaz voted to dismiss Lester.

Some environmentalists view the dismissal and replacement of Charles Lester as a "coup," engineered by lobbyists and developers who want more coastal development. Commissioners said those charges were groundless and were primarily pushed by the media.

Chavez leaves Senate race

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, dropped out of the race for Democrat Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat this week, and he did it at the start of a debate on KOGO Radio.

Chavez had been polling ahead of his two Republican challengers, Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Becarro, but was lagging well behind Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez in fundraising.

Chavez said he was uncertain if his exit would boost the chances of a Republican to take the seat, believing the two remaining candidates are too traditionally Republican to win in California.

Meanwhile, Sanchez continues to make statements that make news. In December she told Larry King that 5 to 20 percent of the world’s Muslims wanted to form a caliphate, a form of Islamic government led by a religious leader considered a successor to the Prophet Muhammad.

Sanchez repeated that assertion to Capital Public Radio in January.

Veteran suicides in San Diego County

Twenty-seven San Diego veterans suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder committed suicide between 2014 and the first half of 2015.

The San Diego Union-Tribune compiled these dismal statistics using information from the San Diego County Medical Examiner, which tracks military status in its data.

Relatives and friends of those veterans who died revealed frustration and dissatisfaction with care provided by the Veterans Administration in San Diego.

The issues they cited include federal privacy laws, which may prevent informing family of a veteran’s troubles; a revolving door of health care providers; access to guns; and an antiquated VA system.