Skip to main content

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

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

Dam Trouble

The Oroville Dam north of Sacramento is the tallest dam in the United States. It's reservoir is the largest in the State Water Project.

Were it to fail, the loss of life and property would be catastrophic.

So when its emergency earthen spillway was undermined by record rains this winter, and a gaping hole opened in the main, concrete-lined spillway, nearly 200,000 people living nearby were evacuated on Monday.

The dam was full to overflowing last week. But this week the emergency spillway was shored up and enough water released from the reservoir to avoid more run-off, even with three storms headed for the area.

The Sierra Club and others warned the water districts which control Oroville that the untested emergency spillway needed to be strengthened. The districts resisted, reportedly because it would cost millions.

Locally, Sweetwater Dam in the South Bay, which failed in 1916, has been a cause for concern. The state Division of Safety of Dams warned the board overseeing Sweetwater that its refusal to pay for repairs to the spillway could lead to grave consequences.

The board is reconsidering.

California has a large number of high-hazard dams which could endanger people and property, but they are inspected regularly and most, including those in San Diego County, are considered safe.


Dam Our History: What the Oroville Crisis Means for San Diego

State official says Bonita dam is unsafe, nearby residents in jeopardy

Labor Trouble

Two former employees of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 have sued Mickey Kasparian, the head of UFCW. Isabel Vasquez has sued for sexual harassment, and Sandy Naranjo for retaliation and gender discrimination.

Four other ex-employees have since come forward to accuse Kasparian of “various workplace misdeeds." A current employee has also filed a complaint over a hostile work environment, and UFCW has filed its own lawsuit against one of the women who filed suit.

Kasparian’s position makes him a major force in local Democratic politics. Nevertheless, some 40 local Democrats and others have asked the UFCW to put him on leave and investigate the allegations.

Unions are political forces because they generate votes, volunteers and money to support candidates and issues, and Kasparian “has considerable sway and influence” over which candidates to support, says Ricardo Ochoa, a labor attorney.

Kasparian is also president of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, a sort of union for unions. It’s been at odds with another big union group, the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, and has often bested them in political efforts.

The Labor Council, for instance, supported Myrtle Cole for San Diego City Council president, while Building Trades supported David Alvarez, who lost.


Calls Grow For San Diego union Boss To Step Down Amid Sexual Harassment, Gender Discrimination Allegations

Power Trouble

State regulators found the Encina Power Plant on the coast in Carlsbad was deadly to marine life and caused so much pollution that it should be closed down by November, 2016.

It's still there, and still working, and likely to be so for another year.

The plant slated to replace it was approved on a basis of urgency (the current plant was going to close). The contract to build and operate the new facility was awarded to NRG, a large energy company out of Houston, without competitive bidding.

Encina's replacement is a “peaker plant,” a gas-burning facility used when demand peaks. Most are expensive assets for the communities they serve, used only 5-6 percent of the time. They pollute more than those that run constantly.

There are alternatives for energy storage that are cleaner than a gas-burning plant – battery storage, for instance – but these weren’t considered for Carlsbad.

Because of consumer use of more clean energy sources like solar and wind power, California now has a “power glut,” and is on track to produce 21 percent more power than the state needs.

Californians also pay more for electricity to cover the cost of the new plants whose output is not needed.


Old Carlsbad power plant's environmental toll will persist

Carlsbad power plant won't open on time; clean energy challenges will continue

Election 2020 news coverage


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Roundtable banner

Roundtable is a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join host Mark Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.