Roundtable: San Diego Encounters Trump's Budget And Tijuana's Sewage
MSauer: Donald Trump submits his spending proposal to Congress. San Diego has good news for the Defense Department of veterans and bad news for local scientists. We look at the reasons behind the massive the water sewage spill last month. I am Mark Sauer and KPBS Roundtable starts now. MSauer: Welcome to our discussion. I am Mark Sauer and joining me is Michael. MS: Hello. It is good to see you. MSauer: Steve Walsh, hello. SW: Hello. MSauer: It is good to have you back. Sandra, hello. MSauer: Joshua Emerson Smith is of the Union Tribune. JES: Hello. MSauer: It is good to see you. MSauer: Two weeks ago Duncan Hunter Junior held a town hall and he said this about finance shenanigans. DHJ: We have known about this thing. These were mistakes that were made by my campaign that I paid back immediately. The buck stops here. It was my responsibility. It was my responsibility for the campaign and my family and for the charters -- the charges that my kid made. I took responsibility for. Affixed it. It is the end of story. MSauer: That is not the end of the story. What do we learn? SW: It looks like the Justice Department has opened an investigation into these issues. This started last year for the office of Congressional issue began looking at the Pro. The ethics committee started an investigation. Yesterday, the chairwoman of that committee started noticing that in the committee, they were deferring the investigation to let the Justice Department go ahead, and it is a potential criminal charge on the way. MSauer: Might this Congressman Hunter who and has been here for while, does he have to resign or get indicted? You had an Illinois Route publican who had to resign. He was indicted for misuse of public funds. MS: I never would have even fancied the notion -- Bass and the idea that they might not be sworn in but Darrell ISIS threatened political but not criminally. Duncan Hunter has a problem. Will charges be brought and indictments? You know, the office of Congressional ethics, in their report, the language is interesting but it seems like in their version, there is probable cause for a further investigation. The question we do not know, has the FBI been investigating? Reporting has been on this for many months. MSauer: Remind us about that. There is $60,000? MS: Is the use of campaign funds for personal use. There were gifts and jewelry. There was a trip to Italy picks but he got a $600 ticket for a rabbit for airfare. This is important. It is not stealing money. It is not taking federal government money but the fact that the FBI is looking into it is a serious thing. Before he was able to walk through this because he was in a safe district but I have to think now, despite whether or not he survives this, Republicans are getting nervous and try to think. SW: The thing is, there is not bright lines. They write the laws to pertain to themselves. They are not tough but this is one of the few lines. You talk about Aaron was indicted for misusing campaign funds. Jesse Jackson Junior went to prison a couple of years ago. If you think that Congressman Hunter, a big supporter of the Trump administration, that will give some sway with the Justice Department, I would think probably not. They are strict on the step. Public corruption is a big part of what the Justice Department does. They take it seriously. MSauer: Obviously, stay tuned to see what happens going forward. San Diego may be the perfect example I have of how Donald Trump can boost the military at the rest of discretionary spending. He has a proposed defense increase of $54 billion comes at the expense of scientific research and the arts. The entitlements of Social Security and Medicare are untouched. He does not reduce the national debt, which is approaching $20 trillion. There is no revenue mentioned. It is a spending blueprint or wish list. MS: Yes. Congress is getting a crass course and how this president negotiates. They have never seen anything like it. You talk about the highlights. What was the term? The hard power budget. A key element, you mention angst that are losing. The big loss is a State Department and the diplomatic front. And eight overseas, the military people say you cannot rely on military power alone and beefing up the military. They do not think they are doing at. And some members of Congress think this does not do enough. There is so much made of this big increase in the military budget but it is only a few percentage points more. MSauer: It is overcurrent spending? MS: Yes. MSauer: There is an interesting story where General Mattis, he said we need $30 billion for maintenance on top of the $54 billion. SW: Right. They are making that argument. You will hear a lot with the budget and this about readiness. Because of the Congressional budget, they are seeing automatic cuts. They are using money that would normally go to maintenance or ammunition and two thirds of the Navy aircraft have been grounded during this. They are taking money out of readiness and fun things like the war against ISIS. Mattis is asking for $30 million to boost that. There is concern that sailors are spending as much time at sea than at home. That is a tremendous strain on families. It starts with people retiring quickly. They went to get those numbers down. There are big new projects and they are talking about simply painting decks and making sure that equipment is in service. MSauer: This looks like a boost for a place like San Diego. We have a lot of military works and contractors and personnel. Expect money coming here. On the other side of this, Trump has talked about a 350+ ship, making that maybe more than three and 50 ships and that would be a huge boost to the Navy. There is nothing that details the new ships. There are so many details that have not been worked out. MSauer: It is interesting. You talk about new ships. The one thing we have been fighting in recent years is ISIS and terrorist attacks and intelligence. SW: Right. MSauer: Giant ships and battlefield expenditures and all, is that a thing of the fat past? I do not know. There is a lot going on in the sea. General Mattis talked about a maritime centered military. You can expect more ships. On the other hand, part of the $30 billion they are asking for, $5 billion was to go to fight ISIS. They do not have a plan on the table. Remember, they were going to knock him out right away? We have not seen the plan. MSauer: We will get into more but this really is a long way from this stuff being hard and fast. We will get into cuts on the negative side as far as San Diego is concerned but this is a process, right? He puts it on the wall and people start throwing darts? MS: That is correct. There are long negotiations. The health-care, this is a different kind of president in terms of how se negotiates with Congress. If he is a straight up by the process, which apparently he is, wait until he gets involved with the budget. There are middies upon committees. Everybody has a piece of what they want. It will be interesting. As it always is, to see how he negotiates this and how he handles it and what ultimatums he gets, which he has given on healthcare Tech MSauer: It looks like I loss or a on their face regarding the health care bill. We can look at the polls and this place in politics. MS: He does not act like someone from the poles. Damn the torpedoes. He has a way of doing things. It will be interesting to see if he can work his way with Congress or will the process eat him up bit by beat, which it often does and we will see what happens with the budget. MSauer: One thing we may see is veterans on both sides of the aisle, they want increases in the VA and help for veterans after the wars. SW: That is a few areas in the budget where they have given an increase of 6%. Again, the new head of the VA, he is the holdover from the Obama administration. He was putting a placeholder. There was veterans choice and it would allow you to go out and see a doctor outside the system. That law is set to expire in August. He is asking for a placeholder to keep that long going. That is until they come up with a new plan. There are problems with that law. We have reported on them. They do not have the docs and arrow. MSauer: I will shift to the potential San Diego loses. I said the boat has been canceled -- the vote has been canceled for the healthcare bill. MS: Obamacare is the role of the land. MSauer: Apparently it is. MS: We will see how long that last. MSauer: There are potential losers in the budget and elsewhere. Here is a cardiologist Eric Topol and what this would do to medical research in San Diego. ET: I think people have jobs at risk. I think the mission in San Diego and biomedical enterprise research would be in a desperate situation. MSauer: Joshua, Donald Trump denies climate change by humans. How does the budget reflect that? JES: NIH, that is a concern for people but also, there are cuts like 17% and that is huge for this area if that became a reality. MSauer: Remind us. What is that? JES: It is the oceanic administration. They fund things like you see this oceanography. There the largest federal grant and it came from in Noah in L.A. -- Letter in a way. That is a huge chunk if they received that decline. It is things like that that have scientists freaked out beyond the talk of challenging climate science but actually saying, we might get rid of funding. The jobs might be a state. MSauer: You wrote about the impact is something called the Sea Grant program. JES: This is collaboration between the universities and Noah. They find research for aquaculture and businesses that have to do with the ocean industries. Is similar to a program called the farm extension or the agg extension. They'd also do research for industries and local culture. Miming, this budget is proposing to get rid of that program. It has been around for 50 years. That would be jobs lost. Scientists are freaking out. MSauer: Biometric, there is a graphic here for NIH, $400 million? JES: That is a huge part of the economy in San Diego. There is a question of whether or not the defense boost would offset the cuts to sciences and biomedical. We do not know yet. Is this going to be a net positive for the region? Could it really is something that hurts the economy in San Diego? MSauer: What you think in terms of the cuts we are talking about and the booze we're talking about how does that play political -- politically? MSL: We will have to see what comes out and whom it hurts. Honestly, boosting military spending is a big thing in San Diego. We will feel the impact. It is not just the military but the federal government is the biggest employer in San Diego. Some of these agencies that have people here on the downside will lose people if this comes to pass. It is interesting on the NIH front; some of the local leaders are concerned. They look at a little bit of a contradiction. Trump talked about making America great again. They said we are first in these industries worldwide. Now, they are talking about cutting back and make us lose our edge. You know, you can look at that that they don't want that. That is proven to be a big part of the region and future research. MSauer: Right. SD: I thought it was important to make the point that this is not going to happen overnight but a period of years. Programs are funded. They might be funded through 2018 and 2019. I looked at aid to Mexico. A lot of stuff is still going on. It is likely to go on. MSauer: That is interesting. There is another election for the house and a good number of Senate members next year. Parties could change if the majority changed as we go along? SD: That is true. MSauer: I want to ask you what you talked about international relations with four budgets. We have roughly $200 billion in economic activity across the border. What are some things in the budget? BPA and how it is affecting the story we are going to talk about what that you want to sewage situation? SD: I think the interesting thing here for the border is homeland security. As far as I know, there is not funding for customs and border protection agents who manned the ports of entry and who may commerce and a passage of people fluid. People locally would like to see more CBP agents hired. I do not think that is a budget but we do not know until we see the line items. MSauer: This is the busiest border underworld. It is huge activity down there. JES: You want -- EPA issues are a big deal as well. They beef up the infrastructure into Tijuana. People that work on that have told me they are very concerned that the edge of proposal would do away with the grants that go to fix the sewage system in Tijuana specifically. As we know, that is a big issue over the next month. MSauer: Michael, we're talking about discretionary spending part of the budget. This is what Congress can budget for, the real untouchables. Donald Trump has said to this day the untouchables our Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare. That is a big part of the budget. MS: I'm sorry. MSauer: The question is, if you're going to affect the deficit, if you are going to get your house in order, can you not touch Medicare and Social Security? Are you working at the edge that MS: More or less that is what you need to do. They cannot. There are studies and tasks force this on those issues. They have tinkered around the edges. To do anything dramatic, it would affect people. You know, the older Americans are voters. They are powerful. You are able to do something down the line like cities do with pensions; you cannot do any anything for current employees but maybe future employees. Unions do not like that. There are people; they move on in life or the afterlife, there are constituencies that will be there. The budget hawks, there are committees that get together. That is tough. Trump has never keyed on reducing the deficit. [OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS] MS: He is also going to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. MSauer: We have not talked about tax cuts. There are all sorts of things going forward. I can see where people are alarmed but it is a long way to go. JES: I think what Michael was saying was right on. We do not know what is coming. There are scientists who are freaked out but this has a long ways to go. There would need to be a lot of compromises to put this budget and place. MS: It gives some reality to his rhetoric on what is real and what is imagined. It is hard to judge from what he is saying. Is passed on and not paid attention to. People and the budget deficit. This does not go in that direction. It does put some numbers and almost a structure or a philosophy behind the rhetoric that he'd been talking about during the campaign. It is devastating to some and beneficial to others. MSauer: We will do more as we move forward with the process. MSauer: Massive rain we've had has caused pollutants to go into the ocean. A massive spill into the one at that sent untreated sewage North last month was different. Lope what caused the spill and how much sewage are we talking about? SD: What caused the spill is the failure of a collector claps. It broke. MSauer: A big collector? SD: A huge collector in the center of town. It is in the center of the city. A courting to the Baja state officials, the collector started failing in early January. It was not until the first four days of February that it was replace. They say it was during this period that a large amount of sewage was sent down the rivers and it ended up in the Imperial Beach. There are other versions. The initial report that Joshua wrote about was $143 million gallons. There was a figure. They say only 4 million 4,000,000 gallons was over a four day period. There is uncertainty at this point. MSauer: Officials were upset. They did not hear about this in time. SD: Yes. They said we are upset. Who appears to have dropped the ball and who admits that they drop the ball is the state Public service commission. They failed to notify the Mexican side of the international boundary of the water commission, which notifies the U. S. side. They were having a crisis and these things were happening. [OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS] JES: They maintain the sewage system. Yes. The sewer workers. MSauer: We talked about following an extension but there are some real serious problems. Right? JES: Absolutely. You do not want to swim in the water. It could be potentially fatal. MSauer: Let's talk about the sewage system. Are all entities and businesses look to the system through the sewage system or not? SD: I think it is 90%. JES: It is 90 or higher. SD: Yes. 89 is what they say that the state utility says. [OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS] MSauer: It is up quite a bit in recent years. JES: In the 90s, yes. They were sending 10,000,000 gallons down the river today. MSauer: We have had agreements and you alluded to some about the flow of sewage and how to keep information going in real time. Is this not working and longer? SD: What is not clear, if this is a written protocol. Right now, there is a by national committee to talk about, what is the protocol and when do we report spills. To report it when it is likely with it crosses the border or just in Tijuana? Who calls whom? Who is responsible? What happened? Who dropped the ball? We do not have some of the final report and we do not have that until early April MSauer: How much money are we talking about? [OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS] JES: There is a lot of numbers. SD: They gave me $280 million figure. They are coming up with a plan. Each segment has a price tag. MSauer: We do not have a lot of time left. Is there hope? Are things getting better? The upgrades are coming? JES: There is a list of the -- a list of the project that they feel they need to upgrade. I do not know that we have seen that yet. JES: You have seen it? SD: Yes. What -- can I find it? I think people are quite saddened by this incident. These engineers that have worked together for years across the border, they want to keep working together. There is a will and Mexico to keep working. You hear that when you speak to them. MSauer: As we said, cuts in the EPA funding could affect something like that. JES: It will not help MSauer: We are out of time. Thank you. It is interesting things to follow up on. That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to thank my guess Michael, Steve, and Sandra and around the table: Joshua. There is lots of news breaking on the health care bill and other things in Washington. Go to Gentoo for the latest updates throughout the day. I am Mark Saur. Thank you for joining us today on the KPBS Roundtable.
San Diego meets the Trump budget
In President Donald Trump’s first pass at a federal budget, the entitlement programs — Social Security and Medicare, the biggest portions of the budget — are not touched, per his promise to voters.
Discretionary spending, however, is vastly different than under President Barack Obama.
Billions in spending cuts to most federal agencies are proposed to pay for $53 billion in increases for defense ($52.3 billion), homeland security ($2.8 billion) and veterans affairs ($4.4 billion).
Percentage-wise, the heaviest cuts fall on the Environmental Protection Agency (31%), State Department (and other agency) development programs (29%); and the Agriculture and Labor Departments (both 21%).
Trump’s budget also eliminates Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), which fund anti-poverty programs and housing assistance.
San Diego budget winners and losers
If passed as proposed, some San Diego sectors will do well, some will be hurt and some will disappear altogether.
Winners would include San Diego’s defense contractors, like NASSCO and BAE shipyards, which could receive new contracts.
There will likely be more funds to aid the 230,000 veterans who live in the county.
On the other hand, San Diego's large scientific communities — academic and commercial — will suffer if funding to the National Institutes of Health is reduced. NIH is the largest U.S. underwriter of biomedical research. UC San Diego receives about $400 million a year from the NIH.
Trump’s policy toward Mexico is reflected in the budget, too. So far, he has threatened to build a big wall along the border and initiate tougher immigration restrictions and tariffs on Mexican goods. Some experts say these moves will harm the “CaliBaja” region, which generates some $200 billion in annual economic activity.
Trump’s budget eliminates funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA funds the Sea Grant program which generates research and support for fisheries and aquaculture. California is the largest recipient of Sea Grants, many going to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
San Diego County has 24,000 families who receive rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the form of $242 million in Section 8 funds for housing assistance through Community Development Block Grants. The proposed budget keeps rental assistance at the same level, but eliminates down-payment assistance and housing construction programs.
Tijuana's sewage 'accident'
The massive sewage spill which roared through the Tijuana River Valley beginning on February 6 may have been initiated on purpose.
According to a report from the International Boundary and Water Commission, the restoration of a collapsed sewage pipe in Tijuana caused the massive spill of untreated sewage into the Tijuana River Valley — a watershed shared with San Diego — and the ocean.
It was contained 17 days later, after a spill of 30, 143 or 230 million gallons, depending on who’s talking. It fouled beaches from the border to Coronado.
The problems here are failures of both communication and infrastructure. Mexico failed to notify the U.S. of the spill, but residents in Imperial Beach and Coronado noticed and complained of the stench.
Even without a major spill, sewage from some of Tijuana’s colonias is not captured or treated and ends up on San Diego beaches.
Tijuana’s Punta Bandera treatment plant needs to be replaced, as do four other sewage trunk lines. The EPA has spent $42 million on nine wastewater projects in Tijuana, just since 1998. Trump’s budget cuts funds for the EPA’s U.S. – Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Grant Program.