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San Diego Environmentalists Weigh In On Next Mayor

Environmentalists On Next Mayor
San Diego Environmentalists Weigh In On Next Mayor
GUESTSDiane Takvorian, Executive Director, Environmental Health Coalition Megan Baehrens, Executive Director, San Diego Coastkeeper

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, what to environmentalists think San Diego city government could be due to better our quality of life? In just a few weeks San Diego will select a new mayor and the city administration. Today we continue a series of interviews about what different interest groups are hoping for in a new mayor. We want to keep the discussion as nonpartisan as possible. This is not really about the candidates as much as it is about making San Diego work. So I'd like to introduce my guests by type for is executive director of the environmental health coalition and Diane welcome to the show. DIANE TAKVORIAN: Thanks so much, Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Megan Baehrens is executive director of Sand Diego Coast Keeper. Megan, thanks for coming in MEGAN BAEHRENS: Hello, good afternoon. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me address this to start out with both of you let me start with you Diane, what's the top environmental issue that you think has not been addressed by the current city administration customer DIANE TAKVORIAN: Well, the environmental health coalition is environmental justice organization and that means we focus our energy primarily south of Interstate 8 in low income communities were toxic pollution, air pollution, water pollution tends to be the worst. So for us, that is the area that we hope the new mayor will focus on. We have tremendous amounts of air pollution that have sent three times as many children to the hospital for those that live in the rest of the county. And that is largely as a result of air pollution. We have water pollution in our pay, which is a place that folks can fish. So we really think that focusing on South of eight communities to make up the kind of communities that we would all like to live in his are temporarily. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Megan what's the top environmental issue that you think has not been addressed by the current city administration? MEGAN BAEHRENS: Well San Diego Coast Keeper is a water quality and water sustainability organization. So we protect fishable swimmable drinkable water in San Diego County it is no secret that this region is highly populated, highly urbanized and that there is a lot of continuing development and redevelopment happening in this region. So looking to environmental and economic sustainability for the future is going to be really important and something that perhaps we haven't addressed the way we should. Shepherding low-impact development practices into the things we're doing in the region so that the water percolates back down into the system rather than shooting off carrying pollution to our waterways. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you Diane, when you talk about focus on south of Interstate 8, why hasn't that happened before? DIANE TAKVORIAN: Well there's lots of reasons for that and I think you can look at the lack of opportunity and the lack of investment that has been put into low-income communities and communities of color. There's certainly a tradition of not paying attention to those communities. When you look at the infrastructure investment in those communities it is far less than it is in North they can use for instance I think except for downtown we can make that is the exception. So we think that these are communities that really have been ignored, largely. And while redevelopment dollars have been put into other communities and in some cases very successfully, these communities have really been ignored. They need housing, they need pollution to be cleaned up. They need the air to be cleaned up in the water to be cleaned up. These are the communities would like to see the investment company we think a broad investment is really the way to go. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Megan, would you define San Diego City Hall as sensitive to environmental issues or is there resistance? MEGAN BAEHRENS: One of the big problems of the current administration is there's no staff person dedicated solely to environmental issues and that's a great improvement that we could see in the next administration. There is a robust environmental community here in San Diego covering regional issues or specific issues like San Diego Coast Keeper covers water quality and environmental health coalition is very localized approach to neighborhood issues so there's a lot of information and a lot of knowledge on here that can be provided to a dialogue, conversation with having one person we could go to and say there's one topic would like to discuss with the mayor would be a real benefit to the community. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Megan aren't there quite a few environmental issues that the city has no direct control over especially along the coast? MEGAN BAEHRENS: That's right there are a number of overlapping jurisdictions. We have the regional water quality control Board. We have the California coastal commission. We have federal laws like the Clean Water Act which this year is the 40th anniversary so we are looking for to do a lot of messaging about how San Diego could come back into its leadership role for clean water. But it is important to recognize that we all have a voice and by letting the community express its opinion to the city level of administration as well has all the answers in other areas that's how we are going to know as well as the other areas in need to bring into play. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The city Council votes today to whether to reasonably and admission trails regional Park in order to build the coil brush generating power plant. There's been a lot of community reaction against the generating power plant out there. It's right on the borderline of Santee. Diane, when it comes to development versus the environment, what would you like a numeric to take into consideration when it comes to these types of projects? DIANE TAKVORIAN: That is a really important question and it is being tested with the city Council today. Really just a few hours. The (quail brush) plant is one that the environmental health coalition has opposed in part because of the land-use decisions but in part because we really need to give San Diego a chance to invest in renewable energy and if we build more power plants, we will not have an opportunity to really realize the dream of green energy and what goes along with that is green jobs. We don't think that the environment and the economy need to be at loggerheads. We really think that they need to work together. And again, those folks that live in communities that are more disadvantaged and are more hard hit by this recession really need those jobs. Many of them have had the opportunity to go through training programs only to find that there are no jobs for them. So as we develop our development policies in the city of San Diego I think it's really important to think about how really green make it be because there's a whole raft of jobs and opportunities that are available for all of us in San Diego so we hope they will incorporate those. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Megan I want to also ask the same question because you made the point that one of the things you'd like to see in a new administration is more of a focus on development that takes into consideration how water is going to be used in the development. So, tell us what you would like a new mayor to take into consideration when it comes to these types of projects. MEGAN BAEHRENS: Yeah, that's right, and I can bring one to light sort of as an example and Diane was speaking with a choice between the environment and the economy, or between jobs and renewable energy. Or excuse me between renewable energy and just energy. And we have a ready source of potable drinking water here in San Diego. We generally drinking water reimport into the region. There's a project that's been ongoing. So IPI basically recycling wastewater into drinking water and it has earned the moniker of toilet to tap, which I think we should embrace. It's really sort of a great thing to be able to say we are taking what could be considered an absolute waste product and we're going to turn it into pristine drinking water. The North city demonstration project has reached about a year of really great data which went to the city Council. Natural resources and culture committee they unanimously applauded the project and basically asked for more information about how we can expand the project and make it a resource for San Diego. And we are coming up against a new round of seeking a waiver for the Point Loma wastewater treatment facility. And it's really important that we say no we are not going to keep putting pollution out into the ocean. Remember to keep violating the Clean Water Act. Instead required to take the resource recycling and use it to make the region more sustainable secure and economically viable. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to change the topic just a little bit. Some scientists say they believe that we are actually seeing climate change start to affect our environment. I'm wondering, Diane, do you think the city of San Diego should have its own carbon reduction targets in addition to the statewide targets? DIANE TAKVORIAN: Well, the first thing is that the city of San Diego needs to adopt a climate mitigation and adaptation plan. At a minimum it needs to be in alignment with the state goals, which would have us reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. We think that we can do more in the renewable energy example is a good one. If we site another big polluting fossil fuel power plant we will not reach those levels at all. We can do better. And we are asking the city of San Diego to lead by example. They should do audits on all of their buildings and all of their operations. Exactly what we are asking residents and businesses to do and that they should apply the greenest technology they can. When it is a new building then we can apply building standards and it is much easier because we have the technology. Retrofitting is hard and again, in older homes and lower income annuities we need the resources of the folks really can make their homes as energy-efficient as possible. And this bleeds into public health issue as well. Because, many folks are lower income do not have air conditioning. As the climate gets hotter, they are at risk. So we need to do all we can to not only save energy and save our environment but also save people's lives because they will be at risk as we get hotter. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the issues the city of San Diego has fought environmentalists on this the effort to be and/or ban or change firework shows on the waterfront. In those fights the city has taken a think it is fair to say dismissive tone toward the environmental concerns and consequently public opinion win against environmentalists I'd like to get your reaction to that and what that says about City Hall's leadership on the environment, Megan? MEGAN BAEHRENS: Well I think it goes back to a similar theme in the fact that there is no staff person dedicated to the environment. Information is key so the real issue with the permit is that we need to know what's happening on the ground and in the water as a result of these firework shows and really as a result of any project that goes into place here in San Diego. And if we have the information that says look, no impacts, human health is protected, environmental health is protected, then, great. We can all enjoy some fireworks and some hotdogs. But if we do have evidence that says repeated instances of the shows or even one instance of the show is detrimental to aquatic life or to human health, which would be something like if the fish and the water gathering metals in them, and the people fishing off the docks are ingesting that is a routine part of their diet, then that can be really dangerous and I don't think anybody who is dismissive now of that practice would be so eager to stop us from asking the questions if they knew that the answers were that their health is in danger. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Diane, what is your comment about what we need as a leader in the environment in a new mayor? DIANE TAKVORIAN: You know, Maureen you talked about the fact that the city doesn't have control, doesn't regulate lots of environmental issues and that is true, but the city again can lead by example. So I think that having a dismissive attitude is obviously not one that people look forward to, but if the city can take these threats seriously so for instance of air pollution, we know that it is quite serious. In the lower, in the South of eight communities we've known that for many years. And the city has not taken action to actually change the zoning in communities San Onofre there are polluting industries right next to homes and schools. That puts those folks at direct risk, direct public health risk and it's actually in violation of the city's Gen. Plan which says that there should be separation between those kinds of uses. So, if they are going to create and enforce rules they need to be good for everyone and I think that is one of the critical things that we hope that a new mayor will lead within the city Council hopefully will follow. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Diane is your organization publicly supporting or endorsing either candidate? DIANE TAKVORIAN: Environmental coalition is not endorsing, it's a 501(c)(3) organization and does not do that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Megan is your organization publicly endorsing any candidate MEGAN BAEHRENS: No, the answer is the same we are 501(c)(3) we talk about issues we urge the public to be informed when they are voting, but we ask questions about those issues, not about the candidates themselves. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are your priorities at City Hall going to remain the same whoever becomes mayor, Diane? DIANE TAKVORIAN: Yes environmental health coalition has produced a platform for a number of issues that we have provided to both candidates and we're looking forward to hearing from them to hear if they will endorse that platform of issues. So that is our platform. Those are the critical issues that we want to have the city move forward with and we are hopeful that whoever is the next mayor will take those seriously. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can people find it on your website? DIANE TAKVORIAN: They can yes and the website is MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The same question to you, Megan are your priorities going to be the same? MEGAN BAEHRENS: Yes they will be the same. We've been working for many many years alongside environmental health coalition on sediment in the Bay. Please been working for many years until the completion of flows of the Point Loma wastewater treatment center and really just having an open dialogue and recognizing that environmental questions are also economic questions, their jobs questions. This is really a regional priority for everybody here. So we will be talking about the same things. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right let me thank my guests Diane Takvorian of the environmental health coalition and Megan Baehrens of San Diego coast keeper thank you both very much. DIANE TAKVORIAN: Thank you. MEGAN BAEHRENS: My pleasure.

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Environmental Quality Report Card
The "2011 San Diego City Environmental Quality Report Card," prepared by UC San Diego.
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In just a few weeks, San Diego voters will select a new mayor and city administration. The second part in our series of interviews shows what environmental groups are hoping for in a new mayor.

So, what do environmentalists think San Diego's city government could be doing to better our quality of life?


Megan Baehrens, the executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, told KPBS the biggest water pollution problem is urban runoff.

"Managing ongoing development in a good way, with environmental practices, low impact development, is really going to reduce pollution in our region," she said.

For Diane Takvorian, the executive director of the Environmental Health Coalition, the biggest issue is pollution in low income communities south of Interstate 8.

"The biggest issue is air pollution," she said. That pollution comes from freeways, industries located in the area and the Port of San Diego.

Although the city's government cannot make all the changes environmentalists would like to see, Baehrens said Coastkeeper goes to City Council and talks to the mayor's office about environmental impacts in the city of San Diego.

She said the city will soon fact development and infrastructure decisions, and stressed that roads need to be built in an environmentally-sound way. Water that percolates on the surfaces of roads has a big environmental impact, she said.

Baehrens said she also hopes the city will help incentive installation of rain barrels in residential areas, which she said is a decision people can make in their daily lives.

Takvorian said San Diego's environmental record is mixed.

"So we really are looking forward to a new administration that will take these issues much more seriously," she said.

Corrected: June 9, 2023 at 2:21 PM PDT
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.