Roundtable Digs Into Nuclear Waste Burial, San Diego's Business Climate, SDPD Chief's Challenges
Mark Sauer: The plan to store tons of San Onofre’s nuclear waste and underground canister draws fire from neighbors; what drives local businesses crazy from workers’ comp to energy and housing costs, business owners have a lot to beef about doing business in San Diego, and Chief Shelley Zimmerman is trying to remove the cloud over the San Diego Police Department following misconduct by officers. I am Mark Sauer and the KPBS roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion of some of this week’s top stories. I am Mark Sauer, and joining me at the KPBS roundtable today Jeff McDonald, Watchdog Reporter with U-T San Diego. Good to have you back Jeff. Jeff McDonald: Hi Mark. Mark Sauer: And Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for Los Angeles Times. Hi Tony. Tony Perry: Hi there. Mark Sauer: And Reporter Lisa Halverstadt of Voice of San Diego. Good to have you here today, Lisa. Lisa Halverstadt: Thanks for having me, Mark. Mark Sauer: Well the very idea of nuclear energy scares a lot of people. Godzilla became the monstrous metaphor of that fear in Japan. And San Diego in Southern California some fear we could soon come up with our own metaphor as a plan to dispose tons of nuclear waste from San Onofre is causing some alarm. Jeff, you at the start of this week talked about a plan and a plan to bury these things. First of all give us kind of the overview. What is that plan and who came up with it? Jeff McDonald: Well the federal government is charged with the long-term storage of this spent fuel but in the mean until there's a national repository for this, it has the falls on the utilities that are generating ways to store it themselves. Mark Sauer: At each site – Jeff McDonald: At each site. Well, San Onofre is in the decommissioning process. A lot of the attention has been focused on who's going to pay for putting the power plant out of business. And not so much at least in the public arena have been people focusing on what's going with the fuel. So that’s changing now that the plant is scheduled for closing. They have been storing it onsite for decades in pools. The immediate plan is to bury it underground somewhere onsite in a way that residents feel is threatening to them over the next several decades. Mark Sauer: All right. We're going to get to the details of that in a moment. San Clemente Activist, Donna Gilmore, she is talking about why she thinks this plant is a bad idea. Her concern mainly is though with this concrete casing. So explain to us, you said it’s in this kind of cooling pools right now. They want to go to this dry storage thing. How will that work exactly? Jeff McDonald: Well, the fuel assemblers which are the bundles of spent rods, they are right now stored at the bottom of these pools that are cooled and kept cooled to prevent overheating. Those pools’ average capacity several years ago and they've been actually doing some storage above ground in these canisters that are thinly steel lined canister where they're putting that but those are stored right now above ground and about 50 of those. Mark Sauer: Okay so they're in this stainless steel – are they steel canisters? Jeff McDonald: Well they are concrete but there's steel line. Mark Sauer: Okay, steel line and then concrete, okay. Jeff McDonald: They are stored above ground which allows people to look at them, monitor them, they can walk by them, see them, check them. Mark Sauer: Any problem at all they can measure that above ground. Jeff McDonald: Right. The intermediate plan that the utility is now proposing is to bury them underground not just the ones they have already onsite but all the rest for when they empty the pools that contain the spent fuel as that capacity now. So because you're not able to see it, check for cracks, do things like that a lot of residents are concerned that that will generate a huge threat to their communities. Mark Sauer: Okay. And some of these activists who are upset about this, Donna Gilmore we mentioned, they want some different kinds of canisters here but we also have a clip from David Victor, he is head of the public engagement on this issue for Edison, the utility. Let’s see what David Victor has to say about that. David Victor: Do we know how to put nuclear waste into casts securely and then develop the monitoring systems and apply those monitoring system. I’ve become confident we know how to do that. Do we know how to deal with all contingencies that are going to come up along the way, I think everybody knows that things are going to happen that we don’t forge– the answers are not yet known. Mark Sauer: All right. And of course earthquake faults run honeycomb through Southern California in this area and near that defunct power plant and he is saying yeah I think we can do it right now but a lot of contingencies could come up. Jeff McDonald: Yes. The utilities will tell you that it’s earthquake and seismically safe. The federal government says that residents aren't so sure because they're not convinced that the studying has been completed to conclude that. They also worry that the monitoring of the cast is limited to basically just taking the temperature of the area above where the fuel will be stored and waiting if there’s a crack or any corrosion then despite the leak will create a rise in temperature which will alert them to the leak of course by then it's too late. Mark Sauer: So it's late and it's indirect and it’s not direct measure. Tony, are people too upset about this, do they have real concerns, is there any way to know and oppose Fukushima world. Tony Perry: It does bring up the issue that is hung over all of this and that is the regulators both at the state Public Utilities Regulatory Commission and then the feds. How aggressive are they in dealing with the utility or are they really all folks sitting around the same table, I mean the accusation always is they don't really regulate their sort of partners with and they're all believers. What we go here? Do we still have that sense of suspicion? Jeff McDonald: Of course it depends who you ask. The activists don’t think the federal or the state regulators are doing a thorough enough job. The utility say they're regulated to death and everything's as safe as it can be and they're going to do their job as responsibly as they are directed to by the government. The state regulation here is limited to how the decommissioning funds are spent. So they don't really have a direct role in how the used fuel is stored in perpetuity. That responsibility lies with the feds, the department of energy and they're designing regulations. They're looking for a national repository like Yucca Mountain which buried hundreds of feet– Mark Sauer: That's over and about of course. Jeff McDonald: Yes you know that's off the table now. And the utility is responsible to store the fuel until a federal repository is agreed to. Now that's going to take obviously an act of Congress which won’t be easy. Mark Sauer: Not anytime soon. Jeff McDonald: Not everybody wants a nuclear fuel dump in their backyard. Mark Sauer: Well, starting with who had been the majority leader, Senator Reid over there in Nevada and that's literally in his backyard. Jeff McDonald: Well, people will still be able to walk on the beach and surf those wonderful waves or will this process impact that. Tony Perry: No the beach would be usable and the fuel will be – they are not saying exactly where they're going to store for security reasons– Lisa Halverstadt: Just pretty entertaining, in some ways secrets. Tony Perry: Yeah, it’s actually, it’s a [Overlapping conversation] [00:06:48] there’s a lot of different, but no it's not going to be buried that deep. It’s only about 6 feet I think or less than that. Jeff McDonald: The top of that. Now canisters are real tall so it need to be deep. I mean the concrete lined tanks but they're going to be planted– Mark Sauer: And we should say there’s a vault, I mean they are not just toss of dirt on this. [Overlapping conversation] [00:07:08] Jeff McDonald: They have done a lot of research on it and you talked to the David Victor and they're very satisfied that the research will bear out and that any technological shortcomings that we're confronting right now will be corrected in coming years as they continue to research safe storage. Tony Perry: Is it vulnerable to cyber warfare, could somebody hack into the computer system and mess up their protection? Jeff McDonald: That didn’t come up in my research. I don’t know about that. I think that they're going you know they're obviously –that at all may be property so it's going be secured property. Cyber threats, that hasn't come up. I'm not sure. Mark Sauer: I found it interesting your store, you interviewed an attorney for Friends of the Earth environmental group, that’s the name suggests, and they say the critics like Donna Gilmore, their concerns are unfounded. That was interesting to me. Jeff McDonald: It was surprising to me too. There they want to see nuclear power go away. They don't trust that as a fuel– Mark Sauer: So you got to take these plants down. Jeff McDonald: And to them a big win was getting a decommission and so they feel like the threat of storage is a much lower risk than the threat of running a nuclear plant on the beach on the Californian coast– Mark Sauer: Continues to go with that. That was very interesting. How much of the storage of this ways cost and who’s going to pay that? Jeff McDonald: It’s a billion-plus and the rate-payers will pay it. The good news is we've already paid most of that. We've all been paying a decommissioning fund every month as part of a utility bill for years. So there's a part of money set aside to fund this. That’s the control at the state – the PUC, the Public Utilities Commission had in overseeing that spending. Mark Sauer: Okay we should note that this coming Tuesday up in San Clemente, the folks, the public will have a chance to weigh in and there's a hearing and meeting. Jeff McDonald: Yes that is the latest meeting of the engagement panel. Mark Sauer: At 6 o'clock. For details on that go to our website kpbs.org. We will be looking for a lot more stories on this. I am sure as this process continues over many years. Well, we hear it all the time San Diego was a lousy place to own a business, so businesses are leaving in droves, too many regulations, too expensive, so many fronts. So largely is that a myth or is that true, and Lisa you said about to kind of answer that question. Start, what did you guys embarked on this, Voice of San Diego. Lisa Halverstadt: Well to start, so we had heard these claims too especially in the past year there had been a number of proposals that came before the San Diego City Council and you have business owners coming to the meetings or getting on the radio and saying my god it's already so tough for us, how can you add something that's going to make my life even more difficult. So we wanted to peel back the layers and actually see what are the particular regulations or taxes that are so burdensome, and also to take a look and see how many businesses are actually leaving San Diego. And so I was lucky enough to get access to this really neat database that tracks company moves across the country actually over about a twenty year period. And what I could see is during that period; San Diego County was actually a net gainer of business as a result of relocation. Mark Sauer: They are not leaving, they are coming. Lisa Halverstadt: They're coming but it's interesting because that’s, I mean it's not actually that big a deal. One economist that I talked to in the state actually like compared it to a pimple on the State of California economy in terms of business relocations. And I would also add that you know we hear a lot about companies moving to Texas. So over this 20 year period I found that about 380 companies moved to Texas, but let's put that– Mark Sauer: From all of California or from? Lisa Halverstadt: From San Diego County. And it’s worthwhile to point out that there are about 100,000 businesses in San Diego County and this is over a 20-year period. Not as big of a deal. Mark Sauer: But you did boil it down to kind of the Four Horsemen of the Acropolis, the four major areas of concern as you did your research. Tell us about that. Lisa Halverstadt: So in talking the businesses there were some things that just came up again and again, energy cost, workers’ compensation premiums, cost of living here that effects the number of things for businesses as well and then also taxes and in looking at that I found that may be what we should be most interested in looking at is taxes for manufacturers. Mark Sauer: Zeroed in on that. Let’s take those one by one. Tell us what you learned about the workers’ comp costs, I mean really it was an interesting story to start probing into that. Lisa Halverstadt: Yeah. So what I found is you know obviously we’ve heard over the years companies complaining about there's been some reform efforts but what I could definitely see if California is a leader in terms the cost for workers’ compensation premiums. Now there some dispute over whether they're at the top. There was a state of Oregano report that found that California did have the top costs for workers’ compensation and I'm going to give you a number to you real quick that kind of puts us in perspective. If you think about every time that a company is going to hire someone, they have to factor this workers’ compensation costs into that budget. So in California some of the numbers I looked at had said that it would cost $2.93 for $100 that you are paying somebody in the state of California. Mark Sauer: Almost 3 %. Lisa Halverstadt: By comparison, there are other states where it's closer to $1 and even less than a dollar. So that, I mean there really is something going on. Mark Sauer: So on workers’ comp it’s the third of the cost for some other states. One of the neighboring state [indiscernible] [00:12:38] Nevada. Lisa Halverstadt: Yes Nevada. Mark Sauer: And compared with what California is that’s quite a big deal. For a neighbor you can go over and lower that significant overhead. Lisa Halverstadt: Exactly. Tony Perry : Because in San Diego you get these business costs but what else do you get, you get a nice retail market if you're into retail, and educated workforce, you get transportation, we are were fairly close to LAX. You need it ship your goods out i mean it's a balancing and your reporting would seem to suggest that on balance it's still good to open and maintain a business you know. Mark Sauer: That is Tony Perry of the Chamber of Commerce. We love to hear the sunshine benefit. Tony Perry: Isn't the argument whether the thing that keeps business down, these taxes or lack of decent management, lack of market skills, lack of vision by the people who want to run businesses. Lisa Halverstadt: Here's what i would tell you Tony. What I found in this and many people talk about one particular sector, manufacturing. This is more of an issue for when a company wants to go from being a small company that's developing something here. So that's where the talent is so important you need to have people who are smart and you know engaged in and kind of know how to figure things out. We are great market for that is what I found. What’s hard is when you want to multiply, when you're ready to say let’s become a household name company, lets produce on a large scale then California and San Diego become more difficult because your cost per unit are higher. Tony Perry: That’s when you outsource to Baja [phonetic][00:14:06]. Lisa Halverstadt: Potentially outsource to Baja or other states which you know is something that I certainly had talked to bunch of companies who’ve at least looked at the possibility of moving for the scale up. Tony Perry: I will admit that there are certain taxes, there is a medical device tax for example part of Obamacare that Scott Peters is trying to eliminate. There are targeted taxes that seem to hurt, but again your reporting would seem to suggest that smallest companies, start-ups can handle these costs because there's still pluses and we have charges in Comic Con also, but they can be handled if you're smart and you get that money as a start-up. Lisa Halverstadt: But I would note that despite the fact that we're a major city we have just two Fortune 500 companies and that was pretty remarkable to me. And you know some would say that's not necessarily a bad thing it shows that we've got a nimble innovative economy here, but there are other folks who would say that may be tells us something about how difficult it may be to grow a large company here in San Diego. Mark Sauer: Let’s talk about, you alluded to this earlier on about the high cost of living here for people to live, workers to live here and the impact that has on. What did you find the impact on businesses? Lisa Halverstadt: Well I think we all know that we do pay more to live here, there maybe a little bit of a sunshine tax, but that doesn't just affect us. It affects the people who are paying us. And so they have to budget more to potentially hire us. You know they want to make sure that we will stay at our job, you might want to make sure that you're paying them more, but what companies were telling me is sometimes this can cause ripple effects. It may be harder to recruit people from another place because they may be making a certain salary and say taxes or Ohio and they're able to own a nice home and they can send their kids to good schools and then they come and look at San Diego and they're just not, it does not pencil out as well. Mark Sauer: Sticker shock– Lisa Halverstadt: Exactly. Mark Sauer: And you determined there was an actual figure to that. What's the [indiscernible] [00:16:03] saying the livable wage here you really have to make this certain amount to have any kind of decent life. The one Tony is alluding to it. Lisa Halverstadt: Yeah, this was a business owner. So I’ll take that [indiscernible] [00:16:13] you know he's very smart but he's not an economist. But he was saying that from his perspective he felt that he needs to pay his workers at least $65,000 or so for them to live a good life and feel comfortable in San Diego. Tony Perry: This isn’t true that during this recession, companies have learned to be nimble. One thing they’ve learned to do is not hire full-time employees and pay them – contractors, three months, four months, six months, no benefits. And then after six months you either get re-upped [phonetic] [00:16:41] or you go away and somebody else comes in. So companies have responded I think during – they take an advantage of the recession. So they they've learned to accommodate these costs on the backs frankly of people who are looking for jobs. Lisa Halverstadt: True, but I do think what’s interesting about this and this is more my theory is I think that we might be starting to hear more about this coming up soon because now that the economy is improving, there are more hiring situations hopefully and then at that point companies aren't having to negotiate more because it's more of an employees’ market rather than employers’ market. So and when that happens for businesses this may you know end up kind of creating new questions for them about how much they should be paying. Mark Sauer: Yeah, so that dynamic and several others here are changeable. Well, we will forward to more of your reporting in this. I know you are going to get into energy costs as well. Lisa Halverstadt: Oh yeah. Mark Sauer: All right, we're going to shift gears now. There were broad smiles and congratulations all around when Shelley Zimmerman was promoted to Chief of the San Diego Police Department nearly a year ago. But everyone knew the city's first female police chief face daunting challenges as she took the reins. And Tony start with an overview. What was the department like when she inherited that last February, if I recall. Tony Perry: She was the first and probably to this point biggest move that Kevin Faulconer had made as mayor. He named her as chief within days of being elected and before being sworn at. Mark Sauer: No big national search. Tony Perry: No. And it is the Police Chief Bill Lansdowne into retirement, he has never really been very candid on how he did that but he did it. Shelley Zimmerman, 55 years old, 30 years with the department, had been assistant chief, now she’s the chief and she’s get two problems. She’s got a public relations problem of people just who don’t trust this this police department because of certain things that have occurred. Mark Sauer: We will get into that. Tony Perry: And then the intractable financial problem study out just this week of cities across the country, 13 cities in California, San Diego pays less for police not their salaries necessarily but that’s another issue. Just pays less per capita, spends less per capita than all the cities that were looked at in California except Bakersfield. That San Diego smaller department, fewer police per capita than virtually any large – Mark Sauer: Well thank goodness we are better than Bakersfield. Tony Perry: That is the problem citywide. We've been skating on community-oriented policing for a number of years, but we've pulled back. We’ve during the recession closed the community storefronts, left positions open, fired, laid off if you will civilian positions. That intractable financial issue of the city government I think is probably the biggest problem but she's also got the problem for which the city called for an audit by the Department of Justice. And that was our outsourced to a non-profit that does these things. And that should be out in a couple of weeks. We should learn more about this department than we've ever known. Mark Sauer: Yeah I want to get more into some of those questions on that cloud we talked about. I did want to ask you though in your profile, how would you characterize her style, what kind of chief is Shelley Zimmerman and maybe how does that contrast with her predecessor. Tony Perry: Well she's out about, I mean you name it she's there. A Bar Mitzvah or a Christmas party– or junior high assembly she is out there. She believes that the alienation, if there is any with the city, police department begins with the chief. Now Lansdowne was also out there. All the chiefs, we don't have history of chiefs going into their office and never leaving but she's certainly more aggressive. She's out and about every day seemingly all day. Although it’d there an officer-involved shooting she's also there. So she's out and about, always wearing the uniform, no civilian clothes for her, runs the beach in the morning and puts on the uniform in the way she goes. Mark Sauer: I did want to segue into this whole matter of trust in this club, we do have a clip from Zimmerman. She's at a panel of Society of professional journalists here in san Diego of course and she talks about why trust is so important. Shelley Zimmerman: You know we've had a few of our officers over the last several years that have made the terrible decision to discredit our badge, dishonor our noble profession. And that is not represented of the vast majority of our officers that served every day with honor, distinction, dedication, personal courage, professionalism. And I am huge proponent in complete support a body-worn cameras because of community trust. And it takes years to build up their community trust and in just moments that trust could start to rot away. Mark Sauer: All right. She is talking about the sexual assault cases and– Tony Perry: Yeah probably the worst the [indiscernible] [00:21:19] 18 women etc. etc. Mark Sauer: And the racial profiling which had fallen by the wayside, it was a back-burner issue and now it's back up front – Tony Perry: She and Lansdowne before he was ushered into retirement did a number of things, body cameras reinstituted, keeping racial stats on traffic stops. Shelley also has sent out a memo no asking pro forma, are you on parole or probation, no making people sit on the curb, all sorts of things. The transgender folks and memo went out. Don’t make assumptions that they're into prostitution because they are dressing in a way that seems different to you, all sorts of stuff like that. And she's looks pretty hard-nosed. She told me her officers if they make a mistake when they're dealing with a difficult situation, that's one thing. They go out to do something they know is wrong, their history they're not going to work for me. Racial profiling, very controversial, very hard to prove one way or another. She says I find anyone who racially profiles stops motorists because they are black or brown, he or she is not going to work for me either. So she's quite willing to fire people. Mark Sauer: All right. So the body cams, the new ethics that Tony is talking about here, do they worked or they restore trust or? Jeff McDonald: I think it remains to be seen. This department has had a number of high profile missteps and a lot of these folks still work there and some of them promoted. So it's easy to say they're not going to work for me if they exercised this behavior or that behavior, but it’s a lot more difficult to actually get rid of people. Tony Perry: You know I think we don't know yet, but I think that audit is going to come back and say that there was a problem with the department’s lack of management at certain levels that cops started to go off the rails and should have been, councils should have been caught, should have been something or another but they just didn't have enough management. Well that's the recession. You’ve sent everybody out on patrol and you have very few sergeants. So I think that audit is going to say you really should worry more about that. Then it gets back to money, where’s the money. Lisa Halverstadt: But a couple points on both of those things, the body-worn cameras, which is interesting about those is the chief is out there saying these are going to have, allow the public to judge us, but the thing is that she is saying that they aren't necessarily going to be released to the public. So I may have an incident and not be able to necessarily get a copy of that to be able to view it and then judge the actions of the police department. Tony Perry: The officer can look at it before he writes his report about what happened. Lisa Halverstadt: True. Tony Perry: There’s controversy everywhere these body cameras are involved. Lisa Halverstadt: No but other agencies are really seeing them and even posting them on You Tube. Tony Perry: And like I said what if god forbid have a Ferguson style issue, controversial police shooting etc. etc. and she said my inkling would be to release it quickly particularly if it clears – [Overlapping conversation] [00:24:06 ] Tony Perry: But I am not sure the body cameras are what keep cops on the straightener or what keeps it on is the SOs and management, yeah body cameras, nice. – the culture of the department and that I think were still in better shape than a lot of departments, Los Angeles for example. Mark Sauer: What was the one thing – Lisa Halverstadt: One thing I also note is that the Department of Justice report that you are talking about, the Department of Justice is not conducting it. They’ve actually outsourced that to a police research group that has actually has ties to former Chief Lansdowne. And so there have been some questions raised about how deep this report is going to be, how tough it’s going to be on the police force. And in fact it seems to be more of a review their policies rather than their behavior which is significance. Tony Perry: Yeah it’s not going to be the report the Department of Justice did about the Cleveland Police Department, they found all sorts of force. But I think it's going to be very tough in terms of management that they just weren't managing well because they didn't have enough people. There’s lot of cops and very few sergeants for example getting money. But it was a requested audit. Now this isn't like when the Department of Justice comes in whether you like it or not, I mean they asks for this thing and then it get outsourced. Now these folks that they outsource it to – they did a pretty tough report on the water patrol and use of force and force change. Mark Sauer: Well we're about out of time. We are going to have to look for your reporting on that report. It's a very good story. And that does wrap up another week of stories here at the KPBS Roundtable. I’d like to thank my guests Jeff McDonald of U-T San Diego, Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times and Lisa Halverstadt of Voice of San Diego. A reminder, all of the stories we discussed today are available on our website Kpbs.org. I am Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today on the Roundtable.
San Diego Coast Proposed Nuclear Burial Site
Now that San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has closed, attention is turning from who pays for the closure (turns out it's mostly us), to what to do with tons of spent nuclear waste.
It has to go somewhere.
Because of inaction on a national repository for nuclear waste, Southern California Edison wants to pack 1,600 metric tons of spent fuel rods into steel-lined canisters and bury them along the Southern California coast.
The rods are currently in wet storage on site. Edison plans to transfer all the rods to dry storage by 2019, and its plans have been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Not surprisingly, coastal residents are unhappy about the location. Some are also concerned about the type of canisters being considered. Activist groups say the casks are unproven and are encased in concrete and cannot be monitored or repaired.
The San Onofre Community Engagement Panel will hold a joint meeting with the Washington, D.C.- based Bipartisan Policy Center on Tuesday in San Juan Capistrano to discuss long-term storage of used nuclear fuel.
The public is invited to attend this regular meeting of the panel, which was formed to advise the co-owners of the San Onofre nuclear power plant on decommissioning the facility.
The meeting will be from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, 25925 Camino del Avion, and will include public comment. It will be live streamed via www.songscommunity.com.
For Businesses, San Diego's Climate Is Cloudy
What frustrates San Diego's business owners the most? Voice of San Diego went on a quest to find out and turned up four issues — high workers' comp costs, high cost of living, high taxes for manufacturers and high energy costs.
On average, California’s workers’ comp rates are higher than those in other states, and local business owners complain that there is no reward for a good safety record, only penalties from the state.
Many San Diego companies complain they must pay their workers more than they would get elsewhere because of the cost of housing here.
So far, however, these business negatives haven’t generated a headlong rush to, say Arkansas.
Regaining Trust Major Challenge For SDPD
A deepening shortage of officers caused by the city’s financial problems and wobbly public confidence stemming from abusive police behavior are among the bigger issues faced by Shelley Zimmerman, San Diego’s police chief.
When she was appointed by the mayor almost a year ago, her mandate was to revitalize the department. To regain public trust, she must convince San Diegans that her department doesn’t engage in racial profiling or condone domestic violence or sexual abuse by its officers.
Some critics are concerned there may be a systemic problem with officer misconduct. Other critics — those in the “bad apples” camp — say no, the department as a whole is sound.
Zimmerman has re-established the department's professional standards unit, and now requires officers to file a report when they see misconduct by another officer. And the department has resumed keeping statistics of traffic stops in order to monitor racial profiling.