Skip to main content

Wildfires Burn Across California And Northern Baja

Cover image for podcast episode

A week of strong Santa Ana winds lead to destructive fires across the state and into Baja California and precautionary power outages in San Diego County. Plus, several car companies join President Trump's push to strip California of its right to set fuel mileage standards. And, the social media rebrand for the San Diego State University College Republicans.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 Another week of dangerous fire conditions. San Diego is largely spared, but across the border, a deadly scene to destruction in Baja, the twist and the fight over car mileage standards. Several car makers join president Trump in his fight against California and the Trump effect on gen Z. Young conservatives embraced president Trump on the SDSU campus. I'm Mark Sauer. The KPBS Roundtable starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:34 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:40 Welcome to our discussion of the week stop stories. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. KPBS reporter max Riverland Adler student journalists, Bella Ross, who's editor in chief of the SDSU daily Aztec KPBS education reporter Joe Hong and Eric Anderson, who covers the environment for KPBS news. Well, national news reports have chronicled the latest wind-driven devastating fires North and South in California this week, but overlooked, have been deadly and highly destructive wildfires just South of our border, even as San Diego has been largely spared so far. The Rosarito area was hit hard and max, let's start there. How bad were the fires in that coastal community? Of course, that's not far South of Tijuana.

Speaker 3: 01:23 Yeah. The fires in Tijuana and in Rosarito were pretty serious. They were fast moving. They were driven by the same Santa Ana winds that we were dealing with. Uh, but these were areas that were, uh, got a lot of rain this winter, much like the entire area down here, um, and hadn't had as much vegetation as years past. So once they did catch fire, the fires moved relatively quickly and we're able to go from the hilltops down the valleys and then into areas where people have settled.

Speaker 1: 01:49 So a lot of fuel is as we've seen parts of California as well. So, um, the events are kind of characterized as unusual by the folks down there, the mayor and the residents, they say, we don't see these the way we're unfortunately seeing them in San Diego County and elsewhere in California. Um, is that really the case?

Speaker 3: 02:06 Yeah. So for the past few decades, they haven't seen fires like this. Uh, they've, the mayor told me, uh, out of Sally Brown, she's a new mayor. Uh, she told me that and, but she lived in Rosarito her whole life. She's never seen anything like this. You had people who had been living in these houses, in this one neighborhood Modelos for you know, 17 years. This one woman whose house was destroyed. She said, yeah, there had been some fires, brush fires, but nothing like this where basically the fires were able to jump from house to house, were able to, uh, cover ground in a really quick amount of time. Uh, so it's not something that they've seen before with this intensity. That being said, it's not unknown to the area. Before the neighborhood was called the Modelos, it was actually called Los K mottos, which means the burned. Um, and so the settlement that was there before this current settlement, so this would be 40 or years ago that was burned down by wildfire

Speaker 1: 03:01 and a lot more people in that area means a lot more structures. And if a wildfire takes off, you're going to be more destruction. Yeah. Yeah. So which areas are hit the hardest there in the Rosarito area?

Speaker 3: 03:12 So in the Rosarito area, these are places that have been part of the urban sprawl. Rosarito in the past 20 years has doubled its size. Uh, so people are moving further away from the city center, which was really kind of focused on this resort, the beach town, uh, right near the water. So people are heading up into the Hills and that's where you end up with neighborhoods that are falling under fire threats and where you ended up unfortunately with a bunch of houses burning down and some people die. And the fire chief at the, um, Rosarito, um, of the Rosarita fire department, explain to me how this makes it that much harder for people to fight fires, uh, in these areas because they don't have running water and uh, they, they don't have the roads that they need that have been paved to get the trucks up here. Here's what he told me. Go to clip, right.

Speaker 4: 04:03 [inaudible] the topography is very complicated. The mountains are very steep. It's very difficult for the equipment to get there. It's tough to bring the water up from below and then it gets muddy and it's even harder to get the trucks past. Situations like this will become more common and we're going to need more firefighters, more trucks, more hoses, more firefighters. In this area.

Speaker 1: 04:25 So, uh, they're just starting out in looking at wildfires and this is going to be kind of a new normal, which unfortunately California we've seen for quite a long time. What about other just general resources when it comes to fire evacuation centers, insurance, public assistant, what happens afterward? Compared with devastated communities as we've seen over and over in California.

Speaker 3: 04:46 So today actually marks the beginning of a new government and the state of Baja, it's the Morena party is now sitting in the governor's mansion. The mayor and Rosarito is part of the murdering and party and their focus has been a lot on infrastructure and kind of reaching out to these poor communities where they do have their political base. So one thing that they're looking into is expanding the amount of water infrastructure into these kinds of informal settlements and these neighborhoods that have long been neglected by city infrastructure that'll help firefighters like we heard before. It's really tough to get the water up there. And then on top of that, um, there's just kind of more of an interest by the city government to meet people where they're at. So one thing that I saw is instead of setting up a evacuation center, they set up a, a place for people in the town itself to go and register and then they gave out tents for people to actually camp near their own homes. Because a big issue in Baja, there's a lot of people don't have the deeds to their own homes. Maybe they were destroyed in the fire, but usually it's so informal that basically people are really worried that they'll leave because they've been evacuated and come back in. Somebody else's taken their lands back. Yeah. He can't get back in. And so it's people meeting them, just try to meet them where they're at and saying if you want to camp where your house was that just burned down. We're not to stand in your way.

Speaker 1: 05:58 You can stay there. All right Joe, let's turn back North a to East San Diego County and mountain town of Julian long been at risk of course in the center of the, the wild land and the urban interface as we've talked about many times on the show. Um, what's been happening there and got blackouts and school closures with our fire weather this week.

Speaker 4: 06:14 So schools, uh, up in those areas have been closed for a couple of days or two weeks in a row now, uh, this week, uh, Julian, uh, school districts were closed Wednesday and Thursday. Um, basically, schools in these zones are basically juggling two priorities, right? First and foremost, they gotta keep their kids safe. Second of all, you have to educate students and the state and federal law says you have to keep students in school for 180 days each year. And a sort of school districts, they adapt. They, they include for what they call emergency days and in their school calendars. And by default, if nothing happens in the school year, they're just holidays. Basically, students and staff get those days off. But as these closures happen, they sort of get knocked off and schools have, kids have to come to school on those days and already they've hit their maximum at Julian. Uh, so and here were just first in November, right? And we haven't even, they haven't even gotten snow yet. So, and those those days are included.

Speaker 1: 07:14 That's true. There's snow days up in that mountain community. I was gonna say, well back East, they have the snow days, but they've got them East of here as it were. Yeah. Yeah. And uh, we do have a, uh, an explanation here, a superintendent of the school district, Dr. Patrick Heflin, let's hear from her.

Speaker 5: 07:31 But last year, our first incident of the power, um, stoppage was in November. Myself and the other superintendents were very concerned because this is now occurring in October and we will start to begin, have been, um, maybe impassable Rose starting in December and January. So we are concerned that if we are burning through our, um, allocated days that we have put into the calendar, that is going to mean that we're gonna have to apply to the state for more days.

Speaker 1: 08:11 So does that mean if it, if we get a bunch of snow, I mean, we want the moisture, certainly nobody's rooting against snow or rain in California and Southern California. But does that mean they're going to just have to extend the year, add more days at the end? You'd go into summer vacation or who knows,

Speaker 4: 08:23 right. It's four. So for this year they'll actually have to apply for a waiver of that one 80 day to, to, to not meet that one 80 day minimum. And then for next year they'll just have to calculate more of these emergency days into their school years and those sort of plans

Speaker 1: 08:36 and adjust. Well, before we leave this segment, that's a nice segue. We've seen columnist across the country, the New York times or Washington post, kind of a counterweight column today in the Los Angeles times and they're talking about is California done? Is the dream over, is this uninhabitable? Uh, you've been here a long time, Eric. Uh, we finished. Is this a new normal fires everywhere? And

Speaker 6: 08:56 I think, I think some of the questions raised in some of these columns are, are fair questions right there. Looking at, um, our condition in the current century, and we have a state now where the power is re routinely turned off to hundreds of thousands of people, uh, because the utilities can't provide the electricity in a safe manner that will protect everyone's wellbeing. And so the question comes up if, if that's what we're doing now, you know, has, has the experiment of California failed and, um, you can certainly see where this new holistic approach can kind of gain a foothold. Uh, but I think it's a little bit one-sided to be perfectly fair. There are a lot of other things going on in California too. Uh, but yes. Should it be a concern that utilities can't keep the power on, uh, when there are high winds? Um, it doesn't seem like that should be that kind of a, a problem this day and age.

Speaker 6: 09:53 Right. Well, this does lead us into our next segment here and all has to do with climate change in other parts of the country. Water's an issue and hurricanes and everything else. Well, let's move on. A key part of California's response to climate change is toughening auto emission standards to cut the CO2 we spew from tailpipes a huge contributor to the greenhouse effect that's warming the planet. Governor Gavin Newsome, enlisted powerful allies, giant automakers, Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen agreed earlier this year to voluntarily honor the state's tougher standards. The Trump administration got some auto giants of its own this week to back its play to weaken California standards, including GM, Fiat, Chrysler, which I think is added Prue Joe's. And so he did all of this and Toyota and since a dozen other States followed California's lead on a, about 40% of the U S auto market is affected by these rules.

Speaker 6: 10:43 So that's a lot and a complicated thing here. I got to start with why some car makers are willing to be a build, a cleaner, a fleet and others they're siding with Trump's slacks approach. Well, I think it's recognition that this has become a political and not an environmental issue, right? So, uh, the Trump administration came into office looking to roll back these stricter standards that were put in place during the Obama administration. Those standards, by the way, are designed to help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we're putting into the atmosphere. You increase fuel efficiency, you reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that gets into the air. Um, uh, the Trump administration has a different point of view and, um, they were somewhat surprised when the four auto makers in California announced this summer that there was going to be a deal where they have not as strict as what the Obama, uh, standards were, but slightly pretty close, pretty close that they had agreed to, to set those standards.

Speaker 6: 11:38 And we should say it's around 50 miles a gallon they want to get up to Obama was, so the Trump administration went on the offensive and they began talking to auto makers. A interesting part of that discussion is when they talk to automakers, either on the phone or in person, there was always a justice department official on that phone call, which is interesting because part of the retaliation to California for making the deal with those four makers, uh, was an antitrust suit filed by the justice department saying that the automakers couldn't work with the state to do this because they're taking control of this solution. But that little words. Yeah. Um, so, so an interesting thing that they had the justice department official during these attempts to convince the other automakers to back the Trump lie. Uh, they did get them to come out and say that publicly.

Speaker 6: 12:22 How that plays up down the road, I think, um, is, is fraught with danger on for a couple of reasons. Um, if California prevails in the courts, as many legal observers think that they will, and the California standards are upheld, these other automakers could be on the outside looking in, uh, they may face, uh, some additional, uh, issues because of that. Uh, how does the public, how does the market perceive, perceive them? Uh, now that they have essentially said that we're welcoming these lower emission standards and we're not as concerned about the impact on the environment, consumers may not react in a, in a way that they would hope.

Speaker 1: 13:03 Well, that's a really good point because you said it's, it's become at least as big a political issue as a legal issue and in a battle in the courts. But, uh, you're talking about branding and you're talking about a highly competitive industry. Of course. Uh, people who make cars and trucks. And if, if in California, environmentally minded California gets kind of a black market and certain auto makers because they are not going for the tougher standards, more electric vehicles, everything, and it's trying to keep us cleaner and combat fire, uh, climate change here. I mean, that could backfire, right?

Speaker 6: 13:34 Yeah. I think even for the automakers that came out and supported the Trump, uh, idea, uh, it's a difficult line for them to walk and they're, they're trying to say, look, we're not taking a side on this fight. We just wanna make sure that, that we don't have two different auto markets that we have to sell to in the United States. Um, one thing that many people might not realize too is, is that these automakers are, they're international companies. They have auto markets all over the world that they have to play in. Um, and the standards all over the world are getting tighter. So if the large United States auto market, you know, doesn't require them to have these higher standard cars, maybe that bumps up their profit margin, but they're still gonna have to meet those standards elsewhere. So in some sense it's in their interest to kind of play along in the longterm. But I think they see some possibility of short term political retribution that perhaps they want to avoid.

Speaker 1: 14:26 And I want to segue in this segment, uh, into a larger question involving our climate crisis. Uh, the moral imperative to take drastic, immediate action and protect life on the planet. And Eric, you're at an event this week where this point was emphatically made to set the stage for us there.

Speaker 6: 14:41 Sure. Uh, the Catholic diocese, uh, invited lay leaders and priest to come together at one of their centers, uh, to listen to a talk by dr Ramanathan from the Scripps institution of, he famously met with a Pope back in 2015 to talk about climate and to convince Pope Francis that this was an, an imperative, a, a social imperative for the church to be involved in. Uh, and so picked up. Yes, he did. He did a cyclical lip, I believe. And dr Romanov and basically told people that, look, this is a serious crisis and the time windows are very, very short. We have 10 years before, there are drastic impacts on our climate impacts that will affect people all over the world. Now the richest 1 billion people in the world probably won't be as affected as much, but he says, for the poorest 3 billion people on this planet, the effects will be dramatic. They will be dangerous. Um, they will bring death and destruction. Uh, and he, he also stressed that this was a time where, uh, we're at a time now where there still a chance to have some impact on the outcome. We can still make changes. And uh, I S I spoke briefly with the, uh, Bishop Robert, uh, McElroy about this and here's what he had to say.

Speaker 7: 15:52 But the problem is the, the world that our society here in San Diego, all of us have not taken up that challenge with a sense of alarm, with a sense of a limited time horizon. And most of all with the sense that if we don't act in the next 10 years, we're robbing the future of future generations. We're just taking it away from them.

Speaker 6: 16:15 And you got the sense from him too, that this was an issue that was very much in the forefront for him. He had just come back from the Amazon centered, uh, that the Catholic church held there. And they were talking about some of the regional problems in that area of the burning of the rainforest. One of those issues, he says, [inaudible] international, these are our problems. These are our problems here in San Diego as much as they are problems in the Amazon.

Speaker 1: 16:36 Well, it strikes me with such polarization between the political parties here and you've got the Trump of course, and the Republicans still in the climate denial stage by and large here. Might this be something because you've got the evangelicals overwhelmingly supporting, uh, conservatives and, and Trump at this point in our political affairs. Might this be something where a religious leaders across the world and across this country might bridge this partisan gap on this critical climate change issue?

Speaker 6: 17:06 One of the things that dr Ramanathan talked about was, um, uh, as a scientist, he feels like he understands what the problem is and he can define it, but he really feels like he doesn't have the tools to be able to make it an urgent concern, uh, for the general public. And he thinks that's where religion can really help because they have those cultural connections where they can reach out and, and explain and make the arguments and, and talk about this issue in such a way that makes it real for people in their everyday life. And that's why he's making it a point to make these connections and to have these kinds of discussions.

Speaker 1: 17:43 Well, we'll see what happens going forward. Obviously it's going to be a big issue in the, uh, coming, uh, um, election year. Climate change is motivating many young people to get involved in politics and to vote in the midst of this. There's an attempt to being made on the San Diego state university campus where we are right now to rebrand the young Republican movement. Like most of the GOP at large aspiring leaders among young conservatives here are looking to take the next hard, right. Traditional conservativism they say it's so eighties. Ronald Reagan. So a Bella, this is a really interesting story you had this week start with the before and after Republican students at SDSU, they want to tow the party line. They went dark for a while and the re-emerging as what?

Speaker 8: 18:25 So yeah, as you mentioned, they used to really toe the party line. I think unless you are politically involved on campus or into conservative politics, he probably weren't hearing much about the college Republicans at SCSU. Um, but they had a little internal spat last semester. They kind of disappeared from like April to a couple of weeks ago and now they're back and they're really embracing more of a, um, like a further right wing approach. Trying to be a little bit more controversial on campus.

Speaker 1: 18:49 It's a little edgier, huh. So give us some background. Who's leading the new SDSU Republican movement? Hear familiar last name in San Diego County? Republican politics.

Speaker 8: 18:58 Correct. So his name's all of our crop Kovach and he's the son of long time. I'm Republican party chairman in San Diego, Tony provoq. Um, and he's, um, he's studying international politics here. He's really into all this stuff. He's also, um, really politically involved on campus with turning point USA. He's the vice president and that's, um, another political organization. They're a little bit more on the libertarian end of things. So he's, he's really out here on campus trying to bring conservatives and conservatism to SDSU.

Speaker 1: 19:27 Now why does he say he's trying to push this young GOP group on campus sharp sharply to the right.

Speaker 8: 19:33 So the way he put it to me is that he really thinks that the progress in, um, right wing politics lies in those more uncomfortable issues. You thinks that, you know, with all the controversy, if they're just towing the party line, that they're not really going to be able to make waves on campus. How they would like to.

Speaker 1: 19:48 Now in your, uh, story, um, which was, uh, uh, thorough and long story and you delve in, in a lot of aspects of this but to controversy and attention and if that's what they're after, they may be getting it because explain how one group SDSU Republicans are associated with and why that group is raising some red flags.

Speaker 8: 20:05 So the reason we noticed that they are coming back to campus is because a couple of weeks ago they started to get active on Twitter again and they hadn't tweeted anything since like April, like I mentioned. And um, some of the organizations that they're re tweeting and interacting with were a little bit questionable to us. One of the most notable ones is called [inaudible] and they're an anti-immigrant, um, news website that the Southern poverty law center is actually designated as a hate group for spreading white nationalist ideologies. And, um, I asked him about this and you told me that, you know, our interaction with this organization on Twitter is mostly from a foreign policy standpoint, very anti interventionist. But there were a couple of instances in the tweets where I notice it deflected from that they were talking about, um, support for building the wall and stuff have to siting be their coverage. And so, um, that was something that kind of brought this issue to our attention.

Speaker 1: 20:53 Okay. And so, I mean, there's some, some very real controversy there. And, and what's, what's Oliver's response to them?

Speaker 8: 21:00 He said that the organization does not, um, you know, endorse why nationalism in any way. And as I mentioned, he said that their interaction with these organizations is mainly from a foreign policy standpoint and that he didn't fully understand that this was, um, a news outlet that did back white nationalism and was a part of that. And so, um, he told me that obviously they don't endorse why nationalism, that's something they don't want to be associated with.

Speaker 1: 21:23 No. Um, he says that that the GOP on campus are going hard. Right. Um, let's talk about climate change a little bit. That's a, an issue that is a generational issue for people my age or retirement age and an older people who tend to vote far more than young people. This is something that realistically we're not going to be around here. Your generation is, and of course even younger kids and our grandkids and all. And that's the concern there. And we talked on the show about how difficult it is to, to motivate people to worry about what's happening in the future and people that I'll never meet and sacrifice now and all of that. But it's a critical issue for young people. And we're coming into, as I said, at the open into this critical election year here. So what's the stance on climate change and what's the conservative posture on that?

Speaker 8: 22:10 So the organization itself, just from what I've seen so far, hasn't really talked about climate change a lot as a part of their platform. Um, but Oliver is actually a writer for our opinion section at the daily ASA. He is only contributed a couple of stories, but he mentioned to me personally that climate change is not an issue, that they're going to try to fight and say that it's not real. They're not climate deniers. And he actually contributed a story to us. I think it ran this week about how about climate change, about how um, the blame shouldn't be put on everyday people when it's corporations that are causing this issue. So it really does seem like they're on the side of the reform when it comes to climate change and solving that.

Speaker 1: 22:45 How about climate change in general as a topic? Is it something that's talked about and debated and, and certainly there'll be classes on it and

Speaker 8: 22:53 yeah, it is discussed on campus a lot. There are a lot of people on campus that are really into sustainability and all those things. Um, we actually were, the canvas was a part of the climate strike a few weeks ago and it was actually the biggest protest I had ever seen on campus in my four years. I've been to most of them as a reporter.

Speaker 1: 23:09 Remind the audience what that's about. That was a big rally in a walkout, not just here but, but in many, many places across the country, in the world.

Speaker 8: 23:15 Yeah. So they, um, they walked out of their classes. And then another big part is, especially for the, um, about the SCSU walkout in particular is they had a list of demands for Adela Delatorre, our president, um, for how they can be carbon neutral and, um, really help, not perpetuate climate change on campus. So that was another big part of their platform. And there is a really big, um, large amount of people on campus who were a part of that movement.

Speaker 1: 23:38 No. As you mentioned, and I should note the, it's, it's at the bottom of the story that, uh, Oliver Comerica who writes opinion pieces, the daily Aztec and all, uh, what's his reaction been to this story?

Speaker 8: 23:49 He's been nothing but helpful throughout the entire process. Obviously I don't think it was ideal for any of us to have to report on one of our own employees, but if we thought it would be, but really he was, he was very helpful. We did multiple hours of interviewing for this story. After everything was said and done. I worked on this with another reporter. Um, and so he was nothing but helpful throughout the entire process and he understood why we needed to report on this despite him being an employee

Speaker 1: 24:15 in Bella. What reaction have you had from students generally across campus?

Speaker 8: 24:18 We, um, we haven't gotten a ton of feedback on this story from students, but the stuff that we have heard was, um, we've heard from a couple of conservative students on campus who, despite the fact that the story was a little bit critical and bringing into question their, um, their ideological standpoints, they said that they really happy that we gave, um, the Republicans the opportunity to speak on this issue and, um, really give their side of the story.

Speaker 1: 24:39 All right. We're running out of time, but, um, stepping back, what's your sense of SDSU students generally? How politically active, how many liberals versus conservatives? I mean, what are we going to see as we move into the election year?

Speaker 8: 24:51 So, um, SDSU I think lands about where a lot of California college campuses do in terms of the fact that it's pretty liberal, but I think it is a lot of the fact that liberals are kind of just the loudest on campus. I don't want to pretend like there aren't conservatives. I just don't think that they have as much of a platform on campus as liberals do. And um, there are many more um, liberal organizations on campus. So the Republicans are one of two more right-leaning organizations on campus and there are multiple liberal ones on campus right now

Speaker 1: 25:20 in a year. We're about out of time. But as you said, they, they went dark for a time, so they're going to have to reestablish themselves. Well, it'd be interesting going forward as a good story in the, in the Aztec. Well, that wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, max Riverland Nadler of KPBS news bell Ross, editor in chief of the S SDSU daily Aztec, Joe Hong and Eric Anderson also have KPBS news and a reminder. All the stories we discussed today are available on our website, kpbs.org I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next week on the round. [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 25:56 [inaudible].

KPBS Roundtable podcast branding

KPBS Roundtable

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