Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Lessons learned: How San Diego is preparing for the next storm

 January 26, 2024 at 7:56 AM PST

S1: This week on Kpbs roundtable. San Diego begins the long road to recovery after Monday's record breaking storm.

S2: Pretty much every house on that street now has piles of garbage and debris.



S1: Don't go anywhere. Roundtable is coming up next. Welcome to Kpbs roundtable. I'm Scott Rodd. The impacts of Monday's storm are still being calculated , but we know the record breaking rain and flooding has upended many lives in and around San Diego. We talk about what we know now and what the region needs to do to prepare for future storms. The Kpbs roundtable starts now. A 1000 year storm. That's what hit San Diego on Monday and led to significant flooding , especially in the city's southeastern neighborhoods. Here's what San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria had to say about the storm damage at a press conference on Tuesday.

S4: What I can tell you , and what I saw in the damage and the impact was absolutely devastating. In fact , it's heartbreaking. I saw homes that were destroyed by flood waters , flood waters that reach the ceilings in some cases. I saw cars that had been picked up and moved down the street , floated away from where they had been parked , got swamped with water and with mud. I saw the entire lives changed in just a few minutes.

S1: Here to talk about the storm and what we know about the lasting damage it caused. I'm joined by Andrew Bohn , Kpbs Metro reporter , Alex Riggins , reporter with the San Diego Union Tribune , and Gustavo Solis , Kpbs investigative border reporter. Welcome to you all. I want to jump right in. Let's start with you , Alex. Where were you reporting from ? On the ground. What did you see ? Paint a picture for us. Sure.

S3: Sure. So , Monday , I was seeing all the images that everyone else was seeing on social media. All the flooding , not really understanding what was happening , how how this was happening. I mean , I know there's a ton of rain. Um , so Tuesday morning started out in Mountain View at an apartment complex , um , that had flooded , uh , the residents told us that it just it took 15 , 20 minutes. The water was very low , and then all of a sudden it was up to their waists , up to their chests. And so that's where I was at this apartment complex in Mountain View , where anyone on the ground floor had had pretty much lost everything. Um , and there was still lines on the walls and the fences showing how high the water had come up. And , uh , and just , just hearing those stories of , of loss and rescue and , and just really , um , you know , heartbreaking and interesting stories from , from those residents. And , Andrew.

S1: You were also out on the ground reporting in that area. And you've also been out since then on the ground talking to members of the community. Tell us what you saw.

S2: Yeah , I was actually at that same apartment complex on Tuesday. Um , right next to it is part of Choice Creek , which was the the waterway that flooded. And there's a bridge that goes over it right there. And the bridge that this sort of the the part of the creek that passes under the bridge was totally clogged with debris , vegetation , garbage. So , you know , it kind of paints a real picture of how the flooding actually happened later that day. And again today , I also went to South Crest , which was just south of that area where we were. And uh , the street , Beta Street is one of the hardest hit. Pretty much every house on that street now has piles of garbage and debris. I mean , what is now garbage ? What was once these people's belongings , their furniture , their mattresses , their clothes , everything that you think of inside of a house , you know , throw a bunch of mud in turn on the blender. And that's what comes out after a flood of this scale. Truly , absolutely devastating and really heartbreaking stories from the residents there that I'm sure we'll get into.

S1: In Gustavo , tell us what was happening across the border in Tijuana.

S5: Tijuana in regular rain gets pretty bad. So this was just devastating to the city. Uh , no matter how you look at it , I mean , the only positive outcome is that there have been no reported deaths in Tijuana because of the rain. But similar things to what we saw here. Entire streets flooded , uh , cars , tow trucks being dragged away , a lot of trash like Andrew mentioned , uh , blocking the the storm drains. But that type of trash is refrigerators , couches , stoves , even old vehicles that are just kind of thrown , thrown away. And in the aftermath , there's been a lot of , uh , sinkholes , landslides , things like that. But Monday was pretty scary. I mean , they of the mayor's office had , uh , she or she was in , like , the emergency headquarters. And the head fire chief at one point said several neighborhoods are without power and no road access , so they're virtually inaccessible. And we don't know how bad the situation is over there.

S1: You all spoke to some folks on the ground you were getting stories from , you know , people who are seeing and experiencing this firsthand , real time. Tell me someone's story that stood out to you.

S3: And one of them was a couple named Juan and Mighty Lopez. Pretty much everyone in that complex was Spanish speakers. You know , some of them , uh , recently came from Mexico. Some of them , uh , you know , had been here for a long time. But this family , uh , might they she , she grew up in in San Diego. She considered this her home , right ? This this apartment wasn't just an apartment to her. It was her home. Uh , the family had lots of animals , including , you know , more than a dozen parakeets. And , uh , what happened to this family was they. They saw the water starting to rise , and they left to go get sandbags and. By the time they returned , maybe 15 20 minutes later , the complex was inaccessible to them. They couldn't get through , the street was flooded , and they were worried about their birds , their dog. Luckily , one of their neighbors saved their dog , a Doberman husky mix who , you know , just this beautiful dog that they had with them. But four of their their parakeets died and a bunch of others were they were able to save. And they plan to stay there. They plan to , you know , clean out their apartment and stay there because it's their home and they love the area. They they have a son in his early teens. They she's two months pregnant. So they plan to stay there. Which is which to me was was really striking. I mean , I would think I'd be looking for the first exit out of there , but that was their home. And it really , um , you know , really affected them. What happened. But but they were cleaning up and wanting to stay for the long haul.

S1: It speaks to the commitment to the neighborhood , commitment to the community. You know , when you say people left 15 , 20 minutes later , they came back and , you know , it was a completely different scene. You know that the term flash flood is not a misnomer. It can happen so quickly , which is exactly what we saw on Monday. Andrew , tell us a bit about some of the folks that you spoke to. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. So I spoke with a man named Robert Lopez who was at that same apartment complex. He had been living there for about seven months. He doesn't have any family in San Diego. So , you know , when he came home from his early shift at a restaurant downtown , he found by that point the floodwaters had subsided. But , you know , his home was unlivable. All of his furniture was gone. That he had just gotten. His TV was dead. And , uh , he's now homeless. He has to enter the San Diego housing market on , on a , you know , the salary of a restaurant manager downtown. Um , he's staying with a friend right now , so he's not literally on the street , but , you know , is just depending on those personal networks. He. I mentioned he doesn't have family here. And I'll also say it , um , you know , when I went down to South Crest , I interviewed it was actually a mother and daughter that I had met at that apartment complex. They heard that the media were going there , so they showed up and just wanted to talk to people. I went back and visited them today. Uh , the daughter was in this house that has been in the family for 45 years with her 90 year old grandmother and her uncle , who has schizophrenia. Their neighbor is a terminal cancer patient. They have other neighbors in the neighborhood. They told me that our elderly and have dementia , whose family take care of them. And you know , when the family's gone at work , they might be left alone for a period of time. And that's when the flooding happened. So people were you know , it's truly miraculous that at least in the city of San Diego , there don't appear to have been any deaths from the storm. But it is truly miraculous that no one died , given how vulnerable a lot of these communities are. As the floodwaters were rising very , very quickly , this the daughter tried to get , you know , she got her grandmother and was basically swimming next door , uh , getting together with the neighbors , trying to figure out how to get to safety. They were calling 911. You know , they get through , then the line would be disconnected or they got hung up on or something. They were really frustrated by the fact that there's a naval base like three blocks away from where they live. And , you know , you'd think that the Navy would be the best prepared for a situation like this to rescue someone in a flash flood situation. But they were told that , you know , this isn't really the Navy's responsibility. They tried calling National city police , and National City Police told them that , you know , this isn't their jurisdiction because they're in the city of San Diego. They eventually got to the roof of the next door neighbor's house and , uh , stayed up there until the floodwaters had gone down. But just imagine how terrifying the situation would be and how , you know , you expect your government , your your emergency responders to be there when you need them most. But when something like this happens so quickly , and we were obviously unprepared because we didn't know that the rain was going to fall that quickly in such a short period of time. But , you know , again , we can talk about this as the conversation continues. There have been flood issues in this area before , and certainly some , if we look far enough back in history , definitely opportunities for the city to create a more permanent solution here to the flood issue.

S1: And I do definitely want to get into that. I want to go back to Robert Lopez , though , one of the people you spoke to , and we have some tape of the conversation you had with him , because it's so important to hear the voices of the people who are impacted by this storm.

S6: This is my little home. This is my safe place , the place that I come and feel the most comfortable and safe and warm. I feel like I lost everything. It's devastating.

S2: I just want to paint a picture for folks. I mean , this apartment was very small , maybe 200ft². So , you know , to to be in a space like that to to feel like. This is the place that you have to be safe and to come home to and to have it just completely destroyed. It's , as he said , devastating.

S1: In Gustavo. The rain that fell may have been similar. It was from the same storm on Tijuana , but the circumstances in Tijuana are a bit different.

S5: There is very little flat land in Tijuana. It's a city of canyons , valleys , hills , a lot of flash floods , especially a lot of people that live in the bottom of those canyons. Like they get the worst of it. I , I've gone to some of those areas , and during heavy , heavy rainstorms , it's like you all remember that movie parasite , right ? When it starts raining and everything flows down , it's like that. They get trash. Uh , from all over the city , clogging up the drains , and they just get flooded very , very quickly. A lot of the folks that lived there , they built their houses without permits. They're they're essentially just squatters , which means not a lot of retaining walls , not very strong foundations. So a lot of the landslides are causing houses just to fall down. Uh , like Andrew mentioned , nobody really expected it to rain this much this quickly. And Tijuana was no exception. They they weren't expecting it. And the mayor has gotten some criticism for not declaring a state of emergency to the credit of the public school system , they were all closed , but there are a couple of private schools that remained open , and one of them did have to be evacuated in the middle of the storm to make sure that kids got out of there.

S1: And let's come back to San Diego. What happened for this type of devastating flooding to occur ? I know that's a big question to answer. We're talking about many , many years of planning and infrastructure projects maybe not coming to fruition , but maybe just give us an overview , Andrew , of , you know , what was the scene like ? What what caused this flooding to happen ? What allowed it to happen to this extent ? Yeah.

S2: So the worst impacted area , it lies in what we call the Choice Creek watershed. I mentioned Choi's Creek earlier. This is part of the waterway where you know when it drains because the of the topography of this area , this is where it's basically the giant basin where all of the rainwater flows into the Choi's Creek and into San Diego Bay. So this area , you know , we know that there are the lowest lying areas that the at the end of the stream or the creek are at risk of flooding. The issue is when it was built by the Army Corps of Engineers , they weren't anticipating the scale of extreme weather that we're starting to experience as our planet begins to warm. I heard it mentioned that this was a thousand year flood , which means that it's about a 0.1% chance of happening at any given time or in any given year , based on historical data. The problem is that historical data is is outdated , essentially. I mean , if we're looking at the the rain patterns of the 1900s and we know that extreme weather is going to get more frequent and more unpredictable in the future , you know what may have been a thousand year flood , you know , 10 or 20 years ago might be a ten year flood today or a 50 year flood. Who knows ? There's so much that we don't know about how climate change is going to impact us. And so but we know it's going to be bad. So , you know , a lot of these channels , these storm water channels that convey the water from the neighborhoods in the streets into Choi's Creek are lined in concrete. And that means that as the water is flowing through them , you know , it was designed this way to get the water out of the neighborhoods as fast as possible. But it also means that that water doesn't seep into the Earth. And while allowing it to seep into the earth , that means that there's more vegetation and it can cause flooding. You know , what we saw was , you know , storm drains being stopped up. And that's what caused the floodwaters to rise so quickly. But from a sort of natural perspective , that's really what's supposed to happen. The water is supposed to rise , you know , the banks of the creek expand. And that's , you know , how this whole area , these , this land that we live on , uh , functioned for hundreds , thousands of years. So we're just not prepared for this scale of flood. Um , there's there's a very slow shift that's taking place at the city. I'm trying to look at a ways of more naturally filtering the water. So creating smaller basins throughout this watershed area that can capture at least some of the water. And then , you know , whatever overflows is what ends up spilling into the stormwater channels. But. You know , the scale of the problem in terms of infrastructure is truly staggering. I can give you some numbers , but it's something that we've known about for a long time. And , you know , I don't see changing really anytime soon just because of how far in the hole we are.

S1: When roundtable returns , we talk about the storm's impact on Tijuana and the city's crumbling infrastructure.

S5: So it's just in a constant state of reaction , Tijuana's infrastructure just reacting from one crisis to another.

S1: That's just ahead on roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable. I'm Scott rod. Today we're talking about the devastating storms that hit the San Diego and Tijuana region earlier this week. I'm speaking with Kpbs , Andrew Bowen and Gustavo Solis and Alex Riggins from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Andrew , I want to go back to something you said about the 1000 year storm. That's something that was discussed on Thursday at a press conference held by the city. Here's what Chris McFadden , deputy chief operating officer , had to say about the storm , its impact and the city's preparation.

S7: Even a storm drain system that were designed to the golden standard today , that's 100 year storm would have failed under this situation. Now , I know that doesn't work for cleaning people's homes. It doesn't save their precious memories , but it does serve as an important benchmark for us to meet , and that we know we have to strive and we have to do better. And we are.

S1: At that press conference. They also talked about the cleanup that they've done in recent years , pulling , you know , hundreds of thousands of tons of debris from some of these stormwater drainages and from the creek ways. Alex , I guess hearing the city Deputy Chief Operating officer say that.

S3: Right. So you have ten gallons worth of whatever and pouring a thousand gallons of water. And he said , that's what happened to Choice Creek.

S1: And this was an analogy he used during the press conference. Exactly.

S3: Exactly. He said , basically , you know , there was there was no stopping this flooding. The reason that I think he was talking about that was because a lot of a lot of residents had had criticized the city , as Andrew had talked about. I mean , the street that runs next to that apartment complex. I mean , you could see all the buildup of of weeds and garbage and all the stuff that had blocked up that bridge. But what the city was saying was , even if those bridges were perfectly clear , this was going to overflow. There was just so much water. You know , it was something that I really noticed. Like I said earlier , I didn't understand what happened Monday until I looked at a couple maps. I looked at the maps of where the areas that are that flooded , and then I looked at a map of of Choice Creek , and you could see there's several different branches of Choice Creek , and along those branches is where the flooding happened. And that's really kind of where the light went off for me. Other people knew this , but but for me , it really , you know , that's where the light went off. And I understood what happened on Monday. Um , and we started hearing though from residents who said , you know , we've been complaining. Uh , the next morning , you know , after we wrote our story on Tuesday , I got an email from a guy who said , you know , thank you so much for for bringing attention to this , because look at all these. Get it done. You know , the city has its get it done app. Look at all these times that I've complained about , uh , shopping carts all this trash built up under bridges. He's like , I've been complaining for years about this stuff because I knew something like this was going to happen. Other residents said , um , you know , that that , um , they criticize the city a lot for , for for their response , for what happened. And so the city was kind of took the chance today to say , look , we we hear what you're saying. We know we could do better clearing out these , uh , these waterways. But even if we had been perfect , this was going to happen because there was so much water.

S5: That's really interesting to hear. I don't know if it's good enough. Like , ask somebody , like , if I were to live there and had my place destroyed , I don't think that's frankly good enough. And I think the Get It Done app that you mentioned , all those inquiries that went on answered are clear indicator of they don't feel that the city has listened to them in the past. And then this horrible thing happened. And then the city's response is , I would have happened anyway. It doesn't really inspire confidence or show good leadership. And that's without even mentioning not the elephant in the room , but just the unspoken fact that the communities that were impacted are the most affluent communities in San Diego. So there's a history of just neglect and no difference to to a certain part of our society.

S1: In Andrew , I want to go to you with that , because this was something that you had noted in some of your reporting. Also in the conversations that we were having about this storm , you know , sure , even if the city did pull out hundreds or thousands of tons of , you know , waste or debris from these , you know , creeks and these drainages in recent years. And this was a 1000 year storm. It brought a tremendous amount of rain. But the fact remains that the communities that were hit , you know , they there's a certain equity or inequity dimension to this talk about that.

S2: Yeah , I think it you know , it's a really complex issue. Of course. Um , part of the reason why these communities are more affordable for low income people. It is because they're in the floodplain. And so , you know , if somebody's looking to sell their home , their pool of buyers is is pretty limited by that. I mentioned that , you know , the family I spoke with today has owned this home in their family for 45 years. They weren't required to have flood insurance when they purchased that home. They're struggling to get by day to day. And and so , you know , when you don't have all of the resources to invest in your home to prepare for an emergency like this , buy or even knowing that flood insurance is available to you. You know , you really can't blame these folks for just living , you know , in the place that they can that that that was affordable to them. I do want to give this the city a bit of credit for the fact that they have been trying to talk about the the deficit of stormwater infrastructure in the city , the unfunded needs for a while now , and if they could flip a switch and raise taxes on their own and devote more money to this issue , they would. But we live in a democracy. And in California , a tax proposed by the government for a specific purpose needs a two thirds majority approval from voters. So when the city is forced to choose which types of infrastructure it's going to fund , and you're getting a thousand emails a day about potholes and maybe one email a day about , you know , stormwater infrastructure , which is a lot of times invisible to us. You know , some of it's underground , some of it , you know , it doesn't rain all that often in San Diego. So we don't see the flood risk all that closely. But I think it's understandable for the city , you know , these politicians who are trying to respond to the the desires of their constituents to direct their attention to the things that that are on the surface. And it's not to say they shouldn't have planned for for better stormwater infrastructure. I think that's certainly a fair criticism. But the scale of our infrastructure deficit overall is just so immense. And I don't think the average San Diegan understands just how little money we have to devote to these infrastructure problems , the stormwater infrastructure. So over the next five years , there was a report that just came out this month. The city analyzes every every year. They look five years into the future and try and plan out , okay , how much revenue can we expect to have for certain types of infrastructure ? How much is it going to cost to bring that infrastructure up to snuff ? And then what's the gap ? What how much extra funding do we need to actually meet all of our infrastructure needs ? I'm not sure of the total infrastructure gap that we have right now , but for stormwater infrastructure alone , it's $1.6 billion. That's more than the streets , the streetlights and the sidewalks combined. So it's more than doubled in the past five years. I mean , stormwater infrastructure has always been the the most underfunded and with the greatest , you know , unfunded needs for at least as long as I've been here , I think. But it has gotten a whole lot worse. And , you know , I think part of what we can point to as the reason is that all of us really care about roads , and we want the roads fixed right now , and that's where all of our attention is. And so I think this is a real inflection point. I hope it is a moment for San Diegans to think about the type of city that we need to build for the 21st century , as climate change continues to wreak havoc on our communities , and especially on these most vulnerable communities , we cannot afford to not fix this problem. And fixing this problem is going to require more resources devoted to the government. I don't think we can count on the federal government to sweep in and and bail us out on this. I don't think we can count on the state , probably.

S1: But , you know , even with that deficit , let's start to aim more of the resources we do have towards stormwater funding , because the reality is , unfortunately , it's not until a disaster hits and it fully puts into Plainview that something needs to be done , that action is taken or that kind of shift takes place.

S2: I would be surprised if he continues what the the status quo has been for the past several years , where the funding is going to come from. It could come from libraries , it could come from fire stations , it could come from streetlights , it could come from any number of types of infrastructure needs that we have that people also care about. And I think , you know , it's easier for a voter to , you know , we want someone to blame. We want , you know , we feel like this is in our problem. We didn't create this problem. And it's the government's job to just fix it. But we live in a democracy and the government serves at our behest. So we all have to have a conversation amongst ourselves about how to fix the problem. Um , will this lead to a greater support for among voters for a new tax or fee ? Um , maybe. I mean , I think that , you know , the Stormwater Department did some polling a couple of years ago. They tried to come up with a funding plan to figure out how can we solve this problem long term , or at least make it a little bit better ? And , um , they were floating attacks on , uh , impermeable surface on a property. So , you know , uh , any soil where the water can just seep in is not taxed , but the amount of hard surface where the water runs off that would be taxed. And , uh , they found the support for that for such a tax would be right around two thirds majority. So , no , certainly not a slam dunk. And , uh , we know that there would be a funded opposition campaign to attacks like this where historically a very anti-tax city. And so , you know , it's definitely not a slam , Duncan. And the government can make its case to the voters , but ultimately , it's up to the voters to decide if this is something they're willing to pay for.

S1: If the infrastructure picture in San Diego is kind of depressing , maybe a little complicated , it's downright grim in Tijuana. So , Gustavo , you've done a lot of reporting on the infrastructure infrastructure issues in Tijuana.

S5: Almost 2 million people live in Tijuana now. I don't think people realize how big and dense it has gotten , and historically , the city has just failed to plan. I mean , it's a city of almost 2 million people with one two lane highway kind of cutting through it. And I'm not advocating for more lanes , but that just kind of tells you how it has grown or hasn't grown. 40% of residential construction is irregular , meaning done without , uh , permits. Like I mentioned earlier , uh , the city has done some attempts to to do city planning and and live up to it. But the city grows so quickly that by the time the bureaucracy puts forth a plan , it's already outdated because the population has grown so quickly. So it's just in a constant state of reaction , Tijuana's infrastructure just reacting from one crisis to another. Last year , there was a landslide that closed a major thoroughfare going into Playas to Tijuana , right ? There's no kind of understanding or really , um , confidence in the government's ability to do this. So a lot of people just build on their own , right ? Even legal construction , instead of hooking up their sewer to the sewer system , they'll hook it up to the storm drain system. So you go to playas in the middle of the summertime when it hasn't rained , there'll be water coming out of the storm drains , and it'll smell and it'll be brown. There's all these little issues going on with Tijuana that just create one big jumbled mess. Different government agencies , the state and the city are fighting over who controls what. It's just always been described as a mess. And there's no real clear solution or effort. Right ? And not to mention , the turnover in government happens so quickly that when you get a new administration , it's all new priorities. And I think similar to what Andrew said. Right. Infrastructure is not sexy. And to be fair to those governments , they have a lot of pressing issues that they have to prioritize. I mean , safety , right ? The homicide rate in Tijuana is not near where they want it to be. So are you going to get more voters by saying you're going to do something about safety , or that you're going to fix the storm drain system ? There are those types of limitations that play as well. But I think everyone's recognizing that it has to be done. One thing that I think is a positive about the kind of changing narrative or conversations around infrastructure along the border , is that cross border wait times have gotten so bad that there's recognition on both sides that something needs to be done about it. So if we want to kind of maybe not end or stay on such a low , dark , grim note , that could be a little bit of a sense of , of hope and optimism that these issues are being talked about at both sides of the border , at all levels of government now , and with elections in 2024 , there could be an opportunity at least to elect people who are willing to to invest in fixing some of these issues.

S1: I want to talk about what the needs are of the the community , the neighborhoods.

S3: They need places , um , to get new stuff more long term. You know , they were really. Concerned about not having been warned that they were living in a in an area that's prone to flooding , um , you know , and wanting to to fix that. There was talk. We'll see if it happens , but there was talk of some sort of class action lawsuit against the city. You know , I don't know what the legal claims there would be , but , you know , they for most of the people that we spoke to , my my colleagues and I , you know , spoke to in Encanto , South Crest , Mountain View , they were they were just focused on on what comes next. Right. They weren't focused on six months down the road. They were focused on , you know , six hours later that day , you know , where , you know , all their food was their refrigerators were toppled by the floods. You know , they needed places to stay , to just meet their immediate needs. So those were the people I spoke to. You know , one thing I'll say , just just as far as the city's response , you know , the city official that spoke today , one of the kind of one of the scary things he said , I'm glad you told the truth. Right. I'm glad that he told the truth. But it wasn't a pretty truth because he said that if another storm like this happens , this is going to happen again. I mean , there was no you know , there was no sort of politicking or trying to dance around the fact that if a storm like this happens again and it could be because of climate change , then this is going to happen again. And so , you know , I think that people living near Choice Creek and , you know , especially those living right on the banks of it , um , really need to kind of try to think long term about about what they're going to do. Um , not to put it all on them. I mean , there needs to be a government response. There needs to be , you know , more widespread answers. But I mean , those those people , I think , also need to think about what they're going to do , because he laid it out clearly that this will happen again. He acknowledged that fact.

S1: When we come back , understanding Monday's storm and its connection to our changing climate.

S2: At some point in the future , probably within our lifetimes , we may have to assess whether some of this land is even livable.

S1: Roundtable is back in less than two minutes. Stay tuned. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable. I'm Scott Rod. We're continuing our conversation about Monday's storm , the city's response , and the role of climate change. I'm speaking with Kpbs , Andrew Bowen , Alex Riggins from the Union-Tribune , along with Kpbs , Gustavo Solis. And I think we need to talk about climate change. We need to talk about one of the things that was so scary about this storm was that people were caught off guard. I mean , the forecast called for a decent amount of rain , but what came was , you know , as we've discussed , that 1000 year storm. Andrew , I mean , what you know , what do we have to be thinking about in terms of , I guess , you know , in the future , looking at forecasts and thinking about the potential of what may or may not happen , but also the potential frequency or intensity of these storms that are coming our way as a result of climate change.

S2: This is a really tough thing to have to say , but at some point in the future , probably within our lifetimes , we may have to assess whether some of this land is even livable. Uh , if it does happen again , God forbid. You know , we need we need to ask ourselves , is this a place where where housing belongs in a very real and visceral way ? Nature is reclaiming some of these spaces. And so if these homes were , you know , let's say just a quick anecdote here. One of the people that I spoke to in southwest today said some of the first people to show up on our doorstep after the the storm were real estate agents who were offering her a cash buyout for her home that's been in her family for 45 years. They were there before the city to collect the trash that they're starting to remove from their home. So , you know , that gives you a little slice of the stage of capitalism that we're in right now. It's so sick. Yeah. It's pretty. It was it was grim. But , you know , if those homes , let's say they decided to tear them down , some of those homes don't meet current code because they've never been remodeled in several decades , so they may have to be lifted. I mentioned earlier , you know , this , this sort of 20th century approach to urban planning where we feel like we are humans and we can claim we can tame nature , we can claim this space as our own. Um , and , and , you know , figure out how to fix , uh , storm water issues by just building a bunch of concrete channels and getting the water out of the neighborhood as fast as possible. The faster that that neighborhood , the faster that that water flows out of the neighborhood , the faster it also flows into the neighborhoods that are downstream. So there needs to be a more holistic approach to stormwater management. I think I mentioned , you know , perhaps more bio swales , more like smaller basins scattered throughout the entire neighborhood that are able to absorb this rainwater so that less of it ends up in the creek to begin with. I know that the city is planning for a sort of more greater water treatment facilities along Choice Creek to improve the water quality. Some of those plans , you know , they they were planned a while ago. I think that it said online when I was looking at this , uh , capital improvement project that it's built for a two year storm. And , of course , you know , we've been saying this has been a thousand year storm. So some of the the plans that we have right now , uh , further down the line may need to change. And that means that the infrastructure is going to get more expensive. And , you know , we really just need to look inside ourselves. I think as a as a culture , as a society , and think about how humans are going to continue to live on this planet. What is a what does a resilient city look like ? What is an equitable city look like ? What is justice in environment , environmental justice look like ? And what role do we have to play in getting us to that future ? Because it's , you know , we are not I don't think we're anywhere near mentally prepared for the scale of catastrophe that's about to hit this planet. And , you know , we're in San Diego. We're not in Tijuana right now. So globally , this is definitely a big issue that we have to talk about. And something that I really hope this this moment inspires some introspection on the part of everyday San Diegans who are thinking about , you know , their city and the type of city that they want to live in.

S1: This idea of nature reclaiming different areas , communities and causing towns and neighborhoods to think about. Are there certain areas that just aren't livable anymore ? I mean , that's happening on a number of fronts. Wildfires.

S2: Wildfires.

S1: I was going to say I covered wildfires for a long time in Northern California , and that was an active conversation. But always tagged on to that conversation is , you know , it may be an academic exercise for folks who are living in a city , for example , if it's wildfires. But there are people who are living in those communities who care about those places. And to say to them , you know , this may not be a livable area anymore. Or for example , in a floodplain , such as in the areas that were hit hard by this storm in an urban area , saying this may not be a livable area. That's a really difficult conversation that. Comes with , as you said , Andrew. Implications about justice , about equity. Those are really hard conversations to have.

S2: And it ties into the whole conversation we're having about housing in San Diego. Because , you know , if you remove housing in certain areas that are prone to disaster , you have to be increasing housing in other areas that are not prone to disaster. And so , you know , that's really the the bread and butter of my beat here. But , you know , it's it's a the whole housing ecosystem is very complex. And we need to take care of the most vulnerable among us.

S5: I just wanted to add a little bit to the added frequency and severity of climate change storms. I mean , what happened Monday reminds me a lot of what happened in Acapulco with the hurricane just a few months ago. Obviously , the degrees are vastly different , but it was similar in the sense that it was forecasted as a tropical storm , and within a few hours it became a category four hurricane. Um , add that to we're in the border , an established migratory route. I mean , there are already migrants from Acapulco , from the state of Guerrero in Tijuana who fled after that hurricane. And they came here and a similar storm happened. It's happening all over the world. I mean , climate change in the context of migration , it's just going to get more and more relevant. And when we're starting to see it now is not anymore. Uh , something to look forward to , right ? It's already happening.

S1: Well , I guess speak to that a little bit more. I mean , uh , immigration obviously is at the forefront. Um , certainly it's entering the conversation right now because of the election that's coming up. So , I mean , throw into that these devastating storms and the impact that it's having on the people who are , you know , making their way towards the border and just talk about that conversation. What is the what is the impact ? It seems like that's throwing a whole additional complexity.

S5: Oh for sure. And our our immigration system isn't equipped to handle that. It doesn't understand it. Right. For to claim asylum in the US , you need to fit one of six very specific categories that are , um , for example , persecution on basis of religion or race. Fleeing climate change is not recognized in asylum loss as a reason to claim asylum. And those laws haven't been updated since the 90s. Right. There's there's a lot of little things that don't fit to how people live and work. Today.

S1: I want to wrap up with some final thoughts here. Alex.

S3: You know how hard it is to to plan for something like this , when it could be , when it could be a 1 in 1000 year thing , and to make those , you know , make those investments in fixing the infrastructure. You know , I was here in 2004 for the for the wildfires that we had. And I know in 2007 there was there was devastating wildfires too. But I think we have kind of short memories about these type of things. And , um , you know , until the next one happens and then we're all going to remember what a , what a big fires like. Right ? And so right now we're all very focused on , on this flooding and on on this infrastructure. And I think , I don't think it's going to take very long for us to , to , for a lot of people at least to forget about it. Um , and I hope that doesn't happen. I hope that we make the changes necessary to , to fix the infrastructure , um , for flooding , for fires , for , you know , everything that's going to get worse as as our planet continues to warm. I just hope that we we make those , uh , we make good decisions. We we make smart decisions that that kind of fortifies our community against , uh , the disasters that are coming. You know , no matter if we want them to or not , they are coming. And I hope we make better decisions about help our leaders make better decisions , you know , to protect us from from those things.

S8: Gustavo , what are.


S5: And I like Andrew. What you said about us taking ownership of our democracy and demanding it. Right. And kind of being leaders in our communities and getting public officials to to kind of see things our way. I can also see it as , man , I work two jobs. I have a kid , I don't have time to be civically engaged. I maybe need leadership to do some of this stuff. For me , it's tricky , but like somebody is going to have to step up , whether it's the people we put in office or ourselves. But but I think leadership is kind of the issue , and we haven't really found a good way to deal with it right now to kind of address it.

S1: Andrew , final thoughts take us home.

S2: Yeah , I think we've been talking about climate change like it's this inevitable thing that's going to happen no matter what. And and it is. But we know also that it's a scalable crisis. Every molecule of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere is going to make climate change. Worse. And every molecule that we prevent from being emitted in the atmosphere by maybe riding our bike to the grocery store instead of driving. Uh , you know , that is going to change how severe climate change impacts us in the future. Our mainly our children and grandchildren. And that's really what we're talking about is , is the future generations that will continue to call San Diego home. So I hope that we don't look that , you know , we absolutely need to adapt. We need to plan for the future that we know is coming , but we also need to recognize that we have a role to play in making it better and making in building a better future for our children and grandkids. And , uh , you know , it really comes down to , uh , our willingness to make changes to our everyday lifestyles , to our infrastructure and , and be willing to sacrifice something to understand that , you know , we might have conveniences today in 2024 that our children won't have , uh , because the the planet has changed and , and , uh , we need to be willing to make some sacrifices for those future generations to have a more livable planet.

S1: I've been speaking with Alex Riggins , with the San Diego Union Tribune , Andrew Bohn , Kpbs Metro reporter , and Gustavo Solis , Kpbs investigative border reporter. Thank you all for joining me.

S2: Thanks , Scott.

S5: Thank you. Thank you.

S1: Thanks for tuning in to Kpbs roundtable. We'd love to hear from you. You can email us at roundtable at , or leave us a message at (619) 452-0228. You can listen to our show anytime as a podcast. Kpbs roundtable airs on Kpbs FM at noon on Fridays and again Sundays at 6 a.m.. Roundtable is produced by Andrew Bracken. Rebecca Chacon and Brandon Truffaut are our technical producers. Brooke Ruth is Roundtable's senior producer , and I'm Scott Rod. Thanks for listening.

Ways To Subscribe
Debris and mud left over from Monday's storm are seen in this photo taken Jan. 23, 2024. San Diego, Calif.
Mike Damron
Debris and mud left over from Monday's storm are seen in this photo taken Jan. 23, 2024. San Diego, Calif.

San Diego has started the long road to recovery after Monday’s record-breaking storm. The storm upended many lives in and around San Diego. On Roundtable, we hear about the impact of the storm, and what the San Diego-Tijuana region needs to do to prepare for future storms.


Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

Alex Riggins, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Gustavo Solis, investigative border reporter, KPBS