The Imperial Beach City Council held its first in-person meeting on March 2 with the public in the chambers since the pandemic started two years ago.

One of the first orders of business, Imperial Beach Port of San Diego Commissioner Dan Malcolm was reappointed by the council for another four year term. This reappointment marks Malcolm’s fourth term representing Imperial Beach. Before the vote, Malcolm told the story of his connection with Imperial Beach - first as a teenager from Chula Vista, coming to the beach to surf, and later as a soon-to-be father moving to the city with his wife.

“What really drives me is the love for this community. I love IB, I love the people that live here,” he said.

Malcolm explained his motivation, “making a difference and giving back …leaving it a better place for my children and the community.” Malcolm also said that his job is to protect the 44,000 people that work in the tidelands in a variety of industries and the many tenants, and he sees his role as a balance.

Mayor Serge Dedina said the city had received 36 letters in support of Malcolm’s reappointment and read excerpts. Half a dozen speakers praised and endorsed Malcolm, including the president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, and former Mayor Mike Bixler.

During council comments, Councilmember Paloma Aguirre asked Malcolm to share ideas about increasing access to the beach for low income residents. Malcolm suggested using vouchers for public transit and added that he would like to work with Aguirre to explore solutions.

On the matter of zero emission by the Port, Malcolm said that the port is working on implementing some changes and will get to full electrification before the State of California. The port is working on installing all shore power at the terminals, both at 10th Avenue and National City. Malcolm also pointed out that that the Port of San Diego is the first port to have a Climate Action Plan. The $25 M project will cover electrification of docks, terminals and infrastructure. Aguirre asked about the possibility of having a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) subcommittee at the port. Malcolm said he cannot promise that will happen, but that as chair he will mandate a report on DEI every three months. He said the port has to be transparent when it comes to contracts and procurements so that the public can see exactly the diversity of the vendors. “We’re committed to diversity,” he said.

Regarding a subcommittee on DEI, he said there is a workshop in a few months and the topic will be tackled. Aguirre asked that Malcolm give a regular update to the council every quarter and share any updates. Councilmember Matthew Leyba-Gonzalez praised Malcolm for voting in favor of saving jobs at the port including those of people within his family.

“Thank you for your service. It’s been outstanding. I can’t think of anyone more qualified than you for this position,” said Councilmember Ed Spriggs.

Following questions by Spriggs, Malcolm said that the projects on the pier presented at the last council meeting will set the stage for more improvements. Although there is a $1.4 M deficit for those projects, Malcolm said he will do what he can to secure the remaining funds. The council voted unanimously to reappoint Malcolm to the Port Commission.

Border Patrol Supervisory Agent Amber Craig, who is retiring, was recognized for her 25-year career mostly spent in Imperial Beach - as well as her role in advancing the issue of sewage in the Tijuana River Valley. Dedina praised Craig. “I’ve seen it first hand, the extraordinary work you do to advance the issue…not only addressing it, but working with stakeholders on both sides of the border,” he said.

Craig thanked her superiors for allowing her to advance the issue of the environment working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of California, Surfrider Foundation and other non-governmental organizations.

Border Patrol Agent in Charge Justin Del Atorre gave a presentation to the council. He explained that the U.S. Border Patrol falls under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. The Imperial Beach station was created in March 1985 and is in charge of overseeing six miles of land border and 60 miles of coastal border.

The station patrols the most densely populated area in the U.S. In the 1980s a large amount of illegal immigrants came through the border, with numbers in the thousands nightly. Agents now operate on foot, ATVs, 4-wheel drive trucks, and on horseback - because of the sensitive environment of plant and animal species in the area. Canine teams are also dispatched mostly for detecting narcotics.

These days anyone that the agents run into crossing the border are checked for fingerprints and biometrics and against a national database to identify those tied to national security concerns. He explained that 80 percent of migrants are victims of human smuggling and pay about $8,500 a person to make it to the U.S. and $10,000 via the ocean. He brought up the example that on that day of the council meeting, two persons were dropped off at Camp Surf. They were followed to a stash house where agents arrested the smugglers and seized $85,000 in cash.

“Our goal is to take the money out of the smuggling organization as a deterrent,” he said.

A small percentage of illegals caught have a criminal record and end up serving time. To date 430 people have been prosecuted at the federal level for entry after deportation or human smuggling. Narcotics are also a problem at the border. Recently 347 pounds of meth was seized in Mission Bay. Lately drones and unmanned vehicles have been found bringing fentanyl and meth in this area.

Agents often are on a humanitarian mission on a daily basis since they find migrants who have been stranded and are in need of medical assistance. Agents work hand in hand with lifeguards and fire fighters in Imperial Beach. “I don’t know of another entity, non-governmental or otherwise that rescues more migrants than the border patrol. We’re the first on the scene…we’ve trained search and rescue teams that work with local resources,” he explained.

Currently the number of agents at the IB station is under 300 but in the past there have been as many as 440. Since the beginning of 2022, 1,800 rescues have been made by the agents.

In other business:

The organization Asez Wao gave a presentation on its work. Asez Wao is a World Mission Society Church of God Young Adult Workers Volunteer Group whose aim is to prevent the formation of another garbage patch like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the collection of plastic waste. Raising awareness, making workplaces greener are some of the organization’s aims with the overall mission to save the earth. The plan is to collect 80,000 tons of plastic worldwide, of which an estimated 313.6 kg in Imperial Beach. The city gave the organization a certificate of appreciation.

The last district map hearing was held. City Manager Andy Hall explained that based on the fact that the districts in Imperial Beach are newly established and having received no public comments, the council could vote to keep the same districts. The resolution was approved by the council and will be adopted on March 16.

The council voted to rename the entrance to the Boys & Girls Club after Ken Blinsman, former CEO/President of the organization and 47-year employee, who retired at the end of last year.

The consent agenda was approved unanimously.

A State Active Transportation Design fund in the amount of $539,000 was accepted by the council and a service agreement with Michael Baker, Intl. Inc. was awarded for the engineering design of the 9th Street Active Transportation corridor.

Odette Gonzalez was appointed as the city’s representative on the Arts, Culture and Design Committee of the Port of San Diego.

An urgency ordinance related to Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKO) was approved. California laws AB 626 and AB 377 have amended the California Retail Food code to allow MEHKO as pilot program. The county started accepting application on Feb. 25. MEHKO is a home based food business that allows the preparation and sale of 30 individual meals per day or 60 per week with a gross income of $50,000 per year. The City of Imperial Beach has created its own requirements for MEKHO which include: hours of operations (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,) health permit, business license, maintain residential appearance, no signage. In addition the city requests no general nuisances including parking, traffic, unsanitary refuse, odors, grease storage, disposal and smoke. The ordinance was approved unanimously and will be adopted at the March 16 council meeting.

The next city council meeting will held in the council chambers at 825 Imperial Beach Boulevard at 6 p.m. For livestreaming log on www.imperialbeachca.gov.

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