Cross border pollution was once again a topic of discussion at last city council meeting on Feb. 17. A proclamation of a state of local emergency related to cross-border pollution was on the regular agenda, rather than the consent agenda as in the past. The proclamation was discussed in lieu of the fact that the county of San Diego declared a state of public health emergency in the Tijuana River last week.
The Imperial Beach shoreline from the south end of Seacoast Drive to the border was closed for 295 days in 2020, 245 days in 2019, 101 days in 2018, 168 days in 2017, 162 days in 2016, and 211 days in 2015 due to contaminated flows in the Tijuana River. Cross border flows in the Tijuana River continue to persist and impact the Tijuana River valley, Estuary, and beach water quality. Chris Helmer, Natural Resources and Environmental director said the declaration by the county was a major accomplishment and will lead to more funds and more action.
Helmer also pointed out the state of California cannot declare a state of emergency for the area unless the county declares it first. This means the next step is for the state to declare a public health emergency which opens up more funding sources. The declaration also pushes for more urgency for the current condition and can add pressure to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is the first step in the right direction which eventually leads to the state of emergency,” said Councilmember Paloma Aguirre.
To show the severity of the problem of pollution coming from Mexico, she showed a map of the community of Playas de Tijuana which was built to accommodate 22,000 residents but that number has now grown to 40,000. “Their sewage infrastructure is on the verge of collapse. In addition, the main river channel and additional tributaries have chronic consistent sewage spills into the streets and then the ocean,” she said.
Aguirre also pointed out that there are 7 to 10 residential buildings planned with hundreds of units, “in a community with so much pressure… and the sewage system is already burdened…it’s a ticking time bomb,” she said.
Aguirre said this is a good time to reach out to Tijuana officials and raise this issue and bring it to the attention of the new mayor - since the water quality problems impact their residents as well.
Pro-Tem Mayor Ed Spriggs suggested inviting the council’s Tijuana counterparts to a meeting and bring experts to show “the science behind our concerns. As elected officials we’ll pursue any and all means to put an end to this crisis…” he said.
Helmer said if the county and then the state declare a state of emergency, those actions will lead to FEMA funds and other funds from the state.
Spriggs suggested adding to the resolution, a call to the county board of supervisors to declare a state of emergency.
City Manager Andy Hall recommended passing the resolution and make the changes in the resolutions at the next meeting. A motion to approve passed unanimously. Mayor Serge Dedina was absent.
In other business:
The council made a declaration in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Silver Strand Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.
A presentation by Circulate San Diego focused on street safety for women. The organization reported that women who participated to a survey and a walk audit series had these concerns: lighting, line of sight and discourse of public space from daytime to nighttime; frequency of buses, pedestrians waiting to cross not visible at night. Some easy solutions suggested included installing friendly crosswalks and better lighting for pedestrians.
An update to the city’s traffic impact guidelines for procedures for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) transportation to implement Senate Bill 743 was discussed. SB 743 changed the CEQA review of transportation impacts to align greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. The new bill as of July 1, 2020 removed the use of automobile delay or traffic congestion to determine transportation impacts in environmental reviews. Instead projects who need CEQA clearance must focus on the environmental impacts of traffic, including noise, air pollution, and safety. The new metric is now referred to as Vehicle Miles Traveled which takes into consideration the distance vehicles travel from an origin to destination. This item was approved unanimously.
The consent agenda was approved unanimously.
The next city council meeting will be held via teleconference on March 3 at 5 p.m. For more information log on wwww.imperialbeachca.gov.