Talking About Projects In Mexico ...

From left Chief Administrative Officer Erika Cortez-Martinez and Mayor Paloma Aguirre met with the Governor of the State of Baja California, Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda, and Secretary of the Environment for the State of Baja Monica Vega to talk about the wastewater projects in Mexico.

Vol. 39, No. 19 - Thursday, May 11, 2023

In a momentous decision the Imperial Beach City Council voted to send a letter to the White House asking to declare a State of Emergency due to the cross border sewage.

Before the vote, Environmental and Natural Resources Director Chris Helmer spoke of the history of beach closures in the city due to pollution. Back in 1993 the cities of San Diego and Imperial Beach passed a state of local emergency which continued for 10 years until the first international treatment plant was built. At that time Imperial Beach let the state of emergency expire because of the improvements, while the city of San Diego continued it. From that time on there have been beach closures from 2018 to 2022 due to failing infrastructure in Mexico, and lifeguards and residents have been impacted. In 2018, the council reinstated the local state of emergency which led to projects, funding, and building of coalitions. In 2021 the county also declared a state of emergency which allowed other agencies to do the same. The county also went as far as declaring a public health crisis, an action which led to the building of coalitions mostly spearheaded by or largely involving Imperial Beach.

During council discussion, Councilmember Jack Fisher pointed out the pollution situation in the city’s beaches is an environmental crisis that is going into a third generation of IB residents. He spoke of children who did not have access to a pool or clean ocean, and now many don’t know how to swim. Fisher went as far as quoting the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and pointed out the “equal protection of the laws.”

“The residents of South County haven’t received that protection of our government. I know that our state vetoed a bill that would have sent $100 million down here, and I don’t think Congress is moving at the pace we need it to move. How do we get the ability to get recognized that this is an environmental crisis, not just for residents of IB, but for 600,000 or 700,000 visitors, this is their beach,” he said. He also spoke of the report on airborne bacteria recently published by Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He suggested a letter writing campaign by school children. Councilmember Mitch McKay agreed with Fisher and said there is currently no equal justice under the law of the 14th amendment in Imperial Beach. He suggested tapping into the new State Environmental Justice group to help. He also pointed out that creating a committee as Coronado has done, would be a good idea - or at least liaise with Coronado and work together. Councilmember Carol Seabury suggested speaking with other entities that have other ideas, listen with open minds and “glean possible solutions that could help us go forward.” Helmer clarified that the plan has been done already. “The EPA has taken a lead on this for many years, we’re almost past the point of listening,” Helmer said. He explained that past approaches have not worked with Mexico, because at the end of the day water treatment facilities in Mexico “have never been maintained, and as a consequence everything flows down into the river valley.”

Mayor Paloma Aguirre said the $300 million awarded for the upgrades of the treatment plant doesn’t even cover half of what is needed to see a difference on days of beach closures. Aguirre pointed out that for second phase of funding for the comprehensive solution it’s clear that is going to take another eight to 10 years, and in the meantime there are generations of kids who are growing up without an understanding what it is to go the beach, to be able to participate in the junior guard program. She suggested asking for a state of emergency from the White House, like other places have done when there is a natural disaster like a tornado or a hurricane. She asked the council for “support for a letter to the White House asking for a state of emergency for the egregious, environmental public health and quality of life conditions that our city has been subjected for the past 20-30 years, for the cost it’s causing our residents.” A motion to approve a letter was carried unanimously.

The Sun & Sea Sculpture Festival was discussed. The event started in the 1960s and grew in size to become the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition, which took place from 1980 to 2011 - then dwindled down in size as the event changed over the years. Last year the festival included a monument sand sculpture, smaller sculptures, live music, and Kids N’ Kastles. City Manager Tyler Foltz said the festival will not take place without help by the city this year, because of the many moving parts - fencing, lighting, music, safety, signage, and staffing. Fisher expressed his concern about the new study on airborne illness due to the pollution and wants to be cautious. McKay asked Shirley Nakawatase, one of the past organizers, for some input. Nakawatase said that in the past she has done fundraising to put together the event and the Port also donated funds. As time has gone on, the festival has become really expensive and organizations have been donating less. Because of COVID, along with sewage problems, the organizers rescaled the event and made it smaller. Another issue is the teams that build the sandcastles use ocean water for their creations. Last year because of the sewage pollution the teams had to be near a hose. “How many sand sculptures can we build around the hose?” she asked. Also the timing of the festival was discussed, since usually the event is planned months in advance. Fisher also said if the event is not going to be really nice, then it might as well not be held. Aguirre suggested discussing a possible partnership, but first she would like to quantify staff time and costs to the city. She suggested having another meeting with a presentation on the specifics in October for consideration.

In other business:

A moment of silence in remembrance for Jeff Kemph was held. Kemph worked for the city since 2007, and became lead maintenance worker for the Tidelands area. He was known for his positive attitude and energy.

During council reports, Aguirre spoke about her April 26 trip to Sacramento where along with a local resident, Rachel Orozco, she testified in support of AB 1472, which was being considered by the Housing and Development Committee. The bill passed and is now going to the Assembly floor, then the Senate. “It’s looking really good. Basically what this bill will do is address the additional burden the RV and mobile tenants have to experience because of the six-month in and out requirement, so the bill would allow these residents to… be permanent residents of the park where they live, so we can prevent people from becoming homeless, that was led by our assembly representative David Alvarez,” she said. Aguirre also attended the Good Neighbor Environmental Board meeting. She has been appointed by Gov. Gavin Newson. The board annually reports directly to the White House and to the federal legislature on priorities regarding water, wastewater and environmental infrastructure along the entire border. She believes this is a “huge opportunity to raise awareness of our sewage crisis with this annual report.” Aguirre also met with the Governor of the State of Baja California, Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda. The group met with members of the governor’s cabinet and the agency that manages the wastewater facilities throughout the state, and the agency that is equivalent to the IRS. The $144 million Mexico committed to projects along the region and the San Antonio de los Buenos plant are making their way through the federal congress, a private-public partnership is also planned. Mexico is going to allocate 20 to 30% of private funds to make sure the projects are not delayed. Aguirre said she is optimistic about the effort so far.

May was proclaimed bike month, and May 18 is Bike Anywhere Day. The city will take part in the annual tradition hosted by SANDAG previously known as Bike to Work day. A pit stop in front of fire station will be set up from 6 to 9 a.m. with refreshments and snacks. May was proclaimed Older Americans Month to recognize seniors in the community.

Regina and James Gamboa founders of The Magnolia Project, a new food pantry in the community held a presentation. The pantry is located at 633 9th Street. Gamboa and her husband have been taking care of those in need in South Bay since 2008. The Magnolia Project is geared to those suffering from food insecurity with a focus on nutrition and wellness. Clients can shop for produce, grains, canned goods, soaps, pet food, hygiene items and much more. The pantry also offers cooking classes. The pantry’s capacity is 400 families per month, but currently Regina Gamboa said 800 families are going to get food there. The Magnolia Project is open four days a week for four hours due to funding issues, it costs about $4,000 to maintain the pantry stocked every month. Clients receive 50 lbs. of food versus the average pantry that gives out 22 lbs. “We are blessed to be able to do this for our community, we love what we are doing,” said Regina Gamboa.

Karen Clay founder of I Love to Glean gave an update on the ARPA funding the city provided for her organization. The first food distribution in Imperial Beach was done in April 2022 with the help of the Fire Department, Sheriff’s Department and other city departments at Sports Park. Food for that event was provided by Feeding San Diego. With the funds provided by the city, I Love to Glean bought a van to transport food, canopies, tables, chairs, signage, parking cones, carts/dollies, to be able to host food distributions. Also three area teams of volunteers were established with 90 volunteers, 20 of which are active in Imperial Beach. During the Imperial Beach grant period, from Nov. 2021 to July 2022, 53 distributions were held, 54,160 pounds of food were distributed, and 3,588 families were served - for an average of 15 lbs. per person. So far Clay has written over $1 million in grants and will receive $100,000. She is currently focusing on planning and fundraising. Clay showed a concept drawing for a warehouse she hopes to have in the future.

The consent calendar was approved except for one item that was pulled from the agenda for discussion by Fisher. The item was the San Diego Yoga Festival that will be held on Sept. 9 and 10. Questions were asked to clarify a few things including private security for the stage overnight, possible blockage of a walkway to the beach, type of vendors, and whether the public would still be able to access the area. After some discussion and clarifications a motion was approved unanimously.

The next city council meeting will the held on May 17 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 825 Imperial Beach Blvd. For more information log on

Vol. 39, No. 19 - Thursday, May 11, 2023

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