Commentary by Louis Rodolico
You had to be there to see it. Pure Water Management hustled City Council into accepting pipeline alignments they and their constituents rejected. Most testified in favor of the expansion of the Pure Water facility. However about 40 taxpayers testified against running a 4-foot diameter high pressure raw sewage main, through the heavily populated Morena-Bay Park-Clairemont-University corridor. Lobbyists, Contractors and Engineers testified to the opposite. Pure Water referenced much smaller high pressure raw sewage mains, but cannot identify any urban force mains near this scale; 11 miles long, with 350 feet of lift, with operating pressures of 18 tons per square foot. At this pressure, in a heavily populated area, with no service tunnel and a depth of only 6 feet no human should be anywhere near the main when it fails. There are three other options citizens favor; I-8 to 805 Alternate, I-5 to Rose Canyon to 805 Alternate and the SDGE Alternate, See Clairemont Times December 2017 Page 11. On a recent Nextdoor poll these 3 alternates received 87% approval while Pure Waters proposal had 3%. Any one of these 3 alternatives should have been planned out decades ago, who said no and are they still in charge? The illustration shows a 10-foot diameter service tunnel that would; 1) contain forces during main failure, 2) identify leaks quickly 3), allow maintenance without opening up streets and 4) prevent spilled raw sewage from entering our Canyons. Why didn’t Conservationists and Canyon lobbyists support this?
To meet the letter of an EIR, Pure Water offered alternates for the fresh water line to a reservoir. But when Council members asked about raw sewage pipeline alternates the City Attorney said no alternate; Council must accept or reject the one presented. Pure Water and their Lobbyists backed Council into a corner, in effect saying to Council: accept the sewage pipeline, but if you vote “no project”, then you, Council, will be responsible for losing any funding not us. Do we want bullies running Pure Water or any taxpayer project?
How did Pure Water back Council into a corner? The Miramar Metro Bio-Solids Center went into operation in 1998. So Pure Water has known for decades that their project required a high pressure raw sewage line from Morena to Miramar. But Pure Water waited until 2016 to investigate pipeline alternatives. Given the lengthy negotiations required between; canyon groups, SANDAG, Caltrans and others, the only alternative Pure Water could have executed in a two-year window was the one they put before council. It was less work for Pure Water to choose the middle of streets because the city already controls the easements. By waiting until 2016 to plan the pipeline all the alignments the taxpayers favored were eliminated. Where is this planning and community inclusion Pure Water endlessly boasts about? Why is San Diego pumping raw sewage 350 feet uphill anyway? Most sewage plants are at the lowest point of a municipality. Are these the managers we want approving billions of dollars in contracts?
At the Pure Water hearing Council member Lorie Zapf pushed back, noting no study of Caltrans policy and no state representative discourse on the Route 5, Rose Canyon, 805 route. She stated further: “We are not being offered alternatives, we are being offered one and only one, and if we don’t do it were saying we are out billions and this whole thing’s going to fall apart that we have been working on for forever, we are in a box, we literally have no choice, so acting like there is a choice right now is not true. We have just been presented this one”. See Link
Zapf deserves credit for trying, but it is always awkward when Council pushes back on staff. After all, staff has been there for decades and will be there years after Council members leave. In this case staff just shrugged their shoulders, Council had two options; vote yes and the project moves forward, or vote no and face the political consequences.
Unless Council pushes back; Lobbyists, Contractors and Engineers, with Staffs support, will continue to push Council around. Lobbyists in service of their Clients have turned democracy on its head, reducing each voter to a commodity. When you go to vote several hundred dollars have already been spent on your vote. In 2016 the top two District 1 City Council candidates alone spent an average of $35.00 for each vote. Even when Lobbyists lose, their financial motive is not to quit. The best example of this is when City Council voted to build the Regents Road Bridge in 2006 but Lobbyists, led by the influential registered lobbying firm known as The Friends of Rose Canyon, continued to fight the popular bridge. See March Clairemont Times page 11.
Personally, I wax nostalgic for the days when major cities had multiple rival newspapers. Single paper towns lack healthy competition with little light thrown on lobbying abuses. Our silence has a price. We are not only leaving the next generation crippling debt, but we are installing infrastructure like this single walled high pressure raw sewage main which is destined to fail and pollute the aquifer in the process.
Answers? 10-foot diameter concrete sleeves are already on the project at the lowest points; the city could request a bid alternate with service tunnels for the entire length and process it as a change order without recertifying the project. Councilman Alvarez would like the city to look at other pipeline alignments. The City should investigate and deliver a full analysis of pipeline alternatives while allowing the rest of the project components to move forward. However the Morena to University raw sewage pipeline design is near completion and Pure Water will likely rush to construction to terminate any discussion.
Louis Rodolico has been a resident of University City since 2001
2016 Pure Water 10% Design, released 11/2017
Hearing; Zapf 4:19:00 Alvarez 4:09, 4:14