Who's Doing What

by Carolyn Chase


t warms my heart when the requests come in: "What are you recommending on the ballot?" and "I want to vote for the environment, what should I do?" Well, it warms my heart that some are asking, but it saddens my soul that while most folks want to do the right thing, it's increasingly difficult for them to figure out who's really doing what to whom on environmental issues. In what is always characterized as a conservative town, conservation is rarely part of the mix. Corporate socialism is all the rage, at the expense of taxpayers and the environment.

It's increasingly difficult to get a real message through the paid and free media tide in favor of the business-subsidy culture at City Council and in Congress. In our political culture, environmental sound bites are served up to a public who wants to do the right thing, but doesn't have time to understand how the day-to-day battles are fought and won or lost. When it comes to community input and the environment, the battles are mostly lost.

To be sure, environmental politics is, slowly but surely, getting to be a bit less of an oxymoron. We have at least reached the level of serious lip service. But the problem is that a little lip service is a dangerous thing because it goes a long way in the sound bite age of modern politics.

So there's Brian Bilbray on TV, strolling along the beach, taking credit for working to save beaches while at the same time voting against the Clean Water Act. In 1995, he voted against the very amendment he's now touting in his ad. The good beach bill that he supports is stuck in committee. Beach closures have not declined and there are still permanent closures in place at all three of the locations that were posted when he first went to Congress. While he claims to have "saved San Diego ratepayers over $3 billion" by supporting an exemption from unecessary sewage treatment upgrades, he wasn't even elected when that bill was passed. He also fails to mention that the entire process was driven by a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club to deal with chronic sewer problems that area officials have yet to completely address. His first-term League of Conservation Voters score of 33% can only be seen as moderate in comparison to the huge number of Republican zeroes on the chart.

And then there's Byron Wear, taking credit for polluted runoff diversion systems that the city had to be relentlessly pressured to install. And they don't work. What finally forced it on to the agenda? Local volunteer Donna Frye, Surfers Tired of Pollution, managed to get our beach pollution record into a travel advisory in the New York Times. It was picked up from there by the Travel Channel. Oops! This council has certainly proved one thing: image is everything. Cater to the tourists and forget the health of the people who actually have to live here. Wear has worked to increase commercial encroachment into public parks. He has spoken in favor of extending Sea World's lease - at below market rates - with ineffective systems to handle polluted runoff from profit-making parking lots. Only two weeks ago, he voted to reduce public review times on Final Environmental Impact Reports. His short stint on the Coastal Commission, where he voted for every bad project there was, including allowing houses at world famous Trestle's beach - led to the following quote from Coast and Ocean magazine "this was one of the worst decisions affecting the coastline in the Coastal Commission's 25-year history."

Then there's Byron and Brian - together - at photogenic Sunset Cliffs promoting an "environmentally-friendly" trail. Problem is, this trail would have to cut through an officially designated federal Ecological Reserve where the natural habitat is still relatively pristine because it has been protected. And does cutting a trail across steep, eroding cliffs really make sense? Even though this communities' Master Plan is having an EIR done at this very moment, this trail is not part of the plan and has not been reviewed. This trail idea is completely disconnected from any community process. Why am I not surprised?

The problem with environmentally-challenged politicians is that they really want to be for the environment, but they just can't bring themselves to think, much less vote, that way.

Another council person, when asked if they would support continuing and expanding the city's curbside recycling program when it comes before them on June 10th replied: "All nine of us on the Council really, really want recycling. We really do." Would they then vote for the Environmental Services Department plans to fund recycling and other waste reduction programs by establishing a $6.50 per ton fee on trash disposed on of in the City? The staff has proposed placing the fee where it belongs - in the waste generation system itself. Without such a fee, the current recycling system must be canceled. Well, they just weren't sure. It was so complicated. But they really, really want recycling.

The only complicated thing is whether they will vote to fund it or not, and how. I could go on.

Do people care that politicians cut below-market deals to benefit big business, offload the costs on to the public and the environment, and ignore community plans? People do.

District level politics give some reason for hope. The San Diego League of Conservation Voters has endorsed Michael Zucchet as the best choice to replace Wear. Two of my conservative Republican friends in his district have already told me that even they've had enough. One has even taken to carrying a Zucchet yard sign on his daily morning walks in Mission Bay Park. I went along the other day. Walkers and bikers say good morning and most people smile and wave from their cars - all except for one Wear supporter in a BMW who gave us the finger. On our way back we saw Michael himself, standing on a median waving, from the middle of the road at 7am. I worried about the futility of it all, but I had to admire his commitment and agree that he was in the right place. Please join and see if we can put conservation back into conservatism and send the corporate socialists packing. We need to bring some balance for the community and the environment back on to the City Council and into environmental politics at large.

Carolyn Chase's editorial note: my original title for this article was "Bimbo Watch"