From the publishers

Political impotence

by Carolyn Chase

e all like to say we care about the environment here in American's Finest City. But the truth is, what we care about is the weather. When it comes to getting our political leaders to do the right things... well, that's the heart of the matter, isn't it? Most of our public and private leadership just doesn't get it. Most of us don't get it either. But many more of us get it than most of our leaders do. What that means is that we have to show up at City Hall to remind them time and time again.

I have to admit that I've been a little depressed lately. I've been confronting the political impotence of environmentalists and the environmental "movement." Why do developers still feel it's OK to destroy the few remaining wetlands? Why are we still selling mining rights at 1872 prices? Why are they still killing 1,000 year-old trees to make phone books? When will they ever actually clean anything up? When will we admit that we can't clean some things up?

It's not that there are aren't smart and environmentally-sensitive ways to pursue wealth and development. It's just that few with any power seem to know and be willing to invest the time and energy to make it happen. It's just so much easier to keep plodding along, doing what you're doing, cutting deals with the status quo, than getting folks to clean up their acts and compel smart investments in environmentally sound markets and technologies.

Now I admit that they are trying to change the way they do business downtown. Unfortunately, it's going the wrong way. It's going the way of "streamlining," because who could argue with that? We would all like to see the government "streamlined." But if streamlining means less environmental protection and more environmental destruction, then we need to do it a different way. The only way that people won't need to fight bad projects is if there aren't any bad projects. Unfortunately, the City currently feels that in every case mitigation is a substitute for prevention. This just isn't the case. Streamlining must be combined with increased environmental protection.

By the time the Chamber of Commerce is done bringing another million people here, there will be darn near nothing left for the rest of us unless we have those protections. But we will have to fight for them. Your participation is needed. When people participate, they can help elected officials to do the right thing. Without us, there is not much of a chance.

Item 1: The so-called San Diego Bay Interagency Water Quality Panel has cooked up a ineffective plan for the San Diego Bay that will do nothing to change the status quo of industrial pollutants contaminating the bay. Just one example (of many) that remains unaddressed: the Navy, the Coast Guard and "all public vessels" are exempt from the Oil Pollution Act. While oil spills in the Bay caused by regulated entities are going down (2,000 gallons in 1996), unregulated discharges by groups such as the Navy are going up (11,000 gallons in 1996). The Navy motto "Beyond Compliance" takes on an even more ironic meaning when you find out they don't even have to try to comply. What the hell is going on down there?

Item 2: San Diego Audubon was compelled to file a lawsuit against the city for illegally issuing a permit for the ESPN X Games at Mariner's Point. The site of the games is right next to one of the most productive breeding colonies of endangered California least terns, at the peak of nesting season. If this is a preview of what we can expect under the new MSCP regime - well, no thanks!

Item 3: The community advisory committee formed by the San Diego City Manager to evaluate options for future residential curb-side recycling is moving in favor of simply canceling the program. (You can still attend a public hearing on this on June 4th or contact the committee; see the calendar on page 20 under "Recycling Events.")

Item 4: Despite what the articles in this issue observe about the economic importance of ecosystems and wetlands in particular the City Manager and the San Diego City Council are considering reducing wetlands protections and wetlands buffer requirements for developments. (Public hearings on this will be held in June and July; call 619-496-3361 for voice mail updates.)

And I haven't even mentioned any of the various schemes at the State and Federal level to gut environmental protections, cut environmental-related funding, and continue support for environmentally devastating subsidies and giveaways to irresponsible industries.

All of you folks out there who answer those polls and say "yes, I'm an environmentalist," or "yes, I believe in conservation," or "yes, I believe that pollution should be controlled," or "yes, I love wildlife and want to protect it in San Diego" or "yes, I believe we need clean water and clean air"... y'all need to start showing up downtown. It is easy to do things, once you decide to act. But most of you are watching TV and not even writing letters at the same time. If this doesn't apply to you, ok, but in any case: if you care, figure out the next thing for you to do. To get started send email to: or call me and ask.