By Tommy Hough
It's a great time to be a polluter.
From the moment Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, his cabal quickly became the most anti-environmental administration in modern U.S. history. It was a surprise to no one.
We expected the worst from Trump, and he's delivered. On election night 2016, at the moment the results were clear and the bourbon was beginning to flow, I sat down and wrote my emergency list of "Conservation Points That Must Be Addressed Prior to Inauguration," like National Monument designations, moves to shore up Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, protection of the Wilderness Act and Antiquities Act, etc.
Boy, was I thinking small.
Trump's team had a game plan, and it was a determined effort to rid every federal agency of every last vestige of competence, fact-based rationale, or anyone who could plausibly say "no," and instead, turn our hallowed insititutions into instruments of lazy absurdity to give credible cover to a radicalized, lawless vision of America in the service of a corrupt banana republic ruling family. They were thinking big, and familiar. The pencilnecks in Washington never saw it coming.
Within days of Trump taking office, the EPA was turned upside down and promoting coal (!) and the benefits of mercury, the hallowed National Park Service was bullied into doctoring inauguration photos, and the Interior Department announced plans to either modify the boundaries or entirely do away with 27 National Monuments, essentially undoing the entire reason National Monuments are established in the first place. Unprecedented you say? Well, the boss said so. Precedent would receive no attention or respect from this administration.
Not that his supporters care. And despite all of Trump's characteristically confused bravado pledging to make America great and revive oil, fracking, and even coal in the face of abundant, rational, and profitable (!) renewable energy opportunities, in the days after the election Trump apologists admonished us that Donald Trump was "an American," wishfully hoped that "nothing will change," and that his administration would follow what Chief Justice John Roberts has called "settled" law.
They've done anything but. Trump's packing of federal courts, and quite possibly, one to two more seats on the Supreme Court should he be reelected, or should a tragedy befall one of the justices between now and January 2021, ensures even more wretched, absurd decisions for decades to come, even if we get lucky and bump Trump and his Republican enablers out of office in November – and assuming they actually leave town in January without tanks in the street.
According to the New York Times, "After three years, the Trump administration has dismantled most major climate and environmental policies." Ever the champion of fossil fuels, Trump has described the countless policies he has done away with as "burdensome" to the fossil fuel industry and other extraction businesses. After all, it's so hard to be a billionaire or a multinational corporation in America.
This breathtaking, ongoing assault on America's environmental heritage includes the undoing of 64 long-standing regulatory policies, with 34 more rollbacks in progress for a total of 98. Presidents from FDR to Obama prided themselves on policy they'd passed. Trump, and his rudderlessly embittered supporters cheer every little thing he tears down. So much for the vision of a guy who made a name for himself building buildings, however tacky they are.
I never imagined Team Trump and their GOP enablers would be able to manage an enforced brain drain and literally gut federal agencies into the ether, but that's what they did. For years Republicans whined that government is inefficient, and government can't possibly be an asset to the citizenry. They were so intent on demonstrating this premise they elected Donald Trump to make sure reality fit the pipe dream. I always figured the cabal would need someone around who had a clue in case of a real emergency. Instead, those few civil servants remaining who have a clue and demonstrate it, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, get death threats from emboldened lunatics instead of thanks.
I never imagined modern, Obama-era agreements to limit poisonous emissions from power plants and ensure more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, all made in conjunction with industry leaders, would be gutted as swiftly as rules pertaining to clean air, water, and toxic chemicals. But of course, failure of imagination is what led to disasters like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The era of modern American conservation can be traced past LBJ and FDR to the hearty, workaholic activism of President Theodore Roosevelt on behalf of wilderness and open space, President Benjamin Harrison's creation of the U.S. Forest Reserve system in 1891 to stop the wanton destruction of western forests, and President Abraham Lincoln's donation of Yosemite Valley to the state of California in 1864 for the purpose of establishing a park in the Sierras.
Trump has put an end to that grand tradition of American conservation, of pride in America's natural heritage. This is a man, after all, who stares at eclipses and is visibly uncomfortable outside. Prior to becoming president, the only time Trump spent outdoors was while walking from his limo to the front door of the building he was entering. Like all of his toxic behavior, Trump projects his contempt and disgust for our natural world onto us all.
To be fair, the golden era of American conservation was already a little wobbly by the time James Watt threw a wrench into it in the early 1980s leading the Reagan administration's Interior Department, but the preservation of the Stanislaus River, 1984 Wilderness Act(s), 1994 California Desert Protection Act, 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), and 2001 Roadless Rule were still ahead.
The slope became increasingly slippery during the George W. Bush years, and during the Obama administration the lunatic GOP Congress routinely ran rough drafts of today's conservation rollbacks by the White House, knowing full well Obama would veto them. As I said in presentations at that time, they were just getting the wording right and waiting for a Republican administration.
Ultimately, Obama ended up preserving more federal land than any president before him, so Trump inherited a federal preservation system ripe for exploitation and abuse. As the administration quietly closed off 24 million of acres of public land in the Intermountain West for oil and gas exploration, they loudly announced plans to open some two million acres of conservation lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the absurd claim Trump was "expanding" areas for hunting and fishing. Wait, he closed off 24 and gave them two, did you see that? The pencilnecks will never understand.
But that's not the only American tradition Trump has desecreated and jettisoned. Children remain in cages. Families legally seeking asylum remain separated. Concentration camps are a reality in our nation. Cruelty has been empowered. Walls are being built, have been built, bulldozed over cactus and sliced across wilderness and protected habitat. Convicted war criminals and federal criminals are pardoned, murdering racists and actual Nazis are "fine people," while honorable naval officers who put their crew's safety ahead of the president's fragile ego are fired. The post office's effectiveness is a problem for those who believe government should not be.
People of color are humiliated and then murdered in full view of their neighbors while jogging in deadly, outrageous "citizen's arrests," or while doing nothing more suspicious than sleeping in their own beds at night. Children are in cages.
Children are in cages.
Tell your friends, tell your family, especially in the states that matter – vote this November. Don't ever accept what's changed, and what's been done to this nation since January 19, 2017. It is not, and will never be acceptable.
Tommy Hough is the co-founder and original president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He currently serves as vice president for policy.
The Trump administration has reappointed conservative activist and long-time public lands foe William Pendley as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the third time this year, extending his status through June 5.
The announcement, made Tuesday by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, is part of the administration's ongoing assault on our nation's federal public lands and decades of conservation progress. The BLM is charged with managing more than 245 million acres of federal public land, including dozens of designated Wilderness areas, National Monuments, and thousands of square miles in Southern California.
Shortly after Pendley was first appointed acting director in July 2019, he announced plans to physically move the BLM out of Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado, ostensibly to more easily coordinate with oil and gas interests far away from oversight in the nation's capitol. Thousands of federal employees were forced to move or quit, in what has amounted to another agency-wide purge of capable, career, non-partisan agency administrators.
Beginning with his earlier service under Interior Secretary James Watt in the early 1980s, Pendley has long advocated selling off public lands to the highest bidder. As acting BLM director, Pendley has further enabled oil and gas exploration on hundreds of thousands of acres once off-limits to such activity, including within the former boundaries of two radically-redrawn National Monuments: Grand Staircase-Escalante, which was established by President Clinton in 1996, and Bears Ears, established by President Obama in 2016, both in Utah.
Before taking over the BLM, Pendley repeatedly sued the agency he now leads while serving as the head of a conservative legal foundation.
"This is why elections matter. This is why so many of us were so opposed to Trump," said club co-founder and former president Tommy Hough, who now serves as the club's vice president for policy. "Our nation's environmental and conservation legacy is on the edge of the abyss, largely due to the destructive ignorance of the Trump administration and the hostility of congressional Republicans to all things conservation, despite the fact the BLM's management role has previously been embraced and upheld from administration to administration."
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action is among dozens of organizations that opposes Pendley's continued leadership of this national agency, and the forced erosion of competence in so many of our federal agencies and oversight arms. For the BLM, it is essential to have leaders who believe in competent, science-based management, and can be relied upon to best serve the interests of the public and our environment by appointing the most responsible administrators to manage and preserve our public lands.
"As a candidate, Mr. Trump never made any secret of his desire to gut federal agencies," said Hough. "Look at what's been done to the EPA, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service. They chased away anyone with a science background, and anyone who could say 'no' in an official capacity."
Photo by Fred Rogers
By Karin E. Zirk, Ph.D.
The problem has never been nature, but humans.
In 1979, Audre Lorde wrote, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change." While she wrote this in response to racism, civil rights, and homophobia, I believe her essay of the same name applies to the climate crisis as well.
As cities across the U.S. seek to build public infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are we using the master's tools? Concrete and the manufacturing of materials like steel and rubber all follow energy intensive consumption patterns, or as some might say, "embedded energy." In 2017, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Buy Clean California Act, which requires the state to identify lifetime energy consumption on certain construction materials it purchases for use.
While this can be one part of the solution, a better solution is to stop converting land to concrete in the first place. As we consider otherwise meritorious projects, from transit to bike paths, we must make it a priority to keep them within the footprint of our already-paved environment, instead of locating them in unbuilt environments. After all, our open space, creeks, and even organic farms are the best resources we have to absorb carbon dioxide and reduce global warming.
A regrettable example of this problem is the Mid-Coast Trolley extension, now under construction in what is called a railroad right-of-way (ROW). Under the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, the U.S. government gave away lands (which had often been inhabited by indigenous people for eons), to private corporations for the purpose of building railroads and other money-making enterprises.
Keep in mind that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, railroad tracks and the amount of traffic they created were not impediments to the movement of people or wildlife. But I doubt any sane surveyor, then or now, would determine the best place to put a railroad ROW is on top of a creek, but in the case of the Mid-Coast Trolley, that's what's occurring. You can see it for yourself on the Rose Creek overpass ramp from westbound State Route 52 to either northbound or southbound I-5, or at points along the east side of Santa Fe Street, like behind the Karl Strauss Brewing location in Rose Canyon.
Despite numerous attempts by activists to shift the alignment of the trolley line out of Rose Creek, the western edge of Marian Bear Natural Park, and portions adjacent to Rose Canyon Open Space Park, the trolley is going up on top of a creek that drains the 23,427 acre Rose Creek Watershed, and negatively impacts not only water quality in Rose Creek and Mission Bay, but the removal of oak trees hundreds of years old from the western edge of Marian Bear, forever removing the aesthetic beauty, habitat, and carbon sequesteration provided by those trees as green infrastructure.
As noted in the CEQA and NEPA documents for the project, grease and brake dust will fall off the trolley and into the creek, increasing pollution levels in Rose Creek, and ultimately, in Mission Bay. The project has also removed portions of the historic floodplain for Rose Creek, with all of the relevant mitigation being done outside the watershed. The human and natural wildlife communities in portions of the Rose Creek Watershed are being degraded, right before our eyes. It's a bad habit San Diego has long embraced.
The project is also having a negative impact on non-motorized travel by creating an impassible barrier for pedestrians and bicyclists from the Rose Canyon and Santa Fe Street bicycle paths to Marian Bear Park and Morena Boulevard by restricting east-west travel. Enjoyment of bicycling the Rose Canyon Bicycle Path is also being degraded. Originally it was between a freeway and an open space area with trees and rolling hills where one expected to see cattle grazing. Now it's a narrow, fenced-off path between a freeway and a busy railroad corridor. Between the pollution coming off the freeway and enhanced usage of the railroad ROW, bicyclists will now be hit from both sides. Some progress.
Destruction of legal and illegal pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians, removal of trees, increased pollution of Rose Creek. All of this pollution to reduce C02 emissions? Something is wrong here.
How is the Mid-Coast Trolley extension helpful to reaching our Climate Action Plan goals if it discourages residents and neighbors from riding their bicycles? How is it helpful if the wildlife that depend on Rose Creek for survival must drink polluted water, and can't move between the upstream open space canyons to the planned restored marshland at the mouth of Rose Creek in Mission Bay? We've had a marvelous canyon-to-coast widlife corridor for decades. Now we're cutting it off. How selfish and short-sighted.
Furthermore, how is the Mid-Coast Trolley extension helpful if it further divides the communities of Clairemont and Pacific Beach? These dissections compound the worst tendencies of urban planning, and the same lack of care and attention that saw once-flourishing neighborhoods sliced in half, and in many cases, institutional racism aggravated in cities across the country with the freeway building boom of the mid-20th century. At the time, those concerns were dismissed as the price of "progress."
We all agree providing fast and cleaner transportation is important, but doing so at the expense of everything else is not the answer. While I realize it's cheaper to "pave over paradise and put in a parking lot," continuing to engage in the same behavior that aggravates the climate crisis is not the right way to move forward, as Audre Lorde so insightfully pointed out over 40 years ago in Sister Outsider.
Reducing C02 emissions is a laudable goal, but we must consider the entire system, including other types of air pollutants, water quality, habitat and the needs of wildlife, and the very real human need to connect with nature locally. Without holistic thinking and new "tools," we're not solving the problems we have created for this planet. We're just re-creating a planet with different problems.
Karin Zirk is an author, the executive director of Friends of Rose Creek, and a member of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.
Blue line extension photo courtesy of the Mid-Coast Trolley Project / SANDAG
Marian Bear Memorial Park photo courtesy of Jessica Johnson / Hidden San Diego
By Cody Petterson with Tommy Hough
First and foremost, we hope all of you are healthy and safe during this unusual moment in history. Our club members are family, and we think of you and miss you at our monthly gatherings.
As Earth Day 2020 nears, our thoughts turn to the health of our planet, to the multitudes of life with which we share our home, and to the work we have done and have yet to do to protect and preserve it. To be frank, the year has been difficult, the moment in which we find ourselves is challenging, and the vista ahead is troubling.
Environmentalists must wrest partial, provisional victories from the vast, implacable, merciless destructiveness of human civilization. This work requires both a recognition of the global calamity unfolding around us, and a determination to save what we can, in spite of the longness of the odds.
The coronavirus pandemic has made our work much more difficult. We are, above all, organizers, and organizing is quintessentially a social activity. Environmentalists around the world are innovating new ways to connect and motivate people, but the inability to gather is an inherent impediment to accumulating the social capital we need to build and maintain a movement.
Furthermore, the pandemic has understandably drawn the attention of citizens, media, and elected officials away from our climate emergency and ecological collapse. This relative inattentiveness will likely be a headwind for environmental organizing for the duration of the pandemic.
Even worse, with the attention of the public drawn to COVID-19, the Trump Administration and its allies in extractive industries like petroleum, mining, and timber have intensified their assault on our open spaces, special places, and National Parks. Globally, institutions like the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which had begun a process to map out and chart ambitious agendas for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, have shifted their focus almost exclusively to staving off a COVID-related global depression.
At the local level, sprawl developers are rushing to weaken our climate action plans and sneak through project amendments while the public is focused on the immediate health and survival of their families.
While the dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and industrial and transportation-related pollutants has given our planet a brief respite – and all but killed the U.S. fracking and shale gas industries – it has also driven oil prices to the lowest levels in decades and reduced the relative attractiveness of alternative energy investment and development.
We at San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action are committed to working with our diverse set of allies in the environmental movement to innovate new ways of keeping our members informed, organizing our communities, resisting the efforts of anti-environmental interests to exploit the virus to further degrade our climate and ecosystems, and preparing the movement to radically transform our societies and governments in the wake of the pandemic.
Of all the holidays, Earth Day may be the hardest to celebrate alone. It is a particularly cruel twist of history that the 50th anniversary arrives at this moment, when the U.S . environmental movement has been pushed to its lowest ebb since the end of World War II – the result of the Trump administration's daily desecrations, GOP intransigence and long-simmering hostility toward conservation, and the weak lip service many Democrats pay toward meaningful environmental progress. Elections truly have consequences.
Earth Day is a celebration of the oneness of all life and our mutual interdependence and responsibility. It is also a repudiation of the social isolation that leaves each lifeform to fend for itself in the midst of global ecological collapse. In some ways, little has changed in our pursuit of a more livable planet and meaningful environmental justice since the first Earth Day 50 years ago this month, as detailed in the 1970 ABC News story linked below.
But be assured, we will not be silent, and we will not cede the progress of the last three generations to the ugly, modern spasms of ignorance and greed that Trump personifies. Environmentalists have never had easy fights. The campaigns to preserve the Redwoods, the Mojave Desert, Stanislaus River, and National Parks like Grand Canyon, Pinnacles, or Joshua Tree took decades. We must now fight to retain what has been preserved, and at the same time move forward with building greater coalitions to end the use of fossil fuels, protect our climate and oceans, preserve habitat and open space, ensure real environmental equity, and embrace more livable and sustainable cities and communities.
Our club is exploring on-line opportunities for programming to virtually reaffirm our connections, and the fundamentally social nature of our work. We'll have more details on how this will occur, even as our regular, in-person meetings and gatherings remain on hold for the time being.
In the meantime, please don't hesitate to reach out to us or our club's executive board if you need assistance. Ours is a community and a family. We're here to support one another in good times and bad.
And take a moment to appreicate the far-reaching views and cleaner-than-normal air this spring. If the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it's that demonstrable, rapid change in habit, behavior, and society are indeed possible.
By Cody Petterson
My wife provides me with a steady stream of questions from her wide circle of moms, which has been sending me ever deeper into the internet in search of peer-reviewed answers. I've put my general understanding to paper here, and I'll edit this essay as necessary to reflect the resulting consensus.
As you've become aware over the last several weeks, COVID-19 is a serious, potentially deadly virus. Even young, healthy individuals without apparent underlying risk factors can experience severe and even fatal symptoms. Given our nation's scandalous lack of testing capability for this virus, the number of infected individuals is likely to dwarf lab-confirmed infections by an order of magnitude.
For every hospitalization, there are around three infections with moderate symptoms that don't meet the current criteria for testing, five infections with mild symptoms, and another two infections that are virtually asymptomatic. These are ballpark figures, but our catastrophic lack of testing means that the ratio of infections to lab-confirmed infections is somewhere around 10 to 1. Make no mistake: this virus is widespread in the United States. Many people you know will be hospitalized. Someone you know may die.
After a number of conversations with professionals in related fields, I'm convinced universal social isolation of even low-risk adults is currently sound policy, due in particular to our lack of testing, the gross inadequacy of our private, for-profit national healthcare system, and the likelihood that even if we were able to completely isolate and prevent infection of high-risk individuals, hospitalizations of low-risk individuals with severe symptoms would likely overwhelm our hospitals and devastate our healthcare providers.
Enabling Virus Growth and Transmission
All evidence I've seen suggests that COVID-19, though potentially severe and even fatal, is similar to other coronaviruses (MERS, SARS, OC43, 229E, etc.) in its clinical features. Transmission occurs overwhelmingly through airborne respiratory droplets, ejected through sneezing, coughing, heavy breathing, or speaking. Transmission from infected surfaces to hands and then to the face is possible, but not considered a major source of infection. Viral shedding occurs prior to the onset and after the cessation of symptoms, but most transmission appears to occur when individuals are symptomatic, as a direct result of talking, heavy breathing, and symptomatic coughing and sneezing.
You can do a simple search on the internet for symptoms. The most prominent are fever, dry cough, fatigue, sputum production, and shortness of breath. The incubation period is three to 11 days, with a median of five days. The median duration of illness from onset of symptoms to recovery is two weeks for mild cases, and three to six weeks for those with severe cases.You can do a simple search on the internet for symptoms.
Risk factors for severe illness and fatalities, particlarly for those over the age of 70, include immunodeficiency, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disease, cancer, obesity, asthma, and smoking. Men have higher infection, illness, and fatality rates than women, which is partly attributable to higher rates of smoking among men, but also apparently related to hormonal and other immunological differences.
Immune response appears to be normal, with a successful resolution of symptoms conferring immunity of undetermined duration. Immunity is a complex subject. The memory B cells that produce a particular antibody can last a lifetime, but the number of antibodies and the strength of immune response declines over time. Genuine viral exposure generally confers a stronger, more lasting immunity than vaccination. Other coronaviruses provide equivocal, incomplete data. MERS antibodies have been found to decline rapidly following resolution of symptoms, while SARS antibodies are detectable in the bloodstream more than a decade after exposure. I think it's safe to say a full exposure is likely to confer immunity for at least a year, but that's conjecture.
Some fatalities appear to be the result of Cytokine Storm Syndrome (CSS). This can occur in normal, healthy individuals, but is more common in those who are immunodeficient or have an inherited, though often previously unidentified, genetic or epigenetic predisposition. If you've ever been on the wrong end of poison oak you've experienced the severe tissue damage your immune system can inflict on you when pro-inflammatory cytokines tell your own macrophages to attack your cells. Now imagine that damage is in your lungs and other internal organs.
This is not, however, a common immunological response to the virus, though you are likely to read horror stories about it in the press. It turns out Buzzfeed doesn't run stories about 38 year-olds home from work playing Fortnite with a slight fever and intermittent dry cough.
The Virus is the Virus
The SARS-CoV-2 virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy is essentially identical to the one infecting South Korea, China, and the United States. Although tiny errors in transcription are constantly occurring, there aren't multiple functionally distinct strains. The mutation rate appears to be normal. According to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, "The mutation rate looks to be about 24 mutations per year. This rate of two mutations per month is similar to other RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses like flu." None of the mutations identified thus far appear to be functionally significant.
Therefore, it follows that the apparent differences in mortality are not the result of changes in the virus, but rather different population structures, epidemiological baselines, cultures, healthcare systems, and government responses. High fatality rates in Italy are likely explained, in part, by its having one of the world's oldest populations. In the United States, our high rates of diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity may ultimately contribute to higher fatality rates among younger patients.
It seems, however, that a key factor driving apparently differing rates of morbidity and fatality are the dramatically different levels of testing. Recent news coverage of the CDC's March 16th Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) has, to my mind, been irresponsible in its characterization of the risk profile of the virus.
From its very beginnings in Wuhan, the majority of confirmed cases (77.8 percrent) were made up of 30 to 69 year olds. The percentage of relatively young infections is probably even higher, since symptoms in children, teenagers, and young adults appear in general to be mild, and it's likely many of their infections escaped confirmation (which, for the China CDC report, was diagnosed by "positive viral nucleic acid test results"). Furthermore, 80.9 percent of cases exhibited mild to moderate symptoms, which is likely a similar underestimate for the same reasons.
In South Korea, which has a robust testing and quarantine regimen, the case fatality rate has been 1.1 percent for males and .4 percent for females. Fatality rates from newborns to 30 were zero. Ages 30 to 39 were .1% (one fatality of 693 infected), 40 to 49 at .1% (one fatality of 889 infected), 50 to 59 .4% (five fatalities of 1,217 infected), and increasing up to a six percent case fatality rate for those 80 and over.
Some of this may reflect a national population that is generally healthier, as well as early detection and effective universal treatment, but it's very likely widespread testing of the population results in a more accurate picture of COVID-19's morbidity and fatality rates. This presumption is strengthened by the case in Germany, which has an even more expansive testing regime and significantly lower rates of hospitalization and fatalities. By testing individuals who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, countries like Germany and South Korea provide a much clearer picture of the risk profile of the virus.
The United States could not present a more extreme contrast. Because the U.S. has catastrophically failed to develop an effective testing program, relatively few individuals have been tested, and the pool of those tested is not representative of the total population of infected individuals.
As of March 16th, the end of the reporting period for the CDC MMWR, the U.S. had tested roughly 50,000 individuals. It has been widely reported that healthcare workers were and are rationing tests based on age, underlying conditions, recent international travel, and exposure to known COVID-positive individuals.
As a result, the U.S. infection sample is systematically excluding those who are asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic, and moderately symptomatic with no underlying risk — a group that, based on all prior evidence, is by far the majority of infected individuals. As a result, the March 16th MMWR's sample dramatically over-represents the most heavily impacted individuals.
Universal Testing is a Must
The lack of available testing doesn't just misrepresent the virus' impact, it's the fundamental flaw in the Trump Administration's response to the pandemic. If there is any justice in this world, that alone will end Trump’s hopes of re-election (unfortunately, the opposite is likely to occur, as anyone who remembers the bumps W. got from his own catastrophic failures can tell you). With adequate testing, travel restrictions, and targeted quarantines, the U.S. could have contained COVID-19 a month ago, and dramatically reduced what are likely to be thousands of fatalities and profound, long-term social, economic, and public health consequences.
The single most important public health priority needs to be nearly universal testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals alike, and targeted quarantine of COVID-positive patients, regardless of symptoms.
Our for-profit private healthcare system is fundamentally unsuited and inadequate to respond to public health threats of this type and magnitude, and COVID-19 is a conclusive argument in favor of a national single payer healthcare system. In addition, COVID-19 isn't even close to a worst-case scenario. Imagine a slightly different virus that was even more communicable, like measles, or which had a longer incubation period, again like measles, or which was more fatal, like Ebola, or which disproportionately killed children, like the 1918 H1N1 flu.
One of the substantial advantages that nations of the East Pacific Rim have had in responding to COVID-19 is their recent, prior experience with SARS. As catastrophic as the COVID-19 pandemic is, it has given us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for future calamities.
We will continue to face crises like these, many of them aggravated by the climate emergency. What we need, right now, is:
Neoliberalism's long, decadent, sociopathic dream is over. This is a terrifying way to wake up, but it also provides an opportunity to reboot, and rebuild our nation as we prepare ourselves for the towering challenges the rest of this century is bound to bring.
Top photo by Tyrone Jue / San Francisco Department of Public Health
Bottom photo by Michelle French / University Hospitals Portage Medical Center
By Cody Petterson and Tommy Hough
Clearly we're in a highly unusual and unprecedented moment with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since a state of emergency has been declared at the state, county, and local levels in which large gatherings of people have become ill-advised, we have cancelled the March meeting of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.
At this point, we are still planning on holding our April club meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, April 15, as usual at Elijah's. That meeting's program and slate of guests will be announced soon. Check back at our website and social media for more.
In the meantime, please elect to keep yourselves, your families, and loved ones safe. Check in on elderly or vulnerable neighbors and friends.
For up to date information, here are the websites for the County of San Diego and City of San Diego.
Please stay safe and in communication with family and friends. Let's look out for each other.
By Tommy Hough
The first March primary in California history was a successful day for nearly all our San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action endorsed candidates. According to the Registrar of Voters, some 60,000 votes remain to be counted.
Unfortunately, two of our endorsed candidates and one of our endorsed ballot measures have come up short.
Photos by Tommy Hough and Greg Hoxsie.
By Cody Petterson
I was stunned by the dishonesty of an anti-Measure A opinion piece in Monday's edition of Voice of San Diego, titled "Proposals Like Measure A Hit Minorities Harder." There is a line between opinion and intentional disinformation, and the authors crossed it by a mile.
The claim that protecting our General Plan against land speculation, rent-seeking, and endless sprawl is "institutionalized racism" is not just untrue, it is diametrically opposed to the truth. Take a gander at the sprawling suburbs and exurbs of north and east county. Sprawl is not a solution to segregation — sprawl is a fundamental driver of our region's obscene segregation. Sprawl development is the physical manifestation of white flight and disinvestment in the diverse communities of our old urban core.
I and others have repeatedly confronted the opponents of Measure A, including one of the authors and the attorney they cite, with the simple question: How could the sprawl projects inhibited by Measure A plausibly produce equitable housing? In concrete terms, how can a General Plan Amendment (GPA) in the rural and semi-rural backcountry produce market rate housing that is affordable to moderate, low, very low, or extremely low buyers or renters? And, furthermore, be near transit and jobs, where we need it to be in order to confront our climate emergency and reduce transportation costs to working families? They've failed to provide an answer, because it is impossible.
I am the "environmental activist" mentioned in the article, and I did not say Measure A would stop sprawl (I wish it could — it can only inhibit it), nor did I say it would lead to more affordable housing, though there are scenarios in which it might (it certainly can, however, help to ensure that affordable housing is sited near transit and jobs).
What I said — and which they have never refuted — is that:
I rarely ask, but share this with your friends and family and join San Diego's environmental and conservation community, our allies in civil society, and the Labor movement in supporting YES on Measure A, also known as the Save Our San Diego Countryside (SOS) initiative.
Passage of Measure A is essential to confronting our climate emergency, protecting our environment, and fostering a sustainable, equitable, livable future for our children. The future of our smart growth General Plan, our regional climate action plans, and our dynamic, diverse county depends on it.
Vote against endless sprawl on March 3rd. Vote for climate action. Vote for a sustainable, equitable vision for San Diego. Vote YES on Measure A.
By Cody Petterson
There's been a lot of lying and betrayal regarding Measure A (the SOS ballot measure), which is par for the course when the Building Industry Association (BIA) and a dozen of the region's most notorious sprawl developers hire Tony Manolatos to smear an environmental measure.
But the other day the organization "Planning Today for San Diego's Future," a BIA front, pushed out a Facebook ad that would've made Donald Trump blush. It demands a rebuttal. Toward that end, here are the facts.
If you find genuine errors, inform me and I'll correct them. Unlike the opposition, the environmentalists volunteering our time to draft, qualify, and vote YES on Measure A actually care about the truth.
"What is Measure A?"
The fight to pass Measure A is a brawl between environmentalists and developers over the future of land use in our county. That's what it is.
It's the Sierra Club, Endangered Habitats League, San Diego 350, Climate Action Campaign, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, Sunrise Movement San Diego, California Native Plant Society, San Diego Audubon, Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Volcan Mountain Foundation, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, California Chaparral Institute, Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association, Fallbrook Land Conservancy, Escondido Creek Conservancy, along with the League of Women Voters of San Diego, Citizens Coordinate for Century III (C3), and our labor allies in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 1931 and Unite Here! Local 30.
Those who are against the SOS initiative include the Building Industry Association, California Association of Realtors, Lincoln Club, Chamber of Commerce, Republican Party, and a murder of Southern California sprawl developers, including Newland Sierra, KB Homes, Shea Homes, Baldwin and Sons, California West, Fanita Ranch, Brookfield, Lennar, and the paid propagandists at the Manolatos Nelson Murphy public relations firm. That's the whole story. They've been successful in flipping some of our allies in office and in the affordable housing community, but that's to be expected when we're broke environmentalists and they're the region's most powerful, deepest-pocketed interest group. They have plenty of inducements. We have only our principles and our commitment to climate action and habitat protection.
The goal of YES on Measure A is to discourage the sprawl and leapfrog development that continues to destroy our native habitat, undermine the integrity of our county's General Plan, defeat our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off climate catastrophe, and prevent housing from being built where we need it — near jobs and transit.
The goal of the opposition is to preserve their ability to reap massive windfall profits by inducing compliant county supervisors to grant them General Plan Amendments (GPA) for sprawl and leapfrog development. The San Diego region has been the plaything of land speculators and developers for nearly two centuries. Our sprawling, traffic-choked suburban landscape is largely the product of their machinations and profit-seeking. Instead of focusing their investments in areas zoned for residential density in our region’s smart growth plans, the building industry continues to try to build in fire-prone rural areas — precisely the wrong places.
"What would Measure A do?"
Measure A doesn't alter the General Plan in any way. Not a single word, not a single zoning designation. It wouldn't affect Board of Supervisors decisions on any parcels other than those zoned rural and semi-rural in the unincorporated portion of the county — no cities, no county towns, no rural villages.
In concrete terms, Measure A would "require voter approval of amendments to the General Plan that increase residential density in semi-rural or rural areas" of the unincorporated county, unless the increases are minor (five additional units or less), the parcels are within a village or rural village area, or the amendment is "required to implement state or federal housing law, including laws related to the provision of affordable housing." That's it.
By requiring voter approval of supervisor-approved GPAs in rural and semi-rural parts of the unincorporated county, Measure A would provide an additional check on the rent-seeking and regulatory capture that is the stock-and-trade of our region's sprawl and leapfrog developers.
Rather than buy appropriately-zoned urban parcels and building up, developers find it more profitable to buy elected officials and land whose value is depressed by rural zoning restrictions, and then have their bought officials hand them massive upzoning windfalls. This game has been played for so long that sprawl developers have come to think of it as their right, and to think of the General Plan as something that applies only to suckers without the connections, consultants, capital, projects, and contributions to corrupt elected officials and other stakeholders. Some of us disagree.
"What's so bad about sprawl development?"
Many in the environmental community are deeply committed to protecting the native habitat, wildlife, and vegetation of our county, which is still the most biodiverse in the nation.
Long before anthropogenic climate change was recognized as the greatest threat to life on Earth, conservationists were fighting against the suburban sprawl that has been steadily destroying our open spaces for decades. But with the rise of the climate emergency, stopping suburban sprawl and fostering transit-supportive urban density has become the single most important thing San Diegans can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, half of which come from transportation.
Sprawl development not only destroys and fragments habitat, it also increases commute times and total vehicle miles travelled (VMT), contributes to traffic and air pollution, burdens lower income households with significant transportation costs, and prevents us from hitting our greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. Furthermore, in San Diego, sprawl means building in fire-prone chaparral in the canyons and ridges of the coastal foothills at the urban-wildland interface.
There are also substantial externalities of sprawl development that are ultimately borne by county residents and taxpayers. The general public is eventually forced to subsidize developer profits by paying for the costly expansion of freeways and extension of fire, police, and other public services. It is a ponzi scheme paid for by future taxpayers. And, of course, our children will have to struggle to survive in the climate catastrophe it accelerates.
"How does the county's General Plan limit sprawl?"
In 2011, the Board of Supervisors passed a comprehensive General Plan update, the first of its kind since 1978. This plan was the product of $18 million of studies, 13 years of analysis and public discussion, including 212 meetings with the full planning and sponsor groups, 109 workshops, and 216 subcommittee meetings.
The update was a compromise between a wide range of stakeholders, foremost among them environmentalists and developers. Like any compromise, no one got everything they wanted, but the update won acceptance from the environmental community by implementing a modest shift of growth from the county's rural periphery to the urban core — thus reducing habitat loss and ensuring future residential growth would be in closer proximity to existing services and amenities. It also won planning awards for its innovative implementation of smart growth principles and its limits on sprawl.
This shift involved a reduction in the zoned residential capacity of many parcels in the rural unincorporated county, and an increase in the zoned capacity of some parcels in the already developed areas. The plan therefore not only constrained sprawl, but incentivized transit-supportive urban density by eliminating the need for 780 miles of road by allocating development capacity near existing roads and infrastructure.
It's important to recognize that there is an inherent competition — for capital, home buyers, and public infrastructure and service subsidies — between urban density and rural sprawl. The region's finite supply of developers and equity capital has historically followed the sprawl path (i.e. buy officials, buy rural, obtain upzoning windfall, build out) which necessarily draws investment away from the path stipulated by our institutions and our General Plan (buy urban, build up). Sprawl and leapfrog development is not an accompaniment to climate-responsible and Plan-consistent urban transit-supportive residential development — it is a direct competitor for private capital, public subsidy, and home buyers.
The 2011 General Plan Update shifted the incentives toward smart growth and urban density, and General Plan amendments are almost universally attempts to drag us back to more profitable and environmentally-destructive rural sprawl that developers prefer. That's what SOS is trying to stop.
Now, as you can imagine, when you're taking on the sprawl development industry, there's going to be misleading, disingenuous criticism. I believe it's important to confront it head on, and I have rebutted the most common criticisms below.
"Isn't Measure A ballot box planning?"
The most frequent criticism, promulgated regularly by No on SOS and echoed by a number of candidates, elected officials, and other stakeholders is that the initiative is "ballot box planning."
Let's be clear. Measure A is NOT ballot box planning. It is not a planning document at all. It does not alter the zoning designation of a single parcel anywhere in the county. There's a lot of unflattering ironies in the claim, however. It's deeply ironic that this argument is being propounded by the BIA and sprawl developers, when the term was originally applied to attempts by developers to violate general plans and circumvent municipal officials by submitting plan-inconsistent developments to public vote.
Developers can and often do engage in actual ballot box planning when it suits them. If a local City Council or County Board of Supervisors refuses to give them the sprawl-facilitating amendments they need, they can, and often do, attempt to qualify a measure for the ballot.
Many of the same developers paying Mr. Manolatos to poison the public square with "but this is ballot box planning" have themselves happily circumvented elected councils with ballot measures that dramatically upzone their parcels. Manolatos himself is general consultant for Lilac Hills Ranch, which tried to pass Measure B in 2016, which was an actual, honest-to-God ballot box planning measure. The disingenuousness of these individuals is stunning. They're luminaries of the local disinformation industry. Give them enough money to pay their mortgages and luxury car leases and they'll kneel next to their beds and lie to God.
"Sprawl development can solve our affordable housing crisis."
No, it can't. Affordable sprawl development is a myth.
Let me say it loud for the folks in the back. There have been 17 GPAs approved or proposed since the 2011 County General Plan update and not a single one has included a single unit of deed-restricted affordable housing. That is, housing costing 30 percent or less of monthly income for a family of four making 80 percent or less of Area Median Income (AMI), which in San Diego County is $86,300.
Affordable sprawl development is a fairy tale that developers tell gullible, well-meaning progressives to help get their luxury developments past skeptical boards and councils. It's not a thing. The average price of a home in the unincorporated county is $30,000 more than in the City of San Diego. For households living on the margins, the transportation costs alone for living so far from jobs can eat up as much as a third of their income!
So let's get something clear. There is no housing in San Diego County that is naturally affordable, period. When one adds together the costs of materials, labor, engineering, architecture, land, permitting, financing, fees, and modest profits, there is no conceivable way a unit can be brought to market at a price affordable to a family of four making $85,000 (low income), $53,000 (very low income), or $32,000 (extremely low income) per year. None. Zero. Which means that affordability is entirely a function of our society's willingness to subsidize those units. And no rational society would invest in putting affordable housing in its rural periphery.
Subsidizing rural affordable housing would be wildly at odds with best practices — far from jobs, far from public and private amenities and services, and inaccessible to mass transit. The idea of choosing to house a family making 50 percent AMI in the rural periphery is preposterous. A family making 50 percent AMI is already having trouble affording transportation. Trouble affording childcare. Trouble finding work. To extended families and social networks. To jobs. It needs access to social services. The only rational place to invest in affordability, either through public subsidy or developer mandates, is in our job- and amenities-rich urban and suburban municipalities and villages.
There is already ample capacity in the region's General Plans for multi-family residential density where it is rational, sustainable, and equitable. The county has additional capacity for roughly 400,000 units, with around 230,000 of it zoned for multi-family residential of 20+ units per acre. That's enough capacity, and specifically multi-family capacity, to accommodate our Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) targets for residential construction for decades. Capacity is not our problem.
And SANDAG has actually reduced the RHNA housing target for the unincorporated county from 22,000 in the 5th Cycle to 6,700 in the 6th, because it's prioritizing residential density where there are jobs and access to transit, both of which are lacking in the backcountry.
It's true that some coastal municipalities have attempted to use initiatives to curtail multi-family density where it is appropriate, but the rural and semi-rural areas of the unincorporated county are not appropriate locations for affordable housing development. The entire argument rests on the premise that violating our General Plan, destroying habitat, and lampooning our Climate Action Plan by building on parcels zoned rural and semi-rural is a viable and valid avenue to achieve housing affordability. Which, obviously, the environmental community unanimously condemns. It is a sad statement of the ideological poverty of the affordable development community that some have allowed themselves to be co-opted by for-profit sprawl developers.
"Okay, but what if Measure A actually WAS ballot box planning?"
While I reject the characterization of Measure A as ballot box planning, it's worth asking the question, "So what if it were?"
From a progressive perspective, plebiscites often get it wrong. California has had some doozies: Prop. 13 (1978), Prop. 187 (1994), Prop 8. (2008). I spend a fair amount of my time wrestling with the baleful effects of some terrible state and local initiatives. On the other hand, it also won women's rights to vote (1911), the abolition of the poll tax (1912), the Coastal Zone Conservation Act (1972) which became the California Coastal Act, Prop. 65 (Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, 1986), Prop. 162 (Pension Protection Act, 1986), independent redistricting (2008), and Prop. 35 (Ban on Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery, 2012). So, much like representative democracy's record, the picture is mixed.
Actual ballot box planning — in which developers use the initiative process to circumvent General Plans and elected bodies — is certainly problematic. That said, elected representatives also frequently get it wrong. The idea that the Board of Supervisors somehow has a better record of fidelity to the General Plan, and is therefore to be trusted more than the general voting public, is dubious on its face.
The ferocious opposition of the BIA and sprawl developers to Measure A suggests they know perfectly well that the Board of Supervisors is the weak link in the planning process. If buying Supervisors weren't the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to guarantee carte blanche for their property speculation and sprawl projects, they would have been doing 'ballot box planning' instead of successfully putting more than a dozen GPAs through the Board of Supervisors over the last eight years.
Ultimately, the question of whether or not direct democracy is good or bad is facile. It's necessary to balance the potential harm of direct democracy in this narrowly-defined context against the harm of not employing it. Every form of power has its shortcomings. I don't like any form of power, don't like standing armies, don't like bosses, don't like supervisors even. But these forms of power are desirable to the extent that the harms they prevent exceed the harms they entail.
Imagine if Measure A were an initiative to give voters the right to reject private prisons, or refugee internment camps, or mandatory invasive ultrasounds. Would you say, "Well, I don't like internment camps any more than the next person, but I guess we'll have to tolerate them because I have a real problem with direct democracy." Of course not. Any reasonable person would agree that the harm of refugee internment camps dramatically exceeds any philosophical qualms about direct democracy. And that's precisely how actual environmentalists feel when BIA dupes complain about 'ballot box planning.'
"I don’t like climate catastrophe any more than the next guy, but I have a real problem with direct democracy." Really? You have more of a problem with direct democracy than climate catastrophe? Than habitat loss? Than sprawl? Than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for two hours a day? Really? Direct democracy may have its weaknesses, but when narrowly constrained to ratification of supervisor-approved General Plan Amendments that increase density in the rural and semi-rural unincorporated county, the harm of sprawl self-evidently exceeds the purported harm of direct democracy.
This is precisely why you never hear actual environmentalists — people who actually center the environment in their life and work — make the preposterous argument that we should vote against a patently environmental initiative because it might result in an excess of democracy. Even if one were strongly opposed in principle to plebiscites, it defies reason to argue that the purported sins of the plebiscite are of greater seriousness than the climate and habitat impacts of sprawl-promoting GPAs.
"But we're going to have a Democratic majority on the Board in 2020."
Well, we're certainly working toward that end this year, but another objection we hear is we're going to secure a Democratic majority on the Board of Supervisors in 2020, so there's no need to worry about sprawl GPAs.
First, there is no guarantee Democrats will take the Board of Supervisors. Most of those individuals pushing this argument already understand that. We'll almost certainly add D-1, but D-3 could remain in Gaspar's hands — hands that neither you or I would ever trust with our General Plan, our Climate Action Plan, and the fate of our backcountry.
Second, even if we secure a majority, I have no faith that our majority would be immune to the inducements of the BIA, sprawl developers, and the various interest groups they suborn with paltry cuts of their windfall profits. I trust almost no one to consistently do the right thing for the environment. Certainly none of our elected officials. Not without sustained pressure from the environmental community. Not when there are powerful, deep-pocketed interest groups inducing them to do the wrong thing.
I know and respect candidates for D-1 Supervisor, and I've endorsed one of them, but I still wouldn't trust any of them to invariably hold out against sprawl-promoting GPAs, especially in Otay. I respect Supervisor Fletcher immensely, but even he could falter if the right project or proponent found its way to his strike zone. I trust one supervisorial candidate and that's only because she's been one of my best friends for 25 years. I'm eager to backstop all the rest. And I'm even happy to backstop her, because a truly environmentally committed and centered candidate would not be constrained in any way by this measure.
The only Board of Supervisors votes that SOS submits to countywide vote are approvals of residential sprawl projects on rural and semi-rural parcels, that are outside of village plans, that are in the unincorporated county, and that are inconsistent with the General Plan. If a supervisor can avoid that, they can avoid ever having to deal with an oversight vote at all. Easy as pie.
"But SOS is a Republican measure."
That is the lie that pushed me to write this piece.
The claim that Measure A, the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside Initiative, is a Republican effort funded by Republican millionaires to preserve a Republican General Plan is so disgusting it makes me physically angry. As I wrote in the introduction, every single Measure A supporter I know is a Democrat. The entire organizing committee. Every single endorser. There's not a Republican in sight.
Measure A is currently exclusively a volunteer effort to preserve our open space, protect the integrity of our General and Climate Action Plans, and reduce our county's GHG emissions. It is supported by all of our county's environmental organizations and opposed by the BIA, the California Association of Realtors, the Lincoln Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party, Greg Cox (R), Jim Desmond (R), Kristin Gaspar (R), Ron Roberts (R), Bill Horn (R), Kevin Faulconer (R), John Minto (R), Steve Vaus (R), Randy Voepel (R), Bill Wells (R), Mike Diaz (R), Rebecca Jones (R), and all of San Diego's sprawl developers.
We requested contributions from local businesses and individuals who are aligned with our cause, and the Golden Door Spa provided a generous initial contribution to the SOS signature-gathering effort. The business model of the Golden Door demands solitude and natural serenity, and it has been allied with the rural communities with which it co-exists for decades. Successive attempts by sprawl developers to upzone neighboring parcels on Merriam Mountain threaten that natural setting and the surrounding communities.
As it happens, the Golden Door is fighting a parallel, unaffiliated battle against the proposed Newland Sierra development, which was approved as a General Plan Amendment by our pro-sprawl County Board of Supervisors. If voters defeat it, Measure A would incidentally add an additional hurdle to future attempts to upzone the Merriam Mountain parcels.
But that welcome infusion of cash was confined to the signature gathering phase. It's just passionate environmentalists and our cash-starved committee now. All volunteers. All committed to preserving our county's open space. Preserving our climate. Preserving our planet from the greed that's destroying it. It's the same folks who show up to City Council, to the Board of Supervisors, to SANDAG. The same folks that march, and canvass, and phone bank. The same folks who set up booths at Earth Fair and come out for beach clean-ups. Who lead hikes on weekends. Or plant trees. Or fix trails. Or manage community gardens. Who volunteer as docents at the Natural History Museum or Mission Trails Interpretive Center. That's who we are. That's who Measure A is.
Measure A would implement a narrowly-limited form of direct democracy, confined to the ratification of approvals by the Board of Supervisors of density-increasing General Plan Amendments (GPAs) in Rural and Semi-Rural parcels in the unincorporated county, excluding those within Village and Rural Village plans. Whatever qualms some individuals may have with direct democracy per se, the benefits of preserving our open space, protecting the smart growth strategy enshrined in our General Plan, facilitating equity and affordability, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions far outweigh any hypothetical harm of this narrow application of direct democracy.
Please, join San Diego's environmental community and our allies in civil society and the Labor movement in supporting Measure A — the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside (SOS) initiative. The future of our smart growth General Plan, our Climate Action Plan, and our beautiful, dynamic, and diverse county depends on it.
By Tommy Hough
Cisterra Development's "Preserve at Torrey Highlands" office complex was approved by a 6-3 vote of San Diego City Council on Aug. 5, by way of an amendment to the Torrey Highlands Community Plan that will enable construction of the office park over the objections of neighbors, the Rancho Peñasquitos Community Planning Board, the Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board, and almost every major environmental outlet focusing on land use within the city. It was upheld by council on its second reading on Sept. 10, again by a 6-3 vote.
Located south of State Route 56 near Del Sur and just west of Rancho Peñasquitos, the 420,000 sq. ft. multi-story, multi-structure complex will be built on an 11-acre notch surrounded on three sides – through a fluke of previous ownership – by the city-owned Del Mar Mesa Preserve.
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and our allies have noted, in a variety of forums, the environmental effects the construction will have on the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, which contains not only the last remaining portions of native San Diego coastal habitat left in the city, but the last remaining acreage of this ecosystem in California. This area was considered so vital and so worth keeping at arm's length from development, even the route of State Route 56 was altered in the early 2000s to give the area as wide a berth as possible.
Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped developers from picking away at virgin acreage on either side of the 56 freeway. Over the years we've seen the strip malls and 24-hour gyms and gas stations and casual dining restaurants move in to the north, while office parks eat away to the south toward the preserve, and space for habitat and nature is left ever more denuded – sliced away from the wholeness of our remarkable countryside and larger natural ecosystems.
We have a housing crisis and a housing shortage in San Diego. There is no doubt about that. We don't have a shortage of office parks or office space. Opposition to this project isn't about trying to prevent housing, it's about radical upzoning of property that benefits a select few. It's about neighbors saying, loudly, this is an absurd place for a needless office complex. It's about protecting one of our city's great natural preserves from the death by a thousand cuts it is currently suffering from. There is no meaningful transit in the area, and the Cisterra project does nothing to advance our city's Climate Action Plan. On that basis alone, it should be rejected, and another site found for it. It is indefensible.
Representatives from Cisterra admitted in testimony before council on Aug. 5 that they are essentially "built out" in UTC and Carmel Valley, and need to move on to find new areas to build in. Why do we owe them that pleasure? Especially since there is abundant empty office space in the area, and in areas like Kearny Mesa and Miramar that are already within our built footprint, closer to neighborhoods, homes, and potential transit.
And this is not a matter of the Cisterra development being a "one and done" project beside Del Mar Mesa Preserve. Rather, it's just opening the door. The Preserve at Torrey Highlands is the vanguard of other developments to follow, and more concrete to be poured alongside the preserve, joining Merge 56 and the inevitable holiday traffic jams of the incoming shopping center in Torrey Highlands, all further isolating the preserve like a native habitat freak show.
This project marks the beginning of more and more land being set upon for use within sight of, and within affecting range of, the Del Mar Mesa Preserve. This isn't what was intended when this area was protected. And if it was, it's not too late to change that dynamic.
Our parks, special places and preserves survive today as islands of conservation, cut off from one another, with only the most tenuous connection perhaps being a dry stream bed or a canyon bottom within the mesas that may have escaped development or being buried in fill. The proposal of this office complex is an affront to our reasonable obligations of stewardship. It is needless. It is an impediment. It is not housing. It solves nothing, while taxpayers lose out and speculators quietly benefit from the very solace the preserve was meant to protect.
The Orwellian-named Preserve at Torrey Highlands does not compliment the site on which it is to be built, or the native plants and species of the publicly-owned and accessible Del Mar Mesa Preserve that lie on three sides of it. It is the worst kind of monument for the city to jam into a space beside a locale that it should otherwise take exceptional pride in, and exceptional care to protect.
It is a terrible shame a majority of this council is unable to see open space beyond what it can be zoned for, or how the value of it can be increased, especially a parcel already within a protected preserve. Neither you nor I, nor the wind along the mesa tops, the dense oak woodland along Deer Creek at the bottom of the canyon, or the wildlife that silently live and pass through this valuable natural corridor will benefit from this development. The only beneficiary is San Diego-style business as usual.
Photos by Renée Owens and Tommy Hough.
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