by Tommy Hough
We're fortunate to have a number of local policy professionals members of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, and we believe in the power of city governments to work together with neighboring municipalities to find common ground on shared goals and funding needs.
While we believe the best way forward is by working together, we also recognize the need for overt, vocal leadership when expectations slacken, or when the resulting solution is less than desirable when considering our overall mission.
As Democrats and environmentalists, we're not opposed to institutions or the potential for collective goals among communities. There is significant strength there. But we also recognize having quality leadership on multi-jurisdictional boards sometimes means having to first win majorities in communities where leaders don't share our vision of a cleaner, greener, more livable San Diego County.
Not every measure or initiative is equal, and each one must be considered with care. That's why I'd like to detail some of our reasons for opposing the SANDAG ballot measure, particularly in light of the substantive, nuanced conversation between labor attorney Ricardo Ochoa and Circulate San Diego policy counsel Colin Parent during the latter half of our July club meeting.
Essentially, SANDAG is proposing a measure to charge a 40-year half-cent sales tax to fund a variety of transportation projects. There's plenty of good that may come from this plan, especially with the kind of money being proposed. But being a countywide entity, some SANDAG municipalities will undoubtedly gain more from the deal than others. On that same note, some communities stand to lose more than others too.
One of the concerns we have is with communities that may see an increase in pollution as the result of more freeway lanes and less transit. In particular, the city of San Diego should be wary of any plan that calls for additional freeway lanes anywhere in the county, as San Diego residents now have a legally-binding Climate Action Plan that calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that can only be met by reducing the number of cars being used every day in the city. While additional miles of freeway may be added in municipalities outside of San Diego, we set a poor example as a community and as environmental leaders when we advocate for the very thing we as a city are legally-bound to reduce.
While the SANDAG plan calls for additional transit frequency along existing lines, the measure doesn't guarantee funding for things like Youth Opportunity transit passes, nor does it reduce already high point-to-point fees for the MTS Trolley or bus service. The trolley is an excellent means of public transportation and increased trolley frequency is a welcome step, but the high cost of utilizing this transit resource (beyond a day pass) is as much of a deterrent as the limited scope of the existing trolley rail network in San Diego County.
Granted, the trolley provides excellent service for those commuting from San Ysidro or Chula Vista to points north, and also offers options for those who live in Santee or Lemon Grove and may work in Mission Valley or Downtown. But the trolley network itself needs significant expansion and reduced rates in order for it to have an demonstrative impact that plays into the goals of the city of San Diego's climate plan.
As an organization, we have no philosophical problems with a sales tax, and we can appreciate the work that has gone into crafting the SANDAG plan and the breadth and scope of the items covered. We as a club can also appreciate there are a number of SANDAG member communities whose leaders choose not to believe in climate change or the long-term threat posed by rising sea levels, drought and increased wildfire.
One of our answers to this concern would be to hearken back to one of our club's founding principles – we need more environmental leaders serving in elected office throughout the county. Then we may have a SANDAG that is representing the best, most sensible and most pressing environmental issues in a countywide transportation plan. The best chance for doing so is by electing Democrats who make a point of improving environmental policy.
In addition, the SANDAG plan, however well-intentioned and exhaustive it may be, doesn't have a mechanism to link funding with projects that meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet state targets, or the city of San Diego's Climate Action Plan. It also doesn't contain targets for reductions in vehicle trips, which similarly helps achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
On a related note, the SANDAG plan fails to fund storm water or water infrastructure projects – something that could be addressed given the price tag and the kind of capital projects being proposed – and fails to provide the minimum funding needed for conservation of the county's remaining open space. Any walk, ride or drive through the Otay Lakes area of Chula Vista or along the 56 corridor from Black Mountain to the coast demonstrates the rate at which open space across the county is rapidly vanishing and succumbing to development, further isolating protected areas like the Otay Mountains or Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve as disconnected "islands of conservation."
We believe in the ability of governments to craft policy, and we can wholly appreciate how hard it is to get different municipalities with differing constituencies and different desires to come together and agree on a plan as broad and sweeping as the proposed SANDAG ballot measure. Not one member of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action will deny that the effort to put the proposal together has been Herculean, with several "good actors" laboring to steer the best possible results. This is more than commendable.
However, at the end of the day, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action must evaluate each ballot measure, like each candidate, on its own merits. While there may be candidates with whom we may have a singular disagreement on, we can still potentially award that individual an endorsement (if otherwise earned) with the knowledge that we have an ongoing discussion with that person on top of the abundance that we already agree on. That is realistic and effective.
But the SANDAG plan is not something we can talk to singularly, especially given the breadth of the proposal as it is. Nor is it a plan in which we can take the good with the bad as a half-full win. There are no line-items here.
We as a club want to support the best policy and the right policy. With the understanding of the work put in and the benefits it may bring to some county residents, the SANDAG plan remains something we have nevertheless voted not to support. If it passes in November, we'll find a way to work with the best components of it and continue to work to elect more environmentally-aware Democrats to civic leadership positions, as is our mission.
by Tommy Hough
After years of work and heavy lifting by the San Diego County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Coastkeeper, the Sierra Club and so many other area environmental organizations, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 on Tuesday, July 19, to approve Item 332 – the ban on single-use, disposable plastic bags in the city of San Diego.
This is an immense victory for the health of our local beaches, and the ocean generally. It's also a reminder and acceptance of the unique obligation coastal communities have as a "last line of defense" before plastic and other trash are swept up from the beach or in watersheds that lead to the ocean.
Banning the sale of single-use plastic bags – which look like food when floating in the ocean and will only ever break down into smaller pieces of plastic – will demonstrably make San Diego cleaner and our environment healthier, from the deserts to the beaches.
Here is the text of the remarks I made to council on behalf of the club.
Good Afternoon Council President Lightner,
My name is Tommy Hough, and I'm the president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. We count over 180 environmentally-committed members of the county and state Democratic parties as our members, and I can tell you we fully support the ban on single-use, disposable plastic bags in the city of San Diego.
As a coastal community, we have a unique obligation as not only the last line of defense before trash, litter and other pollution enter the sea, but also as leaders in determinding what kind of materials and resources are appropriate given our coastal location and our commitment to the health of our watersheds, beaches and the sea.
This is for the greater health of our oceans and our planet, and it's one very big thing this community can do to demonstrate our commitment to reducing plastic pollution and recognizing the harm these materials pose to the ocean.
Please pass the plastic bag ban bill before you, and allow the city of San Diego to stand with 149 other California communities in banning single-use plastic bags.
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action were very proud to once again walk in conjunction with San Diego Democrats for Equality and all of the attending San Diego County Democratic Party clubs and candidates at this year's San Diego Pride Parade on July 13, 2016, in Hillcrest.
A very special thanks to Carlsbad city council candidate Cori Schumacher for leading our contingent, and thanks to president Tommy Hough and executive board members Alex Kiwan and Richard Ram for wearing the green as well, along with Maria Cerda, Michael Norman and his daughter Paige Norman.
Photos by Tommy Hough and Maria Cerda.
By Tommy Hough
This year's Independence Day marks the 240th birthday of the United States.
As a boy, I remember the Bicentennial celebration of 1976, and watching TV with my dad as the Tall Ships of Operation Sail entered New York Harbor to mark the occasion. I remember the fireworks and wearing red, white and blue sneakers for the occasion, along with blue shorts and a hemorrhage red t-shirt. Even my white socks that day were striped with red, white and blue.
The Bicentennial was a big deal in 1976, and now, 40 years later, I think about what makes me feel like an American and what makes me most proud about my country.
So it will come as no surprise to those who know me that some of what I'm most proud of is the nation's ability to safeguard large-scale ecosystems as Wilderness and National Parks.
While imperfect, the record of the U.S. on conservation is laudable, and remains a model for the rest of the world. And it just so happens that in the U.S. we have the amazing landscapes and eco-regions worthy of National Park designations.
So this Independence Day is extra-special for those of us who revere our nation's special places, because along with the nation's 240th birthday, 2016 also marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service.
Originally known as "Colter's Hell," Yellowstone was set aside as the nation's first National Park in 1872. Named for John Colter, one of the explorers who participated in the Lewis and Clark expedition and later stayed behind to explore the Northern Rockies, Yellowstone was established, in part, because it couldn't be used for any other practical commercial purpose.
Located in a massive volcanic caldera, the abundance of geysers, hot springs and otherworldly thermal reserves made railroad building, mining and other resource extraction extremely difficult. In the absence of a state government in the Wyoming Territory to manage the area at the time, the federal government simply assumed management of Yellowstone.
Here in California, Yosemite became the nation's second National Park, but was first donated by President Abraham Lincoln to the state in 1864 for use as a state park and "perpetual conservation," the first time any such ideal was noted and acted upon.
Yosemite was later returned to federal management as the nation's second National Park in 1890, encompassing the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, though over the decades it has been significantly expanded to include Tuolumne Meadows, and perhaps notoriously, Hetch Hetchy – which was later defiled by dam construction in 1914 in a move that has often been blamed for the death of John Muir.
Nevertheless, as evidenced by President Obama's recent visit to the park to observe the centennial of the National Park Service, Yosemite remains the crown jewel of the National Park system.
Interestingly, the nation's newest National Park is also located in California.
It's fitting California condors call the prehistoric crags of Pinnacles home. Made up of the southernmost extension of the Galiban Mountains, a small, inland sub-range of the larger California Coastal Range, Pinnacles National Park runs along the border of Monterey and San Benito counties, and is made up of the remnants of the ancient Neenach Volcano, which last erupted some 23 million years ago.
The Pinnacles area also appears to be alien to the rest of the Central Coast for good reason – it was transported to its current site by none other than the San Andreas Fault. Millions of years ago, the rock formations of the Pinnacles were created hundreds of miles to the south near Joshua Tree, but have taken a phantasmic ride north along the edge of the Pacific Plate to their current location.
While Pinnacles was established as the nation's 59th National Park by President Obama in 2013, the park itself was originally protected as a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, during the golden age of the Antiquities Act – which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year.
The Antiquities Act of 1906
Signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to create National Monuments on public land to "protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features."
It is also used by the president to immediately protect areas that may be threatened or endangered, or areas which may not have the support or sponsorship in Congress to craft National Park legislation.
While the Antiquities Act enables the president to sidestep the often lengthy process of designating a National Park, there is no doubt of the effectiveness of the Antiquities Act as a conservation measure, which has preserved – and even saved – dozens of special areas around the U.S. which today are revered western National Parks, including almost all of the National Parks in Alaska.
If it weren't for the foresight of President Theodore Roosevelt, for example, neither Grand Canyon in Arizona or Olympic in Washington would be preserved in the manner they are today as National Parks. Both were first set aside by Roosevelt as monuments in 1908 and 1909, respectively.
Here in California, Death Valley and Joshua Tree were similarly set aside as National Monuments in 1933 and 1936 by President Franklin Roosevelt. Both were "elevated" to National Park status by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
While National Monuments can be managed by agencies other than the National Park Service, including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, monuments are generally afforded the same level of protection as National Parks.
A good example of this is the Forest Service-managed San Gabriel Mountains National Monument above Los Angeles, which was established by President Obama in 2014 after a long campaign of regional support for a monument or National Park Service designation.
Threats of Commercialization and Privatization
Unfortunately, while 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of "America's Best Idea" and 100 years of keeping parks public, 2016 also marks the year in which the National Park Service began to let corporate entities in.
While on the surface this may seem like a functional solution to address the vast maintenance backlog afflicting our National Park system, the reality is congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, have been preventing funds from being allocated for maintenance for our National Parks for years, and are using the maintenance "crisis" to float the solution of corporate saviors for our public parks – especially at the federal level.
Many in today's Congress would rather allow companies and corporations to "sponsor" park attractions and sites rather than leave our parks free of corporate logos and profit-motive influence.
On this 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, we must remind our elected officials that National Parks are not designed to make money themselves, though they are certainly regional economic anchors for communities and areas near parks. National Parks are specifically intended to set aside uniquely American natural settings worthy of conservation for the citizenry to enjoy, to marvel over, to recreate in, to preserve, to cherish – and to be proud of.
National Parks are not amusement parks – and should not be treated as such. This was certainly the intent of President Theodore Roosevelt, who said:
"It is vandalism to wantonly destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping grounds. We pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals – not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements."
As has been the case for the last 100 years, this can be done for reasonable, economic costs if the public demands it – as they have in the past – and if Congress would loosen the pursestrings to allow money to flow to our National Parks for needed maintenance of habitat, trails and existing facilities – not just new construction. Certainly this was on the mind of President Woodrow Wilson, who signed the National Park Service Organic Act into law following its passage by Congress in August 1916. Wilson later said:
"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world – and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."
Let us not forget the grand errand of the National Park Service on this centennial occasion, and on our nation's 240th birthday:
"The National Park Service preserves, unimpaired, the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world."
As citizens of the United States, we are those partners of the National Park Service. So much heavy lifting and difficult legislation has been passed before our time so that our generation can experience our nation's rich bounty of cultural and natural heritage, today protected by the National Park Service.
It is up to us to ensure that Congress does its basic job of ensuring appropriate and needed funding for the National Park Service, without having to resort to ads from Pepsi, Firestone or Fox News to ensure our National Parks remain beacons of American-style ecosystem conservation.
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.