Despite record-breaking heat waves in the western U.S. brought on by worsening impacts of the climate crisis, the Padre Dam Municipal Water District has voted to reinstate late fees and water shutoffs for delinquent customers, many of whom are only just beginning to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision puts countless East County residents at risk of being without water during an extraordinary, and deadly, crisis of heat and drought.
On Saturday, the executive board of San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action (SDCDEA) called on the Padre Dam Municipal Water District to reverse course, agreeing the decision is exacerbating a growing environmental and social justice issue. Several SDCDEA board members called the Padre Dam Water District decision "callous."
It's unconscionable that four of the Padre Dam board members would think it's a good idea to reimpose late fees, and even worse, water shut-off measures at a time when East County residents face life-threatening temperatures," said Cody Petterson, outgoing president of San Diego Democrats for Environment Action. "With this action the board has made it abundantly clear how little regard they have for the people and communities they represent."
Like other water districts throughout California, the Padre Dam Municipal Water District had suspended late fees and water shutoffs for non-payment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But on a 4-1 vote earlier this month, taken at the height of a punishing heat wave and persistent drought, the district's board elected to resume late fees and discontinue water service for residents who have not paid their bills. Padre Dam Director Suzanne Till was the lone vote in opposition.
Till said in the July 15th issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I don't want families worrying about water during the hottest part of the year, which is August and September." Till had previously asked the board to hold off on reinstating late fees and shut-offs at least until school resumes, where children have access to water and air conditioning.
The majority of the board, however, placed greater importance on recouping some of the $528,000 in outstanding monies owed from past due accounts, despite California Governor Gavin Newsom's recent announcement the state is making $2 billion in assistance available for past-due water and utility bills.
Padre Dam Municipal Water District, which serves Santee, Alpine, Crest, and other East County communities, will resume charging late fees on unpaid utility bills as of Aug. 1. The district has also indicated it will resume water shutoffs for non-payment beginning Oct. 1, thereby setting the stage for an environmental justice conflict in an area of the county home to many residents and farmers struggling economically due to COVID-19 pandemic.
East County resident Bonnie Price, who e-mailed the board to urge its members not to reimpose late fees and water shut-off measures, says the district could better use its resources to connect residents with the utility bill relief offered by the state, and perhaps assist residents in completing the required paperwork to access state funds.
"It's the hottest time of the year. You can't have people worrying about water," said Price, who does not live within the Padre Dam Water District. "The board simply kept saying, 'We run a business here. This is a business. We can't allow people to get away with not paying bills.' It was patently obvious they're not concerned about the people they represent."
Photo by Tommy Hough
By Richard Ram
At our club's executive board retreat this past weekend, I was selected by my peers to serve as the interim president of San Diego County Democrats For Environmental Action. I'd like to thank my fellow board members for their confidence in me, and their commitment to working with me in the ongoing process of building our club into a powerhouse of passionate advocacy for environmental issues, and their commitment to working with Democratic candidates and elected officials who will champion those causes.
I would like to also recognize and thank our immediate past president Cody Petterson for his tireless dedication in organizing our club meetings, doing the critical outreach to elected officials and allied organizations, and exemplifying service and leadership in ways that far too often have gone unnoticed.
If you've not gotten to know me, I've been a member of the club since 2015 and began my service on the executive board in 2016 – first as director of communications, and more recently as the club's V.P. for programs and outreach.
My youth was spent in Bakersfield, California, in the southern San Joaquin Valley, where I became acutely aware of the public health impacts of pollution from the surrounding oil fields and refineries, and the devastating cancer clusters that arose among children of farm worker families living near fields where they were exposed to widespread spraying of pesticides. I saw that these industries gave heavily to local Republican politicians who were completely indifferent to issues of environmental justice and the trashing of our planet, even as the residents of their districts were getting sick and dying.
As I evolved into an environmentally-concerned citizen and advocate, I also became aware of how much the meat and dairy industries pollute our air and waterways, contribute heavy amounts of greenhouse gases, inflict unspeakable violence and suffering within the walls of factory farms, and use the government to lobby for ever-increasing consumption of their products by a population where the top causes of death and medical expenses are from degenerative diet-related diseases. I've been a vegetarian since 1991 and vegan since 2012, and you will often hear me speak on issues related to animals and humane legislation.
While I've been a frequent contributor and member of various environmental and social justice organizations over the years, my first foray into any political organization was with the formation of a local San Diego group supporting former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean in 2003. This was motivated by my disgust with the Bush-Cheney regime's determined, and ultimately unpopular, unilateral war in Iraq, and Dean being (at the time) the only candidate with any momentum speaking out against the war.
I continued attending joint meetings of Democracy for America (DFA) and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) for several years, where I first got to know many of the members involved with this club. I'm a graduate of San Diego State University with a degree in communication, I work in government services assisting our public, and I live in the Serra Mesa neighborhood of San Diego in a home I share with my wife, daughter, and cat.
The challenges ahead are many, and we will all need to work together to address and fight for the myriad of issues we care about – in the face of special interest lobbyists and "friendly fire" often coming from our own side of the trench. With our team of energized board members and your committed involvement, I'm certain we will be able to grow and diversify our club's membership, further educate and propagate on important issues affecting our planet and its inhabitants, support committed environmentalists in getting elected to office, and continue living up to the "Action" in our club's name.
San Diego Pride photo by Maria Cerda
Georgette Gómez photo by Roberto Torres
By Tommy Hough
This Wednesday's San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action general membership meeting will include an update from Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who serves as the Chair of SANDAG, and a panel discussion on the future of the San Diego regional food system.
As SANDAG chair, Mayor Blakespear has navigated an often challenging course at the nexus between coastal and environmental protection, climate action, housing, and transit. We'll hear about the environmental work that has occupied her since her last visit to the club, and the challenging road ahead.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the deep inequities, inefficiencies, and disarticulations of our regional food system, it has also provided a renewed impetus to collaborate to improve the quality, equity, and sustainability of food in our region. Joining us for a discussion on the challenges facing the many segments of our food system, and the most promising opportunities for transformation, are:
Executive Director of the San Diego Food System Alliance
Elly has led the development of San Diego County Food Vision 2030, released early this month, which lays out a bold plan for transforming our regional food system around matters of equity, sustainability, and resilience.
Co-Founder of Solidarity Farm and the Foodshed
Solidarity Farm is a regional leader in regenerative farming, agricultural carbon sequestration, food aggregation and distribution, and youth and student engagement.
General Manager at Ponce's, Board Member at San Diego Business for Good, National Strategy Director for RAISE High Road Restaurants
A long-time friend of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action (Ponce's hosted out first three club anniversary events), Mikey remains one of the region's foremost advocates for local food sourcing and rights and dignity of restaurant workers.
Director of Nutrition Services at Sweetwater Union High School District
Eric has been pioneering transformative approaches to integrating schools with local farms and communities, and ensuring fresh, high quality, locally sourced meals for Sweetwater Union's students, many of whom face challenges of poverty, housing insecurity, and discrimination, and are disproportionately dependent on the district's food services.
Our meeting will come to order at 6:30 p.m. You can access the Zoom link here.
Click here for the Facebook event page for Wednesday's meeting.
Photo by Tommy Hough
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.