By Tommy Hough and Mark Jackson
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action were part of the coalition that opposed, and defeated, the Lilac Hills Measure B proposal in 2016, and we similarly stood fast against backcountry sprawl in our advocacy for Measure A earlier this year.
But being a zombie project, the proposed Lilac Hills development near Valley Center has never really gone away – it's just been repackaged, even as county staff and the county fire authority have "determined the project is unsafe and is recommending denial of the project."
This Friday, June 12, at 9 a.m. the Planning Commission will hold what our friends at San Diegans Against Lilac Hills Ranch describe as an "unprecedented" hearing on the Lilac Hills Ranch proposal, with it being the single item on Friday's Planning Commission agenda.
Take a moment now to submit your comments to the Planning Commission, and be sure they're in by 7:30 a.m. Friday morning to be considered.
According to the San Diegans Against Lilac Hills Ranch team, the protocol to speak at the Planning Commission hearing is as follows:
BE AWARE: The hearing is live while on the phone, but if you're watching the video streaming it will be delayed by 45 seconds. Utilize the phone audio, not the streaming audio.
Click here to review Friday's agenda and the relevant county documents.
By Mia Taylor with Tommy Hough
The Trump administration has unleashed a new series of assaults on the environment, public health, and wildlife over the past 48 hours, announcing four actions that will result in dramatic curbs on long-standing, effective environmental regulations, threaten recovering marine areas, and endanger millions of wild birds.
"It's impossible to overstate just how cruel and pernicious Trump's presidency is for our environment and our climate," said club president Cody Petterson. "Every day he unravels protections that took decades of struggle and effort to achieve."
The latest attacks on the environment cap an end-of-the-week assault unleashed by the Trump administration. "With the nation's attention on COVID-19 and the protests sweeping our nation, the Trump administration is accelerating its headlong race to the bottom to dismantle our nation's post-war legacy of environmental protection," said Petterson.
Club co-founder and former president Tommy Hough was equally blunt. "This administration's environmental nihilism and hostility to conservation knows no bounds," said Hough. "If it grows, this administration will kill it. If it is preserved, they seek to exploit it. This is an administration that just enabled trophy hunters to murder bears and other wildlife in their wintertime dens. It is cruelty incarnate."
Hough also noted the timing and petty returns. "With the attack on MPAs, Trump is hoping to dial in Maine's electoral votes in November. With his assault on clean air he's again looking out for his Big Oil and Big Gas benefactors. And cowardly using the biggest pandemic in 100 years and greatest civil unrest in 50 years to give 'cover' to these rollbacks is pure political swamp cynicism."
All of these moves come as Trump's poll numbers decline and his chances of re-election dim. Faced with the demise of his administration, Trump is dramatically stepping up his attacks on our nation’s conservation heritage, and decimation of wildlife and the environment.
"The extractive industries that dictate Trump's environmental policy will try to destroy as many of our regulations and wild spaces as they can," said Petterson. "It's essential we not only fight tooth and nail against these efforts, but loudly impress upon our elected officials and candidates the central importance of quickly repairing our ravaged environmental regulations and protections if we are able to liberate our nation's capital from the corporations that have looted it over the last four years."
Photo by Tommy Hough
By Cody Petterson
Since its inception, the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action have been committed to protecting our environment, confronting the climate emergency, and advancing environmental justice.
The core of the environmental movement is a belief in the oneness of life, in the fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence of all living things, and of our value and entitlement to life, dignity, and freedom. We are also Americans who believe in the equality before the law that our Constitution guarantees us, and in the dependence of our government on the consent of the governed.
We categorically stand with communities of color in their demands not only for justice, but for an equitable share of this nation's wealth, health, and opportunity.
We stand likewise with those who have taken to the streets to demand genuine remedy, and we condemn the egregious, militarized, disproportionate use of force against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.
We encourage our members to participate in whatever ways they believe appropriate. The struggle for sustainability is inextricable from the struggle for equity.
By Mia Taylor and Tommy Hough
This week marks the inaugural #BlackBirdersWeek, an occasion borne from a racist incident that occurred over Memorial Day Weekend in New York's Central Park, involving New York City Audubon board member Christian Cooper.
Four days after that incident, which sparked national outrage and highlighted the inequities and potentially dangerous challenges persons of color face even when enjoying the outdoors, a coalition of scientists, birders, and outdoor advocates launched a campaign to encourage birding and related outdoor activities among persons and communities of color under the name and hashtag #BlackBirdersWeek.
Co-organizer Corina Newsome, a graduate student at Georgia Southern University studying the Seaside Sparrow, took to Twitter with a video to announce the event, and said African-American outdoor advocates shouldn't be deterred by those who have attempted to make public outdoor spaces hostile.
"This effort was borne out of a large friend group of black scientists and outdoor explorers who want to make sure the world knows black birders belong here," said Newsome. "We are thriving, and our community is growing. We want members of our community who might be interested in birding and outdoor exploration to know they are welcome here."
Newsome went on to add, "For far too long, black people in the United States have been shown that outdoor activities are not for us. Whether it's the way the media chooses to present who is the 'outdoorsy' type, or the racism black people experience when we do explore the outdoors, as we saw recently in Central Park. We've decided to change that narrative."
As reported in Audubon Magazine, the week-long event kicked off on Sunday and runs through Friday, with five days of virtual happenings each with a unique theme and hashtag.
By Tommy Hough
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will consider enlarging the Otay Ranch Village 14 project site near Jamul, along with a land swap with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in order to accommodate the Otay Ranch 14 plan, at the board's next meeting this Wednesday, June 3rd, at 9 a.m.
While the proposed land swap adds greater acreage to the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve, the area to be traded away is far more ecologically sensitive with a greater density of rare habitats, endangered species, and a location in the center of a critical regional wildlife corridor.
Please write a letter or virtually attend the meeting to voice your objection. It's unlikely the supervisors will change their 2019 decision to move forward with the plan or reject the land swap, but a robust turnout will illustrate the level of concern over the project when it arrives at the state Wildlife Conservation Board for consideration in August.
There's more information about participating in Wednesday's meeting here.
Photos courtesy of Dave Hogan
By Cody Petterson and Tommy Hough
Over Memorial Day Weekend a man named Christian Cooper, who serves as a board member for the New York City Audubon chapter, was involved in what has become a nationally-covered incident that highlights the inequities and potentially dangerous challenges persons of color face – even while enjoying the outdoors, and even while engaging in activities as benign as bird watching.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police the same weekend, the incident has become another focal point in the latest national discussion on racism in the United States. It's quite clear this incident could have quickly grown into a confrontation that may have ended in a far more destructive manner.
Audubon quickly issued a statement of support for Christian, and San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action would like to add our support, by way of these remarks from club president Cody Petterson:
"Americans of color continue to experience unacceptable risks and impediments to their enjoyment of our natural, outdoor spaces. We are committed to making our parks and outdoors, and the environmental movement in particular, safer and more welcoming to communities of color. SDCDEA stands in absolute solidarity with Christian Cooper. We hope he and his family are safe and well after this frightening encounter that was needlessly, deliberately escalated."
By Tommy Hough
Thanks to everyone who dialed in for our virtual May mega-meeting on May 20th, featuring 15 area environmental leaders.
If you were unable to dial in virtually or simply couldn't join us for the entirety of the meeting and hear from every guest, club president Cody Petterson has prepared video links from Zoom to the first and second halves of the three-hour virtual meeting reboot:
Each video segment runs approximately 90 minutes.
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
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.