GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Committee on Natural Resources and Culture stalls over action plan

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 3, 2011

The first meeting of the reconstituted San Diego City Council Committee on Natural Resources and Culture (NR&C) was held Wednesday February 2. The committee reorganized after last November’s election that brought in two new members to replace outgoing councilmembers.

David Alvarez, Chair, is taking the place of Donna Frye who termed out of her council position. Lorie Zapf is getting Marti Emerald’s seat (Emerald is still a Councilmember but received different committee assignments for this year). Carl DeMaio remains the Vice Chair and Sherri Lightner continues with her membership.

The NR&C Committee’s area of responsibility includes Clean Water Program, Energy, Water, State and Federal Endangered Species Acts, Arts and Culture, TOT, Solid Waste Disposal, Recycling, APCD/Air Quality, Hazardous Waste, MSCP, and Regional Parks and Open Space. I follow the Committee’s doings because it is deeply involved in operations of the Public Utilities Department and especially with water.

Last December, Council President Anthony Young sent out a memo asking committee chairs to submit a 90-day action plan for their respective committees.

David Alvarez responded for NR&C on December 30, indicating that he was soliciting input from colleagues on the Council, the Mayor’s Office, City staff, and other stakeholders and hoped to have it ready by the end of January. He also stated that his own initial three priorities were: 1) Promoting water conservation; 2) Flood protection and environmental preservation; 3) Promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Wednesday’s agenda included the 90-day action plan as a discussion item.

For this meeting I thought the committee members would talk about feedback Alvarez had gotten from the various stakeholders mentioned in his memo, then discuss their own priorities and negotiate a final 90-day action plan for the committee. That’s not what happened, though.

While they were working on the last agenda item before the action plan, Carl DeMaio slipped out of his chair, exited the room, and never returned.

I don’t know if Alvarez had other plans and changed because of DeMaio’s absence, but he asked Lightner and Zapf only to mention highlights from their memorandums, and then he had a few comments about his items. That was it. No discussion. No debate. No action plan. In effect, that made everything a priority.

There are plenty of water-related issues in those memorandums. If you examine them, you’ll find there’s a great deal there, perhaps even too much for a 90-day plan.

Lightner wants to completely overhaul obsolete and conflicting water policies and to develop a comprehensive policy for a sustainable water supply in San Diego. Her ideas alone could take six months to plan and prioritize. Carl DeMaio is crusading to reform financial management of the Public Utilities Department and for lower water rates (it will be interesting to see how he balances Council work against his 2012 mayoral campaign). Alvarez has water conservation and flood control concerns along with Zapf.

Nobody mentioned planning a future for indirect potable reuse after completion of the Water Purification Demonstration Project, although Lightner mentions IPR in a generic sense. It’s only a one-year project and I hope more advance planning is done not only for the subsequent production phase but for possibly wider application of IPR beyond that.

An action plan should be fairly specific about things to do. A priority such as “Promoting Water Conservation” needs to be translated into concrete steps. As things now stand, the committee has a collection of memorandums with numerous ideas all competing for attention. It will be difficult for the committee to focus on a selection of them, especially with complex and sometimes mundane demands from a never-ending workflow of projects and requests from the Public Utilities Department.

Aside from the planning deficit and despite the loss of knowledge and experience that Donna Frye and Marti Emerald contributed, I think the committee shows promise.

In his role as Chair, Alvarez performed competently and cordially, the committee members were otherwise well-prepared for some difficult and complex agenda items, and they seem to get along with each other. So despite the committee lagging on a coordinated action plan for important water issues, I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks and months they’ll be able to regroup, organize their ideas, and implement their plans successfully.


One Response to “Committee on Natural Resources and Culture stalls over action plan”

  1. Tom Groot said

    Thank you for summarizing the actions of this committee. While the meeting itself was nothing to report about, the memos from the council members show the numerous issues to be faced (thank you for including the link). With the diversity of issues the committee must have a detailed discussion and organize these into clear priorities if they are to accomplish anything significant. The slow start is not encouraging when the next committee meeting is not until March 2nd.

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