You might remember not long ago President Bush surprised local congressmen and other supporters of a controversial plan to build a sewage treatment operation in Tijuana called Bajagua.
The president’s surprise was contained in a few sentences in his massive proposed budget for the country in the coming year. He wants Congress to set aside money for an alternative to Bajagua.
Supporters of Bajagua tried to spin this development as not a big deal and they put on a positive public presentation highlighting that the president also set aside some funding for Bajagua if it got on track.
Here was my take on Bajagua a couple of weeks ago.
Bush’s move was quite significant. It’s such a big deal, in fact, that Congressmen Bob Filner, Duncan Hunter and Brian Bilbray have written a letter to the leadership of the House Appropriations Committee asking it to erase Bush’s surprising sentences, which would set aside $66 million to expand an already existing sewage treatment plan in case Bajagua doesn’t go forward.
Now, it’s interesting that Bilbray, Hunter and Filner would write the letter. But it’s more interesting that U.S. Rep. Susan Davis and her colleague Darrell Issa declined to sign it.
Here’s the letter in question.
We have worked to find a solution to the Tijuana for many years and firmly believe this project (Bajagua) must move forward this year.
But remember, the president’s budget still has funding for Bajagua. The letter doesn’t articulate why funding for an alternative backup plan needs to be eliminated.
I called Davis and Issa to ask why they didn’t sign it.
Frederick Hill, an aide to Issa, said the issue was outside his district so the congressman didn’t want to weigh in on it.
But this hasn’t stopped Issa before. After all, in 2002 both he and Davis signed a letter along with Hunter, Filner and Randy “Duke” Cunningham in favor of Bajagua.
That 2002 letter urged Bush to lobby Mexican President Vicente Fox in favor of Bajagua.
The Bajagua Project has bipartisan support in Congress and near-unanimous community, business and environmental support in San Diego County. … The key is to now prioritize the completion of treaty and contract negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico and the owner of the Mexican facility.
Given his boss’s previous willingness to advocate on behalf of Bajagua, Hill clarified the reason he didn’t want to sign this most recent letter along with his congressional colleagues.
“We don’t have a place in this particular argument. This project is not in our district and we neither support nor oppose the content of the letter,” Hill said.
He said you can’t infer that Issa’s lack of signature on this letter as any kind of change in his support for the project. It’s just not a priority in his district, Hill said.
Of course, though, the project is not much closer to the districts of Hunter and Bilbray and they weighed in on it.
Ok, well, now back to Davis. Why didn’t she sign the letter? She’s supported Bajagua in letters like it in the past. What changed?
Her aide Aaron Hunter said Davis just disagreed with her colleagues who wrote the letter. She believes strongly that a backup plan with funding needs to be in place just in case Bajagua isn’t completed, he said.
“There’s some concern that Bajagua is not going to be able to meet the needs of the area. If it doesn’t, there needs to be some alternative,” Hunter said. “About Bajagua: Her feeling has always been that we need a comprehensive solution. Bajagua is not what she would prefer but it’s something that’s happening so let’s go forward with it.”
Unlike her colleagues, Hunter said, Davis does not think that providing funding for an alternative to Bajagua hurts Bajagua’s chances for success.
Davis might also have been influenced by letters from Coronado Mayor Tom Smisek, Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney and Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox.
They all wrote to express their support for funding for an alternative to Bajagua — a potential expansion of the International Wastewater Treatment Plant — like Bush proposed.
Smisek’s letter was the longest. He wrote that Coronado leaders wanted a backup plan to Bajagua because the project was “now at least delayed, if not abandoned.”
But then I heard the strangest thing.
Cox had written a short letter to Davis that said little more than this:
Since the Bajagua project has not met the prescribed schedule, President Bush’s proposal to include $66 million for improvements to the International Wastewater Treatment Plan in San Ysidro is both necessary and desired as a back up plan to Bajagua.
So I called Cox to gauge her and the city of Chula Vista’s overall opinion of Bajagua. Everyone has known that Imperial Beach, for example, has been long opposed to Bajagua. But I hadn’t heard about Chula Vista taking a stand.
Cox couldn’t take my call but a spokeswoman for the city, Liz Pursell, called me back.
She said that indeed Cox had sent the letter to Davis, but then had received a call from Filner’s office.
After the call from Filner, Cox decided she wanted to retract her letter, Pursell said.
The spokeswoman said that Cox asked Susan Davis’ office to “shred” the letter.