City Attorney Mike Aguirre stated publicly his desire to lead the San Diego City Council back in time to use closed session meetings as a means of avoiding public scrutiny. One might think those hot topics are water repurification (a.k.a. indirect potable reuse and “toilet to tap”) and secondary treatment upgrade of the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant (PLWTP). However, buried under Mr Aguirre’s mountain of misdirection are settlement fees to council darlings Marco Gonzalez, chairman and legal counsel for Surfriders’ San Diego chapter; and Bruce Reznik, executive director of Coastkeepers’ San Diego chapter. With election year 2008 upon us, might Democrats as usual be turning to the city’s public treasury to fund their political campaigns?

Aguirre claims settlement negotiations are needed for Bruce and Marco’s proposed legal challenge of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s likely approval of the city of San Diego’s PLWTP application for renewal of its NPDES permit consistent with Section 301(h) of the U.S. Clean Water Act (i.e. the waiver). Fifteen years of ocean monitoring prove the PLWTP’s advanced treated sewage discharge program will prevail against Bruce and Marco’s hollow scientific and legal arguments. Unfortunately, their claims were sufficient enough for Aguirre to convince the council to follow him into closed session settlement negotiations. This is only half the story.

The city council wisely is not going to stop Mayor Sanders’ application for the waiver for fear of replicating the fiscal and legal nightmare Mayor Maureen O’Conner led a previous council through during the late 1980s. Democrats lost control of the city council for eight years because of Maureen’s boondoggle. Instead, in order to justify awarding attorneys’ fees, some individuals want the council to use the state’s water supply crisis and the city’s water repurification project as the chosen rational for a settlement. It really is a shell game, because water supply is not related to sewer treatment. Even the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act didn’t make that legal leap.

Apparently, Aguirre, environmental attorneys Bruce and Marco, and labor unions leaders Jerry Butkiewicz and Lorena Gonzalez (i.e. Marco’s sister) think this is a great wedge issue to help turnout Democrat support for their choice candidates, while back channeling much needed campaign funding support.

Aguirre claims the state water crisis and sewer discharge permit “offer a unique opportunity for the city to seek continued relief from secondary treatment … in return for increased water recycling.” Aguirre falsely states the two issues were combined previously, but OPRA only required 45 MGD of tertiary sewage treatment capacity. It did not mandate reuse. No one has ever asserted reuse, a water supply issue, was mandated by OPRA because the Clean Water Act only addresses sewage treatment.

Aguirre goes on to state that he will enter into closed session with Marco and Bruce to create a legal settlement mandating the $300 million repurification project. Might Tuesday’s water forum be the last time the public can speak on the subject? Previously, attorney Bill Simmons made $600,000 from the city of San Diego for representing the Sierra Club during Maureen O’Connor’s sewer boondoggle. His contribution to that negotiated settlement was agreeing to support the low-flow toilet rebate program. Marco and Bruce recently received $309,000 from the city of San Diego for their sewer spill complaint, and obviously they have a favorable council relationship.

Bruce recently claimed he has the support of Council President Scott Peters, and council members Donna Frye and Jim Madaffer. But does he really have their support for enacting a settlement with attorney fees in closed session for the sake of imposing a $300 million water repure program, and without an EIR and water/sewer rate increases to fund the project? Do council members Donna Frye and Toni Atkins really want to ignore their 2004 and 2006 vows to not attend inappropriate closed session meetings?

Last year, the Rules Committee voted,

Motion by Councilmember Frye, second by Councilmember Madaffer, to work toward a consent decree that would implement secondary treatment at Pt. Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant within terms and timeframe to be determined; and to indicate that it is a priority of the city of San Diego to obtain funding from federal and state government for infrastructure upgrades and seek legislation to support this strategy. VOTE: 5-0; Peters-yea, Young-yea, Maienschein-yea, Frye-yea, Madaffer-yea

Despite this vote, they willingly adopted the February 2007 water and sewer rate increases without funding for PLWTP secondary treatment or repure. With fourteen months left in three of those council members terms, any closed session settlement would leave the next council with the task of fulfilling their promises.

Aguirre long ago abandoned his self-titled “open-meeting” advocate campaign promises during his 2004 election campaign, but I hope councilmembers don’t bow to political expediency by participating in Aguirre’s phony closed session settlement negotiations. What do you think: should the council foist repure on ratepayers through closed session? Or should they vow to support public participation in council hearings about these water supply projects? And, what about the 15 other cities and sanitation districts, whose sewer influent accounts for 32 percent of the wastewater flow generated to PLWTP? Those participating agencies are the cities of Chula Vista, Coronado, Del Mar, El Cajon, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, National City, Poway, the Lemon Grove Sanitation District, the Otay Water District, The Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the county of San Diego (including Lakeside/Alpine Sanitation District, Spring Valley Sanitation District, Winter Gardens Sewer Maintenance District and East Otay Sewer Maintenance District).

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