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For about a week, I naively believed that the devastating wildfires that hit San Diego County might result in a dramatic change in the development at any cost policies promoted at all levels of government throughout the county. In theory, the loss of more than 4,000 homes due to the last two wildfires should have caused this shift. But I should have remembered that nothing would come between the steadfast marriage of local elected officials to their developer constituents.

Rather than deal with pressing 21st century problems such as housing, health care, education, and immigration, the leadership elite routinely invent crises to be addressed that are designed to benefit the wealthiest and most powerful San Diegans and take attention away from the real issues that confront us.

So we had the Padres crisis and a new taxpayer financed ballpark. Then we had the Chargers crisis and the ticket buyout fiasco (and continued efforts to provide more welfare for the Spanos family). Then Scott Peters invented the Children’s Pool crisis, scaring La Jollans into believing that marauding bands of harbor seals were poised to invade the boutiques and discount Botox outlets on Fay Avenue.

Now with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, SANDAG, and two sand lobbyists, we are in the throes of the newest “crisis” in San Diego County. In the words of one Imperial Beach city council member, the newest calamity, the beach towel crisis, requires that we spend tens of millions of dollars, “to make sure that a family can have a place to put their towels when they come to the beach.”

Much of the beach towel crisis hysteria in San Diego County is the work of sand lobbyists, D.C.-based Howard Marlowe (referred to as “Sand-a Claus”) and his associate Steve Aceti of Carlsbad. Marlowe is the brainchild behind much of the sand pork in the Bush vetoed (and overridden) Water Resources Development Act.

Aceti is the Executive Director of the non-profit lobbying group CALCOAST and sits on the SANDAG Shoreline Preservation Committee (Aceti did not respond to two email requests for specific information about his financial relationship to Marlowe). Through their efforts, sand projects are no longer framed as public welfare for millionaire beachfront property owners, but as ways to help downtrodden beachgoers.

Most experts on coastal ecosystems agree that sand replenishment projects are what Mark Massara of the Sierra Club calls:

an exercise in futility. “..These beach nourishment projects are like taking public taxpayer dollars and throwing them into the sea,” Massara said. “The lesson learned is that nourishment alone will not protect San Diego beaches longer than the first day of moderate surf.”

But despite what is the scientific consensus that sand replenishment projects are an absolute waste of public funds and have a devastating impact on fragile marine and coastal ecosystems, we have at least $78 million on the table in San Diego County in proposed sand projects to protect the most expensive beachfront private property from Imperial Beach to Oceanside.

Bush’s failed veto of the Water Resources Development Act, was largely over projects such as the controversial Imperial Beach $56 million sand replenishment project that USA Today listed as one of the top three pork projects in the U.S.:

This bloated package is of course, an exercise in local greed and political clout. $56 million to replenish sand at Imperial Beach in San Diego County. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., defends it as a way to fight “storm surge.” That’s dubious, and in any case, why should taxpayers in Kansas have to re-sand a beach in California?”

Last week, the city of Imperial Beach voted to allocate $31,000 of redevelopment funds to SANDAG to pay for a $500,000 feasibility study that would pave the way for a new countywide $22 million dollar sand replenishment program in 2010. This was despite the fact that the city and the Army Corps of Engineers recently spent over $1.7 million dollars on a similar feasibility study for Imperial Beach. SANDAG is also exploring other funding options that could include placing a bond measure on the ballot to raise further funds for sand replenishment efforts so that everyone in San Diego County would have the honor of paying to protect the most privileged private property owners on the planet.

Given the fact that City of San Diego is prepared to spend between $500,000-$1 million to remove sand from Casa Beach in order get ride of the seals, why not take the La Jolla sand and dump it in Qualcomm Stadium. That way we would save $78 million and the next round of fire evacuees would be able to lay out on their Padres beach towels at the Q while awaiting the verdict on whether or not they lost their homes.

— SERGE DEDINA

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