Second up in our little series of Q&As is Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney. He’s most prominent as the public face and legal representative of the Surfrider Foundation and Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation.

(If you’re curious what I’m doing, here was my intro and here was the first post — a Q&A with Marco Li Mandri.)

Just recently, Gonzalez got hammered for whatever happened that put the kibosh on the downtown New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

But Gonzalez also does his share of hammering.

I was curious what he was focusing on in 2010 and thought you would be too. My first question touches on Bajagua. For background, Bajagua was a sewage-treatment project in Tijuana that was to be funded by the U.S. government. It had the adamant support, for years, of most of the congressional delegation from San Diego.

Ultimately, it became very controversial among local environmentalists — some who saw it as pivotal to stopping at least some of the massive amounts of sewage that flows from Tijuana into San Diego waters (Gonzalez) and others who claimed it wouldn’t make a difference and it would waste millions that could be better spent on a more comprehensive solution.

Gonzalez has also helped lead the opposition to a new seawater desalination plant in Carlsbad — putting up as many challenges to it as the legal system will allow.

Bajagua is done (right)? Are you still thinking about the tons of sewage flowing from Tijuana into San Diego waters? Is there any hope for controlling it?

As far as I know, the Bajagua project as originally conceived is not being pursued. There may be a recycling component being pursued solely in Mexico, but we’re not involved. Yes, I still think about the millions of gallons of sewage flowing from TJ into the United States.

I’m ashamed to be part of an environmental community that turned its back on that horrible environmental catastrophe. When the detractors of Bajagua were successful, I decided to withdraw from the issue for a few years to see if anything meaningful would be done by the so-called enviro group that spearheaded the opposition.

To date, we have nothing. I expect in another couple of years, we will have nothing. At that point, we’ll have succeeded in creating drinking water from our treated sewage in SD. Then, I’ll find a new legal angle to pursue on behalf of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation that will hopefully bring a real solution back to the table.

Do you hope to stop desalination efforts or do you concede they’ll probably happen, you just want to shape the standards for them?

Efforts to combat the Poseidon desalination project rest upon its failure to implement sub-surface water intake structures for the benefit of marine life that will otherwise be decimated by the plant. I still believe there is a strong chance that plant will not be built as currently designed. But, even if it is, we are committed to fighting it every chance we get until appropriate technologies are implemented.

Is there one simple problem you think you could solve in 2010 if people just understood it better? What?

I don’t believe any of our environmental problems are simple at all. And it’s not a matter of educating people. The fact is, there is a large segment of society that is so ideologically out of sync with the progressive/environmental “agenda” that it doesn’t matter how many facts are put on the table, they will never agree with us. I wish I were more optimistic, but the reality of the situation is that society is governed from the fringes, not the center.

What decision will you be paying attention to the most in the coming year and who will be making it?

This is hard, because there are a lot of important ones. I guess the most important decision will be the County Board of Supervisor’s consideration of the County’s General Plan Update. This has been in the works for a long time, will create the land-use blueprint for growth region-wide for the next couple of decades. From all current accounts, it looks to be a grade-A disaster.

Who is the most promising leader in San Diego these days and what do you think he or she might do in 2010?

I’d have to say Todd Gloria. He’s proven himself a tireless advocate for important issues both in his community and regionally (via SANDAG). As a young up-and-comer with the skills necessary to become an even stronger leader in 2010, I expect him to take a more prominent role in city issues such as City Hall expansion, Water Recycling, Charger’s stadium, and the quest for a new downtown library.

What else are you looking forward to in 2010?

Quite a lot. The State Water Resources Control Board will pass a policy to phase out Once-Through-Cooled (OTC) power plants up and down the coast. This will be the culmination of decades of work by activists and scientists to protect the marine environment. The SWRCB will also here Coastkeeper’s appeal of the Carlsbad Poseidon desalination facility approval by the Regional Water Board. The OTC policy will not be consistent with that approval, so it’s our best shot at an honest debate on the significant marine life mortality that will result from that project.

Other things I’m looking forward to: City of San Diego’s passage of a contract for the pilot Indirect Potable Reuse water recycling project, SANDAG’s work on its 2011 Regional Transportation Plan, specifically as regards increased opportunities for public transit, and various coastal cities’ efforts to accommodate increased density along existing transit corridors. I’m also looking forward to addressing unpermitted fireworks displays along our coast before the Fourth of July.

Gonzalez’ ranking of the priority of the major projects I listed:

An Expanded Mass Transit System

A New Wastewater Recycling System

(All of the below are significantly less important in my opinion)

A Different Airport Infrastructure

A New City Hall

A New Central Library

Performing Arts Center

An Expanded Convention Center

A New Stadium

And Gonzalez’ ranking of civic worries:

Municipal Budget Shortfalls

Infrastructure Decay

Water Reliability Concerns

Mass Transit Shortcomings

Other: Energy consumption (failure to transition to alternative sources)

Local Ecological Damage

Water Pollution

Parks and Recreation Cutbacks

School Budget Shortfalls

Library Cutbacks or Eliminations


Drug Use


Fire Protection Shortfalls


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