Issues & Action
San Diego Audubon is active on many fronts, ensuring that protections for wildlife and habitat are secured throughout the County. We have been active in many local issues that affect our local wildlife communities including wind energy, wetland protection, and urban habitat.
Current Issues & Projects
- Proposed down-listing of the California Least Tern from endangered to threatened Designation of Critical Habitat for Endangered Species
- City/County Brush Management
- Triple Fence system along U.S.-Mexico border
- Fiesta Island development
- Anza Borrego Desert State Park protection
- MSCP/MHCP implementation
- Carlsbad Desalination Project
- Water quality practices & regulations
- Preservation of Rancho Guejito Marine Protected Areas
- Advocating for native plant use
- La Jolla Seals/Children's Pool - Marine Mammal Preserve
Smart Development & Transportation Infrastructure
- San Onofre toll road/
Foothill Transportation South
- Rose Canyon - Regents Road Bridge
- Green Development (LEED)
- Sustainable land use planning
- Chula Vista Bayfront Development – Gaylord project
- General Plan Update (aka
In 2008, construction of the triple border fence occurred without consideration for any federal and state legal requirements. Due to a provision included in the Real ID Act of 2005, all laws and regulations pertaining to construction of the border fence were waived. These include the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. The triple fence was extended through Border Field State Park and required the filling of Smugglers Gulch and the leveling of Lichty Mesa. Although SDAS tried to work in collaboration with other organizations to encourage a more environmentally sensitive fence design, we were unsuccessful. To compel and inform future remediation activities along the border, SDAS has worked successfully with California State Parks and the Tijuana National Estuarine Research Reserve to carry out a vegetation and photo monitoring project to establish baseline data for adjacent sensitive habitat areas that may be impacted by sedimentation, erosion, and invasive plant colonization. This data documents the current status of these habitats and will be used to evaluate any changes that occur over time.
This is currently one of the largest waterfront planning efforts in the nation. However, the proposed site for this development is adjacent to the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, where endangered bird species such as light footed clapper rails are found. SDAS is working with the Environmental Health Coalition and other groups to make sure that the project will adequately avoid or fully offset the potential negative impacts that could result from this development. These include edge effects such as noise and light, water quality impacts caused by untreated runoff, unnatural predators, and habitat fragmentation. SDAS is represented on the Wildlife Advisory Group which is working with the City and the Port to develop a Natural Resources Management Plan which will protect the resources.
Water supply and use will undoubtedly become an increasingly critical challenge in coming years. The San Diego City Water Department estimates that, even with conservation measures, we may require 25% more water by 2030 than we are using now. To meet this projected demand, the City Council has proposed the implementation of indirect potable reuse (IPR). IPR is the practice of taking recycled water that meets all regulatory requirements for non-potable use, treating it further with several advanced treatment processes to meet potable water standards, and adding it to the raw water supply, usually a water body such as a surface water reservoir or a groundwater aquifer (City of SD, Water Department, 2006). SDAS supports IPR and additional water conservation measures to provide water to San Diego with the minimum impact on the environmental and energy.
Rancho Guejito is the best preserved Mexican land grant in Southern California. It was originally granted in 1845 and still contains relics of this era, including adobe houses that are over 100 years old. The ranch hosts a mosaic of grassland and forest ecosystems, and contains twenty different plant communities and up to 66 rare or threatened species. Recent actions have been made by the property owners that suggest that they are planning to develop portions of the ranch. This would result in very inappropriate sprawl development and tragic loss of habitat value. SDAS is monitoring this property and advocates that it be acquired as a public park and wildlife preserve to meet our future environmental needs and provide for nature-oriented recreation.
For many years there has been an effort to construct a bridge across Rose Canyon by extending Regent’s Road in University City. Such a bridge would permanently impact the natural environment and beauty of the canyon for people as well as wildlife. Furthermore, studies have shown it would do very little to relieve traffic congestion but would likely cost taxpayers over 30 million dollars. Yet in 2006 the City Council approved an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for construction of the bridge as the preferred alternative for relieving traffic congestion in University City.
San Diego Audubon, Friends of Rose Canyon, the Endangered Habitats League, and San Diego Coastkeeper successfully sued the City over inadequacies in the EIR. San Diego Audubon, along with 30 other environmental organizations, had opposed this environmentally damaging traffic relief alternative and actively lobbied the council to reject it. We won this lawsuit and the settlement required the City to conduct a new project specific EIR for the bridge including evaluation of reasonable alternatives. In addition to drafting a new EIR, the City also had to pay our attorneys $450,218 in legal fees related to the 2006 lawsuit.
In spite of these setbacks, the City attempted to implement a final bridge design before the new EIR had even begun a clear case of “putting the cart before the horse.” On November 5, 2007 they passed an ordinance that authorized funding for design of the bridge. Once again, San Diego Audubon, Friends of Rose Canyon and the Endangered Habitats League filed a lawsuit related to the proposed Regents Road Bridge in Rose Canyon. This suit was designed to prevent the City from spending $4.8 million taxpayer dollars for final design of the bridge before a new EIR had been completed. (The California Environmental Quality Act prohibits a government project from significantly going forward until an EIR has been completed. Otherwise the government would be
precommiting to a particular design alternative). After two and a half years of legal wrangling, we effectively won this case also.
On March 2, 2010 the City agreed to rescind the bridge design contract and pay legal fees incurred by the plaintiffs. However, they also agreed to docket a future agreement that would fund a project specific EIR to build the bridge. Finally, on June 23rd of 2010 the issue of funding a new EIR for the bridge was brought before the City’s Land Use and Housing Committee. Under the leadership of Council member Sherri Lightner, the Committee rejected the funding proposal by a vote of 3-1 effectively killing the project before it ever got to the full City Council.
As it currently stands, the proposed Regent’s Road Bridge project is on hold and will probably not be considered for years to come. Given the increasing cost of construction and severe budget constraints faced by San Diego, we can hope that it will never be seriously considered. Efforts to protect our environment and scenic canyons can last a long time. In this case the struggle has lasted for at least nine years, but Rose Canyon remains a quiet and scenic refuge for wildlife and people alike.
The City of San Diego’s Brush Management program has recently experienced exponential growth, due in part to a multi-million dollar grant from FEMA. In a period of two years, the amount of City open space slated for brush management has grown from 70 acres to almost 700 acres in fiscal year 2008-2009. Many individuals in the conservation community have noted that previous brush management implementation by the City has resulted in type conversion from slow-growing, deep rooted coastal sage scrub vegetation to highly flammable, shallowly rooted, weedy invasive vegetation. It is feared that current City brush management practices will result in the loss of hundreds of acres of native chaparral and coastal sage scrub wildlife habitat. Also, county-wide, several severe management methods have been proposed such as clear-cutting up to 300ft. of defensible space, conducting large-scale controlled burnings, and other symptomatic approaches that do not most effectively reduce fire risk. Indeed, these requirements were established in great haste with virtually no understanding of the long term consequences such as:
- their overall cost and the opportunity costs of excluding other methods of fire protection
- their likelihood of increasing fire risk by replacing native chaparral communities with fire-prone, grassy weeds
- they will increase the likelihood of flooding and mudslides in the winter
- they are distracting people from taking more productive measures such as removing flammable materials close to their homes and making structural improvements on the homes themselves
- they will reduce the ability of our native wildlife to thrive in our region, including several sensitive and endangered species
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Our chapter is collaborating with other organizations in a
Fuel Management Working Group with the mission of
advocating for altering the City of San Diego’s brush management ordinances, bulletins, policies, and implementation practices in order to increase public safety, reduce fire risk, and minimize damage to the City’s public and private land resources. The group aims to raise awareness among the public and decision-makers on how fire prevention can most effectively and sustainably be implemented in San Diego.
California has experienced severe budget problems that have only continued to worsen in recent months. Our state environmental agencies have been cut anew during each decline; however funding has not increased accordingly in times of prosperity. Funding for state environmental agencies has been reduced as the need for their services has increased. For instance, the local office of the Coastal Commission, Fish and Game Department, California State Parks and the Regional Water Quality Board are all severely understaffed as a result of successive funding cuts. This translates into the reduced ability of these agencies to adequately advise jurisdictions and the public, implement our environmental regulations, monitor and prevent violations in the field, and to adequately manage and protect our publicly-owned open spaces. SDAS works with Audubon California and other organizations to inform legislators about the need to better fund these agencies.
The Sunrise Powerlink is a high-voltage transmission line development project proposed by San Diego Gas & Electric. This transmission line would bring power from El Centro to northern San Diego County by way of a 150 mile long power line that would traverse Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Cleveland National Forest. This project has been protested on many fronts, including arguments that the power line will be harmful to the environment, increase fire risk, will be costly to ratepayers, and will increase greenhouse gas emissions rather than reduce them. Recently, several alternatives have been proposed to mitigate the adverse effects of the original plan. One option would be to substantially expand local solar power sources, improve conservation, or bring energy via a northern route that would have less impact to our parks and natural areas. For various reasons, SDG&E opposes this alternative. SDAS will continue to support efforts to satisfy our energy needs in ways that do not degrade our local environment and that will reduce our contribution to green house gasses.
SDAS does not have a coherent program on reducing green house gasses or seeking ways to minimize the effects of climate change on local species and habitats. But we do address these issues in comments on environmental documents and in education events, we support the more coherent efforts of the National Audubon Society and other organizations, and we work to reduce energy use in the SDAS office and projects. We will participate in local efforts to identify climate change related problems for local wildlife and seek ways to mitigate them. We will also advocate for solving the human problems caused by climate change in ways that do not degrade habitat or put wildlife at greater risk.
The Master Storm Water System Maintenance Program (MSWSMP) is meant to reduce flooding and improve storm water runoff through drainage channels by clearing them of soil and vegetation. The project could cumulatively impact over 70 acres of wetlands plus 24 acres of natural stream bed, 20 acres of sensitive upland habitat and 9 acres of disturbed upland habitat. Passage of the project, as proposed, would give the City a 20-year approval to clear storm drain channels of sediment and vegetation. Many of the targeted drainage channels contain valuable wetland habitat and all help to filter contaminants from urban runoff, which helps protect the water quality of our streams, bays, and beaches. Some help slow runoff that tends to protect downstream homes and streets from flooding. Some help retain water so that it is absorbed by the soil and eventually recharge our ground water resources.
The City has a Flood Management Plan that discusses a wide range of measures to prevent flooding and contains an analysis of high priority needs. Contrary to that plan, the Master Storm Water System Maintenance Program assumes that clearing creeks and channels is the solution to all our flooding problems. It comes to that conclusion without analyzing the unintended consequences. It is a shallow, one-size-fits-all program. It does not include the case by case analysis that is required to assess if removal of vegetation is needed or if another solution or combination of solutions would be more effective, cost effective, or better for our environment. It ignores possible alternative solutions such as widening some waterways, adding upstream wetlands or basins to slow peak flood flows, adding additional conveyances, or relocating flood prone development as the Flood Management Plan does. It fails to identify the degradation of water quality that will result from the program. It also provides inadequate mitigation that fails to replace the functions and values that the project will destroy. The current programmatic approach will deny the public adequate project by project information and opportunity to point out the problems that the projects will create.
Any action by the Council or the Mayor to advance this project without resolving its serious deficiencies would be shortsighted and wasteful. San Diego Audubon urges our decision makers to demand a much wiser and more comprehensive approach before moving ahead with this program. To accomplish this we recommend that the City Council create a Storm Water System Maintenance Task Force that will address alternative approaches that will provide for flood control and not conflict with our water quality and habitat goals. The 2002 Canyon Sewer Access Task Force and resulting PEIR should serve as a model for the next steps of this project.
The Navy would like to expand the frequency and types of training that occur at the Silver Strand Training Complex. The No action alternative is to continue training that has been ongoing for over 60 years. Alternative 1 (Preferred) proposes to increase the frequency and types of training and proposes to use different existing lanes for training activities (using lanes 8/9/10 during nesting season). Modeling has been done and they have estimated takes (of nests) at 105 nests during a nesting season under the Preferred Alternative. The Navy would also conditionally increase access to training areas, including in dry vernal pools.
Mitigation activities in and around Snowy Plover nesting areas include installing a 30m buffer around a maximum of 22 nests once they are spotted. The Navy will continue to monitor nests 6 days/week. They also propose to shift training activities to areas that have less nests.
San Diego Audubon is concerned that impacts to both nesting plovers and vernal pools will be substantial and are not adequately mitigated for. There should also be a provision in the EIS that if there is a decreased training demand, they reduce their usage of the training area accordingly. Lastly, we need a better understanding of what is happening on other adjacent properties and what the cumulative impacts might be.
Join us in protecting San Diego County’s birds, other wildlife, and their habitats!
The Conservation Committee meets the last Monday of each month at 6:30pm. These meetings are open to the public and are an opportunity to: