guest commentary by Kevin C.
It is Just an Extra $30 Million
The Encinitas City Council continues to bob around when it comes to Leucadia’s flooding. After decades of struggling with periodic flooding, residents along the 101 corridor were provided a $4+ million dollar solution in 2003. From several perspectives the project became a fiasco.
The system was either poorly designed or the City knew it was not up to the task from the outset (or, why are back at this so soon?). First consider that more competent engineering firms were available for the job. Unfortunately, other firms had fewer ties to politically connected insiders. The City’s current story is that the project did have a good design, but “we” didn’t ask for a system that meets our needs.
The first big storm to test the completed system occurred in 2003 and the flooding was terrible. Poor design coupled with poor execution and weak City oversight collided. The contractor did not install the backflow preventer valves and the City failed to ensure they were installed in time. The valves are necessary to ensure that the system does not cause a catastrophe.
Some credit the City Council for rushing in and hiring a new engineer. At great cost* to the City, the new engineer installed orifice plates at all the storm system’s intakes, which slow the entry of water into the system, which is evidence that the system was poorly conceived. Now we have well planned flooding.
Every time a storm hits Leucadia a small army of public servants shows up. Sheriff, public works, and fire departments block off streets and pump water away from the system (much of their work is overtime). Given the original project’s cost, perpetual storm event costs, and newly acquired political and legal liabilities to the City, it is not surprising that some Council Members were quick to put a spin on the failure.
The worst spin was the blame publicly proposed by Council Member Stocks (and others). During a Leucadia Town Council meeting, while Mayor Dalager was present, Stocks told the public that the original system did not live up to its sales pitch because the Coastal Commission had limited the size of the storm drain’s outfall into Batiquitos Lagoon. The Coastal Commission was to blame. But, it wasn’t long before that meeting that Mayor Dalager had told me that the City had gone to closed session regarding the project to discuss how to respond to the blunder. (Was the City liable for all the damage? How did they justify the closed session?) At that time, the Mayor did not mention the Coastal Commission as the problem.
Last December the Council moved to alleviate Leucadia’s flooding, again. At the cost of $290,000 the City hired a new engineering firm to design a $30 million storm drain system, with a bigger pipe. If the Coastal Commission squashed the first project, why should tax-payers spend money designing another that will be denied? The answer must be that the City Council is not worried about the Coastal Commission’s response. This is probably because it turns out that the Coastal Commission did not direct the City to install a small pipe. The response to my public records request provides evidence that the Coastal Commission did not limit the size of the pipe (although they did suggest we microtunnel and have outfalls at the beach, but we ignored that suggestion. We didn’t follow the real recommendations).
It is a brazen act that Council Member Stocks continues to take campaign contributions from the original engineering company’s employees even though they don’t report living in Encinitas. Maybe this helps explain why Stocks remains uninterested in explaining what really went wrong and why there appears to have been a blame-game cover-up.
The Council has failed to educate the public. We are left with a lot of concerns and questions. Why didn’t the City do the job right the first time? Why did the City pay the engineering contractor in full? How did the engineer get the contract in the first place (a touchy subject with some staff)? Why did the Council hire a new engineer? Why not tear out the current small pipe and replace it with a bigger one? How could the repair cost 6 times as much as the original project? Why can the City of San Diego lay storm drain for $1million a mile but it costs Encinitas $25 million a mile? When publicly and privately asked these questions, why won’t the Council answer? I hope they answer them tonight.
The details need to be understood by the public so that we can understand where all this tax money is going. This goal might be difficult to obtain because the Council is not publicly curious about what happened. So, the biggest question of all is, why doesn’t the Council act like they want to get to the bottom of this? Is it because they already know?
We shouldn’t have trusted this Council with the first project and we should not trust them with the newly proposed and overpriced $30 million dollar project, at least not until they are straight with the taxpayers. The first project was not promoted as a short-term fix. It now looks like we should call it “phase I” and the $30 million project “phase II.” Lets hope there is no phase III.
I by no means wish to present myself as an expert on this blunder. I don’t think there is anyone outside the City that has much of a clue what went on, because the Council has not kept the public in the loop.