Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What Is a Pasco Fiasco?

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.

Kevin C.

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.


  1. An admission by Stocks. Jerome said it was the Coastal Commission’s fault the system sucks. If everything went as planned why were excuses proffered (especially when they were false)? And why isn’t Jerome interested in finding out why false information was “told” to him.

    From: "Jerome Stocks"
    Subject: Re: 101 storm drain question
    Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005 16:00:58 -0700

    Mr. Cummins;
    1) While I cannot recreate the past and tell why folks thought then what they did, I can tell you that I was told the CC was the issue. That may or may not be correct, but it's what I was told.

    2) Our staff and consultant believe the CC will approve what they have in mind.

    Jerome Stocks
    Council Menber
    City of Encinitas

    "K Cummins" 6/14/2005 8:53:00 AM >>>

    Mr. Stocks,

    Because some of distrubing things one of you colleagues mentioned to me, I attended the LTC meeting where Rick Engineering was introduced (well over a year ago). At that meeting you indicated that one of the reasons that the 101 storm drain did not work out as well as it could have was because the Coastal Commission squashed the City's desires to put in a bigger pipe and outfall. Since then I executed a public records request on this subject and there is no written evidence that the CC actually said no way Jose. Here are my questions,

    1) why did the City think the CC would not allow a bigger pipe?
    2) why does the City think that at this time, the CC will change their mind and allow for greater maximum flows into Batiquitos?

    I have already spoken to the engineering department. This is a $30million dollar/redevelopment question (apparently), I think it is resonable to ask that you respond directly. It is a big enough deal that you should be able to answer this question.

    Kevin Cummins

  2. what happened to the proposal that the surfriders were handing out that appeared to indicate the flooding could be fixed for less than 3mil. i know it was given to the council members was it no good? have to worry that they keep pushing the 30mil estimate so that they can eventually justify a redevelopment district. don't know of anyone that wants that but jerome,guerin and a host of developers. wish it was just a plumbing problem.

  3. An RDA would not have come close to raising 30 million.

    Why does it cost San Diego a milion bucks a mile and Encinitas 25 million????


  4. Keep the Good Vibe AliveNovember 10, 2005 2:43 PM

    We notice that Council has been very quick to blame the Coastal Commission for a variety of its blunders, including its losing over 1.5 million $ before, when attempting to develop the Manchester property for a sports park.

    Council members are ill advised; when they realize, too late, gross error, mistakes have been made, costing millions, they are quick to say they are not accountable, to put the blame on others.

    What can we do? Stay involved. Vote No on the $5.00 per month storm drain tax which will be the subject of a mail ballot this coming March. Vote out non-representative, incompetent incumbents in Nov. 2006. Keep letting Council know how we feel. Don't give up!

    Urge Council to consider establishing a city Charter. We need an elected mayor, and an elected City Attorney. Perhaps a retired attorney would be willing to run, as this job wouldn't pay as much as one could get in the corporate world of greed and value inevitably being set by the dollar sign, the bottom line, for the CEO's and CFO's.

    This election proves we can win. Working for our rights, including our right to quality of life, gets results, eventually. Keep the momentum going!

  5. I couldn't go to the meeting this past Wednesday, but tried to watch it last night on Cox 19, CTN. I say tried because from 4-6, as usual was a closed session, then endless comments by staff and Council, when what we all want to hear is what the audience, public speakers, think, whether for oral communications, or agenda items.

    I say tried, also, because after making everyone sit thru endless hours, those who wanted to speak, those who wanted to watch, starting at 6:00 p.m., on Thursday, CTN abruptly cut off the Staff report re storm drain "report" at 11:00. Fortunately, I could still catch the Daily show with Jon Stewart.

    Council is making a laughing stock of itself. It's either laugh out loud, or cry out loud.

  6. gee,

    their tactic of putting the important and embarrassing items on late seems to be working.

    Open government. not.

  7. Update... now it is $50 million.


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