by Marco Gonzalez / Two Cathedrals / Originally published Oct. 28, 2011
I have to admit, I was pretty bummed when I received the text at 3 a.m. indicating the San Diego Police and County Sheriffs had thought it a good idea to put on the riot gear and beat up a bunch of sleeping Occupy SD activists at the Civic Center Plaza. Having seen the Third World-esque images of the Occupy Oakland raids earlier this week, I feared the worst. I also wondered if the same “public safety and hygiene” excuse used to justify tear gas and baton beatings in Oakland would be employed by our so-called public servants in America’s Finest City. At the same time, I hoped the strong-arm tactics in response to peaceful demonstration would ultimately backfire and spur earlier supporters back into the mix.
A quick check of the news when I woke up showed that dozens of protesters had been arrested, the “encampment” dismantled, and indeed, the primary reason given was that the dirty hippies were just too dirty to continue their homelessness charade on City property. The lawyer in me wondered how the cops justified arresting people who were just hanging out and speaking into bullhorns, while at the same time I had to admit that the campers were technically in violation of the San Diego Municipal Code. Not that this justified the way the eviction played out, but the law is the law.
About two hours later, I parked in the Civic Center parking structure for a SANDAG hearing a few blocks away, grumpy with the knowledge that the 99% was about to be screwed by the approval of a short-sighted anti-transit Regional Transportation Plan. My first view of the Civic Center Plaza included a bunch of cops keeping the public and a few remaining Occupy protestors at bay, along with City workers and sub-contractors picking up the remains of last night’s eviction. And true to form, there were the outsourced private contractors power washing the entire plaza, as though they could wash away the guilt of the previous night. After quickly verifying that the power washers were in fact performing a low water use steam clean of the surfaces, I skirted the scene and went to my hearing and quick court appearance.
The fun came when I returned to the scene just before noon. The plaza was reopened to the public, and I was glad to see the Occupy general assembly was reconstituted and plans were clearly being made for continued efforts. But, I was very quickly drawn to the long disgusting stream of water making its way from the power washers into a storm drain right in the middle of the plaza. “No way,” I thought “with the police, media, activists, and elected officials all right there, they’ve go to be taking extra steps not to screw this up.”
I was wrong.
When Livia Borak (an expert in all things storm water and my trusty associate at Coast Law Group) and I approached the worker and pointed out that his attempt at stopping the flow of water into the nearby storm drain was not being done correctly(he hadn’t bother to turn on the pump, and the water was running right through the two pathetic sandbags he’d put directly on top of the drain), he quickly became defensive and gave us the look typically reserved for the protesters he was so dutifully cleaning up after. He was, however, seriously confused to hear us questioning him like part of the 99%, but dressed like the 1% he was taking orders from. I left Livia to give him an earful and went to check on the rest of the cleanup endeavor.
And it got worse. First, judging by the quality of the runoff, I’ve got to say, the plaza certainly needed a power washing. While such a thorough cleaning of the site has not been had for months, if not years, getting this junk off the ground before the rainy season was a laudable goal. Unfortunately, even the failed BMP Livia was working to fix (best management practice) was better than what these guys were doing on the other side of the plaza.
You see, the City is subject to something called the “Regional Municipal Stormwater Permit” which requires, among a lot of other stuff, that municipal activities not result in the un-permitted discharge into the storm drains of anything other than legitimate storm water. The regulations apply to businesses as well, but the buck always stops with the Cities themselves. San Diego was required to codify these regulations in its Municipal Code (yeah, the same one that says you can’t camp out in the Civic Center Plaza).
So there it was, an open storm drain, not a boom, sandbag, or vacuum in sight. Polluted water had been flowing directly into it for a while, and standing around doing absolutely nothing were no less than a dozen police officers sitting on their asses pretending there was any reason whatsoever for them to still be there. When I asked quite loudly “Why in the hell is all this crap going down the storm drain?” the supervisor of the power washing sub-contractors overheard and quickly ran to his nearby truck to grab the required BMPs, making a show of ordering two of his employees standing nearby to help out. I turned to the cops and asked them if they were there to enforce the Municipal Code, to which they answered “yes.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when in response to my request that they arrest or cite the power washers, they replied “that’s not our job, we’re not environmentalists.” Pathetic. And again, that confused look adopted when confronted by someone in a suit with a briefcase instead of dreadlocked and holding a sign.
I pointed out that the same laws they used to evict the protestors gave them authority to hold these polluters accountable, and that the same rationale – protection of public safety and welfare – justified such an action. Their response, “take it up with the Lieutenant.” I guess after a long night of harassing hippies, it was simply too much to ask. Of course, Lieutenant Who-Gives-A-Crap refused to do a damn thing, referring me and the issue to Chief Landsdowne. “Thanks for nothing” I replied. “I guess I’ll take it up with the Mayor.”
Like he’ll give a crap either…
Marco Gonzalez is managing partner and chief fireworks hater at Coast Law Group LLP