Watching DeMaio’s tactics of disruption in his pursuit of privatizing water and other City services

by on June 29, 2010 · 7 comments

in Energy, Environment, San Diego

water glassEditor: San Diego is fortunate to have a watchdog on water issues here in our seacoast desert like Groksurf . Run by George, the blog keeps track of anything to do with our liquid necessity.  Here is a recent sample of George’s work, as Groksurf observed Councilman Carl DeMaio’s tactics of disruption as he pursues his goal of privatizing water and other city services.

(See more of Carl DeMaio’s antics at end of this article.)

by George/ Groksurf’s San Diego /

Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio took advantage of councilmember Marti Emerald’s absence at [the June 16] Natural Resources and Culture Committee meeting and threw a wrench into the gears of San Diego’s Indirect Potable Reuse/Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project (IPR Project).

The IPR Project is a City Council-approved study seeking to determine whether the Indirect Potable Reuse process can be used to give San Diego an additional high-quality and reliable source of drinking water.

Months ago, the City Council approved a contract for project management for the IPR project. The next step in the project was to identify who would construct the advanced water treatment facility required for the project. The San Diego Water Department put that out to bid in February, evaluated the candidates, and in April made a selection.

A contract for the new treatment facility was on the agenda for the committee meeting (I wrote a preview about it on 6/15/10). It was on the agenda as a routine informational consent item that would be sent to the City Council for approval. Marsi Steirer, Deputy Director of the Water Department (morphing into Assistant Director of the Public Utilities Department under a reorganization), was on hand to answer questions.

When Donna Frye, chairing, summarized the agenda for the day, Sherri Lightner announced she wanted to pull the item from the consent agenda because she wanted to ask questions. Shortly, she had her chance.

“What’s the difference between this facility and the one they have in Orange County?” she asked. Answer: no real difference, the same technology is used.

“Then why do we need a study if we already have that information from their facility?” Answer: because Orange County is augmenting groundwater supplies while San Diego would be augmenting reservoir water, and because the source water for San Diego’s project is from reclaimed tertiary water while the source for Orange County is from secondary treatment water. Also because of regulatory requirements.

Lightner didn’t seem to care for these answers and said she doesn’t see why we can’t partner with Orange County and have some kind of cooperative venture with them and that she’d like to see more “philosophical” background information on how that might be accomplished.

At this point, Carl DeMaio made a motion…for a continuance. When pressed to say what for, he indicated that he thinks this project needs more examination, and besides, he thought Marti Emerald really should have the opportunity to vote!

Continuing, Frye allowed that the committee would hear the people who had signed up for public comment. Obviously they had planned their comments without suspecting this untoward development, so they had to think on their feet quickly. They all opted to address DeMaio’s motion to suppress (er, continue).

Jill Witkowski and Bruce Reznik from San Diego Coastkeeper, Jim Peugh from the San Diego Audubon Society, Marco Gonzalez from the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, Angelika Villagrana from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cary Lowe from the San Diego River Park Foundation, Amy Harris from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, all took turns standing before the committee to plead for them not to use a continuance to impede the project.

Lightner seemed quite annoyed by the comments and at one point indignantly asked the chair, “are they actually commenting on the motion to continue?” To which Frye replied, “It sure seems like it to me. Try listening to their words.” (or something like that). Lightner obviously wasn’t pleased having the public enter the debate on the motion!

The pleas were unheeded, however, and when Frye called the vote, she was alone in voting against a continuance.

So there you have it. Even though the IPR project was vetted and approved by the City Council, DeMaio and Lightner have decided to question the premise of the project just as it’s getting under way, with questions that sound like they’re from someone who is hearing about it for the first time. Further, the stalling technique employed with Marti Emerald conveniently absent seems like immature politics, not the behavior of one with a sincere desire for understanding. Such questions, if genuine, could and should have been asked when the overall project approval was being discussed.

I don’t know if the committee will meet in July; if not, it could be August before the matter can even be sent to the full Council.

I wonder if DeMaio and Lightner will come to understand that this is not a useful way to handle taxpayer time and money. I have a feeling this would not have happened if Marti Emerald had been present.

Originally posted June 16, 2010

EDITOR: For those who are watching Carl DeMaio, here’s another account of his antics:

Another DeMaio Set-Back: City Clerk: DeMaio’s Initiative Fails to Make November Ballot

Voice of San Diego / June 28, 2010

Councilman Carl DeMaio’s ballot initiative that would dramatically change city contracting and outsourcing rules failed to get enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot, the city clerk determined today.

Based on a random sampling of 3 percent of the 134,441 signatures on the petition, too few of the signatures were found to be valid registered voters in the city of San Diego, said Bonnie Stone, the city clerk’s deputy director of elections and information services.

When the County Registrar of Voters projected the number of valid signatures based on that random sampling, the 74,732 projected valid signatures fell short of the required 96,834 signatures to qualify the initiative for placement on the November ballot, Stone said.

For the remainder of this article, go here.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace June 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm

George- I checked out your site to read more about the IPR project. When Sanders came out against IPR a number of years ago I was also against it. It was a red flag for me that the water at that time would be processed in North County and then piped for use in communities south of 8. I live in City Heights and we aren’t generally the first to receive much of anything in the way of public infra-structure, so I had a knee jerk reaction against the project on the basis of demographics…. In the intervening years I have read more on the subject and it is pretty obvious that we are at this very moment drinking the contents of other people’s waste water.

This past weekend I talked to a friend in PA who was diagnosed with breast cancer a number of years ago. We talked about the amount of hormones specifically, and pharmaceuticals in general, that are being released into our sewage systems. Legitimate questions have been raised about the long term impacts of hormones in food and our water supplies and many of us are concerned that these and other environmental estrogen imitators are a significant factor in the rise of breast cancer.

Will the current IPR project address the issue of pharmaceuticals in our water supplies?

And BTW, I still don’t understand Sherri Lightner’s motive in voting for the continuance…


Sunshine July 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm


have you seen this National Geographic article about Prozac’s efects on glass shrimp? I am dumbfounded as to why pharmaceuticals dumped into the sewers are not filtered out by the manufacturers themselves. Once it reaches the waterways and flows into the ocean there are proven serious effects to our eco-system.


annagrace July 18, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Rachel Maddow recently interviewed someone about the gulf oil spill impacts. I believe it was a department of wildlife official. He described the Louisiana wetlands as the nation’s toilet, gas station and sushi bar- a rather sobering thought. If we aren’t willing or able to filter pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, and pesticides from our water systems, and if we aren’t committed to regulating or outright prohibiting offshore oil drilling, we shouldn’t be too surprised when frankenfish appear on the sushi menu.


George (GrokSurf) June 29, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Hi annagrace,

I can’t speak on behalf of the IPR project, but based on my understanding at this point:

Previous studies have examined whether the advanced treatment yields water that meets current federal and state regulatory standards for drinking water (there are no separate regulations for IPR water though). The studies also compared the treated water with our incoming raw water supply. In both cases the treated water meets or exceeds standards–and that’s prior to aging in the reservoir and then going to a finishing water treatment plant before delivery.

There remains the question about trace pharmaceuticals and hormones and pathogens that may not be addressed by the regulations or for which no tests are available, but that’s already an issue with our existing supply, not a new development with the IPR project (since we’re downstream of treated wastewater releases as you have noted). Ultimately state and federal regulations should take this reality into account, but I’m sure the water department planners are well aware of the additional concerns.

For one thing, the California Dept. of Public Health submitted comments to the city that include the questions you’ve posed in some detail in this letter .

I believe these questions are being taken seriously by the planners of the upcoming demonstration project and that we’ll be informed regularly as the project gets underway (despite the recent delay).


annagrace June 29, 2010 at 4:45 pm

George- thanks for your reply. I have spent a couple of hours this afternoon looking at your website and perusing the CA Dept of Public Health comments in the link you provided in your response. As an unapologetic civics geek, willing to wade through budgets and reports, I hit a wall when it comes to nano-particles per cubic foot of anything… What is the relationship between good environmental policy and good science and an informed electorate? (You don’t have to answer, but I constantly ask myself this question and the gulf oil spill has certainly made that question even more important.)

So let me frame my question this way- beyond and above the current requirements and analysis- do we have the technology to filter out or neutralize the presence of pharmaceuticals in our water supply? I think that is a different and significant question as opposed to how current regulations apply to our water supplies.

Thanks to the Obrag for picking up your website and to you you for responding.


George (GrokSurf) June 30, 2010 at 10:20 am

I think the technology is possible. I guess it will boil down to looking at those nanoparticles, reaching agreement on an acceptable level, and seeing if there’s enough money to make that happen.

By the way, I didn’t mention it earlier but in addition to the City of San Diego’s Demonstration Project, there’s another potential user of the highly advanced treated water: the Helix Water District is working on a project to recharge their groundwater resources in East County ( They might obtain the treated water from San Diego’s North City Water Reclamation Plant or else the Santee Water Recycling Facility (produces water used for Santee Lakes).


George (GrokSurf) June 30, 2010 at 10:25 am

Sorry about the typo in the link above. It’s


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