My OccupySD Experience – In the Middle of a Storm Drain

by on November 1, 2011 · 7 comments

in Civil Rights, Environment, San Diego

 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

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Preston November 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Very interesting article. I have on several occasions wanted to create a website called “”. I am angered by the fact that police, city, and government officials pick and choose which laws to enforce. This is disgusting and it needs to stop.

We need to clean house and appoint people to serve as presidents, financial advisers, like a draft of sorts. “Your country needs you and you’re the best in the biz”. We can draft people to defend and die for our country but we can’t draft the same people to serve and protect? A little ridiculous don’t you think?

oh yeah… and support medical cannabis use.


Jackie McElveny November 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Hey, Marco, I knew they were going to go the hygiene route and they did. I was so incensed I wrote this letter to the UT who of course did not publish it. I then sent it to City Beat and we’ll see:

“I will not use this space to proselytize regarding the Occupy Movement except to state that I am in full support. Apparently the party line for ousting occupiers across the country is “unsanitary conditions contaminated with human waste” just as it was here. I can’t speak to conditions in other cities, but those in San Diego are something that I can address. I’ve been down to the Occupy site at the Civic Center a number of times over the past several weeks and every time have posted to one or more websites my kudos to the Occupy sanitation committee for maintaining such a pristine environment. Yes, there were chalked messages on the concrete, a long way from human waste and something easily eradicated by footsteps and the wind. But “human waste” is a phrase that impacts people viscerally and negatively and has proven very effective regardless of the reality. I’m sure the city or SDPD had their reasons, whether they were good reasons or bad, but they were not the reasons fed to the media and to the public for raiding a peaceful group in the middle of the night with batons, guns and riot gear.”

Yup, filth, hygiene, human waste are all part of the new party-line of justification they’re using.


Productive Human November 1, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Comment removed due to violation of Comment Policy


doug porter November 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

And don’t forget the pot issue. Like today, when City Council President Tony Young tweeted about the smell of medical marijuana amid OccupySD as they were getting ready to face off once again in the City Council chambers. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen; it happens all over the city all the time. But the way Young and his fellow “concern freaks” do it, it’s clear that it’s meant to disparage/discourage/destroy the movement. (Of course they’ll be smiling as they stick that knife in our collective back…)
So next time you see/heard these types whining, just imagine that they’re saying Balboa Park (where the pot smoking is heavy) instead of OccupySD.


Patty Jones November 1, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I saw Tony Young’s tweet and almost replied to it but realized it was a RETWEET of Tony Young from October 11 by Dave Maass. Don’t know if Tony’s be out there since then…


Lucas O'Connor November 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Young has been consistently condescending on Twitter, probably elsewhere also. Pretty lighthearted for the council president of a broke city with a broken economy, but not sure I’ve ever seen Young treat public participation as more than a chore.


Jim lutes November 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm

yes we should stop hard working people from working????? Let’s just sit in the park and state obvious issues with absolutely no solutions!


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