SDG&E Project Will Have Severe Impacts; Residents Concerned About Visual Blight, EMF

By Kim Lefner

What started as a murmur is becoming a roar of protest over SDG&E’s deceptively named “Reliability Project” which will nearly double the size of the electrical substation at the entrance to downtown and substantially increase the voltage and height of transmission poles throughout San Juan.

Critics say the project is less about reliability and more about increasing power to other cities. According to SDG&E documentation, this hugely expensive project is also a result of government mandates to satisfy “Global Warming” legislation which forces cities to install taxpayer-subsidized plug-in stations for electric vehicles. This is odd considering that even SDG&E admits that less than 3% of their 13,000 customers surveyed had purchased electric vehicles. Despite the lack of demand for electric vehicles however, SDG&E claims this project is “customer driven” (click on this link to see “SDG&E Smart Grid Deployment Plan”:  http://tinyurl.com/7g4roaq). Adding insult to injury, our rates are being increased to shove this concept down our collective throats.

Besides the enlarged substation and increased pole and tower heights as high as 130 feet on hill tops and hillsides, residents are greatly concerned about the effects of Electro Magnetic Fields (EMF) from the increased voltage. While SDG&E attempts to convince us that health impacts from EMF are minimal, a recent  state-sponsored study concluded that prolonged exposure to high levels of EMF may contribute to problems such as childhood leukemia and brain tumors. This has many residents asking, “Why risk it?”

Visual impacts include a massive new substation with two 45 to 50-foot tall buildings and a 10-foot high wall the length of a football field at the Northern entrance to historic downtown. The increased EMF from the new substation is unknown, but families living near smaller electrical substations have experienced health problems ranging from hair loss to cancer (click on this link to see CBS news story “South Redondo Beach Residents Believe Stray Voltage Causing Unexplained Illnesses“:  http://tinyurl.com/85rqmd7 )

The Ghost Train

By Clint Worthington

Yes, it’s a funny name. No, you won’t find it on the Historic Society’s Halloween Walking Tour. The Ghost Train occurs when any south bound train stops at the San Juan Capistrano station, causing the gates at the Del Obispo crossing to go down for an average of two minutes. Then, just as the crossing gates go back up, the train leaves the station causing the crossing gates to go back down again for another two minutes. Multiply this by the number of trains stopping at the station daily and it adds up to downtown traffic congestion.

To compound problems, Council members Sam Allevato, Laura Freese and Mark Nielsen voted to add vehicle traffic signals to the crossing. This makes no sense since we already have traffic signals at Camino Capistrano and Paseo Adelanto. If you ask current and prior City Council members, I’m sure they’ll tell you that the signals are timed so that traffic doesn’t block the railroad crossing. But having sat at a red light many times when there’s no traffic on Del Obispo, that doesn’t ring true.

If you’re confused by this crossing, you’re not alone. Click on this link: to watch a You Tube video of a City truck not only go through the flashing red lights of the crossing gates, but also through the red traffic signal on the other side.  http://tinyurl.com/7zy9toq

The Ground Water Recovery Plant - 2008 to Present

By John Perry

Editor’s note: This is the last of a four part series to help the public understand how the City got into the water business. It is a story of mismanagement, misleading accounting and millions of wasted taxpayer dollars.

In 2008 the City and its contractor ECO Systems (ECO) were locked in a bitter fight about who should pay for frequent shut downs and mounting deficits from lack of production from the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP). ECO was contracted to design, build and operate the GWRP for a 20 year period. According to the recent Utilities Audit, the contract negotiated by City staffers Cindy Russell and Engineer Eric Bauman provided “liquated damage penalty charges” from ECO if certain conditions were not met. Unfortunately, the contract also contained loopholes that allowed the contractor to escape paying for lost production.

When the GWRP began to produce colored water that c logged plumbing and filters, the City Council was inundated with complaints from angry residents. ECO refused to accept responsibility so the City hired consultants to identify and correct the problem at a cost of more than $500 thousand.

The City then learned that MTBE, a gasoline additive, may have entered the water supply from leaks in tanks at two Chevron stations. Tests confirmed that MTBE, which had been in the water table under the Chevron stations, had moved toward the Dancehall well that supplied water to the GWRP for processing. Even though the MTBE was well below the safety level, the City Council led by Mark Nielsen demanded that the Dancehall and Kinoshita wells be shut down in hopes of forcing Chevron into a settlement. This cost the ratepayers millions of dollars since we then had to replace the well water with water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD).

Chevron eventually agreed to a $3 million settlement, far below the $7 million the City Treasurer stated the City lost during the shutdown. In fact, the City tried to use the MTBE issue to levy a surcharge to force ratepayers to pay the entire cost of the MTBE losses, but the Council backed down because of massive public protests.

In November 2008, the City quietly fired ECO, claiming that the contractor had defaulted the contract because of lost production and contamination cleanup costs. The contractor was allowed to leave without having to fix the design defects in the GWRP and wells; those costs were instead passed on to ratepayers who continue to foot the bill for the defects.

The water wells eventually began to fail because the corrosive water was destroying the metal well structure and pumps. This was one of many design defects causing lost production which reached a peak in 2010/11 when only 1200 acre feet of water was produced the entire year. This forced ratepayers to spend millions to not only pay for the defects, but to purchase MWD water to replace the water we could not produce.

In 2010, the City Council approved a 40% water rate increase. The City had been losing money on the GWRP due to lost production and loss of MWD subsidy but also had greater operating expenses because City employees were now running the facility. The average salary of a Utilities Department employee was $105,000 annually, including pension and benefits.
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