SAN DIEGO — The mayors of all the cities in San Diego County and the chairman of the Board of Supervisor urged Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency ahead of the expected El Niño storms, they announced Tuesday.
Such a declaration would allow local jurisdictions to expedite preparations for heavy rain — like clearing out vegetation in flood channels — without wasting precious time acquiring permits from multiple agencies.
State water officials said last month that the governor has been considering such an order.
“The San Diego region is united in its belief that government regulations shouldn’t stand in the way of making common-sense preparations for the heavy rains predicted from the coming El Niño,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer, whose office drafted the letter sent to the governor.
“For months staff has been working to navigate the complex, expensive and time-consuming regulations cities are required to comply with before flood channels can be cleared,” Faulconer said. “But by declaring a state of emergency, Gov. Brown can remove the bureaucracy that right now is keeping us from doing even more to prevent the loss of life or property from El Niño storms.”
San Diego has cleared six sediment-choked flood channels over the past year or so within its 133-mile network, while work continues in the Tijuana River Valley.
However, San Diego Councilman David Alvarez said 25 channels are still at risk of flooding. The worst, according to a list provided by his office, are along Via de la Bandola in San Ysidro, Engineer Road in Kearny Mesa, Pomerado Road in Rancho Bernardo, and Washington Street in Hillcrest and Little Italy.
The San Diego City Council declared a state of emergency because of El Niño on Nov. 16. The letter to Brown, also signed by county Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Horn, was sent last week, according to Faulconer’s office.
Among other things, the San Diego officials requested temporary suspension of sections of the state’s Water Code, and Fish and Game Code, that prevent, hinder or delay the ability of local agencies to maintain and repair essential flood control infrastructure; and provide financial assistance to local governments from the state Office of Emergency Services.
The letter also asked that Brown formally request the federal government to temporarily suspend laws in the Federal Clean Water Act that apply to essential flood control maintenance and repair. That would allow for local agencies to begin proactive procedures before increased precipitation arrives.
City officials have said recently that it normally takes more than a year to obtain permits needed to maintain drainage channels. Normal emergency exemptions to state environmental analysis and permitting requirements force local entities to wait until disaster is imminent or in progress, when it’s too late to take effective action to safeguard life and property.
State and federal regulations restrict local jurisdictions to dredging only from Sept. 15 to March 15, limiting the time cities have each year to clear clogged channels, according to Faulconer’s office. Dredging is only allowed during the rainy season, but cities aren’t authorized to dredge when it’s raining or when standing water is in the channel.
Concrete channels, even when devoid of water and vegetation, may be regulated as wetlands by at least one of several agencies, Faulconer’s office said.