Meeting Overview

Imperial Beach
October 2023

The Coastal Commission's three day meeting in Imperial Beach was held on October 11-13. The Coastal Commission spent a majority of the day on Wednesday dedicated to the Border Region transboundary pollution crisis. This included a field trip to the Tijuana River Valley and several hours of public testimony and deliberation. As a result, the Commission will consider and vote on potenetial correspondence and action items at the November hearing. This meeting also resulted in a vote chart for the approval of a permit for repair of a revetment in Oceanside.

Issues voted on at this meeting:

Oceanside Revetment Repairs

On Thursday, the Commission approved a permit for the repair of an approximately 700 foot-long rock revetment fronting 19 residential lots along South Pacific Avenue in Oceanside.


Other Discussions

Border Region Pollution Crisis

On Wednesday, the Commission spent the day on a field trip to the Tijuana River Valley, in the US/Mexico border region, and later held a briefing on the status and impacts of the transboundary  pollution crisis. Representatives from U.S. EPA and International Border Water Commission (IBWC) gave updates on management actions and Lieutenant Goveernot Eleni Kounalakis was in attendance, signaling high-level support for this issue.

Elected officials and members of the public shared several hours of powerful testimony on the urgent need for solutions in a packed room with palpable frustration and desperation. Local urgent care doctors showed data from their clinic about the rise in respiratory and intestinal diseases that correspond with the timing of sewage and pollution overflows and degraded air quality. Local youth organizations shared that their coastal access and recreation programs have been shut down due to daily poor water quality and beach closures that have persisted for over a year.

The Commission lined up a powerful panel of speakers including elected officials, non-profit organizations and community members with testimony of the pollution's far reaching effects. Commissioner Paloma Aguirre, who also serves as the mayor of Imperial Beach and widely acknowledged as the champion of this issue, pleaded, “We’re on the brink of collapsing our economy and we need the Department of Public Health and Center for Disease Control here doing a comprehensive analysis of all these anecdotal reports and cases that have been reported at local clinics. We need a comprehensive analysis of the public health impacts to our community.” She went on to say that, “We are grateful for the funding we have received thus far but it’s not enough.” Mayor Aguirre also gave a presentation on behalf of the City of Imperial Beach asking for additional support and funding to help resolve this crisis. View her presentation on YouTube:

Ex Officio Coastal Commissioner and Lieutenant Governor of California, Eleni Kunalkis, expressed similar concern and urgency. She pointed out that  this situation is essentially an open sewer in the state of California with massive flows. Commission Chair, Donne Brownsey, mentioned two new potential tactics including, advocating for continual federal appropriations for IBWC and targeting the Secretary of State to name this as a priority issue.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s Legal Affairs Secretary responded to calls for a state declaration of emergency in a letter posted in the Commission’s correspondence. The letter states that the Governor only uses his emergency powers judiciously and that these powers are inapplicable to the border pollution issue. The letter also points to actions the Governor has taken, which are primarily focused on calling for federal funding. Notably, the Governor also vetoed a bill in 2022 that would have provided $100 million to the Tijuana River and New River management.

Several next steps were determined at the Coastal Commission’s meeting. Commission staff will bring a draft letter for the Commission’s review and approval at the November meeting that focuses on asking Governor Newsom to push for a federal state of emergency declaration from President Biden. More funding is needed for wastewater treatment infrastructure and more and many local community groups are calling on Congress to provide at least $310 million. A declaration of emergency may also open up opportunities for other sources of funding. The Commission also expressed a desire to ensure coastal access for community programs that are unable to operate at beaches with water quality closures/advisories have support and permit waivers to move their operations.

ActCoastal partner, Surfrider Foundation, shared their history of involvement on this issue and spoke to the ongoing injustice  faced by frontline communities as well as the desperate need for immediate relief from the toxic pollution that impacted communities live with every day.  Surfrider also presented art made by local youth, expressing their grief and emotions about the state of the coast where they live.

It is disappointing that this issue has been allowed to persist as long as it has. It’s hard to imagine sewage pollution at this scale not causing widespread outrage and immediate action in wealthy communities in San Diego County. This is a key environmental justice issue of our time. Surfrider continues to call for a declaration of emergency and invites any and all to sign their petition.

Moving forward, ActCoastal partners request that the Commission:

  • Form a Working Group of Commissionoiers to champion this issue at the state and federal capitals.
  • Support the call to Governor Newsom to request an Emergency Declaration from President Biden
  • Support the $310 million federal bill for additional allocations
  • Elevate this in the State Legislature as the highest priority environmental justice issue on the California Coast
  • Ensure coastal access for community programs that are unable to operate at beaches with water quality closures/advisories

Check out ActCoastal partner testimony on YouTube: