COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | LARRY STIRLING

S.N.A.F.U. or S.N.A.G.U.?

The phrase "SNAFU" entered our lexicon during the run up to World War II.

The industrial and military response to congressional declarations of war against Japan and then Germany detonated us out of President Roosevelt's socialism-induced economic torpor and convulsed us into a frenzy of war preparation.

The early phases of retooling America into the "Arsenal of Democracy" resulted more often in "foul ups" than success. Thus the idiotism "SNAFU" meaning the "Situation normal: all fouled up." (Yes, I know there is scatological version, but The Daily Transcript is not produced by the La Jolla Playhouse.)

Now that World War II has been successfully resolved, I intend to hijack "SNAFU" for San Diego because, with a one-word modification, it accurately describes the present unnecessary distress created by the incompetent interactions of our federal, state and local governments: extensive annual flooding.

As I write this, rain has been pelting our city for over 24 hours and is expected to continue for another day or so.

Already two police cars are out of commission because they are stationed at either end of Mission Gorge Place as a result of flooding.

Dozens of other businesses in Mission Gorge have been shut down or otherwise hampered because Alvarado Creek is once again overflowing its banks.

Just downstream, the Ward Road Bridge across the San Diego River is shut down because the floodwaters are flowing over the bridge rather than under.

Some buildings owned by San Diego State University and the cars of people parked nearby have in the past and no doubt will again suffer hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses as a result of the latest flooding.

Camino De La Reina is cut off near the state Route 163 overpass as are dozens of other local streets.

The same pattern holds true along various stretches of the Tijuana River, which have repeatedly suffered major flood and environmental damage as a result heavy rains.

In other words, when it rains it is SNAFU: "Situation Normal, All Flooded Up!"

The great tragedy of all this property damage, business disruption, and public-safety hazard is that it is totally unnecessary. Here is why.

Alvarado Creek is just one example.

Many years ago, the owners of University Mechanical Co. pushed dirt around on the back of their property to provide a crude lot for dumping unwanted fill and a place to abandon "inactive" vehicles. A review of city files discloses no permit for such ever being issued.

That conduct resulted in substantially narrowing the creek bed. Thus when we endure heavy rains, the creek overflows coursing water around and through the Hafer Steel Yard and flooding dozens of other nearby businesses and closing Mission Gorge Place.

In recent years, the Metropolitan Transportation Board condemned University Mechanical off that property and built the Mission Gorge Trolley Station on part of the site with full knowledge of the illegal grading.

The illegal filling has been repeatedly reported to Mayor Sanders, city code compliance, the MTS Board of Directors, the present and previous city attorney, the council members for the district, the Fish and Game Department of the State of California, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Not a single one of those agencies has taken any action except to figure out some reason why THEY are not responsible to do so. The most obvious actor is the city attorney whose job it is to enforce the San Diego Municipal Code of which the grading ordinance is a part.

The city attorney should file a nuisance abatement action against the MTS and order them to remove the illegal blockage of Alvarado Creek, which causes so much damage to nearby property owners. No action has been forthcoming in spite of repeated pleas.

Mayor Sanders did belatedly instruct the city staff to "clean out" city floodways by removing silt (not illegal fill), plant growth, and trash.

In order for the city to recover the original capacity of the floodways, they must file plans with five, count 'em, five regulatory agencies.

The city finally undertook to clean out the worst clogs through the use of the "emergency provisions" provided under state law.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor recently ruled that in spite of the impending storm that was guaranteed to create massive flooding as a result of the lack of channel maintenance, there was no "emergency" and stopped city work on clearing the channels.

I only pray that no one dies as a result of the flooding as has happened in past years so that Judge Taylor does not have to seriously regret his wrong-headed decision.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board made an equally ill-advised decision in withdrawing already issued permits because of the judge's ruling.

That was really dumb. Nothing degrades water quality like diverting rainfall from its historic creek beds and onto streets and parking lots thereby flushing tons of various chemicals and other pollutants into the waterways.

Come to think of it, we need another Mnemonic: "SNAGU" standing for "Situation Normal, All Governmented Up."

Come to think of it, in this case, maybe the La Jolla Theater would get it right.


Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to larry.stirling@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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