Sunday, September 9, 2012


Lagoon lovers, it's time to get caught up.  I know it's been awhile, but the game board has been changing, and my understanding has been growing, so I've waited until some of the dust had settled before I settled into telling the tale of restoration or not.  To be perfectly honest I did draft a piece last month and we reviewed it at the foundation meeting with mixed enthusiasm.  It seems my reference to the State and Federal agencies as disingenuous met with consternation from some and a wink and a nod from others.  Consequently, I didn't post the article out of deference to the efforts to sway these entities into a reasonable bigger picture outlook than the narrow biological window from which they view our world.  You see, when you hang out with the principles that have been involved in protecting and preserving The Buena Vista for more than 30 years, you really appreciate the true history of how and why we have a large beautiful series of connected Lagoons called the Buena Vista, (beautiful view for you non- Spanish speaking folks). 

Now, just imagine for a moment, this expansively beautiful body of water that people stop to admire at sunset, and birds flock to in profusion being reduced to an intermittent trickling stream that costs an insane amount of money to produce at tax payers expense in order to create the "preferred ideal biological conditions" around the last Ice Age.  You see because of the various elevations of the Lagoon and the Ocean, the Buena Vista has never been a Salt water Lagoon or at least not in this millennia.  Any salt water intrusion would have resulted in random storm surge which by any reasonable standard would not qualify the Buena Vista as a salt water alternative.  It wasn't until a random comment made in a meeting in 1983 that the concept of Salt Water regime was even considered.  It was however, this off handed comment that caught the fancy of Fish and Game, an agency devoid of any engineering or historical input, and completely derailed the plan for restoration that had been in the planning for years.

So, the lines were drawn and the process ensued to indoctrinate the public as to the desirability and feasibility of making a sow's ear out of a silk purse.  In the beginning there were public meetings and press releases, slide presentations, and great speeches.  Over time as the studies solidified the presentations showed less and less water and more and more pressure on the part of Govt. agencies to accept the Salt Water Alternative as the only acceptable choice.  This is when I joined the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation and my real education began.  Here's the rub, the Feds and the State, never intended for there to be any other alternative.  In meetings that you are never invited to, the truth will out and the my way or the Highway approach of Government overreach raises it's ugly head.

This is why I applauded the back bone of the property owners at the mouth of the Lagoon.  If it wasn't for The Beach, and St. Malo's H.O.A.'s the agencies would have steam rollered their position over all of us.  I know this sounds like I have a fixed function position on the restoration propositions, but if the truth would out, I could have been sold on the Salt water approach because it would have mitigated the mosquito problem and created a no grow zone for the tullies, both of which were desirable by products. Unfortunately, in order to achieve this from an engineering reality, a consciousness level foreign to Fish and Game, you would have to destroy the lagoon in favor of a meandering trickle.  No longer would there be an expansive lagoon for school kids and nature lovers to observe the vast variety and interaction of many and larger species.  Even Audubon, a great conservation institution would find the spectacle from their head quarters on the lagoon greatly diminished compared to the alternative of keeping a full body of water without the tullies.

It's always darkest before the dawn.  Many of our Foundation meetings were clouded with the oppressive reality that Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife were the stakes holders and unyielding.  So, when Fish & Game walked away from the restoration process, the Directors of The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation collectively strange into action by reaching out to all influential movers and shakers in local city governments and beyond.  In so doing Assemblyman Martin Garrick, and local Coastal Commission representative, Ester Sanchez, were encouraged to write letters to and lobby higher ups in the California resource agency food chain in Sacramento.  Finally, there came a ray of hope from local city councils.  Oceanside and Carlsbad banned together, chipped in some money for the EIR and recommended that SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments), in conjunction with Cal Trans be the lead agency in putting together and finally completing the EIR.  This is the only chance for the Lagoon to get a fair shot at survival, at least survival in some recognizable similarity to the majestic attraction it has been historically.   

As a foot note to all the drama surrounding this process, The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation members with a lot more experience than yours truly have spoken highly of the capabilities of SANDAG and Cal Trans as independent lead agents.  If you add the knowledge and research of the Foundation Director Ron Wootton to this process, we believe that a desirable balanced outcome is yet achievable.  We must remain involved, for there will be more public input required before this settles out.  Here are two important links to get further acquainted with these new lead agencies:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Buena Vista Lagoon - The Untarnished Truth

Buena Vista Lagoon Restoration

I labored over how to approach this story of consequence to my neighbors and concerned citizens on the whole.  Finally, I decided to tell the tale from one person’s observations, because that is the only honest reference point I have.

In the early 2000’s I caught wind of a meeting about restoring the Buena Vista Lagoon.  An open forum with all concerned parties invited to come and hear plans for the Lagoon restoration.  At this gathering, the powers at be, outlined a series of alternative from fresh to salt and somewhere in between.  The projected cost from a low 10 million for fresh, to a high of 60 million for salt.  At this meeting I met many from the Lagoon Foundation, including their fearless leader Regg Antle.  I left with a feeling of skepticism because I come from a generation that embraces the KISS philosophy of Keep It Simple Stupid. Having come from a background of State agencies, I knew that anytime you get bureaucrats involved, the outcome is never simple.

Anyway, when the meeting wrapped up, another larger scale presentation was scheduled, so I decided to get pro-active and enlist the feedback of residents who had not chimed in.  My wife and I passed out flyers suggesting that the State was going to have their way with us and change our beautiful lagoon if they didn’t come to the next meeting and state their preference.  At the next meeting it was a packed house.  Many who came defiantly stated that they wanted an uncomplicated fresh water lagoon solution, not all but many.  At this time the players assured us that our voices would be heard and a larger scale presentation would be forth coming.

For those who have not attended, let me explain that these forums, over time went from idea exchange to visual enhancement, to slide presentations.  Even though, the players claimed to be open mined, while listening in on various conversations between the presenter and the biologist from Fish and Game, it became obvious to me that the only plan that was being actively promoted was the salt-water alternative.  In fact, when I huddled up with the presenter, he assured me that the salt-water alternative was the only viable option.

At this point, I started doing interviews with Local TV and newspaper reporters who were interested in restoration feed back.  I admit freely that I was openly critical of the involvement of Fish and Game and the Federal version of Fish and Wildlife.  My opinion was and still remains, if you want to screw it up give it to a government agency to oversee. Understand clearly, that this is not necessarily the view of any or all of the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation members, it is my personal observation, and in light of our current political condition both State and Federal, I submit that it is not without merit.

Time marches on, and nothing for the public to chew on surfaces for many moons, then finally a presentation arrives that promotes the salt-water alternative in a palatable fashion enough for even a die hard like myself to give in to the possibility.  Instead of a dramatically shrinking body of water, the players present a full lagoon with salt-water tolerant grass instead of tulles, which are choking the waterscape and stealing the views from the museum and it’s neighbors. This luxurious body of water would only shrink marginally at tidal shifts, leaving a true lagoon and a reasonable candidate for funding from freeway expansion mitigation funds.  Sounds good doesn’t it?  The only hitch is we might need a jetty at the mouth, but we don’t know yet, or so they said.

As time passes on, the issue of mitigation funds for the sewage spills comes before the Regional Water Board, so I attend in hopes of putting my two cents worth in.  As it turns out I’m given the opportunity to plead with the Board not to send the money to Sacramento, that dark hole in the Universe, never to be seen again.  Surprisingly, the Board moved to place the lions share in the Lagoon Trust, and send a token to Sacramento.  Now we were financially equipped to fund the necessary environmental studies, and once again time passes.  Behind the scenes for most of us, the plot thickens.

Now the bottom line to the Jetty idea is that it is a bad one.  A Jetty will block beach goers from access between Oceanside and Carlsbad beaches, not to mention the environmental consequences of eroding the sand from the Carlsbad side which is totally unacceptable.  The retort from the agencies is that it will become a maintenance issue that will require funding.  If you have been keeping up with the news, the money for dredging the mouth of the Batiquitos Lagoon is already drying up. Once again promises made and not kept.  Any plan that includes constant maintenance is contrary to the KISS principles and a bad idea.

Knowing that the Jetty is not going to fly, the players engage an engineering study to create a salt-water alternative without the Jetty.  The results of which have not been made public because the bureaucrats can’t put a positive spin on it, but here and now I’m going to give you the real deal.  After dredging a huge channel, thru private property, 200 ft wide and depending on the topography as much as 16 ft deep, the resulting flow of salt water thru the large basin West of I-5 would be at best a meandering stream, not a lagoon.  No longer a large body of water abundant with fish and room to roam for all the species who come to feast and flourish.

After presenting this highly compromised plan to the members of the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation, the true unsung heroes and protectors of sanity rose up in unison and just said NO.  You see little did many of us know, but the land including the weir and the weir lagoon is privately owned and maintained. It seems, that way back in the early 1900’s the Army & Navy Academy and the developers of St. Malo, that quaint Hobbit village that sits on the Oceanside line along the shore, got together to engineer a protective water level maintenance system, which over time evolved into the current weir.  Then, the Army & Navy Academy sold their interests out to the development that became The Beach, those really nice homes on the Carlsbad side.  Now the grandson of the original developers of St. Malo, and the representative from The Beach home owners association, sit on the Lagoon Foundation Board.  The rep from The Beach happens to be a highly decorated environmental engineer with degrees and accolades as far as the eye can see.  Neither, Fish and Game or Fish and Wildlife have anything on staff that even remotely resembles these credentials.  They farm out their study to an engineer and when the report finally materializes, the players present a copy to the Foundation.  Our environmental engineering expert reviews the report and suggests that not only is the plan flawed but the maintenance would be daunting.  Then the wolves in sheep’s clothing shed their disguises and rather than play by the rules and give each of the three options equal consideration, by the virtue of a completed Environment Impact Report, which consequently they couldn’t manipulate, Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife, simply expose their true intent and proclaim, it’s our way or the highway, and we will not fund the EIR.  After this show down, the players spin the story to the local rags, that those evil property owners have derailed the restoration project.