Faulconer Unites San Diego Region Mayors to Urge Governor Brown to Declare State of Emergency Ahead of El Niño

Executive Action Would Allow Cities and County to Act Faster to Maintain and Repair Flood Control Channels Before Disaster Strikes

San Diego - With strong El Niño conditions expected to bring heavy rains to the San Diego region, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer, County Supervisor Chairman Bill Horn and the region's mayors have signed a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to declare a state of emergency so local agencies can move more quickly on critical maintenance and repairs to flood control channels and storm drains before disaster strikes. Mayor Faulconer's office wrote the letter, and within days it had support from the County of San Diego and the region's 17 other mayors.

"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," Mayor Faulconer said. "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. But by declaring a state of emergency, Governor 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."

In a Nov. 23 letter to Gov. Brown, San Diego's regional leaders said: "With these limitations in mind, and in order to reduce (or minimize) the widespread flooding, loss of property, and loss of life that are likely upon arrival of the predicted heavy rains, we strongly urge you to declare a state of emergency related to the impending impacts of El Niño, enabling State and local entities to take the actions necessary to maintain and repair essential flood control infrastructure."

Councilmember Gloria said, "As Chair of the Regional Continuum Care Council, I am proud of the work we have done to transition the City's homeless efforts to a housing first approach. As seen through the interim housing program and the inclement weather plan, we are making significant progress working collaboratively as a community to address the immediate needs of our most vulnerable neighbors, while supporting long-term solutions to permanently end the cycle of homelessness."

San Diego's regional leaders also made several other requests of Gov. Brown in their letter, including:

  • 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.
  • Local government assistance from the state Office of Emergency Services because the El Niño conditions are beyond the control any single city or county and will require combined forces of a mutual aid region to combat.
  • Formally requesting the federal government to temporarily suspend laws in the Federal Clean Water Act that apply to essential flood control maintenance and repair. This allows for local agencies to initiate proactive procedures before increased precipitation arrives.

Regulations local jurisdictions currently must follow to clear flood control channels

State and federal regulations restrict local jurisdictions to dredging only during six months of the year - from Sept. 15 to March 15 - limiting the time cities have each year to clear clogged channels. 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.

The cities must complete five detailed technical studies for each channel targeted for cleaning prior to submitting permit applications with up to six agencies. The technical studies take about six months to complete and are only valid as long as conditions in the channels remain unchanged. Cities must also identify suitable habitat mitigation sites and enact mitigation measures to conduct the cleanup. The average cost of mitigation per channel is more than $500,000. Suitable wetland mitigation sites are becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to acquire.

The San Diego City Council recently voted to declare a local state of emergency in response to the El Niño conditions. That action, however, will do nothing to help the City clear more storm channels because it did not waive the need for permits, something that can only be done by the governor.

PDF icon Read the letter

CONTACT: Craig Gustafson at (619) 453-9880 or [email protected]