Bracing for El Niño: San Diego considers declaring state of eme - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Bracing for El Niño: San Diego considers declaring state of emergency

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The prediction of El Niño and heavy winter flooding has the city of San Diego scrambling to clear out storm channels.
Some say more needs to be done. Now, the city is considering declaring a state of emergency in advance of the rainy season.
City crews recently removed more than 200 dump truck loads of brush, dirt and mud from the Alvarado Creek storm channel in Grantville.  The clean-up effort is to get ready for El Niño.
"We've been getting ready for the last six months," said San Diego Storm Water Division Assistant Deputy Director Gene Matter.
It took just 10 days for city crews to clean out Alvarado Creek; but it took 18 months to get the permits to do it.
"This is considered a natural water course so there are various environmental permits that we need to get," said Matter.
Even when a storm channel is completely lined with cement it is still considered wetland habitat, which requires the city to mitigate its destruction.
The permitting process is so cumbersome, the chair of the city's environmental committee, Councilman David Alvarez, wants to declare a state of emergency.
"Whenever we do emergency work, we're able to get in there to do the work and follow up with permits later on; after the fact permits," said Matter.
And, there's a long list of city storm channels that need to be cleaned, like Chollas Creek in Rolando, which hasn't been cleared out in years.
Along Engineer Road in Kearny Mesa, the storm channel looks more like a jungle.
"All of our channels are filled with mud and brush that is thick.  The water will never be able to roll through," said Kearny Mesa business owner Jacque Rogerson.
In 2010, a heavy rainstorm flooded Mission Valley.  Dozens of hotel guests had to evacuate and Qualcomm Stadium completely flooded out.
Crews have since removed tons of debris from the Murphy Canyon storm channel and the city says the stadium should be safe from flooding.  But, the same can't be said for the rest of Mission Valley.
"I've begun the preparation for El Niño and I'm starting to sandbag my dealership," said Mission Valley car dealership owner Ed Witt.
Witt remembers the floods of 2010 and he showed CBS News 8 photos he took of the San Diego River rising around his dealership.
"To my knowledge the city has not done anything to clean the river from my location to the ocean," said Witt.  "The cleaning out of storm channels up stream isn't going to help us at all.  In fact, I think it's going to make it worse."
Part of the problem is a patchwork of public and private property along the San Diego River and other city storm channels.
City crews have to stop cleaning the channels when they cross private property.  But Witt believes the city should force private property owners to clean up debris, trash and brush.
"The water needs to get from here to the ocean.  Mission Valley is a valley but it doesn't need to be the disaster valley," said Witt.
The city says it is planning a dredging project along the San Diego River but it's unclear whether permits will be in place before El Niño rains hit.
Councilman Alvarez and other members of the city's environmental committee will discuss the possibility of declaring a state of emergency at the Nov. 4 meeting.

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