A Pollution Patrol Success Story

When you report a pollution issue to Coastkeeper, you’ll know that you were the catalyst to solving the problem.

Recently, a San Diego resident called our pollution reporting hotline to let us know that a neighbor was dumping paint into the storm drain. Nia, our education coordinator, took the call and passed the information on to me.  I sent the information to the City of San Diego’s stormwater hotline by e-mail, to swppp@sandiego.gov. In the e-mail, I asked the city to follow-up with me on the complaint so I could share the information with the concerned citizen.

A week later, Nia received another call from the concerned citizen because the problem was ongoing.  I also received an e-mail from the citizen, making the same complaint again.  I decided it was time to follow-up with the city to make sure the problem was addressed.

I called the City of San Diego’s Think Blue Hotline (619-235-1000) and asked the woman manning to hotline to help me get information I needed.  The woman was clearly busy and was reluctant to help because of all the other complaints she was fielding that day.  After some convincing, she finally gave me the information I needed.

It turns out that the city’s inspector had immediately responded to the complaint but had difficulty connecting with the residents causing the problem.  The day I followed up, the city inspector had been able to inform the resident that dumping paint down the storm drain is illegal and directed the residents to clean up the paint. The person who originally reported the issue to us told us that the efforts made a difference: “When I arrived home tonight the offending party was hard at work with a flashlight and a scrub brush cleaning up their mess.”

This story is a celebration of so many people doing good things–the concerned neighbor calling us and following up, Nia getting me the information and following up with me, the city inspector diligently working to connect with the offending resident, the city hotline intake person taking time out to help me get the information I needed, and ultimately even the resident finally cleaning up the mess they caused.

But it also shows where we can improve. First, the City of San Diego needs to do a better job of giving follow-up information to people who provide complaints.  I realize that sometimes complaints may merely be feuding neighbors tattling on one another, but many complaints are serious, legitimate complaints.  If those complaints are not actually problems for some reason, isn’t it better for everyone if the city explains why it isn’t really a problem?  And if the complaint was a legitimate problem that was resolved, shouldn’t the complaining person know that the problem was resolved and that they’ve made a difference?  I would love if the City of San Diego made their hot line complaints and resolution status public (keeping the identity of reporting individuals anonymous).  This way we can track where the problems are and notice when they are resolved.  I’m guessing the City of San Diego resolves more pollution problems than we know, and I would like to give the city credit for doing so.  I’d also like to help follow up where problems aren’t resolved, or do targeted outreach in neighborhoods that see the same issues over and over again.

This story also shows us that Coastkeeper and the municipal stormwater teams can’t be everywhere at once, spotting all the problems around the county.  We need informed citizens to be our vigilant eyes and ears in the community, spotting problems and help us get them resolved.  Coastkeeper is working on developing neighborhood-based education programs to ensure that people can be effective at identifying problems and getting them solved.

We need your help! It takes just a couple minutes to report a problem. You can report it to Coastkeeper online at http://localhost/sdcoastkeeper/act/report-a-pollution-incident.html or call our office at 619-758-7743 and leave a detailed message with your phone number. Or you can call City of San Diego Think Blue at 619-235-1000 or the county hotline at (888) 846-080. Together, we can achieve fishable, swimmable, drinkable San Diego waters.

Published in Urban Runoff

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