“The San Diego Unified Port District will protect the Tidelands Trust resources by providing economic vitality and community benefit through a balanced approach to maritime industry, tourism, water and land recreation, environmental stewardship and public safety.” – Mission statement of the Port of San Diego
As advocates, individuals and organizations, we have many opportunities to influence policy. We are the voice of the people, the children, the wildlife and the water. That is why San Diego Coastkeeper seeks opportunities to interact with elected officials and policy makers. It is why we utilize public forums to express concerns and give kudos. And it is why we want every person to know that they have a voice. You can attend any public meeting and be heard. You can write a letter or request a meeting with your elected officials. You can do that today.
This week, I was reminded of this wonderful aspect of our democracy. At its regular board meeting on October 14, the Board of Port Commissioners considered transferring funds to the Port’s Environmental Fund and Marine Terminal Impact Fund. The Environmental Fund advances projects to improve the condition of the bay and surrounding tidelands. The Terminal Fund advances projects that offset the impact of maritime terminal operations on communities near the tidelands. Taken together, these two initiatives manage projects that care for our community and ensure Port operations have a positive influence on the surrounding environment.
While deciding the funding for these activities is a seemingly benign task–perhaps even an altruistic one–two factors belie that simplicity. First, in past years, the Port has borrowed money from the Environmental Fund to shore up operational costs. Second, the Port’s own mission declares environmental stewardship and public safety as essential parts of its purpose. The decision on October 14 turns out to be one that speaks directly to the Board of Port Commissioner’s dedication to the promise made in the Port’s mission statement.
Since the Port tidelands and surrounding communities encompass five cities and many acres of protected land and water, environmental and community advocates paid close attention to this decision. Thanks to effective leadership and a timely heads up from Environmental Health Coalition’s Kayla Race, I attended the meeting to deliver comments to the commissioners alongside EHC and staff from the office of David Alvarez, San Diego City Council Environment Committee Chair.
Below are the comments I delivered on behalf of San Diego Coastkeeper. Read to the end to find out what happened.
Good afternoon Chairman Nelson, Commissioners,
My name is Megan Baehrens, Executive Director of San Diego Coastkeeper and member of the Port’s Environmental Advisory Committee, where we were briefed on and discussed this issue in August.
First of all, let me applaud you and commend the staff on achieving a budget surplus while also fulfilling your mission. That is no small feat.
And on top of that, I commend the clarity of purpose that leads you to this decision about re-funding the Environmental Fund. While having borrowed from the fund in order to sustain important operational needs—without which the mission cannot be met–is understandable, returning those funds is equally essential to achieve the environmental stewardship that forms an important part of that mission.
I urge you to fund the Environment Fund fully at $2.0 million. And I want to call out the fact that this is not a conversation solely about dollars and cents. Each dollar represents an environmental benefit. And a benefit that has been foregone for the time that those funds were used elsewhere. Now that we have the opportunity, thanks to prudent operations, our Port deserves a fully funded environmental stewardship effort.
In regards to the Marine Terminal Impact Fund, I understand that each option you consider includes the same funding and applaud the care-taking of communities affected by marine terminal operations. The MTIF has been plagued by administrative challenges that lead it so far to mete out very few funds, if any. I hope, indeed urge you to ensure, they are addressed shortly. Otherwise adding funds to that pot is like throwing good money after bad. The Environmental Fund serves as an example of ways in which the Port has effectively issued grants and I believe you can take that as an example.
Thank you for your stewardship of our Port communities and environment and for the opportunity to speak today.
The Commissioners unanimously approved adding $500,000 to the Marine Terminal Impact Fund and $2 million to the Environmental Fund.
One moment stands out from the discussion at the meeting. Chairman Bob Nelson and Commissioner Rafael Castellanos noted that the only public comment on the item came from people speaking in favor of returning $2 million to the Environmental Fund. In any public decision, it is our right and responsibility to voice our position, our preference and our reasons for both. In this case, we are validated in that effort.
I want everyone to experience the power of civic engagement. So Coastkeeper will soon be hosting events to help you understand the ins and outs of making your voice heard. Keep an eye on the newsletter and we’ll see you then.