OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
Pacifica just had one of the worst sewer spills in County history, topped only by its 2008 disaster. Most of what I’m about to tell you comes from Pacifica resident reports, but it is substantiated by data from the California State Water Resources Control Board.
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The big news is that Pacifica spilled 3 million gallons of sewage last week. The Pacifica Tribune posted this story, today, Nov. 2nd. But this is a big deal for several reasons. And one wonders why it took so long for this story to ‘surface’, like the sewage. For one thing, Pacifica has done this repeatedly before. For another, Pacifica is still considering a number of larger scale developments that will further stress an infrastructure that can’t handle what it already faces today – and the City hasn’t handled storms well for over a decade. With the current spill, Pacifica has now had 49.66% of the total volume of ALL sewer spills in San Mateo County over the past 5 years (11/1/2016 to 11/1/2021).
I’ve been told by a Pacifican that on Sunday, Oct. 24th in the early evening there was an obvious sewer overflow with geysers shooting water out of manholes. By Tuesday at 5am lower Linda Mar was flooded to 14″ deep. The $25 million equalization basin the City had just installed – failed (or was mismanaged, or was improperly constructed) – which would appear to be the storm drain system. A resident heard no pumps activated, and called the police at 6:30am; by 8:30am the pumps were turned on at the Pump Station (audible noise), and the waters began to recede. Uphill, there were rivers of water running down streets causing rooster tails on cars in the street and new erosion along dormant creeks and illegally cleared vacant lots.
Three residents spoke at the City Council meeting on Monday night, Oct 25th about the sewer and stormwater problems. By that Friday, October 29, 2021 there was a closed session Special Meeting of the City Council. I can speculate that – as was the case when SAM spilled in 2017 – Councilors and the City Manager feared disclosure of the damage and the potential fines – which are proportional to the size of the leak, and used the potential for a lawsuit to hide the discussion. From one Pacifica resident:
The new Equalization basin was totally overloaded. Apparently it was not designed to handle very much of a load. I was told someone commented on that when the project was approved. It would be interesting to see those council minutes.
On my end of town the stormwater infrastructure is pathetically undersized and we literally get a river of water coming down from Monterey and Hickey that floods all our front yards and many peoples lower levels on the downhill side. Parked cars create horsetails of water 8′ high directly into our yards and the sidewalks have 10″ deep water flowing at 20-30 miles per hour. Really dangerous and knocked one neighbor off her feet….
Shouldn’t the city be responsible for this flood damage? It’s not from rain that falls on our lots, which is our responsibility.
We brought all this up last almost two years ago to public works and again during our Vista Mar appeal last fall and they are finally supposed to be doing a study this winter.
On top of all that, the City Manager put out a self-serving press release filled with deceit worthy of a totalitarian propaganda bureau…: https://www.coastsidebuzz.com/no-flooding-in-pacifica-due-to-stormwater-management-lessons-learned-from-2014-linda-mar-storm-flooding/ “…all combined to prevent major flooding in the Linda Mar area…” “…resulted in some discharge to the ocean…” …not mentioning the extreme size of the spill documented in this article.
Clearly, we have a City that has not faced up to the Climate Crisis, and it’s not for lack of trying by informed residents that I know. However the City Council is dominated by people elected by Real Estate interests, who are pursuing inappropriate development [population expansion] in multiple locations. There may also be malfeasance in the sewer authority, but to be fair, you can only build and manage what the City Manager and Council budget you to build and manage, so that takes investigation. There is also probably a theme that Growth Hasn’t Paid For Itself, wherein the city has not charged New Joiners enough in connection fees to expand the infrastructure to meet the requirements of a Climate Crisis. This latter theme is quite common in municipal public works, with rates and fees being set based on only a 5 year capital improvement time horizon and ignoring assets outside that short window. Plus, who wants to pay more in water and sewer rates? What is clearly needed is an independent inquiry into the governance of Pacifica, its public works design and management, its development plans and policies. Should this be by the State Water Resources Control Board? By a Grand Jury (as was done in Monterey)? Is a recall election possible? Who can put the entire City into court-mandated receivership? I’m not clear on those options. Clearly, all development should stop until the infrastructure is sized to handle what the City already has. And someone better than the last designer needs to re-design the infrastructure.
What is clear is that the residents and voters of Pacifica need new governance, and since they can’t vote out the City Manager or the head of Public Works, they need to get a better City Council. And that Council can fire and hire as deemed appropriate. I’d start with asking for resignations. Lawsuits are probably more expensive than campaigning the problem Councillors out of office, and would act no faster than the next election. Recall elections might work, but, again, might take just as long as waiting for the 2022 election.
This tragic mismanagement must be remedied before someone gets killed. That already happened in Pacifica mudslides.
 Well only 2,983,256 gallons, to be precise, but still….
 Pacifica Sewage Stories:
Overwhelmed by the biggest storm in many years, Pacifica’s wastewater treatment facility dumped more than 7.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the ocean Jan. 25 and 26, records obtained by the Times show.
Sewage spill lawsuit filed against Pacifica by environmental group
court complaint from that 2010 lawsuit: http://www.fixpacifica.com/docs/Pacifica%20Complaint_FINAL.pdf
Pacifica sewage plant to pay for spills
Pacifica spent millions of dollars to build a new, state-of-the-art sewage-treatment plant in 2000, a move that was prompted by a cease-and-desist order imposed by the water quality board for sewage violations throughout the 1990s.
Source to look up sewer spills on your own:
 Videos of the Pacifica hillside storm water run:
 Residents speak at Pacifica City Council Oct. 25, 2021:
3 residents complained about inadequate planning & management of climate change/storms beginning at 16:55 of the above recording…
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.