Updated at 11:50 a.m. Feb. 20, 2013
As the Imperial Beach City Council prepares to receive an update tonight (Wednesday) from the San Diego Association of Governments on the impact of a recent sand replenishment project, a resident has questioned Mayor Jim Janney’s ties to SANDAG.
Meanwhile, the environmental groups Surfrider Foundation and WiLDCOAST have written to the city after Janney asked Surfrider not to speak at the City Council meeting last month.
A little before noon Wednesday, Janney told Patch in a phone interview that "as far as limiting public comment, that's a totally false statement," noting that individuals and groups can speak on any topic as long as they keep to the time limit.
But in emails between Surfrider and Janney, the mayor asked that the group not speak during the Jan. 23 meeting when sand replenishment was discussed.
Rather, the mayor wanted the group to come back later when an agenda item could be devoted solely to the discussion of the impact of sand replenishment on beachgoers, said the email exchange.
Surfrider had been contracted by SANDAG to survey surf quality after sand was dumped on various beaches across San Diego County.
Julia Chunn of Surfrider declined to share the email exchange with Patch but said the mayor did not try to urge Surfrider to avoid talking about the impact of sand replenishment.
Instead, she said, Janney wanted the issues of impacts to beachgoers and residents kept separate.
“We have discussed it internally and decided that due to potential impacts, the Tijuana River estuary and impacts to surfing—all of the impacts from the sand— should be considered and addressed together,” Chunn said.
A letter from Surfrider and WiLDCOAST Tuesday [attached as a PDF] said that while private land is at risk, public safety and public lands of the beach and estuary also are at issue—and all members of the public should be heard and considered.
“It is especially critical to provide an opportunity for all of the impacted stakeholders to communicate their concerns during the Feb. 20 City Council meeting public comment period, and not limit comments to only those related to the impact of the project on private property,” the letter stated.
The letter also shared the concern of state and federal environmental employees that sand from the project could block the Tijuana River and impact the sensitive ecosystem, and stated that the sand is within 100 feet of the river mouth.
For his part, Janney said Wednesday that "[WiLDCOAST leader Serge] Dedina's issue is he wants to control the agenda."
Janney said Surfrider a week ago asked to be put on the agenda, and was. But WiLDCOAST didn't meet the deadline for requesting an agenda item and the city's 72-hour notice of the meeting [see attached agenda].
In addition, Janney said, "You have to have a special reason to put something on the agenda. ... I'm not sure where [Dedina's] complaint is coming from."
The Feb. 19 letter echoes one sent by WiLDCOAST before the Jan. 23 meeting [also attached as PDF], which also called for all stakeholders to be free to speak.
Mayor Janney told IB Patch recently he wanted Surfrider to come back for a public meeting a few months later after their study revealed more than preliminary data and results.
At last month’s council meeting, Surfrider and WiLDCOAST made some critical comments but took pains to defend the regional planning agency.
The public-comment period was coming to an end when WiLDCOAST Executive Director Dedina exceeded his time to speak and called for new Imperial Beach leadership.
Janney called a five-minute recess and quickly left council chambers.
On Wednesday, WiLDCOAST's Dedina said Janney called him twice before the January meeting but never spoke directly to him.
“I did send an email asking to have a secure slot to speak as the representative of a nonprofit organization—as is done at other cities including the City of San Diego and California Coastal Commission,” Dedina told Patch via email. “Instead, I was provided a 3-minute general speaker slot.”
Dedina said that after he sent a request for a time slot for tonight, the mayor responded via email: “I wish you would have contacted us before the agenda was published as the Surfrider folks had.”
Janney did not say whether Dedina was given a slot, but Dedina added that he wasn’t aware of a written council policy that lists the protocol for providing time slots to NGO representatives to speak on issues before the council.
Dedina concluded: “If the mayor of Imperial Beach had [spent] more time working with local stakeholders to develop protocols for coastal management projects including beach protection efforts instead of eliminating the Tidelands Advisory Committee and restricting public participation in city-sponsored forums, we would not be in the mess we are in now.”
Dave Van de Water has seen the floor of the parking garage in his South Seacoast Drive condo building flood and worked closely with others who have felt the impact of the sand replenishment project.
In his Feb. 6 letter to City Attorney Jennifer Lyon, Van de Water asked if a conflict of interest existed for the mayor to negotiate a financial agreement between SANDAG and the city. Such an agreement was signed last month.
The mayor sits on the SANDAG board and receives roughly $10,000 a year to act as the board’s vice chair.
State law requires that a public official with a financial interest in an issue disqualify himself or herself from a government decision.
Councilman Ed Spriggs recused himself from discussion of sand replenishment impact when the topic was first discussed at Jan. 23, so why shouldn’t the mayor? Van de Water wrote.
“I believe that Mayor Janney should be recused from any discussion on that agenda item as well,” Van de Water said.
State law says the mayor is not violating conflict of interest, City Atorney Lyon said in a reply a week later.
“Under the Political Reform Act, income from a public entity is exempt from the definition of ‘income,’ and therefore does not constitute a disqualifying economic interest,” she said. “Mayor Janney’s position on the SANDAG board is similar to the positions of other elected officials who serve on such regional boards.”
Councilman Spriggs was recused due to ownership of property near the issue being discussed, Lyon said.