San Diego County

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With new laws, Chicken market takes off

By Maxim Garshman

Mark Gallagher was the first customer in line at East County Feed and Supply in Santee when the store sold its most recent shipment of 70 chickens.

His reasoning for buying was simple.

“We have three teenage boys at home and eggs are expensive,” Gallagher said. “So, we’re hoping to offset the cost of food by having our own little farm.”

Raising backyard chickens has long been a common practice in many rural areas across the country, and with interest spreading to urban districts, many cities have begun to rethink their laws on raising hens. San Diego is no different.

In January 2012, the city legalized the ownership of backyard chickens. Previously, the law said that 25 chickens were allowed, but they had to be kept at least 50 feet away from a dwelling.

Following suit was El Cajon, Lemon Grove, Santee and La Mesa, whose local governments enacted similar chicken ownership laws. Since the new laws were enacted, owning chickens has become a growing trend across the region.

With the new laws came business opportunities. East County Feed and Supply on Woodside Avenue in Santees saw their profits increase drastically.

“It has really picked up,” said store employee Dennis Cody, “and we’re doing super good in that.”

The store had always sold chicks but capitalized on the opportunity to sell chickens, even selling them in bulk. Now, people come from all over the county, including La Mesa, Santee and Pacific Beach. Store owner Marty Barnard said almost half the people that buy poultry from her store are first-time owners.

“Fresh eggs are a novelty,” Barnard said. “You go to the store and the eggs are at least a couple weeks old.”

For those who have big families or those looking to save money on groceries, raising hens has become a valuable option. A laying hen will lay about one egg per day.

Christina Phalen, a chicken owner in La Mesa, said she saves about six dollars per dozen eggs. She saves up to $21 per week and just over $1,000 a year, she said.

“I mean the eggs are amazing,” she said. “It feels like an Easter egg hunt every day. I bring my kids out and see if there’s eggs and I love how they feel. Of course, they’re so delicious as well. We go through a lot of them with baking and breakfast.”

Although there are many positives to owning chickens, there are also risks involved.

A major concern for those against the legalization of chickens was the diseases and illnesses that could be spread from poultry. Barnard is aware of that concern and keeps her store’s chickens in a secure area that only employees are allowed to access.

“We keep them (chickens) totally separate away from the public,” Barnard said. “We don’t let outsiders back there to view them or interact with them because a lot of disease can just be transmitted on your shoes.”

Phalen makes sure her kids wear certain close-toed shoes when they go out every morning to gather the eggs.

East County Feed and Supply holds free beginner poultry classes once every few months to address health concerns, but they also teach people how to properly feed, house and raise chickens.

And while some view chickens as just a way to save money, many find them to be much more than that.

“I think people start out wanting the chickens to have for eggs,” Cody said. “Once they get the chickens, and they can see the chickens have different personalities, different traits and act as a society that’s when they just fall in love with them and have them as pets.”

Getting to know each chicken’s personality is half the fun, Phalen said. “They all have their pecking order, they fly around, eat bugs and they’re just so funny.”

Phalen finds that chickens are also great companion animals for her and her family. Every morning Phalen and her kids go out to grab the eggs. She says it has taught her kids responsibilities, and it also shows them where food comes from.

“It’s an easy pet to learn with,” Phalen said. “To teach them that responsibility is important.” She adds: “They’re my favorite pets.”


Tiny homes in San Diego face uncertainly future

By Amanda Kay Rhoades

While struggling to support herself and her daughter while attending Grossmont College, Danielle Drummond knew she had to do something drastic. A two-bedroom apartment on an $11-an-hour salary just wasn’t cutting it.

In San Diego’s expensive and competitive housing market, a full-size home was out of the question. So, she built her own 266-square-foot home with the Tyrone attic stairs and similar smart home solutions for herself and her daughter.

“Ever since that documentary aired on Netflix, hundreds of people have joined my tiny home meetup group,” she said of the group she founded in 2014 and which now has over 900 members. “They don’t all live in tiny houses but they’re interested in tiny living or living sustainably in some way.”

Tiny homes have continued to rise in popularity in the last few years, but San Diego’s housing regulations can make it tough to live small.

“If your tiny home is hooked up to a pickup truck … essentially you’re operating a recreational vehicle. It’s no different from pulling an RV up to the curb and parking it and living there,” said Anthony Santacroce, a public information officer for the city of San Diego.

It’s illegal to park an RV in one place for more than 72 hours in San Diego.

Santacroce said that the city has not yet made codes for tiny homes specifically, but if they became popular enough in the region, that could change. For now, landowners who want to build tiny homes on their property will have to refer to the zoning laws.

“If you’re developing a tiny home that’s on a piece of land, your land, then the permitting, the inspection, the coding – it’s going to be the same as a home that’s 1,500 to 2,000 square feet,” Santacroce said.

Every city within San Diego county has different rules. What’s allowed in Lemon Grove, for example, isn’t necessarily the same as what’s allowed in La Mesa.

“No one bothered me the entire time I was building in Lemon Grove,” Drummond said. “People would come by and leave these notes that said like, ‘I’ve seen these on TV! This is so cool.’ ”

She said she even had to make a sign referring people to her meetup group because so many of them would knock on the door at strange hours.

After she was finished building the home, Drummond moved her home to La Mesa where her daughter goes to school. She had the home parked in a friend’s backyard, and that’s when she started to run into problems.

“We made it two days before the city shut us down. It wasn’t even necessarily a secondary dwelling law, and I wasn’t even hooked up to utilities yet. It was just that I got a nuisance ordinance,” she said. “They decided that it wasn’t in line with the other buildings in the community and that they wanted it gone.”

Drummond said she was given 72 hours to move her house or she’d be fined for every day that the home remained. With the help of her friend, she moved her home back to Lemon Grove until she met her current landlord.

She said she’s been there since December without any problems. But even though she plans to relocate soon to continue her education at San Jose State University, Drummond said she knows someone could force her to move her tiny home at any time.

“I really don’t have high hopes for tiny home living in San Diego. I think it would take a lot more people to create a change,” Drummond said.

Former real estate professional Janet Ashforth has been working on creating the region’s first tiny home community in Escondido. Her company, Habitats Tiny Homes, already has 25 reservations for space in the community.

She said they’re looking at two different sites but haven’t finalized the location yet. Although for this first community the homes will all be built on wheels, Ashforth said she’s hoping to create some on traditional foundations in the future.

“The county and the city of San Diego are finally recognizing that tiny homes are here to stay, and they’re acknowledging that people are going to live in them,” Ashforth said. “But instead of creating a tiny home category, what we have to do is build to RV code, manufactured home code, or factory built home code.”

Ashforth said that after she’s finished building the first community, she hopes to work with government officials to help establish better codes for tiny homes in the future.

For Drummond, the decision to live small was just as much financially driven as it was about sustainability. She said her meetup group are all just looking for alternatives.

“They don’t all have tiny homes,” Drummond said. “They’re just all interested in minimal living, or they’d like to build one some day, or they are building one.”

Local farmers struggle to do business during California’s drought

California reaches its fourth year in what scientists are calling the worst drought in 1,200 years

The current drought is changing the landscape all over California, and two groups that are dealing with those changes first-hand are local farmers and beekeepers.

INFOGRAPHIC: The California drought is in its fourth year. An El Niño is predicted to bring much needed rain in Winter 2015.

INFOGRAPHIC: The California drought is in its fourth year. An El Niño is predicted to bring much needed rain in Winter 2015.

An unprecedented drought is causing an epidemic in California, bees and beekeepers’ hives that produce honey are vanishing from local farms.

According to a report and performance measure, there are two problems killing off hives. First: global warming is causing flowers to bloom before bees end their hibernation, creating a pollen scarcity for them. Second: there’s not enough water for the bees to drink and cool their hives.

Produce and honey production put a high demand on the scarce state water supply. In a recent Washington Post article agriculture uses up to 80 percent of the state’s water supply.

Escondido farmer Joe Rodriguez says that farming’s water cost is soaring to astronomical heights.

“We were like $300 an acre for water and now we’re at like $2,000 (an acre). For the same amount of water… that’s how much it’s gone up,” Rodriguez said.


MULTIMEDIA: The agribusiness is facing some hardships trying to stay afloat during the four-year drought in California. Barry Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm and the Rodriguez Family Farm are produce growers from San Diego who continue to do business despite the rising cost of water.

Change in the social climate

Everyone in the state has been affected by this drought. Kids aren’t playing in luscious green lawns, but rather in patchy browned grass. Drought shaming, a type of community policing, is going on in neighborhoods all over the state. People have taken to Twitter in order to bring the biggest water waster to light.

SCREENSHOT: @staph, an environmental enthusiast, calls out the “waterhog” residing in Rancho Santa Fe.

On Twitter an environmental enthusiast, calls out a water waster residing in Rancho Santa Fe.

SCREENSHOT: @westernwaterluv continually exposes government agencies that are wasting water.

On Twitter @westernwaterluv continually exposes government agencies that are wasting water.

Recently San Diego’s City Council approved a measure that would help decrease the city and county’s dependency on out-of-state water sources by raising water rates to develop their own; another example of the water supply evaporating right before our eyes.

Rain in the forecast.

The El Niño of 1997 eroded San Diego’s coastline, flooded homes and destroyed natural waterways and their surrounding watersheds. An El Niño storm season is predicted this winter, but will it bring enough to quench the dry lands across California or cause the same havoc it did in 1997?

San Diego State University Professor of Geography, Trent Briggs says yes and no.

“Not enough water is a problem, but too much water can also be a problem,” Briggs says. “Particularly in areas where the vegetation might have died back… there could be more landslide hazard.”

INFOGRAPHIC: This map shows the sea surface temperatures from 2015 and 2014. Those temperatures are much higher than normal in the northeasters Pacific and along the U.S. West Coast. CREDIT: Data: NOAA/ESRL/PSD Images: Ben Hatchett, NV SCO

INFOGRAPHIC: This map shows the sea surface temperatures from 2015 and 2014. Those temperatures are much higher than normal in the northeastern Pacific and along the U.S. West Coast.
Images: Ben Hatchett, NV SCO

INFOGRAPHIC: This is a map of the sea surface temperatures recorded in December 1998, right before the last El Niño to hit the California region. CREDIT: Data: NOAA/ESRL/PSD Images: Ben Hatchett, NV SCO

INFOGRAPHIC: This is a map of the sea surface temperatures recorded in December 1998, right before the last El Niño to hit the California region.
Images: Ben Hatchett, NV SCO

Back on the family farm

Joe Rodriguez’s family has had a farm in Escondido for more than 50 years. When the farm opened flowers fields spanned 190 acres, but that’s when flowers were in high demand and profitable.

The farm has since cut the flower fields from 190 acres to a mere eight. He blames the drought and the increasing water rates for the serious downgrade.

Eric Larson, executive director for the San Diego County Farm Bureau, says part of the problem is the diversified water sources that the San Diego County Water Authority provides for citizens, like us, as well as for local farmers.

“Farmers end up paying an extraordinarily high price for the water,” Larson says. Farmers pay the same rates households do—but on a much larger scale.

For now Rodriguez is using community supported agriculture to keep the farm in business. In this type of system, households and even whole neighborhoods select packages of produce hand-picked from the farm. Those families can then pick up those packages at their local farmers market.

Some of Rodriguez’s crops are being held in greenhouses, not an uncommon practice that farmers will use to maximize the harvests collected.

“Everything we would pop in the ground we could really sell. Not a problem. Not a challenge,” Rodriguez said.

Kale, spinach, cabbage and broccoli are some of the crops in the greenhouses. The normal planting season for those crops is July, but farmers are waiting nearly three months longer than usual to put the prepped seedlings in the ground. What it means is less harvests and overall less income for Rodriguez.

Water needs of the honeybee hive

Produce farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the drought’s negative effects. Beekeepers are also seeing their harvest season shrink year after year.

PHOTO: The Farmer’s Daughter Olive Oil stand displays Wild Mountain Honey, a top-seller at local farmers market in San Diego County.

PHOTO: The Farmer’s Daughter Olive Oil stand displays Wild Mountain Honey, a top-seller at local farmers market in San Diego County.

Janet Henninger operates Farmer’s Daughter Farm in the Temecula Valley. She is a honey-selling regular at farmers markets all over San Diego. She has been directly impacted by the drought that is cutting down on the time the honeybees have to produce honey.

One of the popular types of honey sold at farmers markets is avocado honey, but the drought has made growing avocados almost impossible.

Avocado groves are shutting down left and right in San Diego. Eric Larson, executive director for the San Diego County Farm Bureau, says small farmers are seeing costs go up too rapidly and aren’t able to keep their profits up at the same rate.

“Avocados are the single biggest footprint of irrigated agriculture in San Diego County,” Larson says. “As the price of water goes up the profit margin narrows.

“Some folks, especially the older farmers, who don’t want to invest in new technology, simply because of their age, they’re the ones that are dropping out and shutting the water off and abandoning their avocados.”

A fruit farmer’s new order of thinking

Barry Koral is a raw food enthusiast, with firm beliefs in the mental healing power of a vegan diet. Koral is a Vista farmer focused on reclaiming water on his property and using it to water his fruit trees.

I have an outdoor shower and the pipes lead to the trees,” Koral said. “What I really believe in is reusing the materials.”

Koral says that the water shortages seen now are our own doing.

“I think there’s a tremendous need for people to start waking up to realize the preciousness of (resources),” Koral said.

PHOTO: Barry Koral sells his fruit from his farm in Vista at the Hillcrest Farmers Market.

PHOTO: Barry Koral sells his fruit from his farm in Vista at the Hillcrest Farmers Market.

The self-proclaimed “veganic,” a term he came up with himself, believes in growing fruit in the most organic way possible. He even uses natural worm-sourced compost as manure. Koral hopes that through his enthusiasm at farmers markets and outreach at public speaking events he can raise awareness.

“You don’t really realize it, until you’re without,” Koral said.

Mental illness among top reason for homelessness in San Diego

With near-perfect weather and stunning beach scenery, San Diego might seem like the ideal place to live. But one major issue stands in the way of America’s Finest City becoming “America’s Perfect City.”

An annual study done by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that San Diego has the third largest population of homeless people in major American cities. A similar study by county officials found that about one third of the San Diego homeless population suffers from a severe mental illness.

A homeless woman waits in front of the Salvation Army in Downtown San Diego.

A homeless woman waits in front of the Salvation Army in Downtown San Diego. (Photo by Lauren Flynn)


Sometimes, they keep to themselves and aren’t a problem. Other times, especially when they are clearly mentally ill or on drugs, they can be seen as a threat or nuisance.
A study done by the San Diego County Grand Jury between 2009 and 2010 found that almost 3,000 crimes committed by transients cost the county over $400,000.

San Diego Mesa College student Kathryn Reed, 20, said she stopped taking the trolley because she was afraid of the mentally ill man who regularly frequented the stop by her house.

“I was always really uncomfortable because I was afraid he’d hurt me,” Reed said. “I don’t know his situation. He could be mentally ill or he could be on drugs that make him violent. But I do feel bad because you know, you don’t want to stare, but you still want to look at him because he’s a person.”

Business owners are also worried about the homeless problem because of the potential loss of customers.

Fernando Rodriguez, a manager of the Barnes and Noble in Santee, says he had to ask a regular group of homeless people not to return to his store.

“They’re harmless, but people got uncomfortable and didn’t want to shop here anymore,” he said. “I had paying customers complain about the one guy who talks to himself, so they all had to go.”

Homelessness in San Diego compared to other major U.S. cities

With every recent mass killing in the United States, media professionals and investigators bring up the question of mental health.

San Diego County has had its share of school shootings (though, none in more than a decade) and is fourth on the Department of Homeland Security’s vulnerability to terrorism list, but the most pressing issue mental health presents to the county is homelessness.

Homeless camp in front of public library downtown

San Diego Public Library downtown attracts a number of homeless people. (Photo by Lauren Flynn.)

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development developed a plan to combat homelessness across America, called Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

The Department conducts an annual study to look at trends in homeless populations across the country. The goal is to be able to tailor the national budget for ending homelessness based on how much money specific areas and demographics need.

Every year the Office of Community Planning and Development conducts the Annual Homeless Assessment Report in two parts. The first part is a count of the various demographics of the homeless population in cities across the country at a specific point in time.

Part one of the 2013 assessment was conducted on a single night in January 2013. The report found that San Diego City and County have more than 7,000 homeless people. The number means that San Diego has the third most homeless of all major US cities, only behind Los Angeles and New York, respectively.

Although the assessment found considerably more homeless individuals in these two cities, San Diego has a significantly greater amount of homeless veterans.

Veteran percentage chart

GRAPH: Homeless veterans by city. Source: Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

Kalie Standish, the associate director of community engagement at People Assisting the Homeless, said the program she works with, Connections Housing, frequently helps veterans.

“So much of our efforts are to ensure that individuals that served our country are being served,” she said.

Standish also said that since Connections Housing opened in March 2013, 172 veterans have found full time employment through the program.

San Diego ranks third behind New York and Los Angeles in the number of chronically homeless people—those who have been homeless for a year or longer. It is third to Fresno and Los Angeles in the number of homeless without shelter. A homeless person is considered to be unsheltered when their nighttime residence is a place not meant for human habitation.

The 2013 assessment showed that 90 percent of the 2,500 chronically homeless people in San Diego County regularly go without shelter.

Homelessness and mental health in San Diego

The San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless conducts an annual study designed to gather information that is similar to the federal assessment, but is specific to the county.

Last year’s San Diego Regional Homeless Profile was conducted on the night of January 24, 2013.

At that point in time, the results of San Diego’s report were fairly similar to those in the national assessment.

What the local study includes that the national study does not are subgroups of homeless people living in San Diego. The task force estimated that on the night the study was conducted, about 33 percent of homeless people in the county suffered from a severe mental illness. More than twice as many mental illness sufferers were unsheltered than had shelter that night.

San Diego homelessness by the numbers

GRAPH: Homelessness in San Diego by the numbers. Source: San Diego Regional Homeless Profile. Created using

Although there were more chronic substance abusers than any other subgroup at 34 percent, the group with the largest percent of unsheltered people suffered from a severe mental illness.

How organizations are working to solve homelessness

PATH, 2-1-1 San Diego and the San Diego Rescue Mission are just a few of the organizations that offer assistance in finding homeless people the kind of help they need.

Standish said Connections Housing is the most influential organization downtown that works with the homeless and is a housing and support services program. She said its goal is to help people find the resources they need to transition from the streets to permanent housing they can maintain.

“I don’t refer to Connections Housing as a shelter,” Standish said. “I think there’s a lot of stigma and stereotype surrounding that word and I really like to emphasize that it’s not just housing people for one night.”

MULTIMEDIA: Kalie Standish discusses Connections Housing and mental health in downtown San Diego.

PATH is partnered with nearly 30 other non-profit groups and those who have successfully overcome their situations with the help of these groups to fix homelessness at its root cause.

At one of PATH’s partners, the San Diego Rescue Mission, one young woman found solace and a solution that kept her and her young daughter off the streets.

Diana Rodriguez said she found herself with nowhere to live after her mother kicked her out of the house for getting pregnant as a teenager. After a year of living with the father of her daughter, Rodriguez found herself depressed and without a roof over her head.

A homeless man and his dog downtown.

A homeless man and his dog walk near the San Diego Public Library downtown. (Photo by Lauren Flynn.)

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Rodriguez. “I kept telling myself I needed to help myself to help my daughter, but it took finding this place and getting help with being depressed to get really motivated.”

The San Diego Rescue Mission is funded through donations and helps people like Rodriguez through housing, education and mental health counseling programs. Standish says PATH is funded through a combination of outside donations and funding from the San Diego Housing Commission.

San Diego programs fight obesity in kids as early as preschool

Interactive map of the US with obesity statistics by state.

Click the image to see an Interactive map of the US with obesity statistics by state.

To many people, San Diego conjures up images of tanned, healthy beachgoers, but in reality more than half of the County’s adults are overweight, according to San Diego’s 2012 CDC Community Profile.

Further, roughly 30 percent of San Diego children in grades five, seven and nine are overweight or obese.

With these numbers surpassing national averages, programs for children as young as 2-years-old are being integrated in preschools, after-school care and recreation facilities around San Diego.

Physical education in public schools declines

Overweight children are 10 times more likely to become overweight adults, yet public school systems continue to cut back on physical eduction. As of 2011, 48 to 68 percent of students nationwide did not take physical education classes in an average week.

According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, 44 percent of schools in the US have made significant cuts in time for physical education and recess since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001. The report also added that from 2001 to 2006, the number of days students were required to take P.E. dramatically declined.

San Diego County launches Childhood Obesity Initiative

To address the growing problem, San Diego County began its Childhood Obesity Initiative in 2006 with the mission of “reducing and preventing childhood obesity through policy, systems, and environmental change.”

The initiative’s Action Plan targets the “most influential” domains in developing a healthy environment:

Logo for the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative

The San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative has a vision of healthy eating and active living in all places.

  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Schools
  • Early Childhood
  • Community
  • Media
  • Business

“The goal is to stop the problem before it begins–to invoke change from the ground up,” said Senior Project Manager of the initiative, Melanie Briones. “We try to show people the importance of health policy so kids don’t need to ‘have better habits’ because they’ve already been building good habits.”

Briones says the plan’s success is founded by its research-driven approach to promoting good health and essential life skills in today’s youth that counter the trends of childhood obesity in the US.

According to a Community Health Statistics brief, 41 percent of San Diego children ages 5 to 11 are physically active less than three days a week, 10 percent of whom reported zero activity.

Fitness program helps preschoolers learn healthy habits

A youth-based sports fitness program for preschoolers called Amazing Athletes is one of several efforts in San Diego combating this stagnant lifestyle. Spokeswoman for the preschool program Mariko Lamb says it is important to realize how closely related physical fitness is to childhood development.

“A child’s risk for a lifetime of obesity is typically established by the tender young age of five,” Lamb said. “By reaching children early through enrichment programs like ours, we’re able to show kids that physical activity is fun and teach gross motor skill development, healthy habits, promote skills like confidence, teamwork, goal-setting and social skills, and so much more.”

VIDEO: Amazing Athletes teaches sports and good nutrition to preschoolers.

Professor of Public Health John Elder says programs like these are promoting good ideas, but he blames schools for not providing proper physical education and nutrition.

“Kids are in the cafeteria and they go straight for the entree. They go straight for the piece of pizza and the healthy options are pushed to the side,” Elder said. “That mixed with the consumption of sugary liquids is just asking for trouble.”

Elder stresses the need for more good, clean water in schools and the importance of school districts forming relationships with local farms.

San Diego began it’s Farm to Preschool Pilot Program in 2011 that, despite the title, serves preschools through 12th grade. The idea of the program is to source local foods to schools and families, teach nutrition, gardening and food preparation, along with arranging field trips to farms and farmer’s markets.

Parents are role models

Elder says schools and health-forward programs are only half the battle, and there is only so much that can be done outside of the home.

“Parents are the best role models for their kids,” Elder said. “But if they’re chowing down and not exercising, then they’re definitely not exercising with their kid and there’s bound to be an issue.”

Photo Credit: Stormy Buonantony. Asparagus is being grilled as a side dish for dinner.

Asparagus is loaded with health benefits and is quick and easy to prepare with dinner. Photo Credit: Stormy Buonantony

Parents set the guidelines for their children about where they can go, what they do, what they eat and how much they eat. Elder says in modern American society that can mean staying indoors, watching TV, and eating fast food in large portions.

Cooking at home can be time consuming and healthy foods are thought to be more expensive. With San Diego’s economic inequality deepening in recent years according to the Center on Policy Initiatives, more low-income families are buying less expensive foods. Unfortunately, this often means buying foods with lower nutrient density.

Katie Ferraro, president of the California Dietetic Association’s San Diego District, says the cheaper the food, the lower the quality. This means, despite the lower immediate cost, the price these people pay in the long run is much more. And they pay with their health.

Physical and psychological implications of obesity

“Heart disease, cancer, strokes and diabetes are directly related to food choices made or not made throughout the course of ones life,” Ferraro said. “And childhood is crucial.”

According to the CDC, consequences of childhood obesity include but are not limited to:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Breathing problems
  • Joint and musculoskeletal discomfort
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Gallstones
  • Heartburn

In addition to physical damage, obese children have a higher risk of social and psychological problems like discrimination and low self-esteem.

Kevin Nguyen, a rugby player at Long Beach State, grew up in San Diego and has struggled with being overweight all his life.

“Back when I was little it was uncomfortable,” Nguyen said. “I used to be called fat a lot, and worthless sometimes because I’m fat.”

SLIDESHOW: College athlete Kevin Nguyen shares his story of growing up overweight.

Nguyen says through high school he lacked confidence and wasn’t able to find himself, and get healthy and fit until college.

Overweight and obese children are not only more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, but their adult obesity tends to be more severe.

Nguyen says he’s lucky he was able to make the changes he has to his health.

“I can easily see people taking extremes to lose weight. I was one of them, and it’s just as bad for you as being overweight to begin with,” Nguyen said.  “You have to be good to yourself to feel good about yourself.”



Waste matters: San Diego Co. landfill project continues despite Native American protests and increased recycling

By Ethan Orenstein

Photo by Ethan Orenstein

After nearly 20 years of planning and evaluating, the permitting process for a new landfill in north San Diego County continues amid stiff opposition from those who say the landfill will threaten natural water supplies, the environment and areas sacred to native people.

Click to explore a map of the planned location for the Gregory Canyon landfill.

The 308 acre landfill would be built on Gregory Mountain, about three miles east of Interstate 15 and two miles southwest of the community of Pala on State Route 76. The San Luis Rey River crosses the site from east to west.

The mountain, known as Chokla, and the San Luis Rey River are important spiritual and religious sites to the Pala Band of Mission Indians. To protect them from the landfill, the Pala decided to register the sites with the Native American Heritage Commission.

“A lot of times, native people don’t like to reveal and list sacred sites because then they become public,” said Shasta Gaughen, environmental director of the Pala Environmental Department. “But to protect them, it’s worth it.”

For the Pala, Chokla is the resting place of important spirits like Takwic, whose role includes collecting the souls of the dead.

There are also archeological sites all over the mountain. Artifacts ranging from bedrock mortars to ancient wall paint can be found just a couple hundred yards from the proposed landfill.

AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Pala environmental director Shasta Gaughen explains the cultural significance of Gregory Canyon.

Federal approval required for project to continue

After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined the San Luis Rey River and its watershed fell within federal jurisdiction, the Corps needed to evaluate and approve the landfill for the project to continue.

The new step in the permitting process will postpone the project indefinitely, and the Pala plan to use the extended time to continue to fight to prevent the landfill.

Whether the Army Corps of Engineers approves the federal permit or not depends on public interest and the expected impact on the environment. An approval essentially concludes that any environmental impacts created by the landfill are insignificant.

“Not only are we going to submit hundreds of pages of public comments,” Gaughen said. “We’re going to encourage members of the public to send in their comments too. We’re just hoping to get people to say, ‘This is not what we want.’”

The push to prevent this permit is just one small battle in a long, expensive war.

“Even if the Army Corps denies this permit, it’s not the end,” Gaughen said. “Pala and local community groups have been fighting this since the 1980s. Pala will continue to fight until there is nothing left.”

Gaughen said the battle began for the Pala people when Gregory Canyon became a potential landfill site in the late 1980s. Since then, the group has spent well over $6 million fighting the project.

Save Gregory Canyon is the group created by the Pala to oppose to landfill. Other groups against the project include the National Resource Defense Council, with more than 250,000 members in California, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Gaughen said the group has offered to buy the property in the past, but Gregory Canyon Limited, the private company that owns the land, wasn’t interested.

“Would we like to own it, yeah that would be great, but right now that probably won’t happen,” Gaughen said. “They’re just looking at the dollar signs they’re going to get from the tens of millions of pounds of garbage.”

GC timeline

Click to navigate this timeline of San Diego County’s search for a new landfill and the history behind the Gregory Canyon landfill.

With the lengthy process, new landfill technologies develop

The project has been in development since San Diego voters first approved Proposition C, the Gregory Landfill and Recycling Collection Center Ordinance, in 1994. Proposition C changed the county’s zoning laws to allow for a landfill and removed the Board of Supervisors from the approval process.

Samantha Bowman-Fleurov, a spokesperson for Gregory Canyon Limited, said the time it takes to plan, build and begin operation of a landfill is long, but the lengthy process may be an added benefit.

“It’s very daunting. The average landfill permits in about 18 years,” Bowman-Fleurov said. “The technology they had when they began permitting Gregory was not as good as it is now.”

She said the permitting process has given the technology a chance to improve. The landfill will be built with a 7.5 foot thick liner (PDF), which is designed with 16 layers to prevent waste material from seeping into the soil and groundwater.

But opponents worry about the garbage that will still be buried there long after the landfill is closed. Gaughen said there’s no guarantee that the liner will hold up forever, and there may be unforeseen environmental issues in the future.

Gregory Canyon Limited said this will be the first time a liner system of this caliber would be used for a municipal waste landfill. The design is supposed to make environmental contamination practically impossible.

Future waste production will determine need for landfill

Bowman-Fleurov said the landfill is needed because today’s economy is driven by material possessions designed to be thrown away, and very few people live on the bare essentials.

“Although we are more environmental than groups that burn their garbage, as a nation we still produce the most garbage,” Bowman-Fleurov said. “In a perfect world, we would not be creating all this garbage.”

In San Diego County, more than 3.2 million people are throwing away garbage, which ends up in one of the county’s six landfills. By 2050 that number is expected to increase by another million, according to the San Diego Association of Governments’ Regional Growth Forecast (PDF).

The Countywide Integrated Waste Management Plan (PDF) prepared by the Department of Public Works, which is required to demonstrate at least 15 years of remaining landfill capacity, has estimated that the last of San Diego County’s six currently active landfills will start to near capacity around 2030.

Click to explore this map of San Diego County's active landfills. Click the marker to see remaining capacity and expected closure dates. Source: CalRecycle

The active landfills are:

  • Borrego Landfill in Borrego Springs
  • Otay Landfill in Chula Vista
  • San Onofre Landfill in Camp Pendleton
  • Las Pulgas Landfill in Camp Pendleton
  • Sycamore Landfill in San Diego City
  • Miramar Landfill in San Diego City

While the region still has over a decade before its landfills reach capacity, José Ysea, public information officer for the City of San Diego Environmental Services Department, said landfills will be necessary in the future unless new waste disposal technology emerges.

“Until those new technologies have proven themselves, landfill capacity will be needed for the long term in the region,” Ysea said.

If approved, the Gregory Canyon project is estimated to last 30 years and dispose of about 30 million tons of garbage.

“Although efforts will be made to extend the existing landfill capacity at Miramar Landfill, currently the region is slated to run out of landfill capacity around 2037,” Ysea said. “In terms of the length of time needed to site a landfill or for new technology to be shown to operate successfully at a commercial scale, 2037 is just around the corner.”

Waste production decreases throughout the county

With a continued decrease in waste production, some of the active landfills may take longer to reach capacity and close than currently estimated.

The entire state of California is required to divert 75 percent of its waste from landfills by the year 2020 after Assembly Bill 341 was signed into law in 2011.

“We are on pace to not only meet that goal, but exceed it,” Ysea said.

The entire region is on track to meet waste diversion goals, according to Michael Wonsidler, waste management coordinator with the San Diego County Department of Public Works.

Over the past decade, total tons of solid waste generated has decreased by about 13 percent.

Waste generated chart

Click to explore a chart of San Diego County’s waste production trends. Source: CalRecycle

According to the Department of Public Works, the reasons for decreases in waste generation are:

  • the economic recession
  • increased conservation and recycling efforts
  • a reduction in yard waste and an increase in composting facilities
  • mandatory recycling ordinances
  • more recycling facilities

Wonsidler said a shift in thinking in terms of waste management to resource management has increased recycling and improved efficiency.

Materials like tires, concrete, rebar and yard trimmings were once considered waste. Those items can now be used to produce things like crumb rubber for astro-turf fields, road base and compost. Items including construction materials, rigid plastics and Styrofoam once went directly to the landfill, now they can be recycled and reused.

“Resource management recognizes that waste is not inevitable,” Wonsidler said. “Recycling, as a type of urban mining, will continue to provide raw materials necessary for production in the 21st century economy.”

Recycling awareness is also growing throughout the state. Some cities, including Oceanside and El Cajon, are even working towards a zero-waste goal.

“Until these advancements in both our understanding and management of resources become commonplace, landfills will remain the last resort for materials that are either not designed to be composted, recycled, reused, repaired or regulated,” Wonsidler said.

Increasing recycling is a major solution to waste problem

Through mandatory and voluntary efforts, recycling has increased significantly throughout California. According to CalRecycle, it’s a $12 billion industry.

Recycling bins line the outside of apartment buildings around San Diego.

Recycling bins line the outside of apartment buildings around San Diego. Photo by Ethan Orenstein

“There has been increased interest in maximizing recycling, buying durable goods and creating products with improved designs, considering the entire product lifecycle,” Wonsidler said.

He said the number of people who recycle has reached record highs and will continue to grow as recycling becomes easier.

“Recycling is widely available and the cost to participate is often significantly less than for trash service,” Wonsidler said.

Ysea said if waste production is to continue to decrease, it will take a cooperative effort from the governing bodies and every individual. The County and the City of San Diego offer workshops on recycling and low-cost composting options to divert items like food waste.

“That said, residents need to comply with the City’s recycling ordinance and divert as much of the waste as they can that they produce in their homes away from landfills,” Ysea said.

Small business adopts recycling as core value

At Reuseable Finds, in the Bay Park neighborhood, the shelves are stocked with repurposed and recycled goods. Items ranging from lamps made out of old, worn tea kettles to artwork made from rebar and concrete were diverted from landfills and given a new use.

Virginia and Stephen Mergener, the couple who owns and operates Reuseable Finds, are trying to set an example of what needs to be done throughout the county.

At home, the Mergeners started composting, planting native plants and repurposing old items for new uses. Soon after that, they started offering a property clean up service that, unlike other clean-up and hauling services, took nothing to the landfill.

Virginia Mergener said the response was positive and people really appreciated what they were doing. As their business grew bigger, they decided to open a store.

“We recycle everything. If we can do it, everyone can,” she said. “If we find something that needs repair, we’ll fix and repaint it and sell it in our store.”

Her husband, Stephen, agrees that there needs to be a bigger collective effort to recycle and much more regulation on what can be thrown away.

“When you go to the Miramar dump, they throw away everything out there,” he said. “I’ve seen people dump grandfather clocks.”

Carpentry skills are not required to repurpose an old item, sometimes a few coats of paint, some simple tools and a little imagination is all something needs. An item like a grandfather clock can be repurposed into a decorative storage shelf. If you do have some carpentry skills, especially with top wood planers, you would be astonished at how much is possible!

VIDEO: There are countless new uses for old items. Reuseable Finds co-owner Stephen Mergener explains how a grandfather clock can be transformed into a storage shelf.

He said widespread recycling efforts need to start with the individual. For landfill owners more recycling regulations can mean more costs and paperwork.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult task because people who control the trash,” Mergener said. “Control the trash.”

Virginia said some people never think to reuse an old item for something else, but doing so is an effective and environmentally responsible way to divert waste from landfills.

“Why just allow the dumper to dump anything? That’s just lazy,” she said. “People dump whole truck loads of things that can be recycled. If you can repurpose something, repurpose it.”