South Bay Contrasts, Controversy

South Bay is a world of environmental contrasts--a place of fertile salt marshes and the county’s two toxic dumps. It’s a place where a rare plant thrives in the grassy strips next to sidewalks, and rare birds fly in each spring to nest on vacant fill.

The following is a sampler of environmental controversies simmering in South Bay:

- The Chula Vista Bayfront Plan--For more than a decade, environmentalists’ opposition and regulators’ reservations have hung up this scheme to develop 500 unused acres on the city’s bayfront. Now two endangered bird species, the California least tern and light-footed clapper rail, and an endangered plant, the salt marsh bird’s beak, have delayed the project.

- The Second Channel--Three South Bay cities have resuscitated a long-dormant plan for a second entrance to San Diego Bay, cutting through the Silver Strand. But wildlife officials fear for the loss of the South Bay’s shallow-water habitat and the salt marsh home of tern and other bird species rarely found in California.


- Otay Mesa development--Botanists predict that the imminent development of this vast plateau will mean the decimation of the remaining “vernal pools” that are home to the rare Loma Alta mesa mint. Also threatened is the Baja California rose, a desert flower discovered last year on the western side of the mesa and believed to be the only U.S. example, according to Mitchel Beauchamp, the botanist president of Pacific Southwest Biological Services.

- The fluff pile--The giant heap of waste from San Diego County’s only auto shredder continues to tower over the yard of Pacific Steel Co. in National City, as there is still no designated disposal site for it in California.

- The Sweetwater marsh--About 180 acres of marshland west of Interstate 5 in Chula Vista was to have been turned over by the Santa Fe Land Co. for preservation in return for the opportunity to develop the bayfront. The transfer still has not occurred.

- Border sewage--Raw sewage from the ever-expanding Mexican border city of Tijuana continues to flow into canyons and drainage areas that feed into South Bay communities.


- Miscellaneous other matters include an ongoing survey by the Regional Water Quality Control Board of whether the ubiquitous auto junk and salvage yards in the Otay area have affected the underground water supply; a proposal to allow recreational fishing in Sweetwater Lake, currently a haven for birds, and unauthorized filling of waterways and bayfront, damaging fish nursery areas and feeding grounds.

Finally, one rare species seems to be doing just fine:

The only rare plant left in the National City area is the San Diego ragweed, which Beauchamp said seems to thrive near sidewalks.

“It’s an odd little plant,” mused Beauchamp. “It may survive.”