Newsletter: Solving a problem like the Tijuana River

Tijuana River
Sewage and debris gather in catch basins on the Tijuana River.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times )

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Feb. 11, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

It’s hard to think of a more unlikely coalition than Border Patrol agents, environmentalists, House Democrats and San Diego Republicans. But that’s exactly who came together to secure the only significant environmental victory in President Trump’s new trade deal.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, known as USMCA, was signed by the president last month, and it includes a provision that will authorize hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent tackling cross-border sewage flows from the Tijuana River.

Millions of gallon of sewage and trash routinely flow across the border from Tijuana into San Diego, fouling beaches and posing a significant public health risk.

The binational Tijuana River straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, and the majority of the broader Tijuana River watershed lies in Mexico. But the watershed drains out into the Tijuana River estuary on the U.S. side of the border, where the river’s mouth meets the Pacific Ocean. Because of Tijuana’s higher elevation, water (and sewage and trash) flow downhill and north across the border before dumping out into the Pacific.


Sewage flows through the Tijuana River Valley have been a decades-long issue, and closures at San Diego County beaches have also been routine for decades. Beaches in the San Diego area were closed more than 500 days over the last three years due to toxic water pollution.

The $300-million provision in the trade deal will help fund a new U.S. facility to capture Tijuana sewage spills before they foul shorelines in San Diego County.

My colleagues — environmental policy reporter Anna M. Phillips and congressional reporter Jennifer Haberkorn — have a fascinating new story about how the provision and its unlikely allies secured rare backing for an environmental project from the Trump administration.

“Each group played a part. Democrats in Congress drafted legislation to provide money and legal authority to address the spills, hoping to add it to the trade bill. San Diego’s Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, met with the president to plead the case,” they write. “Environmentalists emphasized the health risks of the pollution, and Border Patrol agents at the Imperial Beach Station made public their complaints of rashes, burning eyes and sore throats.”

And the advocates’ pitch was also complicated by the fact that it involved California and Mexico — two frequent targets of the president’s ire. But they succeeded.

[Read the story: “Unlikely allies got White House to tackle Tijuana River mess: How they pulled it off” in the Los Angeles Times]


And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

The California Department of Justice will conduct its own investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of a statewide database of alleged gang members after allegations that officers falsified records to enter people on it. “Right now, the LAPD’s inputs are under the microscope,” said California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra. Los Angeles Times

Rising seas already overwhelm the Bay Area. Some cities offer lessons on what can be done. In Foster City, where the “king tide” over the weekend reached 9 feet, the answer is a taller levee, costing $90 million. The plan comes as legislators warn that California is running out of time to prepare for sea level rise. Los Angeles Times


They’re running for L.A. City Council, but not ruling out a bid for mayor in 2022. The larger political ambitions of two candidates have become issues in their campaign for seats on the council. Los Angeles Times

Former state Sen. Kevin de León and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas
Former state Sen. Kevin de León and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas have both declined to rule out possible bids for L.A. mayor in 2022.
(Los Angeles Times)

How Frieze Projects aims to broaden — and subvert — the Hollywood story. The international art fair Frieze Los Angeles is set to touch down on the Paramount Pictures back lot on Valentine’s Day in a veritable storm of art dealing and air kissing. Los Angeles Times


Time to option that grand escape? Carlos Ghosn, the fallen auto magnate who fled Japan while facing charges of financial wrongdoing there, has hired legendary agent Michael Ovitz for film and TV deals. Bloomberg

The long-delayed, much-anticipated Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will open this December, as announced during the Oscars telecast. The announcement ends some of the suspense surrounding the $388-million Renzo Piano-designed project, which has been a drama unto itself, its story line filled with infighting, fund-raising difficulties, cost overruns and delays. Los Angeles Times

“Parasite’s” Oscars are a huge win for Neon, the indie upstart responsible for the film’s highly successful U.S. theatrical run and awards push. Los Angeles Times

Enjoying this newsletter?

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


A Silicon Valley assemblyman’s proposed law would prevent taxpayer-funded stays at Trump hotels. Technically, the ban would apply to spending money at any hotels owned by a president of the United States, present or past, but we all know what that means. Sacramento Bee


Fiery cross-examination at the Harvey Weinstein trial: A witness in Weinstein’s rape trial emphatically denied helping facilitate an alleged assault between the fallen Hollywood mogul and accuser Lauren Young. Los Angeles Times



Wilderness designations proposed for 30,200 acres in the western San Gabriel Mountains: The bill authored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) is included in a package of conservation bills expected to be presented to the House on Wednesday. Los Angeles Times


Amid a coronavirus quarantine, a Santa Clarita couple blogs from a cruise ship cabin. “Will Carl and Jeri’s marriage make it through another eleven days quarantined inside their cabin?” they wrote in the diary on Friday. “Join us on Monday for updates on their adventures.” Los Angeles Times

In Joshua Tree, the county is cracking down on vacation rentals, sparking a backlash over what some see as heavy-handed enforcement of a new law. Los Angeles Times

Modesto will close its nine-hole municipal golf course later this year. What’s next for the 54 acres in a prime location near downtown and Highway 99? Modesto Bee

Itching to skip town for a long weekend? Here are four last-minute road trips within four hours of L.A. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: sunny, 73. San Diego: sunny, 67. San Francisco: sunny, 65. San Jose: sunny, 69. Sacramento: sunny, 71. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Joseph Benton:

My first experience of California was feeling the warmth of the air as I stepped outside to the curb to hail a taxi at LAX in 1984. The closest thing to that feeling I had was feeling the warmth of socks fresh out of the dryer since I had grown up in Ohio and had never been any further west. I smelled the ocean. I saw palm trees. People were dressed differently: the way I saw them on TV. It was like stepping into a movie. The regular world faded as the new reality took over. I never moved back.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.