Prayer and Dinosaur Pee

In the eyes of many, I’m sure I appear to be an agent of Beelzebub. For the last few months, I have chosen not to stand during the invocation, AKA “moment of reflection” before City Council meetings. For many years, I have repeated the Pledge of Allegiance as I learned it in the first grade—without the words “under God”. Those words were added to the Pledge in response to Senator Joe McCarthy’s overreaction to “Godless Communism”.

Now, I have been an agnostic since I was eighteen, so it took me many years to reach the point where I felt confident enough to thumb my nose at those who would insist on imposing their patriarchal mythological views onto my secular government. And secular government it is. There is not one mention of God in the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence mentions a “Creator”, but creator can mean the big bang that started our particular universe some thirteen-plus billion years ago. The Founding Fathers were, for the most part, deists—who believed in a God that left the fate of mankind to the decisions of mankind.

It was with considerable anticipation, then, that I attended tonight’s City Council meeting. At the last meeting on March 26, as reported by Pat Mues, Roy Garrett eloquently called out the hypocrisy of these “moments of reflection” and said he would “stand for prayers no more.” I was anxious to see how many would not stand.

As is often the case, the anticipation was much greater than the event. The man called upon to conduct the “moment” was a no-show. Our moment of sitting while others stood, was very, very brief. Too brief for many to notice. Well, there’s always next Wednesday.

The highlight of tonight’s meeting was the “workshop” on the “Council update – recycled water and potable reuse program.” I remember attending a meeting, conducted by city planners, over ten years ago, when the problem of Escondido’s Hale Avenue Resource Recovery Facility (HARRF) (sewer treatment plant) shortfall was discussed. At that time, the cost to replace the facility’s outfall to the coast amounted to some $40K per household using that facility. Director of Utilities, Chris McKinney informed the Council that the cost for such replacement was now some $403 million. That, McKinney said would be the Council’s first option. It would, he explained, not be a good option, because you could not phase in the required increase in HARRF, land outfall conduit, and ocean outfall conduit. They would all have to be replaced at one time. It would all involve byzantine environmental impact reports and allowances. The second option McKinney presented, was to increase the redistribution of recycled water, reducing the need for increased outfall capacity, and the eventual increased treatment of recycled water, making it drinkable. The cost? $285 million spread over many years. And, in twenty years, the income from farmers and others using the recycled water and reduction in cost of imported water, would be more than the City’s cost to maintain the recycling system.

Four members of the public spoke in favor of option two: Dollie McQuiston from the Escondido Chamber of Citizens, Phil Henry, whose family has farmed avocados since 1925, Ed Grangetto, representing Escondido Growers for Agricultural Preservation and Mike Hillebrecht, of Hillebrecht Farms, Escondido. So ended another “public workshop” on crucial City affairs.

Considering the dearth of options, it was not surprising that a Council majority endorsed option two. However, not the usual majority. Councilman John Masson asked a wistful question as to whether or not the first phase of increasing recycled water distribution could be extended to the Rancho Guejito. McKinney’s answer, softened with explanations about the limited amount of recycled water available, was no. Masson then, stipulating that he wished for more financial details, agreed that option two was the only possible choice. Councilman Ed Gallo, said he was “good with this” pointing out that Escondido would be using its water twice. (Well, actually, Mr. Gallo, we’re all drinking dinosaur pee, as only three percent of the world’s water is fresh water, and it has all been used millions of times over.)

Councilwoman Olga Diaz emphasized this program as the most critical financial development for the city the Council could endorse. She noted that the program had been in the planning stages for five years, and that she was absolutely in favor of option two. She noted that there might very well be grants available from the State to help with the financing. She also wondered if the City’s contract to treat the sewage from Rancho Bernardo was inevitable. Could it be possible to turn over that onus to the City of San Diego, freeing up more capacity in HARRF for Escondido’s needs?

Councilman Mike Morasco also agreed that option two was the only option that made sense, agreeing with Masson’s point that a third option, doing nothing, was also not on the table.

Then Mayor Sam Abed said—well I’m not really sure what he said. I think he said he supported recycling water, but $390 million was too much. ($390 million?? Where did that come from?) In a rare moment of comprehensibility he noted that Escondido was reimbursed by San Diego for treating Rancho Bernardo sewage, but was that enough? Then he veered into a question about decentralizing the recycling process. McKinney responded that the problem with decentralizing was that it was more expensive than a centralized plant. Abed then proceeded to bemoan California’s terrible credit rating as the worst in the nation, not bothering to note that 39 states are not even rated by Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s After a bit more incoherent raving, McKinney was able to assure Abed that he and his staff would not consider the Council’s approval of option two was a blank check to spend $285 million.

Masson then noted that he too, wanted to make sure that proceeding with option two would be fiscally conservative. Morasco, perhaps responding to Abed’s rant, asked McKinney what would happen if they followed option three (as noted by Masson) and did nothing—were there not mandates to make sure that the outfall was not overwhelmed? Yes, McKinney said, the City would be under such mandates, and if they failed to perform, there would be dire consequences. Diaz observed that if people in Escondido couldn’t flush their toilets, that was a real problem. Gallo didn’t miss the opportunity to carp about California’s “over protection” of the environment that added to the water shortage.

So the recycling program will proceed. I hope it will be in time to save the beautiful groves around Escondido.


2 thoughts on “Prayer and Dinosaur Pee

  1. Kent Smith

    Hi Margaret, Love it, you are really going wild in your newly developed freedom (no editors, censors) of the pen. Really, fossilized pee? Even R-rated stuff… One thing you are certain of though is your agnosticism. I sit or stand, placing more value on physical need than ceremony, but, within reason, subscribe to the when-in-Rome philosophy. How are things coming with Olga’s campaign? Haven’t seen any polls. Nice work, Margaret, know how you feel! Kent


  2. Jerry C Harmon

    Margaret, I watched the meeting…you captured the event as I saw it. Sam was so out of touch with his comments it was hard to follow his logic…as if he had any logic in his comments. I still wonder why…if growth is being made to pay for itself…that the existing rate payers will be expected to pay for any of this increase in sewer capacity, JCH



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