The Poway City Council Tuesday evening directed staff to further negotiate with regional partners on the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon restoration project.
The council chose that option over immediately spending $6.7 million, as part of a multi-agency agreement, to reduce the level of sediment in the lagoon.
Any future agreement, in the form of a memorandum of understanding, will need council approval.
Located near Del Mar, Los Peñasquitos Lagoon is a coastal marsh. Poway lies in that watershed and a second one, the San Dieguito.
Along with the Del Mar city government, Caltrans and San Diego County are involved in the restoration project’s first phase, which has a $35.2 million price tag, according to a staff report. The goal is to restore 364 acres of salt marsh by 2035.
According to the federal Clean Water Act, Los Peñasquitos Lagoon is considered an “impaired body of water” for sedimentation and siltation. The state of California is required to establish a total maximum daily load of pollutants for bodies of water on the federal list.
Mayor Steve Vaus said negotiating with regional partners was “the only way to go — it preserves the most options for us.”
Tracy Beach, a senior civil engineer with the city, said if Poway didn’t take part, it would have to author a plan on how to reduce its share of sediment into Los Penasquitos Lagoon.
Another plan could cost more, she added, and possibly result in fines.
Council members said that while they supported the environmental project, taking $6.7 million from Poway’s general fund was hard to justify at this time, especially when that money could be spent on improving parks.
Councilman John Mullin described the cost as “a hard pill to swallow,” adding it was important for the city to figure out what the best compliance method is.
Mullin said that the city should determine whether its cost share is over-calculated, but also “plan for the worst,” and figure out how to incorporate restoration costs into the city budget.
Councilwoman Caylin Frank said negotiations would give the city more time to figure out how to pay for its share of the restoration project.
Frank said not participating wasn’t realistic, as the city might end up spending more money on a proposal that regional partners might reject.
Councilman Dave Grosch asked city staff to look at Poway’s required share of 19%.
Grosch added there was no doubt in his mind that the $35 million price tag for the full restoration project would be higher.
“I want to make sure we get our money’s worth,” Grosch said. “This is gonna go on for (almost 15 years), so we’d better do a damn good job by then.”
Grosch asked if Poway would receive credit for spending considerable money on cleaning lagoon channels. He added that it was irritating to spend millions of dollars on a on a lagoon that most Powegians may not know about.
Victor Avina, a senior associate with the San Diego-based Falcon Strategies consulting firm, urged the council to approve spending $6.7 million, as other options were just too costly.
— City News Service