San Diego Business Journal

With 2008 just around the corner, there is a little time to chat about a couple of North County issues on the table. One is the wildfires in October and the other is the desalination project in Carlsbad.

First, the fires. The northern part of the county took the brunt of the firestorm, but I guess the unknown variable for everyone is did we learn anything since the Cedar fire four years ago? I think everyone did, but there are still lessons we learned that need to be incorporated in emergency plans going forward.

The Reverse 911 emergency notification system came out of the earlier disaster, and it worked great.

However, the tanker and helicopter issues, while better, remain a worry for most of us.

It is amazing how so many agencies, cities, counties and citizens can come together to fight as a unit.

Friends helping friends, strangers helping strangers and cities helping other cities were truly amazing scenarios.

The one level of cooperation that continues to plague the region is air tanker support. It's clear to me that once the governor declares an emergency, all other rules get trumped, and when the president declares an emergency, it goes up to a higher trump card.

The local incident commanders should be able to make the call on what waivers should be applied to get the fleet in the air and on the hottest fires. If an aerial observer from the feds is not available, get one locally (trained before the next fire) and put them on board.

The second issue is Carlsbad's Poseidon Resources Desalination project that is down to its final two hurdles, well, one and a half really.

At its Nov. 15 meeting in San Diego, the California Coastal Commission voted 9-3 to grant a permit to build the facility, but with the approval came the order to do more work to convince the commission staff and ultimately the commissioners.

The two major steps that need more input are the plan to offset the number of tiny marine organisms , fish eggs, larvae and plankton , that the plant would kill while processing water and whether Poseidon can put a plan into place that wouldn't add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

These two issues are far too complicated for most of us to understand, but I believe while we ponder the fate of tiny fish eggs, the real endangered species is us.

The city and Poseidon will prevail, but as they continue to get roadblocks and litigation thrown in the way, the construction of the much needed $300 million facility will continue to be delayed.

It is interesting to note that eight other North County cities will benefit with extra drought protection by having negotiated contracts with Poseidon to buy the excess water from the plant.

In addition, 10 percent more drinking water will be added to the countywide water supply with the operation of the plant.

At the hearing in Mission Valley I was pleased to see every elected official, regardless of their political party, step up to weigh in to support the project.

Even the Assembly and the state Senate speakers sent letters; a true bi-partisan support effort.

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In other North County news:

Pacific Western Bank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Community Bancorp, has stepped up to assist the fire victims with a donation of $l million to its new Pacific Western Bank Fund at the San Diego Community Foundation. A portion of the money has been set aside to be used to benefit firefighters and policemen who lost their homes while serving us.

Not all real estate is in a holding pattern. Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial helped Leafs Investments, a San Diego limited partnership, buy its 120,221-square-foot research building for $28 million in the Oak Ridge Corporate Centre in Vista. The seller was a company with links to DJ Orthopedics. The site was once the headquarters of DJ, prior to the company moving to new digs.

In preparation for the next evolution of revitalizing the Carlsbad Village shopping area, the City Council approved several changes to the building standards on Nov. 6. For years, property owners were asking for the changes in order to remodel their properties. The major changes are in density, which increases 35 units from 23 units per acre, and which eases restrictions on 45-foot-tall buildings. The proposal called for a maximum height of 45 feet without requiring pitched roofs or underground parking. The council didn't want to give a blanket change, but agreed that 50 percent of the buildings' roof could be flat.

Ted Owen is president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.