Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, September 15, 2017

International entities that affect communities: embassies; sewage

A woman walks along a beach closed due to sewage contaminated water Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Coronado. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports ("Tijuana sewage, wastewater spills continue with no end in sight") about how problems with waste water treatment in Tijuana, Mexico leads to contamination of ocean waters in Greater San Diego.   From the article:
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of polluted water often carrying sewage and other contaminants have flowed over the Mexico border into the San Diego region every month this year — including a nearly four million gallon spill on Sunday, according to federal records.

The continued flows come in the wake of a massive spill in Tijuana that polluted beaches as far north as Coronado in February. The contamination came as sewer pipes cracked and manhole covers bubble over amid winter storms, which caused 256 million gallons of wastewater to go unaccounted for south of the border.
In the US, water service and waste water treatment is conducted on a large scale--metropolitan, multi-county, or regional.

The article discusses an existing compact between the US and Mexico, the International Boundary and Water Commission, which handles water treaties between the two countries. The US also funds a small grant program, the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Grant Program, which is one of the many programs threatened by budget cutbacks or elimination in this case because of the severe reduction in the federal budget proposed by the Trump Administration.

From the article:
Efforts to improve infrastructure along the border have greatly reduce the amount of sewage that flows across the board since the 1990s, when millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed daily down the river and across the border into the ocean.

Despite efforts, South Bay beaches have continued to suffer more than 80 percent of all the beach-closure days in the county since 2006, according to data from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health. Imperial Beach, which stretches past the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge to the Mexican border, has had sections of its shoreline off-limits to swimmers for more than a third of each year on average in the last decade, according to county records.

The city of Imperial Beach has taken steps to sue the IBWC in an effort to force action on the part of the federal government.
It appears as if the need within San Diego County for safe waters outspans the capacity of the International Boundary and Water Commission to deal with the problem posed by decayed and decrepit infrastructure in Tijuana, because even if the grant program were not threatened, the grant amounts--$5 million or less--pale against the needs of the waste treatment system in Tijuana, which total many hundreds of millions of dollars.

Solution: Because the quality of waste water management and treatment in Tijuana has cross-border ramifications, San Diego County should aim to create a bi-"county" authority with the City of Tijuana to run waste water treatment.  It would have to involve the respective states (Baja California and California) and the nations, because cross-border arrangement such as this have to be approved by the national governments.

(In the Great Lakes region, the Great Lakes Basin Commission, an organization of US states, includes the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec as associate members, while the International Joint Commission brings the US and Canada jointly to address common interests concerning the waterways connecting the two countries.

Other cross-border agreements. More recently, a cross-border pedestrian connection from San Diego County to the Tijuana Airport was authorized and constructed ("How San Diego Built a Bridge Over the Wall," Politico).

This year is the 150th anniversary of the creation of Canada, and the Toronto Star published an article ("Canada 150: How the St. Lawrence Seaway changed the channel") about the Saint Lawrence Seaway as a seminal event in the country's development, a shipping canal along the US-Canadian border.  Canada had to strong arm President Eisenhower to accede to the project, which had been discussed for decades.  The US ended up paying about 1/3 of the cost of the project.

Until 1974 , at least one of the City of El Paso's streetcar lines crossed the border into Juárez.  The system is being rebuilt and service to is part of the plan ("A Trolley And A Dream: Texas Border City Aims To Boost Ties With Mexico," Fast Company).

In Detroit and Windsor, the privately owned Ambassador Bridge connects the two countries.

In Arizona, the Arizona-Mexico Commission, a public-private organization, brings together Arizona and Mexican stakeholders, including the State of Sonora, to address matters of common interest.

2.  Decrepit foreign mission buildings in DC.  There have been articles ("Neighbors face uphill battle against abandoned foreign missions" and "Norton pushes State Department to act on vacant foreign missions") in the Northwest Current/Dupont Current, a DC community media publication, and more recently the Washington Post ("Only in D.C.: What to do when your neighbor is a foreign government") about unhappy residents abutting decrepit foreign mission buildings--unused embassy and chancery buildings. From the Post article:
From Alan and Irene Wurtzel’s master bathroom, they can watch shingles fall off the neighbor’s roof, pigeons flutter through broken windows and rain pour into the four-story brick behemoth. And then there are the rats.

There’s nothing the city can do about the vacant Kalorama property because it’s owned by the government of Argentina, which doesn’t have to pay property taxes, adhere to local building codes — or evict vermin. ...

Residents like the Wurtzels must rely on the State Department to delicately encourage foreign governments to clean up their properties without instigating retaliation at U.S. embassies abroad. Sometimes it works, other times not so much.
Because of the way international law works, a locality can't enforce building regulations on such properties, which may moulder for decades.

Although according to the Current article, the State Department can revoke diplomatic designation on buildings, which then subjects them to local taxation and building regulation, but even then, there is no real ability to enforce the regulations and taxes may not be paid.

Solution: Because the issues are usually financial, I'd suggest that DC and the State Department facilitate the creation of what we might think of as "Friends" groups for the buildings, working with the foreign government, to help maintain the building, secure financing for improvements, etc.

The International Border and Water Commission and its grants program is another (imperfect) model for an organizational structure that could help to address this problem.

... When I first moved to Washington in 1987 and worked at 16th and P Streets NW there were two different buildings nearby, one on 16th Street, the other on Massachusetts Avenue, that were neglected properties owned by foreign governments.  Eventually the buildings were sold and renovated, but it took many years.  Having a mechanism to facilitate better relationships and solutions between residents, DC Government, the State Department, and foreign missions would go a long way towards rectifying this long standing problem.

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At 6:13 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Nigel, our e-correspondent from New Zealand, writes:

I used to work at MFAT ( NZs equal to Dept of State ) -- mostly dealing with diplomatic mail , but also records management .....

Any country that wants to build a new embassy building in Wellington MUST comply with NZ and Wellington building codes . Many countries decide that it is easier/cheaper to occupy space in an office building that already exists .
The Canadians moved their embassy ( high comission ) to a more central office building , and about a year later we had the big earthquake , and the previous building that they were in had to be demolished !
Across the road from that is a new construction for a brand new Indian Embassy . They are complying fully with NZ and Wellington construction codes , which now have been upgraded since the earthquake . India doesnt not have the same level of compliance in their country , but they MUST comply with earthquake resilience codes if they want to leave their current quarters within an office block and have a standalone premises

re Any unused buildings/property... the country is asked to give it to another country for embassy use , or to relinquish its rights to own it . eg If a new staff quarters are built , that become the property of that country , but when the staff move out of their old building , the old building is given away .

To my knowledge , there have been no issues with this

The country doesnt HAVE to do this , but it puts them in bad light with MFAT and Wellington City Council , which is not beneficial for the diplomats of that country

I wonder why the US is so much less firm?

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

more problems with Mexican sewage discharges affecting beaches in San Diego County:

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I should have mentioned the Cross Border Xpress pedestrian bridge crossing the border connecting to the airport in Tijuana as a regionally-relevant example of positive cross-border interaction.


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