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— Who said the words and the music were supposed to go together? Just when the sleepy situation of local business had begun to awaken in the Bird Rock area of La Jolla, the residents and business owners there have been hit with a case of pure bad luck. Beginning in January 2003 -- and continuing on for two years, at least -- the City has been and will be tearing up the streets in Bird Rock.

In an area far from beaten trails, the resulting parking bans and traffic detours could prove crippling to Bird Rock.

The city is replacing the La Jolla/Pacific Beach trunk sewer that runs along La Jolla Boulevard. The job began in January and is scheduled to finish by July 2004. In September, the city started replacing the dilapidated pump station 19 in Bird Rock. This job should continue through October of next year. And lastly, the San Diego Water Department will accelerate their schedule to coincide with the end of the sewer job, replacing the pipeline under Bird Rock well into 2005.

Our civilization is built upon an efficient network that seethes beneath us, an unseen system that we trust and never think about, now buried, carrying off whatever we wantonly drain or flush. It's down there, right now, underlying everything we do.

San Diego's original sewers were installed in Old Town in 1869. By 1935, San Diego was discharging nine million gallons of raw sewage through 22 outfalls, with 9 of them emptying into San Diego Bay. Our first treatment plant wasn't built until eight years later. By 1960, the pollution was so bad ("The worst ever seen," reports one source) that a new regional metro system was proposed, wherein San Diego's wastewater would be treated and distributed three miles offshore.

In 1972, a Clean Water Act was passed requiring San Diego to convert to secondary treatment, something the City has fought ever since and has never done. Currently, our treated effluent is distributed five miles offshore, beneath 350 feet or more of water. A battle has quietly raged in the courts ever since, periodically resurfacing, about whether our primary treatment is enough.

Today, the City of San Diego's Metro Wastewater systems provide sewerage service to over 2 million people. Over 2800 miles of pipes and 84 collection pump stations collect and process a flow of about 190 million gallons a day.

In the Bird Rock section of La Jolla, something went wrong. Part of the problem in Bird Rock is that roots have grown through in places where the old clay pipes were fitted together. Most of Bird Rock's old pipes date back to 1948. The roots have caused blockages that constipated the lines leading to pump station 19 at the end of Bird Rock Avenue. The other problem is the age of the equipment in the pump station itself.

Most every sewer system gravity to move its cargo along. But pump stations are placed wherever it's necessary to pump uphill. San Diego has 84 pump stations currently in use.

All of our drains and toilets go from 6-inch lateral connections under our houses to 8-inch sewer mains beneath the streets. The mains lead to 21-inch trunk sewers that carry down to 86-inch major interceptors. There are two interceptors in San Diego, one beneath Friars Road, and one downtown.

The pipes used for these laterals, mains, trunks, and interceptors used to be made of vitrified clay, a substance that lasts about 30 to 40 years. The sections of that old pipe were fitted together as tightly as possible. Today, pipes are fashioned out of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC plastic, a durable synthetic material with a shelf life of at least 50 years. These pipes are sealed together with permanent O-rings.

To date, the LJ/PB trunk sewer extends for approximately a mile along La Jolla Boulevard, from Mission Boulevard to Midway Drive. Extensive traffic-control measures are in place for the safety of the community and that of the construction workers.

But the traffic control has also made business difficult for an area that relies almost entirely on the flow of cars. There is only one road into Bird Rock and one road out. And there is almost no foot traffic through the area. But this didn't stop J.J.'s Pizza, Starbucks, Fleur & Co., and a host of other new restaurants and businesses from coming into the area to set up shop in the past year.

Now, with narrow streets and interrupted means of access, with no parking and a cosmetically challenged landscape (green pipes, yellow machines, orange cones, red signs, hard hats, piles of dirt, and clouds of dust), poor Bird Rock would seem to be falling down just as it was starting to get up.

The engineers for the City of San Diego, who are in charge of the project, called an unofficial meeting on September 8 with the Bird Rock business owners and residents to discuss methods of alleviating the impact of the projects. About 50 people attended. The tone of the meeting was edgy and irritable, a mix of barely restrained frustration on one side and apologetic conciliation on the other.

Could the City delay the projects until after the holiday season? No. The Environmental Protection Agency has mandated these dates and will fine the city if the project schedule is not met.

Can the City work at night? No. There is an issue regarding the decibel levels of the machines in a residential neighborhood.

What about delivery trucks and especially heavy deliveries if the access to certain businesses is closed? The foreman for Orion Construction stated that his workers and his machinery would be available to help carry deliveries to where they need to go.

The representatives for the project also proposed two compromises: they could either start earlier and get out earlier each day (say, 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), and the local businesses could change their hours to close later in the evening, or the city could start earlier and work later (7:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m.) every day and try to complete the entire undertaking ahead of the projected finishing date.

And what about parking? Why not change the parallel parking in Bird Rock to head-in parking and gain precious extra spaces along both sides of the street?

At one point during the meeting, one of the city's engineers explained that laying sewer pipe is a very inefficient task. As much as 150 feet per day might be put into the ground in good conditions, but as little as 30 feet might go in if the workers hit hard rock or abandoned underground equipment.

In short, there's no telling how long the jobs might take.

But the City of San Diego is working under a deadline. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a sewer spill reduction action plan to upgrade the city's sewer system and reduce sewer spills by the end of fiscal year 2005. This means the City has a vested -- and financial -- interest to finish the job and maintain a good relationship with the community of Bird Rock.

Since that first September meeting, the city has addressed many of the concerns raised by Bird Rock businesses, including hiring a public relations officer (Darlene Smith) and setting up an official website (www. hardhatcommunications. com).

After meetings on October 22 and November 19, a work moratorium was put in place for the holidays, continuing through January 5, 2004. A vacant lot was secured along La Jolla Boulevard to provide additional public parking. The City also designated a Water and Wastewater Group Job Hotline (858-573-5081), where residents and business owners can get answers and information.

The next official meeting between the city and Bird Rock business owners is scheduled Wednesday, January 21, 2004, at 2:30 p.m. at Galoka Gallery Restaurant, 5662 La Jolla Boulevard.

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