Marely Ramírez, a full-time community activist, has co-founded an environmental group with four other women who are demanding that elected officials find solutions to clean local coastlines contaminated by Tijuana sewage outflows.
Stop the Sewage.org already has organized two rallies at the beginning and conclusion of the summer to protest the sewage crisis that has severely limited the public’s access to the ocean for months.
All of the women involved are passionate about helping the community.”-Marely Ramírez.
“All of the women involved are passionate about helping the community,” Ramírez told The Coronado News. “That passion put together with the understanding of a problem such as the sewage crisis was a perfect formula for us to say it’s time to refocus our energy. … This one made the top of the list because it’s affecting the young, our elders, newborns, residents, tourists, anyone who gets into those waters.”
Ramírez, Coronado Democratic Club President and InclusioNado steering committee member, said the work done by Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre and former Mayor Serge Dedina were instrumental when the group began brainstorming during the first part of this year on what they could do.
The other co-founders of the group are Stephanie Kaupp, Jean Seager, Susan Marrinan and Laura Wilkinson Sinton.
Partners with Emerald Keepers, Surfrider
Stop the Sewage.org has partnered with community members and 40 different groups, including environmental groups Emerald Keepers and Surfrider Foundation.
“What we found out is that everyone cares about this,” said Ramírez. “I feel so optimistic that we’re going to create a stronger people power because we are uniting the communities—IB and across the border.”
Ramírez said many elected officials are doing their part to solve a crisis that has gone on for nearly 100 years.
“But when the community becomes aware of a particular issue, there’s an awakening that all of a sudden you can’t ignore.”
Port of San Diego joins emergency calls
That awakening has taken the form of Ramírez and fellow co-founders being invited to a press conference with Port of San Diego Commissioners in the Tijuana River Valley on Sept. 20.
Echoing calls by local and state leaders, The Port of San Diego now is asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency over cross-border sewage flows. Newsom, who last year vetoed about $50 million in funding to help clean up the pollution-blighted Tijuana River, has done little to address the problem, according to a bipartisan group of critics.
The Port wrote Newson asking him to approve an emergency declaration that “would advance the process of funding and constructing the projects necessary to solve this crisis,” according to a letter dated Sept. 19 and sent to The Coronado News.
“This dire situation demands a coordinated State and Federal Emergency Declaration to bring a multi-agency response to address the escalating disaster at hand,” the letter said. “The Tijuana River sewage crisis requires suspension of federal statute by executive order of the President to expedite the timeline for a comprehensive solution that can move forward with appropriate urgency.”
The letter adds that “a comprehensive solution is the right approach” to construct a new treatment facility at the border “to manage storm event flows.”
Brianne Mundy Page, the Port’s spokeswoman, added the commissioners appreciate the governor’s willingness to fight for federal dollars this year to fix the sewage issues in the Tijuana River Valley.
“Whether or not there is an emergency declaration, the Port of San Diego will continue to partner with Governor Newsom’s office and the State to pursue federal funding and resources to solve this crisis once and for all,” read the statement.
Ramírez described the stench of sewage during her attendance which persists throughout the day and intensifies during the night in South Bay communities, according to locals.
“Everyone has to be involved,” said Ramírez, noting residents in Tijuana and Imperial Beach are breathing foul air because of the pollution. She added the problem eventually will make its way up the coast to Coronado, and as she understands is already creeping into the Coronado Cays.
One voice, bridging communities
Assemblymember Tasha Boerner, who represents coastal cities in San Diego including Coronado, featured Ramírez as the first Latina/o Heritage Month spotlight this week on her government official social media pages and recognized her long-standing engagements as a founding and community member with several organizations.
“Marely is a passionate community organizer who is committed to making our community, our state, and our nation a better place for all,” read the post. “Thank you Marely for all your hard work for our #AD77 community!”
Moving forward, Ramírez said she is excited about creating a liaison with similar organizations in Tijuana to reach “people who are as passionate and have been as frustrated as we are now,” by using her bilingual knowledge in English and Spanish.
Ramírez said residents in Tijuana also are fed up with the sewage crisis, and “they’re advocating on their own, but it’s stronger if we cross that bridge and resonate the same message for their politicians as well.”
Ramírez has visually emphasized the hazards that the waters pose for anyone who comes in contact with them by wearing a hazmat and skeleton suit during the rallies in May and September.
“Having some sort of physical reaction, whether it’s a rash, … it’s inevitable,” said Ramírez. “You’re dealing with death if you’re trying to go in the waters, that’s the bottom line.”
For that reason, Stop the Sewage.org works on a regular basis to continue to push the issue forward as a united voice.
“The community needs to be heard,” said Ramírez. “Politicians, our elected officials, have to know the suffering, … the consequences that people have to deal with on a daily basis because nothing has been done for so, so long.”
The Coronado News earlier this year published a five-part investigative series on the myriad of broken promises by U.S. and Mexican officials to fix a sewage crisis that has existed for about 100 years. The newspaper found the tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage that flows daily from Mexico into the southern San Diego County coast has severely sickened locals, tourists, U.S. Border Patrol agents and Navy SEALs.
“You’re bringing to the forefront the reality that is absolutely out of sight for us,” said Ramírez. “That interview was so focused on how Tijuanenses are also suffering when it comes to this issue.”
Growing community outreach
Stop the Sewage.org co-founders in addition to working with other community members and elected officials have lent their services to the new Coronado High School Stop the Sewage Club.
School club officer Danny Vinegrad said he considers the women’s roles in the community inspiring, and they have encouraged his commitment to helping solve the sewage problem.
“Our intent is to educate them, build awareness, and allow them to drive their initiatives,” said Ramírez about the collaboration with local teenagers who also want clean beaches.
“To see their interest was fascinating and uplifting,” she said. “That’s how you build part of the next generation who will truly take on the baton and be the change.”
Ramírez added that while it’s exciting that more community groups and local elected officials are working to stop the sewage and clean the ocean, the organizations may need to take a bit more action and personally lobby Newsom.
“If we have to, we’ll go to Sacramento,” said Ramírez.