On June 22, 1980, I learned that then Imperial Beach Mayor Brian Bilbray was planning on damming up the Tijuana Estuary. He argued that it was to be done to stop the flow of polluted water into the Pacific Ocean. I and others believed it was to be done to flood the Tijuana Estuary to demonstrate it was a garbage dump prior to a key referendum in Imperial Beach on placing a marina in the Tijuana Estuary.
So a few friends –Jack Burns, Tim Hannan, Jim and Jeff Knox, Richard Abrams, Dave Parra and Ben Holt–and I sat in front of the bulldozers.
We stopped the estuary from being dammed up, but Bilbray made his career out of his skiploader episode–ironically portrayed by the media as an environmentalist.
It was an ugly time. That incident followed a cleanup event I helped to organize in which a member of the Aryan Brotherhood shot a cleanup participant. I witnessed the shooting, which clearly had a racial tilt (the shooter yelled “Hey, ni..er get the hell out of here” to a man playing a guitar at the cleanup BBQ. And then he shot a man in the mouth who defended the guitar player).
Being an environmentalist back then wasn’t glamorous or even popular. Still when I look back on our effort which led to the permanent protection of the Tijuana Estuary, I am proud of the work we did.