Feb. 26 2003 12:00 AM

Quittin' time...

Look out, Fred Flintstone, you have company heading down that bumpy dinosaur tail.An air of resignation wafted through the ether of city politics last week, and we're not talking about that oogy feeling councilmembers felt as they headed into this week's budget bloodletting for the year. No, friends, we're talking real resignations, the kind you rarely see in 10Goalville.

First came word that a veteran of the Port Commission, Patricia McQuater, had let it be known that she will be leaving her commissioner post, effective March 19, as her role as senior corporate attorney for major port tenant Solar Turbines Inc. continues on the rise.

A port commissioner since 1994, McQuater was nominated by then-Mayor Susan Golding to fill the not-yet-expired term of Clifford Graves, the county's former chief administrative officer who tried to split his time between the port post and his new job as head of San Francisco's redevelopment agency, to no avail.

The daughter-in-law of longtime local politico and former Councilman Leon Williams, McQuater is said to have had a similar problem balancing her civic and professional roles. Some colleagues even suggested that executives at Solar Turbines, which now boasts a new CEO, had put increasing pressure on her to quit the port.

McQuater did not return a phone call to respond.

In her stead, Mayor 10Goals and Councilman Ralphie Inzunza have nominated local GOP player Sylvia Rios to fill McQuater's experienced shoes. As former local chapter president of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, Rios will be the first Latino to sit on the predominantly white, male, conservative Port District board.

Contacted by CityBeat, Rios says that should the City Council approve her appointment, she is ready for the challenges that await the slimmed-down port, which recently saw its control of Lindbergh Field delivered to a new authority, while local pundits pontificate on the agency's future or, in some minds, lack thereof. As landlord of the tidelands surrounding San Diego Bay, the Port District is an odd duck of sorts, with a seven-member board made up of three representatives from San Diego and one each from Coronado, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach.

A mortgage broker with her own firm since 1978, Rios pinpoints safety and profitability as the cornerstones of her intent as a port commissioner. “I also understand I will be the first Hispanic on the board,” the spunky Rios adds. “It's about time, isn't it?”

Rios worked on the campaigns of both Mayor 10Goals and Inzunza. She says of the mayor, “I introduced him to the Hispanic community.” Rios adds she is “old friends” with the Inzunza family.

No newcomer to San Diego, Rios says she has lived here since 1950 and has served on numerous boards, including the United Way, the Parker Foundation, the Mexican-American Business and Professional Association and presently on the YMCA corporate board.

She knows there is a learning curve at the port, where new commissioners are expected to follow rather than lead, but she says she's up for the challenge. “As a Hispanic, I'm proud to be coming up the ladder and showing the big boys what I can do. But I am a little bit awed by them.”

Meanwhile, showing very little awe are two members of Councilmember Donna Frye's committee that is investigating the toxic status of the old Mission Bay landfill, which sits underneath the southeast corner of Mission Bay Park.

Members Scott Andrews and Jace Miller resigned from the committee last Friday, alleging that Frye is tilting the volunteer group away from determining just what lurks in an area that served as an unlined waste dump from World War II through the late-'50s for some of San Diego's largest defense contractors.

For nearly five years, Andrews and Miller have poked and prodded the city to take action on the former dumpsite, citing a wealth of studies-including from the federal Environmental Protection Agency-that suggest the site could rank right up there in toxicity levels to New York's infamous Love Canal and the Stringfellow acid pits in Riverside County.

Frye's Mission Bay Landfill Technical Advisory Committee has been meeting monthly since August, and the ornery duo say they just haven't seen enough progress.

“We resigned because through six meetings, the city has released no information on the dump. None, despite the fact they have a full-time researcher,” Andrews snorts. “Our other concern is that there is no membership on the committee from the county health department, [the city's] park and rec department, nor any of the city's major environmental groups.”

The pair also are concerned that Frye has told the firm that may be hired to assess the site, Long Beach-based SCS Engineers, “that we don't need to investigate either its history or the actions of agency personnel who monitor the site.” They would also like to see signs posted in the area warning of the potential hazard.

In August, the committee ousted New Jersey-based EMCON/OWT as a contender to determine the landfill's current threat to the area, siding with activist members who said the firm never found evidence of toxic leakage that it couldn't blame on laboratory errors.

In response, Frye said she was disappointed by the resignations, noting that “I really thought that they'd be pretty stoked about it, that finally somebody was paying attention” to the long-ignored dumpsite.

Reviewing the site's history, she argued, “would make a pretty good story, but it's not going to help move us forward towards cleanup.” Regarding the lack of environmental-group representation, Frye-a staunch environmental activist-said groups like the Surfrider Foundation and Environmental Health Coalition are satisfied with the committee's work and believe their efforts are better spent on “real serious problems that they are not getting any cooperation on.

“Anybody that understands site remediation knows that you've got to be very cautious. The last thing you want to do is start digging up barrels of ook and start exposing people to a worse situation. It's just the way it is. It's unfortunate, but I can't undo the past.”


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