Serge Dedina is the mayor of Imperial Beach, the southernmost city in California, and the co-founder and executive director of WILDCOAST, a nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems. He is the author of three books, most recently Surfing the Border. Before joining the third event in the Zócalo/University of Toronto The World We Want series, “How Do Our Cities Prepare for the Post-Apocalypse?,” Dedina chatted in the green room about his incredibly complicated breakfast smoothie, his favorite gray whale encounter, and why performing with his punk rock band at a school talent show got him suspended.
What is your morning routine?
Get up very early, read all news sources known to man, and then exercise—either surf, paddle, swim, or walk five to seven miles.
What do you read?
New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, San Diego Union, L.A. Times, Politico, Voice of San Diego, et cetera. And then I look at surf reports, snow reports, NOAA climate reports—I'm a total climate junkie—and then sewage, the Tijuana River Gage. So I'm absorbing news and climate data from the entire West.
What do you have for breakfast?
I have a smoothie that is so complicated I would have to kill you to tell you all of [the ingredients], but let's just say that it includes things like papaya, kale, veggie protein powder, raw ginger and turmeric, bee pollen, and an array of superfood powders I get at Grocery Outlet in Imperial Beach. And then some sort of sprouted wheat toast.
Imperial Beach is at the confluence of so many different issues, from conservation to waste management to cross-border diplomacy. Is there an issue that's close to your heart but doesn't get as much airtime?
Parks and rec. We're a low-income, low-revenue city, so we didn't have a parks and rec department. This year, we're actually going to start [one]. And we're working with our local school district to build a 50-meter swimming pool. That, to me, is as important as anything we're doing.
Where do you get the best tacos in Imperial Beach?
Mike Hess Brewing.
What's been your go-to takeout place during the pandemic?
We actually really focused on eating healthy and eating at home. I boiled my own garbanzos to make hummus, and we made lots of soup. We started a vegetable garden and grew lots of greens.
You lived in Baja California for several years while researching and writing your book on gray whales. What do you miss the most about living there?
Just the closeness of the people there—really special, friendly people. That whole community part, I miss a lot.
What was your favorite gray whale encounter?
The most vivid was being in a kayak early season—before the whale season really started—and being surrounded by breaching whales, which is actually not necessarily a safe activity. It was unexpected but mesmerizing.
Do you have a favorite IB community tradition?
We have a Sun & Sea Festival, usually around the second or third week of July. And it's a great weekend. We have a Mayor's Breakfast and a Mayor's Pier Swim & Paddle. It's just a big weekend celebration and lots of fun.
How did you discover your passion for marine conservation?
My parents loved the beach and coast. At an early age, we moved to Imperial Beach, but we were faced with losing the Tijuana Estuary, and then our beach from a breakwater, and then the South San Diego Bay from a marina project. So I just got involved at an early age trying to preserve those things, and realized how much I value the coast and how important it is to have active groups of people committed to protecting these beautiful places. I'm obsessed with the importance of protecting wild coastlines. You know, we value the "Mona Lisa" so we put it in a museum on a pedestal and protect it, but for some reason, we don't have the same protections for our most iconic and wild places.
How did you get into trouble as a kid?
We used to ride our bikes down to the border fence, throw our bikes over, ride in Tijuana, and then ride back. We didn't really get in trouble for that, but we could have. And we used to go down to the Tijuana River Valley and pick strawberries illegally to make strawberry smoothies. I'm not really sure why we thought that was cool. And I got kicked out of school because I was in a punk rock band at a talent show, and they turned off the mic, so I threw the mic into the audience. I got suspended from school for a day. I was a straight-A student, but the teacher who was responsible for the talent show refused to shake my hand during our graduation ceremony, which was funny. Small town.
What smell evokes the strongest memories?
The beach. I spent my entire childhood and life at the beach somewhere. Every time I'm at the beach, it just incorporates all of [these] wonderful, vivid memories I have. I love watching other people interact with the beach. The beach is the ultimate town plaza, town square, or zócalo. If you look at Southern California, it is our gathering place. And it's free.