Roundtable: Border Agent Shooting; SD Economy Improving; Salk Fundraising; La Jolla Cove Stinking
November 16, 2012 1:11 p.m.
Katie Orr, KPBS News
JW August, 10 News
Eric Anderson, KPBS News
Gary Robbins, U-T San Diego
Lisa Halverstadt, Voice of San Diego
Related Story: Roundtable: Border Agent Shooting; SD Economy Improving; Salk Fundraising; La Jolla Cove Stinking
SAUER: It's Friday, November 16th. Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us. I'm Mark Sauer. Before we start the Roundtable today, Katie Orr joins us for a brief update on two big San Diego political stories. Hi, Katie.
ORR: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: Testimony us what happened in the 52nd congressional district race today.
ORR: Well, that race is officially over. Congressman Brian Bilbray conceded the race this morning to port commissioner Scott Peters. After a delay in counting votes, Bilbray says that the count is not going his way, and he's conceded that race.
SAUER: Okay. Fine. And you broke a story last night on our website about Tony Young and the council, president of the council.
ORR: Right. After about a week of rumors swirling all around City Hall and immediate circles, Tony Young confirmed to us that he is resigning his post, and he's going to take over as CEO of the San Diego chapter of the American red cross.
SAUER: Okay. And when will the council replace him?
ORR: He is running -- his term will go through the end of December. According to the city charter, the city has to hold a special election within 90 days of his tendering his resignation. He starts his new job at the beginning of January. So it's a matter of him officially handing in a letter to the city clerk. Then they would begin the process of trying to fill his seat.
SAUER: And who might be in the running for that?
ORR: I spoke today with a man named Barry Pollard. He ran against Tony Young in 2010. He's a community activist. He's within active in the southeast section of San Diego. He has not definitively decided to run, but he is strongly considering it. He says it wouldn't be that challenging for him to mount a campaign in 90 days.
SAUER: And he's a Democrat, as it is Tony Young. Not really likely out of that part of San Diego that it's going to change the makeup of the democratic council.
ORR: Right. Tony Young was certainly a moderate Democrat, but it is seen as a very democratic district. So likely the democratic majority on the City Council will be upheld.
SAUER: And Tony gets a little bump in salary?
ORR: He does. Post CEOs of this chapter have made $200,000, and with incentives, it ended up being about $300,000.
SAUER: All right. Thanks very much.
SAUER: All right. My guests today on the Roundtable are JW August, senior investigative producer with ten can have news.
AUGUST: Hello, Mark.
SAUER: And Gary Robbins, science and technology reporter for UT San Diego.
ROBBINS: How you doing?
SAUER: And Lisa Halverstadt reporter with voice of San Diego.
HALVERSTADT: Thanks for having me.
SAUER: And Erik Anderson, business and environment reporter for KPBS news.
ANDERSON: Always a pleasure.
SAUER: Now, in September, a 32-year-old mother of five from Chula Vista was shot multiple times and killed by a Border Patrol agent. Valeria Tachiquin'S family called a press conference to claim her death of unjustified. The Border Patrol agent said it was a matter of self-defense. JW, what led to this confrontation?
AUGUST: The Border Patrol was serving a warrant on somebody but not the person that was shot.
SAUER: Not the woman shot.
AUGUST: And we don't know what's in that warrant because all the information has been sealed. I've been trying to get it. They're not letting it go.
SAUER: Okay. So they were serving it. It was daylight, right?
AUGUST: Yeah. And she apparently has a record. And she got nervous and she decided, well, I don't want to be around here, these guys are coming NI'm getting out of here. So he leaves, and this confrontation takes place. And that's the issue that we're looking at because we're hearing mixed messages exactly what went down.
SAUER: Okay. She takes off in her car?
AUGUST: Correct. And the Border Patrol claims that they were -- she was trying to run over the agent. Some eyewitnesses we've talked to disagree with that. And there's some physical evidence that seems to contradict the claims of the agency.
SAUER: Now, how many eyewitnesses were there? You're saying some of their --
AUGUST: I don't know how many.
SAUER: But some of their reports from the witnesses were ambiguous at best.
AUGUST: Well, some of them were very specific about what happened.
SAUER: And what were those that were specific?
AUGUST: If you listen to what the Border Patrol spokesman said, he said she was going to hit him with the car, he feared for his life, the car went approximately 200-yard, and he pumped her full of 9 shots. 9 shots!
SAUER: Okay. You see that the warrant is sealed, affidavit --
AUGUST: Chula Vista is the lead agency on it. My instincts tell me this thing is going to be a problem.
SAUER: Not passing the smell test right now.
AUGUST: There's a lot of things that are -- don't pass the smell test. Especially when you go into the agent's background.
SAUER: Let's get into that in a minute. The warrant and the affidavit are sealed. What about the coroner's report?
AUGUST: Not out yet. We're waiting.
MAUREEN SAUER: So it's sealed.
AUGUST: Right. I'm told it'll come out.
AUGUST: I don't know how they could argue it could be sealed.
SAUER: And this case has not gotten into any court at any point.
AUGUST: No, it's a long ways from home.
SAUER: So no one can come in and say we want to make a motion to unseal this stuff.
AUGUST: And we've talked to the Border Patrol, the agent in question, nobody wants to talk.
SAUER: The victim's brother, Antonioio was an army reservist, about to be deployed over seas. What did he have to say?
AUGUST: Well, they were outraged. How could this happen? We demand an investigation. They've hired Eugene ireDale, and he's quiet up in his tower, so I know he's cooking up something.
SAUER: The agent involved in the shooting was not identified immediately. You have done several stories now. Tell us about the agent and let's talk about his background.
AUGUST: I went into imperial county with our crew, and we started talking about people. Justin tacket; and his family is fairly well connected. Interesting that he got fired from the sheriff's department and I found out that the secretary for the suffer at that time was his mamma. And his daddy was the No. 2 guy at the Probation Department at imperial county. And his grandfather is a big-time Republican guy, he grows hay.
SAUER: Out in imperial county. I want to ask listeners to join us again. So that raised some questions for you, and you did a story, did you not, about another powerful exfederal official who had a connection with Mr. Tacket.
AUGUST: Yeah, Mr. Duncan hunter, Congressman Hunter, was gracious enough to talk to me about this, invite us into the house to do an interview with him about this: He knew the family, he knew the boy, and he felt like the media was just beating up on the agent.
SAUER: Okay. And let's make it clear. That's Duncan Hunter senior, the former Congressman.
SAUER: His son is the current Congressman in basically the same district that his dad had. So what happened when you went out there and went into his home?
AUGUST: Well, I had talked to the Congressman, could I get an interview with the grandfather too, possibly? Somebody to speak in defense of the agent because all the materials I was finding, and some lawsuits that had been filed about tacket, and none of them are very complimentary about the young man.
SAUER: Raised some serious questions about his character.
AUGUST: Yia. So I'm trying to get ahold of grandpa because -- and I know that Duncan, they have a connection. He goes back. He's a big Republican guy in east county. And he said he would talk to grandpa and see if he'd do an interview. When I arrived at the house, grandpa was there, and I thought Duncan had invited him to see if he'd be willing to talk, I mean, the Congressman to talk to me on camera about his grandson. And so he was there to observe and listen to the interview that I did with Mr. Hunter. Congressman Hunter. And at the end of the interview, he declined to talk to us. He said I'll wait till the investigation is over.
SAUER: So he just observed.
AUGUST: Don Floyd.
SAUER: And he didn't say anything.
MAUREEN SAUER: Now, let's go back a little bit. Back us up in the career of agent tacket. He worked for the imperial county sheriff's department, right?
SAUER: What was the timeframe there?
AUGUST: Early 2000s.
SAUER: So roughly 10 years ago.
SAUER: And what happened out there when he was on the job?
AUGUST: Well, let me tell you what hasn't been reported yet. We begin to see that he's not your normal deputy because he was involved in four accidents with squad cars. One he rolled. He told his family members he was on a run for some kind of a terrorist attack or a reported terrorist attack, and he rolled the car. That's kind of unusual. And he got reprimanded. That pops into the file.
HALVERSTADT: It's pretty flat there in the Imperial Valley.
AUGUST: It must be the only curve in the county that's difficult to get around. It looks like Daytona.
HALVERSTADT: What sort of terrorist attack was that?
AUGUST: I haven't been able to find that yet.
SAUER: All right.
AUGUST: And the rest of the information just evolved out of what was reported, in at least three occasions he violated citizens' fourth amendment rights. He would go off on these hunts for parolee violator. He's about with the sheriff's department, it's not his job. But his dad happened to be No. 2 in probation, they do the parolees. And withheld talk to his sergeants and bosses, he would lie to them. He said, no, I was doing a child abuse case, a drug case. And they would call him on it. But the family is pretty powerful, a lot of people talked to me off the record background only, because they say -- I can't prove this, that the family is sue-happy, the tackets. So they're not going on the record. Everything is shut down. But the ones that did tell me described tacket as a very ambitious young man. He was in the high school wrestling team, he really wanted to be famous. He was driven to be famous, and there's other things that I will talk about.
SAUER: And you reported that he was on a course to be fired out there.
AUGUST: He was. And he quit before that happened.
SAUER: Okay. We've got a caller who wants to join our conversation. Roberto, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. Yes, and thank you very much to Channel 10 and the other investigative reporters that have been working this story. I think that for the past 30 years at least, that I remember, we've seen an increase in the police against the violations and the unwarranted beatings and in some case shootings. And what comes to mind, not only this incident, but the one renal where a Border Patrol agent was shot by his own people. He started shooting at other Border Patrol agents while they were out in Arizona. And immediately everybody started thinking it was drug traffickers. And since the shooting happened in Chula Vista, and immediately the Chula Vista police spokesman said this lady was a druggie and that she had been arrested before on drugs, and immediately started maligning the reputation as they usually do when there is a personing shot by a police officer. And the other thing is that Laura Duffy, the U.S. attorney's office has been really, really lax, I think. What I've read is that she hasn't been very aggressive going after some of these alleged shootings. We had the person that was beaten to death on the border. And just recently they empanelled a federal grand jury to start investigating that for the violations of the civil rights. Once again, I think we have seen a pattern, and I think it speaks for itself. I just wish those people that are responsible to investigate these things would do it more aggressively and do it more promptly. Thank you very much.
SAUER: Okay, thanks very much. We do have another caller who wants to join us. Don from San Diego. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, thank you. I don't know about the facts in this case, but I did detect earlier in this discussion a really strong bias against the Border Patrol officer. When you refer to his parents as mommy and daddy and you use a kind of disparaging language, it just seems to me below the professional standards of the station to discuss it in a 1-sided way. I realize there's a point of view here, but there's something distasteful about that type of language.
SAUER: Okay. Thank you very much.
AUGUST: Well, I call people's mothers and fathers mom and dad. I guess that's what we do in the south. As far as I know, that's not distasteful.
SAUER: Let me ask one
AUGUST: And I have no bias on this case. I have friends in the Border Patrol union, vipeople in the Border Patrol I have known over 25 years that I talked to about this: There's no bias. I'm just looking for the facts. Anything that I said right now, if you can show me I'm wrong, I will say so.
SAUER: Okay. Let me give you one last question on this and we're going to move onto our next topic. Has the family filed a wrongful death suit on this? What's the status of the investigation regarding the Border Patrol and the federal district court here?
AUGUST: As I said earlier, Eugene ireDale is working on something. Upon the Border Patrol won't comment while it's ongoing. I believe Chula Vista's got the lead. But this story is not done by any means.
SAUER: All right. Very good. Let's move onto our next topic, the drum beat of grim economic news has been nearly relentless the past several years, but the tune may be changing. Unemployment fell below 8% nationally not long before election day, now there's several signs things are picking in in San Diego's economy.
SAUER: Eric, let's start with the economic forecast. Lynn Reaser, what did she say about the coming years?
ANDERSON: A symbol of optimism. It was nice to hear about the local economy if you've been tracking things around San Diego County San Diego County for the last four years since the economic collapse in 2008. She's expecting that the San Diego economy is going to get healthier in the coming year. It's not going to be this full-on recovery mode where you're seeing economic growth at 5%, but she thinks it's going to double about what it did this year. So we could see growth in the neighborhood of 2.5%. She says a couple of things are going to happen. She thinks that the tourism industry is going to start to revive a bit as more people travel and they come back to San Diego to take their vacations. She thinks that barring any -- any unforeseen actions at the federal level that could result in deep defense spending cuts, she thinks as long as the sequestration doesn't happen then defense spending will hold solid. There are a lot of things that are playing in San Diego's favor. Among them, the movement of some of the Navy's resources from the Atlantic to the Pacific will likely be stationed here. If the defense spending stays up there, that'll keep pumping money into the economy. And unemployment is going to do reasonably better. A little bit better. Not greatly better, but a little bit better. So we'll see some improvement in the job numbers. Kind of that steady growth that we've seen over the past year.
SAUER: Gary, we are seeing some brightness in the tech market here in recent years in San Diego.
ROBBINS: We're seeing brightness when it comes to research grants, and a lot of these tech institutes really playoff of what's going on at the major research institutions. UC San Diego pulled in $1 billion last year, and almost as much the year before, and more the year before that. I look at the figures to see how they're doing, and they're doing at least as well. So UCSD helps feed the tech industry across the county. They seem to be doing reasonably well. Venture capital goes up and down, but the basic research grants because there's more competition for money right now, it becomes a problem, but the institutions like UCSD are bring think in a lot of money. Overall, there is a lot of money.
SAUER: Erik, the point of housing. Home sales jumped quite a bit in the most recent report. Tell us what's happening there.
ANDERSON: Well, one. The things that we heard from data quick, which tracks home sales in the county around the state and around the country is that home sales actually jumped from September to October of this year. That's something that usually doesn't happen. Generally they fall off 2% or 3%. This year, they jumped about 11% in San Diego County. And if you look at the year over year numbers, they were very strong in October of this year compared to October of last year. Almost 31% increase, which is a big jump. When I talked to Lynn Reaser about this at our economic forecast presentation, what she felt was that the San Diego housing market is almost at the point now where it's going to become an engine for recovery. It's kind of reaching that plateau where there are enough new houses being built, there's enough activity in the housing market, the prices are appreciating, that it's going to once again start to contribute.
AUGUST: And isn't it the case that San Diego is first in, first out? That's happened before in other timeframes.
ANDERSON: It's not going to be the leader, I think. One of the things that the housing market did during the boom years, it kind of drove the boom that led us to the bubble that led us to the burst, and it dragged us down to the bottom. It's not going to be that front seat driver, but it's going to be in that car, and it's going to be pushing that car. She was pretty confident that the market across the county is going to be kind of picking up that steam through the course of the year and enough that it's going to generate jobs, and when it generates jobs, it's going to do all those other wonderful things like spending which in turn --
ROBBINS: My wife and I moved here a couple years ago from Orange County, and we own a home in Huntington beach. And we've kept it. There's no sense to put it on the market. Now we're getting to the point where prices are going up, and we're finally going, okay, maybe we can put our home on the market here.
SAUER: Starting to think about it.
ROBBINS: Talked to Andrew lapage about it from data quick, and where he's seeing a lot of the activity, and this is one reason why the median price is going up, is move-up buyers are starting to be active again. And that was something that really went away when the economy collapsed. But they're buying more extensive homes which drives up the median price. There's still lower cost inventory out there for first-time home buyer, but some of the closure numbers are showing us that that lower price inventory is being bought up and it's not available.
SAUER: Let's talk about foreclosures. Have we reached the bottom of that on prices coming up a little bit?
ANDERSON: I think if you look at the numbers, yeah. One of the big stories that we tracked for the last couple of years has been this idea of a shadow inventory. It's bank-owned homes that are out there, the banks are not putting them on the market because they don't want to flood the market and drive the prices down. And they've just been hanging back. And the sense that I'm getting now from talking to the different people who track the industry is that there are still homes in that situation, but it's not this big balloon of homes. Nobody is afraid that there's going to be a rush of low-cost housing that's going to drive prices down and crash out the market. And I think that problem is starting to resolve itself. You see two things happen in the last year, one was banks became willing to work short sale, which they have not been willing to do before the last year. So a lot of homes that would have ended up in foreclosure are being sold before they get there. So that's driving down foreclosure numbers. And the other thing is the willingness, as a result of some of the federal primaries out there, the willingness of lenders to actually do some work with the people who are finding that they're in trouble with their mortgage. That's not terribly widespread, but it is out there. And I think it's having an impact on the market. If you can lower the monthly payment, people have a better chance of staying in their homes.
AUGUST: I thought it was interesting that the median in Southern California is 315K, but San Diego is 350K. So there was 35K more. It must be a nice place to be.
ANDERSON: You could look at that number. San Diego is an interesting county in that way. You can slice it in from the coast. I think what you're seeing is more activity in some of the North County coastal areas like Del Mar, Encinitas, Solana beach. And those are higher-priced homes. You don't need as many homes there to sell to drive the median price up as you would in a place like a little bit further to the east county and the further you get away from the coast. And I think that's the way that you slice where the home sales are. They were centered in Chula Vista during the foreclosure crisis. They've moved away from that now. And you're starting to see activity in the coastal areas, and that's where the prices go up.
HALVERSTADT: Mostly in the North County, you would say?
ANDERSON: In the North County, but all along the coast. I think what, and the sense I get from the people I've talked to is that people are feeling a little bit more -- it's a combination of factors. It's not any one thing that's taken off. But people are starting to feel more comfortable with the prospects for the coming year. So when they do that, they feel better about selling their home, they feel better about buying a more expensive home, and those things are starting to feed each other. That said, there's also a lot of caution out there. There are a lot of things that present possible problems. For any kind of a recovery. Housing or otherwise. You've got the troubles in Europe that could still explode. You've got the fiscal cliff. Resolution of is that is going to be important. But there are some positive things.
SAUER: Let's shift to another part of the economy. Gas prices are dropping every day now it seems.
SAUER: I know the Republicans blamed President Obama before the election about how they were soaring. I know they gave him credit when they started dropping rapidly here. Why did they go up so rapidly and what's got them going the other way?
ANDERSON: They went up pretty fast because there were some supply issues toward the end of September. There were some refinery problems, constricted the supply of summer blend gasoline, there was a perceived possibility of a shortage. That drove up prices on the spot market which is is the wholesale market.
SAUER: And higher California than nationally.
ANDERSON: California is is this closed gasoline market. We have to refine our own fuel. So we have the supply issues, and now everybody feels great because the price is down about $0.70 a gallon. But where we are now is higher than we've ever been this time of year. We're looking at gas in the $3.80 neighborhood, and we probably should be seeing it in the $3.25 neighborhood this time of year.
SAUER: While it feels good because it was so high recently --
ANDERSON: It should be down a gallon from the peak by Thanksgiving. It seems better but it's not as good as you think. We're probably going to end up with an average price that's above $4. It'll be the fourth year in a row where we've set an average price.
AUGUST: You don't think the coil companies are kind of training us, do you?
ANDERSON: No, but I will tell you this, if you had a refinery in California this year that did not have troubles, you are out looking for a new home along the coast this year. Because you made a lot of money. Record profit for refineries in California. The ones that were operating at full capacity.
HALVERSTADT: It's interesting how it it can change your behavior. I live in Del Mar height, and the price of gas to the to $4.62, and last night when I went home, it was $3.90. I find myself working from home more during that period, now I'm back driving all over the place.
SAUER: It really does change you. We always talk about the tipping point and what it is. One last topic on the economy. More San Diegans are buying small businesses. Why is that regarded as an economic indicator?
ANDERSON: Well, I think what people do, when they look at this number, if people are willing to take a chance on a business that exists in an area, and they're willing to buy that business, and there are people willing to sell it, that reflects kind of this more of an optimistic feel about the future. Nobody is going to buy a business if they think the economy is going to go into the tank. And what we've seen the last three or four months in San Diego County is a rising number over a year ago numbers. We're not the at the point we were in 2007, 2008, when the economy was booming. But we're doing better than we have in terms of this. And it's all different kinds of businesses: The study that I looked at tracked small businesses under $1 million in revenue, and that's all different kinds of things.
SAUER: We're going to have to leave it there.
SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable on KPBS. I'm Mark Sauer. We're going to shift to the Salk institute. Gary, your story this week says they're launching their first-ever fundraising campaign. What are the circumstances that led the Salk having to go to the public for research money?
ROBBINS: A lot of it has to do with the pressure on the national institute of health. They are the largest funder of biomedical research in the United States. Over the last ten years, the grants approved from them fell from 30% to 18%. There's a lot more people making grant applications, and individuals are making more of them. So Salk has to compete in that universe. At the same time, the NIH budget has not been growing substantially as it did better than a decade ago. It's been pretty flat. And when you factor in inflation, the number of things that NIH can fund, and the size of those grants has become more limited.
SAUER: Now, other research facilities must look to federal funding for research too. Are they always feeling the pinch?
ROBBINS: They're feeling the pinch, but some are in better positions. The Salk is literally in the shadow of UCSD.
SAUER: Tell us where they are out there.
ROBBINS: They are literally in the shadow.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ROBBINS: They're both on north Torrey Pines road in La Jolla. And both institutions were funded 53 years ago. Now, obviously one is public and the other is a nonprofit. But UC San Diego has been growing so fast and has a medical school and a massive medical program which brings in a lot of NIH money. It has helped make UCSD one of the top-10 contractors in the United States when it comes to research money. They bring in about $1 billion a year.
SAUER: That's remarkable.
ROBBINS: So they have a lot of people applying for grants. In a sense, that overshadows the Salk. They also do something at UCSD that's different from Salk that causes problems for Salk. Of there's a lot of applied research at UC San Diego. So you have basic scientists trying to figure out the nature of a cell, but you have people trying to take that basic knowledge and turn it into a drug or treatment.
SAUER: Something for the marketplace.
ROBBINS: Yes, and they're very close with industry, and they're spinning off companies. The Salk remains primarily an institution where they do basic research. Now they're in a position where they're having to go out and raise more private money because they're afraid of losing NIH money, they could lose as much as $10 million over the last year.
ANDERSON: Is there deep pocket Pharma money here?
ROBBINS: Over the years, the Salk has gotten Pharma money, but not as much as places like TSRI, the Scripps research institute, and UC San Diego. Salk is smaller than most of these institutions.
AUGUST: So it's going to have to compete against -- what's their skill set? What do they know about doing this?
ROBBINS: Oh, they know a lot about this. The person that's leading the funds raising campaign is Irwin Jacobs.
ROBBINS: Jacobs and his wife have personally donated over $30 million to the Salk over the years. I talked to doctor Jacobs about this, and he wanted to make sure that they don't get into some type of real deep financial problem where there's a shortfall in the operation of the institute. Some time ago, Cold Spring Harbor got into a jam because they weren't getting enough private donations. In the past, the salk has lived on public money. Now they've come to the conclusion that they really need to reach out all of the time for private donations.
SAUER: What are they specifically asking for in this campaign?
ROBBINS: $3 million, and the money is going for two things. They have an endowment of about $200 million. That's not large at all. They want to at least double it. The rest of the money they want to use primarily to underwrite endowed chairs. They can help fund research. They have 24 chairs, I that want to divert the other nine chairs and get everybody funded in that way, and just bring money into the house for "unrestricted research." If you come up with a really good idea but it really sounds out there and other people don't want to fund it, that's the kind of money that would be made available to do it.
SAUER: And what kind of budget are they operating on?
ROBBINS: Salk's budget is about $100 million. Now, they're concerned that with sequestration and other problems, contraction of the federal budget --
SAUER: The fiscal cliff.
ROBBINS: They're very concerned about it. Doctor Jacobs was very frank about that. He told me that he believes that there will be some type of solution. But you've got a plan for the other side as well. And this was a longer term plan. They've raised $140 million in the quiet phase of the campaign. But now you have to deliver on the other $160 million and other institutions like the new chancellor of UC San Diego says at some point here they're going to need their own fundraising campaign. So you have more institutions competing for a limited number of dollars.
ANDERSON: Is this a sign that they're in trouble or is it a sign that they're just sort of maturing and in transition?
ROBBINS: It seems like they're maturing and making transition. I don't think the Salk institute is in trouble. It's not operating in the red. I asked doctor Jacobs about that. I think this is them coming to realize that they cannot depend on the NIH like they once did. They once depended on the NIH for more than half their budget. And they have had an awakening to the fact they can't do that.
AUGUST: So they're a little bit behind the curve on this, so they're scrambling to find other sourcing for this.
ROBBINS: Right. They're behind the curve in building and endowment. $200 million is chump change in the world of endowments.
AUGUST: Harvard, my gosh!
SAUER: Absolutely. So we talked a little generally about this. But what kind of research specifically does Salk do? What are the home runs they've hit over the years?
ROBBINS: Salk -- they study the life sciences, the nature of a cell, how a cell changes, how cancer evolves, how it changes. So what is going on biologically and chemically in the human body. From that, other people take it and apply it to the creation of drugs. And they have had some extraordinary people. They have a researcher named Tony Hunt. There are 200 drugs that have either been created or are in final trials rit now that tie all the way back to Tony Hunt's work. Fred Gage is one of the great neuroscientists in the world. He found that adults can regenerate brain cells. So this basic research on the nature of the cell and the nature of how our body works is what they do. And it pays off in drug treatments. It's paid off a lot when it comes to the care of the heart and Alzheimer's is an area where they're getting a lot of attention.
SAUER: Okay. And of course the Salk institution was founded and named for Jonas Salk who had the enormous breakthrough in the 1950s in polio, the surge of young adults. And they've done quite a bit on postpolio research and spinal injury.
ROBBINS: They have done this. When you mention Salk, there was an example of basic and applied. Because he really did both. His basic work and his applied work helped lead to the polio vaccine. So the Salk institute right now still does mostly basic, but there's application there. And this is what makes it hard to raise money. Most people want to give money for something that's going to lead to a cure or a direct treatment.
SAUER: Something tangible.
ROBBINS: So they have to convince you that this money that you give us today, we don't know what's going to come of it, but something may. So --
ANDERSON: That's a tough pitch.
ROBBINS: That is.
HALVERSTADT: Do you see Salk rejiggering its mission at all just to get more money?
ROBBINS: In talking to bill Brodie, the president of Salk, and doctor Jacobs, I don't get a sense that that's what they're going to do at all. They have an incredible core of basic researchers there, so I don't see any big shift for them.
AUGUST: They're the foundation. If you're building a house, you got to have the foundation.
ROBBINS: JW, when it comes to something like this, basic research is fundamental to everything. You have no next step unless you have basic research.
SAUER: Are they unique among institutions in this country? In other words is this the trend toward the applied?
ROBBINS: The pressure is definitely toward the applied because that's where a lot of the money is. But there are other institutions that really are basic researchers. The Jackson laboratory in Maine, cold spring harbor in New York. There are a lot of institutions that do mostly basic research. But they have the pressure for real-world financing.
SAUER: If we have the potential to fall off this fiscal cliff, if that was drastically reduced, what are we looking at? Layoffs of these scientists?
ROBBINS: I don't think there would be immediate layoffs of scientifics. I've talked to them about their staffing and how they're holding up financially. But the Salk and the other institutions Sanford-Burnham, the Scripps research institute, they're very concerned about this. If sequestration went through and there was some cataclysm in the budget, it would affect them fairly quickly. NIH would have to tighten its priorities even sharper than they are. When they make grant, they tend to do it for 3-5 years. So the they've already committed a lot of their budget to the next 3-5 years. That would give them a lot less leeway in what they wanted to fund. Maybe they could commit grants for two years instead of three years.
SAUER: I imagine we'll be hearing about this campaign. Are we talking bake sales?
[ LAUGHTER ]
ROBBINS: They're going to do two things. They're going to put the squeeze on people who can give a lot of money. And they're already done that, and more money is coming in.
SAUER: You mentioned the Jacobs, and Qualcomm. I should point out that they are major supporters of KPBS.
ROBBINS: I asked doctor Brodie whether the Salk needed to reintroduce itself to the public. It's very quiet, they're smaller. They do incredible work but they literally live in the shadow of UC San Diego. Sanford-Burnham is always in the news, Scripps is always in the news. It's a lot to break through the chatter right now.
SAUER: Well, thank you very much. That's fascinating stuff. I really appreciate it.
SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable on KPBS. I'm Mark Sauer. I'm sure the bad smell at La Jolla cove is not news to the people who live there or trying to run a restaurant down there.
HALVERSTADT: For year, folks used to walk along the bluffs at La Jolla cove. It wasn't fenced off. Several years ago, it was fenced off. And since then, seagulls, seals have been hanging out. And they have been pooping a lot.
[ LAUGHTER ]
HALVERSTADT: Now, what's really created the stink out there is that folks aren't walking along anymore. So the poop is just piling up. Then add to the fact that we have not had any serious rain this season really for most of the year, and so this stench and the poop has been able to just build and build. And folks in La Jolla are not happy about it.
SAUER: So people walking along would shoe the birds away.
HALVERSTADT: And that's just not possible anymore.
SAUER: Why were the bluffs fenced off?
HALVERSTADT: They have been fenced off apparently because of some sort of accident that happened several years ago. A young man must have been jumping off the bluffs and was injured.
SAUER: Okay. So the folks out there began to look into this problem. And I guess -- give us some kind. The scope. I think most of us know where the cove is in La Jolla. How far can we smell this from the cove?
HALVERSTADT: You can sometimes smell is as far away as a mile, depending on how the wind is blowing that day. And it definitely affects diners who are hanging out at some of the local restaurants.
SAUER: So people are ordering and getting up and abandoning their meals.
HALVERSTADT: Yes, or before they order their meal, they'll decide to just walk away. They can't handle this.
SAUER: They hand out clothes pins?
[ LAUGHTER ]
ANDERSON: That's no exaggeration, the mile either. I drove through La Jolla recently, and I was on my way up to mount Soledad. And the stench was incredible!
>> Most funky.
SAUER: I want to ask our listeners to join us. So what are the folks out there, they're looking into the problem. What are they finding out that they can do about it?
HALVERSTADT: Not much right now, at least. Residents had talked to some different companies. They thought they could put down some chemicals on the bluffs that would really cut through the crap. But unfortunately, that area is extremely regulated. California had the coastal act many years back which created a lot more regulations around coastal areas. And this area is one of just 34 specially protected areas in the state. So they have to clear three regulatory agencies to do anything there.
ANDERSON: I suspect this'll be taken care of by mother nature. We had below average rainfall this year, this year we have had only 4 inches of rain since January. And it's a time of year when we're going into the winter, but during the summer the large swells are pretty small in San Diego. Perhaps if we had some really strong rainstorms and some big swells which we will get, that that situation will go away.
SAUER: And you follow that pretty closely. I think we had a story on KPBS just today that the El NiÒo has been called off. What are we looking?
ROBBINS: I'm stuttering because --
SAUER: It's frustrating!
[ LAUGHTER ]
ROBBINS: I deal with the federal government on this subject quite a lot. And first they said they thought a sizeable El NiÒo was coming, then it was week, and then everything was 50-50. So we haven't got any clear guidance on what may happen. Even if you're in a weak El NiÒo year, you can have a lot of rains. We do know there will be some major swells this year.
AUGUST: I saw Sherri Lightner involved in this, she wrote a letter, you reported it. And I thought back to the seal issue, the idea of bringing speakers out there with dogs barking! And all the critters was stay away!
SAUER: And the speakers don't poop.
[ LAUGHTER ]
AUGUST: Or get those giant owls and put them all over the place.
ANDERSON: The funny thing is it's such a picturesque location. It's beautiful, but the water is fouled by the seals that live there: The beaches are fouled by the birds that live there. It's ironic! I guess if you drive by with your windows rolled up and the AC on, you'll be fine.
SAUER: Well, Lisa, you can't really just get out there with a fire hose. It's considered a pollutant even though it's natural.
HALVERSTADT: Yes. Even if you were to drain the poop off, even though it's natural, it's considered a pollutant. And I had a few experts actually tell me that despite the fact that California has all of these regulations, and I understand the thought process behind them, if you were too just let the poop drain off into the ocean, sure, it might cause a problem for a few hours. We might not want to swim by it. But ultimately, dilution is basically solving the problem of pollution here.
SAUER: Steven in Clairemont, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, hello. This is Steven. I guess my comment was varsimilar to what he said. It's a simple one. Just when if they were to pump the ocean water itself, which is limitless in supply, just pump it through a pressure washer and spray it off? I know that's not a long-term solution. But if it were to rain or a huge storm, that's the natural way of dissipating it. So you're not introducing any new chemicals. Can't they just power wash it using ocean water?
SAUER: Right, thank you.
AUGUST: That's a good idea.
SAUER: That's what Gary was alluding to.
HALVERSTADT: Well, I brought this up and chatted with several folks about this. This has been a solution that's been raised. But unfortunately like I said, even though the guanno is considered natural, it is a pollutant under state law once it's injected into the ocean.
SAUER: Wow. So you're looking at getting a special permit or something? Some sort of dispensation from, if not the pope, at least the folks in Sacramento.
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: How does that work?
HALVERSTADT: Oh, my God. It sounds like just to get the most basic permit it would take about two years. So now, Sherri Lightner --
SAUER: Is might rain before that!
ANDERSON: Something smells bad here, and it's not just what's on the rocks.
[ LAUGHTER ]
HALVERSTADT: I think some folks are looking at a potential solution that might prevent runoff into the ocean. That's what some of the regulators have suggested that the City of San Diego look at. Are there options where they could just spray something on the bluffs far enough away from the ocean that there wouldn't be a risk? But that comes with complications as well because the project would still need to be cleared by regulatory agencies, and they'd need to do tests to make sure there wouldn't be any other potentially harmful effects.
AUGUST: I was thinking open up sections to the Zonies and Texies who come to visit, and we'll get rid of it that way!
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: Sherri Lightner is the council member out there. She's written a letter to the governor. She's trying to get the City Council to back her play on this. Is she going to expedite this in any way?
HALVERSTADT: Well, now that she's been reelected, I think she's got more time to be working on this issue. And I think a lot of La Jollans are hoping she makes it top priority. She did hold a meeting with regulators and other interested parties. And right now, what they're really working on is seeing if they can get someone from the county to come out and test the air. That's another issue that La Jollans are concerned about. Could this stink in the air be causing any potentially harmful health effects? And some think that it does.
ANDERSON: And ifs causing a health impact, that gives you the impetus to move forward with addressing the situation.
HALVERSTADT: They sure hope so!
SAUER: We are making light of it, but there are accident owners out there who are suffering.
HALVERSTADT: Oh, yes!
ANDERSON: So it's the fiscal cliff and the La Jolla cliff!
SAUER: La Jolla bluff. There you go.
HALVERSTADT: If you're in La Jolla, this is No. 1 for you.
SAUER: Patrick, go ahead, you're with the panel.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello, this is Patrick from San Diego. You mentioned the health concerns, and it turns out that a by product of the guanno, what we're smelling is actually ammonia. And that ammonia affects as mattics and allergies. A lady in our office has to -- her eyes are puffy, she has to put drops in five times a day. And it's just terrible to her health.
SAUER: Thanks for pointing that out. Thanks so much for that discussion.