Roundtable: Power Games, 4th District, Hospice Autopsy, Tourist Taxes
March 22, 2013 2:13 p.m.
Alison St. John, KPBS News
Liam Dillon, Voice of San Diego
Joanne Faryon, KPBS News
Katie Orr, KPBS News
SAUER: Good afternoon. It's Friday, March 22. Thanks for being with us. Joining me are Alison St. John, North County Bureau Chief for KPBS News.
ST. JOHN: Great to be here.
SAUER: Liam Dillon, reporter for Voice of San Diego.
DILLON: Good afternoon.
SAUER: Joanne Faryon for KPBS News.
FARYON: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: And KPBS Metro Reporter, Katie Orr.
ORR: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: Our first stop is the California Public Utilities Commission that held two meetings in San Diego this week. The first was behind closed doors and drew loud protests. The second meeting featured a hot debate over whether to approve two power plants. Looming over all these is the crippled San Onofre nuclear plant, and who will foot the $1 billion bill. Alison, let's start with the private meeting with the CPUC commissioners.
ST. JOHN: This is a meeting which I think the reason it got so much controversy here in San Diego, and it's not the first time the CPUC has met privately around the state with invited stakeholder, it's just that it's coming to a head right now, the whole issue of how do we generate our energy. And when we're looking at sustainable energy and greenhouse gases and fossil fuels, the issue is becoming more and more important publicly. So this meeting to which the public was not allowed in, the media not even allowed in, raised a lot of suspicion, people thinking, well, what's going on here?
SAUER: Are they working a backdoor deal?
ST. JOHN: That was the suspicion, yes. And the next day when they held the public hearing, the vote went in favor of the people who were protesting. But even though, the appearance of some kind of backdoor negotiation was what caused the controversy.
SAUER: Now, they've done this before. So issues about whether it's violating the Brown Act or these California laws, that the sun should shine in the public meeting, that public business should be public doesn't really come into play?
ST. JOHN: Well, all five commissioners were there. So according to state law, the Bagley-Keene Act, you cannot have five commissioners meeting without the public. But the way they got around that was by having no more than two of the commissioners in a room at any one time, and they invited the guests to circulate around.
SAUER: You find that curious?
FARYON: It's crazy! So it shows you how deliberate it was to be able to meet in this way and not have the public there
ORR: It's no wonder people are suspicious.
SAUER: But this happens in City Hall, it happens at other public bodies. And they're quite conscious of it.
ST. JOHN: Interestingly enough, the state attorney general jumped in to defend the CPUC. So from the CPUC's perspective, they just want to have a chance to get the temperature of some people in the community without having a lot of, I don't know, public -- I cannot justify it, to be honest. But that's their --
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: There's no question the dynamic is different when you've got speakers coming up and people with an agenda. So let's shift to the public meeting the next day. What happened there? And tell us what peaker plants are.
ST. JOHN: Peaker plants are what the name implies. When peak energy demand -- peaks in the summer, we all turn on our air conditioners, then these plants can click on at, like, ten minutes' notice to supplement the energy supply. So they're backup to the day-to-day grid.
SAUER: And the public meeting took up -- there's some developers that wanted to build a couple of these.
ST. JOHN: Right, two peaker plants, one near Santee, Quail Brush, and another one in Otay Mesa. And they were designed to be backup plants to make sure there's always enough power. And so they were in the agenda. Both of them had a lot of opponents.
SAUER: What were the opponents saying?
ST. JOHN: Well, the opponents' view is, it's interesting, if you build these peaker plants, the utilities will have the reliable energy they're promising us. But there won't be any motive, incentive to build more rooftop solar, more sustainable solar. It will reduce the initiative to opt for more sustainable energy.
SAUER: So we'll go further down the road with fossil fuel plans and not alternative energy.
ST. JOHN: Correct.
SAUER: So what did the CPUC decide regarding the plants?
ST. JOHN: Well, they voted them -- it's not up to them to vote them down, but they said that SDG&E could not contract with them. So essentially there's no one to buy the power, and the developers aren't going to build them. Yet, they said the reason they did that was because they won't be needed in 2014, but they might very well be needed in 2018! So it's likely that SDG&E will come back in a year or two and put those plants back on the table again.
SAUER: So they left the door open.
ST. JOHN: Correct.
SAUER: So it looks like we're going to go through another summer without electricity from the San Onofre nuclear plant. What did the independent system operator say about the prospects for a summer without brownouts and explain what the ISO is.
ST. JOHN: They're the agency that's responsible for keeping the lights on. They know the power sources inside and outside of the state. And they regulate the flow of electricity through the transmission lines. They said even with San Onofre offline, and they're planning for it to be offline, they say that Southern California will be okay. However, they point out there's a couple of sources of power that were available last summer that will not be available this summer, which means they have to import more energy from elsewhere. But the main thing they're saying is the public will have to be ready to conserve this summer. So I think we need to all sit up and pay attention to the fact that conservation is a big part of the strategy this summer.
ORR: Well, I think it's so interesting. Last summer, it didn't seem like the impact of San Onofre was really felt.
SAUER: It wasn't all that hot. We had one stretch late in the summer, but it wasn't an unusually hot summer.
ORR: Right. And it's interesting that these comes at the same time the other peaker plants were denied for now.
ST. JOHN: Yes.
ORR: It's a reckoning of how we're going to be dealing with energy in the future. And if we really want to go down the road of solar energy, wind energy, we really have to make those investments. But I think as you pointed out, Alison, nothing comes for free. If you want wind energy, you have to build these windmills that people don't necessarily like. If you want to have high-capacity solar energy, you have to build solar pharamacy that people don't like.
SAUER: And all the controversy over the Sunrise Power Link. And conservation itself. All of us, if we get a hot spell, the peaker plants aren't here, we don't have the resources we had last summer, all of us are going to have to be willing to sit there with a fan in our underwear and sweat a little bit!
[ LAUGHTER ]
ORR: In the privacy of your own home.
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: Now that we've left that image with our listeners, what is the status of San Onofre? Southern California Edison commissioned an analysis of the safety of turning it back on.
ST. JOHN: The NRC will make a decision as early as May or June as to whether to restart one of the two reactors at 75% power for five months. And the thing that happened just this morning was that Southern California Edison, the company that owns 80% of the plant, and SDG&E owns 20% of that plant, but Edison has decided to ask the NRC, well, could you consider a license amendment? And the reason this is important is because they have offered to start the plant at 70 &%F0 power, the NRC made the point, well, your license is for you operating it at 100% power. And people who are opposed to it have been saying we need more public hearings. And now finally, the company is asking for a license amendment.
SAUER: Just today, right?
ST. JOHN: Just today, which would involve more public hearings because I think they realize they cannot operate it at 100% power safely under the current license. So they want an amendment to run it at 70%.
SAUER: So they've come that far at least with their opponents that, okay, let's air this out in public.
>> Well, there's a caveat to that. There is the "no significant hazards consideration" and if they're bound to that kind. Analysis, it would reduce the amount of public hearings around this. So there's still a battle over this! Even if they were granted that particular license amendment.
SAUER: And who has the final word then?
ST. JOHN: Well, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in terms of safety, yes.
SAUER: And what about this other report that surfaced this week using Edison's own figures that said it would be cheaper just to leave it offline?
ST. JOHN: That's part of the other parallel process going on here to protect us all in terms of safety, the federal agency, and in terms of money, and that's our local state, CPUC. So they're the ones supposed to be representing us as ratepayers. So they're saying, okay, maybe it's safe, but if you had to do things to make it safe that no longer make it cost-effective? And when you think of running a power plant at less than 50% power, really, is it going to be cost-effective? And the report that came out this week, which I don't want to put too much credence to this report from "friends of the earth" because I think it does have some significant flaws, but it does suggest that we need to look whether it would be more cost-effective for us here in Southern California to be generating electricity in more sustainable ways, rather than trying to restart this risky nuclear power plant. And they're basically just saying, look, you've got to start considering this right now. Don't wait till next year. Here's our analysis, we realize it's not the most sophisticated analysis, but we've got to be considering that question now.
SAUER: And the response from Edison from probably pretty predictable.
ST. JOHN: Oh, yes, they said this analysis has no rational basis and it's just coming from antinuclear people who want to shut the plant down. So it's difficult because we're trying to cover this without getting a lot of willingness from the company to explain their perspective. But I do understand the company's criticism of this particular report. But I think the questions that it raises are very interesting questions.
SAUER: Valid questions. Let me ask you one last thing, the PUC, they will weigh in on these costs as well?
ST. JOHN: Well, this particular report is part of this bigger investigation that's going on right now sort of behind the scenes at the state level. They're supposed to decide this summer on not whether we get reimbursed but whether the amount that the company has been charging ratepayers is fair and reasonable.
SAUER: All right.
We're going to move on now to another less complicated story. Who's vying to replace Tony Young on the San Diego City Council in District 4? We've got enough candidates to field a baseball team, literally! They're running for San Diego City Council seat that was vacated by the former council president, Tony Young. He left to take over chief of the local Red Cross. And they set up this special election next week in District 4. Tell us about the district itself.
DILLON: San Diego's 4th district is made up of neighborhoods in the southeastern section of the city. Of so Encanto, paradise hills, Valencia Park, Oak Park, those areas boarding national city. It's the most diverse district? The entire city. It is about 43% Hispanic, about 25% Asian and Pacific islander, and about 20% African American. And so this has been the seat where it's traditionally been the seat of African American black power in San Diego, and the major candidates who are running are all black and would seemingly continue that legacy.
SAUER: And this isn't a terribly affluent area.
DILLON: Well, it ranks 6th out of the 9 council districts in terms of median income. So Council District 3 includes downtown, District 8 is the southern-most communities near the border, and District 9 is City Heights.
SAUER: Now, what would you consider their biggest needs?
DILLON: Well, there are a lot. And a lot of them don't make too much sense when you try to compare them. One example, you have a lot of clamoring from residents for more local food options, but you've had some locally owned restaurants in the last couple years that have all closed. So you have a clamoring for something, but then when the restaurants are there, they don't survive for whatever reason. You also have public safety issues. The area has been -- has this perception of being crime-ridden, but the district is the 3rd safest in the entire city over the last three years, according to crime stats!
SAUER: How interesting!
DILLON: So that's a misperception in the public and the city at large. At the same time, you have over the last three year, almost a quarter of the city's homicides occurring in the district. So you do have serious public safety issues, but at the same time you have a continued misperception about the crime rate.
ORR: I think it was interesting, I read in CityBeat's article, they had endorsed a candidate, and they were saying basically it's a strongly democratic district.
DILLON: Correct. The most in the city.
ORR: Right, and the person who is elected will likely be a Democrat and give the Democrats their five- 5 majority on the council. And it's more the question between liberal versus centrist Democrat. And Tony Young was pretty moderate. You didn't know which way he would go. And on the council so far, we've seen Todd Gloria take a more moderate stance on some of the issues so far, voting with the Republicans on the council so far. So it will be interesting to see who gets elected and if that centrist view continues on the council or if you have this standoff between centrist and the more liberal parts of the council.
SAUER: Well, let's talk about the candidates a little bit. Obviously it's a special election. Low turnout, just 1st District. So you're not going to have a ton of polls, a lot of great coverage as you would have on a presidential year, mayoral election. But let's probe a little bit into some of the candidates. Some are familiar faces.
DILLON: Yes, there are three who have run for the seat before. Bruce Williams who was an aid to Tony Young, also an aide to Dick Murphy and Susan Golding. This is his first time running for the seat. He recently switched, and this could be seen as a nod to the district's demographics, switched from Republican to Democrat. Barry Pollard who ran for the seat in 2010 and lost to Tony Young, he runs a human resources business and was involved in the redistricting effort in 2010, 2011. You also have Myrtle Cole who is a former campaign manager for Tony Young. She is backed by the local Democratic Party and the San Diego imperial county laborer council. And she would be seen as more of the left wing candidate.
ST. JOHN: She's raised the most money; is that right?
DILLON: I'm not sure. I know there's been a significant expenditure from labor on her candidacy.
FARYON: I think Dwayne Crenshaw raised the most in the last filing.
DILLON: That's my understanding as well. He is the -- sort of considered the 4th major candidate, Dwayne Crenshaw. He used to be the head of -- and this is his third time running as well. He used to be the head of a neighborhood advocacy coalition in southeastern San Diego. Now he's on leave from his job as executive director of San Diego LGBT pride.
SAUER: So Crenshaw was fired, but that was settled. Pollard had some financial troubles. Bruce Williams once run as you just said, now a Democrat. Myrtle Cole, residence question, etc. Any of these issues likely to sway voters or bring down any of these candidates?
DILLON: Well, I'm not sure. Again, as you mentioned, this is a very, very, very low turnout expected in this race. And I talked about the four major candidate, but this is the kind of election that if you can get the 7blocks surrounding your house to turn up to the polls, even if you're an unknown, you could sneak in --
SAUER: Walking the neighborhood really pays off.
DILLON: Exactly. I wouldn't be surprised if 2,500 to 3,000 votes would be enough to get you into the runoff.
ST. JOHN: I think that's just so interesting! This will be one of how many council members do we have now on the City Council? Nine council members. So this may not be the swing vote, but at the same time they are actually going to influence the policy for the whole city. And you're saying it's just a few blocks in that district, could influence it. We've been listening to people talking about rights and breaking things into district, but it sounds like it's not very functional at this point.
DILLON: Well, you do have communities -- these communities have been traditionally ignored in the city's power structure for decades and decades. So to have an advocate for those neighborhoods, I certainly don't think it's a bad thing, and something that I think --
ST. JOHN: You want that to be there.
DILLON: You want that to be there. So there's obviously a problem of getting people to the polls, and it's harder when there's only one race in the ballot as opposed to a presidential or mayor's race here. But having a representative come from the community no matter who you're voting for is a good thing.
FARYON: And given what you were saying, Katie, given who the mayor is, the more liberal Democrat, and given who the council president is, which is probably more the centrist Democrat, that you're right, in terms of balance of power and alliances that might be formed and how the votes turn out, it could be really interesting.
ORR: Yeah, I think it could. Things like the port commission appointees were delayed. Mayor Filner and others had said no, no, we just want more time to look at these people and establish a process. But the thinking was they also want to get a Democrat elected to office, and then they can put who they really want on the port. So it's definitely, especially if it's someone who is more liberal, would be supportive of Bob Filner. But he got a lot of support in that district anyway. So anyone who comes out of that district probably has a tendency to be pretty supportive of him.
FARYON: What about dormants? Have any of them generated any --
SAUER: Yeah, Tony Young --
DILLON: I don't believe Tony Young has formally weighed in. Bruce Williams used a quote from Tony on one of his mailers, but I don't believe Tony has weighed in to endorse anybody, the two big endorses being the Democratic Party and the laborer council going toward Cole.
ORR: And one thing we saw just today or yesterday, the Voice and Viewpoint editorial. Did you write about that?
DILLON: No, but I'm familiar with what happened.
ORR: Right, Voice and Viewpoint, a traditionally African American newspaper wrote they don't think Dwayne Crenshaw would be a good candidate because he is a gay man, and they don't think that's something that's traditionally accepted in the African American community. And it's kind of making waves obviously. Especially here in San Diego where that just -- we have seen has not been an issue.
SAUER: Well, interesting. And in the backdrop of the national debate, of course we've got the Supreme Court next week taking up the whole gay marriage issue. The polls have changed dramatically on a national level. That's very interesting.
DILLON: I think what's important, one of the many things, is everyone being held to the same standard. Most folks would agree that someone's merits, qualifications, someone's plans that they have for the district were the thing they should be judged on as whether they would be an effective representative, and certain someone's sexual orientation doesn't know play into that.
ST. JOHN: We're not going to get a winner out of this next week's election.
DILLON: Highly unlikely. A winner would need 50% plus 1 of the votes. There would be a runoff sometime in mid-May.
SAUER: So we're not looking for this seat to be filled and this democratic majority to take over the council until then, right?
DILLON: Right. And this would be coming at the tail end or might even miss the budget discussions, which is kind of the way for -- which is unfortunate for residents of that district not having a formal voice to be able to advocate for some of their many and significant needs.
SAUER: And of course that was some of the criticism at the time when Tony Young stepped down, that it would create this long lag time, and these dynamics in the council. Some of us who have been watching this for a long time were pretty excited to see nine members, not eight anymore. Not this crazy split that you would see at time, and it's been kind of frustrating.
ORR: Well, we've talked about this so much, but it gets back to the issue that when you get down to what these council members could be making in the private sector and what they make on the council, they make $75,000, I believe. Tony Young is getting close to something, like, $250,000, or something. When you talk about having to support your family, your prime income earning years, you can't entirely fault somebody for take advantage of that opportunity.
SAUER: Right. And that hasn't changed in eight or nine years, I think, that level of income. Didn't we have a commission saying, yes, we could --
DILLON: Every couple years.
SAUER: It needs to be double, the mid-150s would be fair, and politically it just never happens. Certainly with the financial problems this city has seen. We'll have to leave it there.
SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable on KPBS. I'm Mark Sauer. It was one of the first hospice in the nation, seen as a model and a venerable San Diego institution. But San Diego hospice was forced to close its doors last month and is now fired in bankruptcy court. Joanne, you and your colleagues have probed deeply into this institution. Give us an overview of San Diego hospice and some of the key problems uncovered by a Medicare audit.
FARYON: One of the oldest hospices in the country started basically caring for the dying back in the '70s. And when we talk about hospice, that's when people have chosen in their final months of life, and months is going to be critical as we talk about this, say I don't want to die in a hospital. I want to die at home. Make me comfortable. So this is really about comfort in your end-stage of life wanting to die at home.
SAUER: Dying with dignity.
FARYON: Exactly. That's the majority of hospice care, it's homecare. So then in the '80s, the federal government Medicare says we'll pay for this benefit. And from then on there, it just exploded from a billion-dollar a year cost to the government to $13billion a year. So the government said wait a minute, why is it costing so much? Across the country, this is not the only hospice to be audited, hospices are being audited in Arizona. A couple days ago, their big hospice settled with the federal government. The government said you've been taking in patients who aren't really dying within the six months. They weren't eligible, and they settled for $12million. That's the kind of money we're talking about. So San Diego hospice goes to the media and says we're being audited by Medicare, and we think maybe in terms of who we took on for care, we -- I don't want to say stretched the eligibility, but maybe we didn't document them in the way we should have, and perhaps Medicare sees them as not being eligible. We don't know how much money we might owe. Maybe it's tens of millions of dollars. The audit has yet to be made public. That's key. Before it was made public, San Diego hospice said, you know what? I don't think we can deal with this. We're filing for bankruptcy. That's where it leaves us now. They're winding down. This week they're going to discharge most of their remaining patients.
SAUER: A couple details on the scope of the service they provided. Give us a sense of the scope of their services, how many folks a year or --
FARYON: They were huge. Biggest in the state. They cared for 1,000 dying people at any one time. And when I say dying, again, Medicare defines a terminal illness as when you have 6 months or les to live. What's at issue is were those dying people really dying within the six month, and if they were, did they document it correctly? Did they recertify them to be in care? They didn't only care for the dying. They also had all these other programs. They taught other doctors really how to be hospice doctors. And not just hospice, but palative care. Palliation of symptoms means we're going to help your symptoms so you feel more comfortable. It's sort of a newer area of medicine. A lot of doctors from around the world being trained at San Diego hospice. This may have been one of the problems. Of. How were they funding all of those programs? San Diego hospice also brought in $83million a year and most of that was federal government Medicare money. So they had a lot of patients that generated a lot of revenue.
SAUER: But it raises the whole question in watching and reading your stories all this time, how do you determine you've just got six months? People can come in and out of hospice. It kind of harkens the death panel arguments.
FARYON: Well, I think some doctors will argue that you can document this. There are all kinds of scores in the medical world, ways to chart have you lost 10% or more of weight? Have you -- so there are actually ways, and I've talked to some doctors who are in hospice care who say you can document. I think the bigger question is should this kind of care only be available in your final months of life? I think that's the problem and that's the gap.
ST. JOHN: And a lot of people I think have a great deal of respect for the San Diego hospice and thought this was tragic and sort of thought, well, can you blame them for trying to fill this void where there are no -- or this is what I don't know, no good alternatives? How much blame do you think can be assigned and how much is it someone just trying to fill a void?
FARYON: Well, I don't think we've heard the whole story. I talked to several former San Diego hospice employees, many of them doctors. And they say what you're saying too. There was a need in the community, so even if you weren't dying in six months, you were dying in 18 month, but you still needed this care, they couldn't say no. And that's part of why they're in trouble. But at the same time, I don't think we know all the story. And part of the story, and what we learned this week too, San Diego hospice maintained the whole time this is just an eligibility issue. But we also learned there was an issue with care. They had been visited by inspectors in 2011 and 2012. And on several occasions there were systematic errors that had to do with medication, where patients received too much morphine. There were issues with -- at least one startling issue about neglect. So there was a change in management, other things going on. I think a lot of questions being raised. I don't think we know the whole story.
SAUER: We've got a caller. Annabelle from San Diego.
ANNABELLE: I think one of the reasons that San Diego hospice grew to such a large organization is because they bended and manipulated the criteria for admission care. I think that's part of the reason why they had such a large census. The other thing is if the comment was that they may have kept the patients on when they should have not kept the patients on, instead of billing Medicare for that, perhaps they should have used their own foundation moneys and charity care for those patients. Because the impact of them going bankrupt has really put the other hospices that have worked so well --
ST. JOHN: Obey the rules.
ANNABELLE: Yeah, pray by the rule, have put us in a light that we're not doing what San Diego hospice promised would be done. I've been doing hospice work for just about 20 years.
SAUER: Okay, thank you so much for your call.
FARYON: And point well taken. Also one of the stories we did this week was about a couple.
FARYON: Krystyna was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2003, in 2006, she began receiving care at home from San Diego hospice. She ended up in a nursing home. She received hospice care from San Diego hospice for six years. So that's a long time. And her husband --
SAUER: Not six months.
FARYON: Not six months. And her husband, Adam, to his credit comes forward with he hears everything that's going on with San Diego hospice and says, yes, this doesn't make sense. But you have to remember, you have a spouse, a loved one with this terrible illness and your doctor says I can get you some help, and it's called this hospice care, and I'll refer you, Medicare accepts you, and you're not -- oh, I got this help, this is good. People don't know.
SAUER: They're never encountered this in their lives.
FARYON: Exactly. And just to close the loop on that particular story, in November, before San Diego hospice even talked about bankruptcy, but just because of the Medicare audit and sort of the government breathing down their neck, they started discharging all these patients. And what we've learned from bankruptcy testimony, hundreds of them who weren't eligible. Krystyna was among them. So when you talk about here she's getting this care, now she's really dying. Now she's in the final stages. She can't swallow anymore. And her husband gets a letter, oh, we're kicking you out of hospice. Your illness is no longer considered terminal and you're gone!
ST. JOHN: Ironic.
SAUER: Another caller, Kathy, go ahead.
KATHY: Hi, I'm calling from City Heights. And I just wanted to tell you, you don't have the full picture of what has been going on. My friend Lillian Hanson died December 2 as a result of bad care from San Diego Hospice and another hospice group called Aperspectiva. And the point was that she had been given 18 days more or less to live when she was released from Sharp Hospital for breast cancer treatment, which she had been battling for eight years. She had been overdosed on radiation and got a severe radiation burn, and the doctors put her over into hospice care at home. Now, she would have died in 18 days in July. But I started nursing her, and she got five months out of that. And the whole time, we had to arm wrestle with the hospice because they refused to treat the infection that was in her burn wound.
SAUER: All right.
KATHY: They stated they only did palliative, which amounted to take more morphine, more morphine, and they let her dressings go unchanged until she smelled like rotten meat.
SAUER: Okay, thanks so much. Would you please stay on the line? Thanks very much for your call.
FARYON: And I just want to say to Kathy, her story is horrible, and I'm sorry to hear all of this. And I know we are not finished reporting on this issue. And I just want to say stay tuned for next week because we get into some other issues in terms of what should hospice provide. And you mention an antibiotic, an infection, and there is one philosophy that says when you're at the end of your life, do you treat an antibiotic? So it's definitely of the discussion.
SAUER: The audit, the Medicare audit really isn't even --
FARYON: No, it hasn't been made public! We still don't know what's going to happen. Also there's a federal investigation going on in the background. So there's an audit, but then we've also got the federal attorneys involved. We're wondering are they also going to perhaps go after San Diego hospice with regard was this fraud?
SAUER: Briefly, one last question. What is the status now of hospice care with San Diego hospice offline?
FARYON: Well, bankruptcy hearings continue. However, it's expected that this month they will no longer be caring for patients. They have transferred many of them to Scripps.
SAUER: And other hospices are stepping into the void?
FARYON: Well, part of the bankruptcy issue is did they just sort of hand over all of their patients to Scripps? Whereas people have a choice F. You're out there, you should know you have a choice to go on any one of the 20 hospices. But I think it's caused some suspicion on behalf of the public of all hospice care.
DILLON: Quickly, I'm wondering if anyone is being held responsible for any of those issues?
FARYON: Another great question. Because we're hearing from a lot of employees who are asking that same question. Ultimately, they have a Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is also responsible. We've spent some time with the founder, but we have yet to hear from the board about what they knew, what are their responsibilities with regard to this. A lot of changing management. Those are a lot of unanswered questions.
SAUER: All right. And it sounds like we're going to do a lot more reporting on this and try to answer a lot of these questions. Thanks very much.
SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable on KPBS. I'm Mark Sauer. We had to wonder if Jerry Sanders has any regret over not signing his name to a simple document. It led to a minor war at City Hall over something called the Yourism Marketing District. An unfortunate name.
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: This current battle is between Bob Filner, the current mayor, and a majority on the City Council. Filner won a battle this week. We'll call it the TMD, remind us why that's an issue right now.
ORR: It was formed a few years back by San Diego, and what it does is allows the city hotels, basically all the hotels in San Diego to charge an additional fee. Then that fee is collected and used to market San Diego. So any of those -- they see those ads for Las Vegas, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That's the similar kind of marketing they would do to tourists.
SAUER: So guests check in, how much more can they expect?
ORR: Right now it's 2% with hotels of rooms of 30 or more. It's less for smaller venues.
SAUER: That's what the hike is now.
ORR: Right. So it's expected to generate about $30million a year to go toward marketing. The City Council liked the way it had been working in the pilot five years, so they renewed it for a max term of 39.5 years to be revisited every five years. Everyone was on board with this. But as you mentioned, mayor Sanders didn't for whatever reason sign the final operating agreement before he left office. So Bob Filner comes into office, decides he doesn't like this deal, and he's not going to sign it. The hoteliers sue him, and a judge tentatively ruled yesterday that the mayor does not have to sign this agreement if he doesn't want to.
SAUER: So after he refused to sign it, the hoteliers sued him.
ORR: Right. The judge said specifically it's up to the mayor. And he has discretion where he wants to sign this. That was a tentatively ruling. Today at 1:30, he's hearing oral arguments are from both sides. But we have had a couple of tentative rulings on different issues and they tend to stay the same. He did say -- the judge acknowledged the possibility that the City Council might take up a resolution, which they're doing next week. And the resolution would compel the mayor to sign it. It would reinforce the operating agreement that they passed last year. It would say the mayor does not have any discretion to sign it. And it would say he does not have any authority to craft a new deal, which is what he's doing. The judge acknowledged this might happen, but because it hadn't happened, he said he couldn't consider it in his ruling. So that could change things if the council does this.
FARYON: It just goes back to Liam's story. If you have eight people on council, and they have this resolution, it wouldn't even pass!
ORR: Right, well, I think it would. I believe it would. Certainly the four Republicans would vote for it, and Todd Gloria would likely vote for it.
DILLON: Lightner is in favor. I believe only Emerald is the one who would have voted against it.
ORR: When this first came out, they had a public informational hearing, and the members. The council strongly backed the hoteliers in this issue. They say it's an issue -- it saves San Diego money because instead of paying for marketing out of our general fund, they can collect it. A lot of people say on the other hand you're basically given a private industry the ability to tax people. And what's to stop a group of restaurants from saying, well, are we want improvements, we're going to charge this. And as long as you use the money in a direct way, it can be considered a fee and not a tax.
FARYON: So is that why Mayor Filner doesn't like it?
ORR: Yeah, he's got an interesting position. He calls it an illegal tax. But he also wants the city to get more money from it.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ORR: As long as the Courts haven't ruled it's illegal, we'll take the deal, but we want more money. And if the Courts wrote illegal fine, that's illegal.
ST. JOHN: So there's two issues: Is it legal? And if it is, where's it going to go? I'm interested in the conditions the mayor is fighting for. You said that he wants to have more go into the city's general fund. But there's another one there where he's saying you have to pay the people working in the hotels a living wage.
ORR: Right. He was saying that. And he's sort of since revised his position. Now he's going to require that the hotels in the TMD consider a living wage. So not require that they pay it. He also wants to limit the salaries to anyone who refers money from this district to $160,000 a year.
ST. JOHN: I think that's significant when we think about it as citizens of San Diego. We just don't have enough good-paying jobs in this town. And these total jobs are so low-paying, you can't afford to live here.
SAUER: Roger, a caller has a question for us.
ROGER: Well, thank you. It's specifically related to the question of what are the requirements for paying labors and staff? I wasn't clear on that. Could you say that the current situation is if the hoteliers are under this agreement?
ORR: Well, there's currently no requirement that the hoteliers pay -- the city has what it calls a living wage. And anyone who contracts with the city or subcontractors is required to pay their employees this living wage to live in San Diego. But hotels are private businesses. And so the city, there is even a question of whether the city can mandate that. Because it's a private business. So Filner's thing now is that he would require the district to encourage member hotels to pay employees a living wage.
SAUER: All right. Liam?
DILLON: I think that's really interesting here is sort of a broader issue of whether or not the Courts eventually force Filner to sign this document is just how much he can mess things up.
[ LAUGHTER ]
DILLON: And I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, him being able to wield the power he has to force people to come to the table and make deals, even on deals people thought were done a long time ago. And if that doesn't happen, even if he loses, he's made a very good point for his power that he can make life really miserable for folks, so they have to come to the table and deal with him.
SAUER: Let's turn from one controversial subject to another. The mayor, Bob Filner, decided to stand up for seals at La Jolla cove this week. And maybe a fairly safe position.
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: It made national headlines, some folks were caught on the video I guess punching seals --
ORR: Harassing the seals.
SAUER: Give us the backstory.
ORR: So the mayor about a month ago instituted this seal cam. We cut the cam up on the top of the lifeguard tower there, and we can watch the seals during pupping season, at night, give birth to their pups. Not necessarily through the cam, because it doesn't record image, but a couple of nights ago, some women were caught on a camera harassing these seals.
SAUER: A middle of the night thing.
ORR: Yeah, and it's kind of hard to make out. You see these girls dancing around, one pretends to sit on a seal. So as a result the mayor has closed the beach at night from sunset to sunrise. You can't go on the beach.
SAUER: And that's by the children's pool in La Jolla.
ORR: Right, the place where we have had the controversy for the seals for over ten years. And this is just until pupping season is over, May15th. But you're prohibited from going to the beach at night because of this action.
SAUER: And this was a rare moment of unity for the mayor and the city attorney.
ORR: Well, I have to point out the city attorney says although I would have preferred to have been consulted before he took this action, I agree that protecting the seals is important. I just think that's funny because Goldsmith and the mayor constantly sniping back and forth. But he does agree that the mayor -- this was a good move by the mayor, and that he is backing him up on this. And it has drawn national attention. Not they watch it, I was just flipping through the channels, you I came across Inside Edition this night, and they were playing this video. They had the story kind of wrong. But they were playing the video of these girls harassing the seals. It was on CNN.
SAUER: CNN had a story yesterday with a link to the video. So these animal stories --
ORR: People don't like it.
SAUER: Wasn't there a conspiracy theory that some folks who were seal supporters really wanted that beach closed so they went out there and did this stuff to get caught on tape?
ORR: That's the theory. I don't know. I don't know.
SAUER: It's not a juicy story without a conspiracy!
[ LAUGHTER ]
FARYON: Makes me wonder, how'd they get this tape?
ORR: It is true. The seal cam doesn't record videos. So someone else had to be out there recording the girls doing this and posting it somewhere.
ORR: I don't know.
FARYON: Smells a little fishy!
[ LAUGHTER ]
ORR: But those girls could be in a lot of trouble. The city is trying to find out who they are, and you're not allowed to harass these animals.