Roundtable: UT Ad Discounts, Marten's Record, Drones in San Diego, Planning Controversies
April 5, 2013 1:29 p.m.
Amita Sharma, KPBS News
Will Carless, Voice of San Diego
Davd Wagner, KPBS News
Andy Keatts, Voice of San Diego
Related Story: Roundtable: UT Ad Discounts, Marten's Record, Drones in San Diego, Planning Controversies
SAUER: I'm Mark Sauer. Joining us today on our panel, Will Carless of Voice of San Diego.
CARLESS: Always a pleasure.
SAUER: And David Wagner, Science and Technology Reporter for KPBS News.
WAGNER: Hi, nice to be here.
SAUER: Andrew Keatts of voice of San Diego.
KEATTS: How's it going?
SAUER: And investigative reporter for KPBS, Amita Sharma.
SHARMA: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: Join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. The owner's of our region's dominant newspaper proudly proclaim their support for Republican candidates and conservative causes. They do that regularly in editorials, even some run on Page 1. That's certainly their right and privilege after shelling out millions to own a newspaper. But what about when it comes to the GOP favoring -- I'm sorry, to them favoring GOP candidates through discounted advertising? Amita, you and our partners at Investigative Newsource examined political ads that ran in the UT from last election day to early November. What did you find?
SHARMA: We found that in the 52nd congressional district race, the incumbent, Brian Bilbray, ran 27 full-page political ads in the UT San Diego from labor day until election day. In the case of the San Diego mayor's race, the anti-Filner political action committee known as San Diegans for reform and opposition to Bob Filner ran 16 full-page ads in the UT during the same period. And I believe Carl DeMaio also ran a couple of half-page ads.
SAUER: So significantly, a lot of ads for Republican candidates, and we're not finding many for Democrats.
SHARMA: That's right. So neither Democrat Scott Peters who challenged Bilbray and won in the 52nd congressional district ran ads. Nor did Bob Filner who defeated Carl DeMaio. And we were curious about this, so I went to the Peters campaign and I asked them why they didn't run any ads last fall. And they said that they thought that the price was too expensive and they didn't think it was a wise strategy. I asked them what price they were quoted and they said they were quoted $24,000 for three full-page ads, which is about $8,000 per ad.
SHARMA: I went to Filner's campaign political, his political campaign consultant, Tom Sheppard, and I asked him the same question. He said he thought it was too expensive, and I asked what price, and he said we were quoted a price of $8,000 per full-page ad. And here's where it gets curious. If you check the public disclosure forms, the financial disclosure statements --
SAUER: That all candidates are required --
SHARMA: Must submit, it shows that Brian Bilbray paid $24,000 for 27 full-page ads in the UT. And the anti-Filner group paid $25,000 for 16 full-page ads
SAUER: So that's not $8,000 for a full-page ad?
SHARMA: No, for Bilbray, it's less than $1,000, and for the anti-Filner group, it is about $1,500.
SAUER: Okay. So if you're editorial endorsing a Republican candidate over his challenger, what's wrong with offering discounts on advertising to go along with that support?
SHARMA: Well, according to California law, there's nothing wrong with that. A newspaper can offer a discount to anyone it chooses to. It only has to report the discount as an in kind contribution to the candidate. In the case of the San Diego mayoral race, because California law would apply here there is no in kind contribution recorded from either the UT San Diego or its own, Doug Manchester. Now, when it comes to federal law, it's a whole different story. According to the former federal election commission chairman, Trevor Potter.
POTTER: It's not permissible under the federal election laws to offer a discount, period, to federal candidates. The federal rule is that candidates must pay the market rate, the arms-length rate for services they purchase. You have to treat candidates the same way you would treat other customers.
SAUER: Okay. So I think that makes it pretty straightforward. Democrat, Republican, you can't discount ads in the congressional election. The election that we're talking about, Bilbray and Peters, now the incumbent, we had discounts there. What was the response from Doug Manchester and John Lynch?
SHARMA: Well, are Doug Manchester did not respond. But the UT chief executive officer John Lynch did send me an e-mail yesterday and he said that all political ads were paid as part of a bundle option used to attract political advertising and consistent with how the paper sells generally. The bundle he says was available to all campaigns interested in advertising. I should add that John Lynch wouldn't tell us what that bundle rate was, and he also wouldn't agree to an interview.
SAUER: Okay. So to recap here, we've got discounts that apparently aren't allowed under federal law in that congressional race. Mr. Lynch says they're offered to both campaigns or any candidate. And yet you got the democratic candidates telling you the rate was $8,000, the full rate, it was not bundled, it was not a discount. Will?
CARLESS: Who gets into trouble, Amita, if they find that they've actually given discounts? Is it the newspaper or the political campaign or both?
SHARMA: It's the newspaper.
CARLESS: Oh, interesting.
SHARMA: The onus is on them to report it as a contribution.
CARLESS: And do you know if they can get fined or whatever?
SHARMA: There are usually fines and penalties. I asked the FPCC about that, but they were reluctant. These are former chairmen of each commission. But generally it's a fine.
SAUER: Okay. And it seems from your reporting, and again we would obviously like to have more response from the newspaper folks, but it seems from your reporting that either they weren't aware of this rule about it or they simply ignored it. What are we to draw from that?
SHARMA: Well, it's hard to tell. I did mention this to Trevor Potter, and I said Doug Manchester is new to the media world. And he said in his 25 years of experience he's never heard of a case in which a newspaper has sold ad space as a discounted rate to a political candidate because pretty much everyone is familiar with that rule. And he said in the case of the UT San Diego, okay, well, you might have new ownership, but you still -- I mean, it's hard to believe that anyone in the newspaper's advertising department is new. Surely somebody there must have known about this. And had they been doing it consistently over the years, they would have been found out and had a big problem.
CARLESS: Is it possible that somebody paid for these on behalf of them? Like a pac or something?
SHARMA: Well, I think transparency is the order of the day.
SHARMA: And that would be hard to delineate. But I think the law on both the state and federal side require transparency.
SAUER: You interviewed Tom Sheppard, he's worked with candidates from both countries -- party, excuse me.
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: But in this race he was helping Bob Filner's mayoral campaign that obviously was successful, and Filner is the mayor. Now, what did he have to say about this in terms of what he was quoted and has see seen this kind of thing before?
SHARMA: Well, he said, when I quoted the difference in prices to him, he said it basically confirmed what he had suspected all along.
SHEPPARD: I've seen newspapers and radio and television stations, editorializing favor and against my candidates before, and I just kind of accept that as being part of the game in political campaigns. I've never seen advertising given away to one candidate in preference over another.
SAUER: Well, I guess that sums that up! Does this hark back to the days of William Randolph Hearst where you've got the aggressive support of certain candidates and causes that has just gone over the top in this instance?
SHARMA: Well, we did a 3-part series on the UT San Diego in the fall. And a newspaper, a media outlet is entirely entitled to editorialize in favor of one candidate over another.
SHARMA: One issue over another. But that's completely separate. Because if you think about it, my gosh! Newspapers exist to generate ad revenue. That's their bred and butter. They need it, they want it. I don't know now unprecedented this is.
KEATTS: It's funny you say that. The first thing I thought was this is just another thing we're seeing in a long line of Doug Manchester really, really looking at this newspaper as just a fun thing for a rich guy to own.
KEATTS: And do with what he wants.
SAUER: And he's said that much almost.
KEATTS: Yeah, I never got the impression that he bought this to make money. He seems to me to have purchased it the same reason that mark Cuban purchased the Dallas Mavericks. If you've got a lot of money and you're out of stuff to buy, there are some things that could be really fun to own.
SAUER: It gives him the podium and the bully pulpit.
CARLESS: It's funny that you mentioned the days of Hearst. The big difference and the big irony is here's a guy who's just bought a newspaper. Newspapers are all losing money, the newspaper industry is falling apart, and here's a guy turning down money for advertising apparently! Saying no, we're going to give to you at a discount! It's an extraordinary story. And one of the things I found interesting about it, I was confused when I read it with the $8,000 versus the bundling. Here you say they were offered 3-ads for $24,000? And these guys clearly paid sort of a similar figure but got far, far more ads. It makes it compelling.
SAUER: That's the deep discount.
KEATTS: I covered the mayor's race. And I went to a panel of some of the consultants and some of the campaign strategists who were active in the cycle in the Bilbray race and in the mayor's race. And one of them actually said paying for newspaper advertisements for a political ad that runs for one day, I'm not sure if he said he'd rather crumple up the money and throw it away or light it on fire. But it was one of those two things. And this is a person who I presume is going to be one of the ones who benefited from these ads.
SHARMA: Right. Not that this is free advertising, but you are getting it at a discounted race. So you don't want it turn it away.
SAUER: We should note here, this is the first election cycle that these new owners Mr. Manchester and Mr. Lynch have owned this newspaper. They were going through this for the first time. And we've done stories and comments on this show about the extraordinary front page editorials endorsing certain GOP candidates and of course this one is a follow-up to that.
CARLESS: But they have attorneys, they have advertising execs
CARLESS: That is not an excuse!
SHARMA: That is exactly I think what astonishes me about this. Doug Manchester is a very sophisticated man. He's very worldly. He's dabbled in a variety of businesses. He knows the score, so to speak. And if he doesn't know the score entirely, he certainly has surrendered him with savvy attorneys!
CARLESS: Exactly, right
KEATTS: And the other side of that, if your willing to turn down adrevenue because you just don't care and what you want is to win the election, you're also willing to pay whatever fines are associated with that behavior.
KEATTS: If you don't care about money, suddenly you can do all kinds of things!
SAUER: And we'll be following up to see if there are investigations coming.
SAUER: It was shocking news in February when the San Diego unified school district's board, five members, swiftlily and unanimously decided that riding star Cindy Martin would become their new superintendent. She's never had a job at headquarters. She was the highly visible principle seen as a kind of miracle worker at central elementary in City Heights. And then she was tapped to lead California's second largest school district. Will, your look at Martin's record at Central elementary took a bit of the shine off that characterization.
CARLESS: Yes and no. It was an interesting story because it kind of did both. What I wanted to do was sort of say, right, she's got this fantastic record. Let's have a look at what that fantastic record was. And I wanted something tangible and measurable. So I went and looked at these -- AP I, the academic performance index which is the baseline score that districts use to measure how schools are doing and the state uses to measure how schools are doing. A lot of problems with API scores, a lot of criticism of it.
SAUER: We're going to get to that in a second. And it's an interesting idea to evaluate her work as a principal. So you decided to evaluate her performance because that was in her portfolio.
CARLESS: Everyone was singing her praises, and I said let's go and have a look at what the numbers say.
SAUER: Tell us a little bit about Cindy Martin. How long she was at central elementary and characterize that school for us.
CARLESS: She's been principal at least since 2008. Central elementary I believe is the largest elementary school in City Heights. Someone's going to fact-check me on that. It's a big school. City Heights, a very -- a neighborhood with a lot of socioeconomic issues, very, very diverse population, are kids from all over the world in that neighborhood.
SAUER: A lot of socioeconomic challenges for that school.
CARLESS: Absolute. And it's a school that is by all accounts doing very, very well. It's the school that the district consistently sends reporters to. When the New York Times comes to town, they say go see Cindy Martin at central elementary because she's been doing so well.
SAUER: All right. And so what were you expecting to find?
CARLESS: I was expecting to find test results, although they're one indicator, I was expecting that they would be completely off the charts. Not only had we heard all about this great performance at the school, we had heard from some of the School Board members that she had turned around a struggling school. So I was expecting to see bad results turning into very good results.
SAUER: And the numbers for central as foreshadowed there, they showed some improvement. They weren't really stellar. Then you compared them to other similar elementary schools with the similar challenges of socioeconomic and demographics and they showed dramatic improvement. So lay that out for us.
CARLESS: The first challenge was trying to find similar schools. And there's lots of different ways that you can do that. Thankfully, the state does that for us. They run this algorithm, and I put those together and found ten schools that are deemed similar demographically and everything else. And I found that Central was right down the middle. It had done well, not so well, and had this gradual increase. About you some other schools had done absolutely fantastically! You had schools with high double-digit figures three years in a row in terms of improvement which is exceptional. Far, far outperformed central.
SAUER: And the New York Times isn't talking about those schools.
CARLESS: That's right. Nobody is talking about them. And I think they really deserve credit. These are schools with similar demographic challenges, similar socioeconomic challenge, and they really send these phenomenal results. One of those schools would be Garfield elementary which is in Northpark, and the other one was Cesar Chavez elementary in south crest.
SHARMA: So are there any grumblings along principals at Cesar Chavez and Garfield's? Wait a minute, what about you?
CARLESS: Well, I have to be careful what I say. Because I did talk to some people on background and everything else, but I talked to the head of the principals' union, Quan Romo, one of the principals who can actually talk to me frankly, even though Cindy Martin is his new boss. And he said, look, there are principals out there saying what's the big deal? My schools have far better test results. I will say I didn't hear that firsthand from the half dozen principals in the district they called, people that I talk to regularly. They all said, look, API scores aren't that important, and Cindy is great this way, this way, and this way.
KEATTS: I'm very receptive to that argument that maybe test scores aren't the best way to evaluate a school or teacher, and there are other things out there that superintendent Martin does very well. But there's no question that the narrative of central elementary and the narrative of Cindy Martin was at least in part in the New York Times and elsewhere based on test scores.
KEATTS: You didn't invent that idea.
KEATTS: That story didn't begin with you deciding to check this. This was written up in all these glowing pieces about her and what she did with test scores.
SAUER: And that's kind of our society, we're always competing score. In a capitalistic, competitive economy, we're keeping score on everything.
CARLESS: Whenever you mention test scores to the School Board, they say, oh, we don't care about test scores. But whenever they have a big press conference and want to sing their own praises, it's look at our fantastic growth in test scores!
SAUER: And the pressure on test scores as we've seen just this week elsewhere in the country has resulted in arrests and indictments.
SHARMA: And who is responsible for putting out that endorsement? Is it the PR machine, the school board?
CARLESS: I think it's largely the School Board. Although we did hand out a press release on the night Cindy Martin was announced. Everyone gets this piece of they were that said that Central had this 52-point record increase in test scores. That was written by Cindy Martin the night before. And somewhat in a rush. But that's not true. It's not a record increase in test scores. So even Central itself has seen far greater increases than the 52 points that was noted in the press release. And other schools have done much, much better. So I think it's a combination of the School Board, the PR machine.
SAUER: And the swiftsness of this choice. We had a Roundtable not long ago when this choice was made, and time will tell, she's just in and training and taking over the reins now. And she's got a target on her back, of course. But this was done so rapidly!
CARLESS: I also don't want to get away from the fact that what my story did show me, I went to the School Board and said if it's not test scores, what is it? And they did have some very solid arguments. They have spent a lot of time at that school, they've talked to a lot of parent, a lot of principals, a lot of students. And I almost rather that their praise and decision is actually based on tangible experiences and talking to people at that school than based on numbers on a piece of paper.
SHARMA: And actually after reading your piece, that's exactly what I walked away with. Even when Martin is quoted as saying love, hope, and compassion and confidence in students goes such a long way, and parental participation does too, I have to say you've got to have these ingredients in order to get to that stage where you do boost your test scores.
SAUER: Well, let me ask you that. You've got a child in school.
SAUER: Do you pay attention to test scores are you far more concerned about how personable the principal and the teachers are?
SHARMA: My daughter is lucky, she attends a school that does have very high test scores traditionally. But if you go to that school, and last night was open house at her school, and I swear to you, 95% participation. All of those parents show up. And it's a shock when graduation time comes and maybe there's one or two parents that you've never seen before in the entire seven years.
SAUER: And I'm sure a lot of parents would hear the opposite in certain schools.
SHARMA: Absolutely. I remember as an education reporter where administrators, principals were struggling with getting parents on campus, even for a parent/teacher conference! That's pretty sad.
CARLESS: There's another point here which is that there are test scores and there are test scores. I hate the fact that test scores get lumped together as this one metric. API is a poor metric. It's an ineffective way of testing how students have done. You're basically saying how is this year's 4th grade class doing compared to last year's? This year's could be completely different! It could be half the size, kids with completely different issues.
SAUER: Could have changed the district in the meantime.
CARLESS: And will. There are, however, very, very good ways of measuring each opportunity. The district has the ability to track this. And they do say that they're working toward a system where parents and everybody else who is invested in the school system will be able to go and look and see how the system is performing. And I look forward to that as a parent with a kid going into kindergarten next year. I'd like to actually look and see how the school is doing.
SAUER: And there's been a lot of criticism of no child left behind, left over from the Bush administration, and I think Cindy Martin is in the news now for going after that program and complaining about it.
SAUER: And that, of course, the emphasis is on test scores. Of and the Obama administration's main push on education federally also has a huge test score element, does it not?
CARLESS: It does. But they are talking about this much more complex, rich way of measuring test scores other than this sort of very simplistic caveman wielding a club version which is the API score. There are very good ways of doing this. And Cindy is all about that. She will say, look, I think you guys as taxpayers, as investors in the school system should be able to track this stuff. We'll see.
SHARMA: I think that'll be so interesting to watch. How does she take that to the district level and have it trickle down?
CARLESS: And can she get it past the teachers' union? That's why she's there, to increase the educational programs and everything else. But she's also there to, in part, to bring this to the public so that the public can see how it's working.
SAUER: The ambassador role. Picking up on your point there, you mentioned the unions, and that's going to be a big issue. And she was involved as a principal to come out and be a visible force and go to Sacramento. And a lot of roles dealing with that kind of diplomacy.
CARLESS: That's right she's walking this very fine line because the SDEA, the San Diego education association, it represents the teachers, very, very powerful, the union, does support her. But at the same time, she has all these new-school, pro-business ideas.
SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable. I'm Mark Sauer. Business is taking off for manufacturers of the unmanned aircraft known as drones. Some people would love to see San Diegan become for the drone industry what Houston is for oil. The hub. But these aircraft are also highly controversial. David, explain for us what a drone is. I think most people associate them with military air strikes. But these craft have many more applications, right?
WAGNER: Yeah, sure. Drone is the colloquial term for just unmanned vehicle systems. We think about them as planes mostly. But they can be underwater, they can be on land. It's just any vehicle that doesn't have somebody on board. It could be controlled by a computer program or remotely by someone piloting it.
SAUER: And some can be really small like the size of a fly, literally a fly on the wall if you're talking about surveillance?
WAGNER: Yeah, it depends on what you want to do with them. Military air strikes, obviously they have to be a lot bigger.
SAUER: So San Diego is already home to some drone operations. What goes on here? What are some of the companies and what do they do?
WAGNER: Well, yeah, do of the biggest drone manufacturers in the world are working here. There's general atomic, which is based here in San Diego. And then Northrop Grumman has the reaper drones.
SAUER: Tell us about those.
WAGNER: When you read about drone strikes, targeted killings in Pakistan and Yemen, they're carried out by those of the
SAUER: So those are the ones making the big news. Tell us about the San Diego regional economic development corporation. Who are they and what do they want to do regarding the drone industry?
WAGNER: Well, they're just local industry advocates, especially when it comes to defense. They work to get favorable growth opportunities for local businesses. And it's not just them, they're working with the San Diego military advisory council, chambers of commerce. A lot of people are on board with this idea that drones are already a big industry in San Diego, and they could be a lot bigger.
KEATS: It was funny, when I first started seeing these press releases about turning San Diego into the drone capital of the world, I was thinking why they really focus-grouped that idea?
[ LAUGHTER ]
KEATTS: I think there's probably a large group of people who knows a fair amount about drones and doesn't like them. And then I think there's a huge group of people who knows very, very little about drones, and I remember when Rand Paul did his Mr. Smith goes to Washington a couple weeks ago, there was from a few days before and a few days after, there was, like, a 20-point switch in public opinion factorability of drones. And I don't know that that speaks to how effective what he said was as much as it speaks to the fact that people just don't know much about these things.
SAUER: What did he say?
KEATTS: Well, he spent 13 hours or something like that questioning the Obama administration's policy of using drone attacks on citizens outside of our borders. But I think when the EDC and the chamber and SDMac Need to think about, are you branding San Diego when you call it the drone capital of the world, as the next motor city? Or are you taking the next hated industry and putting your name across it in platinum letters?
SAUER: Are we now the assault capital of the world?
WAGNER: Yeah, so they're not actually calling San Diego drone city USA, drone capital of the world. They'll say thing like UAVs, which stands for unmanned vehicles. And they're talking about creating a center for excellence in San Diego.
SAUER: The euphemism capital of the world!
WAGNER: Yeah, but people know these machines by the term drone, so that's why I used it.
CARLESS: Now, David, is there any indication whether the kind of growth that we're talking about, because I keep hearing these economic stories about the growth in the drone industry, is that largely in the nonmilitary kind of world or are we talking about just sort of upping the increase of military drones?
WAGNER: I think the civilian market is going to be growing a lot. I mean, I talk with scientists on my beat a lot, and somebody I talked with from Scripps was just drooling over the capabilities of what he could use a drone for.
CARLESS: Give us a couple of examples. I've heard a couple of interesting ones like wind surfing and you can have a drone, like, filming you while you're wind surfing.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CARLESS: Seriously! That's a serious application.
WAGNER: Yeah, and a lot of people talk about law enforcement, farmers, agriculture, are but there's a lot of hobbyists that just want to get their hands on these things because they think they're neat, and I that just want to high them around and film themselves.
SAUER: We talked about closing air traffic control towers. It sounds like we should be expanding them! What's going to happen when we've got all of these aircraft large and small buzzing around?
WAGNER: Yeah, and that's one of the cornerstones of this growth plan that people are forwarding is creating an FAA test site in Southern California that would just be huge.
SAUER: What would that be, briefly?
WAGNER: It would just be a place -- well, to back up, Congress mandated that the FAA open commercial air space to drones by 2015, so right now, the FAA is looking across the country where they're going to put these things. And San Diego wants one here because it creates a lot of jobs, having them centered around places where people research and develop this technology would just be very lucrative. The one that they're proposing would just be huge. It would go from the Mexican border up to the China lake Edwards airforce base, and then to the ocean and over to the Arizona border. So I mean, that's just all of Southern California.
SAUER: Let's get in in a moment to who's against these and why, and they have some strong arguments. You interviewed the folks with the ACLU, we've got protests today, flying a drone over the CEO of one of our drone companies here. What are their concerns?
WAGNER: Their concerns are mostly privacy-based and civil liberties based. It's just that they worry when law enforcement gets their hands on these things that it'll just be so easy and so cheap to constantly surveil people. They have 4th and 5th amendment concerns. They're worried that law enforcement won't seek out warrants to snoop on people.
SAUER: Make it much easier to spy and much easier to get in, we're not just going to see the helicopter overhead when they're chasing somebody in the neighborhood. And some of these can be very, very small. And then there's the military contingent. If we're going to be drone capital, and we're flying he's unmanned missions. Of talk a little bit about the collateral damage in some of the strikes we've seen in the war in Afghanistan and what some people are saying in opposition.
WAGNER: The people I talked with definitely have these concerns about how this technology is being used overseas. We're seeing a lot of numbers come out of places like Pakistan and Yemen, the administration will say that these targeted killings that we're executing overseas mostly killed suspected combatants and terrorists. But really the confirmed -- the numbers of those killings of confirmed terrorists, confirmed suspected terrorists it's just a handful.
SAUER: And a lot of what they call collateral damage.
CARLESS: Can I make a prediction?
CARLESS: About the way this new jump forward in technology is going to be regulated. It's going to be done badly! Every time there's a jump forward -- how long has the Internet been around? Like 20 years? And the government really hasn't got its act together to regulate it in any way shape or form.
SHARMA: And the law is not developed in this field at all. I mean that there was an article recently that was published, and it basically said that the national guard when it uses drones in the United States, any information that it catches incidentally, accidentally, can be used.
SHARMA: That is really stirring up a hornet's nest. And I think -- I'm right with you on that prediction.
SAUER: And we may wind up with some legal cases, I would certainly expect as we go forward.
KEATTS: I think also the definition of enemy combatant as it pertains to drone strikes is somebody of the -- of an age, like a young male in the area of enemy combatants. We shouldn't laugh about it, really.
SHARMA: Imagine the Court cases against the domestic drone use. You send out a drone to find out what the legal strategy is of the other side. Of anything can be picked up with these things. We're headed into uncharted territory.
SAUER: David, in your story, it's not just the lefties and the ACLU and the folks that we're talking about so far. Even conservative Congressman Duncan Hunter junior, a former war veteran himself, has some concerns about it. What did he tell you?
WAGNER: Yeah, that was really interesting. I saw him speak to a crowd of Northrop Grumman employees, and he started off by praising all the work that they do. He served in Afghanistan as a marine. And he said that their technology just really helped keep him out of harm's way. But afterwards when I got to talk to him, he said when it comes to drone use inside our own borders, he said that we really need to halt everything that's going on, have a legal discussion about what's permissible, what violates privacy, and civil liberties rights.
SAUER: So the left is meeting the right here!
WAGNER: Yeah, the concerns about this technology really cut across party lines.
CARLESS: Yeah, when you have the ACLU and Duncan Hunter agreeing on something, that's probably something you want to take a look at!
KEATTS: Well, yeah, Rand Paul obviously is a libertarian conservative figure, and he spent 13 hours on the Senate floor arguing against drones.
CARLESS: You know who should be terrified about the growth of this technology is celebrities?
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: It's a paparazzi's dream!
KEATTS: I did previously see a story about investigative journalists using drones.
CARLESS: I've already got one following --
KEATTS: Following Bob Filner.
CARLESS: Amita's wearing a bright pink shirt which makes it especially easy.
[ LAUGHTER ]
SHARMA: I need camouflage now!
SAUER: You're going to need a big power pack on the one following Bob Filner because he's everywhere!
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: What response did you get to wrap this up, David, on your story?
WAGNER: There was a lot of discussion online. I'm starting to see people questioning whether San Diego is going to be the drone capital or somewhere else. I mean, regions across the country are really jockeying for these FAA test sites to build.
SAUER: So there's a lot of competition on it.
WAGNER: Yeah, and I think San Diego is very competitive with all the engineering going on here. But only time will tell who really prevails.
SAUER: And we haven't heard the end of this. All right.
SAUER: Community planning groups are supposed to keep us from paving over our own little piece of paradise, but do they? We have some tension, some excitement at the community planning groups this week. First of all, Andrew, your story, you moderated that group, and you delved into how the sausage was made. Interesting stuff, even though the topic may seem dry to a lot of people or may not even register on a lot of radars. What are these groups and how effective are they in helping us plan for the future of San Diego's 52 distinct communities?
KEATTS: Sure. Basically the system that we have in San Diego is the city passes its own general plan, which is the broadest possible citywide outline for how we want to develop, where we want to put people, where we want housing, where we want to have jobs. And then they leave the specific decisions on a neighborhood level up to the 52 planning groups.
SAUER: And that's where the fun begins.
KEATTS: It makes a lot of sense in a basic way because the needs and the interests of an area like Hillcrest are very different than those of Carmel Valley and San Ysidro. So this gives the power for local groups to perceive their own community character, to decide what their own priorities and objectives are, and put the decision-making authority to a certain extent in their hands. Now, the issue is they actually really don't have anidition-making authority.
SAUER: They're advisors!
KEATTS: Yeah, the City Council has the decision-making authority. When it's updating a plan or where you have a landowner or developer that decides they're going to do something that's not allowed in the plan, you're only going to get a recommendation out of your community planning group, and the ultimate decision comes down to what the City Council wants to do.
SAUER: If I'm walking in North Park or Mission Hills here, and I start chatting with people in a cafe, boy, do you know much about your community plan or did you see what the community planners were doing last week at the meeting? I'm going to get a lot of blank stares.
KEATTS: Sure. I think it's basically the opposite of something like the school district, which people pay very close attention to. The community planning groups are something -- from what I can tell, not many people even know they exist.
CARLESS: And God bless those people, seriously.
SAUER: Somebody's got to be out there paying attention for the rest of us.
CARLESS: Especially in a community like San Diego, let's not mince words, this city has just been run over by developers over the last 20, 30 years, and there are communities that are just an absolute mesas a result. There's two levels to this. You've got to get people engaged and involved in it, and then there's the actual strength of that community plan going forward. It's like the political will has to be there to get the community plan done but also to protect it, right? To protect it later on when it comes under fire.
KEATTS: Yeah, I think the thing is when you have a new community plan, you don't see developers asking for exemptions from it. It's just not a reasonable thing. The City Council won't approve those if you say, well, you know, we just got together as a community and decided what we wanted to do with this space two years ago and now you're telling us you want to change it? Certainly that becomes a different conversation if you're looking at a community plan that's 35 years old.
SAUER: Which many of them still are.
KEATTS: And then the developer can say I know this isn't allowed, but 35 years ago, the community isn't what it was today, and we have different needs, and we are trying to bring you a solution to those needs. It just becomes difficult to disarm that argument if you're looking at a 3-decade old plan.
SAUER: Let's talk about one of the specific areas, the uptown area, that includes Hillcrest, Mission Hills, baker's hill. The city wants to limit density there. Tell us about that. I thought density was what the city was going for.
KEATTS: What everything comes down to in San Diego is density, and then maybe as a subsection of that, traffic.
SAUER: And explain that briefly.
KEATTS: It's the word they use to describe how many different housing units are condensed into 1acre. If you have a single-family home, that's an extremely low density form of housing. If you have a high rise with apartments, it's extremely high density.
SAUER: And the opposite being sprawl, which Southern California is the great example of.
KEATTS: And theoretically, community planning groups are a good way to handle this. You can say, look, in certain areas, this is a sprawling development, and we want to have low density housing. And in areas like uptown, maybe we should have higher density. And that's supposed to be what the community planning setup allows for.
SAUER: So what's the hot debate about regarding density in the uptown areas?
KEATTS: All the growth projections regionally and citywide all say that we've got a huge growth of people who not even counting in-migration, just the people who already live here having kids and watching them grow up is going to produce huge spikes in population in the next few decades. So what the city has always said is what we need to do to handle that population growth is to build more housing in more dense ways, particularly in the city's urban core, and we want to do it near jobs and near public transportation. It's a very smart growth concept that people talk about all the time.
KEATTS: But in uptown, we have a situation where they're going through their own update, and they're putting plans forward, and they're still relatively in the early stages. But you got to a point where they put out their math that shows how they want things to develop going forward and what the density allowances will be. And basically the proposal that the city planners who worked with the community planning groups came out with was let's knock every zoning level, all the density, let's bring it all down one level. So the highest level will come down to the second highest level, and so on. You looked at it, and you just said, well, we've been talk about this as a region and as a city for years. And you're talking about doing the opposite.
CARLESS: Just to zoom back out for a second, is there much difference between community opposition to a project or a change in plan where it's sort of backed up by a community plan where they're actually trying to amend the community plan or just general community outrage or upset? How much extra force does it give a community to be able to point to the community plan and say not only are we against it, we actually have a plan that we all came to?
KEATTS: I think there are a lot of people who would say that people just use certain metrics at their disposal to oppose something that they just don't want. They say, I already live here, I've come to enjoy the way I live here, I've enjoyed the way I get to and from work, and I like the little bit of traffic or the relatively little bit of traffic I have, and I don't want it to change so I'll just grasp whatever is available to me to oppose it. I think there are people who think that's what's happening. And there are other people who say, look, I was part of this process, I thought things through when we agreed to this previous community plan. Now you're talking about changing it. And I feel betrayed when you tell me I need to accept this new density.
SAUER: And when you're talking about developers, you've got a lot of money at stake here, we want to squeeze in a couple more units, we want a variation of the plan, we want to go higher than the plan says, a little high are or closer to the sidewalk, and then the fun really begins. Carmel Valley, developers are trying to launch that One Paseo project up here, a big development area where they're entitled to a smaller area than what they want. What do they offer to sweeten the pot?
KEATTS: I've been on here before to talk about One Paseo, and it definitely sucks up a lot of oxygen in this world. There's a small parcel of land where Carmel Valley where the community plan says this is where you can build 500square feet of office space. And the people who own the property is called kill Roy realtor. They said that sounds good, my counter proposal is 2 million square feet of housing and office and retail and open spaces. Then they came back and said I understand that you didn't like it that we quadrupled what the community plan says, how about we just triple?
SAUER: This is what we're talking about, when you get into the trenches and fights.
KEATTS: But what they're saying is, first of all, this is a 30-year-old plan. And they say the community has developed in a different way, and it doesn't make any sense now to just reserve that to 500,000.
SHARMA: I have to say, not to get too specific on this because I live in Carmel Valley, but when they say that it's changed, it's become more dense, and traffic-wise, there is no conceivable way that that project could be handled at what they're proposing.
SAUER: We're going to have to wrap it right there.