Tax Bill, Jail Deaths, Sea Level Rise, City Heights Real Estate
November 24, 2017 11:39 a.m.
Erik Anderson, reporter, KPBS News
Kelly Davis, freelance journalist
Tarryn Mento, reporter, KPBS News
Alison St John, reporter, KPBS News
MS: Half of all Americans can see higher taxes under the GOP bill as President Trump promises a big beautiful tax overhaul by Christmas. Investigations dropped in 22 deaths of San Diegans in custody. North County residents struggle to address rising sea levels while maintaining the value of oceanfront homes. City Heights residents grapple with the sudden interest in their neighborhoods from wealthy old real estate buyers. The KPBS Roundtable starts now.
MS: Welcome to our discussion of the week. Joining me at the KPBS Roundtable are Eric Anderson, Kelly Davis, Alison St. John and Tarryn Mento . With no hearings on 400 plus pages of sweeping legislation Republicans pass the tax rewrite heavily favoring corporations and the rich. The estimated hit to the federal budget deficit is $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Now the effort faces a significant different bell in the Senate but versions that they hope to pass into law have dramatic impacts on Californians. Start with the high points of the house bill.
EA: I think one of the items were looking at closely in California is what they call salt which is the deduction for state and local taxes as you probably know when you visit your doctor, too much salt in your blood pressure will go up. And that's what's happening on Capitol Hill. Particularly in states like California. California has higher property values. We also have higher tax rates. And so that deduction is a little bit more important to the residence. And it's causing some issues politically for some of the congressmen here. We can talk about that in a minute but I want you to understand what the state and local tax deduction is when you sit down to do your taxes at the end of the year and you itemize your deductions, you look at all the state and local taxes you pay, property taxes, taxes on bonds, all the other local taxes you might pay. You can deduct that from your taxable income on the federal form and it could lower your tax bill significantly if you itemize your deductions which is what most homeowners in this area do. And what both of the House and Senate bills do is they were me that deduction they do increase the deductibles so possibly fewer people will be itemizing their deductions, the standard deduction will be doubled but it basically eliminates the deduction and the contention is that that hurts California residents more than it does residents of Mississippi with -- where the tax rates are low.
MS: Some of the Democrats are criticizing because it does male California, New York, New Jersey and places that voted for Democrats.
EA: And here's the line of thinking. He said San Diego voters have decided to approve school tax bonds, to improve the quality of schools and they get punished.
[Clip] A race to the bottom that this federal plan supports and endorses when a place like California and San Diego, when we come together and are willing to make sacrifices so we can have strong public schools, we get punished.
MS: That's basically the Democrats argument here in California. What are Republicans claiming is a major benefit?
EA: This is what they call a loophole in the tax law. They are saying that they want to close the loophole and it will save them a significant amount of money which they can count as cost savings. But there are some political issues that play particularly in California. Three Republicans in the house in California all voted against the house tax bill. They were given some leeway by the Republican Party because they have an -- a large enough margin and they voted against it because their reelection is uncertain and in their district there are a lot of high-value properties and a lot of Republican voters who would not be happy by the deduction. It's something that is playing out politically.
ASJ: I'm sure Eisner is relieved.
EA: He was the first California Republican to speak out to say he was not going to vote for it.
MS: He did issue a statement after the vote that says I did not come to Washington to raise taxes for my constituents and I don't plan to start today. He's in a tough fight you take Duncan Hunter, he doesn't have to worry about it and he voted in favor of it.
EA: There are other Californian -- California Republicans at risk. Some of the ones we have talked about Ed Royce, Steve night, these are all Republicans that where their constituents stand to lose significantly if this measure is approved and signed by the president.
TM: Have there been any polls done of voters in California to get a sense of how do they really feel?
EA: I have not seen any polls and I'm not sure exactly where the public lies
MS: I did see a poll and it was 2-1 against the folks who knew about the bill and had an opinion against passing it.
EA: I've looked a lot of the coverage around the country on this and what you will notice is it's not just a concern in those high tax states like California, New York and New Jersey. It's a concern in Ohio which is politically a swing state in its -- it's an important state for Tim -- Republicans.
ASJ: At this time when a lawmaker cannot keep their seat without a lot of financial support, this marks a shift towards them having to serve the interests of their funders possibly over the entrance -- the interest of their constituents
EA: Every constituent has a cop -- a pocketbook as they try to figure out whether or not there representative -- if you're taking care of their pocketbook as well.
MS: We did have that comment, he said I've had big donors do not call me again if this doesn't pass.
MS: The big one is the Republicans in the Senate removed the affordable care act mandates that everyone buy insurance. What do analysts say that will have, it helps on the revenue side.
EA: With the Affordable Care Act mandate is the penalty that people will pay if they decide not to sign up for insurance during the course of the year. And it really conflates two issues and I think even though the White House is going to back away from making this a requirement, it deflates the healthcare debate which Republicans have not been successful in moving forward with the tax debate which is something that they are hoping to get past originally by Thanksgiving, I don't think that will happen so now by the end of the year. The mandates is designed -- what the Republicans are saying if they remove the penalty, it will save them money because fewer people will sign up and fewer people will be in subsidies. It will save $300 billion over the course of 10 years what they haven't talked about publicly is the fact that if that's the case, if the healthy people leave the pool it will raise rates for everyone else and that will increase the need for subsidies for those staying in the system and it might make some healthcare unaffordable. That's a touchy issue.
MS: We have about run out of time on the segment but there's a lot of moving parts and everyone should watch it very closely because the Senate will pass it or not pass it and we will see the fate of the bill and the ramifications.
MS:The news was jarring nearly 2 dozen investigations of white people died in the county jail or during arrest and that the decision of the citizens law enforcement review board. Start by explaining the oversight role of this.
KD: This is a county police review board made up of -- I think 11 citizens and they have staff of executive officer and two investigators. It's their job to independently investigate all claims of misconduct, abuse of sheriffs deputies and probation officers and within that they are also required to review -- I'm sorry, investigate any death in custody, any death that could result from misconduct or a policy lapse involving the sheriff's department or probation.
MS: You said about that the 22 investigations have been dropped and what's the reason?
KD: They are signing the -- the public safety officers Bill of Rights which says that any investigation of potential misconduct that could result in discipline must be completed within a year. That law -- at the California law and it's applied to the department that would be imposing the discipline. So the sheriff department, if they're going to investigate one of their officers and has to be conducted within a year. The board does not impose discipline. A number of experts I talked to said leave the discipline part off and complete the investigation because some of these investigations, very complicated, a number of deputies might have been involved in it will take longer than a year to get all the information and to really do a thorough review.
TM: Did any of the members of the board expressed disappointment in not being able to complete these within that timeframe?
KD: I went to the meeting where they voted in closed session to officially dismiss all the cases and there were a number of citizens who showed up to say please, do these investigations. Like poker faces on all the members of the clerk, they did not say a word they sat there and listened to the public testimony and had received a letter from the ACLU, emails, they did not say a word. They did not acknowledge that there is this outcry over all these cases being dismissed.
TM: How long have some of these members been on the board?
KD: It's a range of two years or five years.
ASJ: I cannot help but notice a when some of the examples of the debts in a story that rather than actually being responsible for killing somebody the deputies were being accused of preventing someone from taking their own life because often mental health issues are at stake. Do you think that perhaps the reason these cases are proliferating is because the sheriffs department is dealing with problems that should be dealt with on a mental health level?
KD: There were a number of instances where -- and there's actually lawsuits resulting from a number of suicide of folks who have committed suicide in county jail and the allegations are the deputies did not do enough to prevent the loved ones from committing suicide. And across-the-board mental health issues have come up. Folks who were seriously mental ill and they were placed in solitary confinement and not given psychiatric help and left on their own not given safety garments or safety blankets so they were able to fashion a news and hang it from a light fixture.
MS: I did want to get to a specific case. Start with the Moriarty case.
KD: He slipped into mental illness and had a psychotic break down. He was arrested for threatening somebody, I cannot remember the exact details and his wife called the jail multiple times saying please, watch my husband and keep an eye on him, he's threatened suicide. They did nothing about it. He was able -- he had a shirt he could tie up and he strangled himself.
MS: That's one that will not be perceived by the citizens board the 70-year-old --
KD: That was a very tragic case. A mentally ill man who is gay, elderly and very frail. He was supposed to be in protective custody because he was so vulnerable. They put him in a dorm style jail unit where he was being -- he was beaten to death by several gang members.
MS: Has this happened before where they dropped cases?
KD: This is unprecedented and unheard-of. Everyone I spoke to, lots of experts who have long histories in law enforcement oversight were shocked. A lot of comments that I did not include in my story because they were to express such saw -- shock and outrage.
MS: We will see what the ramifications are as we go forward.
MS: A critical climate change controversy playing out among seaside houses in Delmar and it has to do with the impact of rising sea level from one to three feet. Start with the report that was considering the impact of the sea rise.
ASJ: Delmar is a little bit ahead of the game, the coastal commission gave funds to cities including Delmar to come up with an assessment of the risk and also how to adapt. Delmar came up with the risk assessment and said probably a foot by 2050 and maybe three by the end of the century and I've seen other estimates that could be twice that. They worked on an adaptation plan. They say they sent out notices to the community and it was only when they got to the point of reaching a recommendation to give to the city Council that a lot of the homeowners at the north end who have homes on the beach woke up and said your recommendations are that one of the things we need to do is consider relocating public things like the pump station and fire station the possibly relocating private property, wait a minute. They realized it might start to affect their property values.
ASJ: We can't have that in a report.
ASJ: They said we love the beach, let's focus on preserving the beach.
TM : I understand the concern about their home value that was there any discussion about safety? Related to the sea rise. Or is it just the only focus on the values of the home?
ASJ: I think economics isn't more what's been coming up. They've even had an economic analysis to show you can take steps earlier and it will cost you less in the long run but that didn't seem to make much difference. The people who own homes along the edge -- you can still see a lot of new construction on the very edge several homes going up in a lot of remodeling. People who have that much money just want to live where they want to live in it's worth it to them to spend $20 million on home that may not be feasible or safe in the next 30 years.
EA: To help us understand what this looks like, are these homes on a beach or about the beach?
ASJ: We've heard a lot about homes on the bluff that these are homes at the north end of Delmar right on the beach and they have small seawalls probably forfeit high to protect them. In the stormy season, quite often, increasingly often the ocean will go up against the wall and possibly right over the top of it. And in the future the storms combined with the sea level rise it will be common for the water to go over the seawalls.
MS: The public, the city leaders and planners have to worry about what's happening with these public structures and does that remain in the report that they will move back various buildings, is that a clue?
ASJ: I think the thing is that this is something a lot of other cities are thinking about and looking, a lot of scientific research into the impacts of what they can do and they are saying we have to take the steps that we as a public agency need to do to be responsible and part of the purpose is to serve a notice that it's not is that we did not warn you. If you don't want to participate in these steps, do not come back to us in a couple of decades and say why didn't you tell us because this is us giving you notice that we are thinking about this. The battle in dental bar -- in Delmar that has expanded in cities up and down California.
ASJ: Yes, Solana Beach and Encinitas has a lot more houses on the bluff. I think the coastal commission is quite interested in Delmar support because it is a small community so it's under a microscope. Imperial Beach has already done a lot of work but nobody else has done a comprehensive adaptation plan that Delmar was trying to come up with. Other cities may be looking at that and perhaps it's too early to be engaging the private sector because it's managed retreat.
MS: It's an interesting controversy and we look to see what the other cities -- we look forward to seeing what the other cities do.
MS: Home prices in San Diego remain on the rise and one city is city Heights it's been overlooked for some time but now home prices are going up quickly. What's happening there in city Heights?
TM: City Heights home values are going to increase at a rate of 3.9% and that the second highest in the county. The interesting thing about city Heights is the median home value is pretty low compared to the rest of the county, around $408,000.
MS: That's still high for a lot of people.
TM: There are only a few other ZIP Codes, city Heights is the fifth cheapest.
MS: This area is your beat, tell us about the makeup of homeownership and renters and it's a very diverse community.
TM: City Heights based on the census estimates has a huge population of renters, 71% of people are renting compared to 30% actually owning and it's where a lot of refugees and immigrants first go to when they move here. A large Hispanic population, East African, Syrian, Vietnamese. It's incredibly diverse.
MS: I was going to ask you about the people who live there with the rising -- the rising prices. What impacts are some people saying?
™: That's what everyone is talking about is when you refer to rising home values in a community that's been low income, I think the median household income is around $38,000 which is low when you're talking about a $408,000 home value. There's a lot of concern about if there's a lot of renters, are the landlords going to start seeing opportunities for this being more desirable and move people out because you can do that, you can ask them to lead if you intend to make resume -- renovations.
ASJ: The fact is that if the house changes hands, the new purchaser will have to raise the rent.
TM: A sale or renovating it and rented -- renting at a higher rate
ASJ: You didn't a lot of reports on the refugee community which is found haven in city Heights it could affect their ability to afford it.
TM : During some past reporting, it already has. City Heights used to be looked at as the go to and it's now shifted a little bit with the populations coming in and it's shifted to El Cajon and in a story we did earlier, we are seeing that now they have to go beyond El Cajon to find more affordable homes. The trend is continuing east. One of the things we're looking at is where are these communities going.
MS: You did talk to homeowner Paul Smith, he gave you a tour of some of the changes and we will hear a little bit of that.
[Clip] When I first started driving around and I first started the page, there was a house here in their and now it's insane. This house had a second-story put on. This house with the presale fine.
MS:That houses been redone and that houses been worked on
MS: This house recently got purchased --
MS: Is that good or bad?
TM : It depends. What community do you fit into renter or homeowner? City Heights has had a bad reputation. A lot of people say that's not the case anymore. It's been dealing with the reputation as a down and out place that you have homeowners that have lived there for decades. The one person we profiled, he slowly accumulated pieces of the property and was able to get a second home rented out and it came time when he thought he would sell it, now he has an opportunity to retire very well and sell the home but also it makes people a little concerned if 70% of the population is renting, if it's not affordable what will that do with what we can afford wages aren't increasing but rental prices are.
MS: We've run out of time, we will look for more reporting and following up on that story. That wraps up another week of stories. I would like to thank my guess -- guests. A reminder, all the stories we discussed are available on our website KPBS.org. Thank you for joining us today on the roundtable.