Roundtable: ICE Audits Edco; Court On Religious Classroom Banners; Blackout Fallout
Friday, September 16, 2011
Aired 9/16/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.
An immigration audit of employees at Escondido Disposal,Inc., found that a quarter of the Edco workforce did not have proper documentation; a major ruling in a legal battle over religious classroom banners in a Rancho Penasquitos high school; and fallout including lawsuits and damage claims, from the recent blackout.
An immigration audit of employees at Escondido Disposal Incorporated found a quarter of the workforce without proper documents. Edco fired the workers. Some believe the action created new jobs for American citizens. Others say it put some hard-working family men out of a job.
There's been a major ruling in a legal battle over religious classroom banners in a Rancho Penasquitos high school. The battle between a math teacher and the Poway school district has been going on since 2007.
The power outage that lasted about 12 hours affected more than 5-million people from Arizona to northern Mexico. SDGandE is accepting claims for losses but not saying who will reimburse those claims. And a class action lawsuit has just been filed by business owners.
Guests: David Garrick, reporter, North County Times
Greg Moran, reporter on federal courts and legal affairs for the San Diego Union Tribune
Roger Showley covers growth and development for the San Diego Union Tribune
CAVANAUGH: How much did the blackout cost San Diego? Did a ruling against God banners in the classroom go too far? This is KPBS Midday Edition round. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Friday, September 16th. Our Roundtable discussion today will tackle the issues of blackout costs, separation of church and state in the classroom, and immigration audits in Escondido. But first, San Diego super market workers are closer to an actual strike today. Last night, the union issued a 72-hour strike notice. KPBS business reporter Eric Anderson joins us. Hi, Eric.
ANDERSON: Hi, Maureen
CAVANAUGH: What does a strike notice mean?
ANDERSON: It means essentially that the union has decided to cancel the contract extension that they agreed to back in March when their old contract expired. And what they're doing essentially is giving the three super market chains, Vons, Ralph's and Albertson's 72 hours to say after that expires, we could set up picket lines and go on strike.
CAVANAUGH: Negotiations have been going on for months now. Why is the union threatening to walk now
ANDERSON: Yes, the talks have been going on. In fact, they're going on today in Los Angeles. They have been negotiating for the past 18 straight days. So there's still some hope that there will be a settlement. What's come to bear here is that there's been a dispute over whether or not the grocery store chains are adequately funding the benefits package that pays for healthcare. It's pretty clear that the folks on the union side of the fence say that the stores aren't doing enough. The stores feel they're doing enough, and they're having trouble coming to an agreement there. And I think that's what's really holding up the deal
CAVANAUGH: Does this strike notice mean union members will be walking out on Sunday?
ANDERSON: They could reach an agreement between now and then and still be negotiating when that deadline passes. And basically, all it means is that once that 7:00 o'clock on Sunday night time comes, then the union can at any time from that point forward start picket lines. Set up picket lines
CAVANAUGH: Once again, the super markets we're talking about, Vons, Albertson's and Ralph's.
ANDERSON: That is correct.
CAVANAUGH: Thanks Eric. KPBS business reporter, Eric Anderson, and listen for the news through the day ear on KPBS.
I'd like to introduce our Midday Edition Roundtable panel. David Garrick is a reporter for North County Times. Hello.
GARRICK: Hi, thanks.
CAVANAUGH: Greg Moran reports on legal affairs for the San Diego Union Tribune. Hello.
CAVANAUGH: And Roger Showley covers growth and development for the UT.
SHOWLEY: Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Or tweet your comment at KPBS Midday Edition.
In our first story on the Roundtable, an immigration odd audit at Escondido disposal incorporated found a quarter of the work force did not have proper documentation. They fired the workers, and according to whose credit, it created -- tell us what happened at Escondido disposal incorporated.
GARRICK: Well, they were part of a series of audits under ICE, the immigrations customs enforce. . It's a shift by the Obama administration. Instead of attacking employee, they like to attack, for lack of a better word, employers. Part of the debate is why are these people getting jobs in the country if they're illegal? A lot of industries need illegal workers or are lie on them frequently. So the Obama administration has decided to target them. And one of the companies targeted is Escondido disposal. 50 out of about 200 employs, it turned out, did not have documents. The company wasn't found at fault. The documents were counterfeit, and there's no way they could have told as far as anyone can say
CAVANAUGH: Now, were the fired workers deported?
GARRICK: They were not. That's not part of the policy. It goes back to the idea where you're going to attack the employer, not the employee. Obama's administration take to simplify is that the problem that companies here are willing to hire illegal people, and that's the root of the problem. We're not going to punish the workers, we're going to punish the employers who hire people who don't want have proper documents
CAVANAUGH: And the workers are not deported because it targets employers not employees, but the employees are out of word. So what's the message?
GARRICK: If you have people that you might think are illegal, you want to make sure that they have proper documents so you don't go through this where you have to have a rapid loss of people and fill the jobs quickly or you're giving people importance, and that's wasted because they're gone now. So I think it's a stair tactic. And that's why ICE is very secretive about who they're going to audit. If they said, people who weren't on the list can relax, and people who are on the list can prepare or do something delivery. As a reporter, we hate it when government agencies don't give us information, but in this case, I think you can see the side of the government agency, they don't tell you specifically who they're going to audit to create an honor system threat of anyone could get audited at any time
CAVANAUGH: I want to open this up and start with you, Greg. The community of Escondido has a history with actions against undocumented workers to try to find out who they are, maybe even stop them from renting apartments in Escondido.
MORAN: It's a long history, for sure.
CAVANAUGH: What was the reaction to this audit and the firing of these edco-workers in the community?
MORAN: From city leaders, especially, there's a trio, the majority of on the City Council, they hailed it and said it was a great move. Other members of the community felt like, certainly council Olga Diaz, who's a Latina on the council, felt these are people who have established their lives, created some level of civility in their live, and that I are displaces suddenly. And she felt like Edco and other companies should have tried to help them work their way through the process of becoming legal citizens. So it's a varied reaction. But for the most part, the city is it strongly anti-illegal immigration. Maybe most of any city in the county.
CAVANAUGH: Edco says the positions of the fired workers were quickly filled. What does that to to the argument that American citizens won't take jobs that undocumented workers will?
MORAN: Well, in this situation, it seems to belie that, certainly. But I assume all these workers were probably the fellows out picking up the trash.
GARRICK: No, they were actually in the recycling sing facility. And they made about 8 to $13 an hour. But in this economy, it's maybe not a fair task. I wrote a story about an In and Out Burger opening up at 56 slot, they got 370 applications. It's a different kind of economy. That might skew that.
CAVANAUGH: That's an interesting comment from Olga Diaz about who these workers should have been helped to get documentation considering they were here so long. Do we know if any of these fired workers were actually applying for legal status?
GARRICK: We didn't speak to any of them. But I talked to the ACLU, and they were trying to help them with their case. But some of the people, from what I was told were here maybe 15, 20 years. So it does seem like I don't think it would typically take that long. I'm not an expert. But it seems like they weren't working rapidly on it. I'm not sure.
CAVANAUGH: There have been a lot of questions about the E- verify system and whether or not that's accurate. And Escondido is working closely, the city of Escondido employs E-verify doesn't it.
GARRICK: It does. It was the first city in the county to do that. But it's important to note that E-verify, because they don't want to bog the system down, you're only allowed to check now employee the. So this -- the mayor of Escondido argued that this is a great accomplishment, these audits they verify you check new employs, and the audit will check the rest of your existing work force. I'm curious if there's any reaction or thought somehow that approaching it this way, a program that targets employers, determines which of their employees are here or not, and I assume the employer then fires or gets rid of the workers, and those workers are not deported or they remain in the country. Is there some call or back-lash? I know the auditing program is largely supported by a lot of advocates of tighter immigration controls. But I'm wondering if people are saying, look, we're missing a step here.
GARRICK: I think the idea is if there are no jobs, those people will just leave on their own. If no one without documents can get hired, the idea is you won't have to deport them. They'll go on their way.
SHOWLEY: I think this brings up a bigger question which is our immigration system is just so dysfunctional. We had a story today about the UC system, and the governor deciding whether he should sign a law allowing illegal students to get --
CAVANAUGH: That's the dream act you're talking about
SHOWLEY: The state tuition rate the out of state rate. And yet when you get your diploma, you can't get a job. So they're not -- I don't think the system is working at all correctly. And I think on the employers' side, it seems unfair for them to be stuck with Ia document that a worker gave them years ago, about I have this Social Security number, and you keep paying for it, and it unders out it was a phony document or fraud. So why -- the employee should have some responsibility. I don't know why it should be the employer that has to deal with it solely.
GARRICK: I went want to speak for the Obama administration, but I think the idea is that there's this weird correction, a lot of industries rely a lot on these kind of workers, but it's kind of a wink wink, well, we're against it, but we know we'll go out of business if we don't have it. So it's a weird situation. And I think the Obama administration sees that the way to stop that is to audit the people who are doing that, so they are accountable.
SHOWLEY: School children are potentially illegally here. Do you go out and do an audit of the schools and see whether the schools have to look at this?
CAVANAUGH: 1-888-895-5727. David, you told us that the ICE officials will not say who is going to be audited next; is that right?
GARRICK: That's right. They said certain industries, and they'll do it -- there's a tip. But they don't want anyone to know. Then everyone sort of has toor
CAVANAUGH: And I believe in your article, there was -- a clear chill running through the North County agricultural community over this.
GARRICK: I talked to the farm bureau, and the guy said we haven't had any audits, but we expect we might be actored. And I were that concerned about it. Of I talked to other business leaders, the Chamber of Commerce in Escondido, and a North County economic development group, and they said they have received no concern whatsoever about audits. It's possible it's not something you would mention to somebody else. But it doesn't appear that a lot of businesses are wary of the situation and concerned about it, at least from the phone calls that I made.
SHOWLEY: Part of the point of this policy is to sort of deter the businesses from the sort of willful ignorance that we have had in the past. There's your document, you're fine, go work. That they want to really put the Onus as much on the employer. You can have a phony document, but there are ways to check or verify that document. And they want employers to do that more frequently. And that's why this one, last year, in the federal court, I know there's a case going forward with a real famous restaurant, catering company in La Jolla, the French gourmet, similar thing, and a bunch of workers working toward them will not get legally documented by the U.S.
CAVANAUGH: That's what E-Verify is supposed to be, right?
GARRICK: Correct. That's exactly what it's for. It's a simple system, you plug it into a computer, an Inine form that we all fill out. It's a computer system you can use it, and it supposedly checks the accuracy. Some people say it's inaccurate. If you change your name once, you're going to be screwed. There are so many people who have different takes on that. But that is the goal of it. It's interesting to know, no one knows whether they'll be audited. The ACLU raised an interesting point, though, there's no proof for this, but they said because Escondido has established a formal partnership with ICE, unlike other cities, that maybe Escondido was targeted, and employers in Escondido will be actored more aggressively. ICE won't answer questions about such things. But it's interesting to say it's eye responsibility. On the other hand, Escondido because it's 49% Latino, and only 40% white, you figure it white get targeted anyway. I don't know if the ICE is using demographics in their targeting or not.
CAVANAUGH: Which opens up the question, Escondido's population as you say, now is 45% Latino.
CAVANAUGH: Why is this city so aggressive in pursuing anti-illegal immigration policies?
GARRICK: Well, that's a good question. I mean, it certainly gets down to values and approaches. The city was all white for a long time. In the former mayor who left office says she thinks a lot of people would like to return to the 1950s where it was the same city they remember, and they don't like all the changes. Others say it's simply about the law. Illegally aliens can't get a driver's license, so they don't take a test, so they're endangering people on the roads. Escondido has a very, very poor job base. They have the lowest median income in North County. And you could argue that some jobs are being taken away from people, and that's one of the reasons. There are arguments on both sides. The politician be who supported that represental van in 2006, they all were reelected. So I think the electorate seems to like it, so the politicians certainly are not going to back away from it. Now that they know it's soming that was in the poles was encoursed
CAVANAUGH: As Roger was saying, though, there are so many people here who don't have documents. It almost seems like you'd have to audit everything
Could be true
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you, gentlemen, and move onto another topic.
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are David Garrick, a reporter with the North County Times. Greg morab, who reports on federal reports and heel affairs, for the Union Tribune. And Roger Showley covers growth and development for the UT. Our listeners are invited to join the conversation. 1-888-895-5727. Our you can comment on twitter at KPBS midday. There's been a major ruling in a legal battle over classroom banners at a Rancho Peñasquitos high school. The battle between a math teacher and the Poway school district has been going on since 2007. And at least one side vows to fight on. Great Moran, tell us the story of Bradley Johnson and his banners.
MORAN: Well, Brad Johnson is a high school calculus teacher at westview high school, which is part of the Poway unified school district. And he's been a teacher for 30 years. And for most of that time, since at least 1982, he has had in some form or another, a set or series of banners in his math classroom that have phrases from the historical documents or other kind of artifacts that reference God or religion in some very explicit way. For instance, the banners that are at issue in this case had phrase in God we trust, one nation under God, God bless America, God shed his grace on thee, and a quote from the declaration of inside. These have been up in his classroom for years am it was when he moved to westview high school in 2003, an unnamed other teacher complained to the principal and asked her to take at a look. That set in motion a sequence of events that culminated in 2007 with the School Board ordering him to take down the banners because they were advocating in the board's mind a religious viewpoint, a sectarian viewpoint, and the public schools are not a forum for that. He complied. He wasn't disciplined, didn't get fired or anything, he took them down, but he did sue. He said telling him to take them down infringed on his speech rights
CAVANAUGH: And these banners are quite large. And all the words are not equal on these banners.
MORAN: Right, right, they're seven feet long and two feet high. You can't miss them. In 1, 1 banner has the phrase, all men are created equal and endowed by their creator, which comes from the declaration of independence. The word creator is in large capital letters. He sue, and in 2010, a federal judge here in San Diego ruled in his favor and said the school district had enfringed on his rights. This was in the judge's view, judge Roger bennit ez, that the district had created a forum for speech, and he was entitled to say this. The school district appealed. And earlier this week, the ninth district reversed and said very, very forcefully, I thought, and categorically, no, this is a violation of the school policies. And you do not have a right to put these banners in your classroom. You have to take them down
CAVANAUGH: Why does Mr. Johnson want to display these banners?
MORAN: That's interesting. The record seems to Shay that -- and what he has said is that for him they reflect the historic traditions of the United States , they're patriotic, they are not explicitly or what he has said only for religious purposes. The appeals court really didn't buy that and said there's no other way that you can see or read these banners and not get a religious message from them, part of that is because these are in the classroom not of a history or social studies teacher but of a math teacher. And there's little correlation between calculus and the declaration of independence, perhaps. But that's been his position, is that they were not a religious intent behind them, but he was just simply poling the historic traditions of the country.
SHOWLEY: I was -- you can argue this any way you want, on the one hand, you can say a math teacher has no business talking about nonmath things, on the other hand there's the values in our society that all teachers should be promoting that in one way or the other, and these are -- can you say the pledge of allegiance in his classroom and not take the word under God out of it?
GARRICK: Has the teacher been asked if he's worried that mud lim or Jewish students or atheist students might be offended? Does he have any concern that there's a student in his class who's a Muslim and feels unwelcome?
MORAN: Well, yes, I think the answer to that is yes. It is principal when she first went there in 2006 and saw them and talked to him about it, she raised the same question. Do you think this could make some students uncomfortable or feel unwelcome in your classroom? And again getting the full record, he kind of seemed to say no, he didn't think they would do that. And that these were common sentiments that all students should feel good about, and he was adamant about not taking them down. At some time, the school district tried to work with him and said here's a poster of the quarter of the United States which has in God we trust on it. Put it up there, it's in the context not of a strictly religious or faith based theme, but it's on our quarter, it's part of our currency, that might dilute the message a little bit. He didn't want to do that. He wanted his banners up the they that they were, and felt very strongly that he had the free speech right to do that. I should briefly, the reason why the Court here said he didn't is because public employees do not have unlimited or unfetterred free speech right when is they're on the clock, on the government clock. There's a body of law that says no, the government has eye right and an interest in regulating the speech of public employees while they're on the public clock. He can go out off campus on his own tame, walk around with these banners, that's fine. But in the classroom, it's not. Of in fact, Mr. Johnson is the head of a Christian club at the high school. He's allowed to do that, and it's untouched by these. But in the classroom, on the clock, there is a long series of court decisions starting with the U.S. Supreme Court that says public employees have more limited speech rights on public -- when they're doing their job in the public service that happen they would elsewhere
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, do we know if any students have complained about these banners?
MORAN: I'm not sure if they did. There's nothing in the record about that. So I don't know. You have to think though, over that period of time, maybe somebody may have raised it. Although it seems not to have been a problem for a number of years.
GARRICK: Does the fact that he said head of the Christian Club, and I meanwhile a lot of students know that, does that under mine his idea that these banners are just about the history of our country and and maybe they go beyond to be something beyond that since it's probably well known he's head of the Christian club?
MORAN: Yeah, I would think so. I would agree with that. I don't know if that was a part of the case or an argument at all. But I think he would say that even given his role in the Christian club, that she's particular banners taken -- this is his viewpoint, from what I can glean from the case, is that they really aren't there for that. That this is -- we are a Judeo Christian nation and things like that.
CAVANAUGH: Greg, one of the arguments, I think is that Mr. Johnson and his lawyers maintained is that, well, over in this classroom, you have some Tibetan prayer flags displayed, and over in that classroom, there's a picture of Gandhi. So what's the difference between those things if they're still allowed and my banners that say under God?
MORAN: And in fact he did that. Will after he filed suit, he went around to the. Callus and other places and took photographs and made a list of other artifacts and things in teachers' classrooms that he thought also carried a sectarian message. The Tibet abprayer flags for instance were in the classroom of a science teacher. There was a poster -- another teacher had a post are of John Lennon and the lyrics of the song imagine. And the reason, he said, look, these are all kind of like what I'm doing. What's the point? In this case the Court said, wished those from what he was doing, and saying based on the testimony or a deposition from the teachers say with the Tibetan prayer flag, those are there because they study mount E estrest and the geology there, and the culture over in that part of the world, and these are part of the culture. They are not an overtly religious symbol, and they have some sort of nexus, I think with the curriculum.
SHOWLEY: What do you think about the standards of as you mentioned public institutions and businesses? Businesses sometimes regulate what you can put on your desk or certain things that might be offensive to somebody else. Nanny state, you know, times ten, it sounds finely some ways.
MORAN: I don't think you have any free speech rights on private property. Public property, it has been very clear from the Supreme Court, and a number of decisions, one involving a San Diego police officer who had, I think some items on E-bay that he was displaying on his computer are. They told him to take them down. He said he had a free speech right to do, and they said no, you don't really. If it's on the work computer and things like that. The idea is, when you're expressing yourself on the government clock with government property on the government time, it somehow carries the endorse. That the government is behind it. And they don't want that. He can't do that am
CAVANAUGH: I want to remind our livers, we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Kathy is on the line from San Diego. And good afternoon, Kathy. Welcome to the show.
NEW SPEAKER: I think there's a subtle bias in your conversation when you say do you think Muslims and Jews would be offended by these. Muslims and Jews believe in God too.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Kathy. And yes, and we didn't mean to imply, I don't think, anything different than that. But if they also believe in the separate of church and state, then everybody no matter what their religious background might also be taken aback by these banners. And I think that's one of the reasons that it's so interesting that the ACLU position on this is in support of Mr. Johnson at least in this most recent legal ruling. Tell us about that, Greg.
MORAN: I'm sorry, what?
CAVANAUGH: That the ACLU position is in support of this Mr. Johnson.
MORAN: They did. They came in this case in the appeal and wanted the court to uphold judge bennit ez's ruling but on different grounds. And it anies back to the question you asked, marren --. They too saw an issue with the Tibetan prayer flags the and other things other teachers had being allowed to remain up while requiring him to take his down. I think the ACLU a position is, if you're going to let anybody have anything like that up, everybody can have something up. The best thing to do is not let anybody have prayer flags or rugs or whatever.
CAVANAUGH: Is the ACLU funding him? Or is he funded by someone else
MORAN: No, his case and cause was taken up by the Tomas Moore law center, a public interest law firm based in Michigan that advocates specifically for Christian religious freedoms, liberties of Christians, in public life.
GARRICK: Is there anywhere else around the country where this type of thing has come up?
MORAN: There's always controversies about faith in the classroom, faith in the public space, and where the proper intersection of those two should be
CAVANAUGH: This have been several republic recently here in the North County about Christian groups challenging the decisions that district administrators have made in allowing certain speakers and so forth. I'm wondering, is there any evidence that Christian groups are becoming more litigious? Want to get their -- make sure that their rights are upheld in the public schools?
MORAN: Well, I don't think in the recent past. Maybe it's something of the last 20, 25 years or maybe 15 or 20 you've seen that. Am but I think always hitter -- certainly in the postWorld War II era, this has been a live wire in American law and courtrooms. Where is the proper -- the appropriate intersection between faith and the public space? In the school or in public buildings or things like that.
GARRICK: Some of this
SHOWLEY: Some of this seems to be a rise in intolerance and common sense on the part of both institutions and the teachers. If he'd been more sensitive about it, he would have said I'll down ground a little bit. But he's making a point. And the districts are forced to hammer down on everybody on all these things. If they just cool it, and be more reasonable, maybe everybody could have a corner of their classroom where they promote Mickey mouse or Perez betear reasons or anything.
GARRICK: Then it wouldn't be the kind of issue. People have strong feels about their faith, about how faith should be expressed or not expressed. If everybody was cool cool, you wouldn't have much of an issue.
GARRICK: Apparently it was okay for about 20 years until they got a complaint.
MORAN: There's nothing to document that people had problems. Hundreds of thousands of students over the years, you have to think 1 or 2 walked out of there and said both manners are really kind of weird
CAVANAUGH: There's one more issue that I'd like to talk about, and that is the idea that in their support of Mr. Johnson, the ACLU is saying that a ruling like this that forbids Mr. Johnson to put up these banners in the way it was worded, it produces a chewing effect on all teachers who want to express an opinion that isn't completely united to the school's curriculum, that is a little bit sort of challenging to students and so forth. Do you think in the words of this ruling there does exist?
MORAN: It's a great point. And it was David blare row the lately director for the UCLA that pointed that out. That was their concern, that you could end up with a decision so broad that it would somehow affect academic freedom or teacher's speech in high schools, and you don't want that. Of the example he gave would be something like any -- that any quichiation from the curriculum would be frowned upon and would not be allowed. So here you have a math teacher with these historical religious phrases in his classroom and that's now being prohibited. The ACLU's position was that could have -- it's a slippery slope or something like that that you could have teachers who want to say you're teaching about the Native Americans' tradition in the United States and the teacher wants to talk about how there was a genocide from the European settlers, which is perhaps not in the curriculum, exactly. Does that teacher get disciplined? Does that teacher no longer able to do that? I think their concern is that the seeds of that sort of conflict could be here in this decision as it was worded, because in a footnote, the Court very specifically said we don't think that there -- we're not gonna say that there are academic rights for high school and primary school teachers. There are -- it's important to recognize that college professors do. But they weren't going to do that for the high school teachers
CAVANAUGH: I want to sneak in a caller. Anwhich he will is calling from Rancho Peñasquitos. And you had Mr. Janesa I teacher?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I did. I had him when I was back in high school. And he did have those banners up when I was there. 'Cause I graduated in '08. And my own experience was he actually did have a lot of banners that were completely unrelated to religion or to the classroom. He just had a lot of banners to begin with. But the banners that he actually had that were pertinent to this case were actually, like, really, really big. And it was impossible to walk into his room and not notice them. And from my own experience, students kind of made a joke about the manners because they were so obvious. And it was pretty matant that you knew what his stance was on religion and that you were pretty certain that it was regarding his religion. And he never really talked about it that much.
MORAN: Can I ask, did you think it was odd to see those in a math class, and did you or any of your classmates ever feel uncomfortable seeing those?
NEW SPEAKER: Personal he, as someone who isn't of a Christian faith, it didn't really -- it didn't necessarily bother me. But it didn't make me feel comfortable either. It was kind of out of place in a classroom in a math classroom. It just didn't make sense. And having them -- being in his classroom for the first day, it was kind of odd to see something like that. Especially I'm sure more than one person talked about it. But no one really saw it as, like, a evangelical kind of thing trying to convert you. So no one made any --
GARRICK: Were you worried you would get a lower grade if it were revealed you weren't of a Christian faith?
NEW SPEAKER: I don't really think so.
GARRICK: Did you have a sense you might if you revealed that it might affect your grade in the class?
NEW SPEAKER: I don't know if I would have talked about the banners. You never really want to offend something that the teacher believes strongly in.
CAVANAUGH: There it is. Anwhich he will, thank you very much for the call. I want to let everyone know we're going to be talking about this particular ruling on Midday Edition on Monday. Thank you, gentlemen for a great discussion.
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition round. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are David areaic with the North County Times, Greg Moran who reports on legal affairs for the San Diego Union Tribune. And Roger Showley covers growth and government for the Union Tribune. You can give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. Or on twitter at KPBS midday.
Last week at this time, San Diego grocery stores were throwing out perishables they could no longer sell because of the big blackout. The power outage that lasted about 12 hours affected more than five million people from Arizona to northern Mexico. Today, SDG&E says it is accepting claims for losses, but the utility is not saying who might be reimbursing those claims, and the class action lawsuit has been filed by business owners in San Diego to say they lost money during the blackout. Roger Showley, how much did the blackout cost San Diego?
SHOWLEY: Well, in a rather theoretical analysis by the institute for policy research at national university system, the number came out about 100 and $18 million in losses, or I'm looking at it this way, $10 million an hour.
CAVANAUGH: Ah. So what are the economists basing those numbers on?
SHOWLEY: They used some other examples of blackouts. They said that food losses were about $18 million, government over-time, $20 million, and the biggest number was productivity loss, $70 million. Now, they may have to do better oddities about this to see whether it pans out. It doesn't include the profit Lass you're talking about. I imagine the losses in that sense are a lot higher. On the other hand, they're off-setting situations where people had to go out and replace the products that they threw away. So that boosts the economy. People went out and bought flashlights and batteries and so soduring the blackout. So that boosted the economy a tiny bit. And people who were -- had their kids out of school that Friday went off to the answer or sea world or something, and might have spent more money on fun and games that happen they would have on a Friday, and that might have boosted things a tiny bit. So it probably isn't so much the economic loss as the disruption to San Diego. And I think the bigger fall-out was the sewage spill that closed all the beaches for a week and was a big fat mess. And it showed maa when he is the water system is for back up power, and that raised a question in a big way for preparedness in San Diego, are we prepare forward anything, and this showed we aren't.
CAVANAUGH: I think losses like ice cream and frozen foods is things stores can't sell any longer is obvious. But when you get in to try toicalulate how much a business might have made if they had their doors open on Thursday arch or maybe they had to keep closed on Friday because they are a luncheon place, and the people weren't at work. How do you calculate losses like that?
SHOWLEY: They didn't estimate that. Maybe the productivity part reflects a bit of that kind of number. But it's hard to say what individual businesses lost in the end. I think some of the restaurants we talked to did say this is -- we're losing thousands of dollars over night. We didn't get business. Of one of the economists said people who were going to come to San Diego that weekend maybe didn't because of the blackout. There's all kinds of ramifications from a blackout.
GARRICK: Wasn't it the first name of the NFL season too? Wasn't every sports bar expecting one of the big of the nights their year and they got nothing?
SHOWLEY: And you couldn't listen to Obama's speech as I recall.
GARRICK: I won't touch that as far as the economic value. But the real loss here is going to be SDG&E's
SHOWLEY: Yeah, I wonder how that's going to play out. It's one thing to get a claim, and another to get money out of it
CAVANAUGH: SDG&E is accept the claims, but it's not saying that SDG&E is going to pay them what does that mean?
SHOWLEY: We'll have to see how far it goes
MORAN: I think it means they're probably going to be looking at Arizona APs that they think caused the blackout. And I think this is gonna be quite an interesting legal case about who's ultimately whose bank account the checks come out of. I think SDG&E is going to say, it wasn't really our fault.
SHOWLEY: Another thing is the observation was isn't it amazing how fragile San Diego's systems are? Connected to the east and the north, we don't have our local power generation any longer, and you can think of our other systems, like water supplies, we also are dependent on the outside world. And San Diego could be cut off just like that for an earthquake, floods, fire, any of these things. We are not a very stable place to live in the natural world.
MORAN: Don't we also have, like one gas Lynn line?
SHOWLEY: The natural gas line. San Diegans feel like this is America's finest city. Isn't it wonderful to live here? If they start to dig below the PR of the economy and look at how stable things are, you can see this is not a normal place for three million people to live. And northern Baja, it's amazing how they were caught up in this as well
CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. Well, I hope that's sort of a subsequent investigation into this blackout. But I have to tell you, I'm fascinated with these claims for losses from a power outam. I'm wondering how that works. Is anyone insured against that? Are businesses or homeowners insured against --
SHOWLEY: I think some of our reporters called them as the insurance companies and asked the insurance --
MORAN: If they're covered for losses and that sort of thing. An individual homeowner, probably not. It wouldn't be worth your trouble. But our reridge iator was out for eight hours and we didn't throw away anything.
GARRICK: What about a waiter or fancy restaurant expecting to make $400 on tips Friday night?
MORAN: Then when he came back to celebrate because the power is on, they probably would have spent more than they would have. Of
CAVANAUGH: That's an interesting question. I'm going to open this up for our listeners as well. 1-888-895-5727. Dividend, did you throw anything away?
GARRICK: I got lucky. I guess seven hours, my popsicles looked absolutely ridiculous. But they were edible. And my cheese made it. I got lucky.
MORAN: No, we gerked everything down. It was not a problem.
CAVANAUGH: What do you mean by that?
MORAN: Everything was kind of suspect that I -- you know, would eat it. But it was generally fine
SHOWLEY: It was surprising when you went into the stores during -- my wife went to the shop the other day, and she said all the milk products are out. There's no cheese here. And they said we'll be restocked by then of the vehicle. I was it was Vons or something. Let's hope they get restocked before the strike hits
CAVANAUGH: Very good point. Do you think there was too much thrown away? I mean -- are they absolutely under law, did they have to throw out all this stuff?
SHOWLEY: I did ask the grocery association about them, and they said there are a number of ways that stores deal with this. They said sometimes they're able to put dry ice on the cabinets and save the food that way. Sometimes there are trucks they can put their stuff in. But just by looking around in your stores, if you went shopping this week, you could see places that the food was gone. So I guess they did though out a lot.
CAVANAUGH: Tremendous amount. I mean, the shelves are empty
SHOWLEY: And you can't go and say I want some of your thrown away yogurt. They're supposed to dispose of it. And they told me that Vons has a place where they take everything and mulch it.
GARRICK: Do they have a plan? Especially a place that sells lobster or steak, to they have a plan with a dry ice room?
SHOWLEY: I called the San Diego ice company, and they said what happened, and they said within an hour, we had people rushing in to get dry ice. They lost 5,000 pounds of dry ice went out the door. And it was all gone. You may have a plan to go get it, but who carries dry ice -- you can get it in some markets there's little sections of it, but not enough to cover all their cabinets
CAVANAUGH: This is terrible, but I think that I lost groceries in the back of my car along with them, in the power outage
SHOWLEY: You should not do that. They talk about lunch bags you aren't supposed to have --
CAVANAUGH: I realize that. But it just seemed like there was so much of a loss in these grocery stores it seemed overwhelming to me.
MORAN: I think there were probably public health regulations that food has to be kept at a certain temperature.
SHOWLEY: Inspectors were going out over the weekend checking on restaurants that you can't use the soda water if it's going from the -- remember the water was turned off. You had it boil water in some place it is
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. You said in the beginning, there are also these economists who were trying to figure out how much this cost us. We're also seeing this sort of mini-stimulus coming out of it. From what again?
SHOWLEY: Well, if you throw out a pound of cheese, you have to buy a new pound to sell it to the customers. I think that's the off setting thing. As far as the people going out to sea world instead of sending their kids to school, they said you can't really count that because it's shifted money you would have spent on movies on Saturday on sea world on Friday or something. If you balance it all out, it probability isn't --
GARRICK: What about the people buying flashlights? And people baggie canned goods?
SHOWLEY: Then they said if you've spent $20 on atries, you're not gonna spend $20 on beer for the NFL game. I don't know if people would do that. Maybe less quality beer because you paid for batteries on Thursday. Jait's like the San Diego ice company gets a direct stimulus. People come in, and they sell more ice on Thursday than they anticipate would. . But those kinds of businesses are probably few and far between
CAVANAUGH: In some of our discussions about what may be actual, long-term boosts from this blackout, is it -- people might get more interested in having redundancies and infrastructure and spending money on that kind of thing? Knowing that a power outage like this, as short lived as it turned out to be, can impact us so greatly? Do you think we'll see any fall-out from that, Greg?
SHOWLEY: I think so. I think that certainly that was the discussion in my house, that it was a good dry run. We have a kit, we've got water, we've got all that. Upon but you got to find it, locate it, you gota get it all up and running. It worked, but there are things that we need to replace. We need to get probably a hand crank radio and thing like that. I think that sort of may be ongoing, you know, stimulus or whatever as people begin to pick up or repleas what they had, or add things. It's good. But it certainly, if it wasn't a up with call, it should be.
CAVANAUGH: And also, David, in the larger community as well. San Diego needs this, San Diego needs this that. And the reason we do is because sometimes the power goes out. Sometimes we have an earthquake. Sometimes things don't work correctly.
GARRICK: Well, particularly, he mentioned the sewer, clearly that's a huge call to action. In addition, Camp Pendleton, apparently their hospital on Camp Pendleton doesn't have back up generators and they had to move patients, critical patients from there down to tricity medical center. I'm sure there's been black outs before. So I don't know if this one will be the tipping point, but it seems from my limited perspective that that should be fixed and they could have a but generator at that hospital
SHOWLEY: I'd be interesting to see if an agent would do a sort of after action thing -- obviously the sewage is a big thing, but where else were the vulnerable spots and this was a national preparedness month in September, of all things.
CAVANAUGH: You're right
SHOWLEY: So you could think somewhat conspiratorially about this. But it was a real-world exercise for San Diego. And they really should be careful.
CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line. Mike is calling us from fallbrook. Hi, Mike, welcome to the show.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Good subject. And as far as preparedness, someone mentioned the sewage spill, those agencies that are controlling that sewage look to possibly be fined by the state and the federal government for the sewage spill. Will those fines be in excess of what it would have cost them to have back up emergency generation to keep those pump stations going? Ism usually what happens, they don't actually make a type. They say you have to spend money to keep it from happening in the future. So I would guess that if it comes to that, they're going to say to the City of San Diego and the, other agencies, you need to buy generators for these pump stations. The $3 million a piece, in a couple of case, so it isn't nothing.
GARRICK: The can and the ratepayers will have to pay. Sewage rates will go up
SHOWLEY: Remember that, spokes we have to pay for what we need.
CAVANAUGH: What do you think might end up paying the claims of these individuals filing claims with SDG&E now, and also this lawsuit, this class action lawsuit that's been filed? Anyone want to take that on?
SHOWLEY: I'm guessing that the ratepayers will pay for if because they have to raise the rates to cover the costs to pay everybody back.
GARRICK: Hopefully they'll be the ones in Arizona.
MORAN: I think that's what SDG&E is looking at. Insurers eventually. But I think they'll come back at us
SHOWLEY: And they'll raise their electric rates to get their electricity. Somebody has to pay, and it's always the the consumer.
CAVANAUGH: And I think we might all agree, it's going to take a long time.
MORAN: I would think so
SHOWLEY: Before the next one.
CAVANAUGH: I want thank my guests thank you very much. David Garrick, Greg Moran, Roger Showley, thanks for speaking with us.
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