Roundtable: Leaked Memo, Surplus 'Q,' SDUSD Staffing, Sweetwater Scandal Revisited, Zoo News
MS: The Qualcomm Stadium is many things . Is it surplus city property? Hundreds of staff may be laid off or not. The staff size is increased as enrollment has declined. The new Africa rocks exhibit showcase -- showcases the zoo. KPBS Roundtable starts now. MS: Welcome to our discussion. I am Mark Saur. Joining me is Roger who follow growth and development for the Tribune. It is good to have you. Ashley, the voice of San Diego. It is glut -- good to have you back. And also John. It has hosted server balls and baseball games. Some of these are entertaining. Now, the Qualcomm Stadium is tagged with the level of surplus city property. Roger, before we get to this designation, this broke out over this memo on the whole SoccerCity development involving the city attorney. Who was that intended for ? RS: It was a memo from the city attorney office to the city Council and the mayor about the legal issues. It was marked confidential and should not have been public. It made its way into my hands via the attorney for SoccerCity. We got this memo and I said I have a copy. He did not say anything about it being confidential. I was tipped off by the fact that he mentioned it in one of his memos that was public earlier this week. MS: I will visit you in jail. [ laughter ] You describe this as the betrayal. Here's what she told us. [Clip] Putting out a 16 page confidential memo that is flagging issues and possible litigation, that is something that should have been kept within the very closed group of individuals who should have the best interest of San Diego at heart and not the best interest of a proponent on the citizens initiative. MS: What damage does she think? RS: If you read the memo, it seems innocent. It is an explanation of the legal issues surrounding this. Issue for her is that it tips off to the soccer city people what issues they are concerned about. I do not think that is true. Anybody could see that there are issues. Many people have already mentioned them. MS: The city attorney had a public memo already. RS: Right. They said 12 attorneys -- spent this time doing this memo and it was made public. Some issues are there is certain litigations for the steel and other red flags. Before we get away from this, what about Nick Stone? What did they have to say about where they got the memo. RS: He did not say who gave it to them. He said it was not a city employee. It is not that 10 people got it and the staff has it. Other people in the city have it. Who knows how many had a copy. MS: We will see how deep they want to investigate. Let's move on to this whole idea about declaring Qualcomm Stadium surplus property. What does that mean? RS: It means that if a property -- they are supposed to put it up for bids from affordable housing agencies and the parks and developers and to transit development. There is a list of who they are supposed to let in on it before it is made available to the public. The city charter -- they allow up to 80. If they were to sell, they have to have a public vote by the city voters. If it is leased, which is that the proposal, it would not be voted on by the public. MS: Who is pushing the idea? RS: Well, David Alvarez and his colleagues sent a message or a memo to the Council the other day saying we can discuss this on the city Council agenda. The problem is they do not have the power to declare anything surplus. It is the mayor jobs -- the mayor's job. I do not know how the city Council expect to say this is surplus. Let's sell it to the highest bidder. MS: They do have the power to get this on the agenda on the memo? All of a sudden, they have to talk about it and it is public. We will through this out there and they are slapping the piñata. JW: I am curious how surplus designation would affect San Diego State. RS: That is an interesting question. This is not one of the preferred recipients of preferential treatment. It is the parks and the city agencies. According to the memo that the SoccerCity people says, you have to be a housing agency to get preference first. Actually, if you want to do something diabolical, why don't you put it on the ballot and vote it now -- down this year and they can free it up for competition in 2018? The city Council is trying to set up a competition between FS and anybody else. MS: You said the ball is in the mayor's court. What is Faulkner saying about this? RS: It is unclear. He says that after 2018 they are not going to have more events in QUALCOMM Stadium. The rest of the property tends to be car dealerships and other events in the parking lot. He says technically, it is not surplus yet. MS: Does this idea have a chance of bearing fruit? RS: Well, he can spend -- spent a bunch of ideas on what could happen. My favorite thought is a developer comes up with a plan and they have a petition. They get that on the ballot in November 2018 so we have other options on the ballot and we can pick and choose which one we want to vote on. The only problem is, it is expensive for a developer to do that. MS: What happens if they all win? [ laughter ] RS: I do not know. I guess, the one that gets the most votes would win. MS: It is remarkable. Really, you are asking a lot of voters for SoccerCity and other revenue with the tourist tax and these things we have talked about. Now, everybody has to be an expert and vote and pick among the choices. RS: In recent years since this idea came about, actually, nobody has ever one. The chances are, maybe. The voters will say when in doubt, vote no. MS: It would not be a two thirds vote on this particular case. RS: Right. MS: This time like, to the fall of 2018, it does not give San Diego go -- San Diego's state to come in or have the Mac on ideas? There are other ideas. RS: Actually, the major question is, whether they will let -- they will decide if they are going to award the franchise. They are available. You have 12 cities competing, on behalf of San Diego. If they select or check before November, the point is moot. If you read the initiative, it does not specify -- only soccer is the sports team that could use that. It could be anybody. It could be the North American soccer league. Are there major league lacorsse teams ? Who knows. All right. Before we get off this segment, when will the council take up the whole surplus city process? RS: It is supposed to be within 30 days, the last week of July. MS: All right. We will see what happens. We will move on. Student enrollment is declining in recent years. It stands to reason that staff members in the cash strapped district has declined. That has not been the case. Now we are where teachers and staff fates the possibility of layoffs. Start with those declining numbers. You had a hard time getting from the district. AM: I was lucky to stumble across the figures that I did. It splits out districtwide as well as district run schools and charter schools. They operate independently and separately. Every time a student lease for a district run school to a charter school, that many goes to those charter schools. MS: There is a lot at stake. AM: Yes. They can compete with the charter schools and they are luring away the students. Enrollment numbers, we mostly had -- we have seen overall, even just the last couple of years, overall, aid drop of 2000 students but within a district run schools which ties to direct budget, it is 4800 student decrease. Enrollment is declining. They continue decline. We did ask for staff members from the district in March. We have been waiting patiently. I said I want to come here. There has been discussion with the budget cuts. The cuts are painful. We are laying off 1500 employees. We are making great strides towards the district and enrollment is declining. We are in line with the budget and enrollment. We finally just got a couple of numbers which are not perfect but they do show staff from December 2013 and it has risen by 347 positions. MS: Why do they need more staff ? AM: They say this elementary school open. It has new hires. There has been an increase in translation services. They are saying beyond that, they have to do more analysis. MS: They are keeping some schools open that are underserved. AM: Yes. They have not moved to closing schools. MS: Let's talk about the enrollment notices that go out every year. It is a big number to start. What was it originally ? AM: This includes 950 teacher layoff notices. That was a big deal. What happened on Tuesday was the superintendent nonchalantly mentioned and formally during her report without a presentation, actually teacher layoff notices, we anticipate before the start of next school year and we will drop below 200. That is 80% decrease. That is really big. What struck me is they did this early retirement incentive in May. 538 teachers took that incentive. That came with a salary. For that to work, you get the veteran teachers to leave and the effort is to be able to hire back some of the layoff new teachers at a cheaper price but with the new claim, that means the retiree count is surpassed by more than 200 additional recalls. Where is the money coming from? You recently told the teachers that you had to leave the payroll. They did not say much beyond we are in the process of matching the vacancies with recall. It is possible that it could cost more than a new teacher maybe they are getting a three for two. They could break even. We are presuming that those additional re-hires are coming at no additional cost but they have not say how they are paying for this. JW: Is this due to the uncertainties about the money they get from the state? AM: Which fluctuations? JW: In their own budget numbers in terms of the numbers they have? AM: Between May and today, there has not been a huge swing. It is -- where is the money coming from? What is happening ? RS:I do not understand why you cannot get the numbers? What is the hold up with disclosing information. AM: That beats me. I have been waiting. Tell me how many staff you have each year for the last several years to do a basic analysis. They were due June 7 and I have been told maybe you will get them July 21. They said they are busy and finances busy trying to deal with the cuts and we keep waiting. MS: I did want to move onto another story which was the Sweetwater Union high school District. Remind us about the high points. AM: It has been six years since Jesus was fired after a closed door meeting with attorneys and the school board. Six months prior to his departure, there were issues going on in the district. I was going to cover a lot of that. As you know, he was fired but after that, the district attorney executed a search warrant on the homes of school board members and contractors and proceeded with a corruption case against them alleging pay to play bribery schemes. There was a total of 250 charges filed and much of them against Sweetwater defendants. It included felony conspiracy. In the end, 22 charges stuck. It is a smaller portion. MS: There are serious charges involving multiple people ? AM: Felony conspiracy, the superintendent and they pled guilty to felony conspiracy. MS: Your story this week was interesting on the back story. There were parents and activists. Tell us who are they and what were the hurdles ? AM: So, there was tons of coverage at the time. This is the story. They are vigilant and active parents and grandparents and teachers. They went to the school board and had concerns. They realized things were not adding up in the school board documents and they demanded better. They took information to the FBI and they took it to the district attorney. The district attorney credited the contact with kicking off the investigation. MS: It was good to hear from them. Kathleen is a grandparent of Sweetwater students and here is a bite from her about the sentencing. [Clip] Please understand. Everybody out there, you need to get involved. This country is going to hell in a handbasket unless you do more. Do your work. No what you are voting for. MS: We have another bite from Leon sure about what has happened. [Clip] There are a lot of changes that have been made throughout the community. It is not just in the school districts but also the different public officials throughout the county and the state. We are taking this serious, the conflict of interest. If they violate, they will prosecute. They will successfully prosecute. MS: That was stable? AM: It is different. The superintendent is ousted and now she is back at the helm. I am supposed to talk to her soon. It is quiet. They have been very active. They are watching them like a hawk. MS: I look forward to your follow-up. Travel anywhere in the world and mention this. They remark on what a great zoo we have. You might be surprised to encounter this the wildlife project is all of the world. This marks the faced opening of a new exhibit. There keeping animals in captivity. Start with this new exhibit. What are the highlights? JW: This is eight acres and $68 million. It will highlight six habitats. It is an opportunity to highlight a lot of animals and plants that we are not the mayor with. The big boys are the elephants and rhinos. These are smaller animals that people do not know. MS: I know penguins -- people do not think about penguins in Africa. JW: You think of them in frozen areas. These are penguins off the coast of South Africa. They are black and white. They look familiar but they have pink areas near the eyes. MS: It is pretty interesting. I want to get into details about their exhibit. Who funded this? JW: Is thousands of donations. There were three or four major donors. This was an $11 million diner and several others gave big money. There were scores of people with smaller donations. MS: What is the thinking? What does this replace? JW: From the 1930s, the old dog and cat Canyon. It almost looked like a cave exhibit and it was mostly concrete floor. There was a moat out front. Those exhibits were entirely designed for people instead of the animals. People could stare and animals would be bored. MS: That is a good point. Let's talk about the whole thinking and how this has evolved and the experiences for the animals. What is happening nowt? JW: This has evolved over decades. This is the latest thinking about that. Exhibits now, they are more about the animals. The animals have more choice on when they can come up and for people to see them. They have enrichment and engagement and activities for them to occupy themselves. The exhibits are more designed to imitate what you see in the wild. MS: The Penguin, I want to get into the details. That is a good example. Tell us. JW: I found it to be a stunning example. There are huge boulders that mimic the beach. They have a 200,000 gallon saltwater pool. It is shallow and then it drops off into an aquarium. There is a wave making machine. It is not surf waves but a gentle one to encourage the penguins to get into the water. It is a stunning example. MS: You have to deal with the Penguin poop. JW: They have a washing system built in so they can deal with that. MS: I guess they deal with that with all the animals. They have had to change. There are zoos in San Diego in SeaWorld and the blackfish documentary. Tell us. The dramatic example is SeaWorld. JW: Yes. There was pressure over what happened with shampoo. They objected because it was an entertaining show. He was doing jumping and flips. That is not behavior you see in the wild. The zoos has shied away that. They have a big emphasis on conservation. They probably have them from 80 countries where they can work on conservation from elephants to butterflies. It’s a big part of the push, to show conservation. RS: They celebrate the 100th anniversary last year. And they have been rebuilding the whole thing. Beyond Africa, the next one is the children's zoo ? JW: Yes. They will redo the children's zoo. The other thing you will notice is, there is a bridge that has been built. It is supposed to open later this summer that will connect the treehouse where the gorrillas are. You know how hard it can be to get from one end to the other. You get older and so that is going to improve the traffic flow. That will be interesting to watch that. MS: It is interesting. You talk about SeaWorld and they saw a decline in revenue and attendance. Zoos are popular. Give us those figures. JW: I think last year was 183 million combined across the country. It is more than the combined attendance for the major sports attendance. There is a shift in the public attitude about watching in the polling and you see a high interest in terms of how the animals are treated. There is concern about animals in captivity. MS: You get a lot of information and they deprive themselves and they say we are teaching people about shrinking rain forests and other environments that cause habitats and a have problems in the wild for so many animals. Your story pointed out that people leave the zoo and that connects. JW: They poll when people are leaving. The guests universally say, awareness is heightened with endangered animals and extension -- extinction. There is not much science to say they go home and they donate a lot to the world wildlife fund. MS: Does the San Diego zoo -- are we leading the way when it comes to these exhibits that favor the animals? Is that a model that is followed ? JW: Yes. They had a major national Association for zoos and aquariums. A lot of people went to the zoo and they are interested in that exhibit. MS: We will see what happens with the new exhibits going forward. We do have the Safari Park. The animals are roaming free. We are about out of time. That is fascinating stuff. That exhibit will open tomorrow? JW: Yes. The beach where the penguins are, they will open up the huge waterfall system. You can walk behind it. On hot days, it will be full of people. MS: That does wrap up another week of stories with the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to think my guests. And of course you can find our stories on www.kpbs.org.
LEAKED MEMO OVERTAKES QUALCOMM STORY
The San Diego City Attorney's office wrote a confidential memo to the mayor and City Council on June 15, outlining possible strategies for dealing with the Qualcomm Stadium site.
Only the memo wasn't so confidential. It was eventually given to Nick Stone of FS Investors — SoccerCity developers — who passed it on.
City Attorney Mara Elliott is, to say the least, not happy.
Meanwhile, a discussion arose in the City Council about whether Qualcomm (at age 50, a veritable Methuselah in stadium years) should be declared surplus city property. If so, it could be sold or leased right away.
The council's four Democrats would like the Q to be declared surplus when SDSU's contract expires at the end of 2018. The mayor, however, said the stadium will be surplus but not the land.
–What might happen should the Qualcomm property be available for lease or sale now? Who would determine what goes there?
–What do the Democrats on the council want to see happen with Qualcomm stadium?
SDUSD: FEWER STUDENTS, MORE STAFF
San Diego Unified School District has been losing students to charter schools and elsewhere at least since 2002.
But even as enrollment declines, the numbers and cost for staff have risen.
The district has said it will cut more than $124 million from its 2017-18 budget, which — just weeks ago — meant laying off somewhere around 1,000 employees. The numbers of projected layoffs have been shrinking, but the basic problem of increasing staff while enrollment declines remains.
Voice of San Diego attempted, beginning March 6, to get the actual numbers of filled positions from 2007 to the present, but the district has so far not provided them all.
–Does SDUSD acknowledge that staff has increased as enrollment has declined?
–Aren't the people laid off every year the most recently hired?
The firing six years ago of Jesus Gandara, the disgraced superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District, eventually metastasized into a big pay-for-play scandal.
The scandal resulted in felony charges and jail time for Gandara and others and exposed systemic corruption within the district.
Six community members who demanded more and better of their school district played a large role in exposing the corruption.
–What is the status of Sweetwater union High School District today?
–How can parents ensure their school boards and officials are on the up-and-up?
THE ZOO LOOKS AHEAD TO AFRICA
This weekend, the San Diego Zoo will open the first section of Africa Rocks, an installation that will eventually cover eight-acres with a $68 million natural-looking habitat.
Africa Rocks replaces the former Dog and Cat Canyon, a group of smallish caves and grottoes carved into the hillside in the 1930s.
Times are changing for animal attractions. SeaWorld recently replaced its Shamu show when it was swamped by criticism sparked by the film “Blackfish.”
The new zoo exhibit arrives amid debate over whether zoos are needed at all. But the San Diego Zoo is still popular, arguably the San Diego institution best known worldwide.
It influences the way the public feels about animals in captivity and the way other zoos present and house their collections.
–Could captive animals become a thing of the past? If so, would it hasten the demise of endangered species?
–Is there evidence that the public is getting the zoo's conservation message?