Will San Diego Take More Syrian Refugees After Paris Attacks?
Our top story on Midday Edition, France observed a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Isis has claimed responsibility for the shootings and bombings that claimed 129 lives and injured more than 300. Over the weekend, we learned that one of the terror suspects who was killed on Friday traveled from Syria as one of the thousands of refugees moving through Greece into Europe. That has moved at least one European country to say that it will take no more refugees and several US states now say they will not accept refugees from Syria. Since most of the Isis operatives involved in the attacks were part of Muslim communities in Europe, fears of a political backlash against those communities is increasing. Joining me is Hanif Mohebi. He is executive director of care. That is the coalition of American Islamic relations in San Diego. Thank you very much copper having me. David Murphy is executive director of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. David, welcome to the program. Thank you very much. Hanif, how concerned are you about a backlash against Muslim communities in Europe? First and foremost, let me say that the acts that have been are despicable. We condemn it in the most strongest terms possible. Our hearts go out to the victims and our prayers are with them. We need to make sure that those people who are responsible are brought to justice. As far as the backlash in the US, -- Actually, in Europe. How concerned are you of the backlash against Muslim communities in Europe? What we need to understand is that criminals do not have a religion. These individuals are terrorists. There -- they are a group of terrorists. They do not have any moral value. If they did, they would not be doing what they're doing. People need to realize that even though they would like to use religion to legitimize themselves, we need to be able to recognize that and say no. You guys are criminals. You cannot use Islam or any other religion or value to legitimize your act. The French authorities say they have conducted more than 150 house raids. They have detained more than 100 people as they look for leads in the conspiracy that led to the attacks. Does this sound a bit like what happened in this country after 9/11? I was going to bring that up. After 9/11, thousands of people were arrested and held and interrogated. Their rights and liberties were taken. I think what we need to do is make sure we balance security and safety with our core values. We do not want to lose our rights and liberties, whether right here in the US, or in Europe. If we do, the terrorists have won. The French president has repeatedly said that this is war. Is it clear to you who France is at war with? I think that needs to be clarified worldwide. When we say we are at war with terrorism, we need to say with who. How do we define terrorism? If a person terrorizes someone in Paris, is it different than a group of people that terrorize people in Beirut or people in Palestine? What is the difference? I see a lot of people in an act of kindness state that they put their profile picture as France's flag. I don't have any problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the definition of terrorism. What happens some other place, we don't take it as serious. What happens to us or the Western nations, then we are very concerned. Again, our hearts and minds are with the people who have been affected, but we need to understand what other people are defining what this terrorism is so that we can have a war against them. You cannot declare a war on a group that we have not defined it. Hanif Copp President Obama was asked in his news conference to speak about the difference between ideologies like Isis and traditional Islam. He did that. He said terrorists ideologies are not shared by the overwhelming majority of Muslims. He added a challenge to Muslims. This is what he said. On the one hand, non-Muslims cannot stereotype, but I also think that the Muslim community has to think about how we make sure that children are not being effected with this twisted notion that we can kill innocent people and that that is justified by religion. To some degree, that is something that has to come from within the Muslim community itself. I think there have been times where there has not been enough pushback against extremism. There has been pushback -- there are some who say they don't believe in violence, but they are not as willing to challenge some of the extremist thoughts or rationales for why Muslims feel oppressed. I think those ideas have to be challenged. What is your reaction to that statement? I want to thank President Obama for making the distinction. That is important that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. In regards to his second challenge to the Muslim community, I believe that the Muslim community have been doing more than enough. We just need to make sure that we are recognized and correct partnerships are built with the Muslim community in the US and around the world. What I would say is the following to the president. American Muslims have stood up against terrorism from day one. We have denounced it. We have condemned it. We have stood against Isis by challenging their interpretation and understanding. Our group, from day one, has condemned all sorts of terrorism. We are willing to work with the US government, its agencies, and anyone else that wants to make this world a better place. However, we see that the institutions and government pick and choose which leaders they want to work with. We happen to be libertarians. We defend the Constitution. In San Diego, we just celebrated 10 years of service to San Diego defending the Constitution. Why is it that the government does not work with the Muslim leaders and only picks and chooses those who confirm or like what they are doing already? It is not about it being a pro bring it -- appropriate, we must use leaders that are confirming what the government is already doing. We have to use those who critique it and want to do in a better way. The leaders who are actually invested in the community and that the communities trust, need to be worked with. We are ready to work with the US president and the institution as well as worldwide. Muslims are ready. We need to re-strategize our relationship and how it works. Just because I tell people, watch out, that does not mean that I don't believe in safety and security. I would invite and challenge the law enforcement, if it is FBI, CIA, or anyone else, to come and sit down and talk about how we move forward. Me ask a few questions to David Murphy. Again, he is executive director of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. David, welcome to the program. Thank you very much. Another fallout from the Paris attack is that some nations and states are saying that they don't want to accept any of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping war and terror in Syria. The US has said it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, several hundred are expected to be sent here to San Diego. Let me get your reaction to how countries and states are backing away from their commitments to the refugees. Do you see this as an understandable reaction in any way? First of all, this was a horrific act in Paris. It has extremely tragic consequences for all. We stand with the world on condemning it. The Syrian refugees that are flooding into Europe right now are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that is unfolding on the streets of Paris on Friday night. They have been confronted with this terrorism in Syria or the last 4 1/2 years. The IRC is calling for better reception processing for arriving refugees, including security screening in Europe. It is about safe and legal routes for refugees. For the United States, there is a presidential determination every year, and for fiscal year 16, the United States is planning on bringing in a total of 85,000 refugees around the world. These are from some of the most war-torn countries throughout the world. Of that 85,000, the earmark will be for a total of 10,000 Syrian refugees. These refugees that come are the most security vetted population that come to the United States. The security screenings are from a variety of the US government department of homeland security. They conduct one-on-one in person interviews. They gather detailed biographical, biometric data. They conduct multiple background checks. They run people through multiple federal databases. This is all different law enforcement, CIA, national security, Department of Defense. Again, refugees that come to the United States are the most security vetted population of any group that comes to the United States. David, do you see this, even with the screening before any refugees get to the United States, do you see this as an especially challenging resettlement considering that the refugees will be suspect in some people's eyes? It is always challenging when refugees, from a war-torn country. The process for the background checks take one to two years. Usually, people are not going to be coming immediately. Of the 10,000 that will be coming to the United States, here in San Diego, there will only be may be 300 individuals that possibly will come in 2016. To the larger issue of where these refugees can go, Poland does not want to accept them anymore. Several European countries are reevaluating their commitments. Several US states, including Texas and Michigan say they don't want them. What is going to happen to these people? We hope that Europe continues to keep their borders open. We hope they do not close their borders. Thousands and thousands of refugees are currently making their way across Syria, Turkey, and up into Greece. They are trying to get further into Europe. By closing the border, it is not going to solve the crisis. With terrorists, they will find their ways across the border. If you close the borders, it is just going to keep out innocent people that need the safety and protection that would be afforded to them. Hanif, I have been asking David about the special challenge that faces the resettlement of Syrian refugees here in light of the Paris attacks and in light of the challenge of ISIS terrorists wanting to infiltrate. I am wondering when there is an attack like the one in Paris, what is it like for the Muslim community here in San Diego? The Muslim community does get hate mail, hate calls, and backlash of all sorts because they are associated in some way, shape, or form. What I would like to say is that we want to make sure that we understand and disassociate criminals from any religion. We want to make sure that we don't blame our neighbors. We need to unite in order for us to solve a common threat to all of us. Further, I want to say that the Syrian community has given the greatest sacrifice because they are the ones who have been targeted by ISIS. They are the one that have been killed in numbers that are beyond what we can imagine. When they are fleeing, we should make sure that when they reach here or our neighborhood, we take care of them versus blaming them. If we don't, and we lock them up in that part of the world, we are only making it easier for ISIS to recruit the young people out of the frustration of the time and context that they live in. One final question to you, David. There is a significant Syrian American community here in San Diego. Do you expect that the people already here will help with the resettlement of whatever refugees from Syria that we do accept? Absolutely. There has been a huge outpouring of support, not just from the Syrian community, but from communities across San Diego that see the horrors on TV and read about in the newspaper. Where more than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria in the last 4 1/2 years, and they just want to help. They see the human face put on it. They are opening their hearts to help a fellow man. I have been speaking with David Mark B, executive director of the International Rescue Committee here in San Diego and Hanif Mohebi. He is executive director of care in San Diego. Thank you both very much work Thank you. Coming up, a public hearing will take place tomorrow on the city's proposed water rate hike. You are listening to KPBS Midday Edition . This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am trying to. San Diego's a city leaders are read for a big public hearing tomorrow the city Council is opening its doors to hear from citizens on proposed water rate hikes. The proposal includes a 17% rate hike next year with incremental rate increases over the next four years. The whole package represents eight The whole package represents 836% increase for the city of San Diego. Among those protesting the rate hike package are officials from the South Bay who are looking at a more than 200% increase in the rate's San Diego charges for purple pipe recycled water. Joining me is San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez. David welcome to the program. Lonnie Plutarch, the executive director of the water reliability coalition, welcome to the show. We invited the city water Department to join us, but a representative was not available. Lonnie, what is your understanding about why the city needs this big boost in water rates? Tuesdays of votes is going to be a vote for water infrastructure. The city of San Diego is reliant on a significant portion of water that is imported. This imported water is expensive. It is not the most environmentally friendly source of water supply. City of San Diego is proposing to have a package of the funding that will pay for the new desalination project that is coming online at Carlsbad. It is going to pay for peer water San Diego which will ultimately provide one third of the city's water supply. We have all of the important infrastructure that we needed to continue to maintain and invest in. If we don't invest in this infrastructure, we are going to go back to the days of water main pipes breaking at an excess of rate, which disrupts communities and businesses and result in wasted water and a lot of runoff. That is not good at all for San Diego. David Alvarez, do you agree that a water rate hike is needed? The premise that Lonnie puts forward is absolutely true. We have a need in the city for infrastructure. It goes beyond our water Department. It is everywhere in the entire city. You have to find a way to ensure that you maintain that infrastructure and you keep it running directly. And investments now is much too or than investment in the future. The problem with this water rate structure and the one that is being proposed is that it looks at not continuing to incentivize conservation. We have asked people over the last several months, and they've been among those who have been saying to cut back on the water use. We are in the drought situation, let's not use water as much. Make sure you are very careful with your water use. A lot of people have responded positively. We thank them for that. They have done the right thing. They have conserved. Now, the city is basically going to say to them thank you for conserving. Here is an increase to your water a. That is where I have said that we need to come forward with a different pricing structure so that those who are conserving water can continue to not see an increase in their water rates. Those who are being wasteful, because there are still people who use water in ways that are a luxury, they should be paying substantially more for that very expensive water that is coming in from the California water project and from out of state. Those people should be paying for it. Is a possible, Lonnie, for us to have the kind of rate increase that David Alvarez is saying? With that pay for what we need if we only increased the rates on people who are using too much water? That is precisely the problem. Even if we would have a restructuring or reforming of the existing rate structure, we still have to increase water rates. Nothing prevents that because of the amount of funding that we are talking about. I think that over the long run, we can look at reforming rate structures, but right now, what we know is that rejecting this rate increase is not a viable or responsible option for the city Council. Immediately, we would see his $345 million of the general fund at risk. What I mean by that is that if the rate increase does not pass, the general fund is going to be making up for some of the shortfalls. Over the five-year period of the rate increase that is proposed, we know that $345 million would have to come out of somewhere, and the only place that the city has available as an alternative option is a general fund. That means reduction in services to police, fire, neighborhood services, libraries, and that is not an option that anyone wants to pursue. It would also lead to an immediate downgrade from the rating agencies. We don't want to go back to those days where the city had a terrible reputation. We want to move forward. We have had so much progress in recent years. Want to keep up with that. One of the major criticisms from David Alvarez and from others is how much and how quickly the water rates will increase the average water bill. For instance, a typical single-family home would increase from $71 to the water rates will increase the average water bill. For instance, a typical single-family home would increase from $71-$77. That would be on January 1. Then, it would jump up to $82 on July 1. Isn't that a rather large amount for using the same amount of water? Is not a bit of a large increase for a typical family to be able to handle? I don't think anyone is saying that it isn't going to be a difficult pill for all of us to swallow. The alternative of doing nothing is going to be much more costly to the taxpayers of San Diego. One of the things that is directly tied to this rate increase is a funding for peer water San Diego. If we don't have it. Water San Diego funded, with the vote of the Council tomorrow, what will happen is that the city will no longer have the support of the environmental community to seek a waiver for the wastewater treatment plant at Coloma. That upgrade would cost $2 billion. It would not provide an additional drop of water. The choice is quite simple when you look at it. Should we invest in a pure water which would ensure that we would not have to do these unnecessary costly upgrades at the point Loma treatment land and provide up to one third of the city's water supply? Or instead we could pursue the infrastructure project that is simply going to make the federal government happy but won't do anything to solve our water supply reliability challenge that the city has space for many years. David Alvarez, do US member of the Council have an alternative to the rate hike structure that has been proposed by the department? For extra increases, they boost rates a total of 36%. I want to start off by saying that the full city Council supports making sure that we have peer water. We make that a reality in the future, and I don't think you have a Council member that has been a stronger advocate than myself. This should have been done many years ago. That was a mistake I city in the past. We also don't here, even though there is a call for drastically reducing services, I look back at what we have seen this summer with the mayor stepping in front of the issue of keeping the charges in San Diego. If this really is that critical of an issue, and if it is that much of an emergency, where has he been on this issue? What I have told him personally is that we have to bring forward a rate structure that makes sense to those who can serve and those who continue to use water as a luxury. They should pay. I have been very clear about that from the beginning. I think that Sandy Akins want to see that. That is the right thing to do. Until we do that, there are several hundred employees that work directly for the mayor of the public utilities department. They have got consultants available. They pay them to figure this stuff out. That is what I am asking for. Bring us forward a rate that makes sense to the everyday person for potable use and for the recycling rate. Make sure that it is fair and equitable. What are your fears about this water rate hike? I have a fear that people have done everything they can. They are conserving water. Now, you're going to increase the rates. That could potentially put them in a very difficult situation going forward if that continues as a requirement from the state, we are going to have to figure out how to ensure that we are conserving water. People are not going to want to. There will be no incentive to do so. Why would they if there rate will increase anyway? That is a concern. Ultimately, Lonnie's right. We need to think about long-term sustainability of our water. Everyone is in support of whatever investment that takes. People will support that. What we can't support is an unfair rate structure. Lonnie, when you are explaining the need for this water rate hike, you talked about the expense of water and the sources of water that we are going towards. They are going to be more expensive sources, but we have been proactive in trying to get new sources of water or San Diego. That has been highly praised. Also, one of the reasons that we needed this water rate hike is because of conservation. There is not as much water -- as much money as people being generated by people using less water. The San Diego City Council asked to address this issue responsibly. What they don't have control over is what the governor has mandated earlier this year. What we do know is that imported costs have risen at a dramatic rate. What we also know is that we want to San Diego to have locally controlled water in the future. We don't want to continue to be as exposed to the situations. We want a drought proof source of water supply. This rate increase does just that. It pays for what we have control over. What that is is ensuring that we have a reliable water supply or generations to come. It is also going to ensure that we fund infrastructure to pay for water pipes and infrastructure that ensures that we don't have the water main breaks that we used to have in the past. I remember that it was not that long ago that we used to have one sewer spill a day in the city of San Diego. It also was not that long ago that we used to have 110 water main breaks a year. If we don't fund the infrastructure, as a difficult of a vote at it is going to be, we will return to those times. We are going to have to hit the general fund and reduce additional services. This is not an easy decision for any of us to make. It is one in which we don't have an option. We must move forward if we're going to do the responsible thing for San Diego ratepayers. A rate hike like this may be needed. There is controversy about that. It is sure to hit low income families very hard. I am wondering if advocates as part of the proposal if there is anything being put forward that the city might do to mitigate that impact in some way. That is a question that a number of council members have asked. My understanding in my discussions with the public utilities department is that there are some restrictions on what the city can do because of state proposition to 18 which was passed a number of years ago. With that being said, the department is going to look at the issue very carefully in bringing forward an item to Councilman David Alvarez is committee, which he chairs. They will look at how you can best work with its customers for those that may need some help with payment of the rate increase. That might mean installment plans and so forth. That is a discussion that will be coming forward to the Council in the beginning of the year. I know the department is committed to do anything they can to provide relief for those that need a. Speaking of prop 218, David Alvarez, city residents were sent a notice. Do you think it was clear enough on that form that this notice was actually a valid -- ballot that people could vote against the water rate hike? The notice that was received was lengthy. I received it. I the customer. The one thing that was clear thanks to Council members who wanted to make sure was that on the front of the notice is said that water rate increase. It was not entirely clear because there was a lot of information. It was in there. If enough petitions are received that are against the increase, then that would be sufficient for the increase not to go forward. There is a lot of information on this particular notice. I just want to go back because there is a unique opportunity here. We are being challenged by this problem. It is a very real problem for our region. We need all of the political leadership. Just like the mayor called on the governor to move expeditiously forward on this Chargers Stadium. We need to start calling on our state leaders to let us move forward on some of these local problems. That is what we are going to do today at the hearing. We are trying to declare a state of emergency locally. We need to do that more so that we can get the solutions that we need to incentivize the conservation to charge the people who are being wasteful and have used water is a luxury. They can help pay for the infrastructure that we do need. That is very expensive water. Anything we bring from out of town is very expensive. All the costs associated with that need to be recuperated. Of individuals choose to use water as a luxury, that means that it is costing us more and they should be paying for. It is pretty simple. My final question to you, Lonnie, is there a fundamental message that is part of the overall proposed increase in water rates in the city of San Diego? Is it something along the lines of the era of relatively inexpensive water over in San Diego? I would say that what is coming forward is going to be much more cost effective than of the alternative of doing nothing. This water rate is about ensuring a reliable water supply, locally controlled for San Diego for decades to come. I do believe. Unfortunately, we're not going to see water rates go down in the future, but it is a question of if we want to pay and make sure we are addressing the issue responsibly in a fiscally prudent manner, or are we going to continue to kick the can down the road which will mean that we are going to see even higher rate increases in a matter of 15 years? That is what I believe. We need to make the responsible decision tomorrow and move forward continued funding for infrastructure. The public hearing on the proposed water rate hike will take base before The San Diego City Council and that public hearing will begin at 10 AM tomorrow. I have been speaking with San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez and Lonnie Plutarch, executive director of the water reliability coalition. Inc. you both very much. -- Think -- thank you both very much. Still ahead, we will examine the problem of hunger and homelessness on campus. That, as KPBS Midday Edition continues .
In the U.S., 10 governors have now said they will refuse to accept these refugees. California's Gov. Jerry Brown has said the U.S. should accept Syrian refugees, but emphasized the need for thorough vetting.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that U.S. assistance for refugees should only be offered to Christians. The U.S. is set to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria this year, with San Diego taking 300 to 400 refugees.
President Barack Obama responded Monday to Bush’s idea during his remarks at the G-20 summit in Turkey. "That's shameful," he said. "That's not American. That's not who we are."
The president did call on Muslim leaders around the world to step up and strongly condemn extremist attacks like the one in Paris and to prevent young people from becoming "infected" with extremist ideas.
But defining terrorism is also crucial.
Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in San Diego, said the public needs to understand that criminals or terrorists don’t have a religion.
“These individuals are terrorists,” Mohebi told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. “They do not have any moral value. If they did, they would not be doing what they’re doing. Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.”
David Murphy, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego, said the refugees who are flooding into Europe are fleeing from the same type of terrorism that killed 129 people in Paris.
Murphy urged leaders to keep borders opened and assured the public that the U.S. has the strictest background checks for refugees.
“The process for the background checks take one to two years — maybe even longer,” Murphy said. “These refugees are the most security-vetted population that come to the United States.”
“We hope that Europe continues to keep their borders open. By closing the border, it’s not going to solve the crisis. Terrorists will find their way.”