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Roundtable: Final Push For Lawmakers In Sacramento

Roundtable: Final Push For Lawmakers In Sacramento
Roundtable: Final Push for Lawmakers in Sacramento PANEL: Chris Jennewein, editor and publisher, Times of San Diego Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS News Jennifer Van Grove, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Lawmakers finished their work at the state capitol with a focus on public safety. The new laws that will bring sweeping changes to California. Keeping up with the cost of living on a fixed income threatens to put some seniors on the streets. One city is stepping in and helping pay the rent. And the deal is done. Now a plan is in the works to turn Portland Plaza into the next big thing in tech. Marks our KPBS Roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories I'm Mark Sauer. And joining me at the PBS roundtable today Chris genuine editor and publisher of The Times of San Diego PBS investigative reporter Amita Sharma and reporter Jennifer Van Grobe at the San Diego Union Tribune. Well a busy session wraps up in Sacramento today some landmark legislation. A new law to aggressively fight carbon emissions and overhaul of California's bail system. And a San Diego assembly members push to require training for those carrying concealed weapons. Looming in the bruising campaign to dump to dump a California gas tax and to fund road repair that passed last year. So and that's coming up a little later Chris. But let's start with this bail bill signed by Jerry Brown what's going to do well. It's all about equity and fairness. The By definition the current monetary bail system means that if you have money you can get out of jail if you do. You have to go to the bail bondsman and that can be expensive can be up to 10 percent of the bail amount. And so the whole idea is it creates a two tier system of people working people who whatever the crime they're charged with at that time their ability to pay their ability to keep a job to try to alter their life straightened out all those things. And what they're going to do is they're going to use computer algorithms to determine to do a risk assessment and determine well how dangerous is this person. Can this person go back home while they're waiting for trial. Or do we have to keep him him or her in jail. OK so post are in opposition to the system. Now this new system will give a lot more discretion to judges than to make decisions. And that's one of the concerns. Interestingly the American Civil Liberties Union originally backed this bill and then turned against it and their concern is that in the bill is the ability of prosecutors to request preventive detention. And the bill also gives judges more leeway in granting this. So the ACLU now says that in fact it may result in more people being stuck in jail than being freed. There's one other aspect that other groups have raised some concerns about is these computer algorithms. What if they're biased. What if they result in unfairness a certain population groups. Is there any mechanism in that to see how it goes for a while and then tweak it perhaps while they're going through. There could be a ballot challenge because one of the biggest impact is going to be on the bail bonds industry if you don't need a bail bondsman to get out of jail. That would lead to the extinction of the industry in California. So that industry is now mounting a signature campaign to have a ballot measure to overturn the bill because this doesn't take it doesn't take effect for a while. Yes yes. Now it won't be that much of a shock here in San Diego to set up a sound bite here from District Attorney summer Steffen she says. We've kind of been edging this way already in San Diego through that. So we feel that we've prepared to ourselves we're already using risk assessment tools that are fair and unbiased so that we're not judging somebodies ability to be in jail or not in jail based on how rich they are but rather about what their conduct has been. What have they done. So an objective criteria. All right so it remains to be seen though as you were saying whether fewer people or even more people might wind up in county jail if it's fewer people there could be some savings. The backers of the bill say it might be millions of dollars across the state. On the other hand the risk assessment. We're trying it in San Diego as a district attorney mentioned in this in the clip. But it's unclear how much that's going to cost statewide. And it's in that the two could balance each other out. All right let's move on to the fight against climate change. California once again a pioneer in this battle especially given what's happening with the EPA in Washington. So tell us about the new mandate for carbon free electricity. Well it's a very ambitious mandate. There had been at old previous goal of 50 percent by 2030. It's now been raised to 60 percent. And then the ultimate goal of 100 percent by 2045 only Hawaii has a similar similar objective. And it's already dry hackles from conservative commentators who of course look at it as a Ludy California thing. But this is the world's center of high technology this state and how how does the bill say we're going to get there by 2040. Well if the bill doesn't have specifics but if you if you look at the technology out there and what local utilities are doing it might not be that big of a leap. San Diego Gas and Electric is already at over 40 percent clean energy. And what that bill says is that 12 years from now they've got from 40 to 60. That doesn't seem like that big a leap. Now the next step over the next 15 years another 40 percent to get to 100. That's bigger. It means investment in solar it means wind probably means more nuclear power which is carbon free. It has other issues but it's carbon free and battery storage is a big battery store movements and technology. We've already demonstrated here in San Diego there's a giant lithium ion plant for a while the world's biggest and in Escondido. And you're going to see more things like that storing energy. So two questions. How are the state's three big energy companies PG&E Southern California Edison and GenY. How did they view this bill. And secondly what kind of progress has been made in storing energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. The utilities are against it. They're they're pushing to get more and more clean energy but they don't want to have their options tied. One of the big concerns is what happens overnight. Right now that's gas fired power plants. You need a lot more battery storage to have only clean energy because when the sun is down and winds not blowing unless you need either nuclear or gas for those for those times. So they're they're concerned they're concerned about it. Better technology is growing rapidly. I think Cheney announced plans several months ago for a bunch of new battery storage facilities after the one in Escondido. There you know there are concerns with these big battery storage areas but you know they don't they don't emit greenhouse gases. They're not all that big that we call them big because of the power but they're not big physically they take up small spaces. No more of that. It was a close vote and Sacramento Governor expected to sign this as is brown behind it. Not all that close 44 to 33. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER REPUBLICAN was behind it former former Governor Brown will probably sign it I mean much of his legacy as a governor is tied up in California's aggressive combative climate change. And we had all these terrible fires throughout the state this year which which so many people now are just flat out linking to climate change. And then what's happening with the lack of rain and state Sen. Kevin de Leon did specifically that I mean it might be a stretch to say the two are directly connected but he he he did. Yeah. All right let's look at this gun bill San Diego assembly member Todd Gloria back this in. What is it called for his bill for the first time sets very specific requirements on the training that you would need to have a concealed carry permit that's a permit to slip a loaded gun into your pants pocket or into into a holster. His bill requires eight hours of instruction and then live fire exercises. Now the current law requires instruction but leads the specifics up to each county. And interestingly the only bit of specific wording in the current law is that any training shall not exceed shall not exceed 16 hours. I mean it's almost as if the intent of the current law is to make it as less difficult as possible minimize and forget it does seem reasonable this bill. Who's opposed the NRA of course is opposed. They tend to oppose anything that might limit the ownership and carrying of civilian firearms. Also the San Diego County gun owners which is a local political action committee they've called it grandstanding. And of course they've been for a long time a critic of Sheriff Bill Gore who they accuse of slow walking concealed carry permits. And Governor Brown is expected to sign this one. He hasn't said but presumably it was a bipartisan bill. And you know given some of the recent shootings in California it's probably something he would sign. And finally just one day before we left this segment to touch on this big political fight coming up between now and the election on Prop 6 repeal of the California gas tax backed by former councilman here Carl a mile here what's what would happen if that passes. Give us the thumbnail. Very quickly Senate bill one passed last year. There are already hundreds of millions of dollars of road bridge and highway projects underway. Listeners have probably seen those signs Senate Bill 1 on the on the highway raises the gas tax by 20 cents. Diesel tax by I'm sorry the gas tax says diesel tax by 20 cents. What Karl Mios ballot measure would do is overturn that. It would also require a vote on future gas tax increases. It would probably halt the projects underway although the Republicans behind it say no Caltrans could become more efficient. Many see this as a political ploy an effort to get the Republican base out in the November election and perhaps save the economy some rational seats here that they want to filibuster. How's it doing in the polls so far. Well it's going to be close. You know gas taxes here now and road improvements everybody wants road improvements but they're off in the future it takes takes years to do some of this work. But I think Governor Brown had a very succinct word on this. He said the tooth fairy as he said it is not going to fix California's roads. OK. We'll have a lot more on this as we start talking politics in the weeks to come. Well we're going to move on the image of seniors kicking back on luxury cruises playing in those golf visiting exotic locales as bumping against harsh reality for many spending their golden years in the Golden State means living in poverty. So how tough is it to cover basic costs. For a lot of seniors. Well it's really tough I mean 20 percent of the states seniors. One in five the one in five are living in poverty. Half of single seniors in this state don't have enough money to cover their basic expenses each month and regions like San Diego County L.A. County and San Francisco County are seeing a spike in the number of seniors who are homeless and it's course we just heard another story this week from another record high median price of housing in this county. Rents are tied to that it just keeps going up. What how how is poverty defined here. It is. So they use the federal poverty guidelines which is like a little over twelve dollars a year in California. How far does that go. Writers say. And then UCLA puts out what's called an elder index. And what they calculated was that you an elderly person in California needs at least twenty two thousand dollars a year to cover basic goods. All right now your story this week focused on this experimental program in Santa Monica. Tell us about that. So Santa Monica has now tried out a program where they are giving basically they're subsidizing the rent for a group of seniors who aren't getting a lot of money each month so they all have taken. I don't know like around 24 seniors who are making fourteen thousand dollars a year or less and they're trying to bring them up to more than 22000 dollars a year. And so far they are seeing some some progress. I mean a lot of the people I spoke with said that they they felt like they would be homeless if they didn't have the subsidy. One of the women I spoke with is a woman named Kay. She's 70 years old. She said before she is getting this rental subsidy from Santa Monica that she only had two hundred dollars after she paid her her rent and that 200 dollars is meant to pay all of her bills and cover food. So she went without food she skipped meals. I spoke with another guy a parody of a laundry who's a painter. He's also 70 years old. And he said he was buying rice in bulk before he was getting this rental help and he was subsisting on meals of rice or also going without. So now that they're in this program they're eating regular meals. So skipping medicine skipping meals whatever they can to cut costs. Right. The city of Santa Monica did a survey before they started this program because they were trying to gauge how seniors in the in the community were faring financially and what they found they said it was very disturbing. It was disheartening. They said that seniors some seniors were bartering in order to get by. One woman was trading her parking space in an apartment building for protein powder and another senior with eating only every other day. And several of the seniors were just putting off medical and dental treatment in order to buy food. Is this essentially unique. You know it's near the coast in the L.A. area but where is this happening throughout California. To a certain extent. I mean in terms of the rental subsidies so it's very unique. City of Stockton is going to try out it's giving cash to a group of needy people in its city pretty soon. So yes it is unique in doing that. There are problem presumably not. The problem is not unique and consider this in the city of Santa Monica. There is rent control which doesn't exist for seniors across the state. So if within a city like Santa Monica seniors are still struggling. You can well imagine what it's like for seniors elsewhere even with fixed rent for all that time Fred. You mentioned you spoke to several of those folks. Let's hear from some of them with that. Soundbites. And if it weren't for the city of Santa Monica help me I would probably by now have been evicted and on the street this is the most important thing. One of the most important things the same anomic is doing for seniors. And I was really in a dire dire situation financially and mentally and I know that I didn't know what to do. And then when this came out I said well yes you will. Thank you so much. Merci beaucoup. What happens now at the this is a pilot program right. It's a 14 month pilot program. The city is going to re-evaluate early next year as to whether to continue it. And I should say as an aside Santa Monica's City analyst who helps run this program her name is Lisa Varone. I asked her how much she is spending on this she said three hundred thousand dollars for this 14 month program. Since you know how can the city afford to do this. And she said well you could also ask how can the city afford not to do this. If any one of these seniors or group of them were to become homeless I mean we're living on the absolute edge of the edge. We would have to pay for them if they became sick and they needed emergency medical services or they needed some kind of hospital treatment. So it's possible that it's more expensive to to treat them that way or to pay for them if they become homeless smarter and more humane. Does this does this scale. So it's such a small population right. People that are in this pilot program. Do we know if this can be expanded. I imagine that it can be expanded they chose this group of people who were in this financial category. I imagine it can be expanded. Just one more point I want to add to your question about how widespread this might be. You know the city of Santa Monica has made a decision that they are concerned about how they are viewed and what kind of city they want to be. And they say that look we just don't want to be this gorgeous city by this gorgeous coast that is home to the wealthy with 10 million dollar mansions. We want diversity. And in the broadest sense. And that means that we want to enable the people who are seniors who have lived in this community for decades to continue living here even if they can't afford to and we can help out. Well that's great. We'll watch what happens and see a follow up on that maybe in San Diego and other cities will about that. We're going to move on. It rose from a Broadway retail district downtown that had long since gone to seed Horton Plaza with its curbing walkways obscure stairways and funky vibe injected excitement and jumpstarted gentrification in the Gaslamp district. But that was in 1985. Now the retail marble itself has become outdated careworn. Change is coming though and tell us about this sale now. Horton Plaza has been has been since been sold to Stockton capital Mark Stockton capital partners and they have this really a grand vision right. So they paid 175 million for the property and what they want to do is they don't want to use it as a mall at all. They want to use it as this tech high tech office campus. And so the tentative name is the campus at Horten and they would go out and they would try to market to Bay Area technology companies bring them in and have this kind of center of technology right in the heart of downtown and told us about the new owners now. Who are they and their real estate investment firm. And they've actually done this before so they have a project in Scottsdale Arizona. They're not based in Scottsdale even though Stockdale. And that is the Galeria corporate center and that was also a mall. And so they put gosh I want to say like 600 million into that and they see that asset is even more blighted than Horton Plaza which they. They plan to basically turn onto the studs and build back up. OK so you mentioned they hope to to compete with Silicon Valley and bring up some tech stuff. But what are some of the other folks and other uses that it's not going to all be great. I mean that's what they want right. So right now they have 900000 square feet of retail. They don't want 900000 cars every summer it's they want. I mean it's so minimal. And I even hate to call it retail at all actually because what they see is food and beverage food and beverage and maybe like a lulu lemon if we're talking you know any retail at all. But they see you know San Diego chefs coming in and they see like services catering towards tech workers. When when you think of a mall and going to buy things. Nothing like that anymore. Chris you know the last couple of years has been this big increase downtown and shared office space companies like we work this be a competition for them or will it be sort of a and of all the ecology. Yes I know it will be a competition however you know coworking is still on the rise even here in San Diego. There's still room for growth. We work is looking for more space downtown. So there's still that opportunity there. And I think they would like to even cater to a we work or or Regis which has they have something called space's which competes directly with work. So they want to compete with that but they also want to cater to it and bring in somebody of Facebook's caliber which you know everyone in downtown real estate has talked about. But it's never happened and you know rumors of fly like Facebook has toured the area and they just haven't found the type of space that they want. And they're hoping this becomes that. Is there any sense of what the draw would be for these companies to come down so. So San Diego is a draw that they think is undersold. So the sense with Stockdale and even with other real estate analysts is that Sandigo hasn't done a very good job of marketing itself and that the talent is here. It's just that these Berry companies don't know. However I'm serious Cisco. Bay Area there are really interesting position now where there's not a lot of class A office space that they want creative office space rents are so high there. So they are looking for these kind of satellite offices and so Stockdale believes that they have based on what they've done in Scottsdale they have tenants there like Yelp LinkedIn. They believe that they can go to those companies and be like hey we're going to do these massive floor plates 40000 or 40000 square feet for plates and you know that's what they want for what are called efficiencies in the real estate business which just basically everyone on the same floor so you don't have to lose time in going from Florida floor. So we're going to put that here we're going to surround it with top notch food top notch beverage and given the real estate the residential real estate boom downtown. They can live there too. And so it's this work play live atmosphere that they're really trying to create that they think is going to work. And they've told me that they've had very very successful talks with some firms up there. They don't want to put any names out there just yet. But they are very confident in her vision. Give us a sense of Horton Plaza now. What's it like for those who haven't been there in a while. Oh it's terrible it's nowhere. I mean it's where you would want to actually go you wouldn't want to take your family or to go shopping. Yes there's Jimbo's there and you can get a great product and both that happen to shop at Jimbo's myself. But beyond Jimbo's beyond CBS beyond the June 24 Hour Fitness is still a big department store Macy's store. But the business. I mean nobody is in there and endostatin that it's a bit of a security hazard. Injured both smack the owner of Jimbo's would tell you that that's actually been an issue that's kind of come up in his lawsuit against the previous owners with Westfield. It's just that there is a lot of homeless people that have have kind of I don't want to say taking over but they're there. And it makes it a very unattractive place to shop and everything just looks rundown. It doesn't look like what you expect on a mall in the heart of the city. Time has come and gone for sure now. How closely are the developers going to need to work with the city leaders council members that is going to be a big deal. Actually said they're going to have to convince city council this is something that's going to have to go to city council because right now there's something called the Horton Plaza owner participation agreement and that requires that 600000 square feet of retail be present on that site. They don't want 600000 square feet of retail. You know what some but not nearly so. They're going to have to renegotiate that agreement and any sort of renegotiation is going to have to get approved by city council that they're going to have to get the by and the mayor they're going to have to get a in of the council members they're going to. And then you know that trickles down to the community level too. They're going to have to really sell community groups. This is what downtown needs. But the the financial folks here who are doing this this investment say the impact is going to be well worth in terms of jobs. So they've done their own research. You know I have no way to verify whether or not that's accurate. But they say three to 4000 high paying jobs annual impact of one point eight billion dollars. Wow. I mean that's pretty impressive. That would be huge. If it comes to reality and they have a lot of money on the line. So I mean why wouldn't they want to make it a reality. We've got a few seconds left. What is a timeframe here or what they want to start construction early next year two year time span. They want people in these new office spaces at the end of 2020. Wow. So everybody recruiting around the state around the country to try to get some of these tech firms that will make or get them will be looking for some announcements perhaps soon bugging their PR person. Tell me what you can tell me what who is Lisa who signed the line who's coming in. Fascinating stuff another good one to follow up on. Well are out of time. That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guests Kris Jenner one of Hymes of San Diego Meeth Sharma of Cape CBS News and Jennifer Van Grove of The San Diego Union Tribune. And a reminder all of the stories we discussed today are available on our website PBS Argee Mark Sauer. Thanks for being with us today and join us again next week on the roundtable.

State Legislature Wraps Up Its Session

California state lawmakers are wrapping up their work for the year. The legislative session produced some groundbreaking new laws on criminal justice reform, climate change, sustainability and gun control.

Meanwhile, the general election is just a couple of months away and voters will have a chance to repeal a law passed in 2017: the gas tax increase. The law generates money for various transportation projects.


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Roundtable: Final Push For Lawmakers In Sacramento

Southern California City Helps Seniors Pay Rent

The city of Santa Monica is in the middle of an experimental program that provides cash assistance to dozens of senior citizens to help them pay rent. A recent study shows one in five seniors in California are living in poverty and nearly half struggle with the cost of basic living expenses. This story is part of the California Dream project, a statewide public media collaboration.

RELATED: Santa Monica Offers Cash To Seniors To Help With Rent

Horton Plaza’s Tech Future


More details were released this week over the ongoing saga over Horton Plaza. Stockdale Capital Partners, a Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm, finalized a $175 million dollar deal for the downtown San Diego property. Horton Plaza’s days as a languishing retail mall will come to an end, as the new owner begins a plan to renovate the property as a modern office campus aimed at high-profile technology firms. Some plans will require approval from the San Diego City Council.

RELATED: Horton Plaza Poised To Become Tech Office Hub

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.