Roundtable On SeaWorld Changes, Dumanis Decision, Airline Curfew Violations
Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I Mike Sauer. Joining me at the KPBS roundtable today are Dan McSwain business economist . Reporter Liam Dillion a voice of San Diego. The to have here and reporter Chris Young of I new source. Good to see you today. SeaWorld has been swamped lately by bad press, Lake in attendance, and falling revenues. The problem is the long-standing killer whale shows featuring the enormous mammals during circus tricks and relatively small tanks. Operators of a theme park on mission be responded this week by valving to revamp its orca shows by 27 -- 2017. One of the high points and where the going to duplex They say they're going to suspend the traditional shows which is very 1960s circus style. For people that have not been that they have animals jumping up and touching their noses and used to have the trainers using writing on them. Right and bouncing balls and doing Oconto stuff. It's something that people have loved for years. There apprenticing to replace it for something that is more natural. That does not mean the shows will stop, but they will change. Will get into that in another details are little vague. They're not going to go forward with this big project to expand the orca pools. I know they had the whole debate. At this point, I don't see that SeaWorld's chief executive Joe has a much of a choice. The coastal commission says yes, you could build this much bigger tank to give of their -- better viewing experience a guess and also to pass -- pacify summoner critics by giving them more room and more space. There is even a high-tech underwater treadmill where they can exercise all day. Just like they do out the open ocean. Exactly. Predictably that did not pacify their critics and that coastal commission approved the project, but place restrictions they said we will let you build this hundred million dollar enclosure expansion, but only if you are no longer breeding or cause and not allowed to import or export them in California. So that was meant they were at abysses within one generation of whatever and orca generation is. Not now but 10 or 20 years from now.'s At some point if the clock on their business model. That was unacceptable so he said they were going to appeal that in court. Meanwhile he put the project on hold. For big investment like that hundred million dollars you can see where they're going to be pretty reluctant when it is still uncertain. Absolutely. I've written several column thing that I think they need to change or business model another they were listening to me or anything, but the new CEO is deciding to ship this model to focus on the rescue activities, education, the habitat research they do. So they are even talking about new rides a new attractions starting in San Diego and then Orlando and San Antonio where children can go through the hospital setting and watch them do wonderful things to save a sea lion they be found. They -- he called it taken the park inside out. All the activities that they have been advertising to TV commercials are going to be vastly open to the public in the near future. So they've got this terrible press and there have been tensile stories and columns on it. This is that film blackfish and talked about the captivity and making them jump to the hoops. That has countered a lot of the good PR work but that Park has tried to do over the years. Rescuing Marine animals and so the idea is to get back and focus on that and downplay and get away from this cloud on the orca site. They did not wake up one day and decide to embrace the environmental movement or the animal welfare movement. Their business conditions have deteriorated rapidly. Their earnings are down 75% from where they were two years ago. Their stock is down 50% -- more than 50%. So if these guys don't pick that their business model, they are looking at lower profits or maybe even eventually being at abysses. Chris, you saw the movie did you not what I did. I don't think you can watch a film and not become a way being at least I respect -- kept above what is going on at SeaWorld. The one thing that I wondered it being fairly new to San Diego is what impact that film had on the sense of pride maybe that San Diego local people have about SeaWorld. Obviously, it is an attraction for people for tourist and staff. Did that really deal a blow to the local sentiment about the themepark? We did some pulling on this and the people who love SeaWorld they either haven't seen blackfish or if they have their opinion has a been fundamentally change or anything that is measurable what has happened is that you have schoolchildren canceling trips and a whole movement arising across California to boycott this outfit. They lost a deal was Southwest Airlines last year and it also woke up the California legislature. There is no bill in Congress from a California lawmaker that would outlaw breeding eventually and that probably doesn't have very good chances. Several members of the state legislature have said we -- if they don't do this on their own we are going to do it for them. It's interesting to note that this city is invested here in San Diego because the park went -- went slants from the apart. So when SeaWorld does bad, that hurts the city's bottom line. Be on an emotional investment, there is a financial investment. Second with interesting about this is the more you think about it, the more the moral questions become really a parent really fast. So for instance, something SeaWorld is ready become more like a zoo. So if they are and that is so problematic for folks, does that mean that seems are problematic? Here we saw the birth of every single baby panda. I wonder if he will take it to a situation where people celebrate a birth of an orca. What is the difference between the two? That is a good question. I had the same question. Like any subject or topic or public policy there is a spectrum. When you look at the animal welfare spectrum, everybody loves animals almost but when you go out on a French some of these outfits would like to see all of this is closed down. All the animals released to the wild. There are people that don't like stews and don't like circuses and SeaWorld is a interested hybrid. It is part themepark and Sue. So far that has been very successful for them. Now it's becoming a liability. There's cause that let make some less profitable compared to Disney and Universal. It places them in some jeopardy at this point. How big of a hit with Senegal take in terms of tourism if this closed or shrunk down? I don't have the information. As we said, it is the institution. You say San Diego -- SeaWorld is going to be among the three. I don't think anyone wants to let that part go completely out of business. I think even their harshest critics want the work is released and if not into the wild which is tough because most of them were born there and have been domesticated. They want been put into large outdoor pens. Some people have suggested that the animal rights movement is just continuing along toward greater compassion for animals. We have laying hens a bigger can choose -- cages. We have laws that say you can't tie your dogs up on the leash and leave them there anymore. This customer blowback and political blowback is not going to reduce. Is only going to increase. They have to deal with it. We are out of time. Will be watching for your calls the stories as we go forward on that twentysomething change. It was hardly a surprise this week when San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to charge a San Diego police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man. Takes an extraordinary set of circumstances 48 to charge a cop to kill someone while on duty. This case features surveillance video and police body cameras which happen to be turned off. Liam Dillion based this decision not to charge on a long-standing Supreme Court decision. There's a couple of decisions by can it is and said what you do is you can't look at a situation for 2020 hindsight. Got to look at what a reasonable officer would have done in the exact same circumstances. Even though and this is playing along with sort of a narrative here. Even though Mister Nehad did not and have a knife was it reasonable to believe that he did when the officer interacted with him? With the DA said is officer broader got a call saying that there was a knife wielding man in the alley. This was back in April 30. Witnesses saying we saw knife and guy was carry a metallic object that look like a knife. Based on that it is reasonable to believe that it officer that Mister Nehad had a knife. Happened to be at 10. The DA said it was fair to believe that he in fact had a knife and was threatening him. We've seen our share of officer involved shootings. Many of them are fatal shootings and sometimes there are children involved. This one is different because of the surveillance video, right? Tells about that? Were was a camera? There is a camera that captured the entire incident. So a captured the officer rolling up and captured Mister Nehad moving for the officer. I can tell you the exact specification because none of us have seen it yet. I should go right here KPBS is among service -- several news that are trying to go to court and get this video release. Point being that in this case we not only have a video of the captured shooting but we also have someone who put a sworn declaration seen this video 23 times saying I watch this video and it was bad. This was not a justified case of this was the case that would be shocking. That spurred on the interest of us and other people to say this is the incident with a guide turned out to be unarmed. Let us take a look at the video. So far as I happen. Just to follow along that line where are we on that court case when might we see a decision quick We are still awaiting a judge to decide to allow Mister Tran09's family to exercise their First Amendment rights and reasons was. They have lawsuit pending? Correct. If that case came to trial, the jury that video might come out at the point. There's no guaranteed that the video would become out. It might not make it to trial. The difficulty in these cases and as I say the DA here and every big city has these is to look and go back at that point in time and look at it from a perspective of a police officer and applied to existing laws and the rulings from the Supreme Court. It's a very difficult thing for people to understand how one unarmed man can be shot. Why can a police officer use less force than lethal force. So is a difficult discussion. Absolutely. I want to stress that if you have a situation with the officer who believes their life is in danger the last thing you want them to worry about is if I click my body-camera on or am I going to be on the news? You want the to take actions that they feel necessary to keep himself say. That being said we want everyone to end up say. We want that officer to go through due process but we also want the folks to go through their own to process and if it committee wrong, not to be executed for the so it's obviously a difficult housing act. We certainly want to see justice on all sides. With talk about that body-camera. We've had a number of incidences here involving sexual abuse incidences, abuse of power, we've had the police chief say we are going to go with these cameras. This to not come out in this case. Is it to new? Is it not in forest yet? -- In forest -- The DA said and her 15 pages of information describing her decision she said they do not turn on. The reason who knows. It was not turned on. So for whatever reason we don't have that video working at all. How do you view these cases? You been a newspaperman a long time and there are always tough calls. Been a police officer is a tough job. Cops are stressed and the DA works with the police officers and relies on them in court. It's not a conflict. They have relation their that comes to them and deciding these matters. There have been consistent over the years. She always finds no fault with these kinds of incidences. I can remember 10 years ago five Latinos were shot up in Vista over the course of one summer. There was no training initiatives placed on the Sheriff's Department and no corrective action that anybody could discern. All of the deputies were found to not Apple. We did not investigate. We found out in a 49% Latino community there were a grand total of two deputies that spoke Spanish. There are opportunities for training or go we have to -- the district attorney wisely is supporting police officers when they are in this difficult situations. There's also opportunities. I think it's important that the new police chief is taking this seriously. She shows a lot of interest in improving things. The video camera changes everything. This has police changing their behavior all over the country. It doesn't appear to have come to San Diego yet, but it is coming. I did want to ask you about this distance factor in this case. The 21 foot rule and then what some of the witnesses are saying. Essentially for decades a lot of police officers around the country have been taught that if someone caring a knife is within 21 feet they can stab you before you have the ability to get your gun and take action. So that is why in this case distance has been a strong aspect of this investigation. What we've seen in this case is a number of different estimates of how far the officer were away from each other when he got shot. Your the city saying 10 to 15 feet and the gentleman who watch the video saying approximately 15 feet, you're the DA saying 17 feet and you have the family attorneys think 25 feet. You have the officer in his interview saying while he was within 21 feet so I was worried. That his wife it is so important. I think these various estimates give rise to the fact that why is the public not allowed to serve -- to see this and make a judgment for themselves. We are all grown-ups here and we can figure this out. The technology is there we should be trusted. Where just about out of time it's going to be interesting add we will be doing follow-ups. When and if for if not this video is released a what the impact will be. You're drifting off to sleep around midnight and suddenly you are told to wait by jet in gins roaring overhead. If you live in certain neighborhoods and Ocean Beach that scenario is to real. There is a curfew at Lindbergh Field. It has violated on a regular basis. Chris, starts with the rules here. We are talking about takeoffs. Landings are quieter. If you live in Ocean Beach, you know that takeoffs are really loud. If you live in a neighborhood underneath the landing flightpath it is a little quieter. So in the airport authority established in 1989 a curfew which said that it restricts airlines from taking off between 11:30 p.m. and 630 deck a.m. -- 6:30 AM. We got data from the airport authority to find out how often this is happen and what are the fines for these violations. So since 2010, there had been 270 violations. The thing that has stopped us when we look to the data was that so many of these just say no penalty. The range for the violations is usually about $2000 for the violations is usually about $2000-$10,000 is how much these airlines will be find. Sometimes it is even more than that. What are the data show in terms of who the worst violators are? JetBlue is by far the worst violator of this. The reason for that is the airline and airport authority officials told us because they have a lot of late-night redeye flights going to the East Coast. Sometimes there are issues with planes coming here that need to take off from here that come here a little bit later because of weather conditions and maintenance issues. We should note that with the prevailing wind hit 95% of the time they're taking off over the ocean over these neighborhoods almost all the time. Is almost 95% of the time. The folks that are running up to curfew what are some the reasons they say we are going to let you off the hook this time? In most of the cases when airlines get -- are not find for these violations, it is because of maintenance issues. There are some kind of mechanical issue with the plane and the airport officials don't find them because of this mechanical issue that pushes them past the RFU. We spoke to some residents and they said it is your responsibility to maintain your plane and you know this curfew exists a you should be able -- if you pass a curfew because of mechanical issue you should be paying the consequent this. The argument might be that you are scheduled takeoff at 11:15 a bit the curfew by 50 minutes you have a mechanical issue and it's what a push you to say to that 30 -- 12:31 of the argument say sorry you have to wait until 6:30 this morning. That could be the case. The cost of that would drastically outweigh the cost of paying a fine. In some cases, JetBlue because it has so many violation sometimes a violation could cost them as much as $40,000 because the range depends on how many violations you've had with that up to go timeframe. Break those numbers down a little bit. First time offender within -- there is a period that they have. First time within that period $2000 that it goes up to your second offense would be $6000, third offense $10,000, and it can go up from there. How much money are you talking about over this fight year period? I think the number is about $680,000 total. That amount could be a lot higher if they were fine for all of these violations. Half of the violations go on penalize. Who decides if they get a penalty or not? The airport has a curfew violation review board. It is a three-member panel and it's made up of three different airline officials. Basically they have discussions with the airline representatives and basically the airline explains what exactly happened so they review that and any submitted information that the airline will give them and basically they say we had a mechanical issue with this plane and it processed to pass 11:30 and did not take off until 11:45 -- You can just be running late and save mechanical problems again. The airline -- airport officials when I asked him why for maintenance issues -- I give the idea that the present Tommy. They should to be a find. -- Fine. What they don't want is for an airline when you have a mechanical issue they don't want them in the back of their head to have that fine in mind and decide not to fix it. Who is doing this really well? Who is escaping the fines? I'm surprised by that. It is Southwest has the best record. There are a few reasons for that. One thing they are -- they don't have late-night flights. They also have a really big sleep. There here in San Diego so if they have mechanical issue they can swap out a plane. They also have a policy that they will not break curfew. They've even canceled flights to be able to abide by that. They want that clean record. A big chunk of money in fines. What do a -- what do we do with all that money? Agosto program that helps insulate home so it's quite are under the flightpath. It goes to a general fund. The program is completely funded and the money from the fines goes to a general find for the airport So any number of needs out there -- beginning with the new airport itself. That is a session for another day. Thank you. That does wrap up another week of stories you're the KPBS roundtable. I'd like to think my guess Dan McSwain of the San Diego Union Tribune. Chris Young of our new source. A reminder that the stories we discussed they are available on our website KPBS.org. I'm Mark Sauer. Thank you for joining us on the roundtable.
SeaWorld tries to stay afloat
SeaWorld, having been hit by the four horsemen of the whale apocalypse — low attendance figures, diving stock value, a ruling from the California Coastal Commission, and possible federal legislation — is making changes to its image.
The park announced this week that it would phase-out its current circus-like orca shows in its San Diego facility and replace them with a show focusing on the “natural behavior” of the huge fish. The orcas will still be in a tank.
SeaWorld has two other parks, Orlando and San Antonio, and it is not yet clear if orcas will continue to jump through hoops in those cities.
SeaWorld’s re-branding announcement received faint praise from some orca sympathizers and downright antipathy from others, such as Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the film "Blackfish," and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA says not enough has changed because the whales will still be captives.
The park will focus on its research and rescue efforts and would like to become a resort with a SeaWorld-branded hotel.
The DA declines to charge
On April 30, 2015, San Diego police officer Neal Browder shot and killed Rawshan Nehad in the Midway District. Nehad was unarmed.
Browder was responding to a report of a man threatening people with a knife. Nehad was brandishing a metallic pen. Browder did not have his body-cam turned on at the time.
This week San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to charge Browder, citing overwhelming evidence that the shooting was justified. Her announcement has not quelled the controversy over this incident, which has been brewing from the start.
The shooting was caught on surveillance video and seen several times by an employee of KECO, a nearby boat-equipment business. He said in a sworn affidavit that the shooting was unprovoked and that the officer used no other measures before firing. Both the SDPD and DA’s office have declined to release the video.
And there are other unresolved questions: How far away was Nehad from Browder? Was Nehad moving toward Browder or had he stopped? Why was Browder's body camera not turned on?
Airlines violate curfew
The roar of jet engines taking off from Lindbergh Field is supposed to stop between 11:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. That curfew is often broken.
In the last five years, airlines have violated the curfew 217 times, but have been fined just 54 percent of the time. The guiltiest airlines – Jet Blue, Delta and United – were fined less than half the time.
Airport officials say that if mechanical problems, weather or air-traffic control issues caused planes to take off after 11:30 p.m., airlines are often excused from paying fines. Fines range from $2,000 to $10,000 and more, depending on the frequency of violations.
The worst offender is Jet Blue, which operates several red-eye flights close to curfew time. The airline racked up 54 violations in the last five years. Southwest Airlines, which operates more flights out of Lindbergh than any other airline, has no violations. It also has no late-night flights.
These noisy curfew violations are exacerbating the current angst in Point Loma over the FAA’s proposed change to the path of departing flights.