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Roundtable: Outrage In National City

Man shouts "Who killed Earl McNeil?!" at National City Police Chief during city council meeting on July 17, 2018.
Kris Arciaga
Man shouts "Who killed Earl McNeil?!" at National City Police Chief during city council meeting on July 17, 2018.
Roundtable: Outrage In National City
Roundtable: Outrage In National City PANEL: Andrew Bowen, reporter, KPBS News Jade Hindmon, reporter, KPBS News Jeff McDonald, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Outrage boils over in National City after a man's unexplained death. What happened to Earl McNeil during an encounter with police. San Diego finally has a plan for short term rentals but it will be another year before it takes effect. And energy regulators huddle in off the record meetings. The discussions about sand and Ofri that are just coming to light now marks our PBS 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 reporter Jade Heidemann of PBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen of PBS and watch Star reporter Jeff MacDonald of the San Diego Union Tribune. It's going on two months and protesters and National City show no signs of backing down. They disrupted the city council meeting for a third time this week. It's over the death in custody of a black man Earl McNeil. Here's some of that confrontation at City Hall. I urge you to do everything in your power so that we don't go down in flames and we become the Ferguson of the West Coast and that we are not going to be killing this community you have to send a message. I can guarantee you that we're going to ask the nation to come to National City the entire nation. We're going to ask them to come by the bus loads. I'm not like you I sit. I wish I could do you to take me outside and slam the issue. I said I wish I could take you outside. Threatened me. Well nasty stuff. The protesters are especially angry. Police Chief Emmanuel Rodriguez what are their specific demands and his response. Well they want transparency. They want to know what happened to Earl McNeil. They want any police video that they may have whether that be dash cam video or a body cam video. They want to see the medical examiner's report. So so far they've not gotten any of that from the police department. They say it's all under investigation. All right so let's go into the details of this particular case. Start with with Mr. McNeil why was he arrested. How did he end up in the hospital. So all of this happened on May 26. He showed up in front of the National City Police Department to use the phone. He wanted to reach an officer. He got dispatch and he said you know what. I'm high. I have a warrant and I want to kill Jesus. At which point officers came out to meet him and they say according to the statement that that National City Police Department released that he became combative was agitated was paranoid. So they put him in a restraint and then they suspected him of drug use and they say that they found an illegal substance on him. So he was arrested put in that restraint and they took him to jail at some point during transport and when he got to the jail the San Diego County Jail where they they did not take him in. They rejected intake on him. He stopped breathing. So paramedics resuscitated him and in the following days he stayed in the hospital on a ventilator basically on life support. And finally that was removed and him on the 11th. Doctors recommend that they were move and he died. OK. And he was 40 years old. Right. So as you say National City Police they say McNeill suspected of being under influence of a drug. What does this family say about this. Well as family says that he has self medicated at times that he does suffer from mental illness. He has bipolar disorder they said and at times that he did self medicate that was that. That's no surprise for them. All right we do have a sound bite from a family spokesperson Natasha Williams. And let's give them I think that that should be a coward. On June 19th with the family and he smiled and he smiled while he was talking. They were quite. Upset visibly. Mark did he smile the entire time just like he was here. He told him his officers did nothing wrong. We said if that's the case release the tape and he said no. All right we're referencing these these tapes. It's really unclear what tapes there might be issues of exactly that. It's unclear. And we don't know what is available. We don't know if there's dash cam video available body cam video for certainly if everything happened in the location that police say it happened in there there would be recordings of the initial altercation at the very least. And what's the police chief say about all this about tapes and about some of the harsh criticisms and complaints that we're hearing. Sure and there is harsh criticism because you know just in Chicago they immediately recently released video of an altercation between a man and officers where that man was fatally shot. The question is this why can't this video be released. So there is video we just don't know what all it is. He says that there is no reason that they can't release it is because one it's still under investigation and to because he feels that there's no one particular incident in the video that shows where Mr. McNeill died as it would in a shooting in the family and the public is saying well you know if that's the case then let's release it. Let's let everybody take a look. Exactly. The family says that the chief told them that his officers did nothing wrong. I wonder how he reached that conclusion. Exactly. He continued and he said that again in Tuesday's meeting when I asked him I said well what you know when are you going to release that tape and he went back and said again my officers did nothing wrong. Even though this investigation is still ongoing even though there's not been a medical examiner's report a toxicology report he's already come to that conclusion but the police did reveal some evidence that would seem to favor them. No trauma on the body according to investigators present at the autopsy. But the family disputes exactly the family disputes that they say that they saw bruising on his head on MacNeill's head on his arms on his legs. And and they said that they were told by doctors in the hospital that he suffered from traumatic nerve damage in his brain. And so that's what put him on life support is what they were told by doctors in the hospital. All right. As we said this happened back in May. What did the police say the investigation is taking so long. They're putting it on toxicology reports. You know we understand the toxicology results sometimes take six to eight weeks to come back. And that's according to the medical examiner's office so any day now any day now because they think it was in some of the reporting it said the reporter or the coroner that is noted that 90 percent of the autopsy reports including toxicology are done within 60 days. And we're almost up to that exact three days from that. And you know when I last spoke to the chief he said it will be another two to three weeks before they get anything back under. If we look at the history of National City and the demographics there you can't be entirely surprised that this is blowing up in the way that it that it really has because this is you know a disproportionately low income community disproportionately minorities and they've suffered a lot of injustice over the decades. The freeway was built through their downtown and that basically cut off much of the residents from San Diego Bay it you know worsened the air quality which you know they suffer from higher asthma rates. I think this this city you know has has there has been a lot of injustice and frustration I think with the authorities for a very long time in this city and I think that that certainly has contributed to you know how explosive this has become. Sure Exactly and even when you're out there you know it's not even just the Earl McNeil case. There are not a number of cases where people have lost loved ones or feel that they were brutalized at the hands of the National City Police Department. So there is a real disconnect between the community and the police department there. And describe the scene for us at the confrontation in that meeting room. That's a pretty extraordinary circumstance. Sure. So you know they opened that meeting up with public comment and people came up to to voice their concerns over this particular case. And just over the policing in general at one point someone went over their time limit and then three minutes three minutes and someone went over that time limit. So they figured the meeting was out of order and you had the council get up and leave the chambers. And at that point you had people start to yell Who Killed Earl McNeil who killed Earl McNeil and they were asking that to be the police chief who was sitting there in the corner. So we were able to kind of. Corner him and get some questions answered about what's going on with the tape. Eventually the meeting resumed and everyone got up and looked again as soon as those public comments started it's really only two people state. Yeah the two council members two the only two women of color on the right city council. Mona Rios and Alejandro. So tell us please. Right. And I talked to them and they said they they decided to stay the second time round because they wanted answers to Will. Short time left on this. It's a local story so far but it hasn't garnered the national attention we heard in the debate at the top there. Somebody saying you know this could be Ferguson coming here what's your guess and why so far this hasn't gone beyond a local store. Right. And you know I'm from Ferguson so that's where we're I was born and raised. So I think that the handling of this has been different. And to you I really just think that people are being have been very patient so far with this whole process. And that's why it's not blown up in the same way but obviously that the patients running out will everybody will be following it up here when the coroner's report and the investigation finally comes forward and we'll see what happens here. Well thank you. Great reporting. Very interesting story going to move on. It was a problem so vexing city council members called themselves dysfunctional and the chase for a solution. What to do about short term vacation rentals. And Andrew what exactly did the San Diego council come up with because we're talking about this a lot. I'm sure it's taken years and suddenly well we have a solution. Yeah we'll see. Well so let's first distinguish between two types of short term rentals so there is home sharing which the anguished ordinance distinguishes between home sharing where the host remains in the home on site and they're renting out say a spare bedroom or two. And then there's whole home rental where they rent out the entire home. And the owner does not stay on site. So home sharing will be pretty easy. Under this ordinance you will need to register with the city pay hotel taxes and a Nafie for that will go towards affordable housing. But it doesn't require an expensive license whole home rental on the other hand will require a license upwards of nine nine hundred forty nine thousand bucks. Yes. And the biggest and most contentious part of this ordinance is that you will only be allowed to rent out your entire home if it's where you live. Most of the year if it's your primary residence. So all of those hosts that previously were living in their home they owned a second home and they were renting that out full time on Airbnb. That will no longer be allowed. All right we're going to get into that in a minute and some of the areas that are really really crying foul on that one. So in the council who supported the plan who was against it it wasn't obviously unanimous decision. That's right. So it passed the ultimate compromise or amended version of it passed 6 3. The I would say the most the the council member who took the most interest in working out the details of this proposal was Councilwoman Barbara Berry who represents District 1 the coastal northern coastal neighborhoods including La Jolla and also supporting it were Lori Zapf who represents some of the other coastal neighborhoods. Pacific Beach and Mission Beach a couple of the council members had changed their minds on this. Chris Ward represents downtown and a lot of the urban core had previously supported a more permissive approach. Ultimately he changed his mind and said no we want to go with his primary residence. Only thing the opponents to it would say the most outspoken opponent was Councilman Scott Sherman. He was talking about you know this tramples over our property rights if you have a home. If it's your property and you own it you should be able to do with it what you want. Chris Tate previously also another councilman had had talked about the impacts on business and that this is the sharing economy and we just need to embrace it. The mayor kind of fell down and fell in the middle on this. This was the first time that he had really taken a position one way or another on it and he had originally proposed a slightly more permissive ordinance. But once the council amended it and passed this more restrictive one he said at least we got something done. No the mayor I recall from your story. They were talking about an exemption merits because of Mission Beach Mission Bay. Those neighborhoods have you ever been along your walk along the beach and the boardwalk there you know a lot of vacationers are in there especially this time of year. That's a lot of folks own those who are not on site. Yes so the mayor had originally proposed unlimited numbers of licenses in Mission Beach. He said that it's a special neighborhood that's always been welcoming to visit or learning more about. Going back a long time. The day of the meeting the morning of the meeting he amended that and recommended that they only allowed two but two licenses per person. But if you had been paying hotel taxes to the city and some of these vacation rentals are and some aren't. If you've been paying your taxes you can be grandfathered in and you'll you'll keep your license. That didn't pass ultimately. Councilwoman Lauries Apse said the same rule should apply to Mission Beach everywhere else. And the majority agreed. And what are the folks at Mission Beach saying about all of this. Yeah well it depends on who you ask. Now if you're one of those property owners who owns a home and is renting it out on Air B and B you're making a lot of money from that. Certainly. And you know want to maintain that that revenue source if you're one of the long term residents or people who live there full time and you see all of these vacationers coming into your neighborhood it doesn't really feel like it's you know a community. It's you know you might feel like there are loud parties disrupting your peace and quiet. Then you will probably be happy with this that you know this will be a more restrictive approach and try to just kind of limit some of the growth that really explosive growth that's happening in short term rentals over the past few years. I wonder if you if you think that if you had to guess does this mean that the area is going to be flooded with more long term rentals more affordable housing. I don't know what are you. Yes. Well I mean it's hard to imagine Mission Beach ever being affordable but I would say that you know a lot of this is going to depend on whether this is challenged in court or whether it is you know amended ultimately after a review period. You know if this neighborhood suddenly is devoid of all visitors I I would say that's that's a pretty far fetched possibility. And even if you do own one of these homes that you rent out full time on it on a short term basis you know to vacationers you can sell it and still make plenty of money. One thing I think we should all acknowledge that if you're a property owner in San Diego you're doing fine. They're doing a lot better than other people who are really struggling to get by here with the cost of living. And even if you feel you have to soul you know you do it well to sell a home you know depending on how long you've had it you'll probably still sell at a profit. And and you know maybe that's going to make you a little bit less rich. But you know ultimately there are other people who really need housing and need homes. And I think that that's the argument ultimately that one out. The one the council majority. It's job enforcement angle here is be going to dedicate new resources enforcing this. Yes. That's going to be another challenge. A lot of the opponents to this ordinance ultimately passe it's the market's just going to go underground so that nine hundred forty nine dollar fee that whole home rentals will have to pay will go towards hiring new city staff including new city attorneys. People in the treasurer's office a new code compliance and police officers and they're supposed to be kind of at the ready and ready to respond to any complaints that that neighbors might be calling against their noisy vacationers next door. Sounds like a busy job answering that hotline phone. So I'm not sure 900 dollars will cover. Right. Well so you know what he did do we didn't know how many of these short term rentals are this a guess. Yeah. So the there is a consultant that that came in to San Diego close to the last minute really and gave some pretty reliable data that the city had been lacking for a long time. And they said that about a little more than 11000 of these listings exist in San Diego. It's not exactly clear how many of those are full time year round rentals or how many are just listed and they'll rent them out for a couple of weeks or months a year. But the city tried to do the math and said you know we want these fees to be fully recovering the cost of the enforcement. And so they came up with this number of how many they expect will we'll be paying those fees. They expect it to raise three point five million dollars annually in those fees and that will pay for all of the city staff that will be staffing this enforcement team. A few seconds left who are likely to be lawsuits over all that's happened in a lot of other jurisdictions. There are constitutional rights property rights involved here. Other cities have successfully been able to keep these types of regulations the types that that San Diego is passing on the books. So we'll see. You know ultimately it could go to the Supreme Court and the coastal commission has to win the next another year before it even kicks in and the targeted current targeted date for implementation is July 1st of next year. Another story we'll be following. Interesting story. Well we'll move on. The state of Florida is known for its sunshine law simply the public's business is done in public. It's more than a century old but even in Florida legislators have tacked on more than 11 hundred exemptions over the years. California doesn't claim such transparency. News this week of private meetings by political appointees to discuss energy policy outrage those who bird dog such powerbrokers. But the public not so much. Emails released by show that the powerful state regulators are discussing energy policy in private as you noted in your story is that legal. Well is it legal. According to the regulators yes and the governor's office. Yes because there's no quorum of any one of the bodies that are meeting what these are our so-called energy principles the leaders of five state agencies the chairs and the senior staff. So they're all getting together to discuss issues that are pending before their respective panels presumably making decisions and then taking back to their bodies and implementing the decisions that were made at these secret meetings. Interestingly the governor's office is staffing these meetings and these are bodies that are supposed to be independent of one another and certainly independent of any political influence so the e-mails showing that the governor's staff is discussing these issues while they're pending attending the meetings involving themselves in the decision making that doesn't appear to comport with the public the state laws requiring independence on the part of these regulators and these regular's these are powerful agencies that they may be obscure to a lot of citizens. They control everything air water power all the all the essentials of California's in from the drought in the costs we all pay for yes many many billions of dollars tens of billions of dollars every year to California consumers. So the idea that they're discussing and dictating how specific projects should be reconciled are resolved that they're making their decisions in private and then going back to their bodies and make implementing the decisions that were made in private. That's troubling to a lot of consumer advocates and people that are open government fans. Yeah sounds like a classic smoke filled room backroom deal. Well yes. And it's just the story of acquiring these e-mails is pretty electric of how business gets done in California. It's troubling because the utilities commission which was sued to release these e-mails. They spent years refusing to release them. And the utilities commission just act as its own judge and so when they deny a public records request that's it. You have to go to an appellate court which may or may not take the case. Now San Diego attorney Michael Aguirre whom we all know is the former city attorney. He's refused to give up on this issue and got a appellate court in San Francisco to take the case first then hear oral argument consider the the the material and then make a decision ordering the Utilities Commission to release the e-mails and they're from 2014. So this is 2018 the utilities commission won't even tell me if these meetings are ongoing. Yeah saw that's a lot of years ago and then they didn't even release all the e-mails they were supposed and there was tons of new issues confronting the state right now that are supposed to be debated in public. That may or may not be because we don't know whether these energy principles are continuing to meet in secret and make decisions in private. Isn't the Brown Act and other California open meetings law. Isn't the whole idea to be the public's business should be in the gun and the public yes the state constitution says as much as well. So that's very troubling to the areas of the world and the consumer advocates who want California to operate in open and above board manner. The governor's office and these commissioners they say that it just makes good sense to meet and make sure they're all on the same page and it's a basic function of government. Basically what the governor's press secretary told me. But tellingly they wouldn't answer any follow up questions about why they're at the meetings when these are independent bodies and things like that. Well I wonder if you know if it makes sense for multiple state agencies to meet all together why not have a public meeting. Why not conduct all of that in the public. That is a great question that was one of my follow up questions that was addressed in my in my e-mail. Now they don't come to the phone and speak to us the way the way most people do. But in their statements they don't know a lot of times when they release statements. They omit any answer to a follow up question. So it's difficult to get to the bottom of it. It seems to me this demands a this would be a committee structures and you're saying you get a few members of each body called a committee you get together and you have a committee meeting. This is in the public. There's a transcript that it's recorded actions are taken they recommend to their main agencies are the U.S.. This is how it works in city councils and all sorts of agents. Yes you would think so. And you know hats off to them for getting together so they're all on the same page because you know the government the governor does have a vision that he wants to implement. And you know there's nothing wrong with his appointees to be on the same page. You know from the 10000 foot level but when they're doing the work and meeting they should be noticed and they should be open to the public some of these meetings are actually happening at some of the commissioners homes which I found quite curious. I mean I'm just curious to now explain to me again how the PC operates are they governing themselves or are they policing themselves. Is that how this works. Well the PC is an interesting governmental animal so yes and no. They served three different functions they they legislate. They act as judges in other proceedings and then they and then they. So they make decisions so they do. They perform three different functions so it's the same five political appointees that make these decisions. If you file a public records act for example they can act as a judge and decide whether or not those records should be released. And you don't get to appeal the only appeal avenue is going to the appellate court which may or may not take the case. So effectively they are the judge and they said no these records are private which is what happened in this case when their rule making know passing legislation so to speak. Governing utilities and water providers and whatnot. Those processes are more open and they're more participatory and they said they had their meetings in public and their staff materials is all public. So they perform a number of functions and they don't have a lot of oversight. They generally answer to the governor who appoints them. Any politicians jumping on this seems like a winning issue saying look we need to strengthen our sunshine laws the public needs to know what's going on with these powerful people. If there have been they haven't contacted me so I'm not sure I think. I think people like things the way they are right now the status quo seems to serve most of the interests that are represented by these bodies. I say most because obviously the consumer advocates the ones who are Tanesha enough to follow through with these requests. They don't like the status quo and there are there is some litigation that just hasn't been this case was a win for the for the Mikee theories of the world that has been applied to other cases. OK and I'm sure you're going to follow up on this and we may have some final stuff coming on Senan Ofri very soon on that whole. Yes the Utilities Commission next week will consider the proposed settlement returned almost eight. All right we're out of time but we'll be looking for that I'm sure. Well that does wrap up another week of stories that the PBS roundtable I'd like to thank my guests Jade Hyneman of PBS News Andrew Bone of PBS and Jeff McDonald of the San Diego Union Tribune. And a reminder all of the stories we discussed are available here on our Web site kape PBS dot org. Hi Mark Sauer thanks for joining us today on the roundtable.

Outrage In National City

National City Police Chief Manuel Rodriguez is facing calls to resign amid sustained demonstrations over the death of Earl McNeil. The San Diego man was arrested by National City police on May 26 while suffering a mental health crisis. According to police, McNeil stopped breathing while in custody and then paramedics resuscitated him. He died after being taken off life support two weeks later. The city has refused to release video from police body cameras and details of an official autopsy have not been made public.

RELATED: Who Was Earl McNeil?

New Rules For Short-Term Rentals

After years of debate and failed efforts at regulation, the city of San Diego is moving forward with a plan for short-term home rentals facilitated through websites like Airbnb. Homeowners will be required to pay for licensing and rentals will be limited to primary residences. The new regulations will be implemented next year.

RELATED: Regulations Ban Homeowners From Renting Out Secondary Residences As Short-Term Rentals

Undisclosed Energy Meetings Revealed

A series of closed-door off-the-record meetings in 2014 included top energy regulators and members of Gov. Jerry Brown's administration. The meetings are just now coming to light due to a court-ordered release of related emails. Meeting topics included the San Onofre power plant and dismissive comments about renewable energy.

RELATED: Newly Released San Onofre Emails Show Public Business Done In Private With Gov. Brown Advisers

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