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Was Justice Served? San Diego Chooses Community Choice Energy, Sea Level Rise In Imperial Beach And More

 September 19, 2019 at 10:50 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 This is KPBS midday edition. I'm worrying Kavanaugh. Last week, district attorney summer, Stephan struck a plea deal with a former sheriff's deputy who had been accused of sexually assaulting more than a dozen women, but no sexual assault charges were included in the deal. KPBS investigative reporter Claire triglyceride talked to two of the victims who say that surprised and upset them. Speaker 2: 00:24 Former sheriff's deputy Richard Fisher was initially charged with 20 counts of assault, burglary, forcing oral sex and sexual battery, but his plea deal with the da did not include any of the sex charges. Instead, he pleaded to four felony assaults, three misdemeanor assaults and misdemeanor. False imprisonment at the most Fisher could face five years in prison. There's also a chance he won't serve any prison time. Two of Fisher's victims say his plea deal invalidates what happened to them. If somebody is guilty of some charge, I need to be guilty and need to be casually. That one woman who asked that KPBS only identify her by her initials. T D says she first encountered Fisher in January, 2017 when he was called to her home to check on her welfare. He returned several times and would force her to kiss and hug him. She said she is an immigrant and was afraid to say anything bad about the police. Then that April she says Fisher forced her to perform oral sex on him. Speaker 3: 01:32 He take my right wrist and take me in my bedroom, sit me in a on a bed and um, he open his zipper. And first in my head I didn't know how that, how long they was like maybe can be two minutes or five minutes or one minute. I cannot know exactly does the, I remember the dog from his car was barking solo. This is what is going to say my, my hat, like the memory I have, and I remember this thing that night, all night, like slowing betters than dealing with police is not easy. Speaker 2: 02:15 TD says district attorney, prosecutors told her Fisher would plead guilty to forced oral sex. That didn't happen. Speaker 3: 02:22 I think anybody who make mistake, the need to better make plea bargain, the need to plea onboard, they're done. Speaker 2: 02:31 Her experience has made her question whether the justice system works. Speaker 3: 02:35 My desire is for all new generation, all females, and to be safe and not to be scared of the truth. Fisher's Speaker 2: 02:46 defense attorney Gretchen von Helms told KPBS the majority of the victims wanted a plea deal. District Attorney Summer Stephan declined an interview request. She sent a press release after the deal saying it was quote in accordance with the wishes of the overwhelming number of victims who agree it is a just inappropriate resolution that holds the defendant accountable for his crimes. Stephen also says a judge will decide whether Fisher has to register as a sex offender, which is still possible, but not guaranteed. Since he didn't plead to sex charges. Michael Crowley is a criminal defense attorney not involved in the case. Speaker 4: 03:25 I'll get him to the point of where it is discretionary to um, have the sex registration that the judge will make that decision probably based on psychological reports and, and the static 99. Um, that's huge. Speaker 2: 03:45 He says if the sex charges were included, sexual offender registration would be mandatory. Another woman who asked only to be identified by her initials. KP says she also believed Fisher would be pleading guilty to sexual assault. She accused Fisher of groping her during a traffic stop Speaker 5: 04:04 when they read it off and then it was over. I was kind of looking around like [inaudible]. That's it. Like that's what he got charged with. Like it was really baffling. Honestly, Speaker 2: 04:13 Fisher will be sentenced in early December. Many of his accusers are suing him and the sheriff's department in civil lawsuits. Claire Tyga, Sir KPBS News Speaker 6: 04:32 [inaudible]. Speaker 7: 04:35 Earlier this week, the San Diego City Council approved the formation of a community choice aggregation or CCA program. It will allow the city to purchase power and then sell it to city residents. Lower prices and cleaner energy are promised as part of the agreement. KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen has been covering this story and joins us now. Andrew, welcome. Thank you, jade. So first, could you please tell us more about what community choice is and what it means for the city of San Diego? Under a community choice program, there's a local government agency that will decide basically where the electricity for residents and businesses comes from. They'll sign contracts with maybe new solar parks, uh, natural gas facilities for a time for the time being and um, and basically determine where that mix of energy comes from. They'll also get to set their own rates, which is why, um, lower energy bills as part of the promise. Speaker 7: 05:28 Um, community choice was really a central part of the city of San Diego's climate action plan. The city has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and one of the main strategies is getting to 100% renewable energy by 2035, a four. A lot of rate payers, once this program is up and running, probably won't no notice much of a difference. SDG and knee is still going to bill customers. It's still going to, uh, maintain the grid of wires that actually delivers that electricity. Uh, but rates could be cheaper. Um, city officials expect that it to be about 5% cheaper than SDG and e rates. And, um, so yeah, we'll see what's gonna happen once this is up and running. And the timeline is about 2021 when they'll start actually delivering energy. And San Diego is partnering with four other cities and the program, Chula Vista, La Mesa and Sunita's and imperial beach. Speaker 7: 06:18 How will all those cities share power? Yeah, the cities are forming a, a what's called the joint powers authority. It's a legal entity in California and it's separate from each city. Um, so that was basically to protect each city's general funds so that we'll have this separate government agency with representatives from each city. Um, but it's legally separate from each individual city. Um, every city will have one seat on the agency's board of directors and there was a desire pretty early on from the San Diego City Council to make sure that San Diego is kind of in the driver's seat, that they wanted to maintain more influence than the other cities because it's so much bigger. And they also have their own goals on this. Um, you know, with renewable energy. So the terms of, of the, uh, this new, uh, agency will allow three members of the board to call for a weighted vote. Speaker 7: 07:08 Uh, you, some listeners might be familiar with that. Um, we've talked about it in the context of SANDAG. Um, but each city's vote then each of the five cities will have a voting power that's determined by how much electricity they use. Um, their load and no city can have more than 49% of the weighted vote, which is kind of a compromise to say yes, since the city of San Diego is the big, um, you know, power broker in this agency, but it won't have a majority in, it still needs to forge some compromise with other cities to reach some kind of consensus. All right, now I'm going to go off on a tangent. Okay. And I'm just going to ask, yeah. Now, after the water audit with the city, do we trust them? Do we trust [inaudible] to do, you know, that was something that was brought up by a, one of the council members who voted against this proposal. Speaker 7: 07:52 Scott Sherman. Um, councilman Chris cake was the other vote. These are the two Republicans on the city council. And so Sherman referenced the city's Water Department, the um, the billing problems that they had. Um, there was an audit, I'm calling out the departments slow response to fix some water meters. Um, so there, there is definitely some concern out there that this new agency, you know, I think it generally comes from, um, a, a general skepticism of government's ability to do things right. Um, to a council member Sherman's point. It's a bit of apples and oranges, his comparison because as I mentioned, SDG and e will continue to maintain the grid. Um, so, so they'll still be responsible for, you know, fixing down to power lines or billing customers. Actually making sure that each customer is, is, uh, you know, getting the right, uh, uh, Bill. Um, but the, um, the only thing, so those things won't change. Speaker 7: 08:49 The only thing that will be different is that this new government agency will be determining where all of that power comes from. And every member of the public at the city council meetings spoke in favor of community choice, but there were some discontent among them even. Tell us about that. Yes, there were a few, uh, points. So the local chapter this year as a Sierra club was concerned about language that discourages the use of nuclear energy, but um, does not outright ban it. Also, the, uh, I'm one of the locals of the International Brotherhood of electrical workers. The union wanted stronger labor. Food Division wanted stronger labor provisions. So for example, when this new community choice program commissions a new project out there, um, you know, let's say a solar park in the desert, um, encouraging that, uh, that project to be built with a unionized labor. Uh, the officials from the city said that both of these issues can be addressed by the community choice board of directors. Speaker 7: 09:47 Um, this new government agency and it doesn't have to be the city council that makes these mandates. Um, and that at that point, once the, once this agreement came to the city council on Tuesday, the negotiations had already happened into reopen them, uh, would have basically delayed the city beyond the point of, of being able to maintain their timeline. And proponents of the CCA say it'll bring both cleaner and cheaper energy. What's behind those claims? There are currently 19 community choice programs in California and the cities, one of the cities, consultants on Tuesday said that all of them are offering cheaper energy rates than their incumbent utilities. So there is some reason to believe that they're, they will, they will be capable of providing, uh, lower energy rates, um, on greener energy. Uh, the state is already requiring all electricity in California to come from clean sources by 2045 but that's 10 years later than the city's own deadline of 2035. Speaker 7: 10:43 So it's not enough to actually meet the city's goal of, um, uh, in its climate action plan. Um, the city of San Diego is, uh, this community choice program will be the second largest in the state. So that means they will have more sort of, um, economy of scale, more power to actually commission new energy, renewable energy projects, projects. And so I think that's where that comes from, that they will actually be able to provide cheaper and greener energy. And what does SDG and e say about all this? They actually spoke in favor of this proposal on Tuesday. They were barred illegally from officially lobbying against community choice here locally in San Diego. Their parent companies Sempra energy did form a independent, um, lobbying group. It's basically funded by shareholders in that private company. And they had lobbied to slow down on community choice. Um, they tried to sew some skepticism in it, but they never officially opposed it. So, um, ultimately they lost a mayor. Kevin Faulconer announced he's gonna support this program and, and uh, the city council agreed with him. So here we are. Here we are. All right. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Thank you. Thank you, Jayden. This week KPBS has been hundreds of news Speaker 1: 11:54 organizations from across the globe to bring home the realities of a warming planet. Today. Our covering climate now report focuses on imperial beach, one of the lowest lying cities in California. It regularly experiences flooding during high tides and storms. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman says rising oceans are threatening to make that flooding significantly worse. Speaker 8: 12:18 Hey, this is a low time. We still have, you know, the water hitting the rocks. Speaker 9: 12:22 Robert Stabenow is captain of the imperial beach lifeguards Speaker 8: 12:25 as you know, and why IB? We're probably, you're here talking to me is because is vulnerable. What IBS? Highest point in the whole city is 40 feet. So, um, the whole areas is low lion Speaker 9: 12:36 stabbing. I grew up in IB and has been a lifeguard there for 37 years. Speaker 8: 12:40 It used to be, yeah, we get coastal flooding, like I said in the seventies eighties and nineties but it was every five to 10 years. We're expecting that pretty much every high tide in the winter months. Speaker 9: 12:52 Stamina is in charge of fortifying the city when flooding is expected. He's no climate expert, but says he seen the flooding get worse over time. Speaker 8: 12:59 In the past we had open area, so we'd have coastal flooding, but it slowly come up and over the top and it wasn't as significant. And what you're seeing now in the amount of water that comes up over the top is, you know, flooding in the whole street with seaweed and other debris in sand Speaker 9: 13:13 in some areas of imperial beach. The water literally goes right up to homes and stabbing us as people living with a waterfront view do not want to have to move their homes. Speaker 8: 13:21 Yeah. And that's a very touchy subject and relocation of, of reticence and their homes and some of these people that have been in their homes for their life and they don't want to be relocated. You know, I'll get relocated when the ocean tells me it's time to be relocated. I don't want somebody telling them they have to. Right. So it's a, it's a difficult decision. If that was my home, I'd probably feel the same way. So, um, but when you can't control mother nature, but you can prepare for it. Speaker 9: 13:47 Part of that preparation involves creating sand barriers. But right now in imperial beach there and in fact all southern California or beaches have a sand shortage. Robert Gouda is a sea level rise expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Beaches in southern California can no longer maintain themselves. They're not going to be shandy beaches. We can either maintain them and expect to pay the money or not have sandy beaches. He says the flooding might look bad now, but with sea level rise expected to increase dramatically in the coming decades, the lack of sand could make that flooding catastrophic rising shu level will take a chronic problem, shortage of sand and see how bad it can get by just flooding the beaches on top of it that are already sand starved. One school and imperial beach is taking this reality and turning it into a teachable moment. Speaker 10: 14:41 You got the Oh Thai river coming right here up against the school, right up to the bay. The Oti River has a little outlet right here, which goes into pipe, a drain pipe Speaker 9: 14:52 that goes across the soccer field and pops up in the corner. Kevin Court is principal of Bayside Steam Academy, which has k through sixth grade students. When the San Diego Bay floods and outlet pipe dumped salt water in a back corner of the school at a high spring tide several times a year. When the water flows up this way, it bubbles up in the back corner and produces salt rings. You can feel the salt crunch under your feet when you walk on it. The school usually has this area blocked off, but it's been letting fourth and fifth graders near the area to track the overflow. It's just something that's been a part of our school that we've chosen to learn about a phenomenon like this happening in our backyard. Let's learn about it. Let's learn about elevation and contour lines back at the water. Stabenow says he seen the beaches getting smaller Speaker 8: 15:39 every year. It seems like less and less comes back. Speaker 9: 15:42 Stabenow says in years past, the city has paid to dump additional sand on the beaches, but it doesn't stay there for long. Speaker 8: 15:47 That's what's the biggest concern, you know, for for me and the lifeguards is no beach. You know, there's no beach and there's no people here. You know, people don't come to the beach. There's no beach. Um, uh, so drastically impact visitors come into imperial beach. Um, hopefully it doesn't get to that point. Speaker 9: 16:09 Seawalls and other barriers are the best protection against high tides. Right now. Climate scientists say the ocean has risen by nearly a foot in IB over the past century, but it could rise by several feet before this century is done. Matt Hoffman KPBS News. Speaker 1: 16:23 The effects of climate change do not respect people or places everyone will be affected by the new normal of a warming planet. But it is true that people who have been living on the margins will feel the impacts first and possibly worse. The humanitarian crisis at our border is being fueled to some extent by a changing climate. Joining me via Skype is UC Berkeley researcher Michael Bacall Co, founder of the nonprofit [inaudible] and Michael, welcome to the program. Thanks so much for having me on the show marine. Now we've heard a lot about gangs and violence driving people to leave their homes and Central America. But your research in Guatemala found that climate change is one big reason farmers are leaving. What's happening to the weather in quite a Mala that's forcing this migration? Speaker 11: 17:13 So what we've seen in Guatemala is that over the past several years in particular, since 2014 farmers in the area where we work, which is called the dry corridor, have been reporting prolonged periods of drought. And what this means is that people have essentially lost the primary means that they have of sustaining their families, which is their corn crop. And in fact, in the area of Guatemala where I work, it's estimated that around 80% of the crop yield this year from corn will be lost as a result. These prolonged periods of drought. Speaker 1: 17:51 So it's the farmers who were basically living on what they could grow, who can sustain their existence and are leaving. Speaker 11: 18:00 That's exactly right. Indigenous Mayan farmers predominantly rely on subsistence agriculture. There's not much expendable income. And so when the primary means that people have to sustain themselves is wiped out, it means that people are in a very, very precarious situation where they have a very difficult time feeding their families. Speaker 1: 18:26 And what you found in your research is that this, this longer period of drought is compounding existing problems that were already part and parcel of Guatemala's existence. And one of them for instance, being malnutrition. Tell us about that. Speaker 11: 18:43 So overall in Guatemala, around 50% of children experienced malnutrition. But when you look in the rural Highland areas, the predominantly Mayan areas, that rate of malnutrition climbs as high as 70% so we're talking about roughly two and every three children experiences chronic malnutrition. Now to, to address this question of how this is compounded by climate change and sort of the root causes of these issues. You know, when you think about a country that is experiencing famine, if you think about a country where two thirds of parents are unable to feed their children, what probably comes to mind is a country that is experiencing desertification. A country that is landlocked. But if you travel through Guatemala, what you see is fertile agricultural lands there. It has access to ports on both sides of its country. And so it's, it's quite a paradox that you would see malnutrition rates so high in a country that has such abundant natural resources. And you can only unravel that paradox if you understand how throughout the history of Guatemala lands have been taken, captured, stolen from indigenous communities. In fact, in Guatemala, 2% of the population controls 70% of the land. It's a staggering figure. Speaker 1: 20:13 So the farmers find themselves with the smallest amount and the least productive land, no modern farming methods, no irrigation. And when it stops raining, they have nothing. Speaker 11: 20:26 That's, that's exactly correct. And on top of that, the Trump administration is now cutting aid to programs that that provided at least some minimal level of assistance for farmers living in these precarious situations. Speaker 1: 20:41 What can be done to turn this situation around? Speaker 11: 20:44 So I think there's three important things that the United States needs to do and that we as citizens of this country need to demand. The first is that we need to completely rethink the way we approach our immigration and refugee policy. It's unacceptable morally, ethically, and when you consider the United States as historical responsibility for driving migration in the first place. The second thing that we have to do is we need to dramatically pursue a course of action that will lead us to reduce our overall emissions of greenhouse gases, and I find that groups like the sunrise movement who are calling for a green new deal, I think that their approach is exactly right on the target, but then the third thing that we have to do is that we have to recognize that frontline communities such as the community where I work in Guatemala, but also communities throughout the United States and around the world are going to be experiencing the brunt of these climate effects. And so we need to take an equity approach, which means prioritizing resources to those communities that are, that are going to be most directly affected. Speaker 12: 22:04 I've been speaking with UC Berkeley researcher, Michael Bacall. Michael, thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me on the show. One book. One San Diego is a partnership between KPBS and 80 libraries across the county. The idea is to bring the community together by reading and discussing the same book this year is one book selection for adult readers is the great believers. The novel is set in Chicago in the 80s at the height of the AIDS crisis. It's a story of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss. Here's the author Rebecca MCI speaking with KPBS Evening Edition Anchor Ebony Monet. So what compelled you to write this book? Speaker 3: 22:46 I started off trying to just tell a story. There's a thread of the book that is about the art world of Paris in the 20s and it grew from that into a story about the eighties as well. This woman looking back from the end of her life and I realized when I had a story set in the 80s that it was an opportunity to write about the aids epidemic, which is an epidemic I came of age with. I was born in 1978 and it's something that has been an interest of mine throughout my life. Speaker 12: 23:13 And so born in 1978 you would have been very young during this time. What did it take to research the subject matter? Speaker 3: 23:21 Because I was writing about Chicago in specific rather than New York or San Francisco. Um, I wasn't able to just go get books about I should be, it's America's third largest city. Right. But I wasn't able to go check out books about AIDS in Chicago. They don't exist. I had to for the Chicago Parts, dig into archival research. Um, I read back issues of our gay weeklies for instance. But most importantly, I spoke to people. I had interviews, um, friends of friends. I came vouched for by the last person I'd spoken to. And I ended up speaking to doctors, nurses, lawyers, journalists, activists, historians and survivors who shared their stories. They were incredibly generous with me. Um, and it would not have been able to write a book with this texture and this level of detail and it wouldn't have been able to get it right. On the broader points, either without their help. Speaker 3: 24:12 And as you've mentioned, part of this book is based in Chicago, which is your hometown. What were some of the added benefits or obstacles of writing a novel set in your own town? Right. Well they thought it would be easier because here's one thing I don't have to research but in fact because you know, I know Chicago, but I didn't know my parents weren't taking me to gay bars when I was seven years old. Sadly. Um, I had to dig back, I had to really talk to people and the great joy for me in that though was walking through a city that was really transformed for me by the stories I heard. I wasn't basing my characters on real people, but there are real events. There was a major national act up demonstration in Chicago in April of 1990, um, where these men got out on the ledge of the county building with this banner. Speaker 3: 24:59 And it's a building I've driven past many times. And now when I drive past, I feel like I'm passing it historical site, which I really am. The neighborhood boys town where much of the book takes place has been transformed. For me by the true story I heard and by my own imagination as my characters became very real to me too, and you reference the great believers who are the great believers, right? It's from a quote that I use is in the epigraph by f Scott Fitzgerald. He was talking about his generation, which is, it struck me as odd because that's the generation we think of as the last generation, right? These jaded young men going to Paris after the war, but he was talking about his generation before the war and I started thinking about the parallels there. This generation, especially the visual artists that I'm writing about a bit in the book who went to Paris before World War One found chosen family, found each other, I found happiness and then world war one and influenza of 1918 rolled through and decimated that generation, largely of its young able bodied men. Speaker 3: 25:59 And it's in the aftermath of that, that Gertrude Stein says to Hemingway, you're all a lost generation. The parallels between that scenario and the age generation of a city like Chicago were so striking to me. The people who got to Chicago, it's post stonewall things were as good as they've ever been. They have each other and then this plague descends and we're 30 years into relative aftermath, even as it's still an ongoing crisis in our country and in the world. And this book is getting a positive response. Um, publishers weekly calls it a striking emotional journey. The New York Times called it a page Turner, one that conveys be tears and tragedies of the epidemics early years. What do you hope people get from this Bach? Ultimately, as a novelist, my primary job is to tell you a story and hopefully you get more than that along the way. But if I don't capture you with a story, I never have your ear right. And I think there's something that fiction can do with empathy. Bringing people close to events, to characters, to problems, to ideas that nonfiction doesn't quite do. And my hope is that I'm reaching people with this book, starting conversations with people who might not have picked up a nonfiction book about AIDS, might not have watched a documentary about it, but might get to know this time and this, these people through my characters. Speaker 12: 27:23 One book, one San Diego is launching on Thursday at Balboa Theater. Tell us about it. Speaker 3: 27:29 Yeah, it's at 7:00 PM. It's free to the public. Um, we are going to have the San Diego gay men's chorus there, which I'm thrilled about. Um, before I speak, Terry Cunningham, who's a local aids activist of long time will be speaking and talking about the history of AIDS in San Diego. And I'm so thrilled to be part of that conversation, those conversations that might start about what happened here and what's still happening here. Not New York, Not San Francisco, and separate from Chicago. So I cannot wait. Speaker 12: 27:59 That was Rebecca MCI, author of our one book selection, the Greek believers speaking with evening edition Anchor Ebony Monet. And you're listening to KPBS mid day edition.

Several victims of former sheriff’s deputy Richard Fischer are upset that no sex crime charges were included in his plea deal. The city of San Diego is taking the first steps to establishing a community choice energy program, which is key to the city meeting its greenhouse gas reduction goals. Plus, in today’s #CoveringClimateNow, coastal flooding is a regular occurrence in Imperial Beach, but climate change is making it worse. And, KPBS Midday Edition talks with author Rebecca Makkai about her novel, “The Great Believers” — the 2019 One Book, San Diego selection.