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Buying Clean Energy, How To Stop Using Plastic, Brian Banks Film

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The city of San Diego County wants to form a regional power agency to buy clean energy. Also, tips on how to stop using plastic, California wants to create a concussion protocol for jockeys, records show SDSU put students and faculty in harm's way when a construction project went awry, and the California Innocence Project co-founder discusses the making of a film about its exoneration of Brian Banks.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Two cities in San Diego County. We'll take preliminary votes today on the issue of community choice energy. The votes in La Mesa and Chula Vista may begin the process of establishing a joint powers agreement among eight cities in the county, including the city of San Diego. Meetings have been underway for months on creating a regional energy buying entity that will bypass SDG and e and an effort to find cleaner energy suppliers. The votes are in their early stages, but San Diego's chief sustainability officer says the cities have now reached the best consensus they could find. Joining me by Skype is Cody Huvane. She is the chief sustainability officer for the city of San Diego and welcome to the program. Thank you. Now the city of San Diego has been considering community choice aggregation for a while now. Why has the city reached out to include other cities?

Speaker 2: 00:56 We did a lot of research on community choice aggregation over the last several years and there's a couple of steps in this decision making process. The first is to conclude if this is a viable pathway for us as a city. And then looking at what's the governance model you want to pursue a joint powers authority, which is multiple public agencies essentially pooling their powers into one organizational structure is something that we concluded is going to provide the most protections to us as a city from our financial protections to us. Um, and we in talking with other cities that are pursuing community choice energy as well, I think they all have concluded something similar

Speaker 1: 01:38 now, which other cities may be included in this program. W which cities have you reached out to?

Speaker 2: 01:43 We initially reached out to as many cities in the region as we could that we thought were pursuing community choice energy. Um, but right now I think the, the most likely candidates to consider it at least some structure, whatever it may be for them. Um, tonight are, as you mentioned, Chula Vista and Lamesa are having these discussions at their city council. Um, Santee, you'll be discussing it in a few weeks. And then there's some north county cities, Encinitas, Carlsbad del Mar and Solana beach. Have all been pursuing different options. Salana beach is actually already an operational community choice program. Um, the county of San Diego as well, um, has been, uh, discussing CCA opportunities. Um, they're all gonna make their own decisions, um, based on what their city council and, and, um, staff feel is best. But those are the ones that we've had the most conversations with. Three simply

Speaker 1: 02:33 can you briefly remind us how community choice aggregation or CCAS for short is different from simply buying energy from SDG and. E?

Speaker 2: 02:42 Right. It's a program that's enabled by state legislation. It's really to provide communities choice and energy providers. So it allows local governments to, uh, um, form a CCA and start procuring power on behalf of their own residents and businesses. Customers, those CCAS that are formed can choose to opt out if they rather stay with us digitally procuring their power, they can, they can opt out and stay with STD knee. In any case, whether the customer joins their local government or stays with SDG ne, the utility still provides the transmission and distribution of power. So that doesn't change. It's just the procurement of power, which allows us as a government to decide, you know, the renewable content, um, the source of the power and things like that.

Speaker 1: 03:28 And the bottom line for San Diego in going forward with one of these would be to be able to buy cleaner energy, isn't that right?

Speaker 2: 03:36 Yeah. A lot of cities in California have pursued community choice because of that reason. It allows them to make decisions about the renewable energy content more locally. Um, and also the, um, that helps us achieve some of our climate action goals. Um, we're also seeing renewable energy costs coming down pretty dramatically and local governments have a really good, uh, it's called cost of capital, so we get really good rates in the market. Um, so we're able to provide that power fairly at a fairly competitive rate. Um, it also brings additional benefits of local control. Um, so right now the state makes all the decisions around energy for us. It doesn't really consider, you know, what's best for San Diego. And so that allows that decision to be made down at the local level. Then that also brings revenue that we can again, make those decisions at a local level and what that excess revenue can be stamped on.

Speaker 1: 04:27 What's the time frame on this proposal? When do the cities have to get on board and when could a joint powers agreement gets started?

Speaker 2: 04:34 Yeah, so there's a state compliance deadline by the end of the year. Unfortunately it's not my deadline, it's theirs. Um, so we are moving fairly quickly to file. Um, what's the initial plan with the state? By the end of this year, there's going to be a whole additional year in 2020 of setting up the structure and establishing more of the policies and procurement details. But the initial, it's what's called an implementation plan needs to be filed by January 1st. So technically the end of this year

Speaker 1: 05:03 and the city of San Diego has not formally approved a CCA yet, isn't that right?

Speaker 2: 05:08 That's right. We have received direction from our mayor and city council to pursue our regional a CCA program, which is what we've been doing over the last several months is, is getting the best terms we felt we could with other local governments. And now we're all collectively gonna be bringing these details back to our city councils for independent votes.

Speaker 1: 05:27 Has this idea met with any ongoing opposition from SDG and e?

Speaker 2: 05:32 Uh, no. They, you know, it's, they make their revenue and, excuse me, their profits off the transmission and distribution of power. So I think there are, at this point, agnostic to who buys the power.

Speaker 1: 05:43 Do you know when the San Diego City Council is going to be looking to approve a forum, give formal approval to this proposal?

Speaker 2: 05:50 Yeah, we'd like to bring this to them in mid September.

Speaker 1: 05:55 Okay. Then I've been speaking with Cody [inaudible], chief sustainability officer for the city of San Diego. Cody, thank you very much. You,

Speaker 3: 06:06 uh.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A wise businessman famously had one word for the graduate played by Dustin Hoffman.

Speaker 2: 00:06 I just want to say one word. Just one word. Yes sir. Are you listening? Yes. So you plastics.

Speaker 1: 00:17 That was excellent money making advice back in 1967 when the movie came out, but half a century later, plastics are choking our oceans and threatening all marine life. More than 360 million tons of plastic are produced annually. Millions of tons end up in our oceans. Can we change that? We'll the column of Greenpeace offers a practical guide in how to give up plastic. He spoke with round table host Mark Sauer by Skype as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk.

Speaker 3: 00:50 If you walk the beaches in San Diego or practically any seashore in the world, this problem is obvious. How did we end up with this universal pollution crisis? A plastics have been around for many decades.

Speaker 4: 01:02 You know when they started, people saw it and thought this is a cheap, safe, hygienic, a easy to use material, and they just didn't think about the end of its life. They didn't think about, well, if we carry on producing at this rate, who's going to deal with it? It just never occurred to them. And it's amazing to look back now and be like, how did you not realize this was going to become a big problem? But you know, that's dwelling on the past and I prefer to look at the future of now we know it's a problem now we can see on every beach, as you say, around the world, we're finding plastic even on the most remote parts of the planet. We have to do something about it. We can't let plastic production continue to rise at the rate that it is.

Speaker 3: 01:40 Now you're right that not just environmentalist but politicians, celebrities, consumers, store owners, et Cetera, are finally aware that plastic is polluting virtually the entire planet. We've recycled for a long time. We've ended the use of plastic shopping bags here and in many other places there's a big push to cut down on using plastic straws at major change. That's not nearly enough though, is it?

Speaker 4: 02:00 No, no. It's a great start because you know, our waste system isn't exactly great and any piece of plastic you're using could end up in the ocean. So those small items, cutting them out wherever you can are really important also cause they're, it's empowering to, to play your part. This is a shared problem. We all want to feel like we're part of the solution as well. Uh, but you know, we have to get companies and government to listen to it to see, you know, this is our target. We're gonna reduce plastic by this much by this year, by 50%, by 2025 let's say. And only when we have that really strong vision are we going to start to see that the pace of change match where it needs to be?

Speaker 3: 02:42 Well, in plastics, so much of it designed for single use seems the definition of convenience. How do you sell the public on the inconvenient truth that plastic has to go

Speaker 4: 02:50 well? I think a lot of the public are already there. You know, they're going to the store. No one wants to go into a store and walk home, unpack their bags and realize have just as much plastic as they've got food in their bags. You know, no one enjoys that experience. No one goes to the shop and thinks, oh yeah, my fruit and vegetables really needs three layers of plastic packaging. It's just we don't have a choice. You know, if you go, if you, if you live in, in the western world, you don't have much choice about using that much plastic. So this is what needs to change. We need, we need it to be made easier for us and individuals play a huge role in that by, you know, using their voice. Unlike decades gone past through social media, we have access to decision makers.

Speaker 4: 03:31 We can actually make ourselves heard much, much more easily and we can say, you know, enough is enough. We don't want to be part of this problem. We're doing our bit, you know, I've got my reusable water bottle. I'm cutting out plastic by making my lunch on a Sunday and taking it in a lunch box, which I have to say is the single biggest way I reduce my plastic footprint by doing that. Uh, but now it's your turn to join this with us. What are you going to do? Are you going to set these targets? Are you going to reduce the amount of plastic you're producing in your book? Is a guide to drastically cutting down on your supplies to going to realize what are some of the other basic things that everyone can do? Crucible Coffee Cup and saying no to straws, a reusable water bottle, a reusable bag in the kitchen, you know, do some research.

Speaker 4: 04:13 Where in your area is selling food, not wrapped in plastic. Go there or order from there online in the bathroom. You know, use a bar of soap instead of plastic bowls for shower Gel. Look up companies like lush that are doing moisturizer and creams and tins that you can return to them. Stop using cotton air bad, stop smoking cause cigarettes are cigarette butts are made of plastic. You know, these are all such simple steps and the impact they have is real because our waste systems are, are pretty broken and the plastic that you're using in your house might actually end up in the ocean. So best not have it there in the first place. And the plastic bottle you wrote about 500 billion are sold annually. That's 16,000 the second, I mean it's a mind boggling boggling number, but a, you recommended the positive return scheme.

Speaker 4: 04:59 Germany and Norway are, or some states like Michigan Herbert here. Why isn't it more widespread in the United States? I think because we just forgot that it was a really good idea because it's something from the past, people thought, I know we probably got rid of it because we didn't, it wasn't no good. And you know that's just wrong it. So deposit return scheme, they're brilliant. In Germany they reduced plastic bottle pollution by 95% or so. 95% of plastic bottles are recycled in Germany. Compare that to the UK. We're only 50% are. We don't have a deposit return scheme. We're meant to be getting one soon. And that, you know, it's that these solutions are simple. We have the tools, we know how to do this, we just have to get on and do it. And you wrote that people are surprised to learn that their clothes are responsible for about a third of all plastic released into the ocean's.

Speaker 4: 05:44 Explain how that is. So you'll close if your clothes were made of nylon polyester. When you put them in the laundry, the plastic can shed off. So in these tiny little things called microfibers, tiny filaments are plastic finer than a human hair and are so small that they can go drown the drain system into the water and eventually end up in the ocean. And when they're in the ocean, they act like magnets. All kinds of other bad stuff sticks to it like mercury or other chemicals. So when they're eaten by a fish, you know they're actually quite toxic. And then that fish is eaten by bigger fish as eaten by a bigger fish could even end up on your dinner plate. That's where we have a problem with microfibers. So by washing your clothes differently, by doing them at a lower spin cycle, a lower temperature full load, you can help reduce microfibers going into the environment. But you can also just think twice about do you really need the item of clothing? Is it really necessary? Or maybe you could just repair an item that you've already got. And that goes back to this idea of these solutions. Often quite simple. They're not rocket science,

Speaker 3: 06:42 but one of the, one of the overall solutions might be to, uh, to tax producers. When you've got a multibillion dollar, uh, plastics, petroleum industry, army of lobbyists consider it seems like a daunting task

Speaker 4: 06:53 completely. [inaudible] and the producers for a long time have gotten away with not paying the cost of the end life of their product. You know, the automobile industry, they pay their, they pay their costs for the end life of cars. The electronic waste industry is having to pay much more of the cost. Plastics producers, they haven't had to yet. And that's somewhere where we really need to see legislation. We need to see a, the production of plastic being, uh, paying the full price, the full environmental cost of it rather than, you know, producing it, putting on a shelf and then leaving all of the costs to the consumer.

Speaker 3: 07:25 Now this segment is part of our climate desk coverage. Uh, connect the dots for us. Tell us how plastics pollution is connected to the climate change crisis.

Speaker 4: 07:33 Well, two main ways. One way is plastic has made a fossil fuels. So the oil companies digging up the oil, they're making that plastic. And if we are going to continue at the rate of plastic production at the rate we are so quadruple by 2050 than plastic could make up 15% of our global carbon budget. That makes the plastic problem into a climate problem. So reducing the amount of plastic is the only way out of that. Now the other way is plastic is very linked to over consumption is very much linked to us taking more than we need using resources inefficiently on economically. And so, you know, plastic is often used for marketing, for over packaging, for making a product stand out, for trying to persuade us to buy more of something than we need. And that's the other link to climate because so much of climate change as we saw in the, in the land use report earlier released today by the international panel on climate change, you know, over consumption is a major driver of climate change. And plastic is facilitating that.

Speaker 3: 08:32 Well, so much to think about. I've been speaking with will McColum author of how to give up plastic. Thanks will

Speaker 1: 08:37 thanks. Will McCullum author of how to give a plastic speaking to round table host Mark Sauer for more coverage from the KPBS climate desk, go to change.

Speaker 5: 08:52 Uh.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Professional horse racing comes with huge risks. Dozens of horses have died in California this year. Drawing scrutiny from lawmakers in San Diego. A fourth horse died at the del Mar racetrack this week during training, but these incidents also cause injuries to riders, Capitol, Public Radio, Scott Rod reports, how California might become one of the first states with a concussion protocol for jockeys.

Speaker 2: 00:26 Huh?

Speaker 3: 00:29 The mid morning fog blankets, golden gate fields in Berkeley as the bugle player adds a little flair to the day's first call.

Speaker 2: 00:38 [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 00:38 inside the jockeys lounge before the first race, Frank Alvarado sits at a diner counter with the towel cinched around his waist.

Speaker 4: 00:45 I'd be writing for 37 years. The only thing I can do, just [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 00:52 Alvarado's frame is all seen you in muscle, not an ounce of fat to spare. Riding for that long means he's had his share of head injury

Speaker 4: 01:00 two times. I don't remember anything. Not really. I remember when I wake up in the hospital, what am I doing here? And they say, Oh, you fell. I said, oh wow.

Speaker 3: 01:10 Horseracing has grappled with the issue of concussions for years, but unlike other pro sports, it doesn't have a standard protocol for handling them. Now the California horse racing board wants to create one jockeys. Trainers and horse owners have opposed similar proposals in the past since it would pull riders off the track, but as the longterm consequences of concussions become clear, the protocol has gained support. This is one of those dangers of all professional sports if not the most changes. Dr. David Seftel is the trek physician at golden gate fields. He's seen numerous head injuries in the examination room below the grand stands.

Speaker 5: 01:46 We have been working for quite a long time to try and bring into effect concussion protocols that will help to protect our jockey community at the same time as preserved their capacity to work

Speaker 6: 02:00 outside on the track handlers. Corella field have six horses at the starting line

Speaker 2: 02:08 [inaudible]

Speaker 6: 02:08 they burst from the gate and fall into place around the first turn. Thoroughbreds like these weigh over a thousand pounds and can gallop it more than 40 miles per hour at those speeds. The slightest mistake can turn a 115 pound jockey into a human missile careening head first towards the track or other riders. California's concussion protocol would require jockeys to get a doctor's clearance to return after such a fall. Writers would also need to complete a baseline assessment every year

Speaker 3: 02:38 together around Jockey Flavian Prat after the race, he took home the prize at the sport's biggest event in May. You know, the one with the big hats in Missoula.

Speaker 5: 02:47 Hey Guy with the Kentucky Derby

Speaker 3: 02:51 pret says, jockeys understand the dangers of a head injury, but their drive to compete often affects their decision making.

Speaker 5: 02:57 You know, everybody tried to write as much you can and uh, especially if you have a good ride, you know, next. But I think we need people around us, you know, who can say, yes, you can, or no, we can not.

Speaker 3: 03:08 I hear this from several other writers. They know the risks, but they still try to race with concussion symptoms. Top jockeys, like Pratt often feel pressure from horse owners and trainers, but it's even worse for average writers. A survey from the jockeys guild found professional writers earn on average $29,000 per year for them. Missing a few races could mean losing their livelihood. Again, here's golden gate fields physician, Dr Seftel.

Speaker 5: 03:34 This is the most pay for performance related sport. If a jockey doesn't play, they don't get paid. The result is that there's an intense pressure for drug use to get back to work. Whether or not this is necessarily in their best medical interests,

Speaker 3: 03:48 he says the protocol would be a good start, but it needs to be strengthened. Here's one issue. This system would allow jockeys to get clearance from any physician trained in concussion management, which opens the possibility of doctor shopping to return sooner. That means jockeys may still find ways around the system, whether they're racing for a big purse to simply pay the bills or for pure love of the sport.

Speaker 1: 04:11 Joining me is capital public radio, Scott, rod and Scott, welcome. Thanks for having me on. Now, there was a death of a horse just yesterday at del Mar. During training. We do seem to hear more about these terrible accidents involving horses and not as much about the injuries to jockeys, about how frequent are injuries to riders.

Speaker 3: 04:31 You know, injuries are fairly frequent. And uh, if there's an accident involving a horse during a race, it is a very good chance that a, a jockey will suffer an injury. And you know, if you just think about the numbers, a jockey typically weighs between 115 pounds. They're hung the back of a very large animal over a thousand pounds and they're traveling at over 40 miles per hour. So, you know, all of those things combined means that if there's an accident is a pretty good chance that the jockey will suffer an injury. And often that means a head injury based on the positioning that they're in during the race. Leaning forward.

Speaker 1: 05:09 What happens now when a jockey has a bad fall and a possible concussion?

Speaker 3: 05:14 Pretty much all tracks have medical staff on hand, so that if there is an injury, uh, jockey will get treatment and advice from a physician. But as far as returning to ride, that's ultimately up to the jockeys at this point. Pretty much. Um, they can make the final call and if they've suffered a head injury, there's a good chance that they're not really of sound mind to be making that decision. Um, so as of right now, there's not much holding a Jackie back, uh, in terms of getting back onto the horse again.

Speaker 1: 05:44 Now you spoke with jockeys who say concussion protocols are really needed, but apparently some jockeys are against the idea.

Speaker 3: 05:53 That's right. You know, some jockeys feel as though this is, um, an important step forward for the sport. They feel as though that they do need someone who will say to them, look, it would be best if you sat on the sidelines for a race or two. Um, just to be safe. But there are a number of jockeys who also feel, um, strongly that they're in the best position to determine whether or not they should come back to race. Um, partly this comes down to if they have a big race coming up and they don't want to miss it. Uh, but also there's an economic side of it too. A lot of jockeys earn, uh, on average they earn about $30,000 per year. That's according to a recent study. So missing just a couple of races means that they, um, could miss out on an important paycheck to just make ends meet. Um, at the same time, some jockeys are kind of conflicted. They believe that they should have some say over when they come back, but they're starting to recognize just how severe significant, uh, head injuries can be, especially in the longterm.

Speaker 1: 06:51 Now you say after the protocols are finalized by the California horse racing board, they will have to go through a month's long approval process. Who needs to approve them. So it goes to the [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 07:02 standard, a regulatory process for California. So once they're finalized by the board, um, it goes to the, um, office of administrative law and it's a month long process, months long process because, uh, the public has an opportunity to weigh in and comment. Um, the office of Administrative Law. They review the regulation, make sure everything looks okay with it. So a lot of it's just sort of the process that it has to go through to get on the books. But there is an opportunity for the comment if for the public and the industry to weigh in to make sure that its the best step forward.

Speaker 1: 07:34 No, you know, it seems like the whole sport of horse racing is going through a re-evaluation. There are some animal activists who would like to see the end of it. Attendance has been down in recent years. How has the sport trying to save itself?

Speaker 3: 07:48 I, I think they're taking several steps to do this. I, you know, I, I've spoken to the head of the California horse racing board and they're not ignorant of the criticisms that they're facing. Uh, this year a big focus has been on the deaths of horses at tracks around the state, specifically Santa Anita Park in southern California. And they've made changes to, um, what sort of medications, uh, horses can have before the race. They're monitoring exercising more closely, um, in years past. They've also, um, reevaluate it and change rules about whips or crop use during, during the race. Um, and I think this concussion protocol is an additional step forward. So not only improving, um, the, uh, safety and you can say humane treatment of horses during and after the races, but also for jockeys. Um, I think recognizing that, you know, this is an extremely dangerous sport and these jockeys are risking a lot. And considering what we know now about the longterm consequences of concussions, I think the horse racing board is coming to terms with the fact that they need to reevaluate how they treat jockey safety. Um, and I think they see this as an effort to make the sport more palatable for a general audience showing that they take care and concern about the participants in the sport. I've been speaking with capital public radio, Scott, Rod, and Scott. Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 09:21 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego State University faced a public relations nightmare this spring when construction on a campus building sickened students and faculty. New documents obtained by new sores. Show money played a big role in why that happened. I knew source reporter Bella Ross has the story.

Speaker 2: 00:17 I had started a workout regimen. I'm seeing a trainer every Tuesday and Thursday and so that's nice.

Speaker 1: 00:23 July Nathan Rodriguez began taking time out of his day as an assistant professor of media studies at SCSU to go to the gym. It was paying off, he said until,

Speaker 2: 00:32 I think it was like mid February when I started noticing that things were going awry in my, um, physical condition in terms of like, have you breathing difficulty breathing headaches, um, wheezing. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 00:44 And SCSU roof construction project began during winter break and bled into the new semester and let off dangerous chemical vapors in the building where Rodriguez and others worked. Staff and students spent six weeks in the professional studies and fine arts building, breathing the noxious fumes. They suffered headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds. As a result, more than two dozen people filed health reports in March. University officials close the building, emails and reports obtained by new source. Now show a funding deadline was what prompted SCSU to rush the project and put the faculty and students at risk. I mean, good for me. It started kind of have each of you say your name, just spell it for us. I knew sorts sat down with three university officials after reviewing the documents to understand more about the construction debacle.

Speaker 3: 01:31 Cool. Have we waited for the summer to, to start some of this? Some of the funding wouldn't have happened.

Speaker 1: 01:36 Eric Hanson is an s CSU associate vice president. He said there was an approaching deadline to spend money on the buildings repairs. So when the project faced delays last summer, officials try to complete the work over the short winter break instead of waiting until the following summer.

Speaker 3: 01:50 I would not say that the planning per se was um, the failure.

Speaker 1: 01:54 Here's the thing though. A month after we sat down with Hanson and SCSU spokeswoman told us the deadline was actually a year later than officials originally thought the rush and resulting sicknesses could have been avoided. Instead, students continued at to attend classes in the building. Large fans were set up to reduce the odors, but the vapors remained. CSU has said repeatedly the vapors were not harmful, but air monitoring reports obtained by INU source show levels were barely permissible under federal standards and an excess of standards established by other health organizations.

Speaker 4: 02:30 I mean is it's kind of predictable that people would be experiencing symptoms from those exposures.

Speaker 1: 02:36 So last month for n has a doctor and occupational and environmental health and teaches at Texas state university. She told I need a source of April. Issues, could easily have been predicted and prevented.

Speaker 4: 02:47 No, this is the exact, like this could be a case study. It's not just one thing that went wrong. It's like a cascade of problems.

Speaker 1: 02:54 This cascade went well beyond the walls of the polluted building. Students. Faculty complained that campus wide communications about the health threat fell short their frustrations or re-upped it out a form in April about the project. He was Rodriguez again,

Speaker 3: 03:08 he had been sick. And I want to know why information has not been communicated to people earlier.

Speaker 1: 03:14 After listening to criticism for more than an hour university president Adela Delatorre stood up, she announced the abrupt decision to keep the building closed. But I am not going to have the faculty and staff at San Diego state or the students placed at risk Butoh phenol. But some students and faculty say they still feel kept in the dark. Here's SCSU student Brandon limb in July.

Speaker 3: 03:38 Even now, you know, it's summertime, it's been half a year since the building close and we're still kind of searching for answers.

Speaker 1: 03:46 An SCSU spokeswoman said the university plants spent another $12 million on the renovations to the building, including a new roof that may put the building out of regular use for up to two years. One lesson university officials say they have learned from this is to improve their communications.

Speaker 3: 04:04 I think if we knew what we know now, um, notifying folks earlier would've been something we would've done.

Speaker 1: 04:11 KPBS I'm a new source reporter, Bell Ross for a look at the full investigation and all the incident reports filed by building occupants go to, I knew I knew source is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.

Speaker 5: 04:30 Uh.
Speaker 1: 00:00 The amazing exoneration story of Brian Banks is one of the hallmarks of the work of the California innocence project and now it's being told in a motion picture that opened nationwide last week, bank spent years in prison and on probation for a crime he did not commit and saw the prospect of a career in the NFL vanish before his eyes when the San Diego based California innocence project took his case. His attorney, Justin Brooks, thought it was the longest of long shots. Now Brooks and banks are the main characters in the movie called Brian Banks. And joining me via Skype is Justin Brooks, director and Co founder of the California innocence project. And Justin, welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:41 Thank you so much. Pleasure as always.

Speaker 1: 00:43 Now Brian Banks case his exoneration made headlines when it happened back in 2012 can you remind us about the background of his case?

Speaker 2: 00:51 Sure. So Brian was a 16 year old kid going to Long Beach, Paul Ali, and he was one of the best football players in the country. He was heading to USC on a full scholarship. Everyone said he was gonna play in the NFL and then a 15 year old classmate accused him of rape. Brian ended up spending six years in prison after he took a plea Barg and uh, because he was facing 44 years in prison. And when he got out, she came forward and admitted that the rape never happened.

Speaker 1: 01:23 Brian was out on parole when he first approached you about his case. In fact, that meeting is one of the early scenes in the film. We have a clip from the movie Brian Banks with actor Greg Kinnear playing you, Justin and actor Aldis Hodge who plays Brian Banks sitting at a bar talking about how the criminal justice system is broken.

Speaker 3: 01:44 The system is broken. It's when I'm trying to tell Ya, just doesn't care. I'm just supposed to accept that, that the system is broken. You know what I say to that? This system now for real man. I mean, why can't we at least try? What is the system is people, yeah, it's cops, lawyers, judges. If one of them had just just cared enough to even go down to that hallway. Kanisha said, I dragged her, listen to how the tiniest little noise echoes. I wouldn't have this thing on my leg. Mr. Brooks, Justin, Justin. I know the system doesn't care about me. I've known that my whole life. The question is do you,

Speaker 1: 02:33 that's a scene from the movie Brian Banks starring Greg Kinnear and oldest hodge and Greg Kinnear is portraying my guest, Justin Brooks, director of the California innocence project. Justin, you are actually in part of that scene as a bartender?

Speaker 2: 02:49 That is correct. I didn't know if you're aware of that, but yeah, it was pretty surreal. They said the director asked if I wanted to play a small part in the movie and I said so I ended up serving the drink next to me and Brian with Greg Kinnear and all this playing those roles while they had a conversation that Brian and I had eight years before, so it was pretty surreal. This whole experience of having yourself portrayed in a movie must've been strange. Yes, it was. We had a, Greg actually showed up at the San Diego and a California Western School of law set in all my classes. So I had him sitting in my classes in my office. I had a few people send me emails saying, why is Greg Kinnear following you around the law school and a buddy? He really took it seriously. He wants to get it right.

Speaker 2: 03:39 And uh, it was a surreal experience, but it turned out really well. The movie is excellent. Just in take us back to that real conversation that you first had with Brian Banks. Why were you reluctant to take Brian's case? So there were two reasons. The first thing is the California's, this project doesn't represent people who are out of custody. We have so many cases of people on death row, people serving life sentences that we just don't have the resources to represent people trying to clear their names, trying to deal with old convictions. Brian convinced me that, you know, he was literally serving a life set sentence as a convicted sex offender. That his whole life had been taken away from him. And you know, the other thing about his case was it was a plea bargain. And we almost never take on cases where people have pled because it's so difficult to undo a plea.

Speaker 2: 04:31 I've actually been representing a woman for 25 years who was sentenced to death on a plea bargain and I got her off death row, but I'm still litigating to get that plea withdrawn. So Brian's case was an uphill battle from the beginning. Now the story of a man who is falsely accused of rape doesn't fit well with the message of me to where women are saying it's time that we are believed about accusations of sexual abuse. Did that contradiction become a factor in making this movie? Well, you know, I'm, I'm not confident the movie would have been made. We've been working on it for eight years. You know, if we were starting to make it now. But I think this movie is an important part of that conversation. I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is we're so polarized with extremes.

Speaker 2: 05:21 So it's sort of, guns are great, guns are bad, there's no middle ground. And that's why there's not any movement towards improving things. So whereas rape is one of the most unreported crimes, and whereas the overwhelming majority of women who say they've been raped have absolutely been raped, we still have to happen in the conversation that every once in a while there is a false accusation. And so we have to be cautious of that. So I just think it's important that we have conversations in reality. And when I hear people say things like, all women lie, it's, but want to hear someone say, no women woman has ever lied. That's also just naive. So I think this is an important part of the conversation and I think we've gotta get away from extremes.

Speaker 1: 06:08 How was the real Bryan Banks doing now?

Speaker 2: 06:11 Um, he's doing great. He, he just had a baby. He'd worked for a couple of years at the front office of the NFL, which was great. He played for short period of time for the Atlanta Falcons and then got hired by the NFL. And he's doing a lot of speaking. He, you know, has a real inspirational story to tell of how he survived all of this and I think his message resonates for people in their daily lives.

Speaker 1: 06:32 What's the hope behind this picture? Do you expect it might help fix the legal system in some way?

Speaker 2: 06:39 So you've known me for a long time, Oregon. I have an agenda. It wasn't necessarily, you know, that they wanted to make an entertaining movie and I think it is very entertaining, but I didn't want it to be a football movie. I wanted to be a movie about the justice system and what this movie portrays at the most fundamental level is if innocent people are pleading, if innocent people are going into court and saying they're guilty to cut their losses, there's something wrong with the criminal justice system and we need to look at it

Speaker 1: 07:09 now. There's been a movement lately on just about all levels of government at the, in the direction of criminal justice reform efforts to reduce prison sentences. The felony murder law was recently modified here in California. If you had your way, what is the one thing you'd like change to reduce the number of wrongful convictions in California?

Speaker 2: 07:30 In terms of the plea bargain issue? We need to free up resources in the criminal justice system so that all the cases aren't pushed towards plea bargains when we're now at a point when 95% to 97% of cases are resolved by pleas. And as a result of that, evidence isn't looked at closely enough. Um, witnesses aren't cross-examined. You know, people see all these trials on television and in movies, but they're really not occurring anymore. It's only a very small percentage of cases. So I'd like to see more reforms as you're talking about decreasing the number of people in prison, decreasing the sentences so that we free up resources to do a better job on the cases from the beginning.

Speaker 1: 08:10 The movie Brian Banks is currently at a theater near you, and I've been speaking with the director of the California Innocence Project, Justin Brooks. Justin, thank you.

Speaker 2: 08:19 Thank you so much.

Speaker 4: 08:23 Uh.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.