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San Diego County Enforces New Health Restrictions, Imperial County’s High Positivity Rate, Black Youth Are More Likely To Be Detained By San Diego Unified Police

 July 2, 2020 at 1:18 PM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The governor announces a new PR campaign, urging us all to wear face mask outside of staying at home. Outside of practicing the physical distancing, wearing a mask is foundational I'm Mark Sauer with Maureen Kavanaugh. This is KPBS midday edition. The Sheriff's department is counting on public cooperation with reinstated pandemic restrictions. Deputies certainly do have the discretion to enforce the law either by issuing a citation or referring it to the district attorney's office for prosecution down the road. And the fix may finally becoming for sewage leaking from Tijuana into the ocean. Plus the international push for a plastics free July that's ahead on mid day edition. First, the news Speaker 1: 01:00 Governor Gavin Newsome today rolled out a public service announcement campaign to strongly urge Californians to wear their masks and keep their distance. During a spike in Corona virus cases statewide some $37 million has been received. Newsome said to fund the series of TV and radio spots, plus billboards and social media messages, all to underscore the importance of wearing masks, washing hands, keeping proper distances, trying to make this as simplistic as we can, but as pointed as we can, as a reminder of this significance, we place on what we referred to as a non pharmaceutical intervention. That is the most impactful outside of staying at home. Outside of practicing the physical distancing, wearing a mask is foundational. And again, it's mandatory here in the state of California. Newsome emphasize it's a moment it's not permanent, but we must get through it together. New. Some also said if education and encouragement don't work, there's always the use of citations and fines for businesses and individuals violating state mandates. Speaker 1: 02:09 It's up to local officials. The governor emphasized to follow through as we head into the 4th of July holiday weekend, Newsome has ordered 19 counties to close certain businesses, including indoor restaurants, movie theaters, and museums. San Diego County is not one of them, but local public health officials issued their own restrictions. Joining me now to discuss what enforcement will look like is San Diego County undersheriff Michael Barnett. Welcome to the program. Thank you, Mark. It's a pleasure to be with you this morning. We'll start with these renewed restrictions. What are the latest rules put back in place by San Diego County public health officials? Basically they apply to restaurants, bars, wineries, distilleries, and breweries. Essentially those places have to be closed between 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM every day. And there will no longer Speaker 2: 03:00 Be, you know, bar service. Um, so if people are gonna drink alcoholic beverages in any of those places, they have to be seated at a table and order the beverages with their meal and consume them, uh, with their meal. And, and then all the other limitations still apply about people from the same household and social distancing and, and all of the stuff that we've been living with now for quite a while. Speaker 1: 03:21 So the idea of hanging around at a bar and walking around with a drink and talking to people that isn't going to happen Speaker 2: 03:26 For the not for a while. I'm afraid that's right Speaker 1: 03:29 Now, what's the response that your department's getting to the reinstatement of these restrictions? Speaker 2: 03:34 Well, I think people in San Diego, uh, they understand the urgency of the situation that the numbers tell the story pretty compellingly, that the numbers are high and they're going in the wrong direction. And I think San Diego does want to stay safe and get through this crisis together. Um, as far as the Sheriff's department and other local law enforcement agencies, uh, we're taking the educate first, educate both about, uh, what the orders say that they have to do and what they cannot do, and also why they say that what the importance of them is. Second is trying to get voluntary compliance, including, uh, from time to time. We actually hand out, uh, face coverings to people in the community that we've been able to procure from a number of different sources. And finally, deputies certainly do have the discretion to enforce the law either by issuing a citation or referring it, uh, to the district attorney's office for prosecution down the road. Speaker 1: 04:26 Your department issued a statement last night intended to alert the public of your ongoing education campaign. And that began when the pandemic was declared around the beginning of March, give us an overview of what the educational campaign entails Speaker 2: 04:39 Yesterday. For example, we received 44 calls for service throughout the County related to the public health order or the governor's executive order. And we went out and on 27 of those calls, we simply imparted information. We said, this is what you have to do. Uh, please do it. And we got voluntary compliance. Um, we're understanding that the public it's hard to keep up sometimes cause these orders do change frequently. But the important thing is it's not, we don't care about how much enforcement we do. We care about how much compliance there is because that's the goal is to keep us all healthy. Speaker 1: 05:11 And as of this taping, local beaches and parks remained open with the exception of beach parking lots in Oceanside and state beaches. How concerned are you heading into the July? Fourth weekend? Speaker 2: 05:24 Know the 4th of July is typically among the busiest, if not the busiest day at any beach in Southern California. Uh, and for understandable reasons, uh, when we're looking at the fact that beaches are closed and surrounding counties and the counties that surround us have even more of a severe problem than we do at the present time with this, uh, coronavirus pandemic, uh, we are concerned, but we expect people. If they're going to go to the beach and enjoy the day to do so safely keeping their distance from each other, practicing good hygiene and sanitation and having a safe holiday within the confines of the public health orders that are out there. Speaker 3: 06:03 And of course the forecasters are saying we've got a beautiful summer weekend coming. So we really can all expect a lot of people at the beaches. So what sort of enforcement is planned to make sure people are distancing and wearing masks when that's appropriate outside? I mean, enforcement, it's very difficult, especially when you've got a lot of people as we're talking about. Speaker 2: 06:23 Yeah, well, we are looking forward to seeing what the state level, a task force that the governor spoke of a couple of days ago, what that's going to look like in San Diego County, but essentially when violations of the public health order, uh, come to deputy's attention either through their own observation or in responding to a call for service, uh, they will deal with that situation. And the way that I've described, they will educate, gain voluntary compliance. And if, if there's a need to the deputy, certainly do have the discretion to issue a citation and or refer for prosecutors. Speaker 3: 06:54 Do you have a sense of the number of citations issued for violations of the public health orders? Uh, what they've been like the numbers since the start of the pandemic, Speaker 2: 07:03 Uh, the Sheriff's department is issued 139 of those citations, and that does not include the number of cases that we've simply referred for prosecution. Um, we didn't issue a citation that day, but we requested prosecution down the road. Um, and those have been North, South, East and West when every corner of this County and for all kinds of different activities, Speaker 3: 07:23 Were any restaurants or bars ordered to close back up for rule violations. Speaker 2: 07:27 I'm aware of two, uh, one in the city of San Diego and one in unincorporated Escondido and the Del Dios area that were both closed. Um, I think at least one of those has since been reopened after coming into compliance. Maybe both of them have, but at least one of them has. Speaker 3: 07:43 And how, in your estimation, if citizens have been responding to these public health orders after all, we've really got to rely on all of us as individuals to comply and the business owners to comply. Speaker 2: 07:54 I think by and large San Diego is understand the importance of these orders and they are doing their best to comply with them. I understand it could be a challenge. Nobody likes to wear a facial covering for example, when they're out jogging. Um, but the fact of the matter is that might be necessary if they're not able to maintain the social distance from others. And it's just, I think a matter of common courtesy and, uh, being good neighbors so that you, you know, keep your breath to yourself and don't spread any possible infection to other people in the community. And yet, Speaker 3: 08:25 Of course, we've seen a spike in coronavirus cases in the County. Uh, you see a point at which the department may have to move from educational to more stricter enforcement of public health orders. Speaker 2: 08:36 Yeah. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Uh, certainly the deputies have that discretion. Now if they see the need, um, if we see if we see an acute need in a particular community, for example, because either it's a tourist attraction or there's businesses that are attracting a lot of clients and they're not practicing social distancing and other measures, we may very well go in and do some enforcement. It's our sincere desire though, that San Diego is understand the importance of these orders and follow them to keep us all safe. And with this holiday weekend coming up and we mentioned the nice weather and we expect people to be out on beaches and parks. And all, I imagine you're going to monitor things this weekend, especially, and perhaps report next week on how everybody did really well. I hope not. I hope that those things aren't necessary, but if they are, then they will occur. Certainly. Um, and also we are referring any observed violations of the public health order, particularly in businesses, uh, back to the public health officer for their administrative action. They, they may want to take against that business, including closing it down. I've been speaking with San Diego County undersheriff Michael Barnett. Thanks very much. Thank you. Marcus have been a pleasure. Speaker 4: 10:00 The spread of COVID-19 in Imperial Valley has been the focus of statewide concern. Although the actual number of people infected is smaller than many other counties, including San Diego. Last week, the Imperial County showed a positivity rate of 23% of people tested for the virus. That's in contrast to the state's positivity rate of 5.9%. In addition, a wave of coronavirus patients has swamped Imperial Valley hospitals in recent weeks resulting in the transfer of patients outside the County and the creation of a state funded field medical center. There are some signs that the COVID-19 spike and Imperial Valley may be easing, but despite that yesterday, the Valley reported its highest one day death toll since the pandemic began. Joining me is Jeanette on Gullo director of the Imperial County department of public health and Jeanette, welcome to the program. Thank you, Maureen. Thank you for having me last week. Speaker 4: 11:00 Governor Newsome asked Imperial County just stop any plans that had for reopening and just re intensify as stay at home order. How have Imperial County officials responded to that request Marine as of earlier this week, um, we, uh, have a new health officer order and within that health officer order, we are, um, closing further in store shopping and limiting businesses to curbside only, um, for the faith community and religious services. Um, the services are outdoors only with a maximum of a hundred people and of course, proper social distancing measures have to be in place. We also closed County parks and are working with our city officials so that they can do the same. And, um, we're also doing just reminders, reminders to the community that we still have a stay at home order that we have a face covering order. And, um, we all need to come together to ensure that, you know, there's some stability and Imperial County Speaker 5: 12:11 Beginning of this spike several weeks ago, the consensus was, it was fueled by us citizens who lived in Mexico returning to Imperial County for treatment because they were sick with Corona virus. Is that still what's going on? Speaker 4: 12:25 There's a couple of factors that may be contributing to the COVID activity in Imperial County. We are, we are a border region and a highly mobile population. We have essential workers that commute daily from other parts of California, San Diego, Riverside, as well as Arizona, Yuma, Arizona, but we also have essential workers coming from [inaudible]. So that's one. We also have Imperial County residents that seek health care and other services across the border and [inaudible], but not only in Mexicali, it's also in San Diego and Riverside and other areas. And, and there's definitely COVID activity. Um, throughout California, Arizona, Mexico. Speaker 5: 13:15 Tell us about Imperial counties, testing capacity. Has it increased in the last year, Speaker 4: 13:20 Month? It has definitely increased Maureen. Um, through the state of California, we currently have two Optum serve sites. That's the community testing sites that's being offered at no cost to our community. We have a site in Imperial, the city of Imperial and another site in the city of Brawley. We are currently working with the state, um, and trying to get a third site, uh, in Imperial County as well as additional lanes. Now we have medical providers that have been doing quite a bit of testing out in the community. So in any given day, um, we can have five, six, 700 test, um, over a thousand tests. Speaker 5: 14:04 Now the statistics are that 93 people have died from COVID in Imperial County and 90% of the people who died were Hispanic. Does that demographic breakdown correspond with the ethnic makeup of the County? Speaker 4: 14:19 Um, we actually have 97 debts as of this morning, unfortunately, Marine, um, to give you an idea, um, over 85% of our population, um, is Hispanic, Latino. Speaker 5: 14:32 So Imperial County has been concerned about the health of residents for many years with, for instance, pollution from the salt and sea causing high rates of asthma, do a variety of underlying health conditions, make the Imperial County population, especially susceptible to COVID Speaker 4: 14:50 Ariel County. Uh, we've had challenges and yes, there are higher rates of asthma, higher rates of diabetes and, uh, higher rates of certain chronic conditions. And of course COVID-19 is affecting those with, um, high risk conditions. Speaker 5: 15:08 Now, since last week, have you seen any movement in that positivity rate of 23%? Speaker 4: 15:13 Well, we have to keep in mind that the rate that the governor is using is a 14 day, um, rate and it, according to the parameters set forth in, uh, the state's variance plan, it's, it's a seven day average. So currently our seven day average is 18 point 36%. And that average has fluctuated. It's gone as high as you know, in the high twenties. Uh, and it's been low, uh, you know, in the low tens. Um, so it ranges on a weekly basis. Speaker 5: 15:56 How do you assess the situation with hospitals in the County? We have two hospitals and Imperial County, Speaker 4: 16:03 Both hospitals have definitely been stretched thin the local emergency medical services section of the public health department have secured very much needed resources for both hospitals, personal protective equipment, gloves, gowns, face shields masks, and as well as medical supplies, including ventilators medication COVID-19 specimen collection kits and hospitals, um, have also received, um, staffing support. And all of this is facilitated through our EMS, uh, program, uh, support from the California national guard, California emergency services, authority, um, national disaster medical system. Additionally and early on, we received helped with some, um, ambulance strike teams being deployed to help out with, um, uh, County transfers. And finally, um, we coordinated with state officials on the setup of an alternate care site that's over at the Imperial Valley college Speaker 5: 17:08 Is that the field medical center that the state of California sent to Imperial County, Speaker 4: 17:13 But early on, it was referred to as the field medical station. Yes. And so how are you using it? We have seen from may 26 through June 26, over I'm 107 patients. And so it's 80, it's an 80 bed capacity. Uh, and so, um, those patients that are well enough, uh, to be out of the hospital, but not well enough, uh, to be home, um, they are transported over to the alternate care site and, um, once they're well enough, then they get discharged home. How are Valley residents accepting restrictions like wearing masks and social distancing and staying home? All of that, the community is divided. This is not an easy situation. So many within our community have done such an amazing job, keeping themselves and others healthy. This is about every one of us. Um, all of us, um, can decide it to be part of the solution or not. And, and today I'm asking that all Imperial County, you know, join the efforts, let's be part of that solution. Let's do everything we can to, to prevent anyone else from, you know, losing their children, their siblings, parents, partners, or friends, you know, to COVID-19. We know it's tough. I will let you go and say, thank you so much, Jeanette and Gullo director of the Imperial County department of public health. Thanks for spending some time with us. Thank you so much, Maureen, have a good day. You too. Speaker 4: 19:08 This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh San Diego unified school district police department has arrested or detained more than 9,000 young people since 2007 KPBS education reporter Joe Hong dug into the data and found that black youth were disproportionately criminalized on campuses. It's just the way life is. I mean, growing up as a black person, you understand that that's just how society works. I mean, it's like Speaker 6: 19:36 Layla Williams graduated last month from San Diego high school where she was the president of the black student union. She spent her high school career fostering conversation among teachers and students about racism on our campus. She saw this as progress for her school, but she said she also saw an increased presence of police during her time at San Diego high. And she had a persistent feeling that campus police officers targeted black students Speaker 4: 19:59 To campus. You know, you want your school to be a trusting, safe place. You want to be your, you know, your staff has faith in you trusting you, you know, but when you're coming onto campus and the first thing you see is a security guard or police officer they're, you know, going actually, you're just kind of like, well, dang, does my school even trust me? Speaker 6: 20:14 San Diego unified is one of the few districts in California that has its own police department. It currently has 37 sworn officers, patrolling campuses and the surrounding streets, a KPBS analysis of arrests and detentions by San Diego unified police over a roughly 12 year period shows that depending on the school year, black youth were more than four times as likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. The data also showed that black youth were more likely than white youth to be arrested for serious crimes like battery and possession of a deadly weapon. Meanwhile, the data show white youth are more likely to be detained for reasons related to mental rather than rested for a crime compared to black youth. Um, it shouldn't surprise us that we see these see these same biases within the microcosm, which is the school district. Rhodri Colvin is a professor in the school of public affairs at San Diego state university. Speaker 6: 21:01 He said the racial disparities in the San Diego unified arrest data mirror those in police departments nationwide, you know, young black boys have a particularly tough time because there is the, um, often the notion that they require extra punishment or harsher punishment there's data that, uh, talks about or suggests that young black boys are often thought to be older than they actually are. These facts along with the nationwide push for racial justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis, police officers have led Williams and other students to call for the defunding of San Diego unified, please, they organize the protest scheduled for today. So not how it goes. There's also a recent graduate of San Diego unified. Speaker 4: 21:47 The system was created to pass us. And when we talk about defunding the school police, um, there's no, there's no saving assistance. There's no altering assistance. And that was never created for Speaker 6: 21:59 The district's police. Department's budget is currently about $9 million, less than 1% of the overall district budget officials say defunding the department would make campuses less safe for students. They added that the savings wouldn't be enough for a significant increase in resources for counseling and mental health services. San Diego unified police, chief Michael Marquez pointing to more than 50% drop in arrests over the past decade as evidence that campus police are making an effort to decriminalize campus behavior because our kids should get the best service that we can provide them. And so I'm always looking for people that have, you know, coaching experience working with youth or pastors, uh, working with youth. And there are times where our vacancies will remain vacant until we can find the right person to work in those environments. San Diego unified board, vice president, Richard Barrera said he supports the spirit of the student activism and agrees that policing needs to change in the district, but he does not want to see the department to fund it. Speaker 4: 22:57 I can guarantee that the process that we go through in our district is not a process that's intended to delay change. It's a process it's intended to make sure that the change is the right change Speaker 6: 23:11 Barrera and other officials had campus. Police play a pivotal role in ensuring student safety in cases of human trafficking, school shootings and unsafe home environments. He said the district will not make any final decisions about the police budget without a robust survey of its community members. Speaker 4: 23:27 Johnny May is KPBS education reporter Joe Hong and Joe welcome the data you went through to find the racial makeup of arrests on campus. Was it relatively easy to decipher that or did you have to dig? Speaker 6: 23:41 So the arrest records all contain sort of racial data, uh, gender data, um, they contain like the date that the incident occurred. What what's really challenging though, is kind of constructing a historical narrative and looking at the historical trends across these 12 years, Speaker 5: 24:03 Though, reasonable to assume that San Diego unified officials could have known for some time about this disproportionate arrest number. Speaker 6: 24:11 It would be hard for them to not know that because of their suspension rates are significantly higher for black students and they always have been. And just the trend nationwide is that policing disproportionately affects African American people. So I would assume that Sandy or unified knew that there was a problem on the campuses. Speaker 5: 24:32 What happens to students who are arrested by campus police, especially for those serious offenses. You mentioned like battery or possession of a deadly weapon. Speaker 6: 24:41 So there are basically two possible outcomes. One is that the, the youth gets placed into the criminal processing system where they're officially prosecuted. And the other sort of outcome is diversion, or what's called diversion, which either means counseling, community service, any sort of system that quite literally diverts students away from the criminal justice system. Um, it would be the other alternative. Speaker 5: 25:11 Would they possibly have a charge like that on their record, even though they're, I guess they're mostly juveniles, right? Speaker 6: 25:18 Yeah. It's hard to say. Um, the data that we have suggests that about half the youth who are arrested or detained by police are referred to the, into the criminal justice system. But when I talked to the police chief, he said that 80, 90% of the arrests go through, um, diversion. So I don't have the data to back up his claim, but it frankly just requires more reporting. Speaker 5: 25:48 What happens to the school career of a student who gets arrested? Are they suspect? Speaker 6: 25:53 So it depends on the incident. So the criminal policy and the school policies can, are not perfectly aligned, but, um, in most cases like possession of marijuana on campus, possession of a weapon, uh, those require suspensions by, uh, California education code. So yeah, it, it depends on the case, but yes, there are consequences on the school side as well. Speaker 5: 26:19 There have been efforts at some schools to move toward restorative justice programs to take offenses at school, out of the criminal realm and find another way to resolve these issues. Is that going on at San Diego? Speaker 6: 26:32 Yes, absolutely. So, um, San Diego unified definitely deserves the credit for investing heavily into more counseling, more restorative justice. In fact, they, they spend about four times as much on counseling and restorative justice than they do on their own police department. But that said, you still see sort of the racial disparities persisting in the, the arrest and detention data Speaker 5: 26:59 Are these kinds of programs, counseling and restorative justice. The kinds of programs activists are calling for when they are demanding the school police be defended. Speaker 6: 27:09 Yes. So the activist really want the, uh, the money that goes into the police to support school psychologists, school counselors, um, these restorative justice programs that really prevent these types of incidents that their schools, rather than sort of the reactive leasing Speaker 5: 27:30 You spoke with San Diego unified police, chief Michael Marquez. And we also spoke with him on this program yesterday. And he said that his department handled 50 threats of mass shootings at schools over the last five years. What do the activists calling for defunding have to say about the role of police in trying to prevent that kind of violence? Speaker 6: 27:53 Yeah, so I think this question really gets to the core of the issue because I think a lot of people see a disinvestment in police officers and diverting those funds into things like restorative justice as sort of contrary to public safety. But what the activists say is that in these high profile school shooting cases, mental illness was, um, was a significant cause behind these incidents. And activists say that school counselors and school psychologists would be a better solution, a better longterm solution than sort of the reactive policing measures that are currently in place. Speaker 5: 28:28 And tell us more about the protest set for today by students who want school police defunded Speaker 6: 28:34 Since the, uh, the killing of George Floyd back in may, uh, these students have been posting on, on Instagram and sort of arguing for the defunding of their school please. And it's led up to this protest today that started at, at noon in front of the school district office. And so number one, they're, they're obviously calling for the defunding of the school deplete police department, but they also want to see more cultural competency among, uh, all school staff, teachers, um, counselors. And they also want just more teachers who are black indigenous and people of color as well. Speaker 5: 29:12 Speaking with KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, Joe. Thank you. Speaker 6: 29:16 Thanks for having me. San Diego officials are optimistic that a longterm fix to stop persistent cross border sewage flows is close KPBS environment. Reporter Eric Anderson says there is money available in more than two dozen projects are already vetted, but it could still be years before the majority of the flows stop. Speaker 1: 29:43 There were plenty of handshakes and polite applause on a Sunsplash January morning and Chula Vista. Most of the region's congressional delegation led by Congressman Michael Evan delivered good news to a region increasingly frustrated by massive cross border flows. Speaker 7: 29:59 I'm proud to announce once again, that we have successfully secured $300 million Speaker 1: 30:06 Under the border, it was welcomed to a community and during cross border flows, that range from 25 million gallons to more than 70 million gallons a day Speaker 7: 30:16 Finished. Speaker 1: 30:18 It got so bad. This winter, that frustrated residents picketed the Mexican consulate, Amy Sutton lives in San Diego, and she wants the poop to stop. Speaker 7: 30:27 It's unbelievable that nobody thinks that this is not a, uh, Speaker 1: 30:33 Imperial beach mayor. Serge Medina has fought for years to stop the cross border transgressions. The stench of silkworms that our residents are put up with and it's impacting people's health in South County, it's just been horrendous. He's hopeful, the $300 million in the U S Mexico Canada trade deal can pay for projects that attack the problem North of the border. We're looking at those river flows to get down to almost there. We're always at the mercy of Mexico and whether or not someone's, you know, on the job or it's a weekend or holiday and sources to breaks down. And then it's what we have to do now. Round Robin calls, emails, exchanges, et cetera, to get someone to turn on the sewer system or fix something. And San Diego County has options. The County has identified 27 separate projects that improve the ability to catch and treat those cross border flows. Speaker 1: 31:26 This is really a priority that needs to be dealt with now, not later, supervisor Greg Cox says consultants have painstakingly vetted projects that altogether cost more than $440 million. The cornerstone project is a new sewage treatment plant with a $370 million price tag, 63 million gallon capacity. So we treat my facility would drop the number of days of transporter. So true down to about 12 days a year. Over the last few years, it's been over half the year that we've had meat just close and I'm encroaching into corn auto other projects will improve sewage collectors in several key canyons, build new storm water drains and install trash collection systems. We have specific projects that I think could be ready to go once the federal government EPA in particular decides, okay, these are the projects we want to focus on. Now, those plans are all on the EPA desk. John Buster rude took over the EPA region nine office in February, quite surprised at the scope and severity of the issue. And the problem Buster roots agency is already taking a hard look at the situation. He says the APA has launched a value engineering study of the county's 27 projects. So federal officials can make informed decisions on how to spend their $300 million. Speaker 8: 32:52 What we want to do is not, uh, approach this in a pension, go away, but really to look at the region and look at what suite of projects or mixer projects will work. The best Speaker 1: 33:05 Buster Rood says he's aware of the county's sense of urgency, but he concedes it'll take about 10 months to finish that review Speaker 8: 33:13 And we won't be ready necessarily for shovels in the ground. At the end of that time period, there will be additional, uh, NEPA review, environmental review required at the end of the value engineering. We hope to front end load a lot of that during this immediate time, the next 10 months, but there will be a need for additional, uh, environmental reviews there. Yeah. Speaker 1: 33:36 In the meantime, the EPA is spending a few million dollars to pay for some pipe repair projects into Ewana that's expected to help a bit, but it doesn't come anywhere close to the solution. Local officials want Eric Anderson KPBS news. Speaker 1: 34:00 This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Mark Sauer with Maureen Kavanaugh, millions of people in more than 175 countries worldwide are pledging a plastic free July, a personal effort to cut down on their use of plastics. This month. It's a movement that started small nearly a decade ago in Australia, but involve some 250 million people. Last year in 2020 plastic free July comes at a time of setback for those fighting plastic pollution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Joining me to discuss this it's Mitch silver, San Diego manager for the Surfrider foundation, Mitch, welcome to midday edition. Great to be here, Mark. Well, this plastic free July effort. Uh, it's something that melts perfectly seems to me with the ongoing campaign to ban use of plastic that Surfrider and other environmental groups have been doing for years in San Diego, start with some background, how much plastic gets into our oceans every year. It's an astounding amount. Um, it's one of the top three crises that our ocean faces today. And when you think about just the billions and billions and billions of times of single use plastic that are Speaker 8: 35:07 Throw away, society relies on just to get by every day. Um, you know, with less than 10% of that being recycled, we know there's, you know, Speaker 1: 35:16 Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean and that Speaker 8: 35:20 The statistics keep growing every day. In fact, now, you know, we know that there's more plastic in the ocean than there are stars in the sky. Wow. Speaker 1: 35:28 And break this down for us, the consequences of all this plastic ending up in the ocean. Sure. So, um, you know, plastic is a synthetic material it's made petroleum and Speaker 8: 35:38 A lot of toxic chemicals. So it is, it's just naturally it's not natural, it's a poisonous material and it doesn't biodegrade like a natural material like paper or wood or anything like that. So it stays in our environment for hundreds and hundreds of years and rather than biodegraded photo degrades, meaning that the sun breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces, which is then in the ocean, uh, you know, eaten by wildlife mistaken is food often killing wildlife and ultimately ending up on our plates when we have seafood as well. So there's bad health consequences really throughout the food chain ending with humans Speaker 3: 36:14 Tips, would you have for individuals to try and reduce plastic use in their own lives? Speaker 8: 36:19 Sure. I mean, it's very easy to get started and really plastic free July is all about getting people stoked on this, making an effort to reduce their single use plastic use the easiest way to do that. You know, that the starting point is reusable bags, reusable water bottle, and a reusable coffee mug. I think those three things are really the best way to start on this journey towards creating less waste and especially less plastic waste. If you can, if you can switch those out in your personal life, you're going to reduce 20, 25% of your trash right off the bat. Speaker 3: 36:53 And with the July 4th weekend upon us, the folks at Surfrider normally you'd be busy organizing a massive beach cleanup, but not this year, explain how the pandemic is impacting your yearly event. Speaker 8: 37:04 Sure. So are we, you know, normally we're very well known for our beach cleanups and really our beach cleanups is a great way to invite the general public in, to kind of open their eyes to the plastic pollution crisis, uh, by doing a positive stewardship activity. So on July 5th, we always do a big cleanup series called the morning after mass cleanup. Um, obviously July 4th is a great time to go to the beach to celebrate our nation's independence, but unfortunately, a crowded day at the beach usually results in a huge mess the next day. And July 5th has historically been known as the dirtiest beach day of the year. And just to give you a snapshot of what that looks like last year, we did a morning after mass cleanup series with our partners at five different beach locations, almost 800 volunteers participate, participated, and together they removed 3,900 pounds of trash from five beaches and only three hours. Speaker 3: 37:59 And a lot of that's plastic, I imagine. Speaker 8: 38:01 Yeah. I mean our, you know, we take data, we do over a hundred beach cleanups a year when there's not a pandemic and we have volunteers collect data on everything they pick up. It's a great way to spread awareness about this problem. And what we found in our data is that about 80% of what our volunteers collect at our beaches is either made from plastic or has plastic in it. And the vast majority of that is single use plastic, which is designed to be used once and thrown away. So it's a really big problem. And it's the it's by far the majority of what we're in terms of litter and trash and not properly disposed stuff on our beaches, Speaker 3: 38:40 But no organized event this year, what will Surfrider be doing instead? Speaker 8: 38:45 Well, we we've taken some measures. Um, obviously we cannot do a public beach cleanup due to public health concerns and County and city restrictions on group events at the beach, which is totally understandable, but because the beaches are open and parks are open, we are expecting thousands of people to flock to the beaches, to celebrate the holiday. And we do want to preserve this important cleanup effort for those willing to participate. So if you go to Surfrider, you can join our morning after mass virtual cleanup, which is just a very loose grassroots effort to encourage individuals who want to still do a cleanup to really that they can still do it, and that they're still empowered to do it. And we have plenty of materials and resources and data sheets, uh, to make that, you know, make those individual efforts part of something bigger. Speaker 3: 39:33 As I noted the COVID-19 crisis is proving to be a setback in the battle against plastic pollution. In what ways? Speaker 8: 39:41 Well, it's, I mean, it's been really hard for us. Um, you know, in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when the, you know, there's so much public fear and there still is, um, you know, reusables kind of were attacked and there's been so much progress we've made in, you know, San Diego County and statewide to reduce our use of single use plastics. And, you know, the first, you know, one of the first things that happened is that the governor, as part of his emergency state of emergency suspended, the California bag ban, that we all fought so hard to approve, and that California voters also approved in 2016. Now, it's, it's important to note that this bag ban suspension wasn't really about reusable bags being dangerous. Somehow it was really a part of a larger effort to prevent unnecessary contact with, with people's stuff for our essential workers and grocery workers are part of our essential workers right now. Speaker 8: 40:36 So, but what we, you know, what we found in our, in our research was a very strategic effort by the plastic and petrochemical industry, lobbying groups to exploit this fear that the public has of the pandemic and create a false narrative in the media that reusable bags are somehow responsible for spreading Corona virus. And there's no science to back that up. And what's also interesting is that the timing of these media stories coincided with some scientific studies showing that Corona virus actually survives longer on plastic surfaces than most other materials. So I don't, you know, I can't, I can't tell you that this was a, this that's proof that the plastic industry was trying to double down on that, but I don't think the timing's a coincidence. Speaker 3: 41:16 Many of us said grocery stores have noticed that they're giving away bags, free plastic bags, of course, and not allowing reusable bags, but, uh, that, uh, really isn't the restriction anymore, right? Speaker 8: 41:27 Governor Newsome did not extend the suspension. So for all intents and purposes, the California bag ban is back in effect. And what that means is that grocery stores should be charging 10 cents per bag, again for a paper or reusable bag, and they should no longer be distributing those flimsy single use plastic bags that we as a state and a majority of San Diego voted to get rid of in 2016 Speaker 3: 41:50 And the fight against plastic suffered a setback before the pandemic, as legislation that was aimed to drastically reduce it, the distribution and use of single use plastics failed in Sacramento. What's the status now in the California legislature. Speaker 8: 42:04 So again, it's the, you know, the coronavirus has taken precedent understandably over all other laws right now. And this was a, a assembly bill, 10 80 and Senate bill 54, um, very comprehensive, uh, you know, innovative bill that would, that would kind of address plastic pollution and waste reduction all in one it's, it's a much better, you know, it's kind of what we want rather than these piecemeal bills, you know, banning straws or foam or bags. We really want to see something that's comprehensive and just, you know, attacks that the problem at its source. Now this, this law would be really great. It would be the first in the nation as a comprehensive statewide plastic pollution reduction bill. Um, it did pass both houses of the state assembly, and now it's sort of just on hold to be finalized and then get passed one more time before it sees a vote. So it may not happen this year, but we are hoping and advocating for it to, to get its final vote next year. Speaker 3: 43:01 And there's powerful industry forces opposed to restrictions on use of plastic, a lot of money involved here, obviously what's your sense of the public's mood in California to really crack down on plastic pollution Speaker 8: 43:12 For Surfrider being, being focused on coastal issues and the coast and all of our beach cleanups. I mean, we see widespread support for our efforts and especially our policy efforts to really convince and work with cities, uh, to, to pass local ordinances that reduce plastic pollution at the source. Uh, of course there are powerful forces that have a lot more money than us, and a lot more influence than us, uh, and you know, plastic lobbying groups and petrochemical lobbying groups. Uh, and so, you know, luckily I feel like we're, we're in the right on this, uh, and the public is going to be on our side. There's a sort of, you know, there are many false narratives. One of them is about recycling being the solution. When, when the fact is that less than 10% of single use plastics are recycled in the U S and there's really, we're, we're making, you know, our society and these corporations are making so much plastic waste. Speaker 8: 44:02 There's really no way that this, that we could have a meaningful recycling program for all of it. It's just too much. Um, and then the other false narrative is, you know, kind of about freedom and that we're trying to take away. People's freedom to, I don't know, use styrofoam or use a plastic bag. And I, I really feel like that's a botched definition of freedom, you know, freedom in America and, and what we're celebrating, you know, July 4th, we're celebrating our freedom and freedom doesn't mean that we should be able to do whatever we want and corporations should use whatever materials they want without any regard to how that affects our planet, our wildlife, our environment. And of course that our future generations access to all the great things that we have today. And right now we're compromising that. So I think a better definition of freedom is yes, we're independent. We're free to do we want, but we really need to take into consideration the environment that we rely on and what we're leaving future generations. I've been speaking with Mitch Silverstein, San Diego manager for the Surfrider foundation. Thanks very much. Thanks for having me Mark. Appreciate it.

While Governor Gavin Newsom hasn’t ordered San Diego County to close certain indoor businesses, the county plans to enforce new health restrictions. Plus, the spread of COVID-19 in Imperial County has been the focus of statewide concern. Also, a KPBS analysis found Black youth are more likely to be detained by San Diego Unified Police than their white peers. In addition, San Diego officials are optimistic that a long-term fix to stop persistent cross-border sewage flows is close. Finally, Mitch Silverstein of the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation joins Midday Edition to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the group's yearly cleanup and plastic pollution in general.