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LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

County Launches COVID-19 Outreach To Latinos, Voters To Decide Midway Height Limit, San Diego Residents Improperly Charged For Industrial Wastewater Services and Comic-Con@Home Preview

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY ANDI DUKLETH

Above: A a county employee waits for a person to swab themselves for a COVID-19 test in a University of San Diego parking lot, July 15, 2020.

In San Diego, the latest numbers reveal that Latinos represent 45% of COVID-19 related deaths and 60% of infections, even though they’re 34% of the county’s population. San Diego County has launched an outreach campaign to encourage the Latino community to take preventive measure to slow the spread of COVID-19. Plus, city residents will have a say in whether to lift the height limit in the Midway District to allow for high-rise development. Opponents of the measure say it could be a slippery slope that will lead to high rises along the coast. Also, San Diego County refuses to disclose which of the county’s 600 assisted living facilities have a COVID-19 outbreak. We hear the tragic story of an outbreak at one facility in Chula Vista. In addition, a new online platform has filled the void for active seniors who normally lead active lives but had to shelter in place because of the global health crisis. And, San Diego city residents have been improperly charged millions of dollars for industrial wastewater services while the businesses responsible have not been paying their fair share for decades. And, Comic-Con@Home starts today. KPBS Arts & Culture Reporter Beth Accomando has a preview.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Governor Newsome said today, the state has distributed 300 million miles.

Speaker 2: 00:04 Our PPE strategy has been a success. Our PPAP strategy was predicated on the lack of a national strategy.

Speaker 1: 00:12 I'm Alison st. John with Maureen Kavanaugh. This is KPBS. The Latino community is hard hit by COVID-19 and San Diego Latinos. Mostly

Speaker 2: 00:30 More likely to occupy high contact professions, such as essential or frontline workers who have really continued to work during the pandemic.

Speaker 1: 00:40 San Diegans will vote this year on whether to abandon height limits when reimagining the midway district and a city audit reveals millions wrongly builds for industrial wastewater treatment. That's all I had on midday. Additionally,

Speaker 1: 01:01 Governor Gavin Newsome said today, the rate of positive tests in California has remained stable at 7.4 over the last 14 days, but he said the number of those testing positive and those dying is creeping up standing in front of a warehouse full of personal protective equipment. Use some said the state has already distributed over 300 million masks and has contracts for a hundreds of millions more. And coming months, he said over 400 California based manufacturers are making masks, but production is not yet where it needs to be. He said, the state is using 46 million masks a month.

Speaker 2: 01:35 We've been able to get out some 297 million procedure masks already that we've been able to distribute into those essential workers into those sectors of our economy, to counties and cities, large and small

Speaker 1: 01:52 Latinos in San Diego and across California have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A UCLA study shows Latino Californians in their fifties and sixties are dying of the virus at more than five times. The rate of their white counterparts in San Diego, the latest numbers reveal that Latinos represent 45% of COVID-19 related deaths and 60% of infections, even though they're 34% of the county's population this week, the County announced it's ramping up outreach efforts and releasing ads like this one to try to raise awareness.

Speaker 2: 02:37 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 02:38 Barbara Jimenez with the counties health and human services agency. She's been spearheading the counties outreach efforts in South Bay communities. Barbara, thanks for being with us. It's my pleasure. Thank you. So to start off, tell us about why Latinos are disproportionately being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we look into this, really what it points to is Latinos mostly are more

Speaker 3: 03:00 Likely to occupy high contact professions, such as essential or frontline workers who have really continued to work during the pandemic. And oftentimes do not have the option of working remotely, the County of San Diego health and human services agency. We have been working for many years under our live well San Diego vision with our community leaders and providers and residents to really look at those broader social determinants of health, um, that not only play out in what we're seeing in COVID-19 outcomes, but really across all health outcomes. Could you be

Speaker 1: 03:33 Specific about the social determinants of health that you're referring to?

Speaker 3: 03:38 Um, so when we look at, um, the chronic disease and some of those indicators, as it relates to, uh, diabetes and some of the work we've been doing in the community to look at, um, the cost of housing and that impacts, um, how many families or how families are able to meet those housing costs, um, some of the more dense population, dense communities, sometimes the need to be able to, uh, are there the requirement to use public transportation, um, sort of all of that connecting into those impacts in the community

Speaker 1: 04:12 To address these different health outcomes. Tell us what the County is doing right now to ramp up the education and outreach efforts.

Speaker 3: 04:20 I have been, um, really focused from the beginning of the pandemic, uh, I would say in all communities of color, um, but this is really evolving. So there was definitely a need to intensify it, I would say. Um, and that is including, um, this new higher level intensification plan really was about launching a whole new TV radio online and signage campaign that was really gonna focus and describe the protective measures and, um, community resources.

Speaker 1: 04:51 And I understand you're also adding, uh, testing sites. What else is the County doing right now?

Speaker 3: 04:56 So we have increased in national city to two location, which includes a sundae location. We've also increased, just added, um, on last week, a location in Imperial beach. And we also have a sunny Seattle, um, which is a state, uh, location. And then we have two and Chula Vista.

Speaker 1: 05:15 One of the most important things to get control of this virus is, uh, the contact tracers. Uh, what is the County doing about contact tracers in this community?

Speaker 3: 05:24 Yes, it's, it's really exciting. So we have increased countywide, the contact tracing capabilities with the different levels. So we have the disease investigators, and then we have those contact tracers that actually, um, call individuals, call people who have tested positive for COVID-19, um, and, and also their close contacts so that we can really help educate, inform and provide resources. But then the next level of that, which really connects to our communities, um, with those highest needs are, uh, is an, uh, community health worker, Oprah Matata model, which is, um, the County has contacted through a contracted through San Diego state university. And they are in the priceless, um, through and working with a community advisory board to bring on a hundred initially to start community health workers and these community health workers. And in addition, San Diego state university students all live work and, and are very connected to the community. They're going to help us with that contact Tracy. Um, so it's, it's a really exciting and innovative opportunity.

Speaker 1: 06:35 No, Barbara, just to go back to the point you were making that many in this community cannot really afford to stop work if they're going to support their families. And this is one of the problems, isn't it? That if you get tested positive that could put them out of a job and put their livelihood in jeopardy, how do you overcome that problem?

Speaker 3: 06:54 Yes. Um, and, and we recognize and realize that that that is a, could be a barrier is a barrier. And so we have a couple of different things, really messaging to our community about how important it is to isolate or quarantine. Um, but also trying to get the word out just in terms of, if you do not have a place to isolate or quarantine, um, what's the temporary lodging that's available, so you can really protect your family, um, and then really working with, um, our community partners. And I just want to really emphasize that, you know, we are really fortunate to be able to have such strong networks in the County of San Diego and really encouraging organizations, um, for all of us to work together, to fill these gaps, um, and to share, to get these messages out to our communities. So

Speaker 1: 07:47 Getting the message out is one thing, but then helping people who are put in dire financial straits as a result of, uh, perhaps testing positive or, um, being unable to give up their job or not having anywhere they can isolate or not having healthcare good healthcare, all of these inequities are things which are a big barrier to the County addressing this issue. I know in San Francisco, there's a program called right to recover that distributes money to people who test positive to help make up for their lost wages due to COVID. Has San Diego County considered any of that kind of, um, approach to this?

Speaker 3: 08:24 Well, I, there's a number of discussions and items that are coming before our board of supervisor in August that really are looking at, um, some of the additional care Zac funding and where that might be. Um, in addition, there's ongoing conversations with community partners and there's also, um, ongoing discussions about the opportunity, uh, to leverage the trusted messenger focus in, within some of our communities. Um, so yes, that, that is an ongoing discussion. I'd let you to, to the Chicano

Speaker 1: 08:56 Federation, which has been quite critical of how the County is addressing this health inequity and the president that's president Nancy Maldonado issued a statement saying that a they're still not seeing a response from the County leadership that shows the right level of urgency. How would you respond to that allegation? That it's really just more of the same or too little too late.

Speaker 4: 09:15 So, um, we, uh, have been in communication, um, with the Chicano Federation. Um, and I would say that, um, we need everyone's support. We look forward to working with organizations. Um, we encourage any organization that feels like there's specific gaps, um, to really help us in getting those messages out. Um, and again, we cannot do it alone and we really, really, um, appreciate and like the opportunity to continue to work with all those trusted messengers and those organizations that have been doing tremendous work in the community.

Speaker 1: 09:52 We've been speaking with Barbara Jimenez, who is the director of regional operations for San Diego counties, health and human services agency. Thank you for your

Speaker 4: 10:00 Barbara. It was my pleasure. Thank you.

Speaker 1: 10:02 Tomorrow on mid day edition, we'll hear more from the Chicano Federation about what more they think the County should be doing to urgently address the disproportionate rate of COVID related illness and death in the Latinos

Speaker 5: 10:13 Community.

Speaker 4: 10:20 Is it an opportunity to revitalize a blighted neighborhood or a slippery slope that will lead to high rises along San Diego's coast? It's a question that San Diego voters will decide in November the city council voted Tuesday to place a proposal on the November ballot that would repeal the 30 foot height limit in the midway district. Proposed redevelopment around the old sports arena would include dense high rise housing units that wouldn't be possible with a 30 foot limit in place supporters say the height limit would only be changed in a small area in the midway district opponents say it will chip away at height limits up and down the city's coast. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune, reporter David Garrick and David welcome. Thanks for having me remind us what the area around the sports arena looks like now and what the proposed changes would do to the area.

Speaker 5: 11:11 No, I think pretty much everyone agrees. It's not living up to its potential. It's a fast food chains and auto related businesses and a few strip clubs and these gigantic mega blocks that sort of don't give any sense of community. Uh, you know, it's definitely, uh, an old school, a neighborhood that is not, uh, doing what the city would like it to do economically or for housing or for really anything. Um, and that's a really, you know, very appealing area to developers and to people who want to live because it's in between by Loma and mission Bay park and the airport and interstate five. And so it's a really great location with a lot of potential.

Speaker 4: 11:43 What would the proposed changes do? Would it add to the housing?

Speaker 5: 11:47 Uh, there are two proposals. The city's considering both of them include lots of housing, one, uh, over 2000 units and another 14 units. Uh, the one with 1400 units would also include some, uh, entertainment elements, a 12 acre park, uh, an outdoor amphitheater and a temporary soccer stadium

Speaker 4: 12:03 Area would also include a grand central station sort of thing. Remind us what that is.

Speaker 5: 12:09 Yes. SANDAG local, the county's regional planning agency wants to create sort of a grand central station mass transit hub, right in this area. It's a great area centrally located, and that would become sort of San Diego's transit future

Speaker 4: 12:23 30 foot limit on construction, get put in place

Speaker 5: 12:26 On 1972 voters approved a ballot proposition that basically said anything along the coast, anything West of interstate five, couldn't be higher than 30 feet. And why do they do that? Well, I think the idea was to avoid a turning into Miami beach or Waikiki beach in Honolulu and some other parts of the country and the world where you, along the coast, you see high rise buildings that some folks feel like doesn't doesn't make any sense, but it's not visually appealing. It blocks fuse. It makes the beach areas seem more commercial. Um, and so the idea in California pretty much up and down the coast of California is you have this gradual thing where you have taller buildings farther inland, but as you get toward the actual beach, most, most communities have a height limit that prevents it from looking like Miami beach.

Speaker 4: 13:12 Now, the vote on the city council was seven to two to put the height limit repeal on the ballot. What were the arguments council members had in supported the measure?

Speaker 5: 13:21 One, one is that this area of shouldn't have been included in the coastal zone to begin with. I mean, the idea is that Pacific beach and LA Jolla and mission beach and ocean beach, those are the other areas that are affected by the 30 foot limit. They are coastal beach areas where views do matter where you do have the beach, the sports arena area it's called the midway district officially. Isn't really like that. It's not really near the water. There aren't any views that are vulnerable, that tall buildings are going to block. Um, so I, I think the argument is that it was just sort of arbitrarily included in the rule and back in 1972, because it's West of interstate five, but it doesn't really have anything else in common with those other beach communities. I think that was sort of the main argument. I would say the second argument in favor was this is an area that needs to be improved. This is an area that needs to be upgraded. And this is an area that is right for dense housing. And none of those things can happen with a 30 foot height limit in place. It's really got to be removed for this area to reach its potential.

Speaker 4: 14:17 Here's what council member Chris ward said. He supported the measure.

Speaker 5: 14:21 I've supported this in the past at the rules committee and we'll continue to do so today because it's a proposal for a targeted, limited height removal. And having a pass will allow the recently updated midway community plan to be implemented and compliment the proposed, uh, grand central station concept as well. So it deserves to at least be placed in front of the voters for them to be able to decide,

Speaker 4: 14:41 Okay, so who voted against it? And what was their argument?

Speaker 5: 14:45 Barbara Bree voted against it and she's voted against it in the past. Um, she's become as she's been running mayor this year and against Todd, Gloria, and a runoff, more of a, an anti-development, uh, candidate than she has been in the past. Um, so I think that was part of it. Uh, yesterday she mentioned that she thought there were other development in the, in the, in the works, uh, including the, the Navy spite, the spa or site or network site that, that she thought maybe the other things weren't being taken into consideration when you were considering this a and then Georgia Gomez voted against it, hers was even more complicated. Um, she basically said that because the city has allowed rival developers to make proposals for the sports arena area before voters have lifted the height limit, she feels that that's legally complicated. And she's, she's frustrated with that and concerned about that, the process. So I wouldn't say either of them were vehemently opposed, but, but there were two people who decided that it shouldn't be.

Speaker 6: 15:42 So David, what proportion of voters will have to approve this height limit repeal in order for it to go forward?

Speaker 5: 15:49 Well, it's only a simple majority, just 50% plus one, which is in contrast to some of the other things that have been on the ballot lately that have needed a two thirds approval, which has a much higher hurdle. And I think it's interesting to know that when the SeaWorld got approval to lift the 30 foot height limit a few years back, uh, and that was a situation where the polling showed that people who lived near a SeaWorld and those neighborhoods were against it, but that the rest of the city was actually in favor of it. And it ended up passing. So this could be a situation where you see an interesting contrast where the people who live in the beach areas vote against it, but it still gets passed because the citywide vote. So a lot of inland communities might be able to override those people who oppose it along the coast,

Speaker 6: 16:29 Speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter David Garrick, David, thank you.

Speaker 5: 16:33 Thanks,

Speaker 6: 16:39 San Diego County has nearly 600 assisted living facilities, but not a lot is publicly known about how they're handling COVID-19. I knew source investigative reporter, Joe Castellano tells the story of a tragic outbreak at one local facility. Betty Gentry was a nurse's assistant in world war II and the Korean war. She was the mother of four children, including two. She adopted, and she was one of three residents in a Chula Vista assisted living home to die from COVID-19

Speaker 5: 17:10 I'm upset that she's gone. Cause I think my mother could have lived over a hundred years old

Speaker 6: 17:15 Gentry's son. Chris said his 94 year old mother was taken from the assisted living home to the hospital in late April with a bad cough during her stay at sharp Tula Vista. He called her to check in.

Speaker 5: 17:26 She could, she has a hard of hearing, so she barely could hear me, but at least I, I know for a fact that I said, I told her, I love you. And she said same. That was the last words I heard from my mom.

Speaker 6: 17:35 She died a week later from heart failure, pneumonia and COVID-19, she was one of five residents in the home to test positive for the Corona virus.

Speaker 5: 17:44 I'm just confident that she's with my dad and that they're together and having fun. And that she's at peace. Despite

Speaker 6: 17:50 The three deaths linked to the Tula Vista facility called Ari's home care. There's no way for the public to see how it's been affected by COVID-19 the state. And the County refused to release the names of assisted living homes with fewer than seven beds that have had COVID-19 outbreaks saying they need to protect the health privacy rights of the residents. My view is that this issue of confidentiality is really outrageous. Chris Murphy is the executive director of a San Diego, nonprofit, that advocates for residents at assisted living homes. I'm a consumer and I have to place my loved one in an assisted living facility. I don't have any way to independently verify on a state website, whether the six bed facility that I'm thinking about has COVID or not. So to not share that information with consumers when they have big decisions to make is I think, I think it's irresponsible, assisted living homes are run differently than nursing homes. Nursing homes are medical facilities that have healthcare workers on staff at all hours while assisted living homes have aides who help residents with daily tasks. When the pandemic began, these kinds of facilities didn't have proper medical gear or infection control plans, ready to fight the deadly virus, Ari McDaniel, who runs our, his home care, gave a new source, a tour of the private rooms in her assisted living home.

Speaker 7: 19:15 Um, here an idea of a private room.

Speaker 6: 19:20 McDaniel said one of her caregivers contracted the virus from her husband and brought it into the facility before having symptoms. She said she did everything she could to protect her residents from infection, limiting staff hours, keeping out visitors and disinfecting every shopping bag that her workers brought in.

Speaker 7: 19:38 I never went shopping. I never left home. Every single potato orange, every was disinfected

Speaker 6: 19:47 McDaniel said that publishing data on COVID-19 would stigmatize her facility. People would get the wrong impression that she didn't care. Even though she loved all of her residents, including Betty Gentry.

Speaker 7: 20:00 I say personality, very appreciative, very loving. That was easy to learn.

Speaker 6: 20:08 Betty's son. Chris said he wishes McDaniel had taken more precautions like checking her staff's temperatures. He hopes his mother's death will lead to more transparency at assisted living homes. So the public can see how many cases they've had and make informed decisions about where to send their loved ones in need of care.

Speaker 7: 20:25 It's important today. They access information like that to see how safe the facilities are, because you never know when a situation like this will come back.

Speaker 6: 20:33 Betty Gentry is survived by four children, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren joining me is I knew source investigative reporter, Jill Castellano and Jill. Welcome. Thanks so much for having me on give us a clear idea

Speaker 4: 20:48 Of the difference between the monitoring and reporting required by nursing homes during the pandemic and how assisted living facilities are monitored.

Speaker 6: 20:58 One of the major differences here is that because nursing homes are medical facilities, they accept public insurance like Medicare and medical assisted living facilities because they follow this nonmedical model and they're just eating in daily tasks. They mostly accept private insurance it, and that makes a big difference on how and why they're regulated. So nursing homes are regulated at both the state and the federal level because they're taking that public money assisted living facilities don't so they have a separate agency in the state that handles assisted living facilities. So while nursing homes are monitored at the state and the federal level, they, and they have reporting requirements, they have robust inspections on both levels. Assisted living facilities are only monitored on one level of government, that state level. So that does make a big difference for oversight.

Speaker 4: 21:54 Now, the County says it does not want to identify by name, the assisted living facilities that have COVID cases, but do we even know how many of these facilities have had cases here?

Speaker 6: 22:06 We don't know the exact number of facilities that have had cases, but we can get some insight from the aggregate data that the state releases the County. Again, won't release any information, but the state, we can see the number of cases that have occurred at assisted living facilities by County. So we can see that in San Diego County, at least 202 residents, and 196 staff members at these assisted living facilities have tested positive for COVID-19

Speaker 4: 22:35 And statewide hasn't there recently been a big jump in cases at assisted living homes.

Speaker 6: 22:41 We are seeing an escalation in the number of cases in assisted living homes. Over time. As of this week, we just crossed that 5,000 Mark, which means we've had more than 5,000 accumulated cases in assisted living facilities. And we also know there have been at least 539 deaths. Now

Speaker 4: 23:01 The family members of COVID patients who've died at these facilities, accusing the facilities of negligence. What are their major complaints?

Speaker 6: 23:11 I don't think any of them that I spoke to used words like negligence. I think they are looking back on hindsight and saying, you know, more could have been done here. So for example, in the case of Ari's home care, there were some though they, they put in a lot of, um, efforts to try to help the residents and protect them from the virus. In hindsight, we can see some potential gaps or improvements that could have been made. For example, we know now that the care worker who came in and brought the virus in was asymptomatic. In hindsight, we can say, well, if they had been screened for symptoms and they had been given a temperature check it's possible, they would have had a fever and then they could have been kept out of the facility and nobody would have gotten sick. But at the time the state and the County didn't have any requirements or even recommendations for assisted living facilities to do those kinds of screenings. So a lot of the frustration that I'm hearing more has to do with not the individual facilities, but what is the government doing? How are they helping these facilities that were not prepared for a pandemic like this to get ready and to get the tools that they need to help them combat COVID-19?

Speaker 4: 24:24 Well then for instance, after three of its residents died of COVID was the Chula Vista facility that you visited, given any instruction by the state or County about the precautions that needed to take, to be able to keep operating

Speaker 6: 24:39 Ari McDaniel told me that, yes, she has received a lot of calls from the state and the County received a lot of guidance. And she basically just said everything they've told me to do, I've been doing. So I contacted both the state and the County and ask them about what did this home need to do to keep operating? And they wouldn't say anything. And they continue to say that this is because we need to protect health, privacy rights. This is information that doesn't need to be disclosed to the public, and they won't provide any more details than that.

Speaker 4: 25:11 And is there any effort underway to get more public disclosure of COVID outbreaks in these smaller assisted living facilities?

Speaker 6: 25:19 The efforts are coming from people like Chris Murphy, who I included in my story, people who are advocates for assisted living homes and know that this information is really important for the public. As far as I've seen, they haven't made any headway. Unfortunately,

Speaker 4: 25:35 I have been speaking with I new source, investigative reporter, Joe Castillano and Jill, thank you. Thanks so much. I knew source is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS

Speaker 6: 25:51 Loneliness among elderly people who are in poor health and live alone has only worsened during the pandemic. But what about seniors whose lives were once packed with travel hobbies and meetups with friends, KPBS as a meta Shama spoke to one San Diego woman who uses an online social community to ward off isolation. As health experts continue to urge seniors to stay put. I made the Corona virus crisis. I rented an Airbnb on a trip to Cuba. Another one I met up with on a trip to Bali. That's 60 year old, Kimberly who didn't want her last name. You's talking about

Speaker 4: 26:27 Life. Pre pandemic

Speaker 6: 26:30 Discussion groups ranging from everything from movies, art, sciences, current events, health, and wellness. COVID-19 hasn't slowed her down and visited Hawaii. A Saturday afternoon. I will joined to get together with folks with a standup comedian and a commentary did some meet and greets and almost went to visit a haunted mine in Australia. All of this of course was done virtually, but before the Corona virus, Kimberly globe trotted and chatted with people, belonging to stitch in online group billed as the world's largest companionship community. It's where people meet to find others to join them at what they love like attending the opera, birdwatching, hiking, talking about current issues.

Speaker 8: 27:17 So when we first founded stitch, our original goal was to get people to form positive and imaging social connections. And that can be a range of different connections. And our philosophy was actually to get people offline, get out there in the real world and make around the things I like to do.

Speaker 6: 27:34 Master's degree in social enterprise. Andrew Dowling started stitch in 2014 in Australia for people 50 and over after another business he launched, which provided tablet, computers to seniors, opened his eyes to the risk of isolation. As people age, he realized how human ties formed through school work and parenting fade. As children leave the nest and retirement looms.

Speaker 8: 28:00 We have these pressures that are constantly making our social circles shrink as we get older too. And so we found more and more. These are people we were working with were saying, you know, I'm actually like this thing you're doing is great, but can you help me make new friends? Like I'm actually quite lonely.

Speaker 6: 28:16 USC gerontology professor Donna Benton says it's not uncommon for someone to wake up one day and realize their peer group has dwindled rather suddenly we may have actually lost them completely to. Yes. So if that happens, your network is smaller and it's that much more difficult to develop new networks, Benton and Dallin quote studies that say loneliness, especially among older people can cause inflammation, dementia and reduce someone's overall immunity to disease.

Speaker 8: 28:46 Once we understood that, we thought, well, surely there's a role that we could use today's technology in a way that actually creates positive outcomes for people rather than what you normally see on the internet is, you know, trolls and arguments and all that sort of stuff. Yeah.

Speaker 6: 29:01 Says COVID-19 has made the stitch platform even more vital for older people.

Speaker 8: 29:05 It's a terrible world we're living through in many cases and for many reasons, but there are some kind of silver linings in there. And, uh, and we're hoping to say, well, let's seize on the silver linings and turn them into is as much of a, uh, bright sunshine that we can

Speaker 6: 29:20 Is the San Diego stitch Nina's, that's been the case for Kimberly when the pandemic first hit. She says she grew sad and confused and could have gotten lost binge watching on the sofa, but stitch helped her get out of that potential rut. It's kind of ironic because I'm participating in more events during the

Speaker 1: 29:42 Isolation period than I ever did before our meeting today. Kimberly says the fact that the platform is worldwide means someone somewhere is always available to do things with, and have coffee with a group at six 30 in the morning, which I'm doing tomorrow and do things on the weekends. Or I have some flex time at a lunch hour. I can participate in activity and do some yoga on the weekends. I meet the Sharma KPBS news. Uh, uh, San Diego city audit has revealed that residents and businesses have been improperly charged tens of millions of dollars in fees to cover industrial wastewater services. The audit also exposed that the businesses responsible for the industrial waste water have not been charged for their share for decades here to tell us more about this new revelation is Jeff McDonald, a member of the investigative reporting team at the San Diego union Tribune. Jeff, thanks for being here.

Speaker 9: 30:47 Hello, thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: 30:49 This is sort of reminiscent of the revelation back in 2018, that thousands of San Diego city customers were being dramatically overcharged in their water bills. Do we have any idea at this point, how much San Diego residential rate pairs might have paid to cover for industrial polluters?

Speaker 9: 31:06 Yes. The city audit found that a rate payers have been spending more than $3 million a year, uh, for at least, uh, the entirety of 2010 to 2019. So they documented $33 million worth of over billings. Uh, at the same time they say these over billings have persisted for years. Uh, even prior to that, they have not adjusted the rates since 1984.

Speaker 1: 31:29 What kind of industrial wastewater are we talking about here? And what kind of businesses should have been paying fees and did not?

Speaker 9: 31:35 Oh, various, uh, institutions, uh, hospitals, laboratories manufacturers, metal fabricators. So some of the largest employers in San Diego County, uh, which may or may not be part of the reason that they weren't being asked to pay more by the mayor's office. This, uh, this is an issue that the auditors first brought forward in 2013 and the city agreed to implement a series of recommendations at that time. But, uh, those, uh, recommendations were never implemented.

Speaker 1: 32:06 What reason does the public utilities department give for not enforcing those fees on the industry's responsible, even though, as you say that the audit uncovered it back in 2013?

Speaker 9: 32:16 Well, and their response to the city auditor, the current officials note that they have that the office, uh, this is the, uh, city, uh, public utilities department has performed several fee studies. It's a complicated issue. Uh, the methodology that each of the studies that the city contracted for, uh, were called into question and the city just never got its act together. It's interesting to note that the senior leadership at the public utilities department has changed dramatically since the, uh, overbilling scandal from two years ago. Uh, the new director has been on board just since last year.

Speaker 1: 32:54 And does the audit suggest that the industrial wastewater was not properly processed or is it simply a fee issue?

Speaker 9: 33:03 It's simply a fee issue. There's no allegation or finding in the audit that the actual work of the wastewater, uh, department was, was not being compromised anyway. So that's not the issue. The issue is who's paying to, uh, further treat this contaminated water. And these are, these are, uh, discharges that are contaminated with things like benzene and other carcinogens that can really affect people's health. So it's hugely important work that the department is charged with performing. This is just a matter of who's paying for that work. And the industries that are polluting this water are, um, being under assessed by the city and have been for years,

Speaker 1: 33:41 Right? The auditor's report also said the city may have been breaking a state law by charging homeowners and businesses more than the cost of their wastewater service. What what's that law? And what's the implications for the city?

Speaker 9: 33:54 Well, that's proposition two 18, you might remember, was passed by California voters in the 1990s. Now that was a tax reform measure that had a number of elements. One of those key elements is that municipalities cannot pass along costs to consumers, a new taxes without a vote of the people. But another element of that ballot proposition stated that municipalities could not impose new fees on consumers that were not directly related to the cost of delivering that service. So if you're being charged X amount of dollars for water, then you can only be charged what it costs to deliver the water. Same thing goes with the sewer, which is the other half of the public utilities department. They do water and sewer for the city of San Diego. If you're being charged for your sewer service, which we all are, you can only be charged amounts that are equal to the cost of delivering that service. Now proposition two 18 imposes that it's not clear that the city was complying with that because they're charging homeowners and business owners costs that were incurred by real users and industrial polluters. So that's the, um, the potential legal violation there. Okay,

Speaker 1: 35:06 Got it. So now I guess the bottom line is for San Diego city rate payers who do pay some of the highest water rates in the country, what's impact could fixing this error or mistake have on rates in the future.

Speaker 9: 35:20 Well, presumably they will drop once the city completes its latest fee study and a new schedule is approved by the city council and implemented by the mayor's office. This is what they said they would do seven years ago when the mayor was the chairman of the audit committee. And this was first brought to his. But

Speaker 10: 35:38 As I said in what the auditor noted is that nothing's happened in the past seven years. So this was pretty remarkable for the auditor to come back and revisit the same issue because of lack of implementation of the recommendations the city had already agreed to do. Jeff, thanks very much for your reporting. You bet have a great day. 15,

Speaker 4: 36:02 10 year old Connor Lee inherited a stockpile of cardboard boxes from his grandfather. Now he and his 13 year old brother Bauer have created a garage full of cardboard superheroes and movie props. Comicon at home starts today at 3:00 PM. KPBS arts reporter, Beth Armando speaks with the teenage brothers who will be hosting a virtual panel this Sunday at noon about how to build size models of your favorite superheroes. So Connor, tell me how you got started building these cardboard super

Speaker 10: 36:35 Well. We've always like loved to build ever since we were little, it just been an interest of ours, but my mom, she actually used to babysit me and my grandpa's work, which was filled with cardboard boxes. And that was like a course time. I got introduced to cardboard and I loved it and I would just build every day and just have so much fun doing that. And then when he retired, he actually gifted me all of his boxes and this is like the best gift I've ever gotten. And, um, eventually I decided to fit grade to build RTD too. And this is like my first super hero model. And this is kind of stylist. Like I combined my interests at superheroes and also with carpet building. And then I built Ironman next and then bar joined and then we sent button all these models here and Bauer. What about you? Just like my brother always been really interested in building and it would just be like little things out of paper. I'd build like origami things out of paper. But then when I saw my brother building out a cardboard, like some of these models I got interested in as well. So I actually bought my first two models, which were actually weapons. They were the storm breaker in the hole. And then from there kind of just all took off. So you

Speaker 4: 37:41 I've been doing this since before quarantine? Yes. How does one teach oneself to build these? Because I can't believe are there tutorials online? Are there actual places you can go to learn these skills? Or how did you learn how to do this?

Speaker 10: 37:56 A lot of it was like trial and error and like I started off very simple. So with RTD too, what I did is I printed out a bunch of pictures from all different angles and I would use math to scale up all the models and I would scale it up to what the life size version of RTD two is. And that's when I felt that it was very simple and I just made it very basic shapes and I kind of just kept on advancing, advancing, and then I taught everything I need to my brother as well. And that's how we kind of learned. And there wasn't really a set way cause there's no one who actually like kinda does it. I mean, people there's like prop makers. And so, but this was cardboard. So we kind of like had us experiment ourselves. And when did you to start making

Speaker 1: 38:36 These online tutorials?

Speaker 10: 38:37 We actually ran our first big event with the Comicon museum for the summer nights event. And we created these models or these like templates for gillnet Thor hammers, and also wonder woman gear. And so this was like a two day long workshop that we ran with the common called museum. And we had like over 600 people that were asked to get written out of templates. There's so much fun. So after that, we were really looking forward to running another in person workshop, but then quarantine started. So instead we had this idea to create these miniature models. So it's things like a miniature Wally and add it. There's a bunch of other models that we've created. So we created a principal templates that you could just print out, cut out and create some of these models. And also along with that, we created, uh, an instruction video that teaches you how to create a specific model. And so this is just like an alternative that my brother and I decided for people to still be able to build a home. And so what's cool about this product is that we made it stuff. All of the materials that you got that people need to build. Some of these models are very common health, so materials, it's just things you could find around the house. And we created this. So it's an all summer long project and we're actually on our fifth week right now, we're posting a new model every day.

Speaker 1: 39:49 How did you hook up with the Comicon museum? How did they find you or did you contact them?

Speaker 10: 39:53 Yeah, so my brother and I have always, uh, but huge fans of Comicon, we've actually been in the past two years. And so last year, uh, we, when we went to comic con, we heard that everyone launching their new Comicon museum and the first time we went to the common core museum, there was a pop up Batman exhibit and it was just such a cool place. And we were so excited about it and we knew we had to somehow get involved in this. And so we reached out to them and then they invited us to come run a workshop there for summer nights event. And like I mentioned before, it's like these Thor hammers and wonder woman gear. And so it's just a such a fun event at the Comicon museum allowed us to do. And you know, we're just really looking forward to hopefully running another one saying how easy are these tutorials to actually follow? Yeah. So we actually made these models very, very simple. And so like, uh, for example, this RTD two, uh, for this one we created templates. So you can just print those out, cut it out. And you basically have all the shapes that you need to create this model. And we also made an instruction video so that people could watch it as they build so that they know exactly how to construct. What

Speaker 1: 41:00 Did you have that made this, something that was feasible for you? You talked about like, well, I used some math and stuff like that. Not everybody can, you know, look at something on a page and then transform it into a three dimensional object. So where you guys like into model building before this or into things, uh, or studying things in school that helped you do this more easily?

Speaker 10: 41:22 I started off because I really loved superheroes and that was like my first interest. And I was like, watch all the movies when it first came out and read the comics and I decided, and then was kind of like, I wanted to build props that I see in the movies. And that's when I was like, Oh, I want to learn how to do this. And so when I would go to, like, when I would go to school, I would pick a class based off of like my interests, for example, like an art class. I would like really like ask the teacher questions and ask, like, what do you think is like a good way to make this out of cardboard or out of paper? And that's how I kind of learned. And I slowly like taught myself as well. Just like, as you, as I'm, as I make models, I make a lot of mistakes, but I learned from the mess wall and stuff. That's how, that's how it all started from there. Describe what you have behind you right now. So these are all of the models that we built so far also on like the shelf there's like helmets over there. So yeah, the background that you can see is just all of the models that we've created so far,

Speaker 4: 42:17 And he goes on much longer. You guys are going to be running.

Speaker 10: 42:21 Yeah. It's taken up a good portion of her house. Um, yeah. And all like the cardboard is like taking over, but our parents are like really supportive about this. Although we do, they, my mom really makes us clean up after herself. Yeah.

Speaker 4: 42:34 And how did you first get into superheroes? Was it through movies? Through comics, through telephone?

Speaker 10: 42:38 So my elementary school, they had like this, like you can buy like a book and order it from like this company. And instead of buying books, I would order like comic books. And that's when I first got interested into like superheroes when I got my first comic book. And then I discovered that there was going to be movies. And so I watched the movies and I loved you can grow groove and more and Bower. Yeah, for me. Um, I didn't really order comments as much. It was mostly like, uh, cause when I was growing up, it was mostly like the new movies were popping up, like the iron mans, the Avengers. And so yeah, from there, um, my love for superheroes just kept on growing. And what do you think you're going to be doing?

Speaker 4: 43:16 Do you get out of school? How do you think you're going to be applying some of these skills? You're learning to do something that might end up in a career in Hollywood or a building?

Speaker 10: 43:26 My dream job is to become an entrepreneur and I've always like, this is like, I've always wanted to become one. And this is kind of like my start into becoming an entrepreneur and I've been learning a lot of skills and I definitely want to use this further on in life and maybe start my own business, something like that. And Bauer, what about you? So I haven't really thought about much what I want to do in the future, but I mean, I love building these models and so it's just like a little fun thing that I like to do. So maybe something along that route.

Speaker 4: 43:54 Well, I want to thank you both very much for taking some time to talk to me while you're in court.

Speaker 10: 44:00 Thank you so much

Speaker 4: 44:03 To see a photo of Connor and Bowerly with their cardboard heroes, go to kpbs.org. More information about the brothers virtual panel, as well as some 300 other free panels can be found@comic-con.org and click on Comicon at home.

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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.