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New Information Behind The Ash Street Lease

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY SHALINA CHATLANI

Above: 101 Ash Street in Downtown San Diego. Aug. 21, 2020.

New reporting suggests San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer had a more direct role in the Ash Street lease negotiations than previously known. Plus, Measure A on San Diego's ballot this election would raise 900 million dollars for affordable housing. We take deep dive into what the bill proposes and the pros and cons. Next, Prop. 14 asks voters to issue more bond money to further stem cell research, supporters want to continue the research but critics say the science didn’t do enough the first time. In addition, a look at the San Diego City Council District 7 race. Also, six candidates are vying for seats on the San Diego Unified School Board, meet them and hear their priorities. Finally, the San Diego Asian Film Festival goes virtual.

Speaker 1: 00:01 New details about the city of San Diego is Ash street fiasco.

Speaker 2: 00:04 So it looks like mr. Manchester had a pretty key role in financing the deal because of his relationship with Kevin Faulkner.

Speaker 1: 00:13 I'm Alison st. John, along with Maureen Kavanaugh, and this is midday edition Is measured a vital to solve San Diego's affordable housing crisis or an expensive drag on the economy.

Speaker 2: 00:31 We want to create a safety net for seniors, that trans people living with disabilities and youth who are transitioning out of foster care

Speaker 1: 00:38 And our voter crime sessions continue with a look at whether taxpayers should go, go on subsidizing STEM cell research. Plus what's at stake in San Diego city council and school board races. That's ahead on day edition,

Speaker 1: 01:01 It's being cold. One of the worst real estate deals in San Diego city history, the Ash street lease fiasco, a downtown high rise that's cost the city millions of dollars and still stands empty. Department heads have lost their jobs over the deal, but send to you a union Tribune, investigative reporter, Jeff McDonald now writes that emails suggest mayor Kevin Faulkner had more direct role in the negotiations than previously reported. Jeff, thanks so much for joining us. Of course. Thanks for having me. So now briefly outline the story of this 20 year lease of the Ash street building. Why did the city need it? What did the final agreement promise and how much has the city already spent on it so far?

Speaker 2: 01:41 Well, that's a mouthful, but the city has been looking for some years for additional downtown office space. This is pre COVID, of course, uh, for its workers. Uh, many of whom are now housed in other leased buildings. Uh, some of which are not in very good condition. And so that's been a priority of the city. Uh, for some years when Sempra moved out of the Ash street, the one on one Ash street, high rise, uh, the landlord of course, was looking for a new tenant and didn't look very far before he saw city hall. Uh, they thought it was a win win for everybody because of its proximity to, uh, city hall. Uh, the landlord went to the mayor. We learned in this new batch of emails as early as 2014 to discuss a sale or lease possibility with the city. So it, uh, this latest batch of emails, uh, shows that the mayor was personally involved a lot earlier than what we were, uh, understanding. Okay.

Speaker 1: 02:37 Was the deal promising the city and what has actually happened in terms of money?

Speaker 2: 02:42 Well, the deal promised the city a 19 story, high rise that could house, uh, 800 or so workers almost within months by the summer of 2017, just six months after the lease was signed. Uh, the problem was the building was not in the condition that was, uh, put forward in the discussions. It's not clear what was released to the city or how much due diligence the city did. So as a result of the city's paid $535,000 a month to rent a building that it's not able to occupy a, that was the case for almost four years until the mayor suspended those payments just last month,

Speaker 1: 03:19 The emails that you've, um, revealed so that the show that the original opinion of the city's real estate assets director Sibel Thompson, um, who by the way, has now lost her job as a result of all this, that she was her initial take on. This idea was pretty cool, right?

Speaker 2: 03:35 Yes, these emails. And I thought that was one of the most notable things to come out of. This batch of emails was that the real estate assets director, the city's top real estate professional told her bosses in January of 2015, that this building was not a good fit for the city, uh, that the city shouldn't own the building shouldn't purchase the buildings, but she did say the building might, it might benefit the city to lease it for 10 years, uh, as kind of a stop gap measure to alleviate the city's, uh, workspace needs. Uh, but she said due to the buildings age, among some other factors, it was not a good candidate for acquisition by the city. She later changed her tune. Of course, when it became clear that, uh, the mayor and his senior advisors thought the building was a good fit for the, for the city real estate portfolio.

Speaker 1: 04:22 So one of the things that changed was that Doug Manchester bought a minority stake in the property. When did that happen? And what happened as a result?

Speaker 2: 04:32 Uh, he bought a minority stake in the building for $20 million in June, around June of 2015, shortly thereafter. He began arranging tours and meetings with the mayor and his senior aides. I know they toured the building in July, right after Sempra moved out July of 2015. Uh, and, uh, they embarked on a series of, uh, offers and counter proposals. And that resulted in a deal that was, uh, approved by the city council in the fall of 2016. So it looks like mr. Manchester had a pretty key role in, um, fermenting the deal, uh, because of his relationship with Kevin Faulkner, he stayed a long time political supporter of the mayors.

Speaker 1: 05:20 Why would a least be any less of a conflict of interest than a purchase would have been?

Speaker 2: 05:24 Well, I'm not sure about that. I think that a purchase would have a straight up purchase. The city did pursue that at some, for some time through 2015 and 16, uh, they were not, they were planning to sell bonds, to pay for the building. There's some discussion in prior reporting that we've reported along with other San Diego media, that they were unable to secure a bond financing, and that made the lease option, um, more likely and more possible. Uh, they also went through a middleman, uh, the Cistera development. Uh, so the city's deal is actually with, uh, an LLC owned by [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 06:03 Okay. So a lot of layers of accountability and your story mentions that the previous tenants Sempra told state officials in 2015, that it would cost millions to upgrade the building to, to mitigate for the asbestos. But the city council was not told any of that when they approved the deal. What explains that lack of information?

Speaker 2: 06:23 Yes. It's not clear whether the city was aware of that. That came up actually in 2014 during a rate setting a proceeding before the public utilities commission, which is the state body that regulates utility rates in the state of California. Um, and so they disclosed Sempra disclosed to the public utilities commission 20 up to $25 million in a specified needs and some millions of dollars in additional, um, upgrades that the building required. This was in 2014. And this was one of the conditions that prompted Sempra to move out of the building and pursue its own, uh, new headquarters over on eighth street, which incidentally was built by Cistera. Uh, the city's on the hook for about 23 million plus in lease payments for this vacant building, along with $30 million plus in renovation costs. So what we have now is the city having expanded more than $50 million for an empty building doesn't own. So it's, it's, it's quite a stupefying situation that the city finds itself in.

Speaker 1: 07:28 Finally, there are apparently some missing millions. What's the story there?

Speaker 2: 07:33 Well, we're not sure what the story is. The, uh, the city had been paying about a little more than $500,000 a month and was scheduled to do that for 20 years. There's some question over what the total amount, it was going to be $128 million over 20 years. Uh, the amount that they finance was either a 77 million or 92 million, depending on who you ask. Uh, the cities told me just last week that they can't account for about 14 million and change that went to apparently Susteren the middleman in this deal, they've asked for a delineation of all the closing costs, and they said that, uh, they haven't been able to get an answer out of the company that they, uh, did the transaction with. I reached out to the company of course, and got no response. The Astera has filed a, a warning, a legal claim against the city. The city of course is sued. Um, uh, Steris LLC. One-on-one Ash, LLC is the company. It created a consumer attorney, Michael McGarry, the former San Diego city attorney has sued both the city and Stelara and the former building owner. So this, uh, this transaction already is mired in multiple layers of, uh, litigation, and that it's not going away anytime soon.

Speaker 1: 08:47 We've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, investigative reporter, Jeff McDonald.

Speaker 2: 08:52 Thank you.

Speaker 3: 09:01 It's two weeks to the day before the November election and midday edition continues it's voter cram session series of reports measure a on San Diego's ballot would raise $900 million for affordable housing proponents Sayers. The city's best shot at making a serious dent in the homelessness and housing affordability crisis. Detractors say it's increased to property. Taxes comes at the worst possible time. KPBS Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen takes a closer look

Speaker 4: 09:33 At the corner of Twain and Fairmount avenues in grant fails. It's 79 apartments housing, the formerly homeless, the complex called Stella opened in December of last year. Residents pay deeply subsidized rents and have onsite services to help them live healthier lives. Steven Russell, president and CEO of the San Diego housing Federation says San Diego needs more of this a lot more. We have been absolutely, uh, heartbroken over this fate of folks who were living in the streets of San Diego. We've seen what, what a terrible cost it is to them, to their health, to our common health, to the quality of our neighborhoods. We believe that we have an opportunity now to resolve that Russell says the $900 million in bonds that measure a would raise, could fund construction of 7,500 affordable homes for the chronically homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless. We want to create a safety net for seniors, veterans, people living with disabilities and youth who are transitioning out of foster care so that they would not be at risk of homelessness.

Speaker 4: 10:33 They're disproportionately homeless in terms of the populations as a whole Russell adds that the local money could be matched three to four times over with state and federal subsidies, which could work as a local stimulus program. As the region recovers from the pandemic. We believe that as a property tax spread so thin over so many people that is very it's relatively modest, and that it really provides an opportunity for us to create a safety net that is so clearly lacking. As we saw during this pandemic measure, a would be paid back with an increase to property taxes starting next year, and how much you pay depends on the assessed value of your home for every $100,000. You'd pay about $3 extra in the first year. So say the County assesses your home's value at $600,000 in year one, you'd pay about an extra $1 and 50 cents per month that would gradually increase to about 10 50 per month. By the end of the decade, if you're a renter, some of those costs may be passed on to you. You keep giving the bureaucracy more money to spend. They're never going to have any incentive to implement those reforms and regulations. City council members, Scott Sherman is voting no on measure eight. He points out that with interest, the measure would constitute $0.1 billion over 46 years. He says that building affordable housing is too expensive and that the government should focus on the cost of construction

Speaker 5: 11:54 Before raising taxes.

Speaker 6: 11:56 Politicians told you, Oh, it's just a small little bit of tax. It won't amount to much. It's not that much out of your budget. Well, if you keep doing that time and time again, it finally adds up to where now it's almost half the cost of building housing in this city.

Speaker 5: 12:08 Sherman is referring to a 2015 study from point Loma Nazarene university that found regulations account for up to 47% of the cost of housing in San Diego with subsidized affordable housing, Sherman says the state should end the requirement to pay construction workers, higher wages called prevailing wage,

Speaker 6: 12:28 Which by everybody's account ups, the cost of those units by 20 to 25%, I'd much rather get that done without prevailing wage. Save that 20% and build more units with that money

Speaker 5: 12:39 Measure a has been endorsed by the County democratic party, affordable housing builders and organizations that serve the homeless. It also wants support from the San Diego County taxpayers association, the associated general contractors, San Diego, and the building industry association of San Diego County. It's opposed by the County Republican party, the San Diego union Tribune, editorial board, three city council members and conservative radio host. Carl DeMaio measure a needs a two thirds majority from city voters to pass. Johnny May is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Welcome. Hi, thanks Maureen. That two thirds requirement for approval is quite a hurdle to overcome. How are advocates campaigning for this measure? I think it's a fairly conventional campaign. They're certainly trying to get as much press coverage as possible. They've got a social media presence. I actually got a text message from a volunteer. Uh, you know, it's telling me to vote yes, for measure AA the other day.

Speaker 5: 13:41 Um, the challenge with every ballot measure really, but especially one that involves a tax increase is just breaking through the noise. There are a lot of issues and races on the ballot, uh, and it takes money to get your message out there. The measure a campaign has some money, but it's not a wash in it. And if you think back to the March primary, when measure C was on the ballot, this was the hotel tax increase that would have funded the convention center expansion, uh, also affordable housing and infrastructure. Uh, that measure had a boatload of money. They have the support from the chamber of commerce and the San Diego and Imperial counties, labor council, um, to, you know, two of the, probably the biggest interest groups in San Diego. And, uh, that measure couldn't even get to a two thirds majority. So of course this is a different election.

Speaker 5: 14:29 It's a different ballot measure, but it, you know, the fact remains that this hurdle is very, very high. How do supporters of measure a answer the criticism that this is a particularly bad time to ask for a tax increase? Well, as you heard in that, uh, story that I did, um, they say that they think the tax increase is relatively modest because it's spread over a very large number of people. I'm the owner. As I said, the owner of a median priced home would pay roughly $1 and 50 cents extra per month in the first year. And, uh, you know, the people who are struggling the most in the pandemic probably don't own homes that are taxed at $600,000. So the tax burden on them, you know, assuming their homes are more modest, um, would be lighter. It's also phased in over time. So, you know, by the second, third, fourth year, when the taxes are going in, uh, you know, coming up a little bit, um, hopefully by then the economy will have recovered.

Speaker 5: 15:27 Um, and they, the other argument they say is they think this is actually the right time to be passing a measure like this because the pandemic has made clear that we have a need for a greater social safety net, not only for the homeless who, uh, you know, don't have a home to stay in. Um, but also for those low income households that are now at risk of eviction, because they can't afford the rent. And if they're given a home with a rent that they can afford, then they're more likely to be able to stay in that home, even if they suffer a, a serious, um, you know, financial calamity, like a job loss.

Speaker 3: 16:01 And tell us more about what supporters say this measure could do to act as an economic stimulus for the region.

Speaker 5: 16:08 Well, typically when you build affordable housing, the builder gets funding from multiple sources. So they are competing for limited state and federal tax credits and grants, things like that. And if they have money from the local government, then they're more likely to win those that competition and, and bring in that state and federal money right now. Other counties and regions in California have passed a very similar bond measures to this one and they're able to provide more local dollars. So they say that San Diego is right now at a competitive disadvantage and attracting those matching funds from the state and federal governments. And if they are able to bring in say three times what the local, uh, tax, uh, commitment is, um, then you know, that's money, that's flowing into the local economy through construction jobs, and that will help the city emerge from the recession. That's their argument.

Speaker 3: 17:06 What do people oppose to measure a offer as an alternative to how's the homeless who needs supportive services?

Speaker 5: 17:15 Well, I spoke again to a council member, Scott Sherman, uh, for this story. And he acknowledges that some subsidy is needed for low income housing and permanent supportive housing for the homeless. Um, I think he just disagrees with, uh, the need for this particular tax increase. He thinks that before raising taxes, the city and the state should work to lower the cost of building affordable housing. Um, and it's very true that, uh, that, uh, affordable housing is extremely expensive to build in San Diego and California. Some of the permanent supportive housing that were built in LA after they passed a similar measure of cost, you know, upwards of $700,000 per unit. Um, and the cost is lower in San Diego, but the fact remains that it is still very expensive to build affordable housing. If this

Speaker 1: 18:04 Measure does not pass, does the city go back to pre pandemic square one on the homelessness issue?

Speaker 5: 18:13 Yeah, I mean, that's a real tough question. You know, I asked, uh, uh, Steven Russell, who I spoke to for this story, what happens if measure a fails? And he says, you know, we're going to keep on trying to build affordable housing and we're going to keep on, um, you know, uh, keep, keep up with this fight regardless of where you fall on measure a, I think it's, uh, it's, um, pretty clear that it, it will cost more money to build affordable housing and permanent supportive housing for the homeless. And, uh, you know, if it doesn't come from measure a then, uh, you know, we don't know where it will come from.

Speaker 1: 18:51 I've been speaking with KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Thank you. Thank you, Maureen.

Speaker 1: 19:02 You're listening to KPBS Monday edition. I'm Alison st. John with Maureen Kavanaugh, California has become a world leader in STEM cell research, partly due to more than a decade of generous public funding, but voters this November will decide whether to continue that public support or cut it off. Well, then $5 billion in bonds for STEM cell research hangs in the balance, depending on what voters decide on proposition 14 here to give us the pros and cons of prop 14 is KPBS science reporter. Shalina chit Lonnie. Shelina welcome. Glad to be here. So now prop 14 would continue funding the California Institute for regenerative medicine, which does STEM cell research that began with $3 billion bond measure in 2004. And prop 14 would now add $5.5 billion in bonds. So what do people who support it say justifies that kind of money?

Speaker 7: 19:53 So the people who support this measure say that the money goes towards making clinical trials and funding lifesaving research. So they say that, you know, any scientific research is good and should be funded. And that CIRM, um, for the California Institute for regenerative medicine has been able to give grants to researchers across the state of California to find life saving therapies. And so that work should continue. Another argument is that clinical trials take a long time. And so if opponents say that, you know, there's an issue with the number of clinical trials and how they've sort of ended or not ended, the reality researchers say is that clinical trials take, can take a really long time for therapies to manifest out of them. And so it's a good idea to fund, um, you another several years of money that can go towards, you know, finishing these clinical trials and having therapies come out of them. One of the people that supports more money going towards CIRM is Larry Goldstein, who is a neuroscientist at UC San Diego health. I'll mention that he's received quite a bit of money from CIRM, um, millions of dollars. And this is what he has to say about it

Speaker 8: 21:10 With 60 clinical trials that we're supporting by CIRM and another 30 that CIRM has leveraged. It's actually accomplished quite a bit. Patients are going into remission based on very useful cancer drugs.

Speaker 1: 21:26 What kind of diseases are being cured with STEM cell therapy?

Speaker 7: 21:30 STEM cell therapy has gone toward helping people who are experiencing spinal cord injuries, type one, diabetes Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. So STEM cell therapy is obey of regenerating cells that have been damaged due to these various diseases. So it can really be life changing for some people who are experiencing these conditions,

Speaker 1: 22:01 According to the Institute, it did reap some financial rewards for the state, for the public investment, right?

Speaker 7: 22:07 Yeah. And this is where prop 14 becomes definitely a sticky issue for some voters because there have been benefits, for example, 10.7 billion of gross output and sales revenue around 600 million of state and local tax revenue, 50,000 jobs. So, you know, those are benefits, which by the way, come from the CIRM website, but on the other hand, um, it's less than what promoters of the original proposition predicted would come out of the measure. So this is from the LA times, this reporting that most supporters thought the program would pay for itself by generating at least 14 billion from royalties and reduced health costs for California. But that hasn't exactly happened. Um, and that bar would be higher because instead of, you know, getting $3 billion in bonds, it would be $5.5 billion in bonds that taxpayers would have to pay off over the next three decades. And so, yeah, if you just look at the comparison, you know, we thought that we were going to get 14 billion from it, but there haven't been that many therapies that have come out of it with royalties that can go back from the state. So it's a bit of a sticky issue

Speaker 1: 23:28 Now, where is opposition for this proposition coming from? Yeah,

Speaker 7: 23:32 One of the people that I interviewed, uh, Jeff Sheehy, he's actually on the board of CIR. He's been on it since its very inception and his point is that, you know, there, it was good that it happened. And there were a lot of benefits that came out of it and the work has been good and a lot of research has been funded, but what was predicted, it was going to come out of serum hasn't happened yet. And it's also a remarkably different time, you know, back then in 2004, under the Bush administration, there was a lot of pushback for STEM cell research due to religious reasons. And so there just, wasn't a lot of there wasn't really any funding for STEM cell research. Now that's changed. Um, you know, there's around $2 billion in federal funding for STEM cell research. And so his point is we shouldn't really take on this extra debt for something that hasn't amounted to our expectations. So that opinion, like I said, is coming from opponents like Jeff Sheehy, like I mentioned, he's been on the board of CIRM since its very inception.

Speaker 1: 24:41 I'm proud of the work we've done. CIRM was never conceived as being permanently paid for, with debt. It was supposed to pay for itself and it has it. We need to bring this back under the control of the legislature and the governor and the state. So how much of this research money is coming to San Diego? I do remember that when the initial bond measure passed, there were some complaints that most of the money went to San Francisco. For example,

Speaker 7: 25:05 I wouldn't say that a lot of the, uh, the money from the initiative is going fairly broadly across all of California. San Diego is tight for a lot of really fantastic science research that's going on. So it's only natural that a lot of the grants would be going to scientists here.

Speaker 1: 25:23 We've been speaking with KPBS science reporter Shelina chatline Shalina. Thank you for filling us in. Thank you for having me

Speaker 7: 25:34 San Diego city council district seven cuts a horizontal path and compassing eight city neighborhoods with Linda Vista and mission Valley to the West and Tierra Santa and San Carlos to the East. It's presently represented by termed out council member, Scott Sherman, who is a Republican, the race for San Diego city council district seven is one of just two council races with a Democrat and Republican facing off KPBS reporter. Claire triglyceride joins us to tell us more about the race and Claire. Welcome. Thank you so much. There's a real choice here in this race with two different visions of the role of government. Tell us about the Republican in this race. No Liza, I think it's actually one of two races in the entire city of San Diego. That's I'm a Democrat and a Republican. The rest are Democrat Democrat. So, uh, Nolisa has more of a hands off view of government. And one of the examples of this is in COVID regulations. He's the co owner of the restaurant chain dirty birds. And he says he, he was really deeply frustrated early in the, when he had

Speaker 9: 26:44 To close dining at his restaurant. So here's what he said.

Speaker 10: 26:47 You could have operated the same guy that when we are operating now, but if during those critical two, three months where we were, we were shut down completely. A lot of small businesses folded, unfortunately permanently.

Speaker 9: 26:58 Does he remain opposed to the COVID restrictions that are in place now? Well, he, he says, I mean, he, he does take COVID seriously. He actually said that he lost a friend to the virus, which is really unfortunate. And he says that he does like that he can do outdoor dining. Now that that's a big help and that he wished that he was able to do that earlier on, right. When restaurants first closed now Democrat role will come PO has a very different view of San Diego's COVID response. Can you tell us about him? Sure. So he says the restrictions that the County made were actually not strict enough. He's a prosecutor. He works in the city attorney's office. And so he takes a strong view of law enforcement. And so he likened, um, for example, writing citations for not wearing masks to jaywalking or when the city allowed, uh, electric scooters, he says there should have been enforcement really early on. And here's what he said.

Speaker 10: 27:55 The County should have made sure that they were going to cite people who were violating the health orders early on. And I'm not talking drastic punitive measures, simply citations where people knew I am going to be paying a small fine if I violate this.

Speaker 9: 28:11 No, because of the economic losses associated with the pandemic, the San Diego city council will most likely be facing an extremely tight budget next year. What do these two candidates have to say about possible cost? Cutting? Sure. So, um, we can start with Raul Cambio. Uh, he says he would definitely not cut salaries of city employees that's off the table for him, but he would actually want to bring in more employees, which he says could cut costs by removing paying for outside contractors. Um, and here's, here's what he said.

Speaker 10: 28:44 And instead should be bringing in an engineer or surveyor to work for the city and be able to plan projects in house.

Speaker 9: 28:52 And how does businessmen no Zaza say he would cut costs? Well, so he says that essential services like police and fire are off the table, but he would cut money on things like bike lanes. And I should know that's a little tricky because what he's talking about is actually more funded by the planning agency stand ag, not the city, but here's what he said

Speaker 10: 29:14 Is the money that San Diego, the city is spending on protected bike lanes, that San Diego is spending $279 million on, um, when that, which that money should be going to fixing our streets in our roads.

Speaker 9: 29:28 What are some of the other issues that are in play in this district race? Sure. So there's the question of housing density. And one thing that I asked both candidates, just to get a sense of where they stood on that is whether they support allowing duplexes on single family zone lots. Um, and cam PO says that he does support that, um, that he's lived in other cities that have duplexes. And that works really well. Um, but he doesn't support quadplexes, which would be, I guess, uh, four houses on one single family zone lot. And then dosa says he does not support that on a citywide basis. He says, it depends on the neighborhood. They're both in supportive of privacy ordinance that would require police and other city departments to get an approval from a privacy commission before adopting any new surveillance technologies. And that kind of comes out of the street light cameras, um, that have made news recently.

Speaker 9: 30:23 And then, um, there's a future measure to change the authority of the city attorney to kind of limit what the city attorney, the elected city attorney would be in charge of and compete code does not support that. Um, not surprising cause he's works in that office and Zosyn says he does support it. So those are some other local issues where you can really see the divisions between the two candidates in the primary campaign came out on top of the field of three Democrats. And the one Republican who was Soza, those democratic votes may likely solidified behind come PO if he should win. What effect would his election have on the city council as a whole? Sure. I mean, so right now the seat is held by a Scott Sherman. Who's a Republican. So if Kim PO does win, um, that will be an additional, uh, Democrat on the council.

Speaker 9: 31:14 The Democrats already have a six to three veto proof majority. So picking up a seven seat or even an eight, see if a Democrat wins in district five, it won't really impact the council in terms of being able to override a veto, which of course, we also are going to have a democratic mayor, but I think that it will maybe make for some more interesting dynamics as divisions show up between different types of Democrats who are on the city council. And I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Claire Tresor Claire. Thank you very much. Thank you. Five candidates are on the ballot for three seats on the San Diego unified school board, KPBS education reporter, Joe home spoke to each of them about how they hope to help navigate the state's second largest school district. Through unprecedented times,

Speaker 11: 32:07 Being a school board member is a difficult job. Even in the best of times, the responsibilities include managing a Byzantine budget, listening to disgruntled parents and making decisions that are far reaching consequences for the lives of students. Now we have a global pandemic that has offended nearly every aspect of public education and a reckoning over racial justice that has forced educators to address the uncomfortable question of who gets left behind in our classrooms. It's against this backdrop, that five candidates are vying for three seats on the San Diego unified school board, which serves about a hundred thousand students in sub-district. A which covers Claremont mere Mason university city two candidates are competing to replace current board president and John Lee Evans, who isn't seeking reelection. Both of the candidates agreed the district needs to rely on public health experts rather than rushing to reopen schools. Sabrina Bazo is a public health educator and a long time parent volunteer in the district. During the past decade, she served for six years as the mere Mesa high school foundation president, she hopes to expand a peer tutoring program that you helped start at Mira Mesa.

Speaker 7: 33:08 And now we're up to about over 30 tutors, I think. And we've probably reached about 50 families or so, and we're continuing that program. So it's a good example of something that we can replicate in other parts of the district. It's totally free of charge. We're trying to keep it volunteer. And we're trying to really identify those students that need those resources. The most

Speaker 11: 33:30 Basel, his opponent is crystal troll, a professor of nonprofit management. She said her experience consulting for nonprofits makes her uniquely qualified to bring accountability and transparency to the district. She said she has been disappointed by the lack of open communication between the district and parents.

Speaker 7: 33:45 They've just been making a lot of, uh, decisions and having discussions behind closed doors. They tell us little things here and there, but I think that the parent engagement piece has, has really suffered, um, in terms of communication

Speaker 11: 33:59 In sub-district E which covers neighborhoods in Southeast San Diego, Lawana Richmond is challenging. Incumbent Sharon White hurts pain. This sub district serves a disproportionate number of low income students and students of color. Richmond has a doctorate in educational leadership and currently works as an organizational development manager at UC San Diego. She said her experience in the foster care system and as a teen mom has given her a firsthand understanding of the challenges facing the district's most vulnerable students.

Speaker 7: 34:26 Times like this. When you have enormous disruption in any type of system, it's an opportunity for exponential growth in progress because you learn things that you never would have found out in such a condensed and short period of time, because you don't have any choice, but to learn unless you choose

Speaker 11: 34:45 White hurts, pain is trying for a second term, says as a board member, she's made sure the district acted swiftly to distribute food and devices. When schools first shut down,

Speaker 7: 34:53 We want it to get learning devices out to all children because we know our schools and we know that some communities, we have a digital divide

Speaker 11: 35:02 From COVID relief efforts, Whitehurst pain that are primary achievement has been improving training for special education teachers.

Speaker 7: 35:08 I have made a difference on this board. I've been able to identify some of the critical issues that would impact district II, African Americans, like, you know, just across the board

Speaker 11: 35:21 Is running for reelection to represent sub-district D which serves downtown San Diego, as well as the neighborhoods of North park, Barrio, Logan and city Heights, a labor rights and community advocate. He's currently the board vice president and has served since 2008, running unopposed in both 2012, 2016

Speaker 12: 35:38 Brewers challenged by college professor, Camille Harris, who ran against them in the primary as a writing candidate, Joe Hong KPBS news.

Speaker 13: 35:52 This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Maureen cabinet, the San Diego Asian film festival had to cancel its spring showcase this year because of COVID. But tomorrow it kicks off its annual fall festival with a mix of online and outdoor events, KPBS arts reporter, Beth haka, Mondo previews, the festival with its artistic director, Brian who Brian, you had to cancel the spring showcase because of the COVID pandemic. Now you are putting on your main Asian film festival event for the fall. What are some of the challenges you've been facing with it?

Speaker 12: 36:30 Yes. If the challenges actually have, haven't been related to technology, which is why particularly we thought it might be it's actually, I feel like an overload of an entire seasons worth of events over the summer that have now been postponed into the fall. And I think people now from their homes have access to way too many virtual events. Maybe not wait to me. I mean, it choice is good, but for us, obviously it's harder to distinguish ourselves. So that's what we ended up. That was the challenge. How are we going to put together a programming slate? That's going to be different than the rest and hopefully be exciting and uplifting and exactly what people need. Right.

Speaker 13: 37:11 Well, it's impressive that you're opening film 76 days feels incredibly recent because it actually deals with the pandemic.

Speaker 12: 37:20 It's a miracle that this movie exists. So the film is 76 days takes place completely in hospitals, in the blue hon during the 76 days in which the city was shut down. And I think that, I mean, in the United States, we get a certain perspective of what's happening in China, right? We, we hear certain things from leaders in governments about the evils of, of China, but even from, um, the mainstream, I mean, even from, um, press like we often hear just in terms of policy and numbers and statistics, we don't get to see like what's actually happening in these hospitals and the interaction between doctors, nurses, and patients and how these healthcare providers are really making this up as they go along and their solutions are incredibly powerful and show the persistence of the human spirit and the drive towards healing. And I feel like it's the kind of movie we read right now to recalibrate our relationships with a global pandemic so that we can want to help each other. And I feel like it's in that spirit that we want it to begin our festival this year.

Speaker 13: 38:31 One of the films that I think is outstanding in terms of both creating a portrait and also exploring that Asian American experience or the Asian experience in America is be water, which is about Bruce Lee. And instead of it being just a portrait of this amazing actor and stuntman, we get a real sense of what it must've been like to be Asian in America at the time that he was trying to work.

Speaker 12: 38:57 I mean, it's surprisingly this bio pic of Bruce Lee, right? That we give you, haven't asked her an idea of what that might be. I mean, there's no shortage of authorized or unauthorized movies about Bruce Lee look right into the camera and right here and tell us your name. My last name is Lee, Bruce Lee. You realize where you're watching this, not that this is more than that. This is about the 1960s and seventies in the United States for an Asian person who's lives in Seattle and who comes to Hollywood and sort of communities that he builds within his, amongst other Asian Americans, but also amongst other people of color and their compost studios that they, they sort of center around. Um, I love hearing that Bruce Lee had a Japanese American girlfriend in the 1960s in Seattle. You'd never think about the fact that he was just this ordinary guy who was trying to find love and that he did so through it from a w with a Japanese person no less, right? Like you think about Bruce Lee's films as being Chinese can nationalist for the Chinese. But that, that part of his background is thinking cross ethnically about our collective hardships. And with that kind of ethos, we appreciate his, his later films. And, you know,

Speaker 13: 40:12 And one of the fun things about the actual screening of this documentary, this film, and another one called get the hell out are going to be outdoors.

Speaker 12: 40:22 Yeah. We really wanted to do something in person. And, but of course, to do so in a way that was safe and that doesn't promote, you know, a frivolous culture of not taking a pandemic seriously, but the driving has become the new way that people watch films as in groups. And we, so we just created our own drive in, um, we really wanted it on convoy. Um, this is an area with a lot of Asian businesses that people go to when they're looking for, for food, for shopping, for groceries. And so Zion market has graciously provided for us their parking lot, their giant parking lot. And so we got an AB team to put together the screen, the projection. And what better way of, of honoring Bruce Lee actually, and kind of older traditions of going to the movies than to do it as a drive in screening.

Speaker 13: 41:16 All right. I'm looking forward to that. And how is the festival going to play out for the audience in the sense of do the films drop at specific times? Are they available over the entire course of the festival? How can people actually enjoy the film?

Speaker 12: 41:31 That's a great question because every festival is doing a little bit differently this year. And in fact, we, as a team had a lot of questions about what would be the best way to present our films. And we actually uphold our members. Would they rather have set screening times where everyone to show up, say like 7:00 PM on Tuesday night, we're going to watch the movie together and have a Q and a together, or should we give audiences the flexibility, right? We're going to have its festival for an entire nine days. And you choose when you want to watch which films. And for the most part, every film in our festival is going to be available for all nine days. But we realized that we lose that feeling of simultaneity that is so intrinsic to the festival experience. And so re like so valued. So we are still doing some live Q and a sessions.

Speaker 12: 42:15 And tell us about your closing night film. We're really excited about this film. It's called mogul Mowgli, uh, started by Pacem Tariq and, uh, really excitingly for us. It's stars, Riz, Ahmed, who many people know, uh, from his Emmy winning performance in the night of, and in this film, he plays a rapper [inaudible] and it turns out his arm is actually an incredible rapper. And, uh, it's a part of the joy is watching him perform. But then it's also just this tour de force performance about a man who goes home and starts to find that his body is falling apart mysteriously. And part of the film is watching him adjust to this new reality, but also him trying to get a spiritual and family and romantic life together and professional life together. And so maybe what's happening to his body as a reflection of all of these sort of unsolved conflicts that he's currently feeling. And, and, and really like this is a showcase for a director who is in full command of the medium, through editing through sound in particular. And then through this, this actor who gives us such an incredible, um, embodied performance,

Speaker 13: 43:41 Well, there are a lot more films in the festival then we will have time to talk about, but I want to thank you very much for previewing this year. San Diego, Asian film festival.

Speaker 12: 43:51 Thank you as always.

Speaker 13: 43:55 That was Beth Armando, Mando speaking with artistic director, Brian who the San Diego Asian film festival kicks off tomorrow and runs through October 31st.

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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.