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San Diego Unified Won’t Expand In-Person Learning Until January

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Above: A young girl with a face mask sits at a desk at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont Mesa as schools resume with limited reopening on Oct. 13, 2020.

With COVID-19 infections occurring among students in school districts that have reopened in-person learning, San Diego Unified officials say they won’t consider expanding the district’s limited in-person learning until at least January. Plus, some of the biggest political players in town are pouring money into some of the most contentious local races this election. Also, a round up of some of the biggest political races in the South Bay. In addition, with revenue dropping by nearly 90% because of the pandemic, the Del Mar Fairground is struggling to survive and had to reduce its staff by nearly 60%. Also, San Diego researchers, using weather balloons, are getting a better understanding of the storm systems that bring the region most of its rain. And, the effects of wildfires don’t end when the fire’s out, some homeowners living nearby are also facing increased threats of flooding. Finally, meet Austin Coley, a neuroscientist researching mental illness who was once told he was not “Ph.D. worthy” in an excerpt from the Rad Scientist podcast.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Phase two in person school may star for San Diego unified students in January

Speaker 2: 00:05 School board and the superintendent they're working to secure a regular testing plan.

Speaker 1: 00:11 I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Mark Sauer. This is KPBS midday. We'll examine the amount of outside money coming into San Diego election.

Speaker 3: 00:29 Our analysis found over $2 million. Total in outside support had gone into that race either to support Todd, Gloria or Barbara Brie, or to oppose either of them lay off.

Speaker 1: 00:41 I'm sorry. The latest indication of money, trouble at the Del Mar fairgrounds and an excerpt of brainwaves rough waves from the KPBS podcast, rad scientist that's ahead on midday edition,

Speaker 1: 01:00 San Diego unified students could be headed back to school. This January district officials have announced a phase two plan to reopen in-person learning for elementary school students. Part-time on January 4th, middle and high school. Students could resume part-time classes later in January, but the reopening depends on San Diego, at least remaining in tier two of the state's COVID classifications and not falling back into tier one. Joining me to explain the details of this plan is KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, and welcome Joe. Thanks for having me. The phase two plan brings kids back to school, but it's very different from the start of a normal school semester elementary school. Kids could start in-person classes on January 4th, but how would they be struck?

Speaker 2: 01:48 Sure. Yeah, so you're totally right. This would be a very different structure. Um, elementary students there, uh, the student body would be divided into two and an am cohort and a PM cohort. And so the am cohort would obviously come in the morning. They would leave, uh, around noon, the PM cord comes in and that's how they would work four days a week on Fridays,

Speaker 1: 02:11 They have online classes at home. Yes,

Speaker 2: 02:13 That's right. A Fridays will be sort of a supplemental online learning day.

Speaker 1: 02:17 Then if all goes well, middle and high school students would resume in-person classes on January 25th. And how would that work?

Speaker 2: 02:25 So it'll be similar to the way elementary schools will reopen and phase two. Um, high school students will be split into two cohorts, but instead of an am PM cohort, you'll have a Monday, Tuesday cohort and a Wednesday Thursday cohort. And again, Fridays will be online.

Speaker 1: 02:42 Now, will parents be able to keep kids at home and continue online learning if they want to?

Speaker 2: 02:48 Yes, absolutely. So the district has been very clear about those. They understand that some families have sort of medically fragile folks at home and they want to be sensitive to those needs or, you know, some parents just aren't comfortable with sending their students back onto campuses. So they want to offer that option for families.

Speaker 1: 03:05 San Diego unified is already underway with a phase one plan, and that offers short in-person learning sessions to elementary school. Students who are suffering from learning loss, those sessions are by appointment only tell us how the phase one is going.

Speaker 2: 03:23 Yeah, so I think some teachers and parents are very happy to have students back in classes and small groups, social distancing, a plexiglass, the whole gamut, no COVID outbreaks or cases reported so far, which is great. But some parents have been disappointed by the sort of slim offerings. Some parents who have kids with special needs, haven't been able to get the services they need. Although, you know, about 4,000 appointments have been made across the district since the district launched phase one in on October 13th, some parents like Ashley Lewis, who I spoke to last week said she wasn't able to get the occupational therapy for her son with autism. And, uh, her school, ocean beach elementary wasn't offering any in-person appointments because they weren't able to get enough teachers to volunteer for this limited in-person instruction. And, uh, here's a bit of a conversation I had with them.

Speaker 4: 04:28 You know, it's, it's optional for the teachers. Like he can't force them to come back. So if they don't want to come back and teach in person, he can't make them.

Speaker 1: 04:35 Does the district still plan on expanding phase one to include other students?

Speaker 2: 04:40 Yes. So the district plans to expand phase one to more elementary schools, uh, perhaps like ocean beach elementary, where actually Lewis wasn't yet able to get the services. The district might be able to get more teachers to volunteer, uh, to provide in-person instruction there, but also the district is planning on expanding appointment based in person instruction to middle and high schools. So currently the phase one is operating only, um, in the elementary schools. And I also want to mention that the expansion of phase one will move forward. Even if the County does enter the more restrictive purple tier

Speaker 1: 05:23 Now from remarks by school officials yesterday, it seems that the limited ability of schools to test students and teachers for COVID is part of the reason for this slow reopening. How is that being addressed?

Speaker 2: 05:36 Right? Yeah. This is a very important point for, uh, San Diego unified leadership, the school board and the superintendent they're working to secure a regular testing plan. Um, an asymptomatic testing plan where students and staff who are regularly on campus will be required to be tested every two weeks now, a board vice president, Richard bruh, you know, doesn't admit that they do need a substantial amount of federal stimulus funding to be able to do that. But for a big school district like San Diego unified with, you know, over a hundred thousand students, they want to make sure that, you know, even if they do have individual cases, they want to make sure that these students aren't spreading the virus in the community.

Speaker 1: 06:21 San Diego County health officials have announced a, a nearly 7% increase in positive Corona virus tests for children under the age of nine. Now Vista school district has had to change its rules about closing schools because of recent Corona virus outbreaks. Tell us about that.

Speaker 2: 06:39 So this is, uh, something that's just happened in the past, you know, 24 hours. Um, in the past week of full reopening Vista unified has had, uh, six positive cases of coronavirus among students and at mission Vista high school in the past week, they've had two cases. So the school board held an emergency, uh, board meeting on Tuesday night and they've come up with a criteria for closing schools. So one of them is that if there are two positive cases at a single school, that school will remain closed, uh, for 14 days. And so mission Vista high school starting tomorrow, Thursday will be closed and those students will return to distance learning.

Speaker 1: 07:24 Okay. Then I have been speaking with KPBS education reporter, Joe Hong and Joe. Thank you. Thanks for having me

Speaker 5: 07:42 In the 10 years, since the Supreme court's citizens United decision, the amount of money spent by outside groups on political campaigns has grown enormously. There's no limit on what political action committees or PACS can spend. And that's the case. Again, this year in many San Diego races, joining me to break it down is I knew source reporter, Jennifer Bowman, Jennifer, welcome to midday edition. Thank you for having me. So start with some of the outside money flowing into notable San Diego campaigns take the mayor's race for instance.

Speaker 6: 08:12 Yeah. Th the mayor's race definitely is attracting the most outside spending in, uh, the local races. Um, our analysis found over $2 million total in outside support had gone into that race either to support Todd Gloria or Barbara Bree or to oppose either of them. Um, and Gloria has seen the most outside support, and this is something that Bri has really hammered in her campaign for Gloria. We've seen big contributions to independent committees by the municipal employees association. That's the city's largest union and the top donor for outside funding for Gloria, as well as the chamber of commerce and other labor groups. And Brie has seen support from some groups. And actually a lot of her independent spending comes from individual donors, but it's not near the levels that Gloria has seen.

Speaker 5: 09:03 And your story shows outside groups, funding, ads, and mailers, and several of the campaigns for County supervisor as well. Tell us about those

Speaker 6: 09:10 The most outside spending, um, for the supervisor races we've seen in district three, and that's the key seat for Democrats to reach a board majority, something that hasn't been possible in decades and an in district three, we've seen $1.6 million in outside spending. And in terms of who's benefiting the most, slightly more, about 850,000 has gone to Terra Lawson Riemer, um, she's a political newcomer and she's challenging, uh, incoming Kristin gas bar gas bar has seen about $770,000 in outside support. And some of the groups that are funding, the independent spending are groups like the conservative leaning Lincoln club, labor and law enforcement groups. Those are really who's behind some of that outside support.

Speaker 5: 09:56 And how can voters discover which groups are behind such ads of fine print? Is it there

Speaker 6: 10:01 Read the fine print? Um, so if you get a mailer, uh, in your, in your mailbox, you'll see that, that box with, uh, who, who paid for the ad. But that information only goes so far. You'll see a pretty generic committee name, some details of who's funding the committee, but not all of its donors. Um, and to dig further, you have to go through campaign finance reports like we did. Um, we had to find con which committees are supporting or opposing candidates. It was a lot of work. We went through hundreds of campaign, finance reports, dating all the way back to 2019 to get a full picture. So what you see on those mailers, um, only gets you so far,

Speaker 5: 10:40 Not likely a voters, many voters are going to go and dig that far into that. Now explain the role outside groups can play in funding, a campaign that allows the candidates to remain quote clean.

Speaker 6: 10:52 There's a quote that we included in our story that, um, our CA uh, campaign finance expert that we spoke to, he, he cited what he called a classic statement by Terry Dolan. Um, some folks might know who that is. He's the late conservative activists. He played a really prominent role in independent expenditure laws. And decades ago, we had a quote that said a group like ours could lie through its teeth and the candidate. It helps stays clean. Um, so candidates are prohibited from coordinating with independent spenders, these independent committees. And in the case of Gloria and Brie, that's exactly what the candidates say. When they're asked about some of these ads. We've seen this campaign season that had been funded by the outside groups. So it's not exactly a surprising that often we'll see outside groups funding some of the more contentious political attack ads. And we've seen that in the mayor's race, particularly

Speaker 5: 11:44 One notorious example in this election cycle involves an attack on Democrat Todd, Gloria, who was openly gay by a group run by conservative talk show and former Councilman Carl mile, who was also openly gay. And this one involves homophobia and generated threats. And that's according to Gloria, tell us about that.

Speaker 6: 12:02 Yeah. So, uh, Carl do miles group reform, California, uh, was behind a series of ads on a website, text messages, um, that slammed Gloria's record, um, as a state assembly member and particularly his support of SB one 45, um, SB one 45 addresses long-term discrimination against the LGBTQ community, um, when it comes to the state sex offender registry requirements, and these ads included, um, a statement that said, Todd, Gloria supports sex offenders, um, Gloria and his supporters have denounced the ads. Um, like you said, they say it's false and perpetuates homophobic tropes. Um, and meanwhile, denial has stood by the ass. He says, they're legitimate criticism of his vote on SB one 45. And that glorious support is indefensible. Um, and meanwhile, Bree's campaign has distanced itself from the ads saying they're not involved with those ads to Mio has not endorsed either candidate and Bree. Her campaign said that to my own glory. I've had a few that goes back years.

Speaker 5: 13:05 Well, let's hear from the candidates themselves first, Todd, Gloria defending, uh, outside groups who support his campaign.

Speaker 6: 13:12 What you see is really an unprecedented coalition of organizations in our community who sometimes don't agree with one another yet they're in agreement that they believe I'm the best person to be the next mayor of San Diego,

Speaker 5: 13:26 His opponent, a fellow Democrat, of course, Barbara Bree would be outspending Gloria. If it weren't for outside money, though, a good portion of Bree's war chest is self-funded here's Brianne. How Gloria is relying on what she calls special interests playing the long political game,

Speaker 6: 13:40 Because he's going to need them for the next office that he's going to run for. I'm not going to need them. I want to do what's right for our residents.

Speaker 5: 13:48 Never. Is there any way to know how all of this impacts voters decisions? Do they look unfavorably on candidates who use outside money to fund negative ads? For example,

Speaker 6: 13:58 An expert that we spoke with for this story told me he doesn't think most people have any idea who's behind the ads that they just read the ad. If they do that at all. I think at this point in the election, there's probably some fatigue as we're all getting inundated with them. But either way, if you pay attention to that fine print, if you read coverage like ours, to hear more about who's behind the funding, you'll at least know which groups are backing, which candidate and that expert told us. It's not like these groups are putting up money for candidates who they expect to go against their own interests. So voters will at least have more information, that information when they cast that ballot.

Speaker 5: 14:35 Well, we'll see you next week, how it all plays out. I've been speaking with Jennifer Bowman, investigative reporter with I news source. Thanks Jennifer.

Speaker 7: 14:51 [inaudible]

Speaker 5: 14:55 I'm Mark Sauer with Maureen Cavenaugh. You're listening to KPBS midday edition. We turned out a political battles being fought in the South Bay area, home to the second largest city in San Diego County Chula Vista. Joining me to shine a spotlight on the biggest races is Gustavo Salise reported with the San Diego union Tribune. Gustavo, welcome back to midday edition. Thanks Mark. Hello. So arguably the biggest political race in the South Bay is the race for County board of supervisors. District one. That's the seat being vacated by Greg Cox. Remind us why this seat is such a big deal for County government.

Speaker 8: 15:31 Well, just for County government, this election is a pretty big deal overall because the Democrats have a chance for the first time in a long time to have a majority of the seats in the board of supervisors in district one, two Democrats made it past the primary. So this seat for sure will be filled by a Democrat. And that itself is a story.

Speaker 5: 15:53 And, uh, give us the rundown on that race. Uh, both, uh, candidates are well-known and start with, uh, Ben way. So he's been in government for many years. Tell us who he is and what his pitch to voters is. Yeah,

Speaker 8: 16:05 Well, like you said, he's been in government for many years and that's kind of his pitch to voters, right? Is he's the guy with experience. Uh, he's been, uh, in elected office since 2005. When he joined the San Diego city council, then he left in 2010 to join the state assembly. And in 2013 he became a state Senator and he's been a state Senator ever since.

Speaker 5: 16:26 And you wrote last week that his campaign website has come under scrutiny. Tell us about that.

Speaker 8: 16:32 Not just his website, it says mailers to you in a way. So is, uh, has this strategy too, to present himself as the anti-Trump guy, right? The guy who will stand up against Trump specifically, he, he claimed that he sued the Trump administration 100 times. The problem with that claim is that state senators don't Sue the Trump administration, the attorney general does. And when he was asked about this, his campaign said that, you know, as state Senator Ben waySo signs off on the budget, which funds the attorney General's office. Uh, however, uh, some of my readers pointed out when I wrote that story with that logic, anyone who pays taxes in California can claim responsibility for having sued the Trump administration a hundred times,

Speaker 5: 17:14 Uh, wasteland was also find in 2010 for campaign violations. Right?

Speaker 8: 17:19 Right. Yeah. He, he funneled a $25,000 to his brother's campaign. Uh, Ben waySo was in state assembly at the time. And his brother Philippe was trying to replace him in the city council. And he was fine about $2,000 for that one. Uh, he also has other sort of political baggage I'll call it right. He, he had a drunk driving violation on his record, and more recently he, he flipped on prop 15. You know, he told K USI one week that people who oppose brought 15 are disconnected from reality. But then a week later he issued a statement saying he actually supports it after reviewing the ballot measure

Speaker 5: 17:55 And briefly remind us of what prop 15 is.

Speaker 8: 17:58 Oh 15 is, uh, is going to change how taxes are calculated on retail, uh, commercial and industrial property. Uh, opponents of it call it the biggest task tax hike in, uh, California history and people who supported say the taxes are necessary, uh, to fund school districts and cities.

Speaker 5: 18:17 Now, Nora Vargas is not quite as well known, has been waste. So are of course his opponent what's her history.

Speaker 8: 18:24 She was, um, uh, an executive for planned Parenthood for many years. And she is a current, um, trustee of Southwestern community college.

Speaker 5: 18:33 And are there a big policy differences between the two

Speaker 8: 18:37 It's tough to differentiate? The two of them, right? Both are Democrats, both acknowledged those same problems in the district, right? They want to do something about cross border sewage flows. Uh, uh, they want to add more jobs in the South Bay. Uh, they want the County to, to provide, uh, be more active when it comes to COVID responses.

Speaker 5: 18:56 And let's turn to the San Diego city council contest for district nine. There've been some interesting developments in that one to the point. There's not only one candidate, but two names on the ballot, explain what's going on.

Speaker 8: 19:07 Right. Well, one of the candidates, uh, Kevin Barrios, uh, suspended his campaign after a series of, uh, critical stories, uh, about him in the press and, uh, this ongoing investigation into questionable, uh, ethical practices and, and finances. I think we should note that Barrio suspended his campaign. He didn't technically about. And he had, he suggested in interview that he would accept the results of the election if he wins. Uh, his challenger is Shawnee Lowe, who should win now, I suppose, just because his opponent is suspended his campaign, but you know, it's 2020. So I guess we'll never really know what happens.

Speaker 5: 19:48 And Kelvin Barrios is an employee of a labor union, uh, loan international. Um, two other employees of that union are also running for office. Why is this an issue for some in the South Bay?

Speaker 8: 20:00 The issue is it's mostly money, right? The two other Lejune employees are, uh, uh, mr. Alvarado, who's running for city clerk in national city and mr. Leyva Gonzales who was running for city council in Imperial beach, and both are financially backed by labor unions and have raised significantly more than their opponents. Now it's worth noting that in Imperial beach and national city, they don't have campaign contribution limits. So these unions are legally allowed to give $10,000 donations, $20,000 donations. Uh, and it's not a violation. And to their credit, that candidates have been transparent about where they're receiving money.

Speaker 5: 20:37 Finally, let's talk for a minute about an obscure political contest for seats on the OTI water district board. Actually one seat that in district four held by Hector guest alum, a interesting character, and he's run for office before, hasn't he?

Speaker 8: 20:50 Yeah. Yeah. And this might, is this a first for mid day report talking about the old Tidewater district?

Speaker 5: 20:56 It may be. Yes.

Speaker 8: 20:59 Yeah. Well, the Hector gas dilute, uh, for somebody who says he, he's not a politician and doesn't like politics, he's run a lot for office. He's ran for state assembly and in Chula Vista for city council, mayor, and school board. And, uh, he he's lost those races, but he was elected to the old Tidewater district board four years ago and is currently running for reelection.

Speaker 5: 21:20 When he got elected to the OTI water district board, he got mired in a few controversies. Tell us about those.

Speaker 8: 21:27 It, it, it's mostly the same controversy that keeps on playing out over and over again. Uh, and it has to do with, uh, social media posts. The posts have been called sexist, racist. They, uh, go after, uh, Muslims, women. And, uh, and African-Americans, um, at first the fellow board members, like, you know, during the first century, they kind of gave him the benefit of the doubt and, and, uh, chalked it up to a lapse of judgment on gasta loom fast forward to the latest century. And the board had a completely different tone. They just said, Hector, please stop it. You're embarrassing. The entire board, you're distracting us from the business of the water board. Just stop please. And there was no, there was no attempt to kind of reconcile that it was more of the mood of wait. We're fed up because gas doom has polarized so many members of the community. Three people have decided to run against him for reelection.

Speaker 5: 22:19 Well, we'll see how that all plays out next week. It should be very interesting. I've been speaking with reporter Gustavo Salise of the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks a lot. Thank you, Mark.

Speaker 1: 22:35 With the Del Mar fairgrounds, say the venue is struggling to survive after months of lost revenue due to COVID-19. The fairgrounds income is down nearly 90% after the closure of the San Diego County fair last summer and other revenue generating events in the latest cost. Cutting move. The fairgrounds reduced its staff this month from over 150 employees to 62 with many of the remaining staff in maintenance and security positions. Meanwhile, the city of Del Mar is hoping to negotiate for a section of the state owned fairgrounds to build at least 51 affordable housing units. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune, reporter Phil deal. And Phil, welcome to the show.

Speaker 8: 23:17 It's good to be here. Thank you. Tell

Speaker 1: 23:19 Us more about the layoffs at the fairgrounds. Were the employees given advanced notice?

Speaker 8: 23:24 Uh, yes. The fairgrounds general manager announced back in June that they were going to make these layoffs and they're required to give a lot of advance notice so that people can, uh, make plans and consider their options, maybe retire or move to a lesser position or things like that. Do they

Speaker 1: 23:43 Still have enough employees to manage? Let's say new events, if they should be allowed,

Speaker 9: 23:49 They say that could be a problem. I mean, they're doing the best they can with what they have. But, uh, like you said, a lot of the employees that are still there have maintenance jobs and security jobs, and they don't really help plan events.

Speaker 1: 24:03 Much of the activity at the fairgrounds has been forced to close, but not all of it. There's a drive-through scream zone that's going on right now? How is that going?

Speaker 9: 24:12 The screen zone they say has been sold out every night since it opened. So it's exceeding their expectations, but it's going to end on October 31st. So, uh, while it's doing well, now they're looking for what's next.

Speaker 1: 24:28 And what other things have the fairgrounds been doing to generate income

Speaker 9: 24:32 During the time that they normally have the fair, all the vendors were there and sold food, takeout, food. So you could go and buy kettle corn and things like that. And that was pretty successful too. They leased some of the parking lot for parking to the big companies like enterprise, because, because of the whole COVID crisis, not very many people are renting cars. So they add a lot of surplus inventory and needed to store it. So the fairgrounds is one of several places across the state that they stored those vehicles. Um, and they're doing other things they have like in music concerts, and they're looking at other possibilities.

Speaker 1: 25:13 How dire is the revenue situation at the Del Mar fairground?

Speaker 9: 25:17 They continue to lose money. And I think it varies a good bit from month to month, but the acting general manager, Carly Morris said at their meeting this month that they lose something like $600,000 a month, which is a lot of money and they don't have that big of a reserve. They've they've never had a lot of money in reserves. They spend all their money on events and invested in facilities. So this has hit them.

Speaker 1: 25:48 Now, the 22nd district agricultural association that runs the fairgrounds has been reaching out for support from the state and elsewhere for a little bit of help. Are they getting any

Speaker 9: 26:00 Well, they did get some money from the state budget this year in that for the first time in a long time, the governor included money for all the district agricultural associations across the state. And there's like 50 some of them. So they all had to share it. So I think Del Mar ended up getting close to $8 million, total that all of that money though is used toward the layoffs. I mean, it helps pay things like pension plan money and things like that. I believe. So it was all related to the layoffs. And as soon as the layoffs are done, which is now that money will end, they've also applied for other things that haven't really panned out. So that's the gist of it. Just week the city

Speaker 1: 26:44 Of Del Mar made a formal request to the fairgrounds board to begin negotiations on an affordable housing project on a section of the fairgrounds. This is different from the temporary homeless housing being considered at the fairgrounds earlier this year. What does the city of Del Mar actually asking for?

Speaker 9: 27:02 Well, they are working on the final points of that, but they are looking for affordable housing that would qualify for the mandatory housing that all communities are required to have or provide by the state and the cities don't actually provide it, but they assist with developers to build it essentially. So there's a couple different ways they could do that. They might be able to annex a little bit of the fairgrounds property to make it part of the city, or they're just looking at all the possibilities, but that's, it, it would be permanent affordable housing and they haven't decided on location yet. They're looking at places like, um, there's an RV park there and there's, uh, a couple other places on the perimeter of the fairgrounds that they are considering where they might be able to do this.

Speaker 1: 27:53 Do we know what the likely response from the fairgrounds would be to the affordable housing plan?

Speaker 9: 27:59 Um, well they have said that they would consider it that that's one of the options available to them. And it's definitely a long-term plan because it would take years to do this. And the money that the fairgrounds would make would probably be from leasing the property to somebody who would build the housing and maintain it and operate it. So it's definitely a long-term thing. And also like the governor, governor Newsome said early this year that all state property needs to look at these sorts of things to make more affordable housing available in the state. So that's another reason for doing it.

Speaker 1: 28:34 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter Phil deal, and Phil, thank you very much. You're welcome.

Speaker 10: 28:49 San Diego researchers are getting a better understanding of the storm systems that bring the region. Most of its rain Abbs environment reporter Eric Anderson says some of that new knowledge came from work done at the end of the script's pier. This past spring gray rain filled sky seemed to dip into the ocean during the storm last March, every three hours, data analyst, Chad Hecht and postdoctoral researcher, Alison McEllis pulled out a weather balloon, took it out of the package, put onto the spicket, uh, where we now fill it with helium from the tank. Once gas filled the balloon, HEC tied off the end and attached to instruments that record temperature pressure and relative humidity among other things with everything ready. It's a short walk to clear the building, the balloon rushed toward the clouds growing as the air pressure outside the balloon dropped. When it got to be about the size of a school bus, it popped, the Keller says instruments collected data on the way up and on the way down.

Speaker 11: 29:55 Some of our recent launches overnight got up to about 23,000 meters. And so we're gathering temperature data, uh, moisture data, wind data, wind direction, and wind speed.

Speaker 10: 30:06 That's important because these storm systems have an outsized influence on Southern California weather. Marty, Ralph established the center for Western weather and water extremes at the Scripps institution of oceanography.

Speaker 12: 30:18 An atmospheric river is supercharged with a lot of water vapor and it has a lot of wind at low altitude to push that water vapor along. So the, it it's really a river in the sky, but a river of water vapor

Speaker 10: 30:30 That river can bring everything from a steady, beneficial rain that can ease the risk of wildfires to damaging rainfall strong enough to cause floods, but researchers don't yet know a lot about the rivers and that's why the weather balloons are so important.

Speaker 12: 30:47 It turns out the core of the AR is fairly narrow horizontally, and it's hard to get a measurement right in the right spot. So we fly airplanes through them off shore to try to sample that. But we also launch weather balloons occasionally quite often at the coast, uh, to measure that as well

Speaker 10: 31:05 And what this research will do, it will allow scientists to better understand these storm systems so that they can predict when they'll happen. There'll be able to say how intense they are and they'll be able to gauge the impact on land. Chad Hecht says those launches last spring at the Scripps institution of oceanography are already paying dividends,

Speaker 12: 31:26 Which is collect observations. That gives us information about these systems, both meteorologically and the physical processes that are occurring that could lead to extreme precipitation. Yeah.

Speaker 10: 31:36 And analysis found current weather models fell short, especially when researchers looked at integrated vapor transport,

Speaker 12: 31:43 Which is essentially how much moisture is moving in the atmosphere and what direction and how strong. Um, and it was forecasting about 300 units of IVT or integrated vapor transport over Southern California. And we were able to observe about 600. So almost twice as much as what was being forecast. Okay.

Speaker 10: 32:02 And storm prediction models also missed a bit on the exact location of the river application programmer. Brian Cazina who helped launch the balloons says that's important because forecasters want to predict exactly where those narrow bands of rain will hit land.

Speaker 12: 32:18 Because we had the observations. We were able to see that the models were actually a little bit incorrect with the placement of the AR and that it actually was further North than what was expected.

Speaker 10: 32:27 Cousin. It says researchers also have balloon launching stations in orange County, near Sacramento, and a couple of spots North of San Francisco. And the center for Western weather and water extremes is working with

Speaker 3: 32:40 Water managers around the state. They hope better storm prediction models will make it easier to manage California scarce water supplies. Eric Anderson KPBS news

Speaker 1: 32:56 Major wildfires have burned through the Western us. This year. Fires can have immediate effects on air quality and nearby homes, but now people are coming to grips with the lingering danger of wildfires. Long after the flames are gone today, we continue our in-depth look at where water and fire intersect in the West Aspen public radios, Alex Hagar reports that people who live near burn scars can find themselves in a brand new flood zone.

Speaker 13: 33:28 There's a Creek running through Slavin's backyard, about 20 feet away from the house she lives alone and says the running water makes for good company corny. As it sounds, I consider the Creek, my friend, and live with it in a really lovely way every day. And it's very relaxing in the waning days of summer, that Creek is just a low gentle babble, slowly making its way into the nearby Colorado river. But Lavin has seen it get much higher and much louder during peak, right? You can't have a conversation anywhere near that Creek. You really have to be. I belong to two book clubs and I could never have the meetings at my house because nobody would understand each other. Now there's a serious threat that the Creek could swell with water and debris at levels she's never seen before levels that could seriously damage her property. Levin's house is in no-name Colorado, just a Stone's throw away from the furthest reaches of the grizzly Creek fire, which burned more than 30,000 acres. And although the fire is almost entirely contained, now it'll have lingering effects for years to come. And one of those is the serious threat of flooding.

Speaker 3: 34:33 It's not a, maybe it's a, it is an absolute going happen. Yeah.

Speaker 13: 34:38 Is Carol a carious who heads up a Colorado based nonprofit that helps communities respond to big fires? She says, severity of flooding in no name is hard to predict without a crystal ball, but she does know there will be flooding here and near burned areas across the West. The reason for that fire burns up vegetation and soil that usually hold water,

Speaker 3: 34:59 Basically soil and rocks will age in a high intensity fire like the equivalent of a thousand years worth of aging from just sun, wind rain and ice.

Speaker 13: 35:12 And it does rain even just a little bit that soil is charred and the water can't sink in

Speaker 3: 35:18 The one year storm does behave like a 10 year or greater event. And the 10 year storm behaves like a hundred to maybe 500 year event.

Speaker 13: 35:31 Isn't just clear rainwater that rushes downhill. The carrier says it'll pick up all kinds of dirt and, and rocks along the way. So a bad rainstorm could send a slurry of muddy debris speeding down a Creek bed that just can't handle it.

Speaker 1: 35:45 Sometimes it's moving rocks that are the size of a Volkswagen. So these are boulders not rocks. And when something besides of a Volkswagen hits the side of your house, it is significantly damaging

Speaker 13: 35:57 That debris can also plug up culverts or narrow windy parts of the Creek and lead to pooling and flooding near homes. So in no name, there's a team from the natural resources, conservation service picking out spots to put sandbags and rock walls to help it handle increased flow. One summer afternoon, Stephen Joann was leading one of those teams and serving the Creek right behind people's houses and backyard.

Speaker 14: 36:19 As we move up and down this Creek, we're looking at where the bins are, where the deposition is, uh, where, where water is moving efficiently, where it might be pulling. Cause that might be a place where things could gather.

Speaker 13: 36:31 Everyone says the no-name Creek bed is actually pretty deep and could handle more water, but they're still preparing for that worst case scenario.

Speaker 14: 36:39 We'll do some changes of, uh, of the infrastructure a little bit, just to make sure that if something does get clogged, that it has a path of least resistance to go, that doesn't go into somebody's house.

Speaker 13: 36:50 One of the houses that would likely need some protection is Sue Lavons. She's heard all the recommendations and is preparing for the worst, whether that be a one-time evacuation or floods, that gets so dangerous. They mean leaving no name for good.

Speaker 1: 37:03 If things get bad enough, I will have to adjust my life. I will find that heartbreaking and even thinking about it is heartbreaking, but I'm not a fool. I will prepare for such an instance. And if I have to take it, I will take it.

Speaker 13: 37:19 The name hasn't seen a heavy rain or snow since the fire, but Lavin has already started cutting back the brush around her property for the day. It does come. I'm Alex Hagar in no-name Colorado.

Speaker 1: 37:40 This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh with Mark sour on the latest episode of rad scientists, brainwaves rough waves host Margo wall introduces us to dr. Austin coli a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute. We'll pick up Austin's story. As he moves from Philadelphia, where he got his PhD to San Diego to begin his postdoctoral fellowship. San Diego was a big change from Philly, but Austin embraced it. As soon as he arrived in,

Speaker 14: 38:13 He was determined to learn to surf. The first time I was out there, I was just like super naive. And the waves, let me know that I was not ready for this. Definitely waving out is not cool. Not getting beat up like that in a while.

Speaker 3: 38:38 Austin says he's not going to give up no matter how many times he gets bested by the waves. And he's doing research at the perfect spot for surfing right above Black's beach at the Salk Institute where you can see wetsuits hanging to dry all around the building. And another fun thing that Austin learned about the sock when he got there is that one of his heroes was a post-doc there just like him.

Speaker 15: 39:03 My favorite author of all time is Michael Creighton. He's author of many books that turned into movies. Whatever is drastic. Part

Speaker 3: 39:13 Turns out Michael Creighton was a post-doc at the Salk Institute. Look it up

Speaker 15: 39:19 Postdoc here. This is insane

Speaker 3: 39:25 In his new lab run by dr. K Tai Austin decided to study a part of schizophrenia that is often neglected.

Speaker 15: 39:33 I'm more so focusing on the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, which is also seen as major depressive disorders. And that condition is antidote. This is the inability to experience pleasure. And it's often overlooked in schizophrenia patients, which is sad because it's considered a vulnerability marker. Um, before patients start experiencing psychotic symptoms,

Speaker 3: 40:01 Anhedonia is what's called in endo phenotype for schizophrenia, which means that it's something that can alert physicians of an increased risk of developing psychosis. And Austin was really excited to get started with his new research. He was just getting his project through approvals that was in March and well, you know what happened next?

Speaker 15: 40:24 The pandemic definitely changed a lot. Uh, being at home for three months,

Speaker 3: 40:31 Restrictions were put in place for the amount of people allowed in a lab at one time. So he had to put his project on hold for awhile. That was tough.

Speaker 15: 40:41 It's been very difficult. It's been emotional and it was already difficult enough during the pandemic. And then you see the death of George Floyd everywhere. And then you start to also hear insensitive comments. It made me angry. I was also depressed, anxious, and they came in waves.

Speaker 3: 41:14 Austin took to the streets, participating in the caravan car protest that started right by the SOC and went throughout the city.

Speaker 15: 41:21 Yeah, I think the protests are great. I think they made the biggest difference. These protest forced people to not ignore, not ignore anymore. I think this is a rare time that we'll never forget, but we also have to like make sure that we like keep this same energy going.

Speaker 3: 41:46 Austin hopes that this energy will lead to lasting changes in science as well.

Speaker 15: 41:52 There needs to be major culture changes

Speaker 3: 41:58 That Austin thinks will help change. Academic culture is diversity training.

Speaker 15: 42:02 This needs to be mandatory because a lot of people, especially in the academic field, don't care about racial issues and they're going to continue to be ignorant.

Speaker 3: 42:15 Another positive step institutions can take Austin says is to hire more black professors

Speaker 15: 42:21 Seeing other black professors. That definitely it makes a huge impact. The problem is there's not that many. It sort of perpetuates the stereotype of the great white professor.

Speaker 3: 42:36 That lack in representation is a big motivator for Austin to continue in academia.

Speaker 15: 42:42 One of the major reasons why I'm still continuing this process is to become a professor and show other students of color more. So, um, African-Americans that they can do this.

Speaker 3: 42:59 And Austin knows that it won't be easy, that there will be more hurdles along his path to professor.

Speaker 15: 43:05 You will run into certain faculty members or even colleagues who don't want you to succeed. They don't want you to be that beacon. They don't want you to be that model.

Speaker 3: 43:21 Austin is still paddling out into the rough waves of the Pacific, trying to learn how to surf and in the same way, he refuses to be discouraged by the rough seas of academia. And he wants to help others navigate it too.

Speaker 15: 43:34 There is a need for more young black scientists, because there are plenty of us who are capable, but they need the encouragement. They need the nourishment and they can be just as successful. This is my mission, not just to try to cure depression or schizophrenia, but also to try to make more black scientists.

Speaker 3: 44:10 That was an excerpt from the latest, rad scientist episode. If you want to hear more about Austin's journey to become a scientist, all you have to do is search for rad scientist in your favorite podcast app, or go to scientist.

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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.