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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Racial Justice | Election 2020

Trump Spurns Climate Science In California Trip, Toni Atkins Reflects On This Year’s Legislative Session, Nightlife Hotspots Also Virus Hotspots And 101 Ash Street Document Fabrication

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY ANDREW HARNIK / AP

Above: President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he arrives at Sacramento McClellan Airport, in McClellan Park, Calif., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, for a briefing on wildfires.

On a trip to California to survey the devastation of the recent wildfires, President Donald Trump ignored the scientific consensus that climate change is playing a central role in West Coast infernos. Plus, California State Senate President Toni Atkins reflects on this year’s legislative session and what lawmakers accomplished and left on the table. Also, a KPBS analysis of the data released by the county found nightlife hotspots were also hotspots for community outbreaks of COVID-19. In addition, UC San Diego is one of two UC campuses rolling out a smartphone pilot program to warn people of COVID-19 exposure. And, a look into the document fabrication that was the basis of a now-retracted news report about a former city councilmember’s role in the troubled 101 Ash Street real estate deal. Finally, because of the pandemic, San Diego Repertory Theatre is turning the play. “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso,” into a film.

Speaker 1: 00:00 President Trump clashes with state officials as he denies climate change, it'll start getting cooler. I was just, you just watch, I wish science. I don't think science is actually I'm Mark Sauer in for Maureen Kavanaugh. This is KPBS midday edition Senate leader, Tony Atkins on the state's disappointing legislative session.

Speaker 2: 00:29 Most difficult year I've experienced in my 10 years in the legislature.

Speaker 1: 00:34 You see San Diego launches a way to track COVID-19 infections via smartphones and political intrigue and gulfs. The city's building debacle on Ash street. That's a head on mid day edition. President Trump used a visit to California yesterday to scold state leaders over forest management and clash with them about whether a warming climate is a critical cause in the death and destruction caused by the state's record setting wildfires that place climate change at the center of the presidential election is Democrat Joe Biden, blasted Trump for his remarks, joining me as Katie or Sacramento based political reporter for KQBD public radio. Katie, welcome back to mid day edition. Hi Mark. So you covered Trump's visit yesterday, set the scene for us. Where was this confrontation who was there?

Speaker 2: 01:35 Right. Uh, Trump flew into, uh, an old air force base. What used to be an air force base in Sacramento? Um, primarily to get a briefing from governor Gavin Newsome and, uh, state, uh, Cal fire and, um, natural resources officials about what exactly is happening with these fires and what we're looking at here, what the state has been dealing with. Uh, Trump landed the plane. He, uh, briefly spoke to reporters, including me. I got to ask him a question about what he thinks. Um, the role of climate change is in these fires. He said, primarily he believes that it's a, an issue of forest management versus climate change.

Speaker 1: 02:19 Well, that sets up the meat of the things here. Here's this exchange between Trump and Wade. Crowfoot, he's the California secretary for natural resources and Crowford starts. And then Trump, we want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forest and actually work together

Speaker 2: 02:36 With that science, that science is going to be key because if we, if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management, we're not going to

Speaker 1: 02:46 Protecting California. Okay, it'll start getting cooler. I wish you just watch. I wish science agreed with you. I don't think science knows actually, Katie governor Gavin Newsome seemed restrained in his comments compared with his denigration last week of climate change deniers, right? He really didn't confront Trump course. There's a lot of money on the line with federal disaster aid,

Speaker 2: 03:11 Right? And I think that's the tight rope that governor Gavin Newsome is playing, especially being in the room directly with Trump. He knows that, um, he has to, to some extent stroke Trump's ego, because like you said, there is a lot of federal disaster money that the state relies on. And president Trump has said that, you know, if, if governors aren't nice to him, don't say nice things to him. Then he is, uh, you know, has threatened to withhold that money. And that's not something that governor, uh, Gavin Newsome, uh, wants. Uh, and it is interesting too though, because while he was restrained with Donald Trump, he did not give him an opportunity to like, get a picture in front of reporters in front of air force one, uh, governor Gavin Newsome declined to stand in front of the press with the president, uh, on this trip

Speaker 1: 04:02 I noticed of course, Newsome and other state leaders there had masks on at the event. And Trump did not. You mentioned the a U S Trump. The question about climate change at all, were you surprised the president keeps making his claims about the climate getting cooler and science lacking answers?

Speaker 2: 04:18 Well, this is a message that we've seen him repeat, uh, for several years, uh, when he, toward wildfire areas, uh, back when, uh, governor Jerry Brown was leaving office and governor Gavin Newsome was coming into it, he, uh, Trump again, made, um, that infamous comment about raking the forest, you know, forest management and Newsome says there is a role for that, uh, in, in fire suppression. However, it's not in Newsome's opinion. And in many people's opinion, it's not the, uh, overarching, uh, driver of why we're having these fires, but it's not unusual to hear Trump use that as the main, um, as his main theory for why we're seeing so many fires in the West on the West coast.

Speaker 1: 05:06 And it's not at all clear, Trump understands that the majority of forests in California are federally owned and operated and maintained. Well, let's play part of the stride and response from former vice president Biden. He was speaking from his home state of Delaware. Donald Trump climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes. But if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly Katy. Trump appears to have no chance to win California in November 3rd, but how do you think climate change is going to play out in the debates and this national campaign going forward,

Speaker 2: 05:47 Right? As you mentioned, he's not going to win California. It's a, it's a democratic state. It, um, that is something that Joe Biden can count on this, but there are those people, the swing voters in those, in those certain States that he is trying to reach. And a lot of people, um, despite what we know now about the science still have, um, still are a bit skeptical about whether or not climate change is something that is causing, um, the, the changes in the weather and these fires that we have been experiencing. And he's trying to reach those voters. Uh, but obviously it's something that Biden feels like is a topic that he can score points on. Otherwise he wouldn't be coming out with these big speeches. So I think we will see this, you know, be a theme that they keep coming back to throughout, throughout the campaign.

Speaker 1: 06:42 I've been speaking with Katie or Sacramento based political reporter for KQBD public radio. Thanks, Katie.

Speaker 2: 06:48 You're welcome.

Speaker 1: 06:53 The turmoil surrounding COVID-19 touched everything this year, including our California state legislature, when the Senate and assembly wrapped up their sessions in August many closely watched bills failed to get the votes they needed to pass. It was a disappointing end. It was session that tried to tackle many vital issues, including police reform and the housing shortage, California Senate president pro tem, Tony Atkins of San Diego spoke with KPBS host, Alison st. John on how the legislative session wrapped up. Here's that interview. So now you've been in the state legislature,

Speaker 2: 07:29 You've seen a lot of sessions. How do you feel about what happened this year? Well, it was probably, I would have to say Alison, the most difficult year I've experienced in my 10 years in the legislature. And it was a confluence of the pandemic, uh, having a truncated, legislative session, we missed weeks and weeks. Uh, and then it was the second year of a two year session, which means you have to adjourn at midnight, uh, Sani die. And, um, I think all of those things combined with the fact that we were also remote voting, which took more time than typically would have it just all of those things combined, uh, made it especially difficult. I think everything came crashing up against the deadline. Didn't it. Um, and what would you, what would you say was some of the things, the key things that did get done?

Speaker 2: 08:25 So we were able to get a number of good things done in terms of the legislation. I would say, um, we put a billion dollars for COVID prevention and lifesaving care. We paid for equipment. We pass legislation to increase protective equipment supplies, cleaning for schools, a work, a bill to provide notice. So essential workers are informed when someone in their workplace is infected. So we did a lot of COVID related issues, paid family leave, um, rebuttable presumption. So employees who become infected on the job, don't have to jump through hoops to get medical care, uh, or workers' compensation. We were able, and, um, on the issue of racial justice, we were able to put proposition 16 and 17 on the ballot to let people decide on race, being a factor in state decisions. Uh, also restoring voter rights for individuals working their way back into society who formerly incarcerated. So we got a lot of things done. We, of course, didn't get as much done as we would have liked to get done. And that's the point that you were making

Speaker 3: 09:34 Housing is such a big issue. I know it's been one of your big priorities and you made some remarks to the Senate back in January after SB 50 fail. That was the bill that would have required cities to allow more housing density in areas near public transit. And here's what you said at the time.

Speaker 2: 09:52 I want to personally commit to each and every one of you to the people of California, that a housing production bill to help alleviate our housing crisis will happen this year. Now it is time for all sides to step up

Speaker 3: 10:10 And in the end, you know, some housing bills passed, but none of them came close to what SB 50 would have done to encourage building more new homes. Do you feel you kept your promise to the people of California?

Speaker 2: 10:22 Well, I, I think in terms of the legislation we put forward, of course, you're talking about SB 1120, which was the followup to SB 50, and it would have encouraged small scale development, allowing duplexes on single family lots. And that was one of the key bills that unfortunately fell victim to timing, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying in the Senate, we got the bill over to the assembly. Uh, it was a straightforward bill. Uh, I think there was a lot of misinformation about it. I spent a lot of time on the phone answering questions. So the intent of the bill was housing production, uh, and, uh, there were votes and support for the bill. My colleague in the assembly, Robert Reavis did an amazing job, helping get the votes we needed for the bill to pass. You know, the unfortunate thing is I think there was plenty of time for that bill to be heard before the literal 11th hour on the last night of session.

Speaker 2: 11:16 So it's disappointing that either that bill or SB nine 95, another bill that would have been a tool that would provide, uh, uh, the ability to advance housing production. Uh, the thing I would say about that is both of these bills are in a very good position. They had support in not just the Senate, but the assembly. And I guess I'd say I've been here before. It took me a few years to get, um, my other landmark affordable housing bill enacted SB two, which provided us ongoing stream and permanent stream of, of money for housing. Um, I'm disappointed that we didn't get this over the finish line before midnight at the end of session. But I think the work that we did was, was critical. And I know that we will pick this up as soon as we can in January, um, and try to get it done even quicker. Uh, maybe in the first few months, rather than for it to take the entire year.

Speaker 3: 12:12 There were some other legislators who said that it was not just that you came up against the clock. There were other reasons that a SB 11, 20 failed, um, where was the resistance coming from? I mean, what needs to change for more progress in the future when you reintroduce these bells?

Speaker 2: 12:28 You know, Alison, I think, um, the nature of the legislature is that at the end of session, you know, there are factors that, that normally play in, uh, it's not uncommon for, for, uh, the Republicans to try to slow down democratic legislation that happened, uh, that is a normal occurrence. Uh, it probably would have been more manageable had the Republicans actually been in the chamber, but because of their exposure and a Senator in the Republican caucus becoming infected, in fact, a San Diego, uh, Senator Brian Jones and exposing the other Republican senators, we weren't able to have them in the chamber, but we did make it possible for them to, to be able to part participated debate and actually be able to vote, but it took longer. So, um, you know, it was a combination of the assembly not bringing the bill up soon enough because it clearly had the votes. And it was a combination of, uh, the Republican slowing down the process. Those are typical things that happen in politics and the legislature at the end of session. But when you add to it, the tension, the stress, the health concerns around the pandemic, it just all, uh, helped slow things down, even further and make tensions even higher. And it's unfortunate, but I do believe that we will get these pieces of legislation done. There were important pieces of legislation around, um, criminal justice reform police reform.

Speaker 3: 14:02 I wanted to move on to police reform. You had two, two major police reform measures that, that stalled this year. And one of them would have initiated a process to decertify officers convicted of certain crimes. And then another one would have created standards for the use of less than lethal force, including rubber bullets. Um, so they also didn't pass backers, blame police unions for blocking it. Do you think police unions have too much implements in Sacramento?

Speaker 2: 14:33 Well, I don't know that that's exactly accurate. I mean, we got Shirley Weber's bill done two years ago. Her bill was, uh, probably one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the country around, uh, police use of force. And, um, I think since that time, the dynamic and experience in our country has actually lent more towards more pieces of legislation. Um, I, we were able to get a couple of pieces of legislation done. I think that we will be able to get, uh, more work done on police reform as well. I think we saw Senator Bradford's juvenile justice reform bill. We saw assembly member Weber's ethnic studies bill, and of course proposition 16 and 17, which was the, um, affirmative action as well as, um, reform around voting rights for formerly incarcerated. Those things, uh, wouldn't have passed in previous years. And there were some who think that the affirmative action was able to pass because of, um, the work, uh, that came out of the unfortunate murder of George Floyd and so many others.

Speaker 2: 15:51 So police reform is definitely not dead at this point, in spite of the fact that this has been perhaps a good opportunity. Um, I guess finally, I wanted to ask you, was it difficult to manage the session you were talking about the, your Republican colleagues who were in quarantine and participating virtually, what do you think about the possibility of allowing virtual attendance at legislative sessions in the future after the pandemic? Well, I think what's ideal is to be present and in the chamber, because it allows for the ultimate of transparency of public participation of the ability for the public to see the interaction of, uh, legislators. I do think it is, it is a tool to use in circumstances like we're in with the pandemic. And I think it will be a tool we continue to use, you know, should the governor call us into a special session or should we go back in January? And we are still faced with a pandemic without the benefit of, um, you know, a vaccine or further protections we've gotta be prepared, still conduct the legislative business of the people for California. Yes. Well, California Senate president pro tem, Tony Atkins, um, San Diego. Thank you very much for filling us in on this last session. Alison, it's always great to talk with you. Thank you.

Speaker 1: 17:07 That was California Senate leader, Tony Atkins of San Diego speaking with KPBS host, Alison st. John I'm, Mark Sauer infer, Maureen Kavanaugh. You're listening to midday edition on KPBS. New records obtained by KPBS show community outbreaks of Corona virus. We're concentrated in areas known for their nightlife. KPBS health reporter Taryn mento says data obtained an analyzed by KPBS reveal, which zip codes experienced the most outbreaks in the County a night out

Speaker 4: 17:50 In San Diego's historic gasoline district has taken on a different look during COVID a blocked off street is a makeshift prominent dining room. Sit in front of parking meter that you want to be inside or neighborhoods across the County are taking similar steps to protect the public and keep businesses running during the pandemic. But community outbreak data show more is at stake in this area. A KPBS analysis found the zip code that includes Gaslamp little Italy in the East village accounts for the highest number of outbreaks than any other in the County. An outbreak is defined as three or more cases that can be traced back to one.

Speaker 5: 18:25 It wouldn't make sense with all the employees that are working down here and all the different establishments that our number would be higher than say Del Mar

Speaker 4: 18:33 Michael tremble runs the neighborhood business district. Gaslamp quarter association. He's not surprised by KPBS his findings, but he points to banners above him that show business owners personally, pledging to help keep customers safe.

Speaker 5: 18:46 And they're going to know they're going to have in being in an environment where they can actually be comfortable and know they're not going to come down with Kobe.

Speaker 4: 18:53 The pledge came after a union Tribune reporters, photos in June that showed a sea of uncovered faces.

Speaker 5: 18:59 Well, it was disappointing to see that, and it really lit a fire under my office and my association, and really taught the merchants that people are watching. What we're doing

Speaker 4: 19:12 Data through late July show, 14 outbreaks have occurred in nine two, one Oh one, but Trimble says he didn't know of any tied specifically to the gasoline.

Speaker 5: 19:21 And at this point, I don't know of anyone who had an outbreak in the gas. Now

Speaker 4: 19:25 The little Italy association said two of its restaurants closed because of staff illnesses. The East village business group didn't respond to messages overall more than a third of the county's outbreaks have happened at businesses in just four zip codes. That includes nine to one zero nine in Pacific beach. It's not surprising it's happening here. Sarah Burns is the executive director of discover Pacific beach. People are coming into Pacific beach. And with that, they're bringing, um, symptoms and coronavirus. She helps businesses understand and follow public health regulations to keep customers safe. Businesses care about preventing outbreaks. I mean, their staff is probably the one most at risk and, um, they're trying to stay open to feed their families so that their staff can feed their families. But 11 outbreaks have happened in the zip code, which also covers mission beach. One PB restaurant El pres was ordered to close.

Speaker 4: 20:16 When video showed unmasked customers packed inside, burns said she doesn't know if Al pres was linked to an outbreak, but welcomes the county's action. I think that's what we want to see as a, as a community, um, that those that are not following the rules or need assistance with the rules are getting it. She says businesses that have had outbreaks have shut down to sterilize the facility and get workers tested, but none agreed to speak with KPBS. A lot of this is more coming from staff outbreaks, not necessarily customer outbreaks, and they're taking care of what they need to take care of to reopen safely. I don't think any, any businesses wants to necessarily be associated with an outbreak. The two other zip codes were located in the South Bay and more than half of the outbreaks there happened in manufacturing and food processing facilities, County officials won't release the exact outbreak locations because they fear it will cause businesses to shy away from reporting them.

Speaker 4: 21:10 But KPBS and voice of San Diego are challenging that in court because we feel the public has a right to know in the Gaslamp business association had Trimble hired events, coordinator, Laurel McFarland to help businesses follow public health roles. McFarland says businesses should be notifying customers if they have an outbreak, but not the public. But I do feel there's a responsibility to let your customers know, but I don't know if there is a response we let everyone know because it's really about keeping the people came safe and knowledgeable, but she says, she'd follow whatever rules, County officials put out. That's something they feel is we need to do more and do it publicly. Then we'll follow those rules tool to everyone just trying to follow the rules right now, the County health department did not respond to requests for an interview. Taran mento, KPBS news,

Speaker 6: 22:00 More businesses are reopening in San Diego. And you may have questions about what this means for public health. Amid the Corona virus go to kpbs.org/curious San Diego and tell us what questions we should ask a local infectious disease expert in an upcoming interview. There are lessons to be learned from the health crisis that developed when students returned to campus this month at San Diego state university, they're at least 640 of them contracted COVID-19 and leaders at UC San Diego. We'll have a new tool in their kit to minimize spread of the virus. And when classes begin on the LA Jolla campus now scheduled for September 28th, it has to do with tracing via smartphones. And joining me to explain this, dr. Christopher Long Hearst, the chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego health. Welcome to the program. Thank you very much for having me on marketing.

Speaker 6: 22:56 Start with the smartphone tool. What is it and who will have it on their phones? So the smartphone tool that we're talking about, uh, is not actually a contact tracing application. It's called an exposure notification application. What that means is that if you come into contact with somebody whose phone is close to yours, and you're diagnosed with COVID, that you could get an anonymous notification of exposure, and that allows you to go get tested and shorten that cycle time, and hopefully, uh, hopefully limit the spread of any outbreak now. So if I'm on campus as a student or a staff faculty member, and suddenly I get a beep on my phone, it's going to tell me just what exactly. So you might get that beep on your phone and you'd get a message that says, uh, you've come into close contact with somebody who is recently diagnosed with COVID, please call this number for information. And when you call the number, you'll get the UC San Diego health testing line. And based on the message that you're getting, we can give you a risk prioritized recommendation around either isolating or actually getting tested. For example, if you were exposed, um, just, uh, within the last couple of days, we might ask you to get tested today and again, five days from now. And of course that's at no cost to our students and employees.

Speaker 1: 24:08 And how's this really going to help? Who is this most important for this new tool

Speaker 6: 24:13 That this exposure notification tool is not going to help your household contacts, friends, and family members that you would call and tell. Anyway, if you were diagnosed with COVID, we think that the people that it's going to help most are the strangers, it's the people at the college party or at the restaurant or at the bar or the grocery store on the plane and the bus who you would not otherwise know their name and phone number. When the contact tracers call you, those are the people who will be notified and would not have been otherwise notified. And that's where we're really going to get a movement on these outbreaks.

Speaker 1: 24:45 The university got state permission to launch a pilot program for this it's not been done elsewhere in California, right?

Speaker 6: 24:51 Yeah, that's right. In fact, it's almost the reserve, the reverse, which is the state has decided to roll this out in a pilot and UC San Diego stepped forward and volunteered.

Speaker 1: 25:00 And what about privacy concerns? Does this mean participants in this program can have their movements tracked?

Speaker 6: 25:06 Absolutely not. I'm glad that you asked, um, these exposure notification applications from Apple and Google do not allow for any location tracking. And that's really important. There were some rumors early in the pandemic that, uh, some countries in Asia and elsewhere were using location tracking for contact tracing. And it turns out not only does that not help, it doesn't work. Um, this is really distance based. It's using Bluetooth to measure distance to other people's phones. Um, it doesn't track any location at all. That makes sense. This is a voluntary and opt-in program, and we hope that our employees and students will choose to opt in, but we know the number one concern that comes forward is privacy. We've done extensive reviews from a privacy standpoint, and we feel really confident that this is an anonymous system that will not store any, uh, individual user data.

Speaker 1: 25:56 And how many students do you expect back on campus at the end of the month and any guests on how many students and staff will opt to participate in this particular program?

Speaker 6: 26:04 So we're expecting close to 8,000 students back on campus, uh, and thousands more who will be moving off campus into the region, the prediction for how many will adopt it to your desk may be as good as mine. But our goal is over 75%. Uh, we know that with over 50% adoption that we can actually have an impact on the spread of this disease and even lower rates can help prevent infections.

Speaker 1: 26:27 I had read that this had been tried elsewhere in the world during the pandemic. What have you learned from experiments in other places

Speaker 6: 26:35 Question? So Apple and Google announced this technology that they were working on in March. They rolled it out in may. And over the summer we saw a number of board European countries actually adopt this technology. So the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and others have started rolling this out over the last couple of months. So we're definitely building on their best practices. One of the things that we've learned from the other six us States that have already rolled this out like Virginia, Alabama, and even Arizona, is that putting the notification process at the contact tracing stage is a little bit too far downstream. So the way that the notification works, if I'm diagnosed with COVID, is that I'm given a key code to enter because we don't want just anybody to be able to retest that they've been diagnosed. Right? So that key code is what starts the anonymous exposure notification process.

Speaker 6: 27:25 So rather than having our contact tracers give out those cheat codes, we're actually asking our testing mind to do it. So after we test you here at UC San Diego health, and we do a thousand tests every day, um, on a daily basis, we're going to find some students and some employees who were positive when we call them up, we'll say, Hey, you've been diagnosed with COVID. We're going to call you on a daily basis to check in on you and your symptoms. And we can give you a six digit key code to anonymously alert people. You may have exposed if you like to put that in. So it's a voluntary stuff in this pilot program at UCLA, I'm sure it's going to be watched closely across the state and the nation. What other protections will be in place when students return to campus? Our most important protection is obviously masking.

Speaker 6: 28:10 And so, uh, we're asking all of our students, faculty and staff to wear masks and any space where they could encounter other people. And that's really the root of a prevention of COVID-19. This is something that can augment contact tracing if there is an outbreak, but the modeling certainly shows that it's likely to help. Um, you know, what could be an outbreak affecting 20, 30 or 40 students might be reduced to three or four students because we're testing the isolating more quickly than we would be without this tool. I've been speaking with dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego health. Thanks very much. Thank you, Mark.

Speaker 6: 28:57 It was the longtime headquarters of Sempra energy downtown. Now the building at one-on-one Ash street has become a legacy white elephant for outgoing mayor. Kevin Faulkner a big headache for city council and the subject of intrigue involving a local media outlet, the race to replace the mayor and more joining me to sort it all out is KPBS. Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen. Hi Andrew. Hi Mark. Thanks. So, uh, before we get to the scam, which apparently used NBC seven San Diego to smear two candidates for public office, uh, set the situation up for us, give us the rundown of how and why the city wanted to buy this building at one Oh one Ash street. Sure. It said the city has a real estate problem with it.

Speaker 7: 29:37 Employees. A lot of them are working in pretty drab conditions downtown. Um,

Speaker 8: 29:42 If you've ever walked into the development services department, for example, it's a really outdated office space, cramped quarters, just not the best place for employees to be doing their best work. And so the building one-on-one ass street held the promise of a relatively new, um, consolidated office space for city employees. Um, the building was owned by a businessman, Sandy Shapery. There was also a minority stake in the building owned by, um, Doug Manchester, the hotelier and developer. And so the city had been negotiating with that, uh, with Shapery over the purchase price. Um, it was, uh, they had agreed to about $72 million. We later found out that there was an appraisal that put the value significantly lower, and anyone with a mortgage, uh, should know that when you want to buy a building and it ends up appraising for less than your agreed purchase price, you'll have trouble getting a loan for that, uh, purchase because the lender doesn't want to pay an inflated value. Basically the, this, uh, appraisal problem led the city to agree to a lease, to own deal so that they could be essentially renting the building and then have an option to purchase it later.

Speaker 1: 30:47 So what eventually happened, we did get this, this lease to purchase deal, and it was a lot of money over a lot of years, right? Correct.

Speaker 8: 30:54 More than 120, a million dollars. The city was paying $18,000 in rent each day. And it was not able to occupy the building. Initially the city staff said that it just needed a good power washing, but, um, further inspection found that it in fact had a lot of work that needed to be done. Um, there were just a lot of issues with the building. And so yes, the city agreed to this deal and the deal had it paying about $18,000 per day in rent. But it turned out that the building needed a lot more work than the city originally thought. And the move in date kept getting pushed back and back, and the city had to spend $30 million more on tenant improvements than it initially anticipated. So the scandal was growing.

Speaker 1: 31:37 Yeah, it certainly was. And I guess the employees moved in briefly. They had to go out and, uh, now it's, it's, they're empty and Faulkner finally threw up his hands and quit paying the rent last week. Right.

Speaker 8: 31:48 That's right. So, uh, all the construction work was being done that the contractors dislodged asbestos into the air hundreds of city employees had to be evacuated from the building and go back to their old, not appealing office space. And the city was actually cited by the County for air quality of violations. They continued to spend money on the improvements. Uh, they continued to pay rent on the vacant building and ultimately, uh, you know, up until now and up until the point that, um, Faulkner ordered the city to stop paying the rent payments. Um, the city had spent more than $50 million without much to show for it.

Speaker 1: 32:21 One of those deals where nobody's happy, but the lawyers, so this is a burgeoning scandal, as you say, it's in, it's playing into two local political races, the one between Councilwoman Barbara, Brie, and former Councilman Todd, Gloria for mayor and between city attorney, Mara Elliot and her challenger attorney Corey Briggs. So tell us about NBC seven San Diego's reporting, uh, which they first posted a couple of weeks ago,

Speaker 8: 32:45 NBC, uh, reported on this gap in the appraisal and the purchase price. Um, it's it had obtained a memo written by an outside law firm that was hired by the city or rather what it thought was a memo. And, uh, the appraisal issue was kind of buried in the story, the headline and the lead of the story really focused on a footnote in this memo. And that footnote said that the investigators had tried to interview Todd Gloria to determine whether he had somehow misled the public or misled his council colleagues about what he knew about the building's value is very vague, um, allegations. And then in this footnote, it also says they tried to interview Gloria and the city attorney Mark Elliott blocked that interview from happening. A lot of things immediately didn't really add up in this footnote. Why would Elliot the city attorney have the ability to block investigators from interviewing Todd, Gloria, who no longer works at the city?

Speaker 8: 33:38 She hasn't really no authority in that matter. The footnote also, interestingly enough, called Todd Gloria, the council president, which he had not been for years, and that was kind of a head scratcher. And immediately after the story published the city attorney's office and the lawyers who actually wrote this memo say that that footnote was a complete fabrication and NBC still kept the story up and did not issue a retraction until last week when they were somehow able to identify or verify that this footnote was in fact, a forgery and they were attracted the story, which is a very big deal in journalism. And now it is clear than ever that somebody gave a news outlet, a forged document in an apparent effort to smear to elected officials. Two months before we voters in the city are going to be decided whether these two people are fit to occupy the two most powerful positions in city government. This is a huge deal and voters really need to understand what's going on right now.

Speaker 1: 34:30 Right? And as you say, there were there strident an immediate reactions from Todd, Gloria and Mara Elliot, that's orange County, a law firm. And as you say, NBC seven has retracted. This had done what we call a big skin back and it's embarrassing. And we'll see if there's more coming on that. Wouldn't you think they're trying to do an investigative piece now on how they got, uh, got hoodwinked on this.

Speaker 8: 34:53 They say that they are, in fact, they're continuing to investigate, uh, how, who gave them this memo. And one of the things that came out when they issued their retraction was that the source of the memo was never actually known to the reporters who were writing this story. They got it. Somehow. We don't exactly know how, if it was dropped off in an unmarked envelope or dropped somewhere in an anonymous server or a Dropbox link or something like that. But they said that they were able to verify the memo's authenticity with a city employee whom they trusted. Um, but that city employee had then later kind of walked back there, they're vouching for this document. So to some extent the damage has been done. Um, the, you know, the, that story was up for a week and it was used by, uh, Gloria's opponent, Brie, and some Facebook ads she has since taken those ads down.

Speaker 8: 35:41 Um, but has really repeated the attacks on Gloria for supporting this one Oh one Ash street deal. When he was on the city council, Gloria says he, and he has always said that he made his decision to support that deal based on the information that was given to him and his council colleagues at that time that the info was incomplete and the true culprits in this, this really bad deal, our mayor, Kevin Faulkner, and his staff who orchestrated the whole thing. Oh, wow. And we assume there's a lot more to come out from all of this. Now the question begged right away on this false story is who's going to benefit from this. And it seems pretty obvious these, these two opponents of Todd Gloria and the incumbent of Mara Elliot, right? Yes. And we asked Barbara Brie I'm point blank. Do you know who gave this memo to NBC seven or does do interview if your counsel staffers or do any of your campaign staffers know who gave them this memo?

Speaker 8: 36:34 And she said, no, it certainly leaves us a lot of intrigue. We, we want to know who, who, uh, you know, has this vendetta against, um, these two elected officials and why they would go to such great lengths to fabricate a document and plant a hit piece on them. In, in the news media, it's quite a fluid situation, very fluid. And, and ultimately, um, you know, the question that we should be asking are, uh, people who are running for higher office in the city is what are they going to do about this [inaudible] ass street? Uh, how are they going to try and continue with the tenant improvements and eventually hope to move, uh, employees in? Are they going to try and somehow, uh, back out of the deal? I mean, there are many options that the city has and none of them is good. What is the city going to do with this mess now that it has already stepped in it? And we're going to be certainly following your coverage and how all this plays out, especially between now and November 3rd. I've been speaking with KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen. Thanks Andrew. You're welcome Mark.

Speaker 8: 37:39 I'm Mark Sauer in for Maureen Kavanaugh and you're listening to midday edition on KPBS since the age of seven. Herbert sequenza has been obsessed with artist Pablo Picasso now because the pandemic has forced the San Diego rep to present its plays online. Sequenza has had the opportunity to turn his play a weekend with Pablo Picasso into a film KPBS arts reporter, Beth Huck Amando speaks with sequenza who also plays Picasso.

Speaker 9: 38:08 Herbert Picasso is a person and a character you have been living with for a lot of years. So where are the origins for this story? How long back does, how long back is your obsession with Picasso? I have been living with Picasso all my life. The story is, is I was seven years old and I went to the dentist office with my mom and in the waiting room, you know, there's always these books and magazines. And I picked up a book by Douglas Duncan of photographs called a, the private life of Picasso. I was seven years old and, and I was so impressed by this old man at 76 that painted wildly like a child. He painted like a child. He played around with his kids. He had goats, he had ALS he had a beautiful wife. He ran around in his underwear with no, uh, no shirt.

Speaker 9: 39:03 He just looked like a free soul, uh, a very happy soul. And I told my mom, you know, when I grow up, mom, I want to be like, this, be a heat though. I want to be like this little old man. And she says, Oh no, he's, he's Picasso. He's crazy. You know, I'm to, but I never forgot that. Never forgot that. Um, so I've always, um, I was born with a drawing talent. I, uh, since I was a kid, I would draw. So I was always an artist before I was an actor. So when I be, when I became an actor, many years later, that book always was in the back of my mind. Like I knew all my life that I was going to write that play and perform that play. And then when I turned 50, 10 years ago, I approached the rep and Todd and said, Hey, uh, I showed him the book. I said, I want to do a play based off this book. And I said, okay, go ahead and write it. And sure enough that, you know, he wrote it. I wrote it. And with the help of Todd and, uh, you know, it's just become a journey. It's really become, in other words, I fulfilled what I, I set out to do since I was seven, was to play this old man named Picasso

Speaker 10: 40:11 As a playwright. What was it about Picasso and his life that you wanted to tap into and that you felt were themes you wanted to explore?

Speaker 9: 40:20 Well, as you know, if you know my work, I'm a political artist. My work is always been about social justice. It's always been a socially based. And, you know, Picasso, even though he was a pacifist, he was also a communist. He was also an activist. You know, he, he also was a, uh, uh, a supporter of the peace movement. He reacted to things like the bombing of Guernica in 1937, 1939, 39. He produced one to me, one of the most, most, uh, horrifying, uh, political statements ever, which is the painting Guernica. Right. It's just amazing. And it's timeless, right? It's, it's timeless. It's, uh, you could, you could say Guernica represents the California fires. It represents all the horrors of humanity, right. In this one painting. So he knew how to be a political artist. I don't think you want it to be, you know, but he did have to react to it. And that's kind of what, that's my philosophy and art. It's not that I want to be a political artist. I just cannot sit around and not talk about what's going on in the country. You know, as it's burning, you know, I have to, I have to react. I have talk about it. Uh, if, if this was a peaceful society and everything was equitable and everything was beautiful. Yeah. I would probably write for art's sake, you know, but I don't think we're there yet. We're far from there.

Speaker 10: 41:48 This is a production you've revisited over the years. How is it playing out to you right now in the current political climate and are different ideas or themes playing different for you right now? Okay.

Speaker 9: 42:02 It gets timeless. I it's, yes, of course. Everything's more elevated right now, but I think this play is timeless. And the fact that it talks about an artist that is now famous, is now rich is not hungry anymore. Has done it all. He's a legend. What does he do? What, what, how can an artist react to a political statement? My play takes place after the invasion of a hungry by the Soviets and Picasso was very upset about this invasion. He thought it was, you know, it was unilateral invasion. He was, he was very upset him. And a lot of, uh, European intellectuals were upset about this. They wrote a letter to the central command saying that we were, we, as artists are denouncing this, we don't agree with you there. Uh, of course the Soviets ignored the artists and, and, and, and, and continue to do that.

Speaker 9: 42:52 But, uh, but because it was very upset. And so my play is about how does a superstar artists that has it all, how can they still be political? How can they still react to something that's going on in the world? What do you think an artist is an imbecile? Whereas I's, if he's a painter, is if he's a musician, a lie in every chamber of his heart, if he's a poet, quite the contrary, he is a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate, or pleasing events of the world, shaping himself completely in its image. That's what it's about. It's about him being awakened from his stupor in the South of France, you know, while he's drawing doves and, and, and flowers, you know, this invasion is happening. And so that kind of wakes him up from his, uh, from his stupor. And he goes back to Guernica. He remembers Guernica. Like I make the parallel between Guernica and the hungry invasion. If we go back now, if we look at it contemporary, yeah. We, you know, we're in the middle East there's Wars everywhere in the world. And, and so things have not changed at all. You know what Picasso, a Picasso would be painting about that right now,

Speaker 10: 44:09 But who works in theater, I'm sure you would be preferring to work with a live audience and, you know, being able to meet in person, however, as someone who's been living with this play for a decade, how does it feel to now have it in a form that will be remembered for,

Speaker 9: 44:29 I am so thrilled. It was just it's fate. It's fate. You know, I would probably be, there would be no film if the, if the, if there would be no COBIT right. I mean, COVID made us, COVID made all theaters become like movie studios, you know, we're all putting out stuff. And so when I approached Sam and Todd saying, why don't we do, you know, cause we wanted to offer something to people and said, well, you know, I know Picasso, I'm ready to do Picasso. I just did it at new village arts a year ago. Uh, why don't we do a movie and they go, yeah, let's do it a bit. Let's do it as a movie. I'm going, yes, I've always wanted to do that. Let's do it. Let's elevate the stage production. And so I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled that this is, this goes beyond the stage production.

Speaker 9: 45:13 You know, I think people are going to see, uh, an elevated version of the, of the stage play. Um, what I like about the movie is that it's much more intimate, you know, your close up, uh, you're really seeing what Picasso's thinking about and suffering about, um, much more than in the play. So I had to tone down my acting a lot because I'm an, you know, I'm a stage actor and in film film, you have to tone down, you have to internalize the feelings and not externalize them as much. And so I'm thrilled. I'm really thrilled. And, and I'm very happy with it. Thank you very much for talking about Picasso. Thank you.

Speaker 1: 45:48 That was Beth Huck. Amando speaking with Herbert. Sequenza the San Diego rep debuts the film version of a weekend with Pablo Picasso on Thursday. And it will be available online through October 14th.

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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.