6 Questions Ahead Of The 1st Trump-Biden Presidential Debate, SUVs Dire Impact On Carbon Emissions, San Diego County's Contact Tracing Struggles Explained
KPBS Midday Edition / September 29, 2020
ERIC BARADAT AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
The first presidential debate is high stakes. Here are six questions ahead of the debate, to be moderated by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace beginning at 6 p.m. Plus, SUVs have been the largest cause of the increase in worldwide carbon emissions over the last decade. And COVID-19 continues to spread through our region, and contact tracers are only contacting on average 2.2 people for each person who tests positive. Also, Kelvin Barrios, former aide to City Council President Georgette Gómez is ending his campaign for her seat. Plus, San Diego's Historic Resources Board voted Thursday to designate the vacant Mission Hills Branch Library as a historic resource, likely derailing plans to redevelop the site into housing for the formerly homeless. Finally, G.I. Film Festival launches its Virtual Film Showcase this Thursday and Friday featuring six documentaries about military experiences.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A preview of tonight's first presidential debate.
Speaker 2: 00:04 The spotlight's going to be particularly bright on Biden. And I do think that he has more to lose in this debate.
Speaker 1: 00:11 I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Mark sour. This is KPBS mid day edition From our climate change desk. We look into what makes the SUV so popular.
Speaker 2: 00:29 Yes. Turned out to be this enormous pool of kind of warming gases, and they growing on like other sectors,
Speaker 1: 00:38 San Diego city council district nine candidate Kelvin Barrios drops out of the brace and a documentary about the Tuskegee airmen is featured at the upcoming San Diego GI film festival. That's a head on mid day edition after months of sparring, long distance on Twitter at press conferences and political events. Former vice president, Joe Biden and president Donald Trump will meet in debate tonight. The event at case Western reserve university in Cleveland will be broadcast at 6:00 PM on KPBS and all major news networks. Chris Wallace from Fox news is the moderator. The debate topics expected include the Supreme court. COVID-19 the economy, election integrity and race and policing, but it's not known if or how the major New York times report on the president's taxes will affect tonight's event. Johnny May for a preview of the president's debate is San Diego state university political science professor Benjamin Gonzalez O'Bryan. And thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me now in our polarized political environment. Is there really a lot riding on tonight's debate for either candidate?
Speaker 2: 01:53 I think to a certain extent there's going to be a lot of, uh, support for both candidates. It's already pretty baked in a lot of the polling so far suggests that there is going to be a smaller pool of persuadable voters in this election than we've seen in the past. Uh, that partisanship is going to play a pity pretty big role. And so, you know, overall the stakes are probably not spectacularly Hyde, but of course this is going to be the first event where Biden and Trump are facing off against one another. And so therefore there's the possibility that one of them could stumble a little bit and that would result in a lot of potentially negative media coverage. And
Speaker 1: 02:32 Who do you think has more to lose in tonight's debate?
Speaker 2: 02:35 Well, I think since Biden has been leading in a lot of the polls and has been taking kind of a, has taken a step back in terms of campaigning and appearances and other things, I think that the spotlight is going to be particularly bright on Biden. And I do think that he has more to lose in this debate than Trump does. What will you be watching for tonight if you're Donald Trump? Uh, what you really to do during the debate is try to take, uh, Biden, um, off his main points. You want to try to maybe make them a little bit angry. Uh, you want to throw them off a little bit. And so I'm going to be watching Biden's reactions to, uh, Trump's likely attacks on Biden's family and particularly, uh, Hunter Biden, uh, how Biden responds to the likely interruptions by Trump and how he responds to some of the, uh, falsehoods that are likely to be thrown out there by the president in relation to a wide array of issues that'll be discussed during the debate.
Speaker 2: 03:35 So I think that is on the one hand, uh, what I'll be looking for on the part of, by number for Trump. I think, you know, what I'll be keeping an eye on is just how we respond to the breaking news over his taxes and what he paid in taxes. Some of those write-offs, I think this was particularly problematic for Trump and the Trump campaign coming just a few, a few days before the first debate. And this gives Biden an opening to go after Trump and do criticize Trump for not paying his fair share of taxes.
Speaker 1: 04:09 No, because of the pandemic, there will be a limited live audience at this debate. And there are restrictions on the candidates movements because of COVID. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Speaker 2: 04:21 Well, it depends on which candidate you are. I think for both candidates, I don't think, I don't see it making a, a significant impact. We know that in the past with some debates, there's been a lot of, uh, post debate analysis about, uh, you know, whether Trump stood behind Hillary Clinton in an appropriate manner, or whether candidates, uh, stepped close, you know, kind of close into one another's personal bubbles in a kind of aggressive fashion. And that takes that level of analysis out of it as does. Uh, the kind of crowd reactions are going to be much more muted than they were in past debates because of the limited audience. So that may play a little more, I think, to some of Biden's strengths and they make it a little easier to stay on message, which again is something that I think if you're the Biden team, you want them to stick to their talking points about COVID about the potential threat to the affordable care act. You want them to stick to those talking points as closely as possible instead of allowing Trump to kind of drag him off onto a, some onto some tangent. Yeah.
Speaker 1: 05:26 One of the criticisms that arose after the debate subjects were announced is that there were no questions about climate change and that's a huge issue for many people. I would imagine, including the young students that you teach, why do you think that wasn't addressed?
Speaker 2: 05:41 Uh, so I'm not sure why they avoided that issue in choosing and choosing those tops. It is surprising considering the hurricanes that we've seen, uh, across the South, as well as the fires that we've seen, not only in California, but also in the Pacific Northwest, that this wasn't chosen as one of the debate topics. I think that probably would have played to Biden's strengths and some of the debate topics probably don't play to his strengths as much as a discussion of the environment would have. Can we expect president Trump to be pressed on whether he'll accept the results of the election? I would be surprised if Biden doesn't press him on his, uh, on his comments about the peaceful transition of power, something that's been a norm in presidential politics for, you know, as long as we've had a democracy, really, and Trump's comments were very worrying.
Speaker 2: 06:36 They received a lot of media coverage and the president has really hedged a lot on whether he will accept the results of the election and has tried to cast a lot of doubt on Malin voting and on any votes that come in after election day. And we're seeing a number of court battles over this now. So I expect this to actually be a really lively topic of debate. And, you know, if, if the Biden campaign is, is smart, they go after Trump on this, because I think this is a, this is a weak issue for them. And I think that the president's comments, uh, were, were seen as an, in a negative light by a large number of voters, potentially also a lot of voters are maybe in the, in the middle again, you know, we expect the loser in a presidential contest to accept the results to concede, to congratulate their opponent. And, and to step aside, if the president is saying that the, he may not do though, that that's worrying and potentially, especially if this winds up tossed into the courts could lead to a constitutional crisis that we haven't seen in this nation previously, I've been speaking with San Diego state university
Speaker 3: 07:43 Political science professor Benjamin.
Speaker 2: 07:45 So Brian, thank you so much for speaking with us. Thank you for having me.
Speaker 3: 07:54 You might think the, you, an SUV stands for ubiquitous it's utility, of course, as in sports utility vehicle, but SUV SUVs are everywhere after exploding in popularity in the U S they've spread to Europe, and now China with dire impact on our environment as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk, reporter Oliver Millman joins me to discuss his eye-popping story in the guardian newspaper about how S UVS have taken over vehicle markets. Welcome to midday edition.
Speaker 2: 08:23 Hi, Damon, good community.
Speaker 3: 08:25 You're right. That the surging popularity of SUVs is quote producing a vast new source of planet cooking emissions start with findings last year by researchers at the international energy agency.
Speaker 2: 08:36 Yeah, that's right. So the IEA was study to look at what was the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions since the turn of the century. And, and they were kind of, uh, amazed to find that, um, uh, in the last decade kind of 2010 to 2018, the second source was
Speaker 4: 08:56 SUV. It's more than trucks, more than airplanes, more than heavy industry, only behind the power sector. So SUV turned out to be this, uh, enormous pool of, um, planet warming gases, and, and they're growing, unlike other sectors, which are, uh, leveling off or even declining.
Speaker 3: 09:18 Now, as you observe in your story in the guardian issue, SUVs are hardly sleek aerodynamic machines, how much more pollution do they generate compared with more miserly gas powered cars?
Speaker 4: 09:30 So, so the analysis we commissioned found that in the USS UVS emits 14% more carbon dioxide than smaller passenger cars on average, uh, which is more than in Europe, but less than China where they're actually, um, yeah, there's an even bigger gap. And that adds up over time if you, if you have an SUV for 15 years or so, um, all the extra pollution, um, with all the SUV sold in a single year in the U S is about, uh, on a par with the entire annual emissions of Norway. So it's like adding Norway to, um, uh, to the world's emissions over a 15 year period. And that's quite significant. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 10:09 Explain just how popular SUV is, have become in the past decade. I mean, it's remarkable how the numbers have sword.
Speaker 4: 10:16 It really is. They've kind of come from pretty much nowhere to now be kind of footie percent of all global sales in the U S this year, it's going to be over 50% and that's going to grow to about 54% by 2025. So they are now becoming a kind of dominant mode of car model in, in the U S and increasingly the world. Now the big car makers are, um, increasing the SUV makers. That's what they make their money from. That's the kind of innovation where the innovation and the choices coming into the market. Um, the S U S is suddenly becoming an SUV nation and the world is becoming an SUV dominated world.
Speaker 3: 10:54 Talk about the selling of issue. V's you write extensively about how remarkably successful marketing and advertising of SUV has been, explain that for us, how have they built a image of the SUV to appeal to drivers, especially Americans,
Speaker 4: 11:08 Right? So the SUV kind of emerged out of, out of the U S in the 1980s, and the car industry realized there was a market for it. They would call a sport utility vehicle, which is this kind of amalgamation of a truck and minivan, the kind of traditional American family car. And they, they managed to, um, lobby lawmakers to make sure that, um, there were, uh, subject to less stringent fuel efficiency standards. So they're more attractive to build and then sell. And then they went about essentially trying to sell them to the American public on mass. And they they've been very successful with that. Think about mass marketing campaigns for these vehicles. I mean, you get lots of, kind of Abbots of, of CVS in the mountains, kind of selling that kind of aspiration. It's also increasingly you see them going around towns and cities. You see them as they're kind of, well, my set kind of smaller compact car that would get you to work or get you to meet a friend for a cup of coffee. They they've kind of been sold in a, in a kind of very broad way. That's, um, it's meant to appeal to the correct number of people, and it's proved very successful.
Speaker 3: 12:14 Now, this popularity is only expected to grow California's governor last week signed an executive order that the state would phase out gas powered vehicles by 2035. Is there any hope that electric SUV will replace gas guzzlers soon enough to make a difference?
Speaker 4: 12:28 That's a really great question. I mean, I think over time suddenly they, they will replace them. I mean, if you look at what the big car makers are doing, they're adding new, um, electric SUV models. Ford had done that with a Mustang. Um, GM has done that with a Cadillac recently and Volkswagen as well, uh, uh, added a new electric SUV. And these are very kind of sleek, uh, looking vehicles, very different from what we traditionally for the SUV is this kind of boxy, uh, off road vehicle. They're now kind of much more sleek and modernized and get the, the combat is hyped that will appeal to more people, especially those thinking more now about the climate environments. Um, but there's a long, long lag time. There's a long lead time here. Um, California will stop selling gasoline and diesel powered cars by 2035. And if you think about the fact that people hang on to their cars for 12 to 15 years say, we're looking at least until 2050 until we start getting any kind of turnaround, getting them in California. And then there's the rest of the country. It's gonna take a long, long time to phase out, um, fetal and, um, gasoline power cars. And unfortunately, the, the timelines when it comes to avoiding dangerous climate change a lot shorter than that.
Speaker 3: 13:41 We're certainly running out of time. I've been speaking with reporter Oliver Millman of the guardian newspaper. Oliver. Thanks very much. Thanks so much. This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Mark Sauer with Maureen Kavanaugh, a shakeup today in the race for San Diego city council district nine, Kelvin Barrios, a former city council aide and current labor union staffer who drawn widespread support, suspended his campaign on Monday. Joining me to discuss why and what it means is KPBS reporter max Rivlin Adler max, welcome back to the program. Hi, well, this is a dramatic turn of events. Start with why Kelvin Barrios has dropped out of this race.
Speaker 4: 14:18 So it's been a steady drip of, of investigations into Barrio says campaign by the media. This all started with the revelations that he had misspent money that, uh, you had access to while acting as a volunteer for the San Diego County young Democrats. Um, he had kind of addressed this earlier in the campaign. Um, but then once it got brought back up, he claimed that he was no longer under criminal investigation. Something that the district attorney's office went out of its way to make clear. Wasn't the case on top of that further reporting again, mostly by the San Diego union
Speaker 5: 14:52 Tribune and voice of San Diego looked into his own campaign filings, which turned out to be a little bit sloppy, including the failure to report $86,000 in income from last year that he had received from his labor union on required forms. So clearly there were some discrepancies, he's a young guy. Um, he started very tough forms to get, right. But, uh, these raised questions about exactly how he would, uh, operate when he won the race. And if you ran, won the race
Speaker 3: 15:21 And give us a thumbnail sketch of who Kelvin Barrios is, and where's the geographic area of district nine. So we had that in our minds.
Speaker 5: 15:29 Yeah. So I'll start with where disc nine is. It's, you've got a, if you think of it, North South, it runs Kensington, Elsa Rito down through city Heights, all the neighborhoods that make up that, and then a little bit South from there right now, it's being represented by city council, president Georgette Gomez, who Barrios was a staffer for up until, uh, over a year ago when he switched to working for, um, Luna local 89, the labor union. Uh, so he, he grew up in city Heights. He's been advocating for the community for years, um, and has been very close to the labor movement. The entire time
Speaker 3: 16:05 ROS had garnered a lot of endorsements, including from his former boss council, president Gomez. Many of these endorsements were withdrawn, putting more pressure on him to resign. Right.
Speaker 5: 16:15 Great. So not at first though. So ultimately Georgia Gomez announced that she would be pausing her endorsement, but that endorsement was not taken off of Barrio says website that was back in August. Other groups like the San Diego league of women voters, uh, were putting pressure on Barrios to continue to either actively campaign cause he was skipping community forums or to address the allegations and the findings about his campaign over the weekend though, basically the snowballs, uh, the, the mayor of national city Alejandra SoTellUs. So lease withdrew, her support, the mayor of Tula Vista, um, Mary solace withdrew, her support, and that culminated on Monday morning with his own labor union, his own, uh, employer, local 89, announcing that they were withdrawing support. Of course, they kind of place the blame on the media itself saying it was, uh, basically the, the partisan efforts by the media that had driven Barrios out of the race.
Speaker 3: 17:05 Yeah. Politically untenable. It would seem based on what you're describing and, and tell us about his opponent who now appears to be the next council member. Right? Right,
Speaker 5: 17:14 Right. So Sean Isla Rivera, he is a member of the San Diego community college board. He ran and won two years ago for that seat against David Alvarez and a bit of an upset. He is also a local community organizer right now. He's the executive director of youth will, which works with young people in San Diego, um, specifically the areas around city Heights. And he, you know, would be the person who appears to be in the driver's seat for this race.
Speaker 3: 17:42 And he's also a Democrat. We should know here. It's a very, uh, progressive, uh, district, two Democrats were running there. Right. Right. And, and
Speaker 5: 17:50 To be honest, if you look at the candidates, there was very little daylight between them on the positions. And maybe if something that would have been sussed out in the community forums, as we got closer to the actual time when ballots would be mailed out, but because Barrios had kind of been avoiding those situations, there hasn't been a much daylight between them. That being said, Barrios could still win because he will still show up on the mailers. It's still show up on the ballot. So it's yellow Rivera. Can't relax. He's going to have to actually still campaign. Well, that'd be interesting if it happens. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter max rebelling that, or thanks, max. Thanks.
Speaker 6: 18:30 Contact tracing was supposed to be one of the primary ways we could flatten the COVID curve and reopen the economy that hasn't really happened. Despite San Diego County hiring hundreds of contact tracers and investing heavily in the program. KPBS investigative reporter, Claire triggers her looks at what went wrong as a refresher. Here's how contact tracing is supposed to work. When someone tests positive for COVID-19, you need to get in touch with their immediate family and everyone else they've been in close contact with. If one of those contacts test positive, you start the process over again. With that person's contacts. The County has hired more than 500 case investigators and contact tracers who are supposed to spend their days calling people who've tested positive for COVID-19 and then calling all of the people. The sick person has been in contact with those people are told to get tested and stay home for 14 days.
Speaker 6: 19:32 But despite these plans, the county's program seems to come up short. The disease continues to spread through our region and contact tracers are only calling on average 2.2 people for each person who test positive. I talked to UCS D epidemiologist, Rebecca fielding Miller about why that is okay. So we've heard how contact tracing is supposed to work. What can you tell us about how it's actually working? But I think the most important thing to know about contact tracings, it's really purely hard to do well. You have to get somebody who has never heard of you might have a few reasons not to trust you. You have to call them up out of the blue, potentially give them some pretty bad news, ask them a whole lot of personal questions and then get them to tell you everybody they've been around for the last 14 days.
Speaker 6: 20:27 And then you have to get ahold of all of those people and do the same thing. So that's just hard, any way you slice it. So we're doing better, but it's hard to be perfect. So why are we so bad at this? Is it underfunding or the distrust of government? It's a big ask for you to pick up the phone a number you've never seen before to talk to somebody who says, Hey, I'm from the County. And first of all, I have some bad news. Second of all, I have a lot of personal questions. And third, can you please remember everybody you've been around for the last 14 days? Um, there is an art to it and an art to doing it well. And I think that we have certainly improved quite a lot, but it's, it's hard to get everybody. And if you think of it as a matter of scale, if you're following up on a hundred cases a day and you're missing 3%, that's three people give or take. If you're following up on 200 cases and you miss 3%, that's six people. And so the more cases that have to be investigated a day, the more people are going to fall through the cracks.
Speaker 7: 21:42 Um, are there any model programs in the U S who are doing it well? And if so, what are they doing that we should be learning from?
Speaker 6: 21:51 So I think there's a couple ways of doing it. Well. Um, my understanding is Boston is doing pretty well. Um, the state of Massachusetts, and I think in part that's, because they've contracted with partners in health, which is an organization that has a lot of work, um, working in low resource settings, making sure that they're doing, um, uh, work that's trusted by the community as being really aware of sort of local conditions on the ground. When I think about actually, when I went to think about how do you do contact tracing? Well, um, it freaks people out, but the nearest analog is actually a Bola. We can look back to the Ebola outbreak where contact tracing was the primary strategy that we had for stopping and stopping that outbreak. And it turns out that, um, contact tracers that are from local trusted community organizations are going to be a lot more successful than contact tracers that are from more centralized government entities. It's going to take longer, but you're going to get more people. And I think striking that balance of working with trusted community partners, but also having sort of vetted centralized well-trained, uh, folks is, um, the important place to look.
Speaker 7: 23:04 Yeah. Um, so we have some numbers from the County about contact tracing interviews that I want to go over. They say they complete 76% of their interviews, which means when they're calling people who are, who have tested positive for COVID and asking who, who their contacts have been. Um, but they say on average, they only get 2.2 contacts per positive case. So can you explain a little bit more what this means and what that says to you?
Speaker 6: 23:32 Yeah. So if you think about it, the folks who are at home all the time who leave to go grocery shopping, um, those folks are much less likely to, um, be infected with COVID. It's the folks who are being exposed a lot. Let's say you work at a restaurant or you work in a pharmacy or a bar, and you're coming in contact with a lot. A lot of people, your odds of being exposed are a lot higher. So it is probably pretty likely that the people who are sort of in this pool of folks, the County is trying to reach those people have more contacts than the average person in San Diego County, which is to say two is probably an undercount, because imagine you wait tables, you might be able to say, well, here is the name and phone number of the three people who are on my shift, but are you going to be able to give the name and phone number of everybody whose table you waited that day?
Speaker 6: 24:31 Um, are you going to know the name and phone number of the person who was washing dishes in the back of the kitchen? So it's quite likely that you are getting the name and phone number of two people whose name and phone number, these contacts know. Um, but there's probably a lot going on said there. I think when we think about, um, sort of contact tracing and numbers, I think it is natural to sort of imagine it happening a little bit at random, right? Like you have in statistics one Oh one, right? You have like a hundred marbles and 90 of them are green and 10 of them are blue and the blue ones are just kind of scattered. But I think it's really important to remember that the potential issues with both who is at risk of getting sick and who is at risk of falling through the cracks for contact tracing, that's not random.
Speaker 6: 25:23 So the people who are at risk of getting sick people who are more likely to work service jobs, people who are less likely to have paid sick, leave people who are less likely to be able to isolate people who more likely live in multi-generational homes. Those are the same people who, for example, might be undocumented, who might be, um, somebody whose name you won't remember because they were your Lyft driver. Those are the same people who are not going to be caught by this contact tracing safety net. And so what you really have is not sort of 4% of people in San Diego County chosen at random will get sick. And half of those at random will fall through the cracks. You have this chunk of people are going to get sick. And then those same set of people are going to fall through the cracks. And you have this sort of cascade on the people who are most vulnerable over and over and over again,
Speaker 7: 26:14 It seems like we're also concerned with the community outbreaks that the County announces every day, they say, you know, bars, restaurants, offices, and so on. But then they say that that only accounts for 5% of all local cases. So how, how could that be?
Speaker 6: 26:32 So let's say there are two people who get sick in a gym. Two staff members in a gym gets sick. They go home and four of their family get sick. That would technically not be an outbreak, um, since those are connected households. Um, and because it's pretty likely since the, the majority of transmission is within households that, um, community outbreaks with people who don't live together would still be in the minority.
Speaker 7: 27:03 But is it also then, because if we're not really effectively tracking who's who someone has been in contact with every single person that then we're not finding out about more of these kinds of community spread incidents.
Speaker 6: 27:18 Yeah. So it's also quite likely given, um, the way that contact tracing works, that we're also just not catching the size of an outbreak. So, um, imagine for example, that to go back to the restaurant example, somebody in the kitchen is undocumented and you know, they're undocumented. Um, you might not want to share their name and phone number. Imagine you are an undergrad at SDSU or one of our many other institutions of higher learning. And you were at a party where there was underage drinking. You are almost certainly not going to name people who were drinking because you don't want to get them in trouble, or you don't know who they are.
Speaker 7: 27:55 Contact tracing was supposed to be one of our big ways out of lockdown by keeping cases contained, but is a poor contact tracing program actually worse than having none at all. So in other words, if County officials say only 5% of cases come from outbreaks based on a subpar contact tracing program, aren't we giving people a false sense of security?
Speaker 6: 28:19 Um, no, I think it's really important to have that contact tracing system up and running for a couple of reasons. One is we want, because there is an art to it and an art to getting people to share this information. We want the people in those jobs to be practiced and good at what they're doing. I think contact tracing sort of works like you can think of it, um, like, like fighting a wildfire, for example, right? So you want, when you have kind of a giant uncontained wildfire, which is sort of when case numbers are really high, you want to do everything you can to suppress that wildfire. And that's what lockdowns are for, um, asking people to shelter in place, this type of thing. But you also want to make sure that there's not flare ups. So when we are able to catch a potential flare up, um, in the community, whether it's at a restaurant or a childcare setting or a gym, we can at least stop that from getting worse. And as we manage to bring the total case numbers down, as we managed to suppress the bigger wildfire situation, then contact tracing becomes even more important because we can stop those flare ups before they start and the numbers get higher.
Speaker 7: 29:34 Yeah. That makes sense. Well, thank you very much for explaining this to us. Uh, Rebecca fielding Miller, uh, we appreciate time. Yeah.
Speaker 1: 29:42 And she was speaking to KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire trespasser.
Speaker 1: 29:51 One of the locations mayor Kevin Faulkner has proposed to develop housing for the homeless is now likely off the table. San Diego's historic resources board voted last week to designate the mission Hills branch library as a historic resource. The mid century modern building located on West Washington street has been vacant since the new mission Hills Hillcrest Knox library opened last year. The old library is one of eight city owned properties. The mayor hope to make available to developers. It's estimated the site could accommodate 28 homes. Journey me, his KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Welcome. Hi, Maureen, give us an idea of what the old mission Hills library looks like and the area where it's located.
Speaker 8: 30:38 It's probably the first building you might see as you're coming up West Washington street on the right. If you're heading East up the Hill from the [inaudible], it's not very big. It's one story, not particularly noticeable, uh, built in 1961. And, uh, it's in the front, it's got this sloped roof that hangs over the facade. Uh, it's a combination of smooth stucco and brick. Uh, the report, interestingly notes that there's minimal architectural detailing. So you might wonder why would minimal detailing make this building historic, but that was actually a pretty central characteristic of mid century modern architecture, that it was very minimalist. So that that's kind of what helped, uh, the board decide that this was in fact, a historic resource.
Speaker 1: 31:21 So the group that advocated for the historic designation is the mission Hills heritage group. What has the group said though about why the old library should be preserved?
Speaker 8: 31:31 Well, the city's guidelines allow for different reasons for historic designation. In this case, it was decided that it does in fact, embody a distinctive characteristic or characteristics of a style type or period. Uh, it also helped that the building hadn't been modified to much often extensive, uh, renovations or modifications to a building, could sink an effort to, um, designated historic and, uh, the consultant who prepared the report on behalf of mission Hills heritage said that the historic resources board doesn't get many mid century modern buildings in front of them very often that this was a chance to preserve that styles, uh, impact or that history in San Diego.
Speaker 1: 32:11 And what are the city's low cost housing advocates saying about this decision?
Speaker 8: 32:16 Well, you really can't separate this historic designation from the backlash that occurred after, as you mentioned in your intro, a mayor, Kevin Faulkner put this property on a list of properties. He wanted to be redeveloped into permanent supportive housing that happened in may of last year. And the backlash was almost instant. Uh, there were a series of town halls in mission Hills, um, and those made very clear that many in the neighborhood were not happy about this effort. Um, kind of the same story you see at time after time, a relatively wealthy, predominantly white neighborhood opposes affordable housing. Sometimes, uh, people say it's, you know, fear of crime or a distaste for the type of people who tend to be homeless, even though they're not homeless once they're living there. Um, and sometimes it's for other reasons like the height of a building or the shadows that will cast or the impacts on traffic. Um, we should note this site has limitations for, um, building permanent supportive housing because it's very small, but the city really never got that far because this historic designation got in the way. And, you know, we should also note that mission Hills heritage strongly rejects this assertion, that it was motivated, uh, in any way by nimbyism, uh, or a desire to, you know, they say their desire to preserve the building was sincere and obviously a city staffers and, and the majority of the historic resources board agreed with them.
Speaker 1: 33:35 What's the procedure for getting a designation as an historic resource from the city.
Speaker 8: 33:41 Anyone can request a building, be designated as a historic resource. Usually you hire a consultant to do the research, figure out how the, that property fits into the city's history and how it can meet the city's criteria. You don't have to own the property. In fact, often the owner of a property objects to the historic designation because it limits what they can do with their own property. And it also lowers the value usually. Um, in fact, that happened in this very same meeting, uh, that, uh, you know, people, uh, somebody requested a building to be designated historic. The homeowners say, Hey, wait a minute. This is my property. And I don't want it, um, designated historic as historic, but, um, often the, the historic resources board disagrees and over the objections of the property owner, that's how it, how it plays out often.
Speaker 1: 34:30 It was the city's historic resource board, have the final word on what happens at that location.
Speaker 8: 34:36 It is possible to appeal this decision to the city council and appeal and, and, uh, you can be granted and a decision can only be overturned under very narrow circumstances. So it's usually things like there was a factual error in the public record or that they made their decision based on, on, um, improper, incorrect or incomplete information. So, um, overturning this designation is, is, uh, kind of a long shot.
Speaker 1: 35:01 What happens to this mission Hills library building? Now
Speaker 8: 35:04 It's unclear the city still owns it, uh, theoretically they could try and repurpose it and maybe turn it into, uh, you know, some people had said, we need a senior center in mission Hills, um, you know, do something else with the property. Um, um, but you know, the city has a long list of unfunded infrastructure needs. And, uh, many of the critics of this designation, you know, said that the likeliest scenario going forward is that the city will not have the funds or not prioritize the funds to maintain this building and keep it in good condition. And as has happened with many other historic
Speaker 9: 35:38 Resourcing, it will simply start falling apart and ultimately not get the kind of, um, dignity that, uh, you know, preservationists with. Like, I've been speaking with KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Thank you. Thank you, Maureen. I'm Mark Sauer with Maureen cavanaug, you're listening to KPBS midday edition. The GI film festival San Diego takes its event online this Thursday and Friday, the festival showcases films by for, and about the military and veterans this year two documentaries highlight the service of black men, KPBS arts reporter, Beth Huck. Amando speaks with filmmakers, Brian Williams and Denton Atkinson about their documentary in their own words, which looks to the Tuskegee airman Denton. Before we talk about the film, remind people who the Tuskegee airmen were Tuskegee airman were the first African American fighter pilots that served in world war II. Uh, just a, a brief summary of them. This was the first time that African Americans were given the opportunity to serve in officer roles.
Speaker 9: 36:43 And the program was entirely from the pilots to the cooks parachute riggers nurses. Everyone was African-American. So it was, it was sort of a test by the air force, the army and the air force, uh, that ultimately succeeded. And from their service record, along with other units, the military was decided in 1948, U S army echo had decided he wanted to train some blacks to learn how to fly planes operate completely. We had to be number one, cook, the bacon nurses are private. We have to be, what was it? Don't take offense. But I do want to ask since we're very conscious of who gets to tell stories, how did a couple of white dudes get involved in telling the story of Tuskegee airmen, I guess, to the cliff notes of it was, it's an inspiring story. And we've learned so much from these guys, but the way it started, yeah, there was a restaurant we went to after shooting two music videos.
Speaker 9: 37:50 That day was very hot. We said, you know what, God, what should we be doing with our time here? And so we set a prayer, cause my wife had told us two weeks earlier that we should be doing documentaries. And I said, okay, if when she speaks, I try, I tend to move. So we all sort of tend to know when that speaks. So we prayed and God was a little busy right then because we waited 13 seconds of nothing happened, kept talking about different ideas we could do. And the food got there, literally prayed again. And as soon as we said, Hey man, the door opens and a little African American gentlemen, a Tuskegee airman hat jacket, and shirt came in and I'm like, I think that's a Tuskegee. It's not every day. You see a Tuskegee airman. I mean, this was in 2007, but still it's not every day.
Speaker 9: 38:34 So he's says that and I'm looking, I'm like, wow. And we're thinking about these different documentaries, I'll say, huh. Anyway. So what should we do? One on what kind of documentary Purell flew right over my head had didn't even catch the fact that history had just walked in the door. And about 10 minutes later, he was looking and smiling and we were smiling and already started talking to him in an August, 2007. That started this journey that here we are in 2020 that we're still pushing the documentary, still getting it out there to more and more people. And we're so excited about the San Diego GFL film festival and them airing this Friday. It's going to be so exciting to see what other people think about it. When we did our first interviews and talked with the airmen, one of their biggest wishes was to not let the story die. So we've, we've spent the last, our first interview was in 2007 and we've spent all of that time just helping to promote this story because of how inspirational it is for those that do it.
Speaker 10: 39:29 And how did you find these people?
Speaker 9: 39:31 The local chapter of the Tuskegee airmen here in Augusta and that's who we had met was the president of the local chapter. And he, he started off with it. They had an event coming in and air show that we do in Augusta, Georgia every year in a few of them come in, came in, we were able to get those interviews. And then from there, we, yeah, there's a, an organization called the Tuskegee airmen incorporated that facilitated those interviews or to introduce us to people and made those introductions. So we went to New York, Philadelphia, Tuskegee, all over the country, Maryland different areas to get different interviews.
Speaker 10: 40:05 Talk about the archival materials you got because you got some really nice photos and some video as well. And how did you unearth those?
Speaker 9: 40:12 The photos primarily came from the national historic research agency. It's the air force archives at Maxwell air force base. And then, uh, most of the video came from the national archives, just unleashed the photos and stuff. And you just scan the scan. I was scanning photos and one of the historians at the research agency, he comes down, he sees what I'm doing. And he, uh, was one of the experts on the Tuskegee airmen. So he said, ah, I've got something for you. So he brought down the actual mission reports. So per month. So I'm sitting here looking at these original photographs that are stapled in, you know, the morale of the men, all the missions statistics, but it's like getting to, you know, hold history in your hands and look at specific dates of missions that we had read about. We had heard airman talk about, and then here we are connected to that history. So just the archival material was pretty fascinating to be a part of it.
Speaker 10: 41:12 So one of the impressive moments in the film is reference to the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt climbed into a plane with one of the Tuskegee airmen.
Speaker 9: 41:21 Yeah, it was chief Albert Anderson. It's funny. We're actually doing a documentary on chief Alfred Anderson's we know a lot more about that story, but yeah, he was a civilian then come in to Tuskegee, took a job and train these guys how to fly. And sure enough, Eleanor Roosevelt visited one day and went up for a flight with him. She wanted to go for a flight. And it was funny that the program was getting started. But as soon as she got back on the ground, she wanted to go talk to the president and say, no, this program needs to happen. So that was probably the, the push that needed, that was needed to get the ball rolling.
Speaker 7: 41:54 What's striking to me about watching the film from today's perspective with the current social unrest is that this isn't that far in our past. And there are some of these men who talked about the fact that people told them a black person could not fly a plane.
Speaker 9: 42:08 Yeah. One of the things that we realized is that these were the precursors to Rosa parks, you know, Martin Luther King jr. I mean, these men paved the way for them. It was funny hearing one of the, uh, airman refer to Martin Luther King jr. As that young fellow, you know, when that young fellow started all of the, you know, it was like, wow, this is so, yeah, it really wasn't that far long ago. And the lessons that, you know, the airmen were, it's the, it's the ultimate story of triumph over adversity, triumph, the human spirit. Um, so that was one of the reasons we wanted to tell the story. And it's, it's still applicable today where there's a segment in there that the airman insisted on being in there to tell the story correctly. And it was the white officers that trained them. And I thought that was really neat because they wanted people to know that although there was a segment of society that was against this happening, maybe a big segment of society, they were men who put their careers and putting themselves at risk to do this.
Speaker 9: 43:09 I'll never forget. We asked one of the, we asked a lot of the airmen, but one in particular heat, why would you fight for a country that did not consider you human? And he looked down and when he looked up, he had tears in his eyes. He says my country too. And one of the things they would always come back to, it's like, well, you have to understand not everyone was against us. No matter who's against you. If you have to keep going, you have to keep driving forward. It's a little bittersweet when you look at it nowadays, because they did, they did affect our country tremendously. And I think that if people can see the story more, they'll understand, look, we just all get together, work together and we can do this versus all the divisiveness that you see.
Speaker 7: 43:46 Right. Well, I want to thank you very much for talking about your documentary.
Speaker 9: 43:50 You're very welcome. Thank you for asking that was Beth Huck. Amando speaking with Brian Williams and Denton Atkinson. They're a documentary in their own words. Screen's Friday as part of the GI film festival San Diego, which is presented by KPBS.