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Gloria focuses on housing, homelessness in 2023 State of City Address

 January 12, 2023 at 3:30 PM PST

S1: A conversation with Mayor Todd Gloria on his State of the City address.

S2: All of us have something at stake in this housing affordability crisis , and all of us have to be a part of the solution.

S1: I'm Jane Hindman. This is KPBS midday edition. A look at why the flu hit San Diego County so hard at the end of last year.

S2: When flu hit this year and there was more social interaction last masking that left more of our community open for infection. And it really let it spread very quickly.

S1: The Colorado River keeps giving , but only for so long how water usage will need to change. And a book connects lack of housing to homelessness. That's ahead on Midday Edition. In his first in-person State of the City address Wednesday , San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria spoke of his commitments on improving infrastructure and public safety in a speech that had a more positive tone than an earlier pandemic year. But San Diego's ongoing affordable housing and homelessness crisis remain at the forefront. I'm joined now by Mayor Todd Gloria. And welcome back to Midday Edition.

S2: Thank you so much for this opportunity , Jake.

S1: So you really focused on housing in last night's address , specifically affordable housing.

S2: I mean , the most obvious expression of it is our homelessness crisis. But what is true is that there are many people who are concerned about rising rents that might make them homeless. I think there's also a lot of folks that are frustrated about the inability to become homeowners in San Diego , maybe concerned about their kids or their grandchildren moving away. And so this crisis of housing affordability impacts every San Diego , even if they're stably housed and homeowners for a long period of time. And my argument is that we all have to have a role in increasing the amount of housing supply , particularly housing that's affordable to low and middle income San Diegans.


S2: And that's not going to be done overnight. What we have to do is create the regulatory environment that actually will allow this housing to be built in a way that respects our existing neighborhoods and works with our existing infrastructure. What we're doing is moving , I think , affirmative steps in that direction. This last year , we permitted over 5000 new homes in the city. We have about 7000 new homes in the pipeline right now. That's positive , but not where we need to be. And so we're going to continue to do what we can to peel back regulatory burdens , cut red tape. Yesterday , I signed an executive order directing city staff to approve affordable housing projects within 30 days. That's a process that right now could take up to six months if we want to do it in one month. I think that's matching the urgency of the crisis we find ourselves in and really making sure that the city is a positive contributor to the increase in supply of affordable housing. And Jane , I would want to point out that the state of California is validating the work that we do. Not long ago , they named us one of seven pro housing cities in the state of California. And for everyone who's concerned about more housing , I want to point out that this designation gives us a competitive edge when it comes to state grant funding. And that's what helps us to address making sure that this housing is integrated well into neighborhoods. So , again , all of us have something at stake in this housing affordability crisis , and all of us have to be a part of the solution.

S1: And despite the city's efforts on housing , the fact is homeless numbers continue to reach record levels.

S2: This is a complex issue and requires multiple solutions. So , yes , we have to do the long term policymaking of updating community plans or moving regulatory hurdles to build more housing. We also have to deal with the here and now. The city is stepping up to address tenant needs in a way that we haven't done historically. During the pandemic , we created a Tenant Legal relief fund to make sure that tenants had access to legal representation in the eviction process. A couple of weeks ago , in partnership with our council president , the rental housing industry and two advocates , we released a framework for tenant protections that I will be turning into an ordinance this year and hopefully passing through the City Council. And then we are also asking our housing commission to literally double the amount of funding that they make available for homelessness prevention. I think these are some of the ways that we can address the near-term challenge of housing affordability. And with regard to homelessness , we have to continue to do the work of street outreach , expanding our shelter opportunities in order to graduate people into permanent housing. JD I was proud to be able to tell San Diegans yesterday that our system was able to house 2200 homeless San Diegans from the streets and into housing this past year. That's a remarkable number , but clearly it's not enough. We have to continue to do more work in this space , and we will do that work.

S1: Yesterday on the program , we talked to Bob McElroy , CEO of the Alpha Project , and he called out the city for not including the shelter providers in the planning stages of shelters , leading to problems that need to be fixed later. Here's what he had to say.

S2: So we always have to deal with those consequences after the fact when if they would have come to us and asked us in the planning stages , they're going to save tens and tens of thousands of dollars , and yet they continue not to do that. So I have now decided that we will not take on any more facilities and programs if we are not involved with the client.


S2: They are one of our most valued and important partners when it comes to serving our homeless population. That said , we meet regularly with our homeless providers and solicit their feedback. And input is a part of how we've been able to increase our shelter capacity in the city by 61% over the last two years. And we got more increases coming soon. I understand the fact. Castration. I think we're all frustrated about the condition of homelessness in our city , across our state and across our country. But I think , frankly , San Diegans aren't interested in my frustration or any of our providers frustration. They want us to do the work. Jane , I'm here to tell you I will do the work and continue to expand the shelter and outreach that we know leads to getting people off of our sidewalks and into housing.

S1: You know , Governor Newsom blocked funding and reject homelessness plans from across the state. What was your response to that ? And , you know , I know that he was , I guess , looking for fresh ideas on how to address this crisis.

S2: What we need is partnership. And I think that right now , the state's posture when it comes to homelessness funding is a year to year arrangement. I mean , to say that cities like ours can't make long term commitments to things like shelters , shelter providers , like outdoor project , because we don't know what we're going to get year to year from the state. I'm grateful to the governor's budget proposal that was released earlier this week has level funding for homelessness. But I would argue that with a crisis of the size that we're dealing with in California , this is the time to increase homelessness funding precisely because the problem is so acute. I realize that there is a deficit at the state level , and that's real and that's serious. But if this is the top issue in California , and I don't know a corner of the state that doesn't believe it is is not the top issue in the state. I think the state has to act accordingly. Beyond that , Jane , I've suggested to the governor that it's time that we reform our conservatorship laws , San Diego , and see it all over the place. We see people who are clearly so mentally ill and so deep in addiction that they can't care for themselves. The state's current posture to that is to say leave them to their own devices. That's wrong. And we have to change our state's conservatorship laws to get that done. We took a huge step forward with care court this past year , but it's not enough. And I'm hopeful this year will be the year the legislature passes conservatorship reform and the governor will sign it into law. And I think beyond that , Jay , one of the things that I think is adding to the frustration of people like Bob McElroy , myself and many of your listeners is the epidemic of fentanyl use in our community. This is a game changer. It's arrived on our streets about five years ago and it is absolutely supercharging our homelessness crisis. And I think that there's more at the state and in particular the federal government can do to treat this with the seriousness that it has. For example , in the speech last night , I pointed out the federal government actually classifies marijuana as being more dangerous than fentanyl. If that gives you a sense of how much our state and federal leaders don't really understand how serious this crisis is , then you understand why people like myself and others are very frustrated. So there's a long way of saying , and there's a lot that we can do from providing regular and permanent funding to updating our mental health laws in the state of California to tackling addiction. And to the extent that anyone's willing to be a partner in that , they will have a willing partner in the city of San Diego and my administration.

S1: And I want to touch on infrastructure. Now , that was also a focus of your speech. Some areas have even sidewalks and smooth streets , while others have no sidewalks at all and potholes on the road.

S2: JAY Last year , the city council approved an update to our infrastructure plans to actually embed equity into our planning and our execution. So the way I phrase this to San Diego is you may not understand what equity has to do with infrastructure , is that we do have roads that need a lot of attention. It is obvious in every corner of the city , but equities reflects on the fact that some of our communities actually don't even have paved roads. So while we ought to be filling potholes , we also have to take into consideration the fact that there are parts of this city that haven't had a paved road ever. And that's the equity conversation. Updating our plans , our capital improvement plans to reflect equity concerns is now done. And so as we budget in the year ahead , that will be taken into account. I would point out that this year's city budget that I'm proposing was adopted by the City Council is the largest infrastructure budget in the city's history. And so while we're aligning our policies to be more reflective of the conditions in our neighborhoods , we're actually putting the dollars to it to make sure that we're not just putting stuff on paper , but we're actually putting it in communities. And we lifted up the story of Paradise Hills and Encanto last night. Neighborhoods that are finally getting sidewalks for the first time ever. These are older parts of our communities. People have been living in these neighborhoods for over 100 years , and yet they've never had sidewalks. Well , that's starting to change. It's modest. We can't undo 100 years of disinvestment overnight. But the point is that we're making steps in that direction. And my commitment to San Diego is that we will do improvements in every community. And so whether that was looking at the story of Encanto , as well as the story of Scripps Ranch , where you had a neighborhood waiting for over a decade for a neighborhood park that they were promised. The point of this speech last night was illustrating that those projects are now complete. And that's a step towards infrastructure and equity in the city of San Diego.

S1: And earlier , you mentioned in a. Executive order you signed Wednesday to expedite city approvals for that affordable housing and those projects.

S2: Yes. But the fact is that we have a budget for those positions. What I'm telling staff is to prioritize 100% affordable housing projects and to do what would normally take them six months to do it in a month. Staff assures me they can meet that metric. We will hold them accountable to do so. And basically what I'm saying to folks is that housing affordability crisis is real and we need to act accordingly. And so if someone's able to come forward with a project that they've assembled the site and the financing and the construction workers to get done , the city shouldn't be the barrier to actually executing and getting that done. We need that housing now. And so what we're trying to do is match our operations to the challenges that we see and the work to go from there. A part of this executive order is making sure that the Development Services Department has the clear direction to fill those positions that were created in this budget quickly and to utilize contracts that can help them actually speed up the work , because we have a significant backlog of requests by many of your listeners may be waiting to hear back from the city right now on a permit for themselves. These additional positions in those contracts are intended to address that while prioritizing affordable housing that we desperately need in San Diego.

S1: I've been speaking with San Diego Mayor Todd. Gloria. Mayor , Gloria , thank you so much for joining us today.

S2: Thank you , Jake.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Heineman. This year's flu season has so far been a doozy. By the time November was over. It might have felt like everyone , you know , had the flu. But is it as bad as we think ? KPBS investigative reporter Claire TRAGESER examined the data behind an unusual season.

S3: San Diego County saw more cases of the flu in 2022 than in any other year over the past decade. That's according to data from the county's Health and Human Services Agency. In just five weeks last fall , there were more cases than in all of 2021. So there's no doubt the flu hit San Diego early and hard this season. But experts are still debating why theories range from decreased immunity due to COVID and increased socializing to an earlier flu season in other parts of the world. There is , however , one obvious cause , says UC San Diego epidemiologist Rebecca Fielding Miller. People stopped wearing masks. People were masking. People were being really conscientious about.

S1: Airborne spread of disease. People weren't gathering as much , especially in enclosed spaces. And this year , you know , that is different. And so we're seeing. This.

S2: This.

S1: Huge resurgence of of the flu that we haven't seen in the last.

S3: Few years , she says. Another factor could be kids in school without masks.

S1: Last year , when we had such high levels of masking and kids were back in person for the most part.

S3: But we.

S1: Still didn't.

S3: See this spread of flu. Almost half of the 2022 cases were in kids 17 and under. Usually there are a lot more cases in adults than children. Very few people got the flu during the first two years of the pandemic. So that could make us more susceptible now that we're back to gathering in person without masks. So , says Dr. Davey Smith , an infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego.

S2: You can think of a big community as a gas tank full of immune responses , so it fills it up every flu season and it wanes over the year when flu is not circulating. And then when flu hits again , it takes it back up.

S3: But he says for the past two years , the tank was on empty.

S2: So therefore , when flu hit this year and there was more social interaction last masking that left more of our community open for infection , and it really let it spread very quickly.

S3: But what might be true for a community isn't true for an individual , Fielding , Miller says. Your immune system isn't like a muscle that got flabby without exercise.

S1: You don't have to exercise it all the time. Not getting. Sick.

S2: Sick.

S1: For three years just means you didn't get sick for three years , which is really nice. It doesn't mean you're setting yourself up to get more sick later.

S3: It's important to note that the current flu season is far from over. It usually goes through March , and experts say it still remains to be seen whether the season will end up being historically bad. It could just be a normal season that peaked abnormally early. And we all noticed because COVID has made us hyper vigilant. That's the thinking of Shane Crotty , an infectious disease expert at the La Hoya Institute of Immunology.

S2: The perception would be it's a really bad winter season because there's such a high percentage of the population is now on high alert.

S3: People are also wondering whether this year's flu season will make next year easier. That's a difficult question to answer. For one thing , flu viruses are different every year and hard to predict. Smith of UC San Diego goes back to the gas tank analogy. He says the current season could possibly fill the community tank.

S2: Increase the amount of immune gas that we have in our community. The last of us a little bit better for the next year and we can and we might get into a more predictable cycle for our flu.

S3: Gas tank is as full as possible. Get a flu shot.

S1: That story from KPBS investigative reporter Claire TRAGESER , who joins me now to open her Reporter's Notebook. Claire , welcome.

S3: Thank you.

S1: Anecdotally , it seemed like everyone was sick with the flu last fall.

S3: For the first time in two years , we definitely got the flu in my household , although I somehow managed to avoid it. And so we we pulled the numbers. And yeah , it does seem like , especially when you're looking at actual calendar year 2022 was the highest number of flu cases we've seen in a decade. There were 23,000 cases and the next highest year , which was 2020 , there was about 17,000 cases. So , you know , a big difference. And even in the fall , if you're just looking at the fall of 2022 , there were 19,000 cases , which was more than the total number of cases in every year over the past decade. So , again , just huge numbers this year is what the data shows.

S1: Big difference there.

S3: One of them is just that the flu hit other parts of the world earlier this year. And so that then kind of spreads to our region. Another is this idea of our community immunity and whether it's decreased over the past two years as everyone was kind of social distancing or most people are social distancing and wearing masks and things like that. And so Dr. David Smith , who's an infectious disease expert at UC San Diego , was basically saying , yeah , that that is the case on a community level , as I said in the story. He uses this analogy of a gas tank where every year the flu passes through and you kind of top off your tank as a community where people are exposed to the flu. But then if you have a couple of years where there's very little flu , that immunity goes way down. And so then when people are kind of back out socializing , not wearing masks , it spreads much more quickly. Wow.

S1: Wow.

S3: It's funny because I know someone who's a kindergarten teacher and she was saying , Oh , I never get sick because I've been exposed to all of these illnesses before. And Rebecca Fielding Miller , who's an epidemiologist at UC San Diego , says that's actually not really how it works. She said , you know , that that your immune system isn't like a muscle , that you have to keep exercising just because you haven't been sick for a couple of years doesn't mean that you're going to get more sick or more likely to get sick. So on an individual level , that immunity , you know , spread across the community doesn't doesn't play out in the same way. Hmm.

S1: Hmm. Fascinating. All right. So let's talk about where these numbers came from and how you analyze them. I mean , tell us a bit about the reporting process here. Sure.

S3: Sure. Yeah. So so like I said , you know , it just seemed like there was this perception. And so we said , let's take a look at the actual numbers. So we went to the county , San Diego County , and they published these pretty detailed flu case reports every couple of weeks. So we got those numbers from them and they have a breakdown of the number of flu cases from this year and from previous years. They also look at hospitalization rate and death rate and age groups where the flu cases are falling in terms of age groups. And so I worked with our excellent investigative student , assistant Prakash Doshi , and we went through the numbers. One thing we had to do that he had to work on was the county provides the numbers using this epidemiological system of numbered weeks , which I'm sure is very useful to scientists , but doesn't really make sense to the general public. So we had to convert it into a way that we could just look at it by calendar month and then looked at the numbers and saw that in fact , you know , cases were higher in 2022. And so started talking to experts about why that was. Hmm.

S1: Hmm.

S3: There's some things to keep in mind. You know , we're not working with a controlled experiment here. And one thing that the experts brought up is that it could be that there are more cases this year because more people are just getting tested. Like because of COVID , You know , maybe now if you get sick , you might go and get a COVID test , get a flu test , try and figure out what's going on. Whereas before COVID , you might have just hunkered down at home and , you know , wrote it out and and and tried to try to get better. So. So that's one thing in terms of the actual case numbers that that we could be seeing. Another thing is , you know , we didn't really even talk much about deaths in the story because the there can be such a lag in reporting deaths. So it's hard to know , you know , until much later on whether those numbers are accurate. So those are just a few things.

S1: And what about next flu season ? How might the higher infection rate this year affect next year ? Yes.

S3: So that's something that Dr. David Smith at UC San Diego brought up , which is , you know , if more people are getting the flu this year , does that mean we'll be better off next year ? And he said possibly. You know , again , using that gas tank analogy where we've kind of topped off this year with so many flu cases , that could mean that next year will be better , although it's also really difficult because the flu virus is different every year. So we don't really know what it's going to be like. But as I said in the story , one thing that he points out that you can definitely do to make sure your immunity is as high as possible is to get a flu shot.

S1: So there's possibly a silver lining in all of this. All right. I've been speaking with KPBS , investigative reporter Claire TRAGESER. Claire , thank you.

S3: Thank you.

S1: The Colorado River , a central source of water for much of the western United States is drying up and the loss of water could have far reaching impacts for the seven states that depend on it for water. California , among them. The Los Angeles Times last week released the first of a six part podcast series called Crisis on the Colorado. It documents the history of the river and how so many people have come to rely on it. Today , we bring you an excerpt from the first episode called A Dying River.

S2: We traveled all over the place. We got to go. We visited the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

S1: You know , everyone knows that we're dry.

S2: We talked with farmers and ranchers there.

S1: This is where it starts.

S2: We went to Lake Powell in Utah. It's pretty gnarly. Yeah. And went upriver with John Weisheit , who is an environmental activist and a river guide. I mean , I don't know if I'm willing to flip a coat for this. We went to the Imperial Valley and talked with farmers. What are we seeing here ? So we're germinating some basil. So our fall basil , we went to Las Vegas and talked with people who are seeing grass removed. You know , we are called water waste investigators , so that's pretty much exactly the job. We went to the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation and talked with leaders of the tribe about how they view the river.

S1: It's who we are. Never forget that. Never suffer from it.

S2: And we also went to Mexico , where we spoke with environmental activists and farmers and people who rely on fishing in ways that they know better than me to any of our. These are people who are seeing up close how rapidly this river has changed , but also how these problems have been building for a really long time. And they're worried about how this river is drying up and they're looking for what may be solutions.

S1: I'm joined now by one of the podcast creators , Ian James , water reporter with the Los Angeles Times. Ian , welcome to Midday Edition.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: So you say in the podcast that the Colorado River is at a tipping point.

S2: It's the overuse of water from this river and a severe drought that since the year 2000 has led to year after year of declines. And these reservoirs , which are the they hold Colorado River water and they're the largest reservoirs in the country , but they are now about three quarters empty and declining toward even lower levels. So that has set off alarm bells among federal officials , state officials to try to figure out how to quickly take less water from the river to avoid it from falling toward a level that's described as Deadpool , when Hoover Dam would no longer be able to pass water downstream. And that would cut off all the the lower part of the region.

S1: And you mentioned chronic overuse.

S2: About 40 million people depend on the river for drinking water , and it's a major source of water for agriculture as well.


S2: All these areas depend on a significant amount of water from the Colorado River. And the water that is held for California is stored in Lake Mead , which right now is 28% full. It's the largest reservoir in the country , but it's holding less water than it has in past years.

S1: You mentioned agriculture , and the majority of the water from the Colorado River is used for just that.

S2: The largest share of the water is used in agriculture. And so there is a lot of discussion about how can agriculture quickly cut back to be able to adapt to the conditions.


S2: At the same time , that does affect food production. And so in agricultural areas like the Imperial Valley , a number of farmers told us they realize it's serious , they want to help however they can in reducing water use , but they want to avoid leaving too many fields dry and harming the economy and harming food production.

S1: You mentioned the Imperial Valley. Your reporting took you to so many regions that rely on the Colorado River for its water. Tell us about what you found.

S2: What we found and each place that we went to , that the shortage on the river is starting to have effects and people are starting to grapple with what does it look like to live with less water from the Colorado River , which is likely to be coming this this year with additional reductions in the Imperial Valley , which is the single largest user of water from the river. We talked with a number of farmers who by and large said they are willing and ready to help in reducing water use , but they're also concerned about the effects if they need to farm less , what the effects of that would be.

S1: And recently , the West Coast has seen a lot of rain and snow. As you know , the state's snowpack level is at a 40 year high.

S2: But certainly right now , California is receiving a lot of moisture very quickly. That is having an effect on the drought conditions. It is making a dent in the drought. You know , despite the damage and the destruction of these storms is a welcome reprieve for California's water situation and is likely to help how much it helps in terms of pulling California out of the deep water deficit over the past few years remains to be seen , and the next few months will determine that. At the same time , even though the snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is above normal , there is a big deficit there because those reservoirs have been drained so low that even a wet winter in the Colorado River basin is not likely to refill these reservoirs. In fact , it's it's certain that it won't be able to recoup. That giant deficit that's accumulated there.


S2: But what Las Vegas has done in taking that a step further is that they've outlawed grass that isn't used for a community purpose or a park or anything like that. If it's along a roadside and it's being watered with Colorado River water. Those strips of grass are starting to be outlawed. That is a growing trend among cities. Of course , cities use roughly 20% of the water from the Colorado River. So agriculture is a big piece of where the water goes. And there's a lot of focus on how can farming areas adapt by becoming more efficient and doing it quickly.

S1: That leads me to my next question , because there's been so much focus on people and the conservation of water when really it sounds like this is a industry issue.

S2: Any reduction in water use helps when there's short supplies. At the same time , what helps the most is outdoor water use , agricultural water use because that's where a lot of water goes. But by outdoor water use I also mean in people's yards. That does have an effect. Hmm.

S1: All right. You know , it just it all makes me think , you know , to the golfing. And I think there's going to be a water park that's opening up soon in one of our northern north county communities. And and then you hear that against the backdrop of the need to conserve water. And it and it makes me wonder if there's policy change that needs to happen as well.

S2: That's right. There are more questions being asked about growth and about especially water intensive developments , for instance , in the Coachella Valley. There recently was a proposal for a surfing park in La Quinta , and that proposal was voted down by the city after an outpouring of opposition from residents who say We need that water and we don't think it's a good idea to be building big artificial lakes in the desert. So it's certainly an issue and I think it will be one that's talked about more in in these drier times.

S1: You say the problems with the Colorado River have been going on for decades , but have gotten much more serious in the last year.

S2: But what's happened has been that it's just been so dry off the charts dry for the past three years in the Colorado River basin. And that's been also contributed to by the warmer temperatures because of climate change in the area. And so all of that has led to less runoff into the reservoirs and they declined even faster than some of the government's projections. That said , there have been scientists who've warned for years that this shortfall was likely coming and that more needed to be done to prevent it from reaching a crisis.

S1: We just heard a portion of the first episode of the series.

S2: We talked to tribal leaders about their efforts to make sure that their water rights are recognized and that they have a say in how the river is managed. And we also talked with people about how cities can adapt. And we also visited Lake Powell , the second largest reservoir on the river , and talked with activists who say that it's time to change how that reservoir is managed as it reaches these very low levels. So what I hope listeners will be able to take away from this series is a deeper understanding of what's driving this crisis , who it affects and how this is a really serious issue that isn't going to go away anytime soon.

S1: I've been speaking with Los Angeles Times reporter Ian James about a new six part podcast series called Crisis on the Colorado. The first episode is out now with new episodes releasing each Friday. And Ian , thank you so much for joining us.

S2: Thank you very much.

S1: Portions of California are seeing record amounts of rainfall this winter with a lot of that water going straight down storm drains on a path to the Pacific. But some communities are capturing what they can and storing it in underground aquifers. Last year , the state of California awarded $150 million to two agencies as part of an effort to fund groundwater recharge projects. Professor Andrew Fisher is a scientist at UC Santa Cruz. He tells Camp Radio's Randall White that this is the way to ease future droughts.

S4: Professor Fisher Millions of people in California depend on some level of groundwater to supplement their needs. And as a result , wells are running dry. I imagine groundwater recharging is now a growing area of interest in those locations. Absolutely.

S2: Absolutely. Groundwater recharge has been practiced for many decades , and some parts of California have a lot of expertise with these tools. But many other areas of the state that had not previously looked at recharge are now taking another look.

S4: How much purposeful groundwater recharging is currently taking place in California.

S2: So keeping up with what's going on all over the state is really challenging. That said , the Department of Water Resources and other groups do keep track of the larger projects , certainly , and I think the latest count is over 300 managed recharge projects are proposed for development and a DWP estimate is that that could provide a million families worth of water every year based on groundwater recharge.


S2: There are a lot of different kinds of stormwater , and then there are a lot of different ways of getting that water into the ground. And what method is chosen will depend on many factors how much water is available , what's the quality of that water ? Then we have to look at what's the nature of the soils , what's the nature of the underlying aquifer materials , how much room is available. And there are a variety of other issues that need to be taken up. That's why a lot of this work is really done at a local level.


S2: What's happened is that as water is pumped out of the ground and the amount of pumping is in excess of what's being replenished , the storage is reduced and the pressure in the water goes down. And then as a result , particularly clay layers , layers that are very fine grained , they tend to compress. It's a really difficult problem Once that compression has occurred and the ground has sunk. That actually. Represents.

S1: Represents.

S2: A long term loss of storage. And it does mean when additional water is available through somewhat less space for that water to be stored.


S2: There's a lot of opportunity with these increasingly intense rainstorms. More rain is falling in a shorter period of time. Therefore , we get less infiltration and we get more runoff. You add into this increasing demand and the loss of snowpack , which is coming along with climate change , we have no choice.

S1: Andrew Fisher is a professor of Earth science at UC Santa Cruz. He was speaking with Camp Radio's Randall White. You're listening to KPBS Midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman. The root causes of homelessness are often attributed to drug addiction , mental illness or poverty. But research points to housing affordability as the most significant factor that leads to homelessness. Greg Colburn is an assistant professor of real estate at the University of Washington's College of Built Environments. He analyzed the factors that contribute to homelessness across the country with data scientist Clayton Paige Alden. They wrote about what they found in a book called Homelessness is a Housing Problem. I spoke to Greg Colburn last year , and I started by asking about how the lack of affordable housing has pushed people into homelessness in San Diego County.

S2: Well , San Diego , like many other cities on the West Coast , is facing a pretty significant problem. And that problem generally boils down to the fact that it's a very an accommodating housing market in the sense that housing is expensive , vacancies are pretty low , and there's a pretty glaring lack of affordable housing options for people. And that has a direct link to increased levels of homelessness.

S1: There's been a lot of debate among experts and providers over whether housing or treatment needs to come first in order to address homelessness.

S2: And so , you know , there's there's kind of intuitive explanations that I'll talk about and then research explanations. The reason I study housing is because I think housing is a bedrock aspect of human life. And without housing , every other thing that we care about is undermined , whether it's educational outcomes or employment outcomes , health outcomes. Without housing , it's very hard to get good outcomes in any of those. And so when we start to talk about people who have various risk factors , meaning addiction or mental illness or other factors , trying to fix that without housing is incredibly difficult. And the research around Housing First , which is one of the primary homelessness interventions , is very , very compelling in the sense that if you can get people stably housed , then it's much easier to start dealing with other issues. Without stable housing , it's really hard to get people the help that they need because ultimately you're not getting a good night's rest and having the safety and security of a home is is is really fundamental to improving people's lives , our life outcomes.


S2: And so when people walk around downtown Seattle or in San Diego or L.A. and they see unhoused people , many of whom are likely experiencing mental illness or addiction crises , it's easy to draw a linkage between that crisis and the homelessness. And the point of the book is that there are people who are addicted and mentally ill in every community around the country. But in many of those places , those conditions don't manifest themselves as homeless into homelessness. You know , Detroit has the most poor people in the nation. It's the most impoverished city in the country , and yet they have far lower rates of homelessness than West Coast cities do. Why is that ? Because housing is available. West Virginia is the home of the opioid epidemic , and they don't have nearly the homelessness problem that we do here. So really what's important is the context in which these conditions occur. And so the fact that we're seeing people on the street with various vulnerabilities and risk factors shouldn't surprise us because there aren't enough houses. And if you are vulnerable , you're far more likely to not end up with housing. And so we end up equating these experiences , these anecdotal experiences with the fundamental driver of the crisis , which in my opinion , is misdiagnosed. I understand why people end up with that conclusion. I just think it's a faulty conclusion. If we continue to kind of beat the drum of treatment , we're not going to fix this problem. We can't treat our way out of this , do we ? Do we have a societal and moral obligation to treat people who have issues ? Absolutely. Absolutely. But we're fooling ourselves if we think treatment alone will end the crisis of homelessness.


S2: And what you'll see is when you look at per capita rates , we're talking about on a percentage basis here with the lowest per capita rates in the country , tend to be in the Midwest and the South , and that correlates pretty highly with places where housing is fairly abundant and and affordable and where we start to see that not be the cases on the coasts where housing is much more expensive and less available. And so , you know , it would be great if there were other explanations to say that we could really figure this out through other means. But the reality is , is really the pathway here , as is pretty clear in the sense that we have to make sure that there's sufficient and affordable housing.


S2: We went through kind of all the conventional explanations and we we address the issue that it's not that we have more people who are poor. It's not that we have more people who are mentally ill or addicted in West Coast communities. We also look at whether and we dispel the myth that weather causes homelessness. There are plenty of places that are cold , like New York and Boston that have high rates of homelessness. There are warm places like Miami that don't have homelessness. We also look at the politics around it because this is a politically charged topic and we frequently hear , especially on the West Coast , that it's Democratic policies that cause homelessness. But what's interesting is we had 30 cities in our sample , 30 of the largest cities in in the United States. And generally speaking , when you look at what political party run cities and United States is Democrats and in fact , I think it was 92% of the time Democrats were in charge. Actually , San Diego was one community where there was a Republican who was a man who was mayor. Miami had a Republican mayor briefly and in New York had Mayor Bloomberg when he was an independent. But generally speaking , Democrats run cities. And so if we want to blame Democrats , that's fine. But then we would need to also explain why Democratically run cities like Chicago , Detroit , St Louis , Cleveland don't have a problem with homelessness. And so the point is , is that it's a convenient explanation , but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny when you when you when you test it a little more deeply.

S1: Greg Colburn is co-author of the book Homelessness Is a Housing Problem. Greg , thanks so much for joining us.

S2: My pleasure.

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We speak with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria about the commitments he outlined in his 2023 State of The City Address. Then, this year’s flu season has so far been a doozy. By the time November was over, it might have felt like everyone you know had the flu. But is it as bad as we think? And, the Colorado River, a central source of water for much of the Western United States, is drying up. We hear about a new podcast from The Los Angeles Times documenting the history of the river and how so many people have come to rely on it. Then, portions of California are seeing record amounts of rainfall this winter with a lot of that water going straight down storm drains on a path to the Pacific Ocean. But some communities are capturing what they can and storing it in underground aquifers. Finally, the root causes of homelessness are often attributed to drug addiction, mental illness or poverty. But research points to housing affordability as the most significant factor that leads to homelessness.