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Report uncovers roadblocks for housing permits

 December 9, 2022 at 1:03 PM PST

S1: A new study examines why it takes so long to get housing built in San Diego.

S2: It really takes as long as six months to a year or more to get a housing permit.

S1: I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH. This is KPBS midday edition. The armed services work to prevent military and veteran suicides.

S3: Suicide is a massive problem for us because it's the one thing we can prevent. Absolutely , by getting inside people's headspace and connecting to them.

S1: And in arts news. A holiday tradition continues at the San Diego Symphony. That's ahead on Midday Edition. It may look like there's a lot of construction underway in San Diego , but we're way below the estimates of 13,500 new housing units a year to keep up with the population. A study commissioned by the San Diego City Council wanted to find out why where behind the study's fingers are pointing to San Diego's building department and the myriad of permit regulations , lack of up to date equipment and a lack of staffing as the major speed blocks to more housing construction. Joining me is reporter Cody Delaney with AI News. Source. And Cody , welcome to the program.

S2: Hey , thanks for having me.


S2: It does say that it takes the building department about two months to approve what's called a ministerial permit. But those include everything from a water heater to a new housing unit. I talked to three industry experts , folks who are regularly pulling housing permits from the city , and they say it really takes as long as six months to a year or more to get a housing permit.

S1: And one of the reasons for the delay. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. The city's building department has severe staffing challenges. One out of every three positions that deal with permit applications are unfilled , and close to half of the department's staff have fewer than five years experience. On top of that , the staff members they do have don't have the tools to most efficiently review these applications. They're expected to use antiquated technology to navigate this complex maze of constantly changing housing regulations. Okay.

S1: Okay.

S2: Because remember , we're only talking about the permitting process. They still have to build it. So by the time the city has given the green light to start building , inflation has driven up the cost of labor and supplies. The contractors and designers I talked to said these delays are pushing the project totally out of reach in some cases.


S2: It really shows what this department is up against. You know , the responsible for processing 60,000 applications a year with close to 100 vacancies. The report identified clear barriers to creating new housing and offered recommendations to remove them , such as technology upgrades and revamping the entire permitting process to improve efficiency. There is one thing , though , that officials disagreed with , and it's this finding of redundancy in the permitting process. I talked to the department director , Elise Low , and she said she didn't find any evidence of staff doing the same thing over and over again.

S1: And about those staff positions that are empty , is there anything going on to fill those positions ? Yeah.

S2: Department officials , I think before this study came out , they were already planning to fill 44 positions by January. And 30 of those positions will be dedicated directly to reviewing applications. So they hope that will help speed up the process as well.

S1: Is part of the reason for the lengthy permit approval process the fact that much of the new construction is happening within already built up neighborhoods ? Right.

S2: So building within already existing development comes with regulations and the city's building department is responsible for enforcing not just all the city's rules and regulations for building. But officials also have to enforce the rules for many other agencies , including school districts , the state , federal wildlife agencies. And , you know , depending on the size of the project , anywhere from 1 to 50 employees could be involved with a single application. It can get really complex.


S2: I talked to City Council President Shilo Rivera and he said he's going to work with the building department and the mayor's office to see how they can speed up and improve the permitting process. So that's something I'll be keeping an eye on.

S1: Hasn't the. The city's building department already been working on streamlining the permitting process.

S2: I will say I think this they had a in 2015 is when they got their new project tracking system , and that was supposed to help speed things up. But , you know , as technology goes , it's seven years old. There's been a lot more upgrades since then. So I think what they're trying to do is go out and they're preparing to solicit bids and see how they can update that project tracking system because it some time has passed.

S1: I've been speaking with I new source reporter Cody Delaney. And Cody , thanks very much.

S2: Thank you. Have a great weekend.

S1: The Pentagon is finishing a review of its policies regarding suicide , though the number of military suicides declined slightly last year. It remains a major problem and the armed services are trying to address it in a number of ways. Steve Walsh reports for the American Homefront Project.

S3: If you put your hand on hold your hand back.

S4: It runs Cornerstone Equine Therapy Center outside San Diego. She's worked with the Navy for more than a decade. She says horses have almost a meditative power with sailors working through PTSD or military sexual trauma.

S5: There's an intangible that nobody really knows why , but when you're with them , you literally don't think of anything else.

S4: She says one former client called her a year after he completed therapy. He told her that he considered killing himself. She asked what stopped him. He told her that it was her horse Rebel , which he rode during the program.

S5: He said , That dude has saved my life so many times. And he said , Judy , I just thought about it and how good I felt and how he changed my life. And he goes , it just it stopped me. It's tough for me. And that's what it's about. Sorry.

S4: These days , most of her calls are from Navy commanders searching for new ideas to increase resiliency among their sailors. More than 500 military personnel die by suicide each year , but the number dropped slightly last year. This summer , a Pentagon committee visited bases around the country , including Alaska , where there have been several suicides. Despite the scrutiny , another four suicides took place in November at the Navy's Regional Maintenance Center at Norfolk , Virginia. Earlier in the year , in nearby Newport News , seven suicides were reported on the USS George Washington. After visiting the ship , Master Chief Russell Smith told Congress that he once struggled with suicidal thoughts.

S3: Suicide is a massive problem for us because it's the one thing we can prevent absolutely , by getting inside people's head space and connecting to them. A person who died by suicide could look like your neighbor. They could be person next door. It doesn't have to be somebody who seems to be losing their mind and is in constant crisis.

S4: Researcher Jenny de Olympia is director of Military Veterans Psychology at William James College in Massachusetts. She says the services should prepare everyone to better handle dark moments. The stowaway personal firearms , which factor into a majority of military suicides. And not just focus on people having mental health crises.

S3: I think what we have to do is focus our efforts on the other people , preparing them to be aware that you could have this leading thought. And because you have easy access to a highly lethal means , you could take action that you can't take back.

S4: Terry Cason , his son Brandon , killed himself four years ago by walking into a helicopter blade and is based in Norfolk. After Brandon's death , his parents found six suicide notes where he detailed bullying and hazing at his command.

S3: We were looking through his phone and we noticed that he was texting a lot of people in his command and talking them out of dying by suicide. That's how we and why we really came up with the Brandon Act.

S4: She and her husband lobbied to pass legislation that took effect this year , which requires mental health evaluations for people who report suicidal thoughts. It also allows sailors and soldiers to go outside their chain of command for mental health care similar to sexual assaults. She says the services need to do more to protect junior sailors before they struggle.

S3: In my opinion , this panel that they're putting that they had put together and now this report that they're going to be putting together , it's not going to be accurate. They're not looking at the real issue. The real issue is toxic abuse of leadership and abuse of power.

S4: The panel is scheduled to report to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin this month , then send a report to Congress by February. In San Diego. I'm Steve Walsh.

S1: This story was produced by the American Homefront Project , a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Bob Woodruff Foundation. This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH for our weekend preview. We have music made with machines , new visual art and an indie band celebrating two great albums. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. And welcome , Julia.

S6: Hi , Maureen. Thanks for having me.

S1: Let's start with Project Blank and their Machine music performance tomorrow at Bread and Salt. Yeah.

S6: Yeah. So this is the latest in their Salty series. It's named after the venue. And these are monthly performances of experimental music. And this one , Machine Music was curated by Joe Cantrell , who is Project Blanc's tech supervisor. And he's also a sound artist and a musician. And he said that the show is going to feature some sort of machine or mechanical production as the main source of the sound , rather than , say , a person playing a clarinet.

S7: A lot of times with performances you try to highlight the human in the sort of interaction. And and here we're doing sort of the opposite.

S2: Where we're kind of highlighting the machine.

S6: And there's four other musicians performing , including Michele Lou. And I talked to Lou , and she's trained as a double bass player. She studied composition and is a professor. And she's also informed by jazz. But she realized that she could be more creative using electronics. And we're listening to one of her recent compositions now. It's called Untitled. And for the work she's playing tomorrow , it will be somewhat mapped out. She knows when she will introduce a certain noise at a certain time , but otherwise she'll draw on the space , on the audience and on the moment.

S3: Because when you and cause music or like concerts , it's just kind of it's this kind of ritual practice. Everyone comes together , sits in silence , listens to the performer , you know , who's trying to create this moment , Right ? That's both really private. You know , each person brings to it their own ears , their own way of listening , their own history. And the performer does as well. And so it's very personal. But then it's also a very shared public thing.

S6: And the show is at 8:00 tomorrow , Saturday at Bread and Salt. And the galleries will also all be open late until eight as part of the Barrio Art Call.

S1: Now , some visual art. There is an opening reception for Shelly Zang at the Institute of Contemporary Art , San Diego's North campus , and a coinciding gift market. Tell us about this artist. Yeah.

S6: Yeah. Shelly Zang was born in Beijing and she lives in Toronto. And this exhibition is called What We Bring and Leave. And her work is about what she calls the shadows that are left behind. When people like an immigrant or an entire diasporic community , when they leave a place , and then what it is that they gravitate towards in a new space or a community. And she thinks of the market place as one of those spaces. So she'll make these still lifes , these elaborate photographs of objects that she buys in dollar stores , or she also has this series of bright light boxes to kind of draw on that bustle of the urban pedestrian marketplace zone. Her work is on view through early February , and it opens with a reception tonight at 530 until 830. And Good Faith Gallery's night market will also hold a pop up market. So you can buy our zines and gifts there.

S1: Now for something holiday themed , the San Diego Symphony brings back their popular Noel Noel show this weekend to the show. What's Noel in the show got in store for us.

S6: So this is a blend of narrative storytelling and theater and holiday music. So you can expect some traditional carols and some new arrangements and it's an all new script this year. So if you saw it last year , it will feel new. The San Diego Symphony will be conducted by Christopher Dragon of the Wyoming Symphony. And also performing will be the San Diego Master Chorale and the San Diego Children's Choir. So the shows are tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m. and then 5:00 on Sunday night. And if you've never been down by the shout during a concert , if you don't want to buy a ticket , you can actually walk along the public path , along the outside and you can still hear the performance and even see the stage at some parts on Sunday. It might even coincide with the San Diego Bay parade of Lights that starts at Shelter Island at 530 , and it's expected to head past the Embarcadero and Seaport Village before it turns around at Cesar Chavez Park around 715.

S1: Finally , beloved Canadian indie band The New Pornographers comes to perform two different shows at the Belly up in Solana Beach. Tell us about these shows. Right.

S6: Right. So this band , The New Pornographers , exists to me mostly as this vehicle so that I can hear more music from Neko Case , who is one of their founding band members. And they have been steadily putting out music since 2000 , even even kind of despite Nicole Casey's own rise to fame as a solo artist. And this tour , they're going to play two separate shows at each venue , and they're dedicating each 1 to 1 of two albums , starting with Twins Masse Romantic , which is their debut.

UU: Has passed since 19. The but.

S6: So Saturday night at the belly up , they'll play all of mass romantic start to finish. And then Sunday night they'll play through 2000 fives. Twin cinema. Of.

UU: Of. The featured star had to wait in silence by shining. Strange.

S6: And based on setlists from other shows , they're also playing a really long encore of other songs. So you will get a chance to hear some of their newer stuff too , but they're not going to play any songs from the album from the other night. So good luck choosing a name.

S1: That's The New Pornographers playing two shows Saturday and Sunday at the Belly Up. You can find the tales on these and more arts events or sign up for Julia's weekly KPBS arts newsletter at KPBS dot org Slash Arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts producer Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , thank you.

S6: Thank you , Maureen. Have a good weekend.

It may look like there’s a lot of construction underway in San Diego, but the city is way below the estimated 13,500 new housing units a year needed to keep up with the population. Then, the Pentagon is finishing a review of its policies regarding suicide. Though the number of military suicides declined slightly last year, it remains a major problem. Military leaders are trying to address it in a number of new ways. And finally, for our weekend preview, we have music made with machines, new visual art and an indie band celebrating two great albums.