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San Diego Mayor on his homelessness and housing efforts

 October 6, 2022 at 2:13 PM PDT

S1: Mayor Todd Gloria responds to recent criticism on homelessness.

S2: The city is doing absolutely everything we can and will continue to do this work because we're far from mission accomplished.

S1: I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with M.G. Perez. This is KPBS Midday edition.

S2:

S1: San Diego is encouraged to save time , money and commutes with more rapid bus service. And we'll hear from the keynote speaker for this weekend's return of the San Diego Writers Festival. That's ahead on Midday Edition. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria is heading toward the middle of his term. His efforts to increase housing continue with new collaborations with the state and county to provide land for development and the huge project now in its first stages to develop the sports arena site. But the issue of homelessness continues to be San Diego's most visible and difficult problem. It provoked one of the city's celebrities , former NBA star Bill Walton , to openly criticized the mayor and ask him to step aside. Joining me now is Mayor Todd Gloria. And welcome to the show.

S2: Thank you for having me , Maureen.

S1: Now , Bill Walton has been one of your supporters. Now he says you failed to deliver on your campaign promise to reduce homelessness.

S2: But I think our response is what we're doing every single day to transition people off the streets and into housing. What you see in my administration less than two years is a 38% increase in the amount of shelter beds available in the city of San Diego. Citywide homeless outreach teams working every single day in every corner of the city. And as you mentioned a moment ago , strong efforts to expand the amount of housing , specifically affordable housing that is available , that outreach that leads to shelters , that graduates into housing. That's how we address homelessness. The city is doing absolutely everything we can and will continue to do this work because we're far from mission accomplished. I share the frustrations of many of your listeners and viewers , but rather than throw my hands up and give up on our city , I'm choosing to double down and continue to work in this direction of pushing for the kinds of changes that get people off the streets for good.

S1: You know , one way to look at this is the Walton criticism could be dismissed as just one wealthy man's annoyance at having homeless people in his neighborhood. But that would be true if it were not a feeling shared by so many San Diegans right across the city.

S2: It is what I spend the vast majority of my time working on. And I recognize that we're not where we want to be. But I also want to point out that we have just lived through two of the most difficult years in our country's existence. The pandemic has changed. Absolutely everything affected all of us. And that's particularly true of the vulnerable who live on our streets. And we're not back to where we were pre-pandemic. Many of our shelters are still grappling with the echo effects of the pandemic , and we're not where we want to be. But again , I refuse to give up on our city. I am going to continue to work every single day to work on this issue. And Maureen , in terms of that understanding of that recognition of what other people are feeling. I'm a San Diegan , too. I live and work in downtown San Diego. I had never walk out of my home without seeing this problem right in front of my face. And I used to take that frustration , that anger and channel into things that actually work more outreach , more shelter , more housing , calling for more change at a state and federal level when it comes to how we deal with our mentally ill and our substance users in our community. I spend the most amount of my time on this issue because it's our top priority , and I'm not happy with the state of affairs , which is why we're continuing to work , to innovate and to expand the offerings we have in our city and to increase enforcement in our communities. As KPBS has reported just this week.

S1: You've said that building more affordable housing is an essential part in reducing homelessness. But there's pushback on that , too , from neighborhoods that don't want to increase density.

S2: You cannot although it does happen , you can not be upset about homelessness and then oppose more housing. Those are antithetical positions. And what I do feel is the vast majority , not a vocal minority , but the vast majority of folks recognize that the way to solve homelessness is to provide more housing. And if we present to them the case that it is far better to have folks housed than living on the sidewalk with all the associated costs and expense to taxpayers that come from leaving people on the sidewalk , they tend to embrace this stuff. Our pro housing policies are generally supported by the majority of San Diego. That's why we're proceeding with them. It does mean that on a project by project basis , we tend to get some pushback. But what I found over my long career , Maureen , is that while that opposition tends to be vocal when the ideas are suggested , when the projects are completed , the community sees them as the enhancements that we intended to be , that that once blighted parking lot is now a beautiful housing complex , that the people who were previously sleeping in the alleyways and on the sidewalks are now housed and in a more suitable environment. People appreciate that. They simply want to see progress and that new housing , particularly at affordable housing , is the progress that we all need and want to help solve this crisis.

S1: Mayor Gloria , how long do you think your efforts will take to substantially impact the number of unsheltered. Homeless people in San Diego.

S2: Or Marina always believe in being completely honest with the public. And I can't give you a specific date , in part because this is a very dynamic situation. I have long been engaged in the issue of homelessness. It's what I spent most of my career working on. And what's unique about our current times is the pandemic , the way that that is acutely impacted the homeless population. Another variable that we don't talk enough about is the substance abuse crisis , specifically with fentanyl and methamphetamine. That has really supercharged this problem in a way that the city has not previously had to grapple with. And we're still kind of struggling to get our arms wrapped around in concert with our county , state and federal partners. That said , the more housing we can construct , the more folks that we can get off the streets. A lot of folks are on the streets not because of a substance abuse issue or mental health issue. They simply can't deal with the rising rents , you know , average rental prices in San Diego. For me , an apartment is north of 26 , 20 $900 a month. If you're a senior on a fixed income , if you're a veteran on a VA pension , you recognize very quickly how you end up on the streets with those kinds of rental prices. If we can continue to advance housing policies in the city , I think we can help address the needs of those who are economically displaced. But it is the challenge of those who are severely mentally ill and those who are deep in addiction. That will probably take longer , in part because the city doesn't have a mental health department. We don't directly deal with mental illness and substance abuse issues , but we are leaning in on this matter by recently adopted city budget actually has funding set aside for a city behavioral health officer , as well as conservatorship attorneys in the city attorney's office. This is an effort to recognize that increasingly a part of this equation is mental illness and substance abuse. And rather than ignore that or simply say it's someone else's problem. The city's leaning into advanced solutions to actually address this. In terms of time frame , it's difficult to provide that because I always want to be honest with San Diegans , recognizing that we didn't get into this problem overnight. We won't get out of it overnight. But what Sandy has had is my ironclad commitment to keep this at the forefront of the city's agenda , because there is no bigger problem than our homelessness crisis right now for San Diego.

S1: The city recently approved a new climate action plan that has many ambitious goals. But now the Climate Action Campaign is suing the city over the plan because it claims there's no enforcement mechanism and no funding attached.

S2: It's not appropriate to comment on open litigation. I will say that when you look at our recently adopted city budget , we have large investments in the climate action space as well as additional legislative actions that will help us to actually implement it. We are working with our federal partners. A part of today's conversation was that at the press conference I had this morning was illustrating the dollars we're getting from the state and federal levels of government to help finance things like climate action , water resiliency and other components of our efforts to be responsive to the climate. But we are making large investments. Yet later this month , we'll announce new policies with regard to municipal buildings and our city's fleet of vehicles to reduce their carbon impacts. And more is to come. You know , the Climate Action Plan is measured in five , ten and 20 year increments. And we are just getting started on this work. So I believe that San Diego is a national leader when it comes to being sustainable and environmentally friendly in tackling the climate crisis. I recognize there are activists who want more action. I tend to agree with them. But to suggest the city is not working on this issue and making dramatic policy and financial investments to address it is incorrect.

S1: Now , as you mention , you had some good news to share today about an increase in the number of grants that San Diego has been awarded this year from federal , state and other agencies.

S2: We are the effort to see in this country the second largest in California , and we deserve our fair share of state and federal resources. My administration , specifically our government affairs team , have been exceptional at being extremely aggressive in making sure that in Sacramento , Washington , DC , that those folks know about our needs and that they're giving us the resources to actually do something about it. So that's everything from $150 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to construct a second port of entry in Otay Mesa , help drive down border wait times , improve air quality in our border region to $300 million in American Rescue Plan Act. That's actually helping us to balance our city's budget and continue to provide neighborhood services as we come out of the pandemic. Whether it's investments in our pure water system for water resiliency to our San Diego airport , expansion of terminal one , what you see is a flood of dollars coming from Sacramento and Washington , D.C. , helping us to stimulate our local economy , put San Diegans to work and. We get our fair share of state and federal resources.

S1: Finally , a federal appeals court ruled yesterday that the DOCA program is illegal. There will be no changes to the program right now , but that ruling has to have many people in San Diego uneasy.

S2: When these legal rulings come down , it may be academic to you and I , but to many of our neighbors , this is real life. This is their lives. And it sends a message to folks who , as suggested by the term Dreamers , these are folks who know no other life other than life here in the United States. And the suggestion they can go back to a country that they don't know , that they don't have the customs or culture or language for , it just it doesn't feel particularly American to me. What I would say to those young people who are probably punch in the gut when it comes to that kind of ruling is to have hope , to have faith that we have seen dark rulings like this in the past and have been able to get past it either through additional court rulings or through legislation. My hope is that at some point our federal government will come to its senses and pass comprehensive immigration reform as the largest border city in the United States. San Diego sees the failings of our current broken immigration system every single day. Dreamers are just a small portion of that. But at some point there has to be some level of functionality brought to this dysfunctional system. And what folks have is my commitment as the mayor of the largest border city in the United States to use this platform to articulate for that change that we so desperately need. Congress cannot continue its inaction. I recognize it's never likely to have any action before an election , but my hope is that at some point Republicans and Democrats will understand this country was built by immigrants and that we need to welcome these folks , particularly these young people who we have educated , who have been a part of our community , and who surely would not be successful , return to countries that they have no connections to.

S1: I've been speaking with San Diego Mayor Todd , Gloria and Mayor Gloria , thank you so much.

S2: Thank you , Maureen.

S3: As we just heard from Mayor Todd. Gloria , the court ruling on the legality of the doctor program has real life implications for thousands of San Diego residents. An estimated 40,000 eligible immigrants live in San Diego County. Earlier today , KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis spoke to Jess Hansen , an attorney from the National Immigration Law Center. His first question was about what the federal appeals court decision means. Legally.

S2: So yesterday , the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Dhaka on the merits of Dhaka. And while the Fifth Circuit largely upheld the lower court ruling that that did find Dhaka unlawful. The Fifth Circuit will also allow renewals to continue temporarily and has sent the case back down to the district court to consider the new Biden administration's rule. And so for right now , the status quo is the same. People who have Dhaka continue to have Dhaka and can continue to renew. But folks who have not been able to access the program still cannot.

S4: What does it mean for just the mindset of people who have had Dhaka and have been in this kind of I mean , they have protected status , but for now , there's just this large uncertainty looming over their heads. Like what ? It seems like this isn't really adding much clarity to that.

S2: Well , that's right on point. Folks are tired. You know , individuals who have Dhaka and who we've heard speak speak out since the decision came down yesterday afternoon have expressed exhaustion , anger being burnt out of living between a court decision and court decision and living their lives into increments. And so folks are really just pushing for Congress to act this. It's it's urgent. Congress needs to step up and do something about this. Folks cannot continue to live this way. It's not sustainable. And yeah , the only the only body that can enact a permanent solution is Congress.

S4: And you mentioned kind of Biden's policies.

S2: But the administration , while it's great to try to strengthen Dhaka , the administration didn't go as far as it could have. So the rule that was published is very , very similar to the 2012 Dhaka memo. And so what the Fifth Circuit said is there's it's what's called an administrative record. It's basically the entire record that the government considered when they were publishing the rule. The Fifth Circuit sent the case back down to the district court so that the district court could review that record and make a decision on the rule in the first instance , because the Fifth Circuit never has the lower court never evaluated the rule. It wasn't out yet at the time that the decision went up to the Fifth Circuit. And so while the rule is going to be considered again , just going back to the refrain that the only real solution here is , is congressional action.

S4:

S2: So it was published recently late this summer , and it is very similar to. It basically puts the requirements from the 2012 administrative memo into a regulation formally , and the lower court will consider that because the while the government has argued that it's very similar to Dhaka , other parties in the case have argued that the the government considered over 16,000 comments from individuals who are impacted from colleges , universities all across the United States. There is such strong support for Dhaka that thousands and thousands of people showed up and made comments in support of this rule. And so now the lower court is going to take those comments into consideration.

S4: So so if I'm understanding correctly , the rule made Dhaka essentially a memo to a regulation that's kind of changing its status that way.

S2: That's right. So the original pronouncement , you could say , of Dhaka was an executive memo. And the rule is putting it into regulations. It strengthens it by codifying it in the code of federal regulations.

S4: It's probably too early to tell.

S2: And so while we can't predict what the district court will do.

S1: It is likely that.

S2: We will see movement before the 31st , which is coming up quickly. And so the district court may try to rule before that date so that there's more stability and folks can know what the status quo is on that date. Because if the if the lower court does not rule by that date , the rule would go into effect. And so we'll just have to wait and see over the next couple of weeks to to watch the district court for movement there.

S4:

S2: Given all of the the court rulings in effect right now , our current understanding is that the status quo will remain in place , which is that first time applicants are unfortunately unable to have their applications processed and decided on while renewals can. We will just have to wait and see. It's very likely that we'll see movement from the courts between now and the 31st and we'll have a better sense of of what the status quo is closer to that time.

S3: That was KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis speaking to Jess Hansen , attorney from the National Immigration Law Center.

S1: This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with M.G. Perez. Jade Heineman is away. The number of migrants hospitalized after falling from the border wall is at a record high. But who picks up the bill when they leave the hospital ? It used to be Customs and Border Protection , but KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis followed the money and found that is increasingly not the case.

S4: Former President Donald Trump didn't deliver on his 2016 campaign promise to build a new wall covering the entirety of the US-Mexico border. But his administration did succeed in doubling the height of some of the existing portions of the border wall. And though there's little evidence that the higher wall actually slowed illegal border crossings , it has caused a big spike in serious injuries to people who fallen off the 30 foot wall. UCSD Health received 270 border fall patients last year , 200 more than it did in 2019 , when the wall was at a lower height. Dr. Dadu said his head of UCSD is trauma unit. He says they're getting so many patients from Customs and Border Protection or CBP , that the hospital now has a special section just for them. We had to open up another ward just to deal with the surge from from the border. Many of these patients require lengthy stays in the ICU and multiple surgeries to repair broken bones. This new reality is putting pressure on hospital resources.

S2: As length of stay goes up.

S4: And the more surgeries.

S3: That are required.

S2: The more expensive things are as well.

S4: But who's responsible for picking up the bill ? Well , that's where things get a little murky. CBP is responsible for the medical expenses. If the patient is in their custody when they're discharged from the hospital. And that was usually the case as recently as 2019 and 2020. Data from UCSD shows that CBP paid for roughly 75% of the patients their agents brought into the hospital in 2019 and 80% of patients in 2020. But staff at the trauma unit saw a shift in 2021.

S2: Well , now we noticed that they're not.

S4: Sticking around as much. Doucet is referring to the CBP agents. Beginning in 2021 , CBP began keeping far fewer patients in custody. Instead , the agents were increasingly giving them a notice to appear in immigration court and walking away. This change in approach coincided with a new California law that expanded health benefits under the state's taxpayer funded Medi-Cal program to undocumented immigrants. Doucet says that by releasing patients from custody , CBP is essentially handing their hospital bills over to California , which pays for them with a mix of state and federal funds. CBP's own data backs this up. In the San Diego sector , the federal agency covered the medical expenses of roughly 3000 patients in the fiscal year 2019 2020. That number dropped to 550 during the first ten months of the current fiscal year. Meanwhile , the average cost per patient has quadrupled from $1,500 in fiscal year 2019 2020 to $5500 in fiscal year 2020 2021. CBP officials would not comment specifically on the reason behind their new approach. Instead , they issued a statement confirming that patients who are not kept in custody receive a notice to appear in immigration court. Meanwhile , the practice has drawn criticism from both sides of the immigration debate. Hans von Spakovsky is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation , a conservative think tank. He's an outspoken critic of CBP's so-called catch and release policy , where Border Patrol agents apprehend migrants who cross the border illegally and then let them go with little more than a notice to appear in court. So , in essence , they are saying , we're going to.

S3: Release you into the country and we're just not going to.

S4: Worry about you anymore. Von Spakovsky says that there's a significant risk that migrants will simply not show up to their immigration court hearings and continue to live in the country with no legal status. Pedro Rios is an immigrant rights activist with American Friends Service Committee. He says the taller wall was built specifically to injure people and deter others from crossing illegally. The fact that CBP is not paying for many of the patients is a sign that the federal government is not taking responsibility for the consequences of extending the border wall. In fact , they're leaving the rest of San Diego County , the rest of California , to pay for the injuries that are caused as a result of poorly thought through enforcement plans such as the border wall that is causing these injuries. Von Spakovsky views this as the much larger trend in which local communities end up paying for the federal government's border policies. There are numerous.

S3: Studies that have been done on the cost of this kind of illegal.

S4: Immigration , and.

S3: And all of those studies show that the vast majority of these costs are paid by local governments , not the federal government.

S4: He blames this on what he considers the Biden administration's lax enforcement policies.

S1: That story was from KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis , who joins me now. So welcome , Gustavo.

S4: Thank you , Maureen.

S1: A fall from a 30 foot wall can be devastating.

S4: Some of the most severe injuries are head trauma type injuries. And several people have died. I mean , I spoke during the process of reporting. I spoke with Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez , who was the consul general of the Mexican consulate here in San Diego. He told me there was a 12 day period in August where eight Mexican nationals died trying to cross the border illegally. So do like think about that. Right. Eight people in 12 days died , Not all of them from from the wall. The majority of them from the wall. But this is really , in his opinion , a kind of underreported and crisis that's happening in San Diego right now , just the amount of border deaths happening.

S1: And what about aftercare ? Falls like that can create long term disabilities.

S4: Yeah , well , there. There. There's no aftercare. Not for this population. I mean , the vast majority of these patients have no money and no insurance. The doctors at UCSD Health , they can't send them to specialists or physical therapy. There's no follow up appointments because once the patients leave , hospitals really have no way of being in contact with them , and that's assuming they have insurance coverage. So as much as they would like to provide aftercare , they don't. And you're right about the nature of these injuries. They are long term injuries , especially for foot fractures. I mean , they require multiple surgeries because of all the little bones you have in your foot. Head injuries can last like your entire life. I mean , I visited I saw one family from Veracruz. They flew to Tijuana to pick up their adult son who had fallen and hit his head on the wall. The man suffered traumatic head injury to the point where he lost cognitive function for a while. They didn't know if he would be able to speak. So even though he's at his toes , he has the mental capacity of a child. That's something the family in Veracruz is going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future. So , yeah , these are long term injuries and there is no real source for aftercare.

S1: Now , one of the migrant advocates you spoke with says the taller wall was built specifically to injure people.

S4: And it wasn't just one activist that's become the consensus among even academics who follow border enforcement. Right. Our federal government's approach to border enforcement for four years , for decades now has been one of deterrence. The idea is if you make it so dangerous across the border , you will deter people from even trying. This strategy pushes migrants across into dangerous deserts and mountain crossings. It gives people with no safe options of crossing illegally. Critics of the strategy , which include that the folks I talked to , say that it doesn't take into account the level of desperation at the border. Right. If migrants are fleeing for their lives , if they think their lives are at jeopardy by staying home , they view a dangerous border crossing as a better alternative to staying there. So even though they are aware of the life and death risks. They do a cost benefit analysis and would rather risk it. So the idea of deterrence isn't really helping , even if they know that there's an added risk of fatal injury.

S1: Now , you say in your report a smaller percentage of injured border crossers are being released from San Diego hospitals into CBP custody.

S4: I asked and didn't really get a clear answer from them at all. But I imagine it's a matter of resources and priority as well. Right. If CBP has limited resources , they need to prioritize who to keep in custody at the hospital. Doctors and staff at UCSD Health told me that agents tend to prioritize people they've already identified as ringleaders of smuggling networks or people with a history of multiple human smuggling apprehensions or witnesses that they could help help them down the line. So it seems like those folks are the ones being kept in custody and the other ones are are being let go.

S1: What would be the point of Customs and Border Protection to sort of change the way it operates to pass hospital bills on to California ? State funds cannot afford the increase in these hospital bills caused by the taller wall.

S4: Well , to be clear , CBP didn't tell me why they're deciding not to keep patients in custody as often as they used to. So I can't definitively say that the agency is doing it to save money. But what I can say and what the data tells me is that prices are going up. The number of people at CBP escaping custody is going down independent of what the reason behind the CBP decision is. We know that one impact is that the agency is paying less than it would have if it kept the same amount of patients in custody as it did in previous year , which is an important point to make , I think. Because like I said before , right. Apprehensions along the border are at an all time highs. The amount of people hospitalized from falling off the border wall also all time high here in San Diego. So you had these two all time high numbers and the only number actually decreasing is the number of people CBP decides to keep in custody.

S1: I've been speaking with KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis. Gustavo , thank you.

S4: Well , thank you. Appreciate it.

S3: Last year , San Diego opened its biggest expansion of public transit in years. The blue Line trolley extension is already proving popular for people headed to UC San Diego and University City. But that project was expensive and took a long time to build. A new report from Circulate. San Diego argues the region could save time and money and help a lot more people by investing in rapid bus services. Colin Parent , the executive director for Circulate San Diego , spoke to KPBS. Andrew Bowen , about the recommendations from that report. Here's their conversation.

S4: Colin , welcome. Thanks for having me. So what are the components of a truly rapid bus service that you argue for in this report ? Yeah. So , you know , our report , Fast bus that just came out , we are arguing for a variety of things to make the bus go faster. And those things include some very mundane things like bus only lanes or sinking the traffic signals to give buses priority. And there's also some other things like making it easier and faster for people to pay their fares when they're boarding the bus. How does the cost of those improvements compare to , say , building a new light rail line like what we just saw on the blue line trolley ? Yeah , So they're dramatically less expensive. So we just spent $2 billion extending the mid-coast trolley , which is a great project. Not saying we shouldn't have done it , but it's also true that the kinds of projects that we're looking forward to convert existing buses into rapid buses are usually between 50 and $100 million. So just , you know , orders of magnitude less expensive and oftentimes being able to serve a similar amount of people. One of the things that you argue for in this report is all door boarding. So rather than everyone waiting in line to get on the bus in the front door , people could use the back doors as well and maybe save some time as people get on and off the bus. But wouldn't that make it easier for someone to just hop on the bus without paying the fare ? Yeah , no , that that's exactly one of the challenges for doing all door boarding. But we have some pretty easy examples for how to address that. For example , the trolley system currently allows for all door boarding. People will actually validate their fares before they get on the trolley and then and then board it at any of the many the many doors and the way that we address that. So we just have we just have occasional enforcement. So you have people who come in and we'll ask people whether or not they have a current fare. And that's the way that we do. We address that to to make sure that the people who are on the the system , you know , belong there. Something you note in this report is that transit agencies like MTS or the North County Transit District can't make these changes entirely on their own. They need the cooperation from city governments. Tell me more about that. Yeah , So , you know , the transit agencies like MTS and STD , they operate the buses like the actual vehicles. They pay for the drivers. They decide the routes that they serve on , but they don't actually decide how the streets look. They don't decide whether or not there's a bus only lane or whether or not the traffic signals are prioritizing the bus. Those are things that the constituent jurisdictions within those transit agencies have decisions over. So if you want to do a bus only lane on University Avenue in North Park , you have to get the city of San Diego to to agree to and to allow for that kind of facility. We just saw a big debate over bus only lanes on Park Boulevard through Balboa Park. And there were a lot of folks that were concerned that if you take away a travel lane that's currently for anybody , a bus or a car , that that will make traffic worse for the people who do drive. What do you say to those skeptics who just aren't convinced that bus only lanes are worth the disruption to the status quo for some of the routes ? There probably would be some disruptions to the status quo to to to the ordinary car drivers. But that's actually not true for for a lot of corridors. So you're saying you need to have places like University Avenue or El Cajon Boulevard , which in some places are like six lane highways and right running through the middle of a of a community. And we're actually traffic volume has gone down over recent decades. And and those are some of the areas where they're prime opportunities to create more bus only facilities that are very unlikely to make any meaningful impact to the to the car drivers who are using it today. SANDAG , our county is Transportation Planning Agency , did include some rapid bus projects in their latest regional transportation plan. But your report says that they're not enough. What more can SANDAG do now ? Yeah , so one of the things that was great about that plan is that they did include a lot of early action around bus improvements , but there's not a lot of specificity about how good those improvement. They're going to be. There's no commitment to making bus only lanes. There's no commitment to doing signal prioritization. And those are things where there while there is funding and plans to make improvements to certain bus routes , there's no commitment about the quality of those improvements. And so those are some things where SANDAG can and should take their plans , take their commitments and take them one step further to ensure that the improvements that they're going to do are really going to be meaningful and help the bus go actually faster. So if investing in bus improvements is a faster and cheaper way to improve the experience of public transit riders , why haven't we done it already ? Amen. That's a great question. I wish I wish I had an answer. You know , I mean , part of it's part of is because , you know , the rail lines are kind of sexier. They're more exciting. They're also and they're also , you know , oftentimes a higher quality experience. There's you know , me personally , I kind of get I can get carsick on a bus. Right. And so I prefer the trolley. Like , that's a that's a legitimate preference that a lot of people have. But it's also true that we're never going to be able to build a trolley line to replace every single bus line. There just isn't enough space , there isn't enough money. And if we want to be serious about improving transit for people today , for people who are relying on it today , we have to make some different choices about doing the kinds of things we can afford and implement with the amount of resources that we that we have and are able to access. I've been speaking with Colin Parent , executive director of Circulate San Diego. And , Colin , thank you for joining us. Hey , thanks very much for having me.

S3: I'm M.G. Perez with Maureen CAVANAUGH , and this is KPBS midday edition. This weekend marks the return of the San Diego Writers Festival , featuring talks with authors and workshops for writers of all kinds. One of the authors appearing is novelist Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Gowda is the bestselling author of three novels. Her debut novel , Secret Daughter , is now being made into a film by Amazon Studios. Her latest novel is called The Shape of Family. The local author spoke with Jane Heineman about her work.

S5: Can you talk about how your latest work , the shape of family ? I mean , tell us about it and how it connects with your prior work.

S2: The shape of family is very of a contemporary , bicultural family , Indian and Caucasian American who suffered a tragedy. And it leaves them all sort of drifting in different directions. So the story is really about seeking , seeking identity and belonging. Everyone in the novel , all the family members are looking for meaning , whether through work , love or religion. And ultimately , it's a story of reckoning and reconciliation between and within each family member. Hmm.

S5: Hmm. And you grew up in Toronto , but both you and your novels also have a strong connection to India. And you now live in San Diego.

S2: You know , I did grow up in Toronto , in Canada , but my parents were first generation immigrants , and all of our family was still back in India and still are actually. So I really kind of grew up being comfortable , learning to be comfortable in two different worlds. It was the world I had at home with my parents where the language , the food , the music , everything was Indian. And then there was the world I encountered at school , where I was quite often the only person of color or one of a very small minority. And all the norms from what people wore to what they ate at home for dinner were very different. So I think I kind of learned how to go back and forth between those two worlds. And I and I think that dichotomy has played a role in the stories I'm attracted to. So , you know , all of my novels have an element of Indian culture , Western culture , and how they mesh or sometimes clash.

S5: And as you mentioned , your novels deal with issues of identity and belonging , but they also center on very common experiences that families go through.

S2: So it's a visual image and it's of a particular character who usually ends up being the protagonist of my novel in some kind of a difficult situation. And then I just sort of start exploring in my mind , Well , who is this person ? What brought them here , or how are they going to get out of a situation ? Where are they trying to go ? And then I build from that.

S5: In addition to writers talks like yours , this weekend's Writers Festival will be featuring workshops to help aspiring writers. You yourself had a somewhat non-traditional journey to becoming a bestselling novelist. Tell us about that.

S2: So I studied economics in college , and then I went and got my MBA and worked in finance and marketing in the business world for about a decade. And at some point my husband had the opportunity to take a new job , which would require us moving across the country. And we were living in San Francisco at the time. I was not thrilled about the idea of moving. I felt like I did the perfect city. I had a very full life. I had friends and work I enjoyed , and I really didn't have space for anything new. So when we moved to our new city , Dallas , I suddenly found I had nothing but space and time. I didn't have the same kind of work. I was actually pregnant with my second daughter and I decided I was going to take some writing classes for fun for the first few months just to sort of get me through the transition. And taking those classes led to me writing the manuscript that ultimately became my first novel. So I hadn't before that taken an English class or writing class probably since high school and in my business career really only wrote bullet points on PowerPoint presentations. So it was definitely a nontraditional path.

S5:

S2: So agents and editors who , you know , had offered to read the 15 pages of this writer's aspiring writers work and offer some professional feedback. So I went into my first thing and a nonfiction editor looked at my work and she said to me , Have you taken writing classes outside of this little this these little continuing ed program that you've been in ? And I said. And she asked me a couple of other questions that basically illustrated the fact that I had no pedigree or training for what I was trying to do. And then she said , Well , that is surprising because this is excellent. And that was the first person that was not related to me by blood who had given me positive feedback. And she ultimately introduced me to the person who would become my literary agent.

S5: Your first book , Secret Daughter , is being adapted for the screen for Amazon.

S2: So the screenplay is in development and they're hoping to film in in the second half of 2023. And it's been really fun for me. I mean , I very much trust the creative team that is taking the project on. We had many conversations and , you know , I have a voice in the process , so I think film is a different , the screen is a different medium. And so things don't neatly translate. They really have to be reenter a story has to be reinterpreted in order to make the best possible debut in film form. So I'm excited to see what comes out of that process.

S5:

S2: And inspiration and ideas are great. There are probably only about 5% of the process. In my experience , the discipline of writing every day or as close to every day as you can is the most important thing to just honing your craft and rewriting and revising to make your work better. So my best advice is always A , B , c , D , apply bottom to chair gave me.

S5: A , b , c , d. There it is. Shilpi Somaya Gowda will be a keynote speaker at this year's San Diego Writers Festival. She will be appearing this Saturday , October 8th at 11 a.m. in Coronado. For more information , you can visit K PBS.org or San Diego Writers Festival dot com. And thank you so much for joining us Shilpi.

S2: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

S3: That was novelist shilpi somaya Gowda speaking with Jane Heinemann.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria talks about homelessness, and how the city’s efforts to increase affordable housing play a role in that fight. Next, a federal court ruling on the legality of the DACA program has real life implications for thousands of San Diego residents. Then, the number of migrants hospitalized after falling from the border wall is at a record high. But who picks up the bill when they leave the hospital? Next, a new report from Circulate San Diego finds the region could save time and money, and help a lot more people, by investing in rapid bus services. Finally, best-selling writer Shilpi Somaya Gowda will be appearing at the San Diego Writers Festival this weekend to talk about her work and approach to writing.