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San Diego’s newest councilmember takes office

 December 14, 2022 at 3:42 PM PST

S1: San Diego's City Council has a new member.

S2: A lot of the biggest issues within District six are no different than what we're facing as a region.

S1: I'm Jade Hindman with Margie perez. Maureen CAVANAUGH is off this week. This is KPBS midday edition. California regulators consider new rules that change how the state subsidizes solar power.

S2: If the question is , is it less generous than what there is ? Yes. Is the amount of generosity we have currently reasonable ? No.

S1: And a look at what Democrats need to do to get support from California's most Latino county. And the ethics of immersive art. That's ahead on Midday Edition. San Diego City Council members were sworn in this week , bringing a new face to the council. Kent Lee will assume the mantle of leadership for the city's sixth district , which includes Mira mesa , Kearny , Mesa , most of University City , Sorrento Valley and portions of Scripps Ranch. The Mira mesa resident with extensive nonprofit experience joins the council at a time where housing and homelessness remain some of the critical issues facing the city. He joins us now. Councilmember Lee , congratulations on your election and welcome to Midday Edition.

S2: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

S1: So I just mentioned housing and homelessness as issues facing the city.

S2: And I think what you'll find is that a lot of the biggest issues within District six are no different than what we're facing as a region. I think without a question at the moment , you know , a lot of residents are concerned about the increase in homelessness that we see across our region , but really also how that ties into the simple fact that housing is simply unaffordable right now in San Diego. Costs have gone up for everything , but nothing has been more markedly , you know , concerning , I think , for a lot of residents than the cost of housing , and especially for those who are renting or looking to live in states in Echo that is continually seeming to be a challenge given that that rising cost. I think some of the other challenges that we're facing are similar again across the region. You know , we are growing communities and we know that we need to really consider how we deliver infrastructure. A lot of our streets are in dire need of repair , and that also goes the same to say , for a lot of city facilities , whether it's parks or libraries. And a lot of our aging communities within District six , that is a focus and trying to figure out how we deliver the infrastructure , the transit that's needed to make our communities livable.

S1: You're a first generation Asian-American in the city's most populated AAPI district.

S2: And certainly there's no doubt that that with it being about 41% Asian-American Pacific Islander , that that is sort of a significant component of the district. But I'm also here to represent the entire community. And I think where there's really come together is that there are a lot of priorities that end up overlapping. And , you know , I think this is as much about providing a voice for those who may not often have that voice , especially at City Hall , and ensuring that we have an opportunity to shine a light on issues and causes that may not always be heard. You know , it's not lost on me that there have been very few Asian-American Pacific Islander , you know , council members that have served in our city. You know , I have the honor of being sworn in by former Councilmember Tom Hom , who actually first served in 1963. And really to follow that , we've only seen our mayor , Ted , Gloria and our last council member , Chris , Kate and I. So I think this is an opportunity to really think about how we highlight and uplift those voices , but how we ultimately serve the community as a whole and ensuring that we actually deliver on the promises that we make.

S1: And as we mentioned , you have a lot of nonprofit experience under your belt. How do you feel this will help you during your time on the council ? Sure.

S2: You know , I've always been a believer that this is really about service to our community and to our residents. And I think my experience within the nonprofit community has really resembled one of service. And I think that's what our focus is on. You know , I think a lot of people think of nonprofit organizations just in terms of delivering good to a community. But behind the scenes , really , it's in many ways just like running a business , except there are some really significant challenges. I mean , we often have really broad missions that we want to deliver in terms of serving the community , but very limited resources in which we have to do that within. And I think that's really no different than than the city of San Diego , perhaps at a very larger scale in that we really want to ensure that we actually deliver the maximum amount of impact that we have for our residents. And with the very limited and finite resources that we have available. And I think understanding how we are going to deliver on those priorities , ensuring that we meet those who have the greatest needs and that we end up serving all of our residents as a whole. That balance is something that I think is very similar to those of us who have had an opportunity to serve , you know , throughout throughout the nonprofit community. And that's that kind of experience that I would hope to continue to bring. And that voice that we hope to lend to our city council.

S1: And let's circle back to housing now. You're a homeowner at a time where , you know , that goal seems out of reach for so many San Diegans.

S2: Of years I've heard from many residents and then ourselves included , where we feel like we couldn't afford the house that we're in today. And if that's the case , I mean , what's it like for , you know , those who have been renting in San Diego and trying to save up ? And now between the cost of housing and the rising interest rates , to see that sort of fall out of line , I think what that reminds us is that it's not just saying that we need more housing , but really specifically driving down to how do we deliver the housing that's needed for San Diego as a whole. And a lot of that comes down to middle income housing. I mean , when we look at folks who are making the median income within our region and we think of the cost of housing , you know , the median cost of a home that's available. That disparity is really significant. And I think that disparity in that ratio in different but the difference in that ratio is really what makes it the most expensive place to live in the country. And so if we really want to deliver on actually having housing that's more affordable , what's going to be key is thinking about how we deliver on middle income housing that's going to match the needs of working families throughout the city.

S1: And again , as we mentioned , homelessness is a key issue facing the region.

S2: But it's also frustrating to see that that's only beginning to really take shape. And we know the crisis is at an all time high. And what I am really most hopeful for is looking at how we can bring together all of the resources , all the strategies that we have , and really work together as a region to solve the issue , because , you know , it doesn't just shift from one municipality to another. It's important that we're all working together to address the challenges that we're facing. And I know we're not necessarily going to solve all of it overnight , but we certainly have pockets of homelessness that we really should be focused on and be able to deliver on. You know , I think a lot about the fact that we have a lot of families with young children who are facing homelessness , folks who are seniors and those who have served , you know , in our military and others that , you know , we should be finding ways to deliver resources that would actually address the challenges. And I think there's without a doubt , a lot of work to do.

S1: I've been speaking with San Diego's newest city council member for District six , Kent Lee. Councilmember Lee , congratulations again and thanks for joining us.

S2: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

S1: The uncertainty clouding California's solar marketplace could be settled this week as regulators consider a proposal that changes the rules for electricity generated by rooftop solar. KPBS environment reporter Erik Anderson says the California Public Utilities Commission is considering a plan that slashes the solar subsidy.

S3: When KPBS talked to Ricardo Castillo a year ago. He was just as excited about showing off his garden as his solar system.

S2: City Heights. City Heights Courtyard Cottage. My Mexico got my tangerines.

S4: Come , avocados.

S3: Go in. Here.

S2: Here.

S3: His rooftop solar panels and a new efficient heating and cooling unit have slashed his utility bills. But new solar customers are facing a different reality if regulators approve proposed changes to California's solar rules.

S2: We think rooftop solar is very important.

S3: He says the proposed net energy metering rules NEM is the shorthand , don't include investor owned utility calls for mandatory steep grid connection fees. But the plan does slash the value of electricity produced on rooftops , and that means it'll take longer to recover the thousands of dollars homeowners spent to install the solar panels.

S2: California's eye watering rates are , you know , the other part of the equation that deals with payback. And if you live in San Diego , you know you have the highest rates in California. You , I believe , have second , first , third. You know , depending on the , you know , measurement. Highest rates in the country and 10 to 20% of that high rate is just subsidy to existing customers.

S3: The Public Advocate office's rate specialist says existing solar owners get a rate benefit that can earn them up to six times the value of their initial investment. Mike Campbell says that's too much and the proposed rules are much more sustainable.

S2: If the question is is it less generous than what there is , yes. Is the amount of generosity we have currently reasonable ? No.

S3: A move to steeper peak electricity rates between four and 9 p.m. is designed to create an incentive to install batteries that would give residents the ability to store electricity during the day and use it during peak pricing hours. Campbell and Baker say they would rather see solar subsidies that give credits for installation like the federal government does. But they're stuck with paying for those subsidies inside already high electricity rates. The proposed changes don't sit well with solar backers. Advocates have worked hard for over a year to keep existing incentives so the state can double the number of solar households to 3 million by 2030. Carina Gonzalez of Hammond Climate Solutions says advocates are optimistic the California Public Utilities Commission can still make changes.

S5: We've managed to build a statewide and local coalition of cities elected officials , nonprofits , churches , schools , climate justice organizations , and we've been able to successfully advocate for changes in previous proposals.

S3: The new plan doesn't include a $600 million equity fund that was in last year's rejected proposal. That was a subsidy designed to bring solar to low income households and communities of color. Community advocate Eddie Price rejects utility backed arguments that the current solar subsidy falls unfairly on the bills of residents without solar. Price says solar takes power out of the hands of the few and puts it into the hands of many.

S4: In order to address equity , you have to intentionally address inequity. And rooftop solar is a way to do that. You allow us to participate in our own life here , right ? As well as helping the planet and helping the grid. But they're trying to take all that away.

S3: The California Air Resources Board says the state needs to quadruple the amount of solar generated electricity by 2045 to help hit the state's carbon neutrality goals. The state's move to cut the solar subsidy by 75% is widely expected to slow solar installations. Wally Rita works for a solar installation company in San Diego , and he says that will hurt an industry that employs more than 68,000 workers.

S6: This is very inconsistent with what they're trying to do because by putting in this new mandate , they're basically trying to cut the number of residential solar installs. And that is not good for the industry at all. It's not good for the industry. Start with the homeowners.

S3: Regulators will discuss the second proposal to revise net energy metering on Thursday. They can adopt , reject or tweak the measure , or a commissioner could introduce a different option. Any action requires a majority vote from the five member panel.

S1: And KPBS environment reporter Erik Anderson joins us now. Erik , welcome.

S3: Thank you.

S1: So how could the state's effort to cut solar subsidies impact the state's carbon neutrality goals ? I'll go ahead and state the obvious here and say it seems like these two objectives are working against each other.

S3: That's a good question. And yes , it does seem like those two objectives are working each other. If you make solar less affordable , that means less solar gets put on rooftops and that makes it harder for California to hit its goals to be carbon neutral by 2045. That's one of the things that I think that regulators are grappling with. That's still a point of contention until they decide to go that route.

S1: The solar industry employs a lot of people.

S3: That happened about seven years ago. There was a decline right after that happened , and it took about four years for the solar industry to crawl back up to the same level of installations they had under the first iteration of net energy metering. And you can probably expect something similar to that to happen this time , that if these new rules are adopted , the benefits are not as robust as the ones that are currently in existence. There will be an impact on the 68,000 people who work in the solar industry. Wow.

S1: Wow. And tell me more about how equity is being considered in all this.

S3: There are a lot of different issues at play here. But one thing that these new solar rules will do with a less robust subsidy will make solar basically a little bit more expensive. And California really doesn't have a great initiative to bring lower and middle income residents into that solar family. So by cutting the subsidy for solar , it makes it more difficult for people with less money to pencil out the math and and see that that , you know , as a sensible thing for them and the state , you know , as some initiatives for community based solar and as an effort to get renters into the into the solar family but nothing that's really targeting right now low income or middle income. Residents.


S3: And the reason it's difficult , I'm not sure benefits is is the right word there. So the solar subsidy , just to remind you , was something that was put into place to encourage people to give a fair amount of financial incentive for people to install solar panels. You might remember Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a number of years ago set California up with this NEM subsidy to reach a million solar rooftops in the state of California to cash in on the state's abundant supply of sunshine. And we hit that and passed that. And now it's kind of in this difficult territory where utilities are saying , you know , this is starting to undercut our business model a little bit by making the electricity rates more expensive because the solar subsidies are figured into the electricity rates , like many other things are , that have nothing to do with buying electricity. And they're saying that if a solar customer can avoid buying electricity , they're not paying these extra costs to maintain the grid. And so it gets very complicated and it gets very convoluted. But I think that the way California's electricity rates are structured creates some of the problems that the folks who are trying to encourage adoption of solar are tying themselves up in knots with.

S1: My Campbell from the public Advocate's office , who you spoke to , says the subsidy to customers is unsustainable , but also says he'd rather see the solar subsidy used for the installation of batteries so customers could store their own energy and save costs that way. How would that be sustainable ? But not the existing net energy metering rules.

S3: There is a lot going on in the state they want. Basically what what regulators I think are trying to address is this period where solar power generation ramps down , You know , when the sun goes down and gas fired generation kind of ramps up and becomes the peak , you know , around five or 6:00 in the evening in California. And what they're trying to do as a way to incentivize the installation of batteries is to make that peak pricing period more expensive. And then if you have a solar installation on your roof paired with a battery , you can store solar during the day when there's an abundance of energy in California , put it in the battery and then draw power from the battery during these peak storage times. So you can avoid these higher cost rates and you would save money that way. And over a period of time , pay back the cost to install the battery. They're also considering some subsidies. It's kind of the same problem that they have with the current solar system is that they're putting the subsidy in the rates. And those people who can afford to avoid these higher electricity costs can do that. And people who can't afford to pay for these higher electric costs don't really have a good option to get out from under these these increasingly steep electricity rates.

S1: I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric , thanks for breaking that down for us.

S3: My pleasure.

S1: And we're going to stay on the topic of solar energy with this next story. To fight climate change and meet renewable energy goals , the Biden administration has championed the opening up of federally owned desert lands in California to develop massive renewable energy projects like industrial scale solar. The California Report host Saul Gonzalez visited solar sites under construction in San Bernardino and Riverside counties to learn about the green energy boom. He speaks to environmentalists who are concerned about such projects. Impact on sensitive desert habitat as tens of thousands of acres are recruited in solar energy panels.

S2: On a swath of desert land about an hour's drive east of Palm Springs. I'm watching as construction workers drive row after row of big metal posts into the desert floor posts that will soon be topped by thousands of solar panels.

S1: Yeah , we are.

S5: Listening to Pile.

S1: Driving , which is basically the.

S5: First step in the erector set of solar.

S2: That's Rosalie , a project developer for San Francisco based Clearway Energy , which is building the solar power project on federal land called Victory Pass. Lee tells me when construction is finished and this facility is connected to California's energy grid. It will generate enough power for more than 130,000 homes. And another number you should know relates to just how big this project is.

S5: The project site itself is about 3000 acres , I think , until your boots on the ground. It's hard to to digest that scale.

S2: But let me try. At 3000 acres , this one solar power facility will be about three times the size of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. And it's just a single example of an accelerating green energy boom in the deserts of California. It's a boom encouraged by the Biden administration , which has streamlined renewable energy development within nearly 11 million acres of federal desert land in Southern California counties , with many of those projects being industrial scale solar built by companies like Clearway. Why do you have to be here ? Well , the desert is where the sun is. That's John Woody , a vice president at Clearway , which is constructing solar projects on public and private lands. We're headed to zone five. You'll be able to see the solar panels and what looks like a fairly completed solar project. I met Woody at the company's Dagat project in San Bernardino County. When it opens late next year. The energy plant will be the largest solar power and battery storage facility in the state , and buyers for power are already lined up. We have customers that are buying power from this project all across the state of California , from Northern California to Southern California. But beyond profiting clear way , Woody says , these huge desert solar power projects are necessary. If California is going to meet its goals of ending its dependence on fossil fuels and fighting climate change. You know , California needs to add about six gigawatts a year of these renewable energy and storage projects to meet their clean energy goals. 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2045. And so we're just doing all our small part to help California meet those goals. But as solar projects in the desert multiply and grow , so too do criticisms. Well , I've just always found the desert to be a place of inspiration and renewal. And it's worth something more than just replacing with endless square miles of photovoltaic cells. That's Chris Clark , who's with the National Parks Conservation Program and the co-host of a podcast series about threats to the desert. Like other environmentalists , Clark worries about desert solar's impact on the habitat of endangered and threatened desert plant and animal life like the desert tortoise. As thousands of acres of desert land are turned into solar power farms , the threat to the desert right now is similar to the threats that other places in North America faced in the 19th century , where people were starting to notice what was there and starting to figure out how they could how they could profit off it. Clark argues that as California goes all in on solar , the project should be built on rooftops in coastal cities and suburbs where most of the power generated will end up anyway , and not hundreds of miles away in the state's deserts. There are ways to do this without bulldozing old growth desert with millennia old plants and endemic populations of rare organisms and endangered and threatened species. Clear Ways. John Woody argues extraordinary efforts are being taken by private companies and the government to protect the desert ecosystems as solar facilities are built. He also says California's green power goals are so enormous , it's impossible to make an either or choice between urban.

S3: Rooftop solar.

S2: Versus desert solar. There's really no silver bullet. You can't do one or the other. You need to sort of do all of the above. It's not a silver bullet. It's silver buckshot. Meanwhile , more desert land continues to be prepped for the installation of solar panels , joining solar power facilities that have already been built back at Clear Way's victory Passover site. Project manager John Moon points to the distant desert landscape and all the other solar projects in the area. So you have desert sunlight , desert , harvest , maverick , one in four on this side , and then out those one in two over here. And then we're building on right here. And everything you said is a separate. Solar power facility. Yes. Are. And as ground is broken on more projects , the debate will continue over how to balance the goals of creating a renewable energy revolution and protecting the state's desert lands.

S1: That story from the California Report host Saul Gonzalez.

S6: I'm M.G. Peres with Jade Hindman. Maureen is off today. You're listening to KPBS Midday Dition. Imperial County often sits in the shadow of San Diego County at the southern border with Mexico. That leaves room for mystery and misconceptions for a county whose population is 85% Latino and lately leaning right to the Republican Party. Jean Guerrero is an opinion columnist with the Los Angeles Times , and she has discovered other interesting facts about Imperial County , which she writes about this week in a column headlined If Democrats want support from California's most Latino county , they'll have to earn it. She joins us now to talk about it. Gene , welcome to mid-day.

S5: Great to be here.

S6: Your column begins with a first line that is rather poetic. It says , for Democrats who mistake demographics for destiny. Imperial County is a mystery.

S5: Just knowing that Imperial County is the most heavily Latino county in the state of California , more than 85% of its residents are Latino. But at the same time , you saw the largest shift in support for Trump in this county. Out of all the counties in the state between 2016 and 2020. I had done some reporting out of the county back when I was working at KABC. I was in Calexico when Trump visited in 2019 and declared that the country was full and did a photo op at the at the border wall there. So I wanted to understand , you know , what was going on here. I mean , what happened between 2016 and 2020 that made voting made residents more inclined towards Trumpism between 2016 and 2020 ? And I suspected that part of it was the fact that Trump had been president present there and that Republicans had made efforts that Democrats had not made in the county.

S6: So you describe what you're talking about , the voting patterns as a paradox. How so ? Well.

S5: So they it's despite the fact that they're trending Republican are inching towards the Republicans in state and federal races , for example , in the midterms. Last month , we saw that the GOP is continuing to make inroads here with races such as the governor , the attorney general. You saw a decline in support even though they still voted majority Democrat. The GOP is definitely making inroads in those races. But at the same time , you see a trend towards progressive candidates at the local level. For example , you saw Michael Llewellyn , the second , who's an 18 year old openly gay Latino. He won a city council seat in Cleopatra in Imperial County. You saw Raul Urania , who is 25 and identifies as transgender. They were re-elected to Calexico City Council with strong support alongside their ally , Heriberto Manzanares , who's 29 and also a progressive. So what I see is in both of these trends , one towards progressive candidates at a local level and one towards the GOP in state and federal races. There's this throughline of wanting change. People are rejecting the status quo , and I think that's what both of these seemingly opposite trends have in common.

S6: So I'm not sure if this is irony or a paradox , but Imperial County has the lowest turnout of registered voters in the state.

S5: But Democrats have failed to do important outreach here. The other thing is officials have failed to provide important election materials and other government documents in Spanish , which is the language that's spoken by more than 75% of residents in Imperial County. So a lot of the decisions that are being made politically , residents just feel disconnected from from them. They feel disconnected from politics. Most of the people who I interviewed when I was in Imperial County said that they don't vote because they they they don't see a point. They don't believe that politicians exist to serve them. And I think that is a product of the fact that this population feels neglected and has been neglected for for many decades. And also separately , the fact that a large percentage of this population are not citizens and don't even have the ability to vote. Many of them are permanent residents. They have they have green cards and many others are undocumented. And so there is the fact that we haven't seen immigration reform or a pathway to citizenship since 1986. And so many of the county residents just don't even have the ability to vote.

S6: You mentioned that Trump made that appearance in 2019 and said we're all full. How was that taken in the community ? And has have those opinions changed since then ? Well.

S5: So it depends on what part of the community you're in in Calexico , which is the city closest to the border. People have very anti Trump views there and were appalled when Trump visited and said those things. And , you know , in fact , there were protests against him and Raul during the city council member in Calexico. They led a encampment of farmworkers on the border to protest this idea of immigrants as criminals , immigrants as rapists that Trump had had tried to popularize throughout his administration. And residents in Calexico took a very proactive approach to trying to dispel these anti-immigrant myths that Trump was advocating throughout his presidency and were largely repelled and repulsed by by him. But then , if you go further north through El Song , El Centro and other northern parts of the county , there you will find a lot of people who that message resonated with and who do have concerns about immigration. And one of those reasons , I think , is just the fact that there are so few pathways to the middle class in Imperial County , aside from joining the Border Patrol. And the Border Patrol is a very politicized agency , especially in recent years. They endorsed Trump. They have a very right wing culture as an employer , and there have been studies that show that that that joining the Border Patrol can sort of shape your your life like any any law enforcement agency. It can push people further to the right in their politics. And so I spoke to residents who that was true for. You know , they had joined the Border Patrol. And so they they believed in this like tough on the border politics that Trump represented.


S5: One of the main things that residents brought up to me in terms of their feelings of neglect is the lack of educational opportunities in the Imperial County. The fact that those who do want to pursue a higher education often are forced to to commute to San Diego State University and center in San Diego. But I routinely I had to go to UC Santa Cruz to pursue their degree. And so the Democrats need to invest in education in the county , and they need to start a more reciprocal relationship with residents here. A lot of the residents feel that the county gives and gives and gives to to the cities of California , to the state of California , to the rest of the nation in terms of crops , in terms of renewable energy , which in recent years has become more and more a dominating part of the economy in the county. And they're not really getting enough back.

S6: Gene , thank you.

S5: Thank you so much.

S6: We are one year into a program Governor Gavin Newsom says will transform early childhood education by 2025. All four year old children in California will have a free spot in a new grade called Transitional Kindergarten , better known as tech. But KPBS investigative reporter Claire TRAGESER says schools are not prepared for the.

S5: The morning drop off isn't easy for many elementary schoolers and their parents. But it was downright brutal in September for Sara la Pietra and her four year old son , Teddy. He would like lay down on the ground the second he got inside the gate. Teddy attends McKinley Elementary , a San Diego Unified school near Balboa Park. La Pietro says she was supposed to stop at the gate and tell her son to walk by himself to class. It didn't go well , and I felt like I couldn't go in and , like , do anything. But also he wasn't going to class. And so I'd just be like , watching him , like , lay on the ground in front of him and stuff. And so I just like , I just felt it was awful. Now the school has changed the rules so parents can walk their kids to class. But Teddy is still struggling to adjust to many other parts of being in elementary school. He's just been having behavioral issues that we never saw when he was in preschool , like hitting kids and teachers and things like that. He was running out of the classroom the first week or two , which obviously is a big safety risk. And it's concerning for us and for his teachers. Teddy is one of many younger four year olds who are now attending tech. Governor Newsome and other state leaders say it'll better prepare students for kindergarten. But many parents and experts say the schools aren't ready for them. Where you might walk into a classroom and you might see 75% of the time is devoted to instruction on math and literacy , and that's a red flag. Sasha Longstreth is the chair of San Diego State University's Child and Family Development Department. Maybe they they're a little too heavy on the elementary side and they need to introduce some more developmentally appropriate practice from preschool. State guidelines on how T.K. will be taught haven't been fully implemented. That means some classrooms are not structured with the right balance of instructional and free playtime. Longstreth says this is a recipe for behavioral problems. At this age , children do need to have experiential learning. They need to have a lot of movements. A San Diego Unified spokesperson said the needs of four year olds are being met. In a statement , he said students schedules include purposeful play , recess and physical movement. The district schools generally have 15 minutes of outdoor recess and another 20 minutes after lunch. Parents say that's not enough , and they say the problems with TKR don't end with the school day. While Pietro's son is having even more issues at his school's aftercare program. They're very quick to be like , You need to come get in. We can't handle this. You need to come get him. He's doing this. You need to come get him. Even. Even like it was raining and they were like , You need to come get him because we don't really have anything to keep him entertained. It is situations like this that give some parents pause. Be ready. You ready , Sarah ? Armani is another San Diego Unified parent. Her daughter , Valentina , would be eligible for TC in 2024 , but she's not going. I just don't think the facilities are built for four year olds. They're not really supposed to be just sitting in a classroom all day. They're not developmentally ready for that. She says the schools don't have bathrooms or playground equipment , right , for four year olds , and they don't have a place for them to nap. Claire TRAGESER , KPBS News.

S6: I'm M.G. Peres with Jade Hindman. Maureen is off today. You're listening to KPBS midday emission. Where do you go to enjoy and appreciate art ? A museum , a gallery. That's what people have been doing forever. But recently , more immersive exhibitions have become popular , where art and technology meet to create an experience. The latest of these to come to San Diego features the art of the elusive British street artist Banksy. Seth Coombs wrote about it in the San Diego Union-Tribune and he joins us now. Seth , welcome to mid-day.

S2: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.


S2: There these immersive experiences that generally use technological aspects such as virtual reality holograms , digital projections to sort of immerse the viewer in the , you know , the work of the artist in question.

S6: So we know these exhibits are popular.

S2: You know , there's something like five or six different Van Gogh immersive experiences at this point. But one of them , the big one , the immersive Van Gogh experience , grossed $250 million last year and sold something like 4.5 million tickets.

S6: So let's talk about Banksy Land.

S2: He is anonymous. Nobody is. Exactly. I mean , people have , you know , ideas of who he might be. I use the pronoun he because that's that's there is a general presumption that he is male. That being said , he , as you know , done graffiti all over Britain and even the US. And I believe he's in the Ukraine right now doing street art there. So but he's become sort of like this , you know , folk hero. And the art is , you know , plays pranks a lot. You know , there's the famous incident where , you know , he had some of his work auctioned and they got shredded on site. And so he's he's become sort of this , you know , anti-authoritarian , anti capitalistic , sort of , like I said , folk hero in the art world.

S6: So we assume Banksy is alive and well somewhere in the world. But the organizers of this event admit it's unauthorized.

S2: I mean , that's the question I went into the piece trying to sort of understand. And , you know , without getting super bogged down in the legalities of it , there's there's , you know , copyright , there's trademark , there's fair use , there's all these different things. I talked to an expert at NYU who specializes in visual art law , Amy Adler , and she mentioned to me that he might have , you know , a legitimate trademark case against these people. So what what what compels them to do it anyway ? Well , I think he has been involved in multiple lawsuits in the European Union that have tried to prevent people from doing these types of exhibitions. He's lost a lot of those. So I think that , you know , if I was to speculate , a lot of people who who do these types of exhibitions think , well , this is going to be really the burden is going to be on him to prove that we've infringed on his trademark.


S2: You know , when they go see a Van Gogh immersive experience that they're not seeing an actual Van Gogh artwork. They're seeing , you know , holographic and virtual reality , you know , representations of that art. When it comes to this particular exhibition , there's not that aspect really. There's , you know , like I said , sort of sculptural renderings of his work that aren't done by him. There are photos of his work that he's done. I wrote this for the the the minority of people who might not know what they're seeing. And and for those who do know what they're seeing , I don't think it bothers them. I think they just might want to go and celebrate an artist that they like.


S2: I think that for a lot of people , you know , this might be one of two art experiences they have during the year. And I think that they want to go. Go and see a an artist that's a bit of a rock star in the in the art world , which there are there are very few. But like , you know , like a Van Gogh , like a Frida Kahlo , like a Banksy. And those people aren't going to be able to to go out and see this artist's work all in one place. So , you know , it's it's not real. It's not a real art , but it is a way to sort of , you know , immerse yourself in that artist and see all their work , albeit in a very sort of virtual way. And then as far as , you know , whether it cheapens the art , I don't know. I think that people would be less , you know , less likely to go and actually see the actual art if given the option to sort of experience it all at once. So , yeah , I have a hard time answering that.

S6: We've been speaking with Seth Koontz , contributor to the San Diego Union-Tribune , covering the city's visual arts and literary scene. Seth , thank you.

S2: Thank you so much for having me.

We speak to Councilmember Kent Lee, who was sworn in Monday to represent the city of San Diego’s District 6. This includes Mira Mesa, Kearny Mesa, most of University City, Sorrento Valley and portions of Scripps Ranch. Plus, the uncertainty clouding California’s solar marketplace could be settled this week as regulators consider a proposal that changes the rules for electricity generated by rooftop solar. And, to fight climate change and meet renewable energy goals, the Biden Administration has championed the opening up of federally-owned desert lands in California to develop massive renewable energy projects, like industrial-scale solar.