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State takes action to combat illegal guns

 May 26, 2022 at 5:06 PM PDT

S1: A proposal in California for private lawsuits against gun sales.
S2: This is getting those weapons out of the system and making our schools , our streets , our children safer.
S1: I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with Jade Heineman. This is KPBS Midday Edition. Calls for state water conservation might be a little different in San Diego.
S2: Despite the fact that we've.
S3: Developed the supplies and we have the water available.
S2: It's never okay to waste , and we're always moving towards.
S3: Becoming more efficient with that water that we do. Have.
S2: Have.
S1: UC San Diego's expert in immigration research wins a national award and a play about shelter from a homeless perspective is part of San Diego's Fringe Festival. That's ahead on Midday Edition. The investigation into the school shooting in Texas continues. While funerals are being planned for the 19 children and two adults killed in the massacre. So far , this latest mass tragedy of gun violence has not moved the needle on the issue of gun regulation. Those lawmakers opposed to new laws limiting access to weapons say they have not changed their minds. But California's governor and state Senate have approved a controversial new way to target illegal gun sellers. They are using a tactic started by anti-abortion activists in Texas to allow private citizens to sue people involved in illegal gun sales. Joining me is State Senator Anthony Porter Tino of La Canada Flintridge , who co-authored the Senate bill. And Senator , welcome to the program.
S2: Well , thank you very much for having me for this very important conversation.
S2: So Senator Hertzberg and I and with the governor's support , we model this legislation on the same principle that a private citizen can bring a lawsuit against a gun manufacturer or someone who transports a gun or somebody who uses one of these assault weapons or semiautomatic weapons in California , in a private citizen , can use the courts to bring a civil action against them. It's the same principle. The Supreme Court declared it okay when people thought they were wrong , but they said it was sound legal theory. And so we're going to use it for a laudable purpose versus what they're doing in Texas , which is to punish women. So getting guns and getting these ghost guns and assault guns off our streets and out of the wrong hands is a laudable purpose , and that's what we're going to do.
S2: You know , we know that the more sensible gun laws we pass in California , statistically , the better off we are , the safer the state is. So is this the total amount of effort ? Is this the height to use a bad plan , the magic bullet ? No , but it's certainly a good tool to send a message to those who are profiting off of an industry that we just saw tragically killed 19 children. And I think it will have a chilling effect on them , and I'm hoping it does.
S1: Now , as you say , this law is a counterpoint to the controversial Texas law. And critics are saying this move towards using citizens to police gun sales is just a stunt to mock that Texas law.
S2: It's no joke to those folks. There's nothing funny about this. There's nothing political about this. This is about getting guns off our street and using every tool we can to make that happen. And it's unfortunate how the court ruled in the Texas case. I think it was an overreach. But if they're going to declare that strategy and that mechanism legal , then we should certainly use it in California for a laudable purpose.
S1: During Tuesday's Senate floor session , Republican Senator Andreas Burgess spoke against the bill.
S3: The private right of action , however , I think , is.
S2: Taking this bill way too far. What we're saying now is that law enforcement is incapable of doing what it's supposed.
S3: To be.
S2: Doing , that a law on the books is not enough.
S1: Critics also say it creates a money incentive for people to file lawsuits to punish crimes.
S2: Obviously , you know , this is not about saying law enforcement can't do the job. What this is saying is we have too many weapons and too many of the wrong hands and there are too many children dying as a result of it. This is getting those weapons out of the system and making our schools , our streets , our children safer. That's what this is about. And if we need more arrows in our quiver to to use to make that happen , I think it's a moral imperative for all of us that we step up and do everything we can to prevent another gun tragedy , another fatality on a school campus. I don't want to wake up the next time it happens and says I didn't do everything I did to stop it. And I think all of us should just assess our own moral compass and say , are we doing everything we can ? And frankly , the federal government should be doing this on a national level. It should not be left to the states on gun control. We need a national approach to making our country safe. This mass shooting trend is a largely American phenomenon. They don't have this problem in other countries because they don't have the proliferation of handguns in teenagers hands like we do here.
S1: Now , another of your gun regulation proposals that passed the Senate is one that would require schools to issue gun safety information to parents.
S2: And then that shooter went into school and caused death. My bill does two things. Let's notify parents about the safe storage laws , which , frankly , I wrote and the responsibilities of responsible gun owners to make sure their guns are properly locked and not falling into prohibited hands. So let's educate them on that. That's one. And number two. When a school district receives this information of a credible threat , let's take the decision of whether they should or shouldn't investigate it out of their hands and require them to follow up on any credible threat. Because we know these mass shooters post on social media , they tell their friends , they tip their hand , they're proud of their crazed moment to kill people and they share it. And so let's make sure school district doesn't say , you know what , that's not going to happen here , or what if we're wrong ? Let's wait. Let's wait a day. You know , if you know there's a credible threat coming , you should investigate it. And that's what the bill does. Now , these.
S1: Proposals move on to the state assembly.
S2: I mean , I know it's never easy because the gun lobby does have its strength. Frankly , my school safety bill got a haircut in the Senate because the NRA flexed its muscle and there were even some Democrats originally. I wanted to make sure that schools knew who had guns , that when you registered your kid , part of the registration for school was notifying whether they're guns in the household. And that provision was taken out because the NRA opposed it. And there were several , several Democrats that sided with them as well. But I'm pleased with the investigation part. That's the most important piece. Let law enforcement do their job and let the school districts notify them when there's a credible threat. So I'm optimistic we'll get on the governor's desk and I think they make a difference.
S1: I've been speaking with State Senator Anthony Portnow. Thank you so much.
S2: Thank you.
S4: San Diego County residents can expect more calls for water conservation this week. The state water board approved emergency water regulations. They'll start in June in response to the ongoing drought. KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson joins me now with details. Eric , welcome.
S3: Thank you.
S4: So the state is calling these emergency regulations.
S3: You wouldn't know it here in San Diego County. I mean , we know it's always been dry here , but it doesn't seem like we've we've been feeling this drought. But if you look at it statewide , things are starting to get , you know , nerve wracking. They're they're getting a little grim. We had a great start to the rainy season back in December , and there was a lot of snowfall and a series of storms and great snowpack. And then everything just kind of trickled off and went away and that that snowpack withered. And so we don't have that backup water supply up in the mountains that's been gently trickling down over the last couple of months. It's it's just really not there. And then you combine that with the lack of rainfall and you kind of get to a place where there's not a lot of water in the state , water projects. So people that rely on that , that's a lot of Central Valley farmers are are , you know , searching for water to use. And the dry conditions are kind of drying up local supplies. And they're making it difficult for people to to get water to where they want to use it.
S4: So Governor Newsom wants a 15% reduction in water use statewide.
S3: And it's interesting because it's the kind of thing where in the past , when state officials have asked the the residents of the state of California to step up , you know , we've been in a drought. We have a severe water shortage. Do what you can. The response generally has been pretty good. You know , this happened toward the tail end of the five year drought that we had right around 2019 , 2018 , 2020. And the tail end of that drought , when there was a call for conservation , there was a good response from the people. And that just didn't happen this year yet. I don't know whether it's a case where the drought hasn't been in place for a long period of time , or whether people are starting to get weary about hearing these calls for conservation all the time. But but the response wasn't there. And that's why the governor is kind of stepping up the rhetoric a little bit , and he's asking people for that 15% reduction. And what he's saying is , is if we don't get that 15% reduction in a reasonably quick amount of time , that maybe state water board officials will have to look at some more severe restrictions and and maybe will mandate the kinds of things , too , that will allow the state to save that water.
S4: But again , San Diego County water officials said the local water supply is not threatened by the drought at this time. So remind us why that is.
S3: Yeah , this is really kind of an interesting case to be in because of investments that the San Diego County Water Authority has made over the last decade and a half or so. They've built a desalination plant. There's a city of San Diego is in the process of building this pure water plan to recycle sewage water. And the county is also , you know , kind of locked in these water transfer deals with the Imperial County. They feel like their analysis shows that the water supply is is not at risk in San Diego this year. It's not at risk next year and probably pretty good for several years. So it's not at the point where they feel like they need to worry about that. But when I talked to Jeff Stephenson about this this week , he's at the San Diego County Water Authority. He told me that we want to respect what's going on around the state of California and do our part. Here's what he said.
S2: Despite the fact that we've developed the supplies and we have the water available , it's never okay to waste. And we're always moving towards becoming more efficient with that water that we do have.
S3: That's really where the big use of water is in San Diego County. More than half of it comes from outdoor irrigation of landscaping. And they're saying that , look , if you can find a kind of landscaping that doesn't require as much water as maybe a grass lawn , then why not switch to that ? We've got some financial incentives that can help you make that transition and make it cheaper for you. And then you'll be benefiting the. Higher region. One of the interesting things about water usage in in the county of San Diego after rising pretty rapidly and steadily for a number of years , about about ten , 15 years ago , it really flattened and started to roll back a little bit. That's because so many water conservation stops , like low flush toilets and shower heads and restrictions on watering were put into place. So some of that low hanging fruit , the easy stuff to eliminate water use , has already been taken advantage of. So maybe we're at a place now where people are having to ask more difficult questions about what they want to cut back on in order to make those savings.
S4: KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson , thank you so much for joining us.
S3: My pleasure.
S4: And we'll hear more of Eric's reporting later in today's show.
S1: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with Jade Heineman. The retail cost of electricity in San Diego is already among the highest in the nation. And the latest San Diego gas and electric budget request is calling for those rates to go up even more. KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson looks at why the local cost of electricity remains on a steady upward trajectory.
S3: San Diego's utility bills climbed steadily in the past two decades. The state's average price for a kilowatt of electricity enough power to keep a 100 watt light bulb on for 10 hours is close to $0.26. And locally , prices are even higher.
S2: We're recognizing and we've you know , we've always acknowledged that that we have higher rates here at.
S3: San Diego Gas and Electric , Scott Crider says. Customers can expect average bills to climb another $9 a month in 2024 if state regulators approve the company's latest budget. He says the utility forecast energy consumption will double by 2045 and the local power grid needs to be upgraded to deal with it.
S2: It's on really empowering the energy transition so we can handle more renewable energy , more battery storage and and to be able to charge an increasing number of electric vehicles in the region.
S3: The costs for those improvements and others are baked into the cost of kilowatts that customers buy.
S2: When you buy a car at the grocery store , isn't that how they charge more calories ? You buy more. You pay more. You buy less. You pay less.
S3: Ahmed Farooqi is an economist who studied electricity rates systems for 40 years. He says the way people pay for electricity is a lot like going to a market. Welcome.
S1: We scan your first item.
S3: First buy a basket big enough to hold everything bought on the biggest shopping trip of the year. That's called a capacity cost. Add lettuce and tomatoes to the basket to represent transmission and distribution , and that accounts for nearly two thirds of the cost of a kilowatt hour. The actual electricity. A couple of potatoes close to another third. Sundries like public purpose programs and debt service for purchases made years ago make up the rest. But Farooqi says buying electricity is not like going to the market in one crucial way.
S2: If you don't like the prices of Safeway , you can go to five other grocery stores. If you don't like the price of a United Airlines ticket , you have ten other options to look at. Same thing for hotels and cars and so on. There is competition.
S3: And not only is there no competition in California's electricity marketplace , utilities play a huge role in setting the price. In fact , they set the price. And regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission mostly approve the kilowatt rates. But those rates include things utilities can't control. The KPCC's Mike Campbell says regulators insist on conservation and state lawmakers want things like rooftop solar , so utilities have to adjust rates upward. And regulators want to make sure utilities sell enough power to cover costs.
S2: The forecast is wrong and they collected $1,000,000 less than we decided they were supposed to. We'll make we'll try to set the rates so that they're going to collect $1,000,000 more the next year to make up for it.
S3: And that means regulators guarantee a utility , get so much money , and if they don't , then customers pay more.
S5: Insert cash or select payment type.
S4: Had to complete a transaction.
S3: And it's also crucial to remember where the utility makes its profit. It comes from building infrastructure. And Jenny Scott Crider sees a huge need.
S2: You think about , you know , really almost doubling the capacity of the electric grid and , you know , in about 20 years or so. And so , you know , this is going to be really an ongoing journey that we're going to have to go on with our customers.
S3: Economist Ahmed Farooqi says that journey will be costly.
S2: Everyone is projecting rate increases of 10 to 20% on top of already high rates and customers are pretty much fed up with this rate. And affordability is a big challenge.
S3: There are proposals to change the way rates are calculated , but there's little chance any changes will come soon. So when the power bill arrives in the mail , expect the costs to continue to go up.
S1: Joining me is KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. And Eric , welcome to the show.
S3: Thank you.
S1: Maureen and says that even before this rate hike request , they've always acknowledged that there are higher electricity rates here than elsewhere.
S3: And it also has to do with the fact that California is one of the few places in the country where three investor owned utilities dominate the energy marketplace. San Diego Gas and Electric , of course , is our utility. Then there is Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric and those investor owned utilities , you know , they have a responsibility to serve both the ratepayers and they have a responsibility to serve their shareholders to make a profit for their company. And so I think that's one of the factors , one of many factors that are at play and why the rates here are higher.
S3: You know , in the state of California , I believe by 2035 , any new car that you buy will have to be a non gas powered vehicle that could be an electric car and most likely be the most common choice. The other part of the equation is that there's also going to be a move to electrify homes. Many homes right now have both electric and gas service to those residences. And there is going to be a push to kind of eliminate the need for that gas to basically cut that out of the equation. And so that also is going to increase consumption.
S3: Jeannie is a company that's owned by Sempra , which also owns Southern California Gas , which is the company that provides natural gas to this region. And so the genie is kind of tied to the gas company in that way through Sempra. And even if they sell less gas to residential customers , the Sempra is still selling gas to people who generate electricity. Big power plants that are gas fired , power plants are still operating , will still be under contract. So it won't make gas completely go away. And in fact , the price of gas will figure into the price of electricity over time.
S3: Yeah , but you're asking what are they competition for ? The community power organization structure is more aimed at purchasing the power , right ? What they promise is they're going to buy green generated power so that the power that you use is going to be cleaner. It's not necessarily going to be less effective. And the utility is still going to play a big role in making sure that that power gets to the customers from the origination source.
S1: There have been reports recently that almost 30% of any customers in San Diego , they can't pay their bills now.
S3: It's something that regulators will have to look at moving forward. They have a complicated job. It's it's it's difficult. They have to protect the end users , the consumers. They have to protect the utilities , the the providers of the energy. They have to make sure that the the environment where electric. A city is bought and sold is one that benefits the entire marketplace. And when a big chunk of that market is sort of being left behind or it's unaffordable , then I think that it does fall on regulators to come up with a solution. But there are also issues with the idea , this concept of of utility investor owned utilities. Right. This is not a system that is super common around the country. It does happen elsewhere , but it's not super common in many places around the country. Utilities are a non-profit organization that focus on providing that energy for the cheapest cost. And and that's not the way the system works here in California. So regulators have a complicated job on their plate and they have to , I think , recognize all of the financial abilities of both customers and providers.
S1: I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric , thank you.
S3: My pleasure.
S4: Governor Newsom's ambitious overhaul of California's mental health care system cleared a major hurdle yesterday evening. The state Senate voted to approve care court. The program would allow judges to order people with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders into treatment , with a particular focus on people who are also experiencing homelessness. But critics worry the state isn't set up to deliver the care and housing it's promised. KQED Aaron Baldassare has more.
S1: On a cold day in March , Tejada Hall walked up to Sutter Health Street Care Center in San Francisco and asked to be placed on an emergency psychiatric hold.
S5: I wasn't having any symptoms. I just was freezing to death.
S1: Hall had been sleeping outside in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood ever since she was evicted in December. She's been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder , anxiety , PTSD and depression. Sometimes she hears what doctors call intrusive thoughts that make it hard for her to think. But on that day , she just wanted to get off the street.
S5: I'm praying. Praying to God. Like , please just let them help me today.
S1: After a week in the psychiatric ward , the nurses told her it was time to leave. A social worker gave her a piece of paper. On it was a list of shelters.
S5: They were going to take me back out into the streets. Like , really ? You can clearly see that I'm not really in the right state of mind right now.
S1: Hall is 30. And throughout her life , she's had around 160 mental health episodes. At 13 months old , she was placed in foster care. And she's been in the system ever since. Cycling in and out of homelessness , the courts and county mental health services. In many ways , she's exactly who Governor Gavin Newsom had in mind when he proposed care court.
S2: They're on their meds.
S3: All of a sudden , they're starting to do a little bit better. But there's no place to put them. There's no pathway after that. And they end up right back on the. Street.
S2: Street.
S1: Under care court. A judge would oversee Hall's mental health treatment. She'd have a public defender and an advocate to help her make decisions. Treatment plans could last up to two years , and people could face conservatorship if they refuse to participate. But critics say the problem with California's mental health system isn't a lack of oversight.
S5: Neither have beds , staffing nor resources today to absorb the added care court population.
S1: Michelle Duddy Cabrera is the executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California. The state faces a massive shortage of both psychiatric beds and behavioral health care workers. Buddy Cabrera says one of the biggest challenges is housing.
S5: We've got 8000 plus people a year who we bring in to services who we can't house today.
S1: CARE Court is expected to add 7 to 12000 more people to the county's caseload.
S5: The issue is whether or not we can find people who are unhoused , who are wanting treatment. It's about do we have the housing resources that is appropriate and open and available.
S1: Last year , the legislature committed more than $2 billion for housing for people with behavioral health needs. Newsom's administration is proposing another 1.5 billion this year for short term housing and services , but it'll take time to build up that capacity. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Kelly says in the meantime.
S3: The State is saying we need to see this population prioritized.
S1: Too often , Ghaly says , people with severe mental illness only get treatment after ending up in jail or after reaching a state where they can no longer take care of themselves. He says care court will move people to the front of the line.
S3: So that they can get the care , so that we can both with a great deal of integrity , humanity and focus on what works , address the needs of this population.
S1: After Shahida Hall admitted herself to the hospital , it took about a month to get into treatment. But the program she's in is only temporary , and there's no guaranteed housing when it ends in July. Hall has spent years trying to get the treatment and housing she needs.
S5: At the end of the day , the government has this and they have that , but it's really up to you to fight for that and get that.
S1: She's skeptical Care Court would make that fight any easier , but if it could , she'd welcome the change.
S5: The fight shouldn't be this hard.
S1: The CARE Court legislation now heads to the state assembly for a vote.
S4: That was Aaron Baldassare reporting for the California Report. Earlier this week , a federal judge kept Title 42 in place despite the Biden administration's effort to end the pandemic era policy aimed at limiting immigration in the midst of the ongoing political wranglings on immigration. Our next guest was the recipient of a national award for his work on the issue. Earlier this month , UC San Diego professor Tom Wang received the ACLU Presidential Award for his significant contributions to advancing immigrants rights. But his experience with U.S. immigration policy goes far beyond the classroom. Professor Tom Wang , welcome back to Midday Edition.
S2: Thank you again for having me.
S4: All right.
S2: It means even more for my parents. My story is an immigrant story , just like so many others here in San Diego. And to be able to receive such a prestigious award and have my parents there to see me get it was the culmination of their immigrant experience. I can't imagine a better way to say thank you to my parents for their sacrifice and bringing myself and my brother here to the US.
S2: So in 2013 , there was a bill being debated in Congress , and I started my work by forecasting whether or not we would get immigration reform , by trying to figure out whether or not members of the House and members of the Senate would vote yes or no on the bill. Unfortunately , the votes just were not there to pass comprehensive immigration reform at that time , but there was still optimism that some immigration changes could be made. But things really changed when the Trump administration took office. We remember that Trump made immigration his signature issue , and almost on day one , we started seeing immigration policy changes done through the executive things like tightening interior immigration enforcement , things like trying to appropriate moneys for border wall construction , also ending DOCA , among other policies. And so when the Trump administration took office , that's when my work really ratcheted up.
S4: And as you mentioned earlier , your story is an immigrant story.
S2: I grew up in Riverside , just right up the freeway. I grew up just like other kids grow up here in the U.S. I imagined a future for myself , one that involved college. But I was just like any other kid. But when I was 16 , my parents told me that we were undocumented. I wanted to get a driver's license so I could ask girls out on dates and actually drive them to those dates. And my parents kept on saying no. I thought I just had strict Asian parents at the time. But the more I asked , the more they realized that they they had to tell me about my immigration status. And so that broke me. Everything that I had imagined for myself I could no longer do. College was no longer an option because this was before California's A.B. 540 , a bill that provides in-state tuition for undocumented students. And so I barely graduated high school. And after barely squeaking through high school , I was given a choice by my parents to either stay in the US and work at swap meets , which is how they put food on the table or go back to Hong Kong , where I was born and try to start over. I didn't have family in Hong Kong. I can barely speak the language. And so I was really desperate and hopeless. But luckily for me , I was able to adjust my immigration status when I was 19. I immediately applied to my hometown , UC , which was UC Riverside , and went through undergrad straight to grad school and landed my dream job at UCSD.
S4: That is amazing. You know , more more recently , two immigration policies have really dominated headlines during the pandemic and been. The focus of much of your most recent research , of course I'm referring to Remain in Mexico and Title 42.
S2: Title 42 allows the administration to summarily expel all persons without a court hearing. In other words , if somebody comes up to the southern border under Title 42 , they can be simply turned away by border authorities. This includes not only those seeking to enter the U.S. for economic reasons , for example , a better life. But Title 42 has really come under attack by immigrant rights and justice advocates because those seeking asylum in other words , those seeking protection from persecution have also been turned away under Title 42. The Trump administration was criticized for using the pandemic as a backdoor to try to restrict immigration and asylum at our southern border. And there was hope that under the Biden administration that Title 42 would be reversed. The Biden administration has , in fact , tried to end Title 42 , but a recent court order has kept Title 42 in place. So research that I have done recently tries to look at the relationship between Title 42 expulsions and the spread of COVID in the US. So in other words , if we needed Title 42 to protect the US against COVID , one would expect a relationship between Title 42 expulsions. So border authorities turning away individuals and decreases in COVID case rates in the United States. So when we look at official data , there is no relationship between Title 42 expulsions and the spread of COVID in the US. This is for the US as a whole , but also for border states like Arizona and Texas who have sued the Biden administration over Title 42.
S4: As someone who has studied our country's immigration system for as long as you have , I'm curious what your thoughts are on federal immigration reform. I mean , do you think it's achievable.
S2: In terms of prospects for comprehensive immigration reform ? They are very dim. So my second book looks at voting behavior among members of Congress. In order to get comprehensive immigration reform passed , we need 218 votes in the House , which is a majority out of 435 members. We typically need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate , and we need a presidential signature. And so even though Democrats who are more supportive of emigration reform currently control the House , the Senate and the presidency , they only have the Senate by a razor thin margin , which means those 60 votes needed just aren't there. And so unless we see drastic changes , either in election outcomes that need more Democrats into Congress , particularly in the Senate , or unless we see a drastic change among the GOP when it comes to openness to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants , then my concern is that the stalemate that we have seen when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform since I started working on this in 2013 , will simply continue. And so we will likely see more immigration policy changes done by the executive as congressional stalemate persists.
S4: Well , congratulations to you on this award. I've been speaking with Tom Wong , associate professor and founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego. Thank you so much for joining us.
S2: Thanks again. That was a pleasure.
S1: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with Jade. San Diego International Fringe Festival returns June 2nd in Balboa Park. During the next three weeks , we'll be spotlighting a trio of artists performing at the Back In-person Fringe Festival. Rene Westbrook premiered her one woman show Shelter at Fringe in 2017 and now brings it back new and improved. Westbrook wrote the play after being homeless. KPBS arts reporter Beth ACCOMANDO spoke with Westbrook outside her rehearsal room on the San Diego State University campus.
S6: Rene Shelter has been a long journey for you , so explain a little bit about what this whole process has been like for you.
S7: The process of getting to this point has been exponentially difficult. I mean , starting with sleeping on the buses in the beach because I denied my creativity. I'm not a writer or I'm a black traditional Baptist woman. I'm going to get a job as a teacher. And when I finally surrendered , someone said , Hey , why don't you apply for graduate school ? I can't get into graduate school , but thank goodness I applied because what happened was I had the opportunity in the fall of 2016 to complete the writing of the play. A colleague of mine had said , Rene , I think you need to write about this. I think it's going to help you because when you're homeless , there's no way to explain what it does to you. And I had been developing it since 2011 and got involved with Diversionary Theatre in 2013 , which was the wonderful , one of the best experiences I've ever had. And so 2017 was the world premiere at Fringe 2019. And now , you know , it's really hard to get someone to mount a show. So it has been difficult emotionally and personally , but so rewarding. I mean , it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life because I get to create and it's all I ever wanted to do. And it reminded me that , Oh yeah , I'm an actor too.
S6: And explain what Shelter is about.
S7: The different characters have their own meaning of what shelter means to Davina Gray , the main character. It's a home , a roof , you know , to Lazarus , it's nobody's going to ever hurt me again. That's his shelter. His karate. I know.
S4: What ? No.
S7: Is your lonely shelter like you think ? And just because I don't got no roof over my head don't mean I got no shelter. This much shelter , Mack , why did my shelter.
S4: What do I know when long.
S7: Years now is ? When your mother lose her house because she can't pay the rent , then she got chewed.
S1: She got to live. She can't keep you the dog. How is she going to death ? How is she going to that ? You go to that you go keep you the dog.
S5: We no want that raised lady , that dog.
S1: Why did.
S2: That dog.
S7: And I stay all that.
S1: Time ? I think all the.
S4: Time in the house , all.
S1: By myself.
S7: And that's one of the things that that I wanted to just express , is that contemporary homelessness as well has a deep meaning for everyone because so many people are experiencing it now. But primarily , I wanted to get out there the various definitions of what shelter is , because we all have different ideas of what they what it should be.
S6: And explain what this show is , because this is a one woman show where you are taking on all these different characters that you've created.
S7: It's loosely based on my first night homeless on the streets of Santa monica in Los Angeles , and which I went to a place that said they were going to help me and they said they couldn't. And I was just out there with a suitcase , a backpack , my purse and the writer's life by Julia Cameron and a dream , you know. But at that time , it's like , I'm not going to I'm not going to make it. Just walk. Divina , you can do this. Just put one foot in front of the other. You can please just you can do this. You're college educated. You you have a degree in a storage unit that's about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. You can do this. I can't do it. I can't do it. God , I'm not going to make it. Please help me. I'm lost. I can't do it. When I got to near Olympic , I was about to really lose it. And I just said to myself , Well , pretend like you're directing Will Smith in a movie. And it worked because it got my focus off of the terror. And I got from Pico Boulevard , which was my my goal to get to Big Santa monica Boulevard , because at 1130 , the buses on Pico , the big blue buses stopped running. So my shelter , as is Davina's , was to get to the number four metro on Santa monica because it goes from the beach all the way downtown and I could rest and collect myself. So it's about Davina making her way from point A to point B in order to find shelter.
S6: And you debuted this at Fringe and you are bringing it back now.
S7: I collaborated with a wonderful director , Shante Lopez , and she's helped me to see the nuances and the characters that I've always wanted to see before. It was like someone storytelling sort of reading through , and now it's more real. The characters are more real , the action is more real. And you know , when you're writing , producing and directing , you don't have enough objectivity. And that's what I was looking for and I found it. So I think there will be more depth to this one.
S6: Now , this is your one woman show that's going to be at Fringe , but you've also had this opportunity to expand this even further.
S7: I expanded from the one woman show , and it's basically the same characters. But there's more stuff going on and I don't want to give it away. But , you know , Divine is there , Lazarus is there. But there's more interaction between all of them. And in particular , and I've written all the songs and in particular what this is about is connection. We are better together and stronger together than we are divided. They're all trying to get to the same place and they're trying to convince Davina that you're okay. And we will. We will shelter you. So we'll see what happens with that. It's very new in the early stages of development. But I did get a reading here with Professor Randy Reinhold , and I got to see an objective view of of what it is. So I'm really excited because I love music and I hope within the next year or two we can fully develop it and and have people come see it.
S6: And you had this play at Fringe.
S7: The value of Fringe is , you know , I mean , like I was saying earlier , it's so difficult to get your play mounted unless you know someone or unless you're in a particular groove. And Fringe is DIY. It's I found it's like my tribe. I don't have to be perfect. My plays don't have to be perfect. And I think for artists like me who are different , it's perfect and everyone can come and there are guidelines , but it's not like , you know , well , you can't do this and you can't do that. So I think it's been extremely wonderful for the creative community here and the international community. When it gets to come in full force , it's great for for that community , the artistic international community as well.
S7: Oh , yeah. I just there was a sense of , wow , they're just like me and their show , you know , and just a ton of support. Every single artist supported each other , the ones that I came across , that was the best part.
S6: All right. Well , I want to thank you very much for talking about shelter.
S7: Thank you for inviting me. It's been. Great.
S1: Great. That was Beth ACCOMANDO speaking with actress and playwright Rene Westbrook. Her place Shelter runs June 3rd through seventh at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater during San Diego International Fringe Festival.

Hours after the deadly school shooting in Texas the California State Senate voted to allow civil lawsuits to combat illegal gun sales. Then, San Diego County residents can expect more calls for water conservation. This week the state water board approved emergency water regulations. Next, the retail cost of electricity in San Diego is already among the highest in the nation. And the latest San Diego Gas & Electric budget request is calling for those rates to go up even more. Then, Governor Newsom’s efforts to overhaul California’s mental health system cleared a hurdle this week with the passage of his CARE Court program by the State Senate. Also, UC San Diego professor and a leading figure of immigration research Tom Wong was awarded the ACLU's Presidential Prize earlier this month. His connection to the issue is also personal. Finally, Renee Westbrook brings her one-woman show “Shelter” to the San Diego Fringe Festival. Westbrook wrote the play after experiencing homelessness.