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US, Mexico officials commemorate groundbreaking of new Otay Mesa East Port of Entry

 August 22, 2022 at 4:46 PM PDT

S1: A groundbreaking for the New Mexican border crossing at Otay Mesa East.

S2: The amount of people and cars and trucks that move through that border. It's hard to wrap your mind around.

S1: I'm M.G. Perez with Maureen CAVANAUGH. This is KPBS Midday Edition. The county looks for new ways to pay more mental health professionals.

S3: I think we've known that there's a shortage. The unfortunate reality is historically , we've never funded staff sited or reimbursed mental health the same way we do physical health.

S1: And a conversation with an oceanside author featured in the new one book , One San Diego. That's ahead on Midday Edition. Crews are set to break ground today on a major border crossing that has been two decades in the making. Regional authorities are calling the new Otay Mesa east port of entry a 21st century crossing , one they hope will shorten increasingly long wait lines at the San Diego Tijuana border. Joining me with more on the new project is KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis. Gustavo , welcome.

S2: Hello , Meg. Thanks for having me.


S2: Right. So it'll be just east of the current border crossing at all time. Mesa. A timeline. I want to say September 2024 actually , is when they're planning to open it. So it's still a little bit a ways away , but relatively not that far off.

S1: Gustavo , we know that Santa syndrome has been known as the busiest international border crossing in the world.

S2: So it may be the busiest in the Western Hemisphere , but I think that's just semantics. I mean , it is their busiest , if not one of the busiest in the entire world right now. The amount of people and cars and trucks that move through that border , it's hard to wrap your mind around.


S2: I mean , there's a lot of projections right now. Obviously , I think a lot of them are optimistic. The biggest thing is that , you know , will it reduce border wait times right now in terms of our binational economy ? Long border wait times are the biggest hurdle. The biggest thing holding us back. I think SANDAG has done studies. I mean , it cost the region literally billions of dollars a year just because trucks and people are waiting to cross the border. So if this new border crossing does substantially reduce border wait times , I mean , it will be a huge boon to the local regional economy here in the billions. I mean , it could create job growth not only in Mexico , but a lot in the U.S. as well out here in San Diego , too , obviously.

S1: Let's talk about what it's going to look like.

S2: I mean , I guess the closest thing you can do is like like a if you have a century pass , which is almost like a fast pass where you get pre-approved and you get to go , but you pay a one time fee , nothing like a traditional tollbooth. Now , this border crossing is going to have a tollbooth that's predominantly going to be for cargo trucks. And if they want to essentially go in the fast lanes , they can pay the booth and go. From what I've been told , the cost of the actual booth will fluctuate. So when the border is more backed up , it'll be more expensive to go on that road. That money will be split between the U.S. and Mexico. But I think that's that's pretty interesting as well.

S1: Gustavo , you brought up the century pass.

S2: Even now , you hear stories of people waiting months for an interview after they've already been pre-approved. You hear a lot of challenges around people getting interviews in San Diego. So I've had people pass the background check and they're just waiting for the interview to sign off and actually getting this entry. And instead of waiting two or three months for an appointment in San Diego , they'll drive to Arizona to get one there. Or some people have just been doing it at international airports nowadays to get over that long line. So it has been a factor. And I do I mean , this is all anecdotal , but I think more people are getting it now. I've been in the vehicle lane in San Ysidro on the century lane , and I'm still waiting about an hour to get into the U.S. , which essentially was supposed to avoid that long wait. Right. So this is clearly not working as it's supposed to. I mean , it's still way better than the alternative. But you can see that even now , that line is starting to get longer and longer.


S2: I mean , I talked to experts who say a couple of different things. Right. One , CBP staffing , they don't open all the lanes even now , Pad West in San Ysidro , it's the only seat where they're supposed to be to pedestrian crossings. Well , they're physically are to pedestrian crossings , but one has been closed for a couple of years. CBP has not indicated when or whether they'll reopen it. So what that means is that there's only one pedestrian open ped east. I was there last weekend after a music festival in Tijuana. People waited for hours in line , standing in the hot sun to go through that. You would imagine if they opened PED West , it maybe wouldn't be a four hour wait. You'll also see that in the vehicle lanes , when I'm crossing the border , I normally see between three and five lanes that are closed. And this is something Juan Vargas has kind of talked about. Congressman Juan Vargas. I spoke to him a. Few months ago at one of those events for the groundbreaking about this. And he mentioned , look , this is great. We're getting a brand new shiny border crossing , spending billions on it. It's going to be state of the art , but it's all meaningless if we don't have people manning the booth and opening all the lanes like this. This great border crossing is not going to be super effective if half the lanes are closed. So I think that is a concern going forward. Also , infrastructure in Tijuana doesn't particularly help because you're going from side streets to too little avenues. There's no major freeway connecting the port of entry to the city. Like in Tijuana. You kind of have to go through residential and industrial neighborhoods to get to the border. Wait time , you have to fight through stop signs and green lights and red lights and the line kind of changes depending on how long it is. It is very confusing to navigate it if you're not familiar with it. So that also doesn't help with the efficiency of crossing.

S1: I've been speaking with KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis. Thanks for speaking with us , Gustavo.

S2: Well , thank you , M.G..

S1: We'll be hearing more from Gustavo later on in the program to discuss the growing fears of cartel violence in Tijuana and across Mexico.

S4: In recent years , San Diego County has invested more in behavioral health services than ever before. $72 million was in the county's budget this year , along with millions in grants for mental health. But even with these investments , the county faces a major obstacle to providing better services. There are not enough behavioral health professionals. A new report finds the county needs more than 18,000 new therapists , psychologists , social workers and psychiatrists in the next five years to meet demand. A symposium will be held tomorrow to examine the findings of the report and discuss solutions. Joining me is the chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors , Nathan Fletcher. And welcome to the program.

S3: Thank you for having me. It's wonderful to be back with you.


S3: The unfortunate reality is historically , we've never funded staff cited or reimbursed mental health the same way we do physical health. It's a lingering stigma that we're trying to break down. But I became particularly aware that the focus on the number of beds was missing a critical component. We talk about how many stepdown beds are psych beds or outpatient beds. We've got to talk about the staff to fill those beds and service those individuals. So we knew there's a shortage and we've been adding a lot of workers , but this is the first in the nation look across the board at all sectors to say how many workers and what classifications do we need ? And more importantly , what are the individually tailored strategies for each of those classifications of workers to get us county wide where we can truly meet the needs of folks facing mental health , injury or illness along with addiction.

S4: So the report goes into some of the reasons for the shortage.

S3: I think top of mind that jumps out to me is we ought to pay people better. You know , the simple reality , you know , one thing that really jumped out at me in this report is how much these workers love doing this work. It's incredibly hard , especially when you get into treating some of the most severe mental illness and addiction. They love the work they do. But it is not right that someone who gets trained to do some of the hardest and most needed work in our society can look across the street at someone at Chick-Fil-A who's making more money than them. So we need to pay them. The second thing is we need to open up more career pathways , which means how do we have ladders that people can climb ? How do we help our licensed clinical social workers get the supervised hours they need to be able to do it ? How do we help our our behavioral health setting provide the paid internships ? How do we provide stipends to workers to get more advancement in this field so that they can truly have a career ? And these are all things that are outlined in the report that that we really societally not just county governments , county universities , health care systems , all of us have to come together and figure out how we can address.


S3: And when I called for this report , we've been working on it for a year , I said , I don't want your typical government politician commission blue ribbon with vague recommendations. Tell nonprofits to work with universities and find solutions we wanted. Specific action items need to be taken and now we have an implementation plan. We've already been in meetings about the core group that's going to come together to drive the implementation of these recommendations. So more things county government needs to do. Some of the things we need the state to do , some are things we need philanthropy and private sector to step up and do. Some are things we're going to need universities to do , but we have to get the same coalition that came together to identify the problem and identify the solution. Now , working towards implementation to get more of these workers trained , supported , motivated and in the field serving people who need help.


S3: I mean , the reality is , for four decades , upon end , you know , and there continues to this day , it's less severe , but it continues. And I don't believe there's any difference in someone who is bipolar than someone who has high blood pressure. I don't think there's anything different in someone who suffers from from depression than someone who is diabetic. But we have these stigmas and they're pervasive throughout society. And so we have never provided access to these services. You know , Maureen , if folks listening right now broke their way , they would have no problem getting to a place , getting an x ray , a cast , a set of crutches , and they'd make it home in time for dinner. But if the same individual needed mental health care , it might take 6 to 8 weeks to get an initial appointment. Because we have not built the infrastructure. We have not invested societally. Now that is beginning to change. And at the county were at the forefront of that. But a big part of that means you have to invest in the workforce. Who can serve the people where they need it. And there's never been a comprehensive approach.


S3: I think I think any any effort around this helps. You know , when you think about every year when you get your kids ready for school , you take them to get a physical. Well , you ought to take them to get a wellness check. And that wellness check ought to include a mental health screening , because you can identify a lot of these issues early. And if you treat them early , just the same as a physical health injury , if you treat them early and you do prevention and you do early intervention , you can really avert much more severe and significant things down the road. And I think the states and investment there is good as a county , we invested significantly in screenings in schools , but it's going to take more than that. And the state also has additional funding available. And we've been in conversations and telling them about this effort we're doing , because I think what we've done here in San Diego County in the not too distant future will be replicated statewide , where they will look at every county and then more funding to implement. Getting these folks on line will come. San Diego County is ahead of the curve on this , but I think it conveys how seriously we take this issue and how desperately we want to see progress.

S4: Now , on a slightly related note , the county board of Supervisors has recently been intervening in sheriff's department policies. The board authorized the department to begin recruitment for new deputies and jail medical staff and to improve scanning for drugs.

S3: We're going to do more. The situation in the jails right now is is wholly unacceptable. You know , we cannot have people dying at the levels they are in our custody. And I understand we had a real problem with suicides in our jails and everyone did a lot. And now those numbers have got better. And they're facing an increase in overdose deaths , particularly tied to fentanyl. And we do see an increase in overdose deaths countywide. It's not just in our jails. And what happens in our jails is a reflection of what's happening outside. But all of that being said , it's not an acceptable situation. And our board is committed to continuing to drive and push and demand that we do everything we can. The staffing will help. The medication for addiction treatment services will help. The social worker interventions will help. The scanners and things designed to screen will help. But we are in no way saying , okay , we've done what we need to do. Let's go on to other things. We're going to continue to monitor this and track this and work closely to see what else we can do to make sure , again , that people that come into our custody are given every opportunity to access treatment and help and services , and we want them to be rehabilitated and certainly don't want people dying in our jails.


S3: Some of this is the issue of getting everyone to understand it's just not a matter of siting of bed in a facility. There has to be equal attention given to making sure we have the workers properly trained to staff that facility. The second thing is county government alone cannot solve this problem , and we've never pretended that we could. This is going to take a broad coalition of folks. I mean , literally , these workers work across the spectrum. They work for nonprofits and clinics and hospitals and health care programs in the county and in our jails and really kind of across all Tenino County. So we need everyone committed to being a part of the solution. And so I think you're going to see an incredible coalition of folks come together. We're going to in-depth discuss the findings of this report and begin the discussions of how we implement it and how we hold ourselves accountable to make sure we see progress.

S4: I've been speaking with the chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors , Nathan Fletcher. And thanks so much for joining us. Absolutely.

S3: Absolutely. Thank you for having me on.

S4: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with M.G. Perez in for Jade Hyneman. Just over a week ago , a drug cartel launched a campaign of terror on Tijuana. Vehicles were set ablaze and gunmen blocked major thoroughfares. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis talked to experts about the reasons behind the attacks.

S2: To comprehend what's happening now , you have to understand the history of Mexican cartels. And it begins in the 1970s with the Guadalajara cartel. Professor David Shirk is the director of the Justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego. He says the Guadalajara cartel had sole control of drug trafficking in Mexico until they killed a DEA agent. That's when the U.S. pressured Mexican leaders to go after them.

S3: And in the aftermath , the Guadalajara cartel split into three different criminal organizations.

S5: That controlled different.

S3: Territories in Mexico. The Arellano Felix family controlled the city of Tijuana.

S2: The Ariano Felix family controlled Tijuana until the Sinaloa cartel challenged them in the mid-to-late 2000s. That fight for Tijuana resulted in some of the deadliest years in the city's history. When one cartel controls a city , there's relative peace. But violence increases when rival groups challenge that dominance. That seems to be what's happening in Tijuana right now. Shirk says that Tijuana's recent violence is linked to a fight between the Sinaloa cartel and a rival organization known as the cartel Jalisco , New and Irrational.

S3: There's the local story , I think , about the changing dynamics of security in Tijuana. There's also a larger story about.

S5: The new.

S3: Generation cartel that is has been really for the last several years trying to assert itself as Mexico's new dominant cartel.

S2: But who is this new organization ? Vanda Felbab-Brown studies organised crime for the Brookings Institution. She agrees that we're seeing a repeat of what happened in the 2000 when the Sinaloa cartel took on the Arellano Felix organization. But there's one big difference. The cartel , Jalisco New Industry is much more violent.

S3: The Lakers escalation is not just a repeat of the mid 2000 , but in some ways even more dramatic than the middle thousands. Because then you take the bad is kind of like an ex-con tries to rule through brutality , tries to be more brutal than anyone else.

S2: Now the Sinaloa cartel is no stranger to violence , but its leaders prefer to work behind the scenes. They try to buy off politicians and offer food and even social programs to poor communities. In contrast , cartels communicate intensely on both social media and public spectacles of violence to terrorize communities into submission.

S3: Life tends to be much more brutal , much more difficult , and the cartel is going to rule.

S2: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited Tijuana Friday. He downplayed the violence and said the military is taking care of the issue. Right now , there are 3000 members of the Mexican National Guard patrolling Tijuana. Yet every expert KPBS spoke with said the current wave of violence is the direct result of the Mexican government's overreliance on the military to confront organized crime. Cecilia Farfan mendez is the co-founder of the Mexico Violence Resource Project. She says that Mexico's security strategy is clearly not working.

S4: In terms of thinking , what.

S3: Does this mean ? Well , this means that the.

S4: State increasingly looks weaker in relation to criminal groups.

S2: Stephanie Brewer is director for Mexico at the Washington Office on America. She also says that doubling down on militarization is a mistake.

S3: And unfortunately , what we have seen over the.

S4: Past really ten , 15 years is a lot of repetition of the same go to strategies which consist largely of military deployment.

S2: She says that there's no clear evidence that the strategy even works.

S3: The data do not show any kind of significant , positive impact.

S2: So what's the takeaway ? Was last week's violence a sign of more to come or just a flash in the pan ? Shirkey and the other experts on unsure. They have no way of knowing. And that's by design.

S3: What's going on in this criminal underworld , in the shadows here is like impossible for us to really know what's going on because it's it's like shadow puppetry.

S2: Yet a couple of things are clear. As long as rival cartels are fighting for control of Tijuana , we should expect more violence to continue until someone comes out on top. And even then , it won't be lasting peace. Again , Felbab-Brown from the Brookings Institution.

S4: Legal Beverage Lobby.

S3: In situations where whatever quote unquote piece that is is really just an article piece. It's a piece that is totally at the discretion of the criminal groups.

S2: Gustavo Solis , KPBS News.

S4: Joining me is KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis. Gustavo , welcome. Hello.

S2: Hello. Maureen.

S4: There was the hope several years ago that because many states , including California , were legalizing marijuana and Mexico has moved toward legalization , that the drug cartels in Mexico would be weakened.

S2: And I think looking back , it was kind of naive to to assume that or hope for that. Right. Because cartels just diversify their revenue streams. Right. They don't depend solely on marijuana. They smuggle other drugs , cocaine , fentanyl , heroin. They run extortion rackets. They do weapons smuggling , people smuggling. And they're involved in another of illicit activities.


S2: But but it is worth noting that this isn't a new conflict. This isn't a new do fight between the Sinaloa cartel and the newer Cali school cartel. I mean , they've been fighting for years now. And we do call the Hailey School Cartel a relatively new one. But they were founded back in 2012. What is new , at least in Baja , is the escalation of fighting and the public spectacle , which I mean , it hasn't really been limited just to Baja. We saw it throughout Mexico last week.


S2: Outside of that , I mean , there's currently a travel advisory issued by the State Department warning people from traveling to Baja , California , because of concerns over kidnappings and crimes. And that advisory. Just to be clear , isn't new has been around for several months , I think almost a year now. It's kind of like a blanket advisory to traveling in this part of Mexico.

S4: Now , Tijuana's mayor , Monserrat Carrero Ramirez , has been actively trying to downplay the violence in her city , saying only cars were burned , people were not killed , and the city remained safe because Tijuana authorities contained the situation.

S2: But at the same time , I do think she has a point about the fact that there were no homicides. Right. I mean , Tijuana is a city that's almost synonymous with homicide at this point. So the fact that no one died during the attacks does make it quite remarkable. But to suggest that Tijuana authorities contained the situation , I think is a bit misleading. I think just based on the experts I talked to , I think the fact that no one was killed was the decision made by the cartels and not something that the government actually did. I mean , let's not forget , right ? On Friday night , public transportation stopped. People were stranded all over Tijuana. There was a curfew. People weren't going out the city. It was like a ghost town. And I think it showed the power that the cartel has to shut the city down whenever it wants. Experts told me that it makes the government look weak when the cartel does that show of force. And the mayor did get a lot of heat last week because of other comments she made during the attack. Specifically , she told the cartels to only collect bills from people who owed them. And she told people who owed bills to the cartel to pay their bills. Experts interpreted those comments as just open acknowledgement that extortion is a much more serious problem than previously thought. And it could also be interpreted as the mayor sending a message that extortion is fine as long as citizens are not harmed. Again , it just kind of makes the city look weaker relative to organized crime.

S4: Now , we've heard for months about the murders of journalists in Baja and in other parts of Mexico.

S2: I think it depends who you ask , really. Even though those murders happened in January , there are still multiple theories floating around there. I mean , the government has made arrests , but as far as I know , no one's been convicted of anything. And in in one case or the one involving a lot of this Maldonado government was like barring reporters from covering the court proceedings. So it's been very difficult to get information out of what's going on there. But like I said before. Right. Independent of who is behind the murders , those murders coupled with the city's high homicide rate , coupled with the show of force on Friday by the cartel , they all send the message that local and state government don't really have a handle on crime right now in Tijuana.

S4: So the experts you spoke with seem to be in agreement that Mexico's military crackdowns against drug cartels are not working.

S2: Right. Local law enforcement departments , courts and. Prosecutors to really tackle an underlying issue , not just in Baja , California , but all Mexico , which is just impunity. It's a huge problem. There's a stat that's thrown around often that over 90% of violent crimes go unsolved. Right. So think about that for a second. Cartels are operating in a country where 90% of violent crimes are not investigated and prosecuted. Experts say the government needs to strengthen those institutions and kind of get get that house in order before they can actually tackle the organized crime problem with with efficacy.

S4: I've been speaking with KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis. And Gustavo , thank you.

S2: Well , thank you , Maureen.

S1: Both the Biden administration and California have big goals when it comes to getting more people to drive an electric vehicle as a way to fight climate change. Cost and availability of EVs are obstacles. But there's another challenge. Finding a place to live with a landlord willing to install electric vehicle charging stations. The California Report. Saul Gonzalez has more on that from a recent electric vehicle expo in Long Beach.

S4: And here's where you can feel the.

S6: Instant torque if you want to go ahead and give it a little power on the accelerator pedal. Yes , it's got a 0 to 60 in about 4.7 seconds.

S5: I was sitting in the back seat as prospective buyer Mike Maynard test drove an all electric KIA with a sales rep from the company.

S6: It's very smooth. No engine noise compared to a standard traditional engine , but it's very smooth.

S5: But when we finish the test drive , Mike , who's a renter , said he probably couldn't buy an EV until he moved in.

S6: I live in a multifamily apartment complex. Being able to charge at home overnight may not be as easy as someone who has single family home. And I'm in a garage so they can go home to.

S5: That is a real world thing that you would have to deal with. Absolutely.

S6: Absolutely. It is the number one barrier at this point to buying an electric vehicle.

S5: Industry analyst Loren McDonald says Mike's problem of not having chargers in his apartment building could affect lots of other California renters. There are people who would like to buy an EV but don't have a place to plug in and charge when they come home.

S6: Really , about half of the people in the state live in apartments , condos or homes where they don't have access to conveniently charge. Just plugging it in home every night and waking up in the morning with a full battery. And I think that limits like the growth of the market.

S5: Unlike people who own their own homes , renters have to negotiate with apartment building owners about installing EV chargers , chargers that could cost upwards of $3,000 each and might require pricey electrical upgrades in older buildings. John Schott with charging station company Chargepoint says that makes a lot of apartment owners hesitant to install chargers.

S3: So typically there's some , you know , maybe concern or or hesitancy to do that until they see demand for charging stations at their properties. So they have , you know , tenants or prospective tenants who have electric vehicles and want to charge their vehicles. There might be nobody currently who has an EV or there could just be a single person. So , you know , I think it's kind of a chicken and egg thing.

S5: But there are apartment buildings whose owners have made the leap and installed EV chargers , some because of rebate programs offered by utility companies like Southern California Edison , others because they see chargers as an amenity more tenants will demand in the future.


S5: That's renter Christian BIESECKER. He and his partner Norman Barba Zadeh , purchased an EV last year , but only after they found an apartment building that already had Chargers installed.

S7: It's very convenient to charge the car home like at night. You charge the car to have it ready for the next day.



S8: Yeah , absolutely. And it's crazy because two years.

S6: Ago , I would have never thought that that.

S8: Would be such a big.

S6: Deciding factor for us. But now it's definitely it's like having a laundry machine at home.

S5: Looking ahead , the state of California has partnered with Chargepoint to install EV chargers and multi-family home dwellings , with 75% of the units reserved for buildings in low income communities. But if millions of more California motorists who also rent are going to be encouraged to drive EVs , much more will need to be done to install chargers in apartment buildings across the state.

S1: This is the first day of classes for thousands of community college students across the county. Almost 45,000 of them are registered at City , Mesa and Miramar colleges , along with the San Diego Community College District's Continuing Education campus for the first time since the COVID shutdown in 2020. The district is completely reopen with big plans for the future. Joining us now with more on what's new is the chancellor of the San Diego Community College District , Carlos Cortez. Carlos , welcome to mid-day.

S3: I am depressed. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

S1: You have been with the district since 2015 , but this is only your second year as chancellor , which means you took over leadership at the height of the COVID crisis and chaos along with everything else going on in the world.

S3: And it's been very difficult for community colleges coming out of the pandemic to restore our enrollment to pre-pandemic levels. Most community colleges have seen about a 10% dip , and that has a significant impact on the bottom line. That said , our district is fully reopen and the enthusiasm at our campuses is palpable. We're really excited about what this fall has to offer. The for colleges in the San Diego Community College District and the students presence back on campus makes the environment so much more exciting that we anticipate enrollments going to continue to uptick over the course of this academic year.

S1: You and other administrators have had a busy summer finalizing the district's new strategic plan.

S3: Collectively , over 10,000 students , employees and community members contributed to development of the San Diego Community College District's Strategic Plan , which has identified six overarching goals. And I'll just highlight two of them. One of them is to support the whole student. And so that's going to charge our district to double down on our efforts to identify the obstacles that impede their ability to succeed at school , whether that's housing security , food security , transportation security of child care , the cost of textbooks. We are working overtime to try to mitigate these financial challenges to ensure that our students can focus on their academic and career development. The second goal is a long career development. We've made a commitment in our district to continue to advance our efforts to modernize career education , particularly short term intensive career education. We realize increasingly people are coming out of the pandemic , changing careers that are looking to do so with expediency. And so whether that's the drone technology program at Miramar College , the architecture program at Mesa College or the nursing program at City College , we are well-positioned to help any resident of San Diego who is looking to either upskill in their current career pathway or transform their career pathway altogether. And they can do so in our district at very low costs. And most students actually qualify for free tuition plus additional financial support.

S1: I want to talk to you specifically about student housing. Most community colleges don't provide it. Your district has a proposal to build a high rise complex just a few blocks from the City College campus downtown.

S3: And that would allow us to build 400 plus units directly on the city college campus. This would replace the old child development facility , which has been renovated and restored nearby. One of the advantages our district has between the three credit college campuses and the seven campuses of the College of Continuing Education is that we have ten plots of land in addition to other land that the district owns. And many of these properties are in , as we know , high demand , high rent areas. We are uniquely positioned to help the county and the city to address the housing crisis and that a recent state of the district held by Supervisor Fletcher. I committed our district to building 10,000 of 100,000 units that the community needs to build in order to address the housing crisis over the next decade. However , we do need our partners the city , the county , the state , the Housing Commission , private philanthropy to come forward. Because , as you indicated , we're not in the housing business. Most of our colleges were built as commuter colleges. But we also recognize that unless we can tackle the housing crisis , many of our students are not going to be able to continue their studies in the future because they can't afford to live in our community.

S1: You mentioned free tuition. The deadline to apply for the Promise program was extended through today. It offers free tuition to high school students coming in. But your district is unique in that it also helps older students cover tuition costs.

S3: You know , we're the only district. The state that offers an adult education pathway for the San Diego promise. If an individual takes one class a short 40 hour college readiness class at the College of Continuing Education. Any legal resident anyone is legally authorized as a state resident to enroll in the California community college system , is eligible for free community college here in the San Diego Community College District as part of the San Diego Promise. And we are beyond proud of our commitment to supporting not only young people who are coming out of high school so that they can advance themselves without acquiring student loan debt. But we also offer this opportunity for working adults.

S1: I've been talking with Carlos Cortez , chancellor of the San Diego Community College District. Carlos , thank you. And best of luck in the new semester.

S3: Thank you , KABC. And thank you , M.G. Perez , for being a good friend of the community college district.

S4: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with M.G. Perez in for Jade Hyneman. This year's selections for one book , one San Diego are out. And for adult readers , the choice is the novel The Vanishing Half , by author Brit Bennett. One book , one San Diego is our region's premier literary program , presented in partnership between KPBS and over 80 public libraries , service organizations and educational institutions now in its 16th year. The purpose is to bring our community closer together through the shared experience of reading and discussing the same book. The Vanishing Half by Oceanside native Brit Bennett is a sweeping tale of a family across generations , through the eyes of twin sisters. Readers are taken on an emotional journey examining issues of race , but also about how we are shaped by the past. Brett Bennett spoke with Midday Edition back in July of 2020 at that time. KPBS Midday Edition host Alison Saint John began the conversation asking about how the timing of the book's publication tied into the events of the summer of 2020 in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing.

S3: Yeah , I think the timing is surreal in the way that you said. I didn't expect that when this book came out that people would be eager to read about race or race , racial identity or racism in these different ways. So I hope that the book gives you a good reading experience , a nice emotional reading experience. But I also hope that it allows you a new lens of thinking about identity in a way that is maybe a little bit more complicated than the ways that we often think about identities.

S8: Now , you grew up in Oceanside , but you write really fluently as though you grew up in Saint Landry Parish , Louisiana.

S3: My dad's from Los Angeles. And I grew up in Oceanside , as you said. So I think in a lot of ways I was kind of writing towards my parents in this book , particularly my mom. I was writing in the direction of of her memories of growing up in Louisiana and just her experiences and that the stories that she'd shared with me.

S8: So talk a bit about the underlying premise of the book , the enormous effect the color of your skin has on the choices that you can make , and talk about some of the key choices that these twin sisters make that result in becoming such different people.

S3: The book is I think about that that very question that you just sort of brought up this idea of choice and the ways that we can make sometimes small choices that end up having really large ramifications in our lives. And this book , in the case of Stella , she's a character who chooses eventually to live her life as a white woman. And that's a choice that she kind of stumbles into. She's mistaken for white in a moment , and she just kind of goes with it. So I was always really interested in the idea of racial passing and and kind of the implications of that.

S8: And that's what gives the book such an interesting premise that they can make choices here. And Stella builds this completely new life for herself. Now , the idea of of creating your own your own identity is linked to the idea of being , you know , a free person , which is at the root of what being an American means.

S3: The idea of what characters stand to gain by choosing to be somebody else. But for me , what really became interesting about Stella was was that question of what is she losing by choosing to be somebody else ? She gains access and power and status and wealth and a degree of freedom that she did not have previously. As a black woman growing up in the Jim Crow South. At the same time , she does lose a sense of of her own past. She loses her family. She loses a sense of community and identity and culture. And I found that really compelling to think about what she is actually leaving behind and this choice to be a new person.

S8: So how do you think that choice will resonate with today's readers ? I should make the point that your story takes place in the 1960s and seventies. Right ? Right.

S3: Right. You know , I think that I wanted to to write sort of toward the past , but from a 21st century perspective. And for me , what became also really interesting is this idea of what is a story about passing look like. If we assume that identity is already something that's fluid , if we assume that you can identify in different types of ways throughout your life , that you can see yourself one way that other people can see you a completely different way. Like if we take that fluidity for granted , what is this the story really look like ? And I think that that's maybe what will make this book feel a little bit different for a contemporary reader than a more traditional or a sort of a story written in the past in the way of something like now Larson's passing or even imitation of life. I think it's different from those stories in that way.


S3: You know , I think for Stella , she's I didn't think of her as so much as a character who wanted to be white insofar that she wanted kind of the protections that whiteness affords you that that felt more important , I think , to her this idea that she wants to feel safe and she wants to feel secure. And those are things that she felt like she could only obtain by being white. So I think that now I think of a character like Stella , she would have different opportunities and different avenues available to her that this character would have had back in the sixties.

S8: But it still raises some very relevant questions for today. You know , it relates to anybody who's trying to define themselves , I guess.

S3: I think , again , a lot of passing stories often are very moralizing , where the character who passes is punished at the end for doing so. And I'm just not interested in moralizing and fiction as a reader or as a writer , really. So I knew that I didn't want to punish Stella. I didn't want to reward Desiree. I didn't want to issue some type of judgment like that. I really was more interested in what the what the ramifications are of these choices and how it changes these people based on the choices they make , how their lives change as a result of that.


S3: But I you know , I think that I , I wanted just to write towards these questions that were interested. Interesting to me. You know , the real big question at the center of the book for me is how do we become who we are ? And I think that's kind of a universal question.

S8: Exactly right. That's that's what struck me was it could relate to anybody struggling to define themselves. And you so interestingly , take it into the next generation , the daughters of the twins who somehow carry the the trauma of the violence done to their grandfather , even though one of them was never even told about it.


S3: I think one of the things that I was interested in for for that strand of the story was kind of this question of generational trauma and that , you know , they have studied they do studies that show that , you know , genetically , that people who've experienced these degrees of trauma , that their body is almost change , like at a cellular level. There's something that changes in them physically. And that was always a really interesting idea for me as a writer to think about how , as you know , as children , we inherit things from our parents that we may have no way of ever understanding. We may have no context for it , but we still inherit how they were brought up and how they were treated. And there was something to me so interesting about that gap between how we understand our parents and what we actually inherit from them.

S4: That was Allison Saint John speaking with Britt Bennett , author of The Vanishing Half Back in 2020. You can find Britt Bennett's book as well as all of this year's selections for one book , one San Diego at KPBS dot org.

U.S. and Mexican officials hope the new Otay Mesa East Port of Entry will shorten long wait times at the San Diego-Tijuana border when it’s open in 2024. Then, a new report finds the county needs more than 18,000 new therapists, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists in the next 5 years, to meet demand. And, just over a week ago, a drug cartel launched a campaign of terror on Tijuana new KPBS reporting sheds light on the reasons behind the attacks. Next, one obstacle for expanding adoption of electric vehicles is availability of charging stations for renters. Then, San Diego’s community college students are back in school in person Monday. Finally, this year’s selections for One Book One San Diego are out, and for adult readers the choice is the novel “The Vanishing Half,” by Oceanside native, author Brit Bennett.