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The Lengthy Court Process Of Evicting Squatters

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A look at the lengthy court process of evicting squatters; San Diego Unified School District and Sweetwater Union High School District announced layoffs in the past week; and the federal government is tracking journalists and activists working with the migrant caravans.

Is the government secretly tracking journalists covering migrants at the southern border. That's what a local investigative report shows. Removing scofflaw tenets from your property is harder than you think. We take an in-depth look at how squatters are dealt with. And to local school districts announced staff layoffs. Why. The districts say cuts are necessary. I'm Mark Sauer the K PBS roundtable starts now.

Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories I'm Mark Sauer. And joining me at the PBS roundtable today Murray Payton an investigative journalist with NBC 7 San Diego Christina Catto from the San Diego Union Tribune and reporter Peter Rowe also with the Union Tribune national attention this week is focused on a story by NBC 7 investigates about how the government is tracking journalists and others working with the migrant caravans of asylum seekers and Maya the opening of your story lays it all out and we're going to hear that right now.

In December 2013 a migrant caravan from Honduras was heading toward the Tijuana San Diego border. While those migrants made their way toward the San Ysidro port of entry so did immigration advocates attorneys and journalists including freelance photojournalist Ariana Dressler a sheet quite a lot I did shoot a lot of portraits dress Laura estimated she had crossed the border from San Ysidro dozens of times for work.

I was very transparent about what I was doing if I was asked by an agent what was I doing.

I would tell them I was photographing at the shelters but in the month that followed her coverage of the caravan Dressler said she and other journalists became targets of intense inspections. Some of them told NBC 7 investigates they suspected the U.S. government was monitoring them closely.

All right. And Mara let's start right there. The first question how do you get on to this story.

OK. So a source with Homeland Security actually came to us and said that he had some information that was important that was troubling for that person. And so basically what it was were screenshots of a database and the database included 59 journalists advocates an attorney. And on that were some pretty detailed information.

OK. And so the database shows it. Let's go back to this photo journalist for example. Tell us who she is and specifically what happened to her.

Yeah Adriana Dressler she is she's worked in San Diego. Some of you guys might even recognize her work. She's a great photojournalist. And she was working as a freelancer so she wasn't tied to any one agency. Eventually she ended up covering the caravan for BuzzFeed and UPI and she was shooting photos all throughout 2013 suddenly at the end of 2018 she was going in for secondary questioning basically as she she's coming back through the border to the US acts and instead of saying OK you're fine.

After checking the info and so many of us have done that they say over here we're going to look closer.

Exactly. And that's not it didn't just happen one time it actually happened three times. This was following in November if you'll recall there were sort of a violence had erupted at the border. Tear gas was used. Everyone kind of remembers that scene. And so following that incident in December she was called in for quite secondary questioning. And then two more times in January. Not only were they asking her questions about why she was there which is pretty standard procedure but they asked to look at some of her photographs in one instance she was asked to separate from her cell phone from her gear which made her feel uncomfortable and she didn't know anything about the database but maybe suspected that they were tracking her that they were keeping tabs on her because of all this questioning that was going on.

And then we came to her with this sort of smoking gun if you will you know with the documents that you'd gotten.

So a lot of folks as you say have been suspicious because of this secondary questioning and a lot of this unusual behavior by the border officials as they went through the border here and this kind of confirms it all now.

Right. So people a lot of people have reported about the secondary questioning but I think it really ramped up in December or January even last month. And so people sort of have been talking about other news agencies that have reported on it but this was sort of the first proof that we had that it was going on. Yes the U.S. government was keeping this database on some of these people private citizens. You have to remember and it wasn't just you know Customs and Border Protection that had access to it it was the San Diego sector of the FBI Department of Homeland Security.

And the the homeland security source said that this is not what they're supposed to do. They have policies against creating dossiers and backgrounds on people.

I mean he called it an abusive border search authority. He was obviously alarmed enough to do something about it. And so just felt like it wasn't what their agency was meant to be doing.

All right. Governor Gavin Newsom was at CPAC a visiting down here yesterday and we got a bite from him on this topic. The irony of that shouldn't be lost on anyone that we have better data collection.

Against Journalists than we do. Children and parents. You can't make that up. I mean you heard the testimony. Yesterday and you know. Apparently we don't collect data on children separation and. Yet the courts have to do it and we find out 471. Parents have been. Removed from their. Children and. Yet. We have deep data. Collection on all of you. That's that's America. Twenty ninety. It's a disgrace. It's disconcerting. Talk about Big Brother. I mean it manifests so many fears.

Of course for everyone in the community. Those fears have been manifesting all their lives. They see that every single day. In some ways this may be a breakthrough. In journalism. Is in fact it may be all of a sudden that will change the hearts and minds of the folks. That you know. Are making some of the big decisions about what we put on the news every single night. And. In some perverse way this could be a good thing.

All right. So we hear from the California governor you've gotten some other response here just today. Have you.

Yeah. In fact I mean we haven't even yet to report this basically but the different senators and yesterday it was actually we should start with yesterday House Democrats demanding that the Customs and Border Protection hand over the database and then answer a number of questions. Their deadline to do so is March 14th. Then come today just a few minutes actually before I came on this show. There was a letter written by Senator Blumenthal to Secretary Nielson sort of demanding some of the same things but also wanting to know which officials within the department were involved.

And they also have a deadline in March a little bit later.

So far there's been no official response though right. They haven't come bonded to these requests right.

Well they wouldn't go on camera right this because they're more predictable.

You know what. Yes.

So they actually last Friday they sort of gave it a generic statement defending the practice of needing to gather information from people that were tied to the caravan possibly labeled as instigators. If you look at the cover letter of the database it says something about tracking organizers instigators and the media. So they they sort of defended the practice in general terms. But then right before we went to air we broke this story earlier this week. They said that all of these people have a connection to the November incident that happened which we have found not to be true.

We've interviewed at this point about half of the people on the database and some of them say they weren't even there when that happened so we're still trying to find that connection between all of them. So if there is one.

OK. Now ACLU human rights attorneys of course. What do they have to say about this practice.

Well I mean they're calling it a First Amendment disaster. They're calling it unconstitutional so they at this point have not issued as far as I know any legal action but say they'll explore all options available.

OK. And as you said you may be hearing we may be hearing from from Congress on this as well and see what sort of question and they come up with. You mentioned that that the Committee to Protect Journalists last fall issued a report. It's obviously still going on from your reporting here and perhaps is expanded. What's the response you're getting from the general public. What are what are people saying after your story is there.

I mean as you can imagine people sort of on both sides some people saying it was an outrage it goes against the First Amendment. Why are they tracking private citizens this is documentation of that. And then of course you have people that say well this is what our government should be doing. There is a national crisis at the border if you will and that this is what has to be done. So I mean it definitely is bringing up a lot of emotion on all sides of the issue if you will. And I really think that's why people are spending so much time on focus on this story now have the journalists you've talked to say it's affecting how they do their jobs or.

I mean it seems like it might have a chilling effect on certain individuals.

Right. So in other journalists not Arizona but another journalist we spoke with actually she's a work for National Geographic and she's a photographer as well. And she said she was actually flying from Montreal through Detroit to Mexico City and she was there and all of a sudden she was questioned in Canada again in Detroit. And then once she got to Mexico City. Question for hours then turned back around. And since then she has not been able to go back into Mexico for work. So of course I mean especially if you're a freelance photojournalist or a reporter if you will a writer this really affects your work because you're working from story to story.

Case by case you're not getting a salary from someone. So this is really affecting people.

It's getting your work off. Exactly. One last question before we move on. You mentioned that journalist in Mexico City Mexican government is cooperating somewhat with with the folks on the U.S. side and they're stopping folks going into more questioning into Mexico that we're going south.

Yeah. Again if you look at that screenshot of the cover of this of this report you'll see the American flag and the Mexican flag. So we were sort of questioning what involvement the Mexican government had in all of this. They issued a statement yesterday. And basically what they said is they denied that they were doing any sort of illegal activity that they were spying on people but they also said they had their own questions for the Department of Homeland Security and they would be looking into it as well.

All right terrific reporting. We're looking for your follow ups and what happens on the congressional side in Washington. We're going to move on. Our second story drew attention because of the famous name involved the late Tony Gwynn San Diego's beloved Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn died of cancer in 2014. Last year his two point three million dollar partway home was lost to foreclosure and that brought news it was not empty but occupied by a squatter. And Pete pick up the story there. This intruder kind of got you wondering what's going on.

How rare is this you know a Jay Harry Jones and film all our reporters at the Union Tribune did the story and they spoke to sheriff's deputies about you know why this guy was in the House and the sheriff's deputies response was curious he said hey listen you know we have to follow the process here. So the story was well what is that process. What happens when there's a squatter in your house. And it's really quite involved if you are a homeowner and someone is in your property without your permission. There is a very long process that you go through legally to get someone out.

You can't just walk in and say hey get the heck out of here.

Well you can do that but that opens you up to legal jeopardy you could be sued.

I heard some people talk about a black bag evictions where you take these black Hefty bags you go and you grab the tenants possessions throw them in the bag and toss them out on the sidewalk and say There you go. But then you can be sued for you know illegally illegally evicting them.

Now there's kind of two tracks as I read your story here.

The hook was this situation where you have an empty house going to be shown by realtors and all and realtors are reluctant to really talk about this that people can go around maybe to see empty houses and hang out there for a few days. That's that's one situation.

But that's rather a few days or there's one famous case there's a woman who kind of roams a lawyer in a late model Lexus and she does this as kind of a day spa she'll show up just for a couple of hours and a really nice house that's empty. You know and go swimming or take a nap or you know just kind of hang out and then leave. But then there are others who kind of move in and try and make it more of a resident get everything but a pedicure there.

That's correct. Well let's talk about about that other track which is you've got tenants suddenly they're not paying the rent. You started the Yannick anecdote with curious Scott Packard rented their home out in Carlsbad they were out of the country for a time things look good at the beginning and then what happened. Yeah.

So the Packard's are off in Germany. Scott Packard had a job there. So they rented their house out. It's a nice I think three bedroom two bath you know kind of a standard Carlsbad home. So they rented it to this professional couple. They look good on paper. And initially they started with late payments and then after that they were partial payments. And then the last six months they were there. There were no payments whatsoever. So they came home thinking that they would move into their place and they found that legally they couldn't do that that they had to follow this process that was going to take them anywhere from you know maybe two weeks to 24 weeks.

And it's happening so often there's a whole Superior Court department dedicated basically to this whole squatter tenant dispute situation.

Yeah I was surprised to find that departments 60 in Superior Court. And when you go there there's a morning and an afternoon calendars just like every other department but they'll have you know maybe 20 or 30 cases in the morning and 20 or 30 in the afternoon. Most of these are very fast in the cases. By time it gets to court things have been hashed out. Usually there's not even a trial. Usually the judge is just you know hearing that they've come to a settlement fine. Bam onto the next case it did sit in on one trial went for all of 25 minutes.

Evidence was presented. There were a couple witnesses.

And as happens in something like 95 percent of the cases the judge found for the property owner and there's someone on the other side of this thing you learn in court that sometimes the tenants have some some beefs themselves though.

Yes. Yeah. Explain how that might.

And actually I mean I've been a landlord and I've been a tenant and I've had good tenants and I've had bad landlords. I mean you know these things happen and there are times you know when a tenant really needs you know the these laws to protect them from you know abusive landlords landlords who don't provide a safe dwelling place who don't provide a clean place. You know let bugs and roaches infest the place.

So it's important now these laws in place so they get a beef to the backdrop and kind of the river running through your story of course is our housing crisis the incredible cost of renting here. When you think of the economy go south again which inevitably it will at some point we expect this whole phenomena to grow the whole squatting situation.

Yes I mean that's the simple answer is yes.

And the realtor didn't talk to me say this rises and falls. I mean right now we've got you know literally hundreds of cases every month. You know in that department 60 in a good economy in a good economy. But you see these cases take off whenever there's a recession.

All right well yes please do. He got into the car bad family what happened to the couple.

OK. So the Carlsbad family they were so frustrated they they went through the first step which was to write the letter of demand and mail it to their their tenants last known address which of course was there all right. And then and then these people had up to 18 days to respond.

They never responded. They went back and checked and they'd cleared out. So. So they had short circuited the process just by moving out which does happen. Right. But other folks say you have to be really prepared for the long run it may take you months to get you big and then can they take legal action once they're out of the home and what's the course for.

And I mean you said that they were all rent for a month. How do you want to go.

Yes. Yes they can. However when they move back in if they find that the tenants had left any property they're legally responsible to safeguard that property for two weeks. If they just tossed the property out they can be sued for damages.

Murray you don't ever want to be a landlord.

So now you're reaching out.

All right. We are going to move on is a great story. Well here we go again to school districts this week announced layoffs they blamed on a budget shortfalls a common refrain for many district districts a few years back staff cuts are planned at San Diego Unified and at Sweetwater Union High School District. Let's begin with San Diego Unified. Tuesday night the board voted 4 to 1 to approve layoffs job eliminations. Here's what Superintendent Cindy Martin had to say.

The elimination of the positions is never an easy decision as we know. However in order to ensure the district maintains its strong fiscal position in the coming school year we must work with the limited meet within our limited means. Some of the eliminations within this item tonight are a result of central office department and school level decisions based on the needs of our students. Other. Eliminations are due to the end of grant funding.

All right Kristen. Staff members insist though there's not really a lack of funding what's their argument.

I think what they're feeling right now is largely a frustration about just the fact that there will be eliminations of positions. There is a lack of funding like there's going to be a 37 million dollar expected shortfall with the latest number that the district has put out. So they are letting staff are always the biggest cost of any school district is more than 80 percent of their budget. So it's inevitable that if you have to make budget cuts you have to cut staff in some way. But I think we saw the meeting on Tuesday that there were staff who were upset that they were like they're going to have libraries that weren't going to be staffed five days a week or barely one day weeks in some cases they said.

So it's just going to there's going to be an impact on schools. But I don't think we know for sure yet what that's going to be.

All right I want to get into that a little bit more in a second but you've nicely set up our next byte here was an emotional meeting and we we heard from some folks who came up and spoke about it from the rank and file it is not OK that you're laying off of one to ten fifteen twenty seven or thirty seven going through this motion of moving papers and moving numbers. These are human beings that deserve to be respected on the job and you have that duty. Thing.

As an elected official. You have that duty.

And I ask you to send your team back and do the work and figure out where the money is. Our students deserve better.

All right. Very emotional as we said there. So tell us what it's looking like right now. We're gonna get in a minute how this whole process works but what specific positions how many we're talking about different positions are involved at San Diego.

Yes so for sure the district has said that they're going to be laying off 33 certificated teachers in addition to four certificate administrators. And then there's going to be as many as 60 is about sixty five or 66 classified positions that might be laid off as well. We're not sure yet exactly who will be laid off. The district has a couple months more to decide exactly who. But yes there is. So those are the people we know could be.

And we should note that's out of a total number of employees about 10000. Yeah. Robin the San Diego mayor San Diego district so the impact on students and in the classroom then where the rubber meets the road. Do we know exactly what that might be.

Yes. So the positions that are being eliminated includes like school health technicians early childhood AIDS. So a lot of classroom aides were on kind of on the table but then there are also those 33 certificated positions include teachers a number of foreign language teachers were included in that. And then the district has said that they've argued that they made sure to cut as like according to need. So they prioritized student needs when they were deciding who to cut.

All right one one school board member voted against it. What was his.

Yeah. Kevin visor. And it's interesting because he's a teacher currently. So he. I'd imagine maybe he might have been feeling the same or under his frustrations and listening to the teacher teacher's emotions but I think he brought up an interesting point in that. Like the district did it. So they're saying while they're cutting these positions are also adding some dozens more positions but the district didn't say what those positions are. So it's really kind of foggy. We don't know what's needed and we don't know what's being added.

So yeah that's confusing. Yes it's really confusing so the district will actually be talking more about their budget next week at their next board meeting and they'll have a bigger picture of what their budget cuts are going to look like. But there is really no I want more to come.

Certainly let's shift over to the Sweetwater Union High district they voted Saturday night closed door meeting result of that vote. But what are we looking at there.

Yeah so they voted to release up to eighty seven administrators from their positions so those people could be laid off. They could be assigned to different positions but more likely it will include at least some layoffs and that includes all of the district's 69 assistant principals. So it could have a pretty big impact on schools.

Sure could. Now the deficit at the Sweetwater High district what are the nuts and bolts on that.

Yes. Actually I just looked this morning they have they've updated their numbers so right now we're expecting to see about twenty two and a half million dollars of budget cuts that they have to make for the next school year to make ends meet. So this is part of this is part of them trying to reduce their costs that way.

And Sweetwater of course has been in the news what union district enmeshed in scandal. Give us kind of the thumbnail on that we've had a line.

It is. Yeah. Just quickly. Yeah. Yes sure.

So basically I was found an agency found in December that they have been basically reporting incorrect information about their finances for years and they've been underestimating expenditures. They've been borrowing money to make ends meet. And so I might add. There's a lot of and there's a lot of internal controls that we're locking in their financial systems so.

And that's still playing out as well. Yeah. All right we got the almost out of time time here. But we touched on this earlier this still has to play out over a few months because you've got to get the governor's budget the reconciliation that the numbers really come into sharper focus down the road. Yeah.

Yeah they will. Districts won't finalize their budgets until June. So they still have that time and then we still don't know exactly what this date is going to give them in terms of money.

And for example last year some pink slips went out and they have to go out they have to warn folks you may get laid off but the numbers were pared back right in San Diego for example.

Yeah. Yeah. They actually actually only laid off less than half of what they were originally what they originally sent out pink slips to. Yeah. So it's they will either resignations or retirements help reduce those numbers you know.

So attrition comes into this and all the numbers will be crystallized after a while. Well we are as I say about out of time but you know we have these stories so much more in the news. Ten years ago when the when the economy was going south and as I mentioned with Pete story on the housing I imagine a kind of go south. We can expect these happening more more and more. Well fascinating stuff. We'll look for your follow up reporting on that. Well that does wrap up another week of stories at the PBS roundtable.

I'd like to thank my guest Kristin Takada of the Peter Rowe of the San Diego Union Tribune you're both together on this side and Mary Peyton of NBC 7 investigates. And a reminder all the stories we discussed today available on our Web site PBS. RG I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for being with us today and join us again next Friday on the roundtable.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.