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California's COVID-19 Setback

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY NICHOLAS MCVICKER

Above: Cameron Braselton closes the patio to his Oceanside restaurant Mission Avenue Bar and Grill, June 26, 2020.

The state of California reimposes restrictions on certain businesses as COVID-19 cases surge, the city of San Diego wants public input on plans to transform the Midway District, and Comic-Con International prepares an online experience this week due to the convention's cancellation.

Speaker 1: 00:01 California's easing of COVID-19 restrictions is on hold. The new period of uncertainty for businesses, schools, and hospitals, San Diego wants to modernize the midway district, the competing plans and how both are missing one big thing and the Comicon, unlike any other canceled for the first time in 50 years, organizers try to bring the pop culture convention to you via the internet. I'm Mark Sauer and the KPBS round table starts now welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Mark Sauer, and joining me on our remote version of the KPBS Roundtable today, Mario Kerryn, San Francisco based reporter for the British newspaper, the guardian David Garrick, who covers city hall for the San Diego union Tribune and KPBS arts reporter Beth Armando. If it feels like California is slipping in its fight against COVID-19, the headlines might explain why businesses are being ordered to close. Again, case numbers are peaking and parents are being told they won't be able to send their kids back to school after all. And that was just this week, Mario Kerryn, formerly a voice of San Diego. Now reports for the British newspaper, the guardian he's a correspondent now in the Bay area. Hi, Mario. Welcome back to the round table. Hey Mark. Thanks for having me. Well, your latest report dives into the rollback for certain businesses that includes restaurants and hair salons that operate on thin margins. How are they reacting to all this?

Speaker 2: 01:37 All right. So this, this week when, uh, governor Gavin Newsome ordered all bar shut down and all the restaurants to close indoor operations, um, a couple of reporters and I fanned out in LA San Francisco and Los Angeles to talk to business owners about how they felt about the changes we heard from a number of visits owners who are, uh, you know, quite frustrated, a bit confused by the average trend G change in guidance and, um, shopkeepers who have been, you know, sometimes, uh, investing a lot of time and money in getting the protections, the precautions that they need in place. And so some of them, we're seeing a little bit of light in the outdoor dining operations that were allowed to go on when that was closed down. It just, we heard more than once we heard a version of the comment that it's been such a blow to do all this work only to have it yanked out under our.

Speaker 1: 02:30 Now you also covered the decision by San Diego and LA schools to go online this fall. How's that been received by teachers?

Speaker 2: 02:36 Yeah, so I think we are seeing, um, some, some, some mixed reactions there, obviously this is a very emotional issue in think it cuts to the core of many issues for parents. So it was just from monitoring social media, you know, I see, I do see a lot of parents that appear to be very frustrated, but I do think that if we're looking at the case numbers and if there was ever a justification justification for closing in person schools from a public health standpoint, that same justification is in play. Now, as counties are really scrambling to get, um, to get their Upworks under

Speaker 1: 03:11 And the California teacher's association, they're sounding the alarm, they sent a letter to governor Newsome, warning, many schools just aren't ready to welcome back students. Uh, they have these same concerns that you're outlining, right?

Speaker 2: 03:23 Yeah. I mean, that's, that's basically it. I mean, CTA sent that letter to governor Newsome, um, essentially saying, look, we don't feel prepared, uh, under the current circumstance or circumstances to reopen schools, not only was there a concern that there was adequate PPE and protection for, for teachers as well as students, but there still remains a lack of clarity on what would, what would happen on things like what would happen if, um, there was an outbreak at school, how would the school respond? The questions like that are very complicated to answer, and they're still complicated for counties to answer. So I think what we're seeing from CTA is just them holding up a white flag saying, hold up, let's, let's pause on these reopening plans, at least until we can sort some of these details out

Speaker 1: 04:08 The, uh, orange County education officials are recommending in person classes, which is of course a neighboring County down here. Why do they think they can go back to school? It's just so uneven one County to the next.

Speaker 2: 04:19 Yeah. So the orange County board of supervisors approve the recommendation to have in person classes without the use of mask. I do need to say probably with the, with the caveat that just because the orange County board of supervisors allow that plan to move forward, um, it did really give the decision to individual school districts. So they made the case. Look, we're not telling everybody that they can't, that, that they have to go back to school without mass. We're leaving that decision to schools, but at the same time, this goes back to the point that it just creates an as to this uneven layer or this, this sort of uneven patchwork of, of reopening plans. When you have the two largest school districts in the state, Los Angeles and San Diego, San Diego unified making the decision that classes will be only online come fall. And then you have a County right in the middle of them are very close to them. That is, you know, greenlighting the opposite, right?

Speaker 1: 05:21 That's very confusing. Absolutely. I want to shift over to Imperial County, just East of San Diego here. You've been reporting on the situation there, how's it been evolving in recent,

Speaker 2: 05:31 They are still in the midst of their war against COVID. As one doctor told me the 14, eight day average, uh, for cases they're still climbing. The sense that I've gotten speaking with healthcare professionals is that I didn't get so much of a sense of panic as I did just being fatigued and overwhelmed at this ongoing barrage of cases that really started to skyrocketing there in April and have stayed high. Um, when I last checked in, it was, it was still a case of being, having patients airlifted out, um, on average, 15 to 17 times a day to higher levels of care outside the County. Um, some as far away as San Francisco. Um, and it was a case of, of, of doctors, you know, trying to, trying to make the case to get, uh, the, the resources that they needed. They were short on ventilators. They were asking for 10 more from the state. And that has just been an ongoing challenge as these cases just keep coming.

Speaker 1: 06:27 And of course, this is the poorest County in California, and that exacerbates everything is going on there. Right,

Speaker 2: 06:33 Right. No, that's that's right. Um, I think what we're seeing in Imperial County is really an exaggerated version of what we see across California and across the country. When we're looking at the disproportionate impact of COVID. We know that this virus hits especially hard when their underlying health factors in chronic disease in Imperial County, we're talking about high levels of air pollution, high rates of childhood asthma that are just off the charts. And when we talk about poverty, we're talking about things like lack of access to healthcare, no insurance living in multigenerational homes. And of course continued work in the community. If their jobs are deemed essential, the largest central workforce in Imperial County, that's made up largely of agricultural workers who might not have access to the mask or PBE, or a safe ride to work that doesn't put them at further risk. So, you know, when we're, when we're talking about Imperial County from advocate's point of view, they're looking around pointing at all of these conditions around them and saying, well, it's really no surprise. We've allowed these conditions to exist. And we are basically a poster child for where COVID thrive.

Speaker 1: 07:42 And the CEO for the El Centro regional medical center also tell you, he believes part of the reason for the spike is people visiting nearby places that had a period of reopening San Diego and Arizona. Uh, how does the patchwork of rules and regulations feed into the struggle to get control of the virus?

Speaker 2: 07:59 Well, I think it very clearly complicates a complicated, I think it complicates a uniform response to it. Um, all of us living in California are very familiar with this idea of local control and the notion that each locality can determine for itself the best course of action, but that makes it very difficult to contain the spread of a virus when somebody's living in a County that might be locked down, can simply get in their car, drive to a neighboring town, grab a beer at a bar at a bar, or maybe sit down and have a meal and sometimes do it without masks. So, you know, I, I just think all that makes it less surprising that we're seeing these sort of uneasy even surges in outbreaks, um, across counties is we're looking at the state as a whole.

Speaker 1: 08:43 Now you write for the guardian that's based in the UK and has a global audience. What's the sense you get from international colleagues and readers about America's handling of the COVID-19 crisis. I can speak of this. I talk about this from

Speaker 2: 08:56 A of a standpoint of readership and some of the stories that do stand out as our most popular in these past several months have really, so many of them have been around Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic. There's there's these stories that do really well over the sense of disbelief over what came out of the president's mouth. There's also been great challenge at the times that Trump was challenged either by, uh, dr. Fowchee or by or by a female reporters. A one, one widely read story came from a press conference in which CBS reporter Paula Reed asked the president to account for what he did during the first six weeks of the pandemic. And Trump did what we've seen him do before he insulted her. He called her fake and he dismissed the news outlet. So I think that there's this sense. And it shows up in the readership and in the interest, we are seeing a president who has denied science over and over again. So there's some level of satisfaction when, when he is challenged, there's some level of relief that he's, we're not living in a parallel universe where there aren't consequences for, for actions or words. But of course, that comes with the grim caveat that it's already taken very many lives to make that case.

Speaker 1: 10:07 And there's going to be consequences politically, of course, because we have a big election coming up. I've been speaking with Mario Korean West coast reporter for the guardian. Thanks very much, Maria, thanks by a drive through the midway district in 2020 can feel like a tour of 1960s, San Diego, a mix of care, shopping centers, warehouses, strip clubs, and the sports arena. Now more than a half century old, but change is coming. The city wants the public to weigh in on competing proposals that would transform the midway district into a modern livable community. Our guest is union Tribune, reporter David Garrick. Who's covering the plans as he covered city hall and the process for us. Uh, Dave, how you doing today? Pretty good Mark. Thanks for having me well for those who aren't familiar with, the geography, where is this part of San Diego and why does its location make it such a valuable site?

Speaker 2: 10:56 Yeah, it's really, really prime acreage. It's amazing how sort of underutilized it is. It's sandwiched between old town and point Loma and the airport in mission Bay park. It's about 850 acres that developers have been salivating over for a long time to build sort of dense housing there. And I feel like they'll be able to charge quite a lot for that housing because it's so convenient to near freeways near that transit hub at SANDAG is planning. It's near mission Bay park. It's near the beaches. It's really an ideal spot for some dense housing, which helps San Diego solve its housing crisis.

Speaker 1: 11:27 Yes. And as you say, we had a lot of ink, a lot of discussion on the mission Valley stadium site, which has been resolved, but this particular prime site there in the midway district, hasn't gotten much discussion. Uh, we have two proposals, let's start with the group affiliated with the LA live project near the staple center. They've got a history with this sort of thing. What's that proposal look like?

Speaker 2: 11:48 I would say that their history is probably their number one selling point because LA live has been almost universally as a great sort

Speaker 3: 11:54 Of entertainment district. And they have a similar district. They are responsible for in London. That's also been praised. I've not been able to visit that one, but I assume the praise is warranted. Uh, their proposal, I think most people feel is sort of less imaginative. It has less bells and whistles. It doesn't necessarily mean it's not the right proposal, but I think the early feedback from the public is that it's sort of a more straightforward, it's going to be 21, uh, 2100 units of housing. Uh, and then some retail shops, five acres of public parks, and they don't have any plans right now to renovate the arena, despite it being 54 years old and sort of universally criticized as past its prime. And that's a stark contrast to the other proposal, which is from the toll brothers, sort of a national housing developer, which has lots of bells and whistles, maybe too many, some would say, you know, it includes a 12 acre public park, a modular stadium for the San Diego Royal soccer team. What loyal, excuse me, uh, and, uh, 335, a hundred seat music venue, a hotel, a fitness building. And that would renovate the sports arena and spend 125 million to do that.

Speaker 1: 12:56 Wow, that is quite a bit. So they are really differing proposals, quite a stark difference there,

Speaker 3: 13:02 But the city, the city obviously says they want the public to weigh in, but they also mentioned one of their key criteria would be the proposer's track record and their financial capability. I'm not an expert on this stuff. And I wouldn't say that toll brothers don't have strong financial capability, but obviously the track record of folks who have done LA live is probably going to weigh in their favor. Um, and one thing that both development teams stressed to me in my interviews with them last week is that this is their initial proposal, but there is an ability to make changes along the way during the development process. So it's not like what they, you see on these designs on the city's website is locked in. Once the agreement is done, that has to be that way. This is sort of a general vision that they have laid out for the city and hopes of convincing the city, that they are the right developer to handle it. But it's not like they're going to be held to every last detail of each proposal.

Speaker 1: 13:49 The city has a website, they're calling a virtual open house where people can see the plans in detail. What's the public comment process and the deadline that's coming up for that,

Speaker 3: 13:59 Oh, you go on and you can comment. I guess it's kind of freestyle. It seems like the city has rarely done this and they've only, they've never done it. I believe before for a request for proposals, they've done it before on other proposals, like a city policy, but for actually evaluating two proposals from private developers, they said, they've never done this before, but they say it's important enough to do it because this is the city sort of last prime piece of land that's left to be developed. The deadline is July 20th. So it's a short period. City only gave people 11 days to comment, but they wanted to make sure it covered two weekends. Uh, when people are theoretically are more available to comment. Uh, but at the end of the day on July 20th, if you haven't commented forever, hold your peace.

Speaker 1: 14:38 That's Monday, July 20th. Now, when we think of the midway district, one of the first things that comes to mind is the sports arena as you, as you mentioned, but despite everything being proposed, no noon, new arena included here, the plans are, as you're saying and what the address, which is the centerpiece of the land in question, and what's the status of a potential new arena in San Diego and midway or elsewhere.

Speaker 3: 15:01 You know, I, I don't know how all these calculations get, get created by these companies, but I imagine if either thought it was feasible to use the revenue from the housing and other development to build a brand new arena, that they would have included that in the proposal. So I think the fact that both of them didn't means that it's maybe just doesn't pencil out for San Diego to have a new arena, at least at this time.

Speaker 1: 15:21 And what's the feedback you're hearing from people who live and work in that midway area to they feel the overhaul is needed. Are they excited about it? Or,

Speaker 3: 15:29 Yeah, there's a very, very small number of people who live there, but the people who work there, they make up the community planning group there. And there are some residents, they feel it that this is badly, badly needed. I mean, that's an area that's congested with traffic that needs to get fixed that has these gigantic mega blocks, that creates sort of no sense of community. Um, there aren't any parks, uh it's you know, as you mentioned, there's strip clubs and fast food joints and auto related businesses. I mean, it really is sort of an eyesore, um, and that dramatically needs improvement and it's so easy to make it happen because when you try to convince developers to build somewhere like Grantsville, which is just East of mission Valley, some developers were reluctant. This area, developers love this because it's near the ocean. It's near the beaches. It's near freeways. I mean, they know that they can build housing there and charge enough to make a profit.

Speaker 1: 16:15 And the public comment period ends, as you say on Monday, July 20th, what's the nuts and bolts. What do people want to know if they want to get online and weigh in,

Speaker 3: 16:24 I'll go there and say it succinctly and make the city understand why you think one proposal is superior to the other. And, uh, the city website for it is a basically sports arena input.org. Or you can go to the San diego.gov city website and try to go the development services department.

Speaker 1: 16:39 Not all that easy. If you go on the website just to find it the okay,

Speaker 3: 16:43 Whose website doesn't have it on there, which I think is surprising. So hopefully they'll listen to us today and fix that between now and Monday,

Speaker 1: 16:50 She can go on to the San Diego union Tribune website and look for your story. There's an easy link there or on KPBS and the round table, a story a for this week show. And there's a link there that they can go on. Final question. Now, after the city chooses a winning proposal, what comes next?

Speaker 3: 17:06 That's a complicated thing that I wish I understood better, but basically, uh, you know, Kevin Faulkner mayor, Kevin Faulkner staff will basically negotiate a comprehensive lease and development agreement when with the winning development or, and that's where I was talking earlier before about how the development team sorta told me that there was sort of wiggle room and in what they're going to do, that's where that's where the changes could come in. And then that will be presented to the city council for approval. So those were, I was talking about earlier, where even though we're looking at these plans online, every detail may not end up being exactly as it is presented now because there'll be a negotiation

Speaker 1: 17:40 And you can follow David Garrick's reporting on this in the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks for joining us today, Dave, thanks for having me Mark. You won't be seeing any superheroes wandering around downtown, no costume throngs at the convention center or lines outside theaters, where actors from popular productions are appearing. This weekend would have marked the arrival of people from around the world ahead of Comicon international. The summer pop culture convention was scheduled to begin July 22nd, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced its first ever cancellation. There's a constellation experience though. Comicon at home. Joining us to talk about it as Beth Huck, Mondo arts reporter for KPBS. I Beth, well first give us the basics. What is Comicon at home? When does it start? How do people follow the action?

Speaker 4: 18:29 So essentially it's occupying the same space in time, which will be July 22nd through the 26th. If you go to comic-con.org, you can find all the information there, go to the comic con at home tab and you can find all the information. There's still a lot of things that are not a hundred percent certain exactly how they're going to work, but you can get the information there. They're not sure if all the programming is going to drop on Wednesday or if they'll drop them at the times that they're listed or if it will be a per day. But, um, all the information is there. There's going to be panels just like there were at the physical Comicon, there'll be a virtual exhibit hall, a virtual artist alley. Uh, you can also find small press. So they're doing as much as they can to create a virtual version of comic con. It's a, so a lot of mixed feelings for me cause I missed the physical physical convention. But, um, I am thrilled that for the first time I can probably attend any and every panel I want.

Speaker 1: 19:34 Yeah, it's far more efficient. Isn't it? Just a zipper around, uh, online or virtually. Yeah, I was, that leads me into my next question because, uh, uh, you know, I can imagine people sitting there in costumes, in front of their laptops and all, but the organizers of Comicon held out til mid April before announcing the cancellation of the in person event. And Chris, you've got a long history covering this involved in Comicon. How big of an emotional blow was it to those of you who work year round and are though the people that work year round and those of you like yourself who are so passionate about it and involved?

Speaker 4: 20:06 Well, it's difficult. They run the sister convention of WonderCon, which they had to cancel earlier this year. So they have a little bit of a preparation for how this was going to run because they moved WonderCon online as well. But you know, a lot of us, this is the only time we see certain people and certain artists and, you know, get to shop for art down artist's alley. So, you know, there's a, a big emotional hit that goes with this because this is a real gathering of the tribes, so to speak. But, um, you know, for those of us who work the convention where we're covering events, it's going to be the time that a lot of us have a chance to actually attend panels online. I mean, even David Glanzer, who is their spokesperson, Jackie Estrada, who runs the Eisner awards, you know, they're thinking this may be the first time that they can sit down and actually watch a panel. So it it's, there's a lot of mixed feelings

Speaker 1: 21:06 To the online programming. Much of it involves the panels that generate headlines at Comicon. Is there a marquee event or two this year? Can you tell us what you might be looking forward to yourself?

Speaker 4: 21:17 Well marquee event and what I'm looking forward to are two very different things. But, um, you know, one of the issues with, uh, panels this year is so much of Hollywood shut down, uh, films that were supposed to open the summer, got bumped to the fall and may get bumped to next year and production has shut down completely. So there aren't any like really big Hollywood panels. Charlise Theron has a panel, Guillermo Del Toro has a panel and I'm sure those are going to be fun personally. I am really looking forward to, I got hooked on a show called mythic quest about gaming, and there's a fun panel on Thursday about the women behind mythic quest. And even though I'm not a gamer, I love this show. And another show I really adore is what we do in the shadows. They are incredibly talented, funny people on that show.

Speaker 4: 22:09 And I got to believe that their panel is going to be a lot of fun. And I think the panel I might be looking forward to the most is one that max Brooks is hosting and that's zombies and Corona virus planning for the next big outbreak. And you know, anyone who was a fan of world war II, the book, not the film knows that max Brooks is a huge history buff and that he pretty much laid out absolutely everything that happened in this pandemic, in his fictional book. And if we had all read that and followed some of the guidelines in there, we might not be as bad off today,

Speaker 1: 22:46 What we do in the shadows. Yeah. That will be fun on now, will this all be accessible on demand? I mean, we're going to have to pay for this. It's it's, it's not cheap to go to Comicon in person

Speaker 4: 22:56 It's not cheap and it's not easy to get a badge. So this is available to anyone. All you have to do is log onto their website. I highly recommend going to something that's called my skid, which is M Y S C H E D. And if you click on that, you have lots of options, but basically you can run through the entire programming, click the boxes for the ones you're interested in and then choose how you might want to save that list. You could print it out. You could have it emailed to you. You can have alerts sent to your phone, but it's a great way to do it, no charge. And you know, this is a great time for people. Who've never been able to get a badge or too far away to come, or, you know, just haven't wanted to put themselves in a huge mass of people that, uh, you can actually get an opportunity, get a flavor of Comicon, not the whole experience. But, um, I know I have one friend who was joking that he's already lined up in his living room and is waiting to get in.

Speaker 1: 23:55 Now another big part of Comicon is cosplay. I'm saying that right. Cosplay. See, that's a, that betrays my connection to college

Speaker 4: 24:05 As in costume. So Costco

Speaker 1: 24:07 Well, and that's, that's dressing up like comic book and video game characters, anything, anything, anything for these folks and their admirers this year?

Speaker 4: 24:16 Yeah. So if you're into cosplay, there's a couple of things that are happening. One, the masquerade is still scheduled. I'm not exactly sure what form that will take exactly. And for wonder con, they did a cost play contest online, and I believe they're planning to do something along those lines as well. And again, I highly recommend just going to the website and clicking there because they'll have the most UpToDate information. And like I said, they've never done an online version of comic con. So they're working through a lot of these things as well and finding out what they can do and can't do and how easy some of these things are. But it's still a little bit of a work in progress. Most of the programming is completely up and online, but there's a few components of that that I think are still being worked out.

Speaker 1: 25:00 And what can we expect of your coverage from your coverage in the days ahead for KPB?

Speaker 4: 25:05 Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of coverage on social media, on my personal social media and through KPBS. Cause as I started watching some of these panels, I'll be sharing ones that I think are good. I'll be sharing a list of my personal favorites in advance so that if people want to sign up for them, I'm going to be interviewing some of the exhibitors and hopefully some of the fans and just kind of get a feel for what this online experience is going to be like.

Speaker 1: 25:31 We've been speaking with Beth Huck, Amando arts reporter for KPBS. Thanks, Beth. Thank you. That wraps up another week of stories at the round table. I like to thank my guest, Mario Qur'an of the British newspaper, the guardian David Garrick of the San Diego union Tribune and Beth Huck Amando of KPBS news. If you ever miss a show, you can catch us on the round table podcast on your favorite podcast app. I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for being with us today and join us again next week on the round table.

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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.