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What The American Rescue Plan Means For San Diego

 March 12, 2021 at 10:00 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Jobs saved and services kept. The American rescue plan brings a windfall for local government. How will it help San Diego make a faster recovery? One year ago this week, the COVID-19 pandemic really took off. We look back on those consequential days that changed our society and the leader of San Diego's public schools is poised to join the Biden administration. Could Cindy Martin's record on sexual harassment and transparency be an issue with those deciding her nomination. I'm Andrew Bowen and the KPBS round table starts. Now Speaker 2: 00:40 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 00:44 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Andrew Bowen. Joining me on this remote edition of the KPBS round table are David Garrick who covered city hall for the San Diego union Tribune, Taron mento KPBS health reporter, and Kayla Jimenez reporter for the voice of San Diego Congress gave final approval this week to the American rescue plan president Biden's COVID-19 relief bill the package total's nearly $2 trillion, and it includes direct aid to States and cities, which were grappling with the pandemics toll on the tax revenues that pay for everything from police to libraries, to road repair San Diego's budget with its heavy reliance on tourism has been especially hard hit, but mayor Todd Gloria is breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that help is on the way David Garrick from the San Diego union Tribune joins us now to discuss the details of this new development. Hello, David, Speaker 2: 01:38 Andrew, thanks for having me. So let's start Speaker 1: 01:41 With a big number. How much money will the city of San Diego receive from this stimulus bill? And is that enough to make it financially whole Speaker 2: 01:48 It's somewhere between 280 million and 300 million, which is definitely enough. Uh, the city is facing about a $240 million deficit. If you combine the ongoing fiscal year and the next fiscal year, so they could have 40 to 60 million extra beyond making themselves hold. Okay. Speaker 1: 02:03 Or Todd Gloria stepped into office with this massive deficit looming over him more than $200 million. You mentioned now, how is he reacting to the passage of the American rescue plan? Speaker 2: 02:15 He says, it's transformational. And he's excited that the city probably won't be able to have to make any cuts that the public will actually see or experience. And as you point out, I mean, it was kind of a rough situation to come into office. He was anticipating in mayor for a long time and to come in with this huge deficit over his head. So now he can really sort of focus on the things that he wanted to prioritize like homelessness, climate action plan, um, a new franchise agreement for energy, maybe getting rid of STG and E. Um, and he also was focused on big projects, like the development plan for the sports arena area and, uh, you know, having enough money to, to keep the other thing going and the city engine going, you really helps them focus on other stuff. Speaker 1: 02:53 Now I said, mayor, Todd, Gloria is breathing a sigh of relief, but also breathing a big sigh of relief. I are city workers who were potentially facing layoffs. David, uh, how does this strengthen their position? Yeah, Speaker 2: 03:05 Well, I mean, it's like night and day when there's 11,000 city workers. And if you're going to have to cut, you know, huge chunks of your budget out, obviously some of those are going to have to be workers. So they've gone from a position of worrying about their jobs. A lot of them to now potentially they could be lobbying for pay increases. You know, the city's long-term financial projections the last year or so have shown no pay increases because they knew that the economy and the city revenue was so down. But now that they've gotten this another chunk of federal relief, I think race has become at least something that's potentially discussed as opposed to, you know, three months ago, it was like, you're crazy raises. We had to do layoffs. So definitely shifts the dynamics in a positive direction for all cities. Speaker 1: 03:43 What might have happened without this aid? What sort of cuts was the city looking at? Speaker 2: 03:49 You know, Todd has said that a similar to the deficits, the city faced after the 2008 stock market crash and housing bubble. And that was a situation where the city went beyond just cutting parks and libraries and recreation centers and the arts, which are always sort of the first things to get cut. And they actually browned out some fire engines. Now I'm not for sure they would have gone that far, but that was on the table. I think we don't really know specifically what would have been proposed, but kind of waiting, hoping this federal money would come in before they laid out sort of their lists, please. I don't think there'll be fewer officers on the street. I think they would've tried to cut the police budget in other ways, maybe less overtime. Speaker 1: 04:25 And you mentioned small businesses, uh, have a specific set aside in the American rescue plan, but the city could also potentially give more aid to them. As it sees fit. Many restaurants, bars, hair salons have already closed permanently because of the COVID-19 shutdowns. How impactful do you think the city's funding for small businesses could be to actually boost the local economy? Speaker 2: 04:50 I think it would be just one small part of, you know, a wider set of things that need to happen. But I think the federal relief probably will be more impactful, but obviously the city plays a role. They sort of set the agenda. I think a city, a key role, the city will play as being a booster. You know, when tourism is allowed, I think they have sort of re advertised San Diego as the place to spend. After you've spent a year in your house, doing nothing, come to San Diego, sit on our beaches. You're back COVID is over Speaker 1: 05:16 Well we're about a month away from mayor Todd Gloria's first official budget announcement. This is for the fiscal year, that starts on July 1st. What should residents be watching out for when that happens? Speaker 2: 05:29 It w it was going to be massive cuts that were going to be really scary and upsetting. Um, but now it's not going to be, um, I would say how much he spends on homelessness, uh, what programs in particular, he adds there, uh, how much of this extra money he spends on business relief? I guess other ones that'll be interesting to see. It's not as talked about climate action. He got bright, the original city's climate action plan for 2015. He really wants to revamp the way the city approaches that that always takes money. So I imagine that will be a key part of it. And this will, this will give them this federal money will give them a lot of opportunity to do interesting, innovative things, even, maybe not expensive ones, like just small ideas that maybe are somebody who could be a pilot for something that might work, Speaker 1: 06:09 That we've been focusing on San Diego, but really virtually every city in the County has been hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. How big of a boost will this stimulus be? First, the smaller cities and towns that have been struggling over the past year? Speaker 2: 06:23 No, I asked the league of California cities that question this morning, I really want to get the list and see, uh, you know, there was some haggling in Washington DC about the formula that would be used, whether it be based on the revenue that you've lost as a city, there were a bunch of different formulas being haggled with house was using one. The Senate was using the other. I'm not certain which formula ended up winning out in the, in the end of the day. So, uh, that will depend. And as soon as we get those numbers, we're going to report them. Speaker 1: 06:47 Well, San Diego is predicting that it could take years for the local tourism economy to get back to where it was before the pandemic. Are we out of the woods yet on city budget deficits? Or do you think that San Diego could need more stimulus funds down the road? Speaker 2: 07:04 Uh, I wish I had a crystal ball. I think maybe we are though. I mean, I think we're talking about this is a budget for fiscal year that starts in July San Diego is going to be in the clear on whatever deficit they're projecting. So that means San Diego is good through June 30th of 2022. I've tourism has started to come back by June 30th of 2022. That's kind of surprising to me. So I think San Diego is probably going to be in good shape, may not come back a hundred percent to what it was before, but I think you'd have to guess we'll have a Comicon in summer of 2022 and that some of the other events will come back and that there'll be close enough where it won't be like the sky is falling kind of budget deficits. Speaker 1: 07:41 And of course the city has still not touched. It's a substantial general fund reserves has it. Speaker 2: 07:47 It has not. And it's been increasing those slowly and steadily over 10 years to start to meet with the, the standard practices, best practices. So, so he actually has much healthier reserves than they did last time around when Jerry Sanders was mayor and the housing bubble hit. So they're actually in reasonably good. Speaker 1: 08:02 Well, certainly good news for all the residents in the city who love libraries, who love all the services that our city provides. Thanks for your reporting on this. David, I've been speaking with David Garrick who covers city hall for the San Diego union Tribune. David. Thanks. Thank you. You might not remember the first time you heard about the novel Corona virus spreading and Wu Han China, but there's a good chance you remember this week, one year ago, the world health organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic San Diego County issued its first public health order, urging people to avoid large gatherings. The NBA shut down completely when a player tested positive minutes before a game and Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson announced they caught the virus while in Australia joining this week for a look back and an update on the local COVID-19 news is KPBS health reporter Taron mento. Hi Terran. Hi Andrew. So let's start with the current headline. San Diego County is likely to reenter the red tier sooner than expected due to a change in state reopening guidelines. What does this mean for us locally? Speaker 3: 09:07 Right. So that means that some types of businesses would be allowed to reopen for the first time in months and others that are currently open, but at limited capacity would be able to increase the amount of people that come in their doors. So retail stores and shopping centers were limited to 25% capacity, but in the red tier that'll bump up to 50% capacity movie theaters could now be open, um, under red tier indoors, but with limited capacity. And we know even under purple tier outdoor sports stadiums will be allowed to welcome fans back next month, but again, under limited capacity, but that aloud capacity will grow a little bit under red. Um, and on top of that though, but like recently, what we learned, um, separately kind of from the move to red, that breweries that don't serve food will also be allowed to operate outdoors with modifications. Just kind of like how wineries Speaker 1: 09:59 Cue the run to local microbreweries for those IPA's we'd been missing outside. Now, the latest update to the state's reopening guidelines is meant to push counties, to prioritize underserved communities for vaccinations. What are the state and local officials doing to make sure that those groups have access to the vaccine? Speaker 3: 10:17 Well, at the first, first at the state level, the state is setting aside 40% of its doses for the harder hit communities. And these are zip codes that, um, for a couple of factors have poor health outcomes. Um, and we've, we've seen a lot of these areas suffer higher rates of COVID in San Diego, public health officials say, you know, they've been looking at the data from these areas and that's where they've been placing, placing testing sites. Um, and they're also using that model to place vaccination sites. And so one example is the South Bay, um, vaccine Superstation, which is in a region that had one of the highest volumes of Corona virus cases. Now, unfortunately though, when you look at the numbers of who has been getting the vaccinations in the County, a greater percentage is going to the white population over the Latino, Hispanic community, which was hit hardest by the virus here. Speaker 3: 11:10 And, you know, one local doctor I spoke to thinks that's more because of hesitation due to historical injustices. So the challenge there is perhaps more about communication. And I know the County is working with community health workers to engage with populations in their native language. Um, and, and perhaps these are people that who understand maybe any cultural differences that may exist from one group to another. So that way it's, it's not just a talking head on a TV, telling you to get your vaccine. It's an actual person, you know, and interest was having a conversation with you. And there are also another number of other awareness campaigns from other groups that are working with the County. Speaker 1: 11:47 It's hard to believe that it's been a year since the County announced that the novel Corona was spreading here locally. I was actually at that press conference. And I remember the elected officials grouped in a room. They hadn't yet learned how to practice social distancing, even though they were saying, that's what people should start doing in your reporting over the past year. Do you get a sense that local leaders would have done differently? Uh, certain things Speaker 3: 12:12 Specifically with masking, I got to say the County and the city were quite quick to put those orders in place. Then this, I think the city was earlier than the County and the County was earlier than the state. I think the county's order came in may. The state was maybe later in June. Um, so they've, they've, they did seem to respond as quickly as they could. Um, but you know, elsewhere, in some other cities in the County, there was some resistance to some orders, specifically some enforcement of the closure orders. But, um, Dr. Wilma Wuhan has been pretty, uh, you know, pre this stood by a lot of her decisions. And, you know, maybe looking back there were areas for improvement, but she's really stood behind some of the guidance that we've received down, you know, from the CDC and the state, um, and has really tried to guide her policies. She said, based on, um, you know, evidence and what we know works Speaker 1: 13:05 A big part of your coverage involves talking with doctors, nurses, our local biotech community that was working for many months on different vaccination efforts. This might be the biggest event in their careers. What has this whole experience of COVID-19 over the past year been like for them on a personal and a professional level? Speaker 3: 13:25 You know, I think to some degree, air has been a certain sense of fulfilling your duty, um, that this is, you know, why they do their job because they're, they're in a moment of crisis, they're there to support people. They're there to save lives. But I think on the, you know, on the flip side, I think everyone can imagine that it has not been easy just to put it very lightly. The early months were chaotic so much, wasn't certain for them. They knew, you know, we knew they knew very little about the illness, how it could affect them and how they could actually save lives. Um, there was the issue of not having enough access to PPE changing guidelines and how to use PPE. And so I can imagine that probably made them feel incredibly undervalued at a time when, you know, elsewhere, they were being called heroes and, you know, major commercials, you know, and then things slowed down and they did get a better handle on treating and managing the patients, um, COVID patients, but then, you know, the winter surge happened. Speaker 3: 14:20 And if there wasn't a breaking point before, then, then that was definitely it, the sense of just kind of darkness, despair, exhaustion, um, feeling powerless. Um, and you know, these are people who are just overwhelmed, um, by patients, some of them, they may be people they actually know just because of the incredible volume of patients. Um, and then they're often the last people to be in contact with these individuals who don't get to see their family members to say goodbye. And, you know, not even just locally across the nation, we hear stories about, you know, people being on the phone with their grandparents or their ailing parents just kind of crying and sobbing and saying, you know, um, you know, concerned that they were the ones that brought COVID to these patients. And so they have to see and hear those conversations all of the time, um, and then go home to their families and hope that they're not bringing the illness to them. So I think it's, um, it's definitely, definitely, probably one of the most difficult times, but I think in a strange way, they're trying to find, hold onto how rewarding it may have been because you hear of them celebrating and how thrilled they are when someone actually leaves and is discharged. And, and, you know, even when they get somebody off a ventilator because, you know, mortality rates are very high once you're on a ventilator and it's such an accomplishment for them. And I think they, they cling to those pauses. Speaker 1: 15:40 Yeah. I must, I imagine one year ago the world changed for us as journalists as well, that we've had to adapt to social distancing. How has the pandemic over the past year changed your approach to news gathering and storytelling? Speaker 3: 15:55 Well, you know, in some ways it has expanded access, you know, very quickly, everyone suddenly became, uh, somewhat tech savvy, I guess you could say, and familiar with zoom. That meant they were more available because they just had to click a link instead of, you know, driving or meeting me somewhere for an interview. Our audience was also familiar with video conferencing because it affected everyone's lives. So that meant these technical differences with how the interview sounded or looked weren't as jarring to them. So we appreciate our audience for working with us in, but, you know, because I'm health reporter in the pandemic significantly impacted the medical community. These sources were often, far too busy to even take those calls in zooms. You know, their communication team were inundated by every other reporter that because of the pandemic suddenly also became a health reporter, you know, and for the most part, I know many tried to rapidly get responses, but there was a lag, you know, from request to when you got your response, you know, and as far as public health and elected officials, both at the state and local levels, they did hold press conferences regularly, um, which we were able to, um, call into, uh, which certainly makes it easier on them. Speaker 3: 17:01 But as a reporter, you're reduced to possibly just one question and this situation was fast moving complex, and a lot of times uncertain. So we know just one, two or even three questions is not going to give us the details that we know our audience is looking for. And I suspect I'm going on too long with my answer, but I do want to say that during these press conferences, I did feel like you could see newsrooms coming together to build on each other's questions to try to get more answers. You saw that with the UT a few times, and I know our newsroom did that a few times to multiple people calling in. Um, but you also saw reporters from different stations working together. They'd add to each other's questions because a lot of the times we were getting after the same information and it was nice to see that kind of cooperation among competitors. And I just hope that the, it shows the public how dedicated their journalism community is here in San Diego to getting them, you know, the most information, you know, we even tag each other on Twitter and retweet each other a lot and sub private messages of support and kudos. And I've only reported in a few other communities, but I didn't always see that kind of collaboration. Speaker 1: 18:07 Well, I have to commend you for all of your coverage on the pandemic over the past year Taryn. And it brings me great sadness to share with our listeners that, uh, next Wednesday will be your last day as health reporter at KPBS. You'll be moving back closer to family on the East coast. So thank you so much for all of your coverage and we're going to miss you. Thank you. I'll miss all of you guys too. I've been speaking with Taryn mento health reporter for KPBS news and Taryn. Thank you. Thanks Andrew president Joe Biden has a long list of reforms. He wants to make to education from bringing back. In-person learning to tackling inequities that hurt students of color, and he's turning to San Diego to help him accomplish those goals. Cindy Martin superintendent of the San Diego unified school district is Biden's nominee for deputy education. Secretary voice of San Diego is Kayla Jimenez wrote about Martin's record and how it might become an issue as she prepares for her confirmation hearings. Welcome back to the show. Speaker 4: 19:05 Kayla, thank you for having there's Speaker 1: 19:07 A lot of local control over school districts, but the U S department of education, the federal government has a big role to play as well. Tell us what this position of deputy secretary of education involved. Speaker 4: 19:19 Yeah, thanks for the intro there. So as the end of superintendent, Cindy morons term comes to a close former students, advocates and attorneys. Talk to me about how they're worried about her approach to abuse and harassment cases at San Diego unified. We'll continue to the federal level. If she is confirmed as deputy education secretary Jill assist the secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, who has recently confirmed and oversee and manage the development of policies primarily surrounding K to 12 education policy. Like no child left behind the high school initiative. It's still unclear how much influence you would have on title nine policy, which is what we're talking about today, but they are, um, she'll have that role of confirmed Speaker 1: 20:01 You and your colleagues at voice of San Diego have done a lot of reporting on cases of sexual harassment and abuse in San Diego schools. What are some of the cases that stand out to you? Speaker 4: 20:12 Yeah, we have. It's interesting now to be talking about this on a national stage, there've been quite a few cases that we've covered over the past few years. I think some of the biggest ones stand out from lawsuits that have been filed against the district. And for example, there was one in 2016 where a Crawford high school students through the district and his former teacher for negligence, um, after he was abused by that teacher and argued that the district failed to recognize and report grooming signs that led to abuse. And in that case, that jury ended up determining that district officials were negligent and to warrant trainer, educate employees and students about abuse. And, um, the district ended up paying out for that. And then in the last two years, even there've been four separate lawsuits have been filed against the district. That contend kind of the same thing that the district was negligent in protecting students and that school officials should have intervened sooner. Speaker 1: 21:08 What is it about Martin's response to these abuse and harassment complaints that has drawn so much scrutiny? Speaker 4: 21:14 So district critics like Loxley Gantt, who was reported on quite a bit, she filed a lawsuit with a few other women against the district for the way that the district handled complaint that they made, that their physic teacher had groped them and made inappropriate comments. They say that progress that was made under Martin's leadership appeared to come in a reaction to public pressure and those lawsuits, even a federal probe and media reports that come out rather than a proactive manner to keep kids safe. And that was their biggest scrutiny was that it wasn't proactive, but reactive, Speaker 1: 21:50 Another issue that your article raises is about transparency. How has San Diego unified helped or hindered the public's right to know about what happened in these cases? Speaker 4: 22:00 Yeah. So critics who talked to me told me that their biggest concern from Cindy Martin's tenure is the way that the quality assurance office title IX office, other offices at the district are concealing documents around title nine cases, sexual assault and abuse cases from the public. And that more broadly it's nearly impossible to obtain any kind of documents from this office is, and I heard from victims and parents themselves that it's even hard for them to get documentation of reports that they've made. But I think the public is concerned that those the district is trying to keep cases hidden in the dark. And that kind of makes unclear how the district is handling those cases when they come their way as well. And voice of San Diego has also raised their own complaints about transparency and why we feel those records are important to the public too. Speaker 1: 22:57 In fact, voice of San Diego is even part of an ongoing lawsuit against San Diego unified about how the district shares public records, what is at the heart of that case? Speaker 4: 23:08 Yeah. So voice of San Diego is in the midst of a lawsuit with San Diego unified. It's alleged that the district has failed to provide public records in a timely manner and slowed the release of public records in violation of the California public records act. And that's surrounding these cases involving sexual assault and abuse and other cases that we've tried to get from them for a while. Um, we've claimed that the district gets abusing its authority by slowing the release of the public records to a long degree. It took us quite a while to get any records of, um, Stan jaded documentation of misconduct by employees were arguing. It is important for the district to relay those records in interest of the public. Speaker 1: 23:50 Now, former secretary of education, Betsy Devoss made some changes to reporting protocols and policies for sexual abuse and harassment at K through 12 schools, as well as college campuses. What did she do and how might that change under the Biden administration? Speaker 4: 24:07 Yeah, so her policies did ease protections for people who report abuse and critics say that that hindered the protections for those reporting and victims of those crimes that they alleged present. Actually, there was news this week, president by on Monday directed the education department to conduct a pretty expansive review of all the policies on sex and gender discrimination and violence in schools, including sexual assault and abuse cases, beginning his promise promised effort that he wanted to dismantle those Trump era rules of sexual misconduct that before degraded protections to students accused of assault. But I did talk to a few advocates nationally who say that that is a starting point, but it could take quite a while for those policies to roll back. If they do have Speaker 1: 24:56 You mentioned earlier, president Biden's secretary of education, Miguel Cardona was confirmed earlier this month. Do we have a timeline yet for Martin's nomination? And when her hearings will begin? Speaker 4: 25:07 Yeah, as far as I know, there's not a timeline yet. And they know because I've called the Senate committee quite a few times to get that information. But when I do know more about it, we'll write about that at voice of San Diego. So that's still set to come. Speaker 1: 25:22 Certainly a lot of stories to keep following, including who will replace Cindy Martin at San Diego unified as the superintendent. I've been speaking with Kayla Jimenez reporter for voice of San Diego. Thank you, Kayla, that wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, David Garrick, from the San Diego union Tribune, Taron mento from KPBS news and Kayla Jimenez from voice of San Diego. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen anytime on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Andrew Bowen. Thanks for listening and join us next week on the round table.

City finances get a major boost from the latest COVID-19 relief package, a look back on one year since the pandemic shutdowns began, and the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District prepares for the scrutiny of a senate confirmation hearing.