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San Diego Enters The Orange Tier

 April 9, 2021 at 9:59 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego's reopening reaches a new tier as more of us get vaccinated. What are the chances of another COVID-19 setback finding a place to sleep? Isn't easy for farm workers in Imperial County. Why one of the few places offering help was shut down and the role for new technology in policing from drones to facial recognition, one local city tries to balance ethics with innovation. I'm Claire Tresor and the KPBS round table starts now. Speaker 2: 00:43 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 00:45 Hello. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Claire Tresor joining me on this remote edition of the KPBS round table are Jonathan Rosen, biotech reporter for the San Diego union Tribune. I new source investigative reporter, Jennifer Bowman, and Sophia Machias Pascoe reporter for voices, San Diego. The race to reopen our economy is accelerating. Restaurants can serve more diners, theme parks and stadiums can welcome more visitors and nightly curfews are gone. San Diego County is now in the orange tier for the first time as COVID-19 case levels stay low and vaccination efforts. Pick up steam here to talk about those vaccination efforts and the busy week of COVID news is Jonathan Rosen, a biotech reporter for the San Diego union Tribune. Thank you for having me sure thing. So let's start locally. It took months to move from the purple to red tears, and then maybe back and forth again a little bit, but only a couple of weeks to get into the orange tier. So what's helped us move so quickly to this new stage of, Speaker 2: 01:54 Right. So the short answer is the vaccine rollout. And specifically the state of California has set up a system where as the state does a better job of vaccinating people in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities that actually changes the bar for moving from tier two tier, Speaker 1: 02:12 They sort of changed the benchmarks in terms of adding in vaccination rates to help determine the tier for the County. Is that Speaker 2: 02:21 That's right. Exactly. So, so, right right now, the main way we're moving from tier here is based on our case rate. And so that case rate cutoff has basically been increasing as the state has vaccinated more people, um, in, in these more socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Speaker 1: 02:40 And so I know there are several changes to how businesses can operate under the orange tier, but what's the most significant in your opinion. Speaker 2: 02:48 Yeah. A lot of them are really incremental. I think a couple significant ones are the fact that bars can operate outdoors, which is significant considering that been closed for so long throughout the pandemic. Another one that, that seems significant, although I think we're still learning more about how it's going to work is that outdoor live events, including sports. So think Padres games, the PATCO park, uh, those can operate at 67% capacity. If, uh, everybody who's there can show that they've been vaccinated or show they've recently tested negative against the Corona virus. Speaker 1: 03:26 That'll be interesting to track. Now we're seeing in other parts of the country, there are indications that case counts are starting to tick back up. So do we have any sense that that could happen here in California as well? Speaker 2: 03:38 Right. So that's, that's the big question. Do we have one more, potentially one more big wave, which is what we're seeing in Michigan and we're seeing cases go up across the country. You know, the people I'm talking to locally and the world of research and public health do expect that cases are going to go up somewhat, you know, whether or not that's going to be the full extent of what we see or if cases go up further, those are things that are really hard to determine at this point. You know, I think what we can say for now is the cases in California have been pretty flat. They've been going down a little bit, uh, that is one of the things that we're going to have to track. I think it, you know, between now and maybe early may, Speaker 1: 04:18 Right? And so, as you've said, much of our progress is possible because of the vaccine. Um, but we're about a week away from, uh, expanding to everyone, age 16 and up, but booking an appointment can still be a bit of a process. And so you wrote about a Facebook group called San Diego vaccine hunters. Tell us a little bit about how that works. Speaker 2: 04:43 Yeah. So the name is a pretty good, pretty good indicator. The group of around 6,000 people, it's probably gone up since the last time I took a look, but 6,000 plus folks who are constantly asking and answering questions and giving information and around the vaccine rollout. So, so things as granular as, Hey, I'm at this particular vaccine site, they haven't got some extra doses, uh, know that would be a good time to show up. This is a group that started back in early February and has definitely picked up steam. And it might be a good option for people who are already on Facebook and, uh, you know, having a bit of a hard time as many people are. Speaker 1: 05:25 And, uh, I heard that you helped, uh, you take your mom to get her shot this week. Can you tell us what, what that process was like? Speaker 2: 05:34 Yeah. Yeah. I took my mom to get vaccinated on Wednesday. She's a Kaiser member and got her appointment through Kaiser. So yeah, my main involvement was, uh, you know, driving her there and, uh, just reassuring her that it was going to be fine. She got her first shot. This was her second, uh, second shot that she was getting Wednesday. She got her first three weeks ago. So second shot was right on time and it went pretty smooth. To be honest, we showed up pretty early. She likes to show up early for things. Um, you know, we, there was not much of a line at all. We were surprised by that compared to three weeks ago and she was able to get in, get out. There were a whole lot of folks with green pom-poms and yeah, she was not waiting very long. It was, it was pretty smooth and pretty, pretty good process. Speaker 1: 06:24 That's great. I know anecdotally people have shared similar experiences on social media, um, and it sounds like it can be a very emotional event for some people, um, because so much of our sacrifice over the past year has been to protect these vulnerable groups. So did you feel any sense of relief or appreciation once it was over? Speaker 2: 06:47 Yeah. No, it's a good question. Thank you for, for asking. And I definitely did. And you know, I, after she got her shot, we, I took her back to her apartment. We had a little lunch and then I went back to doing my job of being a journalist. And I had to be honest, I, I found myself, uh, you know, tearing up a little bit because I know the data. I know, you know, that age is one of the strongest risk factors for getting severe COVID. And I also know the vaccines do a really good job of protecting you against ending up in the hospital. Yeah, no, it, it, it meant a lot for her to get her shot for both of my parents to, and, you know, as somebody who used to be a scientist, I have a PhD in immunology before I went into journalism, different story for a different time, but see us come up with a vaccine, you know, within a year of even knowing this virus existed is a miracle. Speaker 2: 07:44 So yeah, it was, it was a really, uh, big day and a little bittersweet because I heard from the, some relatives earlier this morning that, uh, my uncle who lives in Ethiopia is, and my family's from had, uh, he died of, COVID-19 tell my dad that his brother passed away. Um, so it's know, just a reminder that this is a ongoing global public health crisis. And the fact that we have a tool that a lot of people will and already have had access to, you know, here in San Diego is, is a blessing. And then hopefully we'll, you know, see that expanded to as many people as possible in this country, in other countries. Speaker 1: 08:28 Yeah. Um, and I'm so sorry to hear about that. That kind of leads into my last question for you, which is have elected officials been talking about, you know, once vaccines are readily available for anyone who wants one, whether they will have to convince reluctant people to get vaccines and whether that will actually be a bigger problem. Speaker 2: 08:51 Yeah. I, I, I've definitely heard about that. I haven't heard about that recently, local officials, but I think even before this process started, you know, the CDC was talking about the fact that, okay, in the beginning, the limiting factor is going to be supplied. There's not going to be a lot of vaccine. A lot of people will want it. And, but eventually it will get to a point where the rate limiting step will be how many people want vaccine. And I don't think we're quite there yet, uh, that that probably will happen in the coming weeks. And when you think about people 16 and up being able to get vaccinated, uh, you know, I've definitely read about the fact that a lot of the vaccine messaging right now is not targeted towards younger people. People who already feel like, no, why do I need a vaccine against something that I would probably survive anyway? And a lot of these folks aren't listening or watching TV when the governor County supervisor or the president is sitting behind the podium. So figuring out ways to get that information to people in different groups, different demographics is going to be a big thing in the weeks ahead. Speaker 1: 09:59 Well, Jonathan was in, I really appreciate all of the coverage you've done over the past year. I've been speaking with Jonathan, who's a biotech reporter for the San Diego union Tribune. And thank you so much for being here. Many of us have worked from home over the past year, but that's not an option for those who work the fields in the Imperial Valley, East of San Diego. Many of them make the cross border trip from neighboring Mexicali to save time and money. A small encampment was set up in January to help those who can't afford housing costs during the week, but just days ago, their tents and belongings were dismantled by police in Calexico, escalating an issue connected to the on again, off again, border wall construction. I knew source is covering the story and Jennifer Bowman is here to get us caught up. Hello, Jennifer. Hi. Thanks for having me. Thank you for being here. So to start, can you tell us a little bit more about Calexico and where the camp was located? Sure. Speaker 3: 11:02 So Calexico is in Southern Imperial County. It's right on the U S Mexico border. It's very much a binational community and it's sort of a hub for agricultural workers. So before the sunrises, um, farm workers are there downtown waiting to check in for jobs. And the encampment is very close to the border wall, but actually sits on what is basically an unpaved road that the border patrol uses for enforcement. Speaker 1: 11:28 And so then take us back to January who set up this encampment and why did they feel it was necessary? Speaker 3: 11:35 So the camp was set up by an organization called Calexico needs change, and it's received help from other groups to donations when this camp was still up. And the purpose of it was to address, you know, what have been longstanding problems for farm workers and Imperial County like affordability housing. And along with that, uh, many agricultural workers live in Mexicali and the commute across the border can take hours. Um, and it's become even longer during the pandemic. So when they arrive in Calexico, there isn't anywhere for them to gather as they wait for work that day. And it was meant this encampment was meant to help those who couldn't afford housing and, or those seeking to avoid that long commute across the border issues like that. Speaker 1: 12:20 So how many people were using the encampment and what sort of help are they getting there? Speaker 3: 12:25 Yeah, it's not a big encampment in terms of numbers. There's been roughly as many as a dozen people there at a time. And the morning of the removal, there was a, a nonprofit based in Brawley that serves the homeless called spread the love charity. Um, they were onsite, um, they coordinated with the local men's shelter to help some of these men find space there. And they also offered all kinds of services, you know, to connect them with transitional housing help with any paper, immigration, paperwork, they might be needing help with issued, you know, they gave out hygiene products, uh, lunch, those kinds of things. Speaker 1: 12:59 So Calexico police shut it down and cleared out the tents and other items, as you're saying, why did the city feel the need to do this? Speaker 3: 13:08 I spoke with the, uh, the police chief, the Calexico police chief yesterday. And he said that there's been some complaints about, you know, safety concerns, crime from nearby residents. Um, he also said there were concerns about the safety of the people actually staying at the camp. Um, it's at the end of an intersection and basically at the end of a paved road that turns into dirt. And the police chief told me that there have been two bad crashes at that site in recent years because the drivers don't know that the road ends, you know, so while the city wouldn't have been able to remove the camp, if there was nowhere for the occupants to go, um, police say in this case, there was room in the local shelter. And, and after, you know, a couple months of the camp being there and largely, uh, being left alone, this is what the city did this week. Speaker 1: 13:53 And this encampment was set up on land that the federal government wanted to buy as part of former president Trump's border wall project. But now we have a new president, Joe Biden who halted the border wall. So where do things stand now? Speaker 3: 14:09 Yeah, so as the encampment was put on this land, the city of Calexico had been in talks to sell it. And along with another parcel to the federal government and the land is, it's not a huge price tag, it's about $27,000. Um, but to the Trump administration, it was crucial, um, for its plan to build a second border wall through Imperial County, for reasons still unclear the city didn't vote on selling the land until last month. Um, and that was after now, president Joe Biden signed a proclamation suspending border construction. Uh, after I knew source asked whether this sale complied with that proclamation from Biden, the federal government said it was then unable to move forward with purchasing the land at this time. And so you Speaker 1: 14:52 Were in Calexico this week and you have a photo essay by Zoe Myers on, uh, the new source site showing some of what's going on. What do you think people need to know about the challenges of being a farm worker in the Imperial Valley, especially for those who crossed the border to do the job? Speaker 3: 15:10 Yeah. So agriculture is a huge part of Imperial county's economy, and it's largely driven by agriculture. Um, it's a $4.5 billion industry. Um, and farm workers are the backbone of that. They belong, played this huge role in the Valley. And for years, thousands of farm workers have crossed the border to work. And I think what many supporters and opponents of the encampment would probably agree on is, you know, despite this standing presence of farm workers in the community and despite so many personal connections that many in collects go have to agriculture workers, these very real problems persist for them, you know, insufficient housing, low wages and, and barriers to healthcare. Speaker 1: 15:54 And what did you hear from people who were living in the camp when you were there? Speaker 3: 15:58 Um, what farm worker told us, um, he was staying at the camp last month and he told us, uh, about his home, actually the house, he was staying in Calexico, um, prior to being at the camp burn down. Um, and he couldn't find another place he could afford with his pay as a farm worker. He could go to Macaulay, but he was told he needed to stay in the U S to maintain his residency. Um, there was another farm worker who told us the night before actually the encampment was set to be removed, that he had applied. He had applied for help. 66 years old applied for help. Previously homeless was waiting to hear back from the housing authority. Um, but he told us that he wants to find a home. He wants to find a place and pay his rent. So, Speaker 1: 16:37 I mean, this has been a big week, obviously with events happening there, but what will you be watching in the days and weeks ahead when it comes to this story? Speaker 3: 16:45 Well, I think the fate of this property, what happens, um, you know, it's such a small sliver of land. It's, it's a little financial value to the city, but it kind of plays into this larger discussion and that we're seeing, you know, nationwide and I I'd be interested to see, you know, what, what is the fate of this property, um, given whatever the federal government decides on how to move forward with border construction. So we'll be staying on top of that and staying on top of how the city of Calexico handles that, but also important is what happens to those, the encampment with serving, did they get the help they need? Where did they go? And, and whatever happens to them, we'll be following that. Speaker 1: 17:23 All right. Well, thank you so much for, for doing this reporting. Um, I've been speaking with Jennifer Bowman, who's a reporter for I new source. And thank you for being here. Thank you. There's a buzz in and around Chula Vista in the sky. It's the worrying of drones doubling as first responders by the local police department and in the headlines, the buzz is PR driven. Chula Vista is leaning into its new found role, a pioneer when it comes to using drone technology warts and all Sophia Machias passcode, took a deep dive into the drone program and the questions it raises for voices, San Diego. Hello, Sophia. Welcome. Speaker 4: 18:03 Hi, thanks for having me. Thanks for Speaker 1: 18:05 Being here. So I know KPBS and others covered the Chula Vista drone program when it launched, but didn't dig too deeply into it. So tell us what are the drones being used for currently? Speaker 4: 18:18 Yeah, so right now, Chula Vista mainly uses drones and a program. They call drone as first responder, uh, how it works essentially. There are four launch sites throughout the city of Chula Vista, um, where drone pilots wait for the call to launch the drone, to respond to a dispatch call, uh, that could include building fires, traffic collisions, uh, reports of crimes in progress. And the drones give officers in the police station, an aerial view of what's happening moment to moment, uh, at the scene. And that information is then relayed to officers responding to the seat on the ground. Some officers also carry drones and the drunks of their, uh, patrol vehicles and use them in high level emergencies where they have expanded use of the drugs. They can fly them out of sight behind buildings and even in doors. Speaker 1: 19:03 And so how do you think it's going so far? Does the department find them useful or is it still just a bit of an experiment? Speaker 4: 19:11 Yeah, the department is really proud of this program. They say it's been extremely successful in reducing response times to calls and also making policing safer and Chula Vista for residents and for officers because they're placing a drone in situations where an officer would normally have to respond, but the program is still relatively new. It's only a few years ago that they started launching drones as first responders. And it certainly hasn't been without criticism from the community or, uh, digital privacy groups. Speaker 1: 19:40 What about the public relations strategy behind the drone rollout? So why does the city want to be known for drones? Is this just a way to boost Chula Vista's brand? Speaker 4: 19:51 Well, you know, Chula Vista has a reputation for being sort of a bedroom community, which means that it's a suburb where people live, where they sleep at night, but they really go other places to work and to do business. And this sort of creates a perception problem for the city who really wants to be seen as a bigger player in the Southern California region. So drones offer an opportunity for the city to appear forward-looking and technologically advanced, and for them to be seen as more of an innovative player in the field to attract other, other businesses. And we've seen the same kind of thing, uh, the same kind of effort to stand out from San Diego shadow and previous years, like when Chulavista wanted to be, uh, the home of Amazon's new headquarters or when they threw their name in the ring to become the new location for the CSU campus. Speaker 1: 20:38 Yeah. I was going to say, I remember they're pushed to become the Amazon headquarters, which ultimately wasn't successful. Um, so now it seems like, I guess they're, they're trying to make a name for themselves with drones and police departments in cities around the world seem to be taking some notice they're considering Chula Vista, maybe an expert, a subject matter expert on drones. So how has that led to what you described as a revolving door between the police department and the drone industry? Speaker 4: 21:10 Yeah, so, so as, uh, Chula Vista becomes known as sort of a national standard in a drone integration and policing law enforcement agencies and the companies that want to sell them. Drones have been looking at Chula Vista and actually touring the drone program at their station. Uh, and this has opened the door for drone companies with a huge interest in creating and selling drones to law enforcement, to, uh, build connections with the officer's currently leading the drone program. Uh, and my reporting at voices, San Diego has revealed that members of the truest of police department who helped launch the drone program initially have since retired and are now working at some of those drone companies, which still have really close ties with Chula Vista police department. Speaker 1: 21:53 And so when the drone program was first launched, what did the police department say to the community and elected officials about it? Did they get their buy-in on using drones? Speaker 4: 22:04 So, yeah, th this is something that I asked the police department. They said, yes, they did get buy-in from the community that they held listening sessions. They created opportunities for people to give feedback on the drone policies that they proposed. And they also said that they vetted these policies with the ACL ACLU, but the outreach apparently didn't reach the entire community of Chula Vista because like one resident I talked to, for example, she didn't even know about the department's drone program until she saw one flying over her yard one day. And so the department often points to their privacy policy in response to community concern about police surveillance. But this policy is really just a few sentences saying that drones won't be used by pilots for surveillance in areas where people should have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Speaker 1: 22:51 I can imagine that would be maybe alarming to be out in your yard and see a drone flying overhead and find out that it's from the police department, if you didn't know that that was going on. So what do community members say about the drones now? Speaker 4: 23:06 Yeah, I think community members and privacy advocates still have concerns. Uh, Don Redmond, the captain at the Chula Vista police department, though, he, he now runs the drone program and he said, he's only heard from a handful of residents who have had concerns and that once he explained to them why the drone might be flying over someone's yard, because, uh, the flight path for a call might've taken the drone there that usually concerns were abated, but, uh, people like Narelle Martinez, who's lived in Chula Vista her entire life. She just still thinks that drones are an inappropriate step into her privacy and into her life. And she flew Vista. And Speaker 1: 23:43 It seems like race is a factor in this story, especially because, uh, Chula Vista is so close to the border. So what do critics say about who is likely to be watched from the skies? Speaker 4: 23:56 So for two of us, it really depends on where the drones are going to be launching from when this program started out, drones were launched, uh, within a mile radius around the Chula Vista police department, which is on the West side of the city, which is a more dense, more diverse and lower income. Now, the program has been expanded, uh, throughout the entire city of Chula Vista, but drones capture video along their entire flight path. So if you live closer to one of the four launch sites throughout the city, or if you live in an area that receives more police calls and you might be subject to more turbulence, because you might be more likely to be in the fight path of police drops, Speaker 1: 24:36 Is there anything you learned while reporting this story that really surprised you either with the drone technology itself or how the city of Chula Vista is using it to elevate its profile? Speaker 4: 24:47 You know, I think the range of, uh, calls that the drones are used for is really surprising. I mean, they've responded to everything from, you know, drug crimes to corralling chickens that had escaped from the local elementary schools. So they're really quickly becoming a part of the police force in Chula Vista, not just in a small way for, or for emergencies, but like a very normal part of day to day operations. And these drones are now launched 20 times a day. So I think that was what was most surprising is that it's already a really big part of policing and to have a staff. Speaker 1: 25:21 All right. Well, I've been speaking with Sophia Mahias Pascoe from voice of San Diego. Thank you, Sophia for your excellent reporting that wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Jonathan Wilson, from the San Diego union Tribune, Jennifer Bowman from I new source and Sophia Machias Pascoe from voices, San Diego. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen anytime on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Claire Treg assert thanks for listening Speaker 4: 25:54 And join us next week on the round table.

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San Diego's reopening expands as progress is made on COVID-19 cases and vaccinations, an encampment for cross-border farmworkers is dismantled by police in Calexico and a look at the revolving door in Chula Vista between the city's police department and the surveillance drone industry.