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Comic-Con Weekend Moves Online Once Again

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PHOTO BY BETH ACCOMANDO

Above: There will not be an in-person Comic-Con this summer only a virtual one. The last time the pop culture convention had an in person show was July of 2019. July 20, 2019.

Comic-Con returns with another virtual convention due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of California system implements a new series of tuition increases, and the environmental cost of electric car batteries.

Speaker 1: 00:00 This week on the round table, Comicon at home 2.01 of San Diego's biggest events is forced to go virtual for a second straight year. How much are you willing to pay for a college degree for students at the UC system? The price keeps going up and our electric cars, really the answer when it comes to climate change, the environmental costs being paid from the deserts to the ocean floor. I'm Andrew Bowen and the KPBS round table starts.

Speaker 2: 00:27 Now [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:39 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 KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth Armando, Michael Zinch, Dane who covers higher education for Cal matters and LA times reporter Evan helper. This weekend is just another weekend in downtown San Diego hopes of welcoming Comecon back this summer were dashed earlier this year, when the COVID situation was still murky, organizers played it safe by opting for another virtual pop culture convention Comic-Con at home is now underway for the second straight year. One of San Diego's biggest brands is trying to make it work online and KPBS arts and culture reporter and Comicon aficionado. Beth Mondo is here to keep us in the loop. Hi Beth. Welcome to the round

Speaker 3: 01:27 Table. Hey, thanks for having me. So first

Speaker 1: 01:30 Off, just set the stage for us. How do people follow all the action and are there maybe one or two marquee events or panels that you're really looking forward to?

Speaker 3: 01:39 Well, the easiest thing to do is just log on to comic-con.org, and everything will pop up for you right there about comic con at home. So there are virtual panels, there is a virtual dealer's room where you can actually like hop onto the map and see who's available with Comic-Con exclusives. Um, there's some fan events, there's a book club. There's a lot of different things going on and everything should be right there on the website. And all you have to do is like click on it and get more information. And that's the easiest way to kind of go through and get an overview of what's available

Speaker 1: 02:15 This week, that there are some aspects of Comicon at home that you actually kind of like, um, tell us about those.

Speaker 3: 02:22 Sure. Well, you know, I usually run a booth or am doing stories, so I have to do a lot of running around and I can't wait in line for panels and I can't get to that many, but last year with the virtual convention, I saw 70 hours of programming. I was in such bliss because there were things I saw panels on inking and lettering. I saw panels on horror on Aztec video games. I mean, there were so many wonderful panels about things that I never would have gotten to. So I really encourage people to take a look at the panels and map what you want to see. And the great thing is the panels all drop at specific times, but then they stay online afterwards. So you can just make a list of like your must-see panels. And then after you catch those, if you have a little bit of time left in the day, or even on Monday after the convention, you can go back and check out additional panels. And

Speaker 1: 03:21 Of course all this programming is free, which is certainly a nice perk to have, uh, having it be virtual. But on that question of cost, you know, a lot of folks I'm sure would love to attend Comic-Con, but they just can't afford the plane ticket or the hotel prices. As you mentioned, you know, uh, things are crowded at Comic-Con. People have to wait in line for really long time. People with disabilities might have trouble navigating those crowds. Are there aspects of this virtual Comicon that you think will end up carrying forward even after COVID is over and crowds can gather again?

Speaker 3: 03:51 Well, I asked David Glanzer, the Comicon spokesperson about this, because it's kind of like one of those things where you've let the genie out of the bottle. People have been enjoying this online version of Comic-Con and kind of getting used to it. So he said that there will probably be some sort of online component moving forward. At this point, they don't know what it is, but you know, you can see some smaller panels that might've been in a room of maybe like two or 300 people at Comic-Con when it's in person getting like 3,005,000, 20,000 views on YouTube. And that's an audience they never could have reached in person

Speaker 1: 04:31 Studios saw their influence in their presence at Comic-Con grow in recent years, particularly with the rise of superhero movies, full disclosure. I made it a project during the pandemic to watch all of the Marvel cinematic universe and I made it through. So I'm very happy about that. Um, we all know that the film industry has struggled during the pandemic, tell us how they are participating in this year's virtual. Okay,

Speaker 3: 04:55 Well, this year, most of the film studios are not partaking in any degree. And you know, that's because films like black widow and F nine are already out and are hitting both theaters and streaming channels for some of those. So you are seeing a lot of TV representation and you know, there's stuff about, uh, Rick and Morty, the star Trek, animated show, dragon ball Z. Those are all being represented, but the studios really aren't. And I don't know if that's because they don't have that much product to promote at this point in time, or they're not really sure of how to promote it, but, you know, moving forward, we'll see what happens there is going to be a posted in-person show in November. So maybe they'll be more interested in that. Well,

Speaker 1: 05:41 That was my going to be my next question. There is a Comic-Con in person planned for Thanksgiving weekend later this year. What's that going to look

Speaker 3: 05:49 Like? So they're calling the virtual Comicon Comicon at home, and then the in-person one, the special edition comic. And that is planned the Friday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. At this point in time, there's very few details available. They do know they're going to be at the convention center. They are not at this point planning to use hall H it will probably be a smaller show, more like the WonderCon, their sister convention that's up in Anaheim. So for a lot of people who have been bemoaning, the fact that Comicon is so popular and so crowded, this might be a throwback to comic con of maybe a decade or more earlier. So it still remains to be seen exactly what's going to happen. Um, I think some of the Hollywood studios were bristling a little about it being Thanksgiving weekend. And you know, how do you get celebrities to give up their first Thanksgiving in over a year that, you know, they might be able to spend with family and come down to San Diego, but remains to be seen what that will be like. And I think Comicon is going to be focusing on that as soon as the virtual edition is over. And they'll probably be more details of about that coming out. Soon,

Speaker 1: 06:58 You mentioned you spoke with Comicon spokesperson, David Glanzer, but has this past year and a half been like for him and the other staff at Comicon

Speaker 3: 07:06 It's been crazy because they were at the very beginning of the pandemic. They had WonderCon. So they were one of the first fan conventions to have to come up with a solution for what to do. And, you know, Comicon is a huge event. So when they had to move that online, that was a, a big undertaking. And, you know, they're also working on the Comicon museum, which was about to go through renovations and they were still fundraising on that. So they've been pretty busy, but I think the, the good news is, um, as far as I know, they didn't have to lay anybody off. So they managed to keep their staff running this whole time. And, you know, they've just been trying to pivot like so many other organizations, and

Speaker 1: 07:47 I want to give you a chance to plug the project you've been working on lately. You relaunched the KPBS cinema junkie podcast. Uh, how how's it going? And can you want to, you want to give us a preview of the next episode?

Speaker 3: 07:58 Sure. I've got an episode coming up called crew call, and this is a celebration of people who work behind the camera. And I'm going to be talking to a couple of stunt people about what that entails on a set. And then in August, we are going to be doing a Bollywood special, and I'll be speaking with the podcasters of movie. Wallas about the history of Bollywood films and the current state of the Bollywood film industry,

Speaker 1: 08:23 And really quick, remind us how we can get that podcast and other content from, from you on KPBS.

Speaker 3: 08:29 Sure. You can go to kpbs.org/cinema junkie, and you can find all the information there. All right.

Speaker 1: 08:35 I'd been speaking with Beth OCHA, Mondo arts and culture reporter for KPBS and Beth. Thanks for joining us. Thank you, UC San Diego just admitted its largest incoming class of first year and transfer students nearly 53,000 people with joined the campus in the fall. And it will cost more than ever to earn that. And the prices keep on rising with the state set to move forward with a plan to allow indefinite tuition hikes for each subsequent class. Cal matters, reporter Michael's inj. Dane has been covering what critics call the tuition forever hike and the pushback. That includes one prominent San Diego politician. Hello, Michael. Hi, thank you so much for having me. Yeah. Welcome to the round table. So you see undergraduates already pay an average of more than $14,000 in tuition and fees and that's for in-state students. Of course, that's a lot of money, but it's still cheaper than most private universities. So when would this next tuition hike take effect and how much would it be?

Speaker 4: 09:35 Sure. So under the plan undergrads entering the system in 20 22, 23, so not this fall, but next fall would see their tuition go up by an estimated $540. We say estimated because the actual amount, as based on what the average inflation rate will be for the last three years, plus another 2%, once tuition goes up for an incoming class of students, that rate stays flat for six years, and that's a key selling point for the UC because the system is still haunted by the dramatic tuition hikes that occurred annually during the great recession. And that resulted in tuition, basically doubling in about three years.

Speaker 1: 10:16 Once you're in as a freshmen, you know, you're going to be paying the same tuition for at least six years. The UC board of Regents wanted to do this a couple of years ago, but that plan got derailed by the pandemic. Why do the regions believe this is necessary?

Speaker 4: 10:31 There are several reasons that the UC sites chief among them signaling predictability to students and keeping up with what the UC projects will be about a $2 billion budget hole in a few years for the cost of providing students and education.

Speaker 1: 10:47 So not every student would pay this higher tuition. Explain why.

Speaker 4: 10:52 Sure. So about one third of the revenue that the UC will get from this tuition hike goes back to student financial aid already about more than 50% of California undergraduates don't pay for tuition that's because they get the Cal grant or they get, and, or they get federal aid or they get UC financial aid

Speaker 1: 11:17 Out to San Diego was a state Senator, Tony Atkins, the state Senate president pro tem for this story. And she opposes this tuition hike plan. What did she

Speaker 4: 11:25 Tell? Well, she gave me several quotes. Um, one thing she said, and this is a direct quote. I firmly believe keeping tuition sustainable within our public university systems is critical and do not support a tuition increase at this time. Families have been struggling during this pandemic and this year has been difficult enough for so many Californians. The state

Speaker 1: 11:46 Legislature just approved a budget that gives a big influx of cash to the UC system. The state's funding for the UC. Hasn't been entirely stable. It's gone down as a share of the total systems budget since the OTs, but why is the latest influx of cash to the UC? Not enough to stave off tuition hikes and how much money was it? The

Speaker 4: 12:09 Total total sum that the UC got above last year was 1.2, $7 billion. That's a lot of money, but, um, when you're educating hundreds of thousands of students, that much money kind of divides to be not that much per student, and then really 300 million of that is just repairing the cuts for last year. In

Speaker 1: 12:31 The past, the UC has leaned on supplemental tuition from out of state students and international students. How important are those revenue streams and how have they been changing?

Speaker 4: 12:42 So those revenue streams have been increasingly important to the system. And it's been a source of a lot of tumult and agita. You could say between the UC and lawmakers. Um, there was a time when, uh, the UC only had about 10% of its students coming from out of state. Now it's closer to 18% and a lot of that can be traced back to the significant budget cuts, um, that the UC, uh, experienced during the great recession and to make up for those, uh, funding cuts, uh, the UC started relying more and more on out of state, uh, enrollment. Why would they do that? Because out of state students spend about three, how much like three and a half times more intuition than in-state students. Now in the most recent budget, the, the legislature said that they intend it hasn't happened yet, but they intend next year to sort of buy out these out of state students, um, at, at, at, at UC San Diego, at UCLA and at Berkeley. And so the plan is to get those three UCS to be closer to that 18% figure, um, for, for the whole system right now at UC San Diego and UCLA and Berkeley. Um, the share of out-of-state students is closer to like 22, 23, 20 4%. So there is this plan to, to bring down that number, which would in turn open up more space for California students to get into these much sought after campuses. Your story

Speaker 1: 14:19 Includes a tweet from California as Lieutenant governor Alleni [inaudible] and she's sits on the UC board of Regents. And she tweeted her. She paid $4,000 per year for tuition at UC Berkeley's Haas school of business in 1990. Now she opposes these tuition hikes. Do you get the sense that older generations are understanding in a strange way, the barriers and the costs that are facing college students in 2021?

Speaker 4: 14:47 Um, you know, I would, would love to have the survey question, answer that in my purely anecdotal frame of reference. I think it's a mixed bag. I think especially if individuals who went to college a generation or two ago, I have loved ones in school now, then they see how much more expensive it is. They see that you need, you need an internet connection to do your homework. Rent is higher. Um, tuition has increased. Everything is more expensive. Often you hear folks saying, oh, well I worked enough to, to, to cover tuition. Sure. But you know, if we think about what the minimum wage was in the sixties, um, adjusted for inflation, it was higher than, than it is now. I think if you're tapped into the reality that this current generation faces, then you're aware of that Pete,

Speaker 1: 15:37 As higher education, you often talk with students for your reporting. Do you get the sense, they feel that the college experience and the degree is it worth the price that they're paying?

Speaker 4: 15:48 It's just really hard to answer that question, because so much of it has to do with who you're talking to. Right? And when you go to college, you're told that this is the ticket to the middle class, right? And the UC is a bargain. I mean, when you compare it to the Cal state, it's less so because the Cal state system charges less for tuition. But if you compare the UC to elite private schools, and of course the UC is considerably cheaper and the UC has a pretty high graduation rate, including for low-income students. And so the UC deserves credit, I think for being this, this, uh, social mobility escalator, I just, I just don't know if students who are taking out loans and students who are scrambling to find food and, and find it at food pantries. I just don't know. I don't know what they're thinking there. I mean, I know that they're thinking that this is incredibly difficult, but they persevere, right. And they persevere for a reason. And that reason is to get a degree because they've been told and enough labor data says that a UC degree matters. Of course there are alternatives, but, um, that's the hope for them, right.

Speaker 1: 17:02 So, well, uh, thanks for your reporting on this. I've been speaking with Michael Zinch Dane higher education reporter for Cal matters. And Michael, thanks for joining us.

Speaker 4: 17:10 Thank you so much. President

Speaker 1: 17:13 Biden has set ambitious goals to fight climate change and a cornerstone of those efforts involve electric vehicles. Some might be motivated by high gas prices, others just by a desire to be more sustainable. But the transition to EVs is happening in no small part, thanks to California, but how green are electric cars, really LA times, reporter Evan helper dove into that question this week. And what he found might make you look at Tesla's bolts and Leafs a little differently. Evan, welcome to the Roundtable.

Speaker 5: 17:44 Thanks for having me, Andrew, your story kicks

Speaker 1: 17:46 Off with a ship that was docked in the San Diego bay. Tell us about what was on that ship and about the company that owns

Speaker 5: 17:54 It. Sure. Uh, this was a ship that was used by the metals company, which is a partnership of several big investors who see the deep sea as, as kind of salvation for this shortage of materials to make heavy duty lithium ion car batteries. There are several materials needed to make these batteries. And in this transition from oil to the millions of batteries that'll be needed. And you can find a lot of these materials in these nodules on the seabed way, out in the Pacific ocean, uh, these nodules, they formed over millions of years and they, they have nickel manganese, copper, you know, crucial elements needed to, to make these, these core boundaries. That right now there's not enough of in the U S and China dominates the supply chains for, for these metals. And so they want to scrape the seabed floor for them because they can. They say basically if you, if you get, uh, all the nodules that are in just a small section of the seabed, uh, you, you have enough to build batteries for the whole us car fleet, as it goes, electric, uh, oceanographers are very concerned about this. They, they say not enough study has been done of this area. You don't really know what's going to happen. If you start mining these nodules, you could disrupt entire ecosystems, you know, and, and they're trying to, uh, slow down this, this push to start mining these nodules. Your story

Speaker 1: 19:19 Also takes us to the deserts of Northern Nevada, where there's a Canadian company that wants to build a massive lithium mine there. Tell us about that proposal and why some people are trying to stop it.

Speaker 5: 19:30 Uh, the largest lithium reserves in the United States is in an area called Bakker pass. That's up near the Oregon border. Uh, this Canadian company, lithium Americas, uh, you know, saying they're going to their mind would be a different kind of mind, more environmentally responsible. This is land. That's sacred to a lot of people in the community to the, uh, you know, Indian tribes that are in the area and also to some ranchers. Um, and they're very concerned that, you know, what'll happen. There is not environmentally sensitive at all, despite what the mining company is assuring. And so there's a, you know, big movement has, has jailed to stop this, this mining of lithium there,

Speaker 1: 20:09 Some environmentalist who want a more ecologically friendly, uh, method of extracting lithium and your story, uh, describes lithium valley near the Salton sea in Imperial county, just east of San Diego. How did that, uh, area earn its nickname and tell us about this, uh, alternative lithium extraction process?

Speaker 5: 20:30 Yeah, certainly. So lithium valley up near the solvency is a really interesting, uh, project. Um, there's a lot of geothermal activity in that area and there's geothermal power plants. And there've been companies looking for years at the, at the prospect of taking the brine that is during, uh, the, the geothermal power making process and using it to create lithium. It was not economically feasible when it's been tried in the past, but obviously the demand for lithium is soaring or the projected demand for lithium is soaring. And the technology has has advanced, um, since it was tried, you know, several years ago, and now it's looking like it could be economically feasible. And so the companies that are behind this, they make the argument that this is a, um, you know, a much less invasive, just sort of very environmentally sound way to do this. Now, the Salton sea, you know, there have been environmental justice issues there for years with agriculture runoff.

Speaker 5: 21:25 And, you know, it's a community that's really is in dire need of economic development, but is wary of promises that there's, there can be money made, uh, through its resources because they've, they've had real issues in the past. And, you know, the air quality there is, you know, is really not good. So they're, they're proceeding cautiously. Uh, the state created a lithium valley commission, which has kind of working with stakeholders, working with indigenous people in the area, working with the communities to, to try to find a way to do this, that in a way that benefits the community that is actually environmentally sound. And, and it is not another false promise that, um, there's going to be a boost in the economy and leaves the community reeling with environmental problems. But you know, that processes earlier along and, and we'll see how it goes.

Speaker 1: 22:13 Part of a new series with the LA times called the United States of California, how California is sort of an incubator of ideas that then spread across the country. California has been a trendsetter with regards to making electric vehicles more mainstream. What are the state's goals with electric vehicles and how far away are we from achieving?

Speaker 5: 22:34 Sure, the state schools are really ambitious, so they want no, uh, sales of new combustion engine cars, or SUV's by 2035. That's not very far away. And it is something that's achievable. And you have to remember with California, its market for vehicles is so big that when auto makers look at mandates, California creates, it's hard for them to just create the vehicles for California and then keep doing business as usual for the rest of the country. There's, you know, California's in an Alliance with several states that embrace its emission standards, and you'll, you know, you're going to start to see other states embrace these same goals about banning internal combustion engines. And so that's, um, you know, that's very aggressive. Uh, it's something that is in line with some of these automakers that are saying, look, we, we have our own plans to move over to electric and to a lesser extent, hydrogen vehicles within, uh, within a certain timeline. So it's, it's not unrealistic, but it's, um, it's ambitious. And, you know, it requires, uh, a fast ramp up. And for that reason, analysts are saying, you know, right now I think 1.5 million electric vehicles are sold in a year and they're predicting by 2025, it'll be 8.5 million already. Titian

Speaker 1: 23:50 Seems to really love electric vehicles because they're kind of just an easy solution to climate change. Why, why do we need to bother changing our neighborhoods or changing our infrastructure to make them more walkable or bike friendly when you can just swap out the internal combustion engine for a battery, but how much are our leaders actually grappling with these questions about electric vehicles and their sustainability, particularly with the production, uh, that you uncovered in your

Speaker 5: 24:18 Story? I think that's a really important point or a lot of people. It's just a matter. It looks like this is just a matter of maybe moving over to an electric vehicle, or, you know, you wouldn't drive a gas vehicle anymore, but you could, you could have a Tesla and your life wouldn't change that much. And you know, that that's a point. One of the advocates, uh, over at backer pass made very eloquently, said, look, you know, entire communities are being disrupted and people live here. You know, for a lot of people, this is just, maybe you have to drive a different car. It's, it's not that simple. And so, you know, that's not to say, uh, sticking with, you know, vehicles that run on oil is the way to go. But it is to say that these decisions are a lot more complicated. They involve a lot more work and they're a lot more inconvenient than sometimes policy makers would, would have you believe. It's not just about moving everyone into a Tesla. It's, it's also about, you know, responsibly and sourcing the materials that are going to go into all of these lithium batteries and making some tough decisions about, okay, where are we going to get these things who's going to be affected? This is a, this is a major, major transition. And it's, it's one that does need to happen. But you know, some of the tough questions are, are being ignored along the way.

Speaker 1: 25:29 I've been speaking with Evan helper reporter for the LA times. And Evan, thanks for your reporting on this. And thanks for joining the round table. Thank

Speaker 5: 25:37 You so much, Andrew. I appreciate you having me on

Speaker 1: 25:39 That wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Beth Armando from KPBS news, Michael Zinch Dane from Cal matters and Evan helper from the LA times. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen to any time on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Andrew Bowen. Thanks for listening and join us next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

A lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join KPBS to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region. New episodes every Friday.