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A plan to restore Mission Bay wetlands

 May 17, 2024 at 2:49 PM PDT

S1: Welcome to KPBS roundtable. I'm Andrew Bracken. San Diego City Council passes a plan to restore coastal wetlands to a part of mission Bay called De Anza Cove. What it means for the city's climate goals and what steps remain.

S2: So we found this really interesting point in San Diego's history where , like nature is starting to get some more points here from from local government , more attention.

S1: Then we hear about efforts in Sacramento to allow for more sober living , housing options for residents , and how it could transform California's Housing First approach to solving homelessness. Plus , it's been ten years since a mass shooting struck a small college town near Santa Barbara. A new investigation looks into what lessons have been learned. That's all I had in roundtable. This week , San Diego City Council unanimously approved a plan to restore title wetlands to an area of mission Bay called De Anza Cove. The De Anza Natural Plan would restore about 140 acres of wetlands to the northeast section of mission Bay Park. Those wetlands help fight sea level rise. They also capture carbon from the atmosphere. But getting the plan to this point took several years , and more steps remain before it can become a reality. Here to tell us more about what's happening are KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen and Mackenzie Elmer , the environment reporter with Voice of San Diego. Welcome to you both.

S3: Hey , Andrew. Hey.

S2: Thanks for having. Me.

S4: Me.

S1: So Diana Cove looks much different today than it once did. Mackenzie. And you write that less than 1% of it , of those wetlands actually remain from what were there at one time. Can you tell us about the habitat before more recent development reshaped it ? Sure.

S2: So mission Bay was basically all wetlands before humans decided to to develop it. The San Diego River actually used to empty into either mission Bay , and it would sometimes empty into San Diego Bay , making a huge , shallow sort of wetland area. And then , um , as San Diego started to build up , especially around the 1940s and 50s , the city of San Diego decided it wanted to turn mission Bay into a huge water park , and they went and embarked on a huge plan planning process to dredge out the entire bay and add like water skiing and all kinds of fun activities like that.

S1: And Andrew , you know , you in your reporting , you kind of talk about how that landscape changed and was transformed , kind of what Mackenzie was talking about. I think that really picked up in the 1940s. Can you talk more about the changes that happened there and how it changed the habitat ? Yeah.

S5: So I mean , it dredging involves , you know , some pretty heavy equipment digging up all of this sand and silt that would have been at the , you know , the floor of these wetlands , um , taking it out or moving it around , piling it in in certain areas so that the water is deeper and you can actually move the boats through the , the water and then creating new land that , you know , reclaimed land that didn't used to be there. Um , also paved surfaces. And , you know , mission Bay is now home to SeaWorld. It's home to hotels , it's home to , you know , beaches and , and , uh , boating activities and stuff. So it was definitely , um , definitely provided some economic benefits for the city , uh , sort of , um , create a lot of tourism opportunities. You know , people come to San Diego for SeaWorld. But in terms of the environmental costs , it was pretty devastating. So it just disrupted this national natural ecosystem that had been there since , you know , millennia , I guess. And , uh , you know , nowadays if you go to mission Bay and test the water , there's a lot of bacteria in there. So it's not necessarily a safe place to swim. It can make you sick. Um , and there are pollutants in the water , too , that may come from the watershed that , uh , you know , that washes rainwater into mission Bay. And it's not like an area that has a lot of natural in and outflow to the ocean. So this water just kind of sticks there and it's really just like , polluted.

S1: So let's move to what the council actually voted on this week.

S5: So that that will involve , I guess , filling in some of that water and making it more shallow so that the tides can come in and out and sort of restore that natural process. Um , the , the campsites that are currently leased to , uh , camp land on the bay would sort of be reconfigured. There would be less acreage for , uh , camping there , but , uh , they could theoretically maintain the same number. So the same capacity for visitors. Most of the camping there is for RV sites. And , uh , you know , if you , uh , RV sites require a lot of , like , hard infrastructure or sewer water and electrical hookups , um , if they're tent sites , you know , it would not only be lower cost for someone to stay there , but , you know , it's it's a open earth , basically. It's not it's not as paved. So that's more permeable. It could be , you know , better for the environment that they could , um , sort of adapt. And then there's still this area in the northeast corner that would be dedicated to active recreation. So where the golf course is right now , a golf course could remain there. It may be a smaller golf course , but , you know , they're just trying to sort of figure out how do we create more wetland without a huge net loss to all of the recreational activities that exist there currently ? Yeah.

S2: I thought maybe we could step back and actually talk about how we got to the discussion around De Anza , which is just a part of mission Bay. I mean , I thought Andrew did a really good job describing , you know , kind of how we got here from before mission Bay was developed. But , you know , there's a lot of different parts of mission Bay , and this is just one little corner of it in that northeast corner where there's kind of like a sort of like a boot of land that sticks out. Back in the 1950s , when the city wanted to make this into a like a recreational area , some environmentalists raised their hands and said , hey , we should probably reserve a little bit of the wetlands that exists in the bay. And that's how Kendall Frost's reserve was preserved from any kind of development. Then back in around 2015 , I think this is when the De Anza fight really started to develop. It started with the city of San Diego , just like Andrew was explaining. There's a lot of pollution in the Bay while the City of San Diego sewer system. Had released a bunch of sewage into the bay , and they were going to be fined for this. And out of a compromise with the state agency , the state water board said city , you can create more wetlands in De Anza as part of this sort of compromise. We won't find you as much. And that's how the city of San Diego really got to this point where they said , okay , we need to figure out how to squeeze more wetlands into De Anza Cove. But lo and behold , of course everything's developed around it. So that means we have to move something. And that's where we got to this point where Kaplan by the Bay , this RV site has been basically under threat of having its land taken by wetlands. So we find this really interesting point in San Diego's history where , like , nature is starting to get some more points here from from local government , more attention.

S1: And these wetlands are playing a role in San Diego's development today. There's a plan , a pretty aggressive plan of what they're trying to reach 700 acres of adding these coastal wetlands by 2035 , I think. Right. So how important is this restoration project in Danza Cove for the city of San Diego's Climate action plan ? Andrew.

S5: Well , the Climate Action Plan commits the city to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. So 11 years from today , every molecule of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere by burning gasoline or burning natural gas or , you know , generating electricity via a power plant that that , you know , burns carbon , fossil fuels , all of that carbon dioxide has to be recaptured , taken out of the atmosphere. Wetlands are a very natural and efficient way to do that. You can , you know , they sequester carbon , return it to the Earth. They can also be very good for water quality. So , you know , whereas now you have a lot of pollution and bacteria washing into mission Bay , uh , from , you know , inland , uh , the wetlands can filter out some of those pollutants before it reaches the waters that people like to recreate in. And , uh , it also , I mean , just in the sort of purest and most classical conservation or environmentalist sense , um , there are endangered species that live in mission Bay. There's the Ridgway Trail , which is a very cute bird. And , um , it has a very , very tiny habitat in this little , uh , Kendall Frost Marsh that that still exists in the bay. And restoring some of those wetlands could allow the population of those birds to recover a little bit.

S1: And , Mackenzie , could you talk a little bit more about , you know , why these wetlands are important and some of the roles they serve in helping to combat climate change ? Yeah.

S2: Going back to the city's climate action plan , I mean , Mayor Todd Gloria , he put out a revised climate action plan in 2022. And a big piece of it was , okay , we're going to we're going to hit , you know , 700 acres of restored marshland by 2035. That's a pretty hefty goal to reach for the city of San Diego. Um , but that was sort of a testament to them saying , okay , we're going to commit , you know , we're going to commit to this probably in De Anza Cove first. That was their first sort of battleground for this. And really , when you look at San Diego , there's not a lot of wetlands remaining really along the whole coast of California. So , um , I'm not sure where else they will look for adding more wetlands in the future. And just kind of like harkening back to another previous wetland debate in San Diego during the January 22nd storms I had written about , the city wasn't able to clear out its its stormwater channels because they were full of wetlands , which are heavily regulated by the feds and the state. We already know the city struggles a lot to even restore those wetlands , like they don't have places to to go and actually build them , or it's very , very cost prohibitive. It's very expensive to do this. And so I'm not sure whether the city will be able to meet that mark , but it is important for lowering their carbon emissions. One of the point about the climate action Plan is even if the city did everything in its plan , let's say that they meet all of their goals. There's still 2 million tons of carbon emissions , metric tons of carbon emissions that they have to somehow make up for. And they're kind of like hoping that technology will help them get there. So , you know , it's a pretty big , hefty goal that they're going to have to reach.

S1: Andrew , one thing that jumps out to me , you know , with this story is they're often kind of seems like a disconnect between the urgency that is expressed by many advocates , environmentalists , a lot of young people , frankly , today about the need to take action on climate change. Yet I don't know. The wheels of government projects like these seem to take a long time. I mean , 20 , 35 , not far away at all. This project , it's been years in the making , but it still has a long ways to go to come to reality.

S5: I mean , I came right as the first climate action plan was adopted by the City Council. And I was thinking , wow , this is going to be so fascinating , covering this city's transformation into a sustainable city where we're less dependent on cars , where we get all of our electricity from renewable , you know , wind and solar , where , you know , we're managing to restore all of this , uh , natural habitat that we had once paved over. And the theme over the past eight and a half years has been like , okay , when is that going to happen again ? Like , are you doing it now ? Are you working ? Are you on track to meet all of these goals that you set for yourself ? I think that , you know , to your point , why is it taking so long ? All of these things , many of these things , uh , are the delays that that are , um , that we're facing with a lot of , uh , parts of the Climate action plan are entirely human made , so the city could. Have developed a plan and approved it , you know , the next day. But we have a democratic process. We we like to , you know , allow people to provide their input to , you know , like tweak the plan here and there. We'd like to have lots of public meetings where we debate and discuss and , you know , share differing opinions and everything. And that is really coming up against the urgency of the climate crisis. So , you know , I think if we're really serious about it , we have to not only be moving incrementally towards these goals of reducing emissions and and finding new ways to , um , uh , sequester carbon from the atmosphere. We also have to be looking at all of the processes that that we've put in place that are making our goals even harder to achieve because we are capable of changing those things. Like , these are all rules that are just on paper somewhere , you know , and , and , uh , and taking the , the urgency of the climate crisis seriously , I think , does require us to think about a new kind of democracy where we can still maintain some level of , of public dialogue and debate over these decisions. But we have to also keep in mind that there is a clock that's ticking. And and we've set a deadline for ourselves. And that deadline is is coming very fast.

S1: McKenzie I mean , in your I think is your most recent environment report , you noted that local governments , I think you said was , quote , have a limited number of weapons at their disposal when it comes to , to climate change.

S2: It's this is all about , um , land use. And that's one thing that the city council can really control is how the land in their city is used. And so I think this is just like a really interesting and first opportunity where we see politicians , uh , have a decision to make. It's like give more land back to nature and , and follow our climate action plan or , you know , uh , kind of suffer from the pressures of development and say , you know what ? We're actually going to maybe not follow our climate action plan and just make a compromise and , and keep and try to give everybody what they want. And I think actually that that is what the city council did do this time they they found a compromise somehow where nobody was happy , but everybody kind of got a piece of the pie. They created more wetlands. They took a little bit of acreage away from maybe all the different , uh , you know , uses of the land , the golfers , the campers , but try to find a way where everybody sort of wins. And then to Andrew's point , like the reason why this stuff takes so long to is because. There's it's California and people sue. And so , you know , when you talk to people kind of off the record about this stuff , they're like , this is going to take forever because we know that no matter what we decide , we might get , you know , regulated by the feds. They might come in and say , you have to do something different , or maybe champlin by the Bay or some sort of private interest group will sue because they're not happy with the plan. And ultimately. So , yeah , these things just take years. And I don't know how we'll get to that climate goal , but it seems like they're trying.

S1: On some of those potential hurdles that you kind of talked about there. I mean , what's the next step for this plan to move forward ? Andrew ? I think I mean , it may have to go in front of the Coastal Commission , which is something I know you've reported on quite a bit. Yeah.

S5: Yeah. The Coastal Commission is tasked with preserving access to the coast and also preserving the natural resources of the coast. And one thing I think that's interesting about this is the natural plan is those two things are kind of in conflict with each other. So right now we have campsites on , uh , you know , on this land that was taken from the marshes. And , uh , those are considered by the city to be , uh , quote unquote , low cost visitor accommodations. I'll tell you right now , I looked at the rates for camp land on the Bay. Some of these sites are not particularly low cost. I mean , it can cost several hundred dollars a night for an RV hookup in Camp Island by the bay. So , you know , again , like some of those , those the city could say , well , we're going to have more lower cost tent sites. Maybe that maybe the Coastal Commission could say that , that , you know , you need to when you're figuring out these low cost accommodations in the coastal areas , um , you know , make that be truly meaningful and actually low cost , not , you know , something that would be just as expensive as a hotel room. Um , and , you know , in the Coastal Commission , again , is also tasked with preserving natural resources along the coast. And right now , there's not a lot of those resources left. And so this is kind of an opportunity to , to , um , bring back what was lost so that the Coastal Commission will be reviewing this plan that the city has. Then another process going through the more specific development plans , you know , pulling permits from state and federal agencies. Uh , so there's definitely a long way to go before any of this plan , actually , you know , any shovels are in the ground actually changing anything in the built environment here. Um , and , you know , whether or not that happens before 2035 , I cannot say.


S2: She was sort of arguing like against this language that said that in the plan had said , like , we will also run this plan by the federal regulators , U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service , um , perhaps Army Corps of Engineers. And she was saying , you know , the city should have power over our own decisions about land use. So I don't think we need to run this by the feds. Um , sort of an interesting point , but she kind of got some support from a couple council members about that. More of just like a political statement , I think , trying to to say , you know , like we don't need these regulators to mess with our decision making. But ultimately , again , we're talking about wetlands. And those are super heavily regulated by the feds and the state. And so , um , no matter what she may have said , the we're probably going to see the feds step in and and they might tell the city to do something different. And then what happens ? Then we go back to more planning , more , more compromise , more permitting. And that just adds time to the project.

S5: So and I'll say also , Andrew , there , there was a , um , an alternative that was included in the environmental analysis for this plan that would have created substantially more wetlands. Uh , it was called the wildest plan. And , uh , so that option was on the table for the city council to actually approve , uh , this week. And they chose not to go with that plan. But this is probably the plan that the federal , you know , regulators , the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will prefer because it makes the the greatest use of this land for natural resources. And so , you know , the regardless of what the city wants to do here , there is quite a bit of federal and state oversight. And so , you know , it's really just not the city council's decision. It is is a decision that is taken by multiple levels of government.

S1: Sounds like a lot more to come there and we'll have to leave it there for now. I've been speaking with KPBS , Andrew Bone , along with McKenzie Elmer from Voice of San Diego. I want to thank you both for being here.

S3: Thanks , Andrew. Thanks for.

S4: Having me.

S1: When roundtable returns , we hear about the legislative push in Sacramento to bring more sober living housing options to California and what it means for the state's housing First approach.

S6: So it would really change the paradigm , and it would allow some of that money to be spent on programs that require sobriety.

S1: That's coming up on roundtable. You're listening to KPBS roundtable. I'm Andrew Bracken. When people are in need of a roof over their heads , should it come with strings attached ? What if that home is paid for by taxpayers ? These questions are at the heart of an approach to the homelessness crisis known as Housing First. It means getting a person into a safe place as soon as possible and dealing with the underlying issues , such as substance abuse later. California follows the Housing First model for all public spending related to homelessness , but there's a push in Sacramento to change that and offer more sober living options. One lawmaker from San Diego is part of that group , and it's also part of what Marisa Kendall is covering for Calmatters , and she joins us now. Marissa , welcome to roundtable.

S6: Thanks for having me.

S1: Good to have you back. So let's start with this phrase housing first. How would you describe the Housing First policy ? Yeah.

S6: So housing first basically means instead of the older model , where housing was often offered as a reward for doing something good , for getting sober , for getting ready for employment , something like that. Instead , housing is offered first as a platform by which you can then do all those other things. If you have your housing , people argue it's easier then to get sober , to find a job , to do all the other things that you need to do to get your life back on track.

S1: And the headline for your story this week with Calmatters.

S6: So state homeless housing money cannot be spent on programs that don't adhere to that. So in practice , that basically means they can't fund programs that require residents to be sober or to participate in programs like a recovery program , for example.

S1: And there are a few bills in Sacramento that aim to expand California's spending on these sober housing options. Let's start with the bill , supported by San Diego Assembly Member Chris Ward. His district covers much of the city's inland neighborhoods.

S6: He's not attacking the overall Housing First model , but he's trying to add more sober living options that he says can still fall under Housing first.

S1: And another bill you're tracking here , it's from San Francisco's Matt Haney. He's quoted as saying , if people want to get off of drugs and away from drugs , we should give them that option. As you report , the demand for this type of housing already exceeds supply , right ? So there's there's a supply problem here too. Yeah.

S6: Yeah. So according to the California Research Bureau , as quoted in one of the committee's analysis of this bill , there's about 12,000 sober living beds in the state , but more than twice that many Californians who would qualify for those services. So there is a big gap in , you know , available sober housing beds.


S6: So they say , you know , the housing provider should work with someone if they relapse , and if that person needs to exit the sober housing facility , maybe they can't or don't want to be sober anymore. They need to find the housing provider , needs to work with them to find a bed in a less restrictive shelter. But the problem is , you know , some experts worry we already have such a shortage of both regular housing options and sober housing options. They worry that when someone needs to leave a sober housing program , there might not be another bed available for them somewhere else.

S1: Your story also mentions Vista mayor John Franklin. You say he recently introduced a plan to not support any program that enables continued drug use.

S6: So his proposal was more of a broad , uh , statement of values that he wanted the city to adopt. Um , and it really took issue with , uh , the idea of housing first because it does not allow for public funding of sober housing. There are a few sober housing programs in his city that are funded by , you know , different private funds and have lost out on some state funding because of that. Um , and he was trying to get the city to sort of come out against that. Uh , city council tabled his proposal and , uh , said they would come back to it at a later time. But , um , he was really expressing his dissatisfaction with the status quo.

S1: Last year , we had you on Round Table , and you were reporting on a major study out of UC San Francisco. And in that study , it really drove home the large role income loss and housing costs play in why Californians become unhoused.

S6: Um , you definitely tend to see more Republicans arguing that drug use and mental health are the driving factors of homelessness , and as a result , we need to treat those issues first before we house people in contrast with housing first and then people who tend to fall on the more liberal side , um , you know , tend to look more at these studies like the one you mentioned that cite loss of income and lack of funds and the high cost of housing as the driving factors of homelessness. So it's really these two conflicting ideas , just that get at the very heart of what is causing this crisis. And depending on what you think the answer is , you know , that'll depend on what you think the solution should be.

S1: The decisions made in Sacramento , they affect obviously more than just the people trying to escape homelessness.

S6: Um , the people I've talked to who run , um , you know , some of the existing programs under the Housing First model , um , around the state , um , have really , you know , are really , uh , showcasing the successes that they've had , um , you know , some programs in the Bay area say that , um , upwards of 90% of the people they house using Housing First remain housed for at least a year. Um , so they they really point to those successes and say , um , you know , what we need is more funding for these models that work rather than diverting the existing money we have into these other programs.

S1: You mentioned in your story that lawmakers involved with these bills say they're not trying to weaken the Housing First concept , per se , but simply add additional options. Is there anything more you can add to that case that they're making ? They're kind of riding this this line there. Yeah.

S6: Yeah. So that really comes down to giving residents a choice. So you know , experts pretty much agree this can be a housing first model if people get an actual choice. So if someone says I am I am in recovery. I do want to be sober. I want to only be around sober people or , you know , you have a family with kids and the parents just don't want to have any , any drug use and their vicinity , and they choose sober housing. You know , that's all well and good. But then the problem comes down to , in practice , if you don't have a lot of options and maybe you don't have enough resources to give everyone that choice. People may end up falling into programs that don't work for them or get getting kicked out and not having anywhere else to go , because we really don't have enough options.

S1: I've been speaking with Calmatters homelessness reporter Marisa Kendall. You can find her Marisa , great to have you on as always.

S6: Thanks for having me.

S1: When we come back. It's been ten years since a tragic mass shooting near Santa Barbara. A new investigation looks into what lessons have been learned.

S3: This was kind of earlier on in the escalating era of mass shootings in our country. I think it's a little bit hard to remember that way at this point , because we've had so much of this in the years since.

S1: That's coming up after the break. You're listening to KPBS roundtable. I'm Andrew Bracken. Nearly ten years ago , 22 year old Elliot Rodger killed six people in a small college town near Santa Barbara. He injured many more. He later took his own life in that attack as well. A new investigation from the public radio series reveal revisits that tragedy. To find out more about what happened and what lessons have been learned. It's also the first time the shooter's mother , Chin Rodger , is speaking publicly about what happened.

S7: I just want to share what I have discovered about my son's circumstances that led him to this horrific , indescribable crime. Right. I hope that my hindsight will be your foresight.

S1: The episode lessons from a mass Shooters Mother airs on KPBS FM on Saturday , May 18th at 4 p.m. it will also be available on Reveals podcast feed. I'm joined now by the reporter behind the episode , Mark Folman. He's the national affairs editor at Mother Jones and author of the book Trigger Points Inside the Mission to Stop mass Shootings in America. Mark , welcome to roundtable.

S3: Thanks , Andrew. Glad to be here.


S3: Um , he started by killing three people , actually in his apartment , including his two roommates and another friend who'd come over. And then he went out in his car and started shooting around town and killed and injured many more people. And it really , I think , shook not only the community of Santa Barbara and Isla Vista , but also was a was a big event nationally. This was kind of earlier on in the escalating era of mass shootings in our country. I think it's a little bit hard to remember it that way at this point , because we've had so much of this in the years since. But at the time , I think this was quite a shocking event.

S1: And you center your reporting on Shin. Roger. That's Elliott's mother and spoke with her for the story.

S3: I've been investigating and writing about mass shootings for more than a decade , and I had really never heard of anyone like her a parent of a perpetrator being willing to engage with violence prevention. And that's what she's done in the last several years. Um , and I started hearing about her through that , that the feel of threat assessment , which is the subject of my book Trigger Points , that she was getting involved in and trying to share more about what she knew about her son in order to try to help the knowledge base for preventing attacks like the one that her son committed. And she was very , very reluctant to speak publicly about this at all. When I first approached her , it took a long time to get her to really engage deeply and agree to speak about this to a journalist. I think she was very , very worried about ever saying anything publicly. Um , primarily because she didn't want to bring more pain to the victims families. But eventually , I think she came to believe that this work of violence prevention , the work that the field of threat assessment does , could save lives and and came to believe that had something like this been in place ten years ago in Santa Barbara , that it might have made the difference , that it might have , uh , been able to help detect what Elliot Rodger was planning and stop him before it was too late.

S1: Your story starts out not on the day of the killings themselves , but. But several weeks before , when Shin actually had reached out to the police to check on her son. Can you tell us about the circumstances of that ? I think there was multiple times where police reached out to Elliott before the attack took place. Right.

S3: That's right. People who remember this story may remember that there was a day , about three weeks before the attack happened , a little over three weeks before the attack happened , where sheriff's deputies went to his apartment to do a welfare check. That was because his mother , chin , had reached out for help. Uh , she had not heard from Elliott for several days , which was unusual. They were in communication a lot. Um , she lived in Los Angeles. Uh , he was in Isla Vista , about 70 miles away. And they would communicate a lot because Elliott had a lot of problems growing up , and that continued into young adulthood when he was away at college , community college there. And so when he stopped communicating with her , she got worried. And then she found a video online that he had put up. Um , that was troubling. It wasn't violent or threatening in any way , but it was concerning enough to her that she reached out to other people she was working with to try to help her son , including a social worker , and that resulted in a call to a mental health crisis hotline in Santa Barbara , uh , that led the sheriff's deputies to Elliot's door. And when they open , when he opened the door and they spoke with him , he presented normally , uh , and they essentially concluded that he , uh , seemed fine. And there were there was no legal basis to do anything beyond that. Uh , to go in the apartment and search where he actually had a stash of weapons that he had amassed for his attack. Um , so he one of the things about this case that's so important to understand , and that I get into deeply in my reporting , is that he was also very good at hiding his inner torment and his violent planning. Uh , essentially , no one around him knew at all or had any sense that he was planning to kill others and take his own life. But that's where the story also really turns toward this field of violence prevention , and to what kin Roger , his mother , has come to realize and believe that that there were warning signs prior to what he did. She had no way of knowing what they were back then. But in having engaged with this field of work , she understands now that the possibility of recognizing the behavioral warning signs of potential mass shooters is very real. That's what this field of work does. And there have been attacks that have been prevented using this method. That's part of what I write about in my book. So I think that the the welfare check is a really important moment in this story , because it was such a tragic near-miss , right , that you literally have law enforcement at his door trying to see if he's okay. People around him are concerned , but there isn't enough information , quite enough information to do anything. And the threat assessment model collects all the available information about a person of concern , connects the dots and makes more sense of it. And had that been in place at the time , it's possible that Elliott's plan would have been interrupted , that they would have stepped in , learned more , and intervened and gotten him the help that he desperately needed.

S1: And you touched on this a bit , but you know , though , this is the first time chin has spoken to the press , she has shared her experience with researchers. You know , in order to better understand what led to her son's violence.

S3: There was a very deep investigation of this attack by the sheriff's office in Santa Barbara County. Uh , also involved help from the FBI and others. Um , so a lot was documented about the attack , including Elliott's history , his mental health background and all the problems he was having and so on. Um , but she , I think had a lot of , a lot more insight , as a mother would , who is close with her child about how Elliott thought , how he behaved , some of the things he said and did that in hindsight , might have had more meaning. And this is the kind of research that the field of threat assessment builds on to develop its approach to intervention. Um , studying the behaviors and circumstances that lead up to these kinds of attacks. There are identifiable patterns of behavior that are and warning signs that indicate rising danger of this kind. And that's what compels a threat assessment team or program to step in and try to help someone and try to steer them away from what this field calls the pathway to violence. It's a long process in many cases , where someone is thinking about and then planning and then preparing for an act of extreme violence like this. So Chin Rodger , as she learned about this more and more , realized that maybe she could contribute. And I talked to a number of top experts in the field of threat assessment about what she's done. She's essentially gone to some of their trainings and given talks. About her experience to help illuminate the case more. And it's an important case in the research in this field because , um , it's also somewhat exceptional in that there was an extraordinary amount of lucid evidence that was left behind by the perpetrator , by Elliott. And so that created an opportunity also to study more. What leads a person to do this and how they progress toward an attack and carry it out ? So I think chin is contributed to that now by participating in some of these trainings , by sharing what she knows and leaders in the field have told me , as I report in the story , that this has had an impact , that it's helped them understand more some of the things that they're looking at , some of the nuances of behavior and circumstance that help them detect this danger.

S1: And on that , you're reporting says in many cases , you know , mass shooters don't just suddenly snap. As you know , people may assume there tends to be this longer process that I think you talked about there leading up to the violence. How does understanding that fact help with these prevention efforts you're talking about ? Right.

S3: Well , this is one of the big myths that that continues to this day in our country about the nature of this problem. You hear this a lot in the media that the sense that the sense is , given that the people who commit mass shootings are all completely crazy , untethered from reality and and acting impulsively , that they just snap one day and go on a wild attack. And that's really not what happens at all in these cases. Um , it's it's a much more , um , sustained and in many cases , methodical process that leads up to the violence. And that's the opportunity to intervene. That is at the heart of the work of threat assessment. There's a window of time where a person who has started to go down this pathway and starting to plan violence , where they're also showing warning signs , warning behaviors. Um , almost every case I've studied and I've looked at hundreds in the course of my work on this subject over the years. There are extensive warning behaviors that are recognizable to these experts. So understanding that people don't just snap one day and commit an attack is fundamental to understanding how we can do more to prevent it , because the people who are going to do this , um , they're signaling it , they're talking about it. They're they're making threatening communications. Uh , these days , a lot of that's happening digitally , right , on social media posts of videos and comments and other things. Um , there are other behaviors that are indicators as well. And so that's really essential. There's another key here too , which is understanding the role of mental illness in this problem. It's very complex. And with that too , we tend to oversimplify it in our public discussion and in the media and in our politics , there's often a desire to kind of blame it all on mental health. Just get people mental health care and that'll fix this. But that's oversimplifying it too. Um , mental health obviously is key to the the problem. No mass shooter is a mentally healthy person , but mental illness is not fundamentally the cause of these attacks. That's a really important distinction. There's there is no evidence that really supports that in most cases. Meaning if someone has a mental illness , that's not what is compelling them to go do this. It can exacerbate the circumstances. And many mass shooters have serious mental health problems , obviously , but that's not fundamentally the cause.

S1: One major piece of the story of this attack the shooter's connection to the incel movement , this sort of misogynistic subculture largely like frustrated young men. I'm curious if you feel , I guess I'm curious if you feel that that piece of the story may overshadow some of the other aspects that you're exploring and your reporting here.

S3: Um , this , like all other aspects of this story , is complicated. Uh , but after the attack happened , there was , uh , you know , kind of an infamous video that Elliot had made , uh , that he published right before he committed the mass murder , where he , you know , said all these kind of vile , hateful things about women , extreme misogyny and , and essentially announced his plan for suicidal , uh , revenge. Um , he'd also written a very long , uh , book length work , uh , that was essentially an autobiography that was filled with hateful rhetoric as well. Um , this was dubbed his manifesto in the media , which I don't think is a great term for it. Um , and between these materials , the focus became intensely on his , his voicing of extreme misogyny. And this really helped give rise to what we now know. Is that what this really helped give rise to what's now known as the incel movement ? Um , this , um , purportedly violent , misogynistic movement of aggrieved men who blame women for denying them intimacy and sex. Now , this was a focus for Elliot , but I think that it's the narrative has become that that's what caused him to do what he did. That incel ideology was the reason why he committed this attack and that furthermore , he's been kind of , um , mythologized as this sort of iconic leader of an incel revolution. Um , part of this relates to what happened online after the attack. But the news media had a big hand in this , too. And the the reporting that I do in this story , I think , calls a lot of that into question. There's significant evidence that I found in digging deeper that suggests that Elliot was not particularly connected to the world of incels. It's something that he engaged with only in his final year of life. And there's evidence that suggests that he didn't identify with that , uh , community , so-called community of people was , in fact , adversarial with them. At the same time , he was also , uh , expressing some of these views that are fundamental to the the so-called incel ideology. And so I think that got conflated and sort of blew up and took on a life of its own as a way to try to explain the horror that had happened. I mean , that's part of our story with mass shootings in America as well. I think that , you know , every time one of these really big tragic events occurs , there is a very big appetite among the public to try to have it explained in simple terms , you know , why did this happen ? What's the reason for it ? What's the thing that caused this ? Often there's blame on ideology. That's the fundamental cause , whether it's incel , extreme misogyny or or racism or , uh , extreme political views of , of any kind. Um , but no single thing like that explains why someone does this. And that's part of what , uh , my work and my reporting really tries to get to as well. It's a more complicated mix of factors. And by understanding that better , we can also do more to really figure out and try to solve this problem more.

S1: Mark Folman is national affairs editor at Mother Jones and author of the book Trigger Points Inside the Mission to Stop mass Shootings in America. You can hear Mark's reporting Saturday at four here on KPBS FM , as well as on the reveal podcast feed. You can also read his reporting at Mother Mark , thanks so much for taking the time to share more about this really important reporting today.

S3: Thank you. Glad to be here.

S1: That'll do it for the KPBS roundtable this week. Thanks so much for being here. I'm Andrew Bracken. If you have any thoughts on today's show or suggestions for a future one , we'd love to hear from you. You can email us at roundtable at You can also leave us a message at (619) 452-0228. You can listen to our show anytime as a podcast. KPBS roundtable airs on KPBS FM at noon on Fridays again Sundays at 6 a.m.. Roundtable's technical producers are Rebecca Chacon and Ben Read Lusk. The show was produced by Ben Lacey. Brooke Ruth is roundtable senior producer. I'm Andrew Bracken. Thanks again for listening and have a great weekend.

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A portion of De Anza Cove and a beach area is shown on March 8, 2023.
Charlotte Radulovich
A portion of De Anza Cove and a beach area is shown on March 8, 2023.

The San Diego City Council approved a plan to restore tidal wetlands in an area of Mission Bay called De Anza Cove. The De Anza Natural plan would restore 143 acres of wetlands. Costal wetlands help fight sea level rise and also capture carbon from the atmosphere.

Then, California state legislators are pushing for sober housing options for unhoused Californians. We hear about what it could mean for the state's "housing first" approach on homelessness.

Finally, it's been 10 years since a tragic mass shooting near Santa Barbara. A new investigation looks into what lessons have been learned since the attack.


Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

Mackenzie Elmer, environment reporter, Voice of San Diego

Marisa Kendall, homelessness reporter, CalMatters

Mark Follman, national affairs editor, Mother Jones