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Roundtable: The increasingly high price of living in San Diego

 February 18, 2022 at 12:00 PM PST

Speaker 1: (00:01)

Everything is getting more expensive, but is your paycheck keeping up the growing money gap? That's making San Diego, one of the least affordable places to live should locking people up, be a money making enterprise critics say they want transparency. When it comes to privately run jails. And this week, California turned a corner. Local schools bring back a bit of normal. You lost during the pandemic. I'm Matt Hoffman, and this is K PBS Roundtable Who can possibly afford to buy a new home in San Diego. And once you get that home, will you have enough money to cover all the bills that come with it? Renting is not much easier as high demand cent prices surging over the last year. Increasingly the working class is being left behind with one recent survey. Now declaring San Diego the least affordable place to live in the entire country. Even edging out this San Francisco bay area. Here's some of K PBS north reporter Tanya Thorn's story from earlier this week,

Speaker 2: (01:04)

The median home price in San Diego rose 14.3% in January. And when calculated with incomes, the city's unaffordability score rose to the top of the list. Surpassing San Francisco here, Zillow economist, Jeff Tucker.

Speaker 3: (01:18)

We've also seen a major deterioration in the affordability of home ownership in San Diego, which was not particularly affordable to begin with, but it got a lot worse during the pandemic

Speaker 2: (01:30)

Household incomes. Aren't increasing as fast as home prices and there are not enough homes for sale and apartments for rent that's keeping prices high Tanya thorn KPBS S news.

Speaker 1: (01:41)

You can find more from Tanya's report at, at K So what's keeping people from throwing in the towel and moving away. It's a decision that thousands have made, but many more are trying to make it work here. Michael Mullins wrote about it this week in his column for the San Diego union Tribune. Great to have you back on round table, Michael.

Speaker 4: (01:59)

Thanks for having me on.

Speaker 1: (02:00)

So first off, can you give us the basics of this survey? It got picked up by a lot of news outlets this week who put it together and what's the key takeaway for you?

Speaker 4: (02:08)

Well, it was done by an outfit called Hoho labs, which is a, uh, digital, uh, home buying platform based in Austin, Texas, but of course it's online. So it's all over the country. And, uh, they do a lot of things. In addition to help people buy homes. They, they do market marketing surveys and, and surveys like this. And as opposed to just look at the prices of home, which homes, which of course are high everywhere, but particularly out in California, they compare that with, with, uh, household incomes. And that's where this sort of came in with San Diego because you know, you look at San Francisco's housing prices, it's still much higher than San Diego, but so is their, their household come that's much higher than San Diego. So it's that sort of spread between the two that just kind of edge San Diego head of, uh, San Francisco in this particular survey,

Speaker 1: (02:52)

The median price of a home here is now $764,000. According to this report, Zillow's mortgage calculator puts a monthly payment for that price at well over $4,000. I'm curious, Michael, what kind of jobs are needed for something like that?

Speaker 4: (03:07)

Well, good paying jobs. I mean, I'm stating the, obviously I don't mean to be Flipp. Uh, it's very difficult. Uh, a lot of people are really stretched to try to do this, uh, you know, often, unless you very wealthy, it certainly takes two incomes to, to come up with enough to buy a house. The biggest issue of course, is the down payment, which houses that these prices, uh, you know, is huge. And a lot of people have a tough time dealing with that, but there's a lot of white collar jobs. There's a lot of tech jobs, biotech jobs in San Diego, people that, that are, are making good money, but you know, there's a big service industry and that's, that's a real problem for folks there. Not just buying, but rents are, are very expensive too.

Speaker 1: (03:45)

I'm I'm curious. Have you seen anything to suggest that the pandemic is in any way driving up these prices?

Speaker 4: (03:50)

Well, you had mentioned that, geez, some people thought maybe the prices would go down. They actually went up dramatically during the pandemic. People were staying put construction wasn't up. So there just wasn't that, that turnover and more and more people were sort of getting desperate, you know, to, to go into the housing market today is frightening. Uh, there's just a bidding war on, on every house of, of, of any kind of status, whether, uh, you know, small salt blocks, uh, or a mansion. And, uh, it's very difficult to, for people to get a foot in.

Speaker 1: (04:20)

I'm talking with union Tribune column, this Michael Smolins and Michael, we know that it's not just the cost of a home, the price for energy to power your home is also going up. What are you hearing from your colleagues and others who are reporting on this?

Speaker 4: (04:32)

Well, uh, my friend, Phil Moar at, uh, the union Tribune on the business staff, just, I think it was last week, did a story on the latest round of inflation figures, San Diego, not all only was, uh, among the highest of the inflationary cities around the country, but it also was well above the national average.

Speaker 1: (04:48)

These prices make renting the only option for a growing number of people. And it's a similar story there with rent surging over the past year are the hands of the city and county leaders tied on this, Michael, like, is there anything or any steps that can be provided there as political will to do it?

Speaker 4: (05:03)

Well, you, you sort of mentioned the, the key thing political will there actually the city of San Diego in particular and more the county lately are moving in this direction. Uh, the city for the last handful of years have been doing all they can to, to rezone streamline zoning and streamlining the process way, saving fees in certain cases. And, and having people be able to build by, right, without having to go through the usual, uh, maze of bureaucracy, but that hasn't really done much to, to, you know, bring a lot of housing about it. I think the pandemic had a bit to do with that, but it's, it's just a slow process statewide there trying to force the locals, other places, frankly, cuz Sandy Diego's on board to really move in that direction and they pass legislation. But some people seem to think that there's gonna be, need to be some sort of bonding effort, some sort of financial relief from the state, uh, either to help fund infrastructure and take those fees off houses or to, to help, uh, people with down payments and things like that. Uh, that's, that's certainly a controversial way to go. And uh, so far nothing has really come forward in that

Speaker 1: (06:06)

Recently on Roundtable, we got into this a bit with voice of San Diego reporter, Lisa ha stat. And she was focusing on the struggles that the city has in recent months of filling open jobs. I'm curious, Michael, how does this issue of affordability affect local governments when they're trying to provide just basic services?

Speaker 4: (06:23)

Well, it, it affects, you know, certainly the, the jobs now with San Diego, having trouble filling vacancy, have those people gone out of state or far away in a lot of cases, they stay locally. Uh, as we've all reported for years, the city of San San Diego is behind the curve in terms of what it pays comparable cities, uh, up and down the state, but not just that, but also much smaller local cities in a lot of cases pay more. So, but when those cities have job openings, uh, you know, they can, there's a whole well of experienced people that, uh, work for the city of San Diego that can go there. So that's an issue. And of course, feeding into that, uh, it's people are looking for higher salaries because of the pressure of the cost of living and affordability. Well, that's gonna exacerbate things.

Speaker 1: (07:04)

There might be some good news here, San Francisco, they were previously the least affordable city they're seeing a drop in home prices. Does that indicate that we might see some relief here in San Diego,

Speaker 4: (07:15)

Boy, try and guess what the market going to do. I, I, I would leave that to smarter people, but smarter people have said they do expect it to, to at least, uh, settle down a bit, maybe slow down in the increases. We'll see if that happens, but I don't think we're gonna see any like relief in terms of how prices drop. That was a little bit of a drop in San Francisco, but you know, the, the, the average, the median home price up there is still over a million dollars. So, um, it's got a long way to go to become really affordable anywhere in California,

Speaker 1: (07:46)

Despite some of these financial challenges, San Diego still ranks very high for quality of life and overall health. What are you hearing about the reasons that people are choosing to stay here? They might be obvious, but what are you hearing?

Speaker 4: (07:57)

Well, they are guess in some, some not so obvious. We all know we just had a week of summer in February, just the other day. Now, of course we did have hail and lightning in a windstorm, uh, just recently, but obviously the weather is, is a big factor. It's a beautiful place. That's a big factor and there's a lot to do with here. And it does have that healthy aspect of life. I think also that that as the city has grown, it's become more attractive. I mean, in some cases that doesn't attract people because of more people, more congestion, but the biotech industry, the overall technology industry, the, the growth of the, of higher education has made this, uh, a smarter place, a growth of culture. And, you know, the arts has been huge in San Diego. So I think all of those things, but one of my favorite anecdotes that I've said way too many times, but years ago, a, um, journalist from Sweden, a small city, a small town, frankly in Sweden, this woman came to visit the union Tribune and she spoke with many of us individually.

Speaker 4: (08:53)

And she taught about how she's been to San Diego many, many times. And I asked the obvious question. I said, well, what's your favorite thing about San Diego? And before I could get the question outta my mouth, she said, the people, I mean, she was just adamant. She didn't say the beaches. She didn't say the ocean, which we all love and so forth, but she just found that the people were friendly and nice. And I think, you know, we all have, there's all sorts of issues and problems and racial concerns and things like that. But I think overall people do find folks friendly here.

Speaker 1: (09:22)

I've been speaking with this Michael Mullins for the San Diego union tribute and Michael always great to have you here on round table.

Speaker 4: (09:28)

Thanks for having me on again

Speaker 1: (09:40)

In the middle of downtown San Diego, just a few blocks from the Santa Fe train Depot. It's a key piece of our criminal justice system. The Western region, detention facility houses, hundreds of people, some are waiting for their day in court. Others are recently convicted and waiting to find out where they're gonna be serving their sentence. And soon all of them might be on their way out. That's because of business arrangement with the federal government and the private company to run the jail is set to expire yet. No one really knows for sure. That's why the a C L U is suing over what it describes as systematic secrecy over what's happening with the facility and the future of those inside Jill Castano tried to get to the bottom of it for a new source and cheese background round table. Welcome back, Jill. Thanks

Speaker 5: (10:21)

For having me

Speaker 1: (10:22)

So people can read your story early on. There's a breakout box in there that explains why all this matters. Many people listening might not have any experience with the legal system or law enforcement out of sight, sort of out of my, is that one of the reasons why it's important to explain why we should be paying attention to a story like this?

Speaker 5: (10:42)

Yeah, I think there's some truth to that. That a lot of people have no personal connection to the criminal justice system. So they may not see a story like this as relevant to them, but the truth is so many more people of us do have that connection than we may think there's so many ways to be connected to this system. This facility houses up to 770 people at one time. And these are residents of San Diego for the most part who have family here and friends here. It also employs 300 people in San Diego and the public defenders and the prosecutors who rep present people in this facility. They're in San Diego too. So this is a, this matters a lot to the San Diego community.

Speaker 1: (11:24)

The us Marshall service is the lead on federal jails. They have an agreement with a company called geo group to run this facility, the downtown one through the end of March. What happens next though? That's the big question. And do we have any answers there?

Speaker 5: (11:37)

Well, we don't have answers, but I can tell you what might happen. One option is that this whole facility shuts down and the defendants are sent off to other parts of the state, but it might stay open because the geo group has been working really hard. We know from public records, trying to find some way to keep this facility open and to keep their control over the facility. One thing they're considering is trying to become a subcontractor, basically find a middle man to take over the contract, but still find some way to provide the services. Now we don't know whether or not they're gonna be at this point. Nobody's really answering my questions, but we should be finding out in the next six weeks or so.

Speaker 1: (12:18)

The current contract was extended for six months back in September. Do we know if that could happen again?

Speaker 5: (12:24)

It could happen again. There's no indication at this point that it's been extended, but that already was controversial when it happened because of this executive order from president Joe Biden to phase out private prisons. That's why we're in the position that we're in is that really geo group shouldn't be getting these contract extensions, but it did happen six months ago. So it's possible they could be allowed to do it again.

Speaker 1: (12:47)

Well, we know that the a C L U they're suing over what they say is a lack of transparency and response from us marshals. They want to know how the decisions over the building's future are being made, and they want it in a timely matter so that the public can weigh in before they make these decisions. Do we know if they've been given the runaround here, or if they've been making progress,

Speaker 5: (13:06)

They have not made any progress. The phrase that I've heard is just crickets. They have no idea what's gonna happen. And they're very frustrated at about it. They sent in public records requests, which officially they're supposed to re receive responses to from the us government within 20 to 30 days, they sent in requests twice and still nothing

Speaker 1: (13:27)

I'm talking with. I new source, investigative reporter, Jill Castalano and Jill, the lawsuit is not just about transparency for a business arrangement. It also gets into accusations of mismanagement and also unsafe living conditions. Is there a particular story that stands out to you from those who have been at this detention center?

Speaker 5: (13:45)

Yes. In my reporting, I came across the story of a man named Lorenzo Loach, who was brought to the facility back in September for a drug smuggling. He was a arrested on those charges and he was not able to make bail. This happens a lot, oftentimes because people simply can't afford it. And he remained incarcerated at Western region. Within nine days, he had a positive COVID 19 test. And shortly after that, he actually died from the virus. So this all happened before he could even Bera and plead not guilty on his charges. And I think that just emphasizes how dangerous the conditions can be.

Speaker 1: (14:22)

You report that since the pandemic started 250 cases of COVID 19 have been linked to this facility, Western region. And about a year ago, KPBS investigative reporter, Claire Traer was covering the COVID situation in places just like this, a C L U immigrants, rights, attorney, Monica, Langer Rica. She was part of that story. And she had this to say about what makes a prison, such a dangerous setting during a pandemic.

Speaker 6: (14:45)

I don't think you have to be, you know, an expert to understand that, you know, even if people are in separate cells, these settings require people to share facilities like showers or microwaves or recreational space, um, just exposes people, exposes one person to what another person might be carrying, whether that's the flu, the cold or COVID 19.

Speaker 1: (15:08)

Okay, Joe. So if you could break it down for us, what's the dynamic inside this facility, like is geo group staff responsible for detainees care? Or is there any federal oversight here?

Speaker 5: (15:17)

Yeah, this is, what's so interesting about private prisons that make them unique. The federal government does not manage them. I talk to the us Marshall service, they're responsible for the contract, but they say they don't have any role in provide in care or COVID 19 precautions. They wouldn't answer questions about it. They said, that's all up to geo group. That's their responsibility. So I contacted geo group and they wouldn't answer any of my questions. So it's really hard to know what exactly is going on on the inside.

Speaker 1: (15:47)

Now, there is another side to this, a sort of pro jail side, and at least in terms of one to keep this current facility open. And we know that that coalition includes union workers and a local Congressman. Do we know if this is all about jobs for them? Or what are you hearing?

Speaker 5: (16:01)

Well, we know that this is at least partially about jobs in the union. That's representing the correctional officers and the other workers there. They want these jobs to be saved. So that way 300 people in San Diego aren't suddenly out of work.

Speaker 1: (16:16)

Congressman Peters also says that keeping people here allows them to be better prepared for their trials and be closer to their support systems. We know that president Joe Biden has an executive order that aims to phase out these privately operated prisons at the federal level. Do we know where that stands right now?

Speaker 5: (16:31)

Well, we, that the executive order is still an operation and we know that slowly, these facilities are being phased out, but it's sort of on a case by case basis. And I think this is a good example of just how complicated it can get and nuanced and how private prisons aren't gonna go quietly. There are a lot of interest in keeping these facilities open.

Speaker 1: (16:53)

Do we know why this push to move away from private detention centers is being made now Jill, like, is there some sort of a moral question that the Biden administration is grappling with here?

Speaker 5: (17:03)

Yeah, there's been in the past few years, a push from grassroots organizations from, um, community activists, criminal justice reform advocates to get rid of private prisons. There's a real concern about the concept of making money off of incarcerated people at this facility alone. The geo group is given over $50 million a year to run Western region. And in a year across all of their facilities, they are making millions and millions of dollars a more than a billion dollars a year. So there is a real concern about whether we are okay, um, on a moral level with doing that. And the Biden administration also points out in its executive order. That there's just a concern about the quality of services. That places that are operated by private detention facilities are just not up to the same standard of care. They don't operate as well. And that we shouldn't let them continue for that reason.

Speaker 1: (18:01)

And usually Jill, we'd like to ask what's next for a story like this, but as you mentioned earlier, we don't really know here. Is there something else that you're why watching for in the meantime, though,

Speaker 5: (18:10)

Yes, I am watching for anything and everything that will shed some light on what's going on. So I'm gonna be watching for updates to the current contract. I'm also gonna be keeping an eye on the COVID 19 numbers at this facility, because that is still a real danger to the people living there. And we wanna know what that's going on. Um, in the future on that front too,

Speaker 1: (18:32)

You can read more of Jill Castano's and Jill, thanks so much for your time today.

Speaker 5: (18:38)

Thanks for having me on

Speaker 1: (18:49)

Can't go without touching on the big story of the week, a turning point for California, two years into the COVID 19 pandemic.

Speaker 7: (18:56)

And so we have work to do as it relates to turning the proverbial page. And what we're announcing here today is about turning a page, moving from this crisis mentality, moving from a reactive framework to a F where, uh, we are more Sentinel our approach that we stand firm and confident, uh, as we lean into the future, uh, moving away from a reactive mindset and a crisis mindset, uh, to living with this virus, we have all come to understand what was not understood at the beginning of this crisis, that there is no end date, that there is not a moment where we declare victory, despite so many of the metaphors that were used during this pandemic, the war metaphors, where we said, we will defeat this virus. There was some suggestion that that was, uh, a destination that, that will as a place. When in fact we now know it's more of a direction. And in that light, we have put together a plan that we, uh, coin as the smarter plan, because we are smarter two years later, uh, we are more adaptable. We are more capable to understand, uh, the Nate of this disease, the mutations, its variance, uh, and we recognize with humility that we don't know what we don't know as it relates to the future, but we have never been more prepared for that future

Speaker 1: (20:24)

That's governor Gavin Newsom, Thursday, laying out his plan for shifting how we live with the virus going forward. We have plenty of coverage on that from all of our PLA forms for round table. We want to do a quick check-in with our education reporter, NG Perez kids have been through a lot the last couple of years, and a bit of normalcy is coming back and NG's here to talk about it. Hey mg, Hey, good to be with you, Matt. Great to have you here. So let's hone in on one of the experiences that people can sort of relate to during the pandemic field trips were eliminated, but it was announced this week by San Diego unified, at least that they're coming back. Do you know what the plan is going forward?

Speaker 8: (20:57)

Yes. As of Wednesday, they were back and all field trips, both to indoor and outdoor venues are being allowed to proceed. Of course, there are always health guidelines. So for instance, if a field trip is going to a certain location and that venue has a policy, uh, they must abide by the policy. But in addition to that, let's say they go on a field trip somewhere, and there's not a mass requirement students. And the staff that are attending are still, uh, required to wear mask indoors while on field trips, regardless of what the, uh, venue policy is.

Speaker 1: (21:33)

And I'm curious, what about some of our smaller districts in the county? Are they doing similar moves?

Speaker 8: (21:38)

Well, they're 42 districts in the county, so it is hard to, uh, you know, calculate who's doing what sometimes, but I will tell you that San Diego unified in the largest district, of course, uh, as San Diego unified goes, so do other districts. So we will just have to wait to see what they decide. Uh, once San Diego, uh, unified moves ahead,

Speaker 1: (21:59)

Some people listening might say, Hey, this isn't the biggest priority, but mg, how important are these experiences for kids? I mean, even I can remember back when I was a kid going to different amusement parks and the zoo and things like that.

Speaker 8: (22:08)

Well, as a former teacher myself, I can tell you, they are valuable learning opportunities from the getting onto the bus, going to the venue, coming back, there are opportunities for learning and connection, and really it's about students, mental health, getting out and, uh, experiencing fresh air or, or some new settings, uh, than just being cooped up in a classroom with a mask on, uh, definitely is, is a plus for mental health. So that's really, what's pushing this.

Speaker 1: (22:39)

All right. And let's look ahead a little bit, maybe the next big thing to look forward to in terms of schools is the date February 28th. That's when we could see the indoor mask mandate gone for kids. And of course, mg, we know all the drama that's associated with masks, from lawsuits to protests. What are you hearing about all this? I mean, does it look like we might see the end of masks at school in the next couple weeks?

Speaker 8: (23:00)

What we know for sure is that San Diego unified has always looked at the science. So they will look at the, the numbers and the metrics and to whether they feel it is safe. Uh, I think there is a chance if the cases continue to plummet as they have been in the county, that that might finally happen. But again, the district has always said that they will depend on science and, uh, metrics to determine what they do next. So we'll just have to see what happens on that day.

Speaker 1: (23:30)

And when it comes to San Diego unified, in terms of outdoor activities, there were some action taken there. This week. Masks are no longer required outdoors.

Speaker 8: (23:37)

There they are not, they are still strongly encouraged, but they are no longer required. Uh, when students are outdoor on campus. Now, as far as outdoor activities, let's say a dance or something else that's being planned. Uh, they can proceed, but they must be held outdoors like a prom. We'll see where we're at at prom season, but for events like that, they must be scheduled outdoors so that no mask is required.

Speaker 1: (24:04)

And it terms of schools. Is there anything else that you're working on for K PBS that you're maybe keeping an eye on or that's, uh, peaking your interest right now?

Speaker 8: (24:10)

Well, we have definitely covered COVID for sure. And my commitment in my coverage is to redefine education. I am working on something that will be airing next week about a new culinary art school that is in the heart of it's a school that has been started by a chef with a real mission, which could include homeless children, learning how to cook. So I'm very excited about that. And, uh, you can look forward, uh, next week.

Speaker 1: (24:39)

That's our education reporter, mg Perez and mg. Always great to have you here on round table.

Speaker 8: (24:43)

Thank you.

Speaker 1: (24:44)

And before we, we wrap up the show, let's hear a bit more from governor Gavin Newsom on his next phase of California's COVID 19 response.

Speaker 7: (24:52)

Why is this matter? Because I think people are looking forward to turning the page. People are desperate to move past this crisis mode that we've been in for the last few years. People are desperate to get back to whatever semblance of normalcy. They, they vague. We may remember, uh, from a few years prior, but they also need to know that we have their back. We're gonna keep 'em safe and we're gonna stay on top of this, that we're not walking away from this pandemic and this disease. We're not walking away from the virus, cuz the virus continues, uh, to change and mutate. And we will change our approach as the virus changes, it's mutations, it's lineages and sub lineages. And I want folks to know no other states better prepared to do that and keep them safe and healthy than the state of California.

Speaker 1: (25:34)

Thanks so much for tuning into this week's edition of KPBS Roundtable. And thank you to my guests, Michael Smolins from the San Diego union Tribune, Jill Costano from my new source and mg Perez from KPBS news. If this, any part of our show, you can listen any time on the K PBS round table podcast. I'm Matt Hoffman. Join us next week on round table.

Virus Outbreak California Daily Life
Gregory Bull / Associated Press
Brett Berndes paints at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, after portions of the park opened Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in San Diego.
A new survey ranks San Diego as the least affordable metro area in the country, the ACLU sues for more transparency over the future of downtown's privately-run federal prison, and local schools resume field trips as pandemic restrictions ease.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion on stories in the news this week. Guests include San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Michael Smolens on the widening gap between salaries and living expenses in San Diego. Also, inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano explains why the ACLU is suing to gain information about the future of a privately-run federal jail in San Diego. We also check in with KPBS education reporter M.G. Perez on the return of field trips for San Diego Unified schools as pandemic restrictions ease.