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San Diego asks CDC to investigate cross-border pollution's public health impacts

 May 24, 2024 at 1:48 PM PDT

S1: Welcome to KPBS roundtable. I'm Scott Rod. Cross-border sewage has been contaminating the air and water of South Bay communities for years.

S2: So what we don't know is how much of that is getting into our homes.

S1: Then ? Southwestern College has faced accusations of racial discrimination in recent years. Has it done enough to address those concerns ? Plus , we dive into other stories from this week and the roundup that's just ahead on KPBS roundtable. San Diego's South Bay communities have struggled with the problem of sewage and pollution spilling over from Tijuana , which has contaminated the water and caused beaches to be closed for months on end. But what impacts does this having on people's health and the health of the community overall ? Earlier this week , San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas called on the centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health to investigate the effects of cross-border pollution on public health. Also this week , a new report from the Surfrider Foundation found the waters off Imperial Beach failed to meet state health standards for all of 2023. Tammy Murga covers the South Bay for The San Diego Union-Tribune and has been following the cross-border sewage crisis. Tammy , welcome to roundtable.

S2: Thank you for having me.


S2: We've had reports that sewage has been leaking over the border into the San Diego region , region as early as the 1930s. So it's a long time. Now , the cause is really this complicated mesh of multiple issues. You have a really fast paced , growing population in Tijuana , as well as the complicated relationships between the US and Mexico. And then you have years of disrepair and underinvestment in wastewater treatment plants on both sides of the border. So in Baja California , you have the San Antonio de Los Buenos plant , and that hasn't been working for a long time. So water that should be treated there goes directly into the ocean. And that reaches our beaches here in San Diego as well as Tijuana. So that's how we see all these beach closures. So it's really been an ongoing , devastating problem that's only worsened over time with these dis repairs.

S1: And it seems like it's gotten more acute really in the last few years. And , you know , stretches of beaches closed for a long time. It seems like.

S2: Yeah , I mean , we've seen that at first it was really only in the Tijuana River Valley area. It's been moving up more to where people in Coronado. Um , in Chula Vista , even National City have kind of complained about odors and stuff. So we're seeing that it's kind of spreading up even more.

S1: And yeah , let's talk about some of those impacts. Right. Let's start with what we know. How bad is the water quality and how is it affecting the air quality.

S2: So we know through the county's sensitive water quality testing that the water is unsafe to swimming. Right , to get an even just contact. It's very unsafe. And a 2023 Scripps study found that bacteria from untreated wastewater in the ocean off of Imperial Beach is becoming airborne. So what that tells us is you don't even have to come into contact with the water. Simply breathing it could potentially make you ill. So that's very concerning.

S1: Definitely , definitely concerning. But there's a lot that we also don't know about this , right. So how do these pathogens transfer from the air or from the ocean into the air and then perhaps spread more broadly. And how could that impact people's health ? What do we know or what don't we know about that ? Yeah.

S2: In speaking with San Diego researchers , they've kind of told me that sewage , bacteria , even toxic chemicals , a lot of them that are even banned in the US , they can get trapped in the surf zone. So , you know , you have bubbles bursting , waves crashing , everything that sprays over , that carries into the air , and the air can travel for miles. So what we don't know is how much of that is getting into our homes. What are the long term impacts of that ? Right. So that's what a lot of the interest is. And we're hearing a lot of testimonies about people getting ill. But you know what are those long term effects is what we all want to know.


S2: So you have a wide range of issues. A lot of people have been mentioning that they're reaching for their inhalers a lot more. Their children are getting asthma and older adults , their asthma is coming back. What's troubling is that a lot of these testimonies , people are saying that once they leave the Imperial Beach or just South Bay , these impacted communities , as soon as they head up north out of these communities , they feel better. You know that as soon as they get away from their environment , their breathing is better , their coughing stops , their headaches. And so I think that's very telling.

S1: In your reporting , you had talked to families , especially people with young children. How are residents navigating this ? Right ? I mean , if they call these communities home , you know. One of the things that you would like to depend on as being safe , reliable is the air that you're breathing every single day.

S2: I think it's important to remember that this is a community with , um , a lot of low income families. Right ? Um , people that live in apartments as well. So especially in the summer when it gets really hot , people are having to make the decision of , do I close my windows because I don't have , you know , AC but I'll bear through that because I just cannot stand the sewage stench. A lot of families have taken it upon themselves to buy air purifiers , use candles , do anything they can to stop the odors from coming into their homes because they feel that's what's causing , you know , most of their illnesses. A lot of folks have mentioned buying monitors to detect any pathogens inside their home , so they're doing what they can. Right ? A lot of folks just spend the time weekends with other family members outside of town. Um , folks that just can't even go to the beach , right ? A lot of families say that. That's the reason why they moved to Imperial Beach , right ? To raise their families close to the water. Re-created there , but they can't anymore. So it's case by case basis. But a lot of families find it just easier to relocate.

S1: In your reporting notes that many of the beaches in Imperial Beach have been closed for what is it , nine 900 consecutive days ? Is that right ? Yeah. And , you know , I've done some reporting. They're nowhere near as much as you , but some where I've gone down and talked to folks and seen lots of hustle and bustle on the boardwalk , on the in the areas around the beach. But in the water , it'll be almost completely empty or there won't be anyone in there at all. It's sort of a surreal scene. So what does that do to a community whose identity and culture are so closely tied to the ocean , coastal access and the beach ? Right.

S2: And I think it's really interesting because just looking at Imperial Beach , they're known for their surf culture. Right ? So I mean , just walked , as you mentioned , walk down the boardwalk , you'll see everyone is either on the pier , maybe sitting on the sand , no one gets in the water. And businesses that are right along Seacoast Drive , they they'll tell you that they see less people going in there buying beach towels , right ? Uh , boogie boards , etc.. So that does impact their economies. A lot of the businesses there. So there's that aspect. As I mentioned earlier , families who young families who want to move to Imperial , who have moved to Imperial Beach to raise their kids by the beach. It's clearly not the case or not what they imagined. Right. And then there's also a lot of nonprofits. You have YMCA , the surf camp right there , that they have to bust their children to mission Bay because they can't teach them how to surf in their own waters there. So there's multiple communities , um , in the , in South Bay that are impacted. That's Imperial Beach. You have the Tijuana River Valley , folks. We have a lot of farmers there , a lot of , um , ranches , horse ranches. Right. Their businesses are also impacted. Um , the South Bay is an area that needs more , um , affordable green organic food places to recreate. And so this area is also obviously directly impacted by the by the sewage crisis. So you see anything from economics to lifestyle changes , um , people are impacted in many ways.

S1: A fascinating story you did recently was about lifeguards and how this problem is impacting how these people do their jobs , which is hard work. It's life saving work , and it can be very dangerous work. So what are the impacts on lifeguards ? What new precautions have they had to take ? Um , and does this create dangerous hurdles potentially for the work that they do ? Yes.

S2: Their work is changing. I think something that really stuck with me is they're calling themselves land lifeguards. And what that means is they're doing more work on land than they are in water now. They only get in the water if they absolutely have to. So they're spending most of their hours on land advocating. Basically , they're telling people don't get in the water. You know , they're putting signs , warning signs to ensure that folks know the water is quote unquote , closed or the beach is quote unquote , closed. Right. So I think that that's changing. And even just if you go to Coronado or Imperial Beach , you'll see that they're donning new equipment. Um , Imperial Beach , for example , they have these mobile showers attached to their vehicles. So every time they get in the water , they can decontaminate before even getting back in their vehicle , things like that. Coronado is planning to buy face shields , um , dry suits. And they're also thinking about using boats instead of jet skis , all to kind of minimize the contact that they have with water. And again , only get in there if they absolutely need to conduct a rescue. But you can imagine how more. Challenging that's become for their everyday job , right ? It's not , um , something that you see anywhere else in the country they've mentioned. So they're really working to , to establish new standards , for example , these new equipment. Right. If there's something in the books that can help them navigate their job better , that's something that they're working towards. So it is , um , definitely something that has become a lot more challenging for them. And obviously the public who may be at risk when , you know , we have an emergency.

S1: So , yeah , I mean , it's alarming also because I know recruiting lifeguards can be a challenge , uh , just generally speaking , because it is tough work. Um , it can be dangerous work. And this , I imagine , might make recruiting even harder. Right. This added variable to it , that's added danger. You would also discussed in your reporting claims that lifeguards may file if they have , you know , potential injuries or concerns that they have had some sort of health effect in your reporting.

S2: I think the cities are still , or at least like it's begun on parallel beach. They're still , um , trying to , I guess , find out how to best use that strategy or that system. I think , um , a lot of lifeguards have been , uh , finding it challenging to identify , you know , what is an exposure , what isn't , if , you know , every day on the job , is it an exposure ? How much , you know , does it require me to just get in the water ? So I think they themselves are struggling with finding their own standards for that. But we have um , at least the Imperial Beach has reported pier Beach lifeguard Department has reported , you know , dozens of of those claims filed. And I think , again , it comes down to having something in the books to really find out what is and isn't an exposure.

S1: We've been talking a lot about the impacts on the US side of the border.

S2: The culture is very different , but they're impacted by the same problem and they share the same ocean. So you'd be surprised to see there are actually a lot of similarities. There are a lot of people who , um , know not to get in the water. The sentiment is very similar to what people feel like it here in South Bay. So I think there's a lot of that. People smell the sewage stench , maybe even worse than they do here. Right. And I think that's , uh , there's a lot of similarities in that. But also there are a lot of cultural differences. You see , for example , in Spring break , uh , if you could just get a drone , maybe , and look at , you know , at the same time what beaches look like in , uh , in Imperial Beach and Tijuana on spring break , you'd see they're very different. There are a lot more children swimming in the water in , uh , in Tijuana as opposed to Imperial Beach. And this was something that we covered recently in the story. So in speaking to a lot of folks in Imperial Beach in Tijuana , they mentioned , you know , Tijuana , for example , that's kind of all the that's the only beach that they have right here in San Diego. We can get in our car , drive up maybe a few more miles , and we're North County now , right ? And we have more beaches that we can feel safer to , to get in , whereas in Tijuana , that's about it. If you go down more south , there are more rocky beaches. So even just geographical differences , they don't have that same sandy toes and sand. Right. Uh , um , scene. So that's that's also very different. Um , so yeah.


S2: They've surveilled , surveilled hospital data , school absenteeism data and data from urgent cares and also from air pollution control districts , collection of of the of er in the area. But they've concluded that there's no increases in reportable diseases. So it's I guess for folks who are experiencing a lot of these symptoms that might be kind of , you know , vague question like what more can we do if this is how we feel , but there's no increases in , um , you know , what , um , should there be more investigations ? And I think that's what we're starting to see a lot more now. Yeah.

S1: Because I wonder what what might the shortcomings or limitations be of the surveillance and data collection that the county is doing ? Because there is this mishmash mismatch. As you said , the county is not finding a significant increase , but we're hearing more and more from people that , hey , we're experiencing these symptoms.

S2: One of them being not a lot of people are getting tested. So only the most severe cases end up in the hospital for let's just take diarrhea for example. Right. Very uncomfortable. Um , so to get tested , per CDC guidelines , if you want to get tested for that , you really need to present other symptoms like fever. You have to have this problem. For a long time , and also even present blood in your stool. So these will again , most of your cases and a lot of a lot of people don't have those other symptoms. So they don't always go to the hospital. They tend to just stay at home. Um , they also don't can't get a doctor's appointment very soon. And a lot of people also they get their care in Tijuana as well , right ? So there are a lot of gaps in that as well. Also , if people aren't getting tested , those are cases that could be missed. Right. And so not everything is required to get reported to the public health health system. As we see , there are a lot of gaps here in the testing. And I think a lot of San Diego researchers are thinking we need a different approach , something nontraditional , to be able to find out if there are links and if so , what are those long term effects ? Yeah.

S1: And you've reported on some of these new research efforts to assess potentially hazardous air quality in the impacts on people's health.

S2: So if there are those links , then how does that affect people's health ? Uh , long term ? And also people who are the most vulnerable. Right. We have seniors. We have , uh , children. So those are some of the questions they want to answer. Um , and there there's a new task force that just launched with San Diego and researchers and medical professionals , and they're going to launch a survey and kind of ask all of South County are , what are you feeling , right ? What are the symptoms that you've experienced ? Um , have you been exposed recently ? If so , when and how ? So all these questions hopefully get a better , um , uh , picture of what's going on and then as well as launch , um , use some low tech equipment. For example , um , Sdsu and UCSD researchers mentioned that they'll use these wristbands that can kind of help collect , um , dust or anything else in the environment to kind of tell you , okay , if I'm at home , what what is being gathered in my home. Right. And is that making me ill ? Things like that. They'll also talking about , um , using a vehicle , driving it around all of South County to see what air is in the environment. Is that making people ill. So I think that those are hopefully some mechanisms that will help us get a better picture of what is happening in the South Bay.

S1: And to wrap up , are you optimistic about these efforts ? Do you think that , um , we're heading in the right direction or there might be some answers for people who are experiencing these issues ? Absolutely.

S2: I do actually have a lot of hope that we are heading in the right direction. For example , uh , Congress has been , um , approving a lot of funding for the international boundary and Water Commission that is responsible for managing the wastewater plant here in San Diego. And , you know , if we can get to the source , right , fixing it and expanding that , then that's going to bring a lot of relief to the communities. And as well as all of this interest in finding out answers for the public's health , really doing that research , I think that's that's definitely something that we need. And I think we have a lot of really great experts here in San Diego that are taking this work on. So I think we we're heading in the right direction.

S1: Tammy Murga covers the South Bay for the Union Tribune. Tammy , thanks for being here.

S2: Thanks for having me.

S1: When roundtable returns. Southwestern College has been grappling with accusations of racial discrimination in recent years.

S3: The exact words were a palpable climate of anti-Blackness , and I read the report , and honestly , I can't even bring myself to share the specific incidents because they were so disturbing to me.

S1: That's next on Round Table. Welcome back to KPBS roundtable. I'm Scott Rodd. Two former professors from South Bay Southwestern College are suing the school , alleging retaliation after they reported racial discrimination. But it's not the first time concerns of racism have surfaced about the college. In 2018 , a USC assessment called out the school's quote unquote climate of anti-Blackness in a two part story , KPBS racial justice and social equity reporter Katie Hyson delved into how the school has wrestled with racial discrimination in recent years. Katie , thanks for coming on , roundtable.

S3: Thanks for having me.

S1: To start , let's go back to 2018 and what the University of Southern California study found about Southwestern College. Tell us about it.

S3: So , yes , the exact words were a palpable climate of anti-Blackness. And I read the report. And honestly , I can't even I can't even bring myself to share the specific incidents because they were so disturbing to me. But there's is one line in the report that I think really sums it up. They said over the past 11 years , African American students , faculty and staff have shared with us especially horrendous examples of their encounters with racism on campuses. Unfortunately , we have grown accustomed to this , but honestly , the stories we heard from classified employees at southwestern were the worst of any place we have been.

S1: I mean , that's not mincing words at all. That's remarkable.

S3: I'm new to San Diego. I just moved here a year ago and came to report on the racial justice and social equity beat. Um , and so I wasn't here when that report came out , and this was all new to me. And so I think it did make me feel like the the lawsuit was definitely worth looking at closer , knowing that there had been a a history of these kind of findings at the college before. Right.

S1: Right. So we have the report in 2018 with some very stark , unsettling findings. Now two professors are suing Southwestern College.

S3: We haven't heard from all sides. So everything we're about to talk about are still allegations at this point. So these two professors worked in the dental hygiene program , and they're saying that over the years they witnessed racist remarks themselves , but also they had students coming to them , um , breaking down in tears in their office over racist experiences they were having at the hands of professors and administrators. And so that these students were scared to report it themselves. So these two professors said , we'll bring a title nine complaint on your behalf in that title nine complaint , which is what you file at a school when you see a protected class being discriminated against , that they're actually required to report that they voiced fear in that complaint that they would be retaliated against. This lawsuit says that's exactly what happened next. So that complaint was filed. And then their lawyer says that the school started making up violations and changing their hours. They took one professor off a class she had taught for over a decade , ultimately put them on an administrative leave. And all this building up of stresses , according to the lawsuit , caused these professors to quit.

S1: You did visit the college during your reporting for this two part series , and you spoke to students.


S3: Kind of groups of students. One was alumni of this dental hygiene program , and they all shared stories that were similar to what was in the title. Nine complaint is similar to what was in the lawsuit , just very vivid stories of racial discrimination. I also spoke with students not in the dental hygiene program. I was curious what the campus was like , particularly for black students today because of that 2018 report. So I sat down with members of an African American geared learning community. They have the stories they shared were more kind of the stories , almost a universal experience of what it's like to be a minority in a space. But aside from those very common experiences , said that they felt supported by the school. So I think that that just goes back to like , no , community's a monolith , right ? Not all black students at southwestern are going to have the same experience. And I think it also speaks to this dental hygiene program being a particular point of concern.



S3: To me is how many years the stories I was hearing spanned after this. This story went out. After I published , I heard from even more alumni stretching even more years back , sharing similar stories. And the other thing that stood out to me was how much fear there still was. Like , these are alumni. They've earned their degree. They're professionals. Some of them are very well established in their careers now , and there was so much nerves around this and even even symptoms of trauma type symptoms of saying like , this time in my life has become a blur. I've really tried to shove this down , but there are specific things that happen to them that are in very vivid detail still. So just how much this affected them , I think , stood out. And how , you know , these incidents that might seem minor when taken individually can really build up to a crushing experience for a student. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. And can you give an example of , you know , an experience that one or some of these students may have had and help illustrate how that can have such a lasting and cumulative impact on these students.

S3: The stories I heard ranged from things like saying , if you see a black man working on the air conditioner , don't be afraid. That's the dean's assistant , ranging from remarks like that to actions like , um , an immigrant. Students work being copied by a nonimmigrant student and the nonimmigrant student receiving much higher scores. So it really ranged the the gamut from like these remarks that and I heard this from a lot of students , that they were these kind of remarks that would cause them to question themselves because it was just subtle enough where they're thinking , did I hear that right ? Is that in my head ? Is that what she means , meant to say , um , all the way to more concrete things like grades.

S1: Your story highlights and drills down into the power imbalances at play here. Tell me about that.

S3: That also really struck me about this story is that these aren't comments that are like one , one on one , easy to brush off , like you're in the schoolyard or something. These are whole structures that enable these kind of things to continue. So this is not just an individual professor , but these allegations are saying that it's also the department head over her. And then the people who supervise the department had peers who would witness this but not come forward. There's a whole structure here. And these students , I think part of why the fear was so intense for them is that this really is their future on the line. Students in South Bay. For a lot of them , Southwestern College is the only real feasible option for their associate's degree. They don't all have the ability to leave home. They a lot of them rely on public transit. So this is their future and their their degree is on the line. And one student I spoke with , Lorene Asian , spoke to that really beautifully. I think we have a clip of that.

S5: You know , you're vulnerable. This is , you know , your livelihood. You've gone through so many years of school , you kind of just don't know what you're at the mercy of these people. You know , you can't do much. You can't say what you want to say. You can't react how you want to react. So , I mean , I was just stunned.

S1: And that really highlights the power imbalances that you're describing and the impacts that it's having on on these students and lasting , you know , even beyond that , into when they're alumni and these experiences sticking with them. You also spoke with the college's president and executive officer of equity and engagement.

S3: The president , he came in two years after that report. And one thing that stood out to him right away was that the transfer rates for black male students was , he said to he would bet that it was some of the lowest in the state. One of the things he's tried to do is expand how many four year colleges and universities could offer their programs on southwestern campus to make them more accessible for these students. That seems to be successful so far. They also hired the chief equity officer right after that report came out. Um , numbers are too soon to tell yet for this year , but the president does say that they're seeing an indication that black student enrollment might be up. And they say they see more diversity in their hiring pools. I will note that when I checked the data for African American faculty and administrators in particular , that is trending down. But they tell me overall diversity is increasing.


S3: And , you know , I had only one side willing to talk about the lawsuit. That makes it really hard. If I can't hear not just from the school , but I would have loved to hear from the professors named in the title nine complaint. They both declined to comment. Didn't want to do an interview. And then also , you know , most of these students are scared to speak. And so I had anonymous letters in the title nine complaint. Um , I had a lot of student experiences , but they were not didn't have names attached. So that was another challenge of finding students and alumni who were willing to have the courage to talk , even though it's a really hard thing to come forward against people who held a position of power over you , even when that's over. Absolutely.

S1: Absolutely. I mean , back to that issue of power imbalances and how it has a lasting effect.

S3: And and my partner , who I come home to every day , can testify to these frustrations. After most days of reporting , racial justice issues have always been under documented. And that's part of the reason that they take so long to come to light. Oftentimes , by nature , there are less written accounts of them , and the power imbalances keep people from speaking. And then think of the the sources we normally look to. News reports. Newsrooms have been predominantly white since the beginning of journalism. Most newsrooms have police reports. They used to be taken as gospel , right ? Like as a primary source. Facts. Um , you can count on this. Well , now we know that a lot of times there are differing narratives than the police report and that those are being authored by people with a with , you know , skin in the game. Even death certificates I have learned on this beat cannot be always be trusted as fact. And so when you think about the structures normally in charge of documenting and reporting are often biased themselves. And so there will always be a harder fight , I think , on a racial justice beat to get to the level of documentation and corroboration. Journalists normally want to get a story out. You have to. We have to push because , you know , what ? Are we going to throw up our hands and say , well , I guess we just won't tell these stories because it's not a it's not as neatly laid out for us. You know , it requires a lot of pushing. I don't know if that answered your question.

S1: It did. It absolutely did. And we appreciate all of your digging into this and the hard fight that you put up to , you know , get to the facts and get the story out there for us to have a deeper understanding of these issues. So thank you.

S4: Thank you.

S1: Katie Hyson is KPBS racial justice and social equity reporter. Katie , thanks for joining roundtable.

S4: Thanks , Scott.

S1: When we come back , we catch up on some other stories we've been following this week on the roundup that's coming up after the break. Welcome back to roundtable. I'm Scott Rod. It's time now for our weekly roundup of stories we've been following. Joining me is Andrew Bracken. Hey , Andrew.

S6: Hey , Scott.

S1: All right , start us off.

S6: The first of which comes from Calmatters Alejandro Lazo. And he had a really interesting article into the Imperial Valley's lack of EV infrastructure. They only have four of those fast charging public chargers , and they have a really low rate of EV adoption. And what's interesting about it is that that region is really important to green energy in California , and it's just kind of an interesting kind of look into how they're they rank dead last in EV car ownership among California counties with populations over 100,000. And I just thought it was really interesting. It's also a community that struggles with unhealthy air and some environmental impacts where , you know , having more green energy , green vehicles , electric vehicles would have really potential benefits to the communities there. You know , it also just points another aspect of some of the challenges of these sort of like state wide changes that California goes through , being how large California is and how different some counties are from others , that obviously the nature of Imperial Imperial County is much more rural , much more spread out compared to , you know , San Diego County , where we are.


S6: But how , you know , the communities there have been sort of burnt by past promises of this kind of green future.

S1: In addition to Corey being a great reporter , he's an excellent photographer. So the story itself is fascinating , but the the photography is also incredible , and it captures both at the ground level. And he went up in a plane and actually caught photos of , you know , some of these green energy efforts. I think one was geothermal. He caught up some photos of plants there and then also some solar photos. So it puts into perspective , um , you know , what this effort looked like to try to adopt green energy ? I just thought it was excellent reporting and really illustrated why there might be some hesitation in this community.

S6: Yeah , absolutely I agree. Um , having that visual from above that he got really kind of puts into perspective some of the challenges there too , because obviously it's that region. It's like over 4000mi² or something of land. So there's there's a lot , lot to take in there. But again , it's just it calls out to me is just some of the inequities with these different counties. You know , where we live in an area where it's really common to see Tesla's all over the place , Tesla charging stations , whatever. And you go to Imperial County. I mean , in the Calmatters piece , Alejandro , he talked to an electric vehicle owner named Greg Gelman and said he's one of only about 1200 Imperial County residents who own an electric car and kind of just talks to him about how it's not super easy for him to get around just with an EV.

S1: Yeah , I believe it. Have you seen any cybertruck's zipping around our streets ? Oh , multiple. Yeah. Me too. I gotta say , they're goofy looking , but I'm not gonna dive into that topic. I'm gonna instead catch us up on , uh , you talked about the Imperial Valley. I'm going to catch us up on some things going on , uh , from Sacramento. So the state announced that they're going to do an audit of its telework policies as state workers have been , you know , working from home , some hybrid for years now. And , of course , as many people know and have experienced themselves , this came out of the pandemic. And this struck me for a couple reasons. One is that , you know , Governor Newsom is pushing for this audit , in part because he's pushing to see people back into the office at least a few days a week. Um , and , you know , just rewind the rewind the tape a few years ago and there was this imperative to get people to work from home. And it wasn't a small thing. It wasn't just , hey , work from home for a few days. This went on for years. Um , for good reason. Right ? Because there was the mounting , uh , danger posed by the , by the Covid pandemic. But there is a certain whiplash that comes from to have a traditional experience of working the office , then going to work from home and now having to come back to me. It's just fascinating to see how society has had to wrestle and rebound and resettle , uh , and working from home versus. His work in the office has has been an interesting experiment in all of this.

S6: And you're right. I mean , it reminds me of a lot of aspects of life before the pandemic and since. And I think for a lot of them , what we found is you don't just go back to the way it was , and then that there's this period of change and you're trying to figure out what you're comfortable with. And it's something that yeah , I think we've talked about it on roundtable. We've talked about it on Midday Edition , you know , over the last year or two , these kinds of questions that are still not resolved. I think a lot of workplaces , a lot of industries that have been able to have kind of been wrestling with this return to office , I think some industries , it's like they kind of had to and they're they're back. One thing that I hear from certain people in , in various industries is one piece of it. Over the pandemic that may have impacted you , may have seen impacts for younger workers because they think it may kind of get in the way of some of the the mentorship and sort of like when you're learning a new career , when you're learning on the job , really that side by side relationship. So a lot of younger workers , I think they found didn't have that same , the same opportunity to develop , you know , as maybe being in office full time. But it is. Right. It's interesting that this is continuing into , you know , well into 2024. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. And and it also has impacts beyond the workplace itself. I mean many downtowns and downtown Sacramento is one of them. I used to live in Sacramento for 4 or 5 years before coming down here to San Diego. And it was in the heart of the pandemic that I was there. Downtown Sacramento took a real hit , you know , from that work crowd , especially state employees not going out to lunch , not going out afterwards for happy hour or dinners that really did have an impact on the economy there. So part of this push certainly is , is largely right , the workplace concerns. But there are impacts beyond that too. Another story that caught my eye coming out of Sacramento. There's a new law that's set to take effect in July , and it effectively bans these surcharges at restaurants where , you know , if you're looking at a menu , you see the price on the right. But if you look down , there might be fine print at the bottom that says , hey , we're going to tack on an extra percentage to cover maybe any variety of things. Um , these surcharges , some customers have expressed complaints about them. The state has decided to effectively ban them , sort of lumping them under the junk fee banner.

S6: Just in my day to day life. I don't eat out at restaurants all the time , but I have seen it from time to time for sure. But I guess one question I have , you know , just as someone in a restaurant is like where that money goes and exactly how it gets applied to whatever fee it's for and like. But Scott , I think you briefly worked at a restaurant or bar somewhere in San Diego recently.

S1: And so I went back to my roots bartending. And the restaurant did have one of these surcharges. And a lot of customers speaking to what you just said didn't notice it. I would be surprised if they even registered it on the on the bill. But some people saw it and they raised questions and said , hey , what is this ? Is this a tip ? What is it ? Does it go to you , the employee ? Um , and some people raised enough of a concern or a stink that the manager would take it off. So I know some customers have expressed frustration about this , but restaurant owners have made clear that , you know , it's a thin margin business. And so without these surcharges , the cost of items on the menu is likely to go up as a result. And it may be a small amount , but it will go up to make up for the fact that they had these surcharges.

S6: You're right. And I guess that's what. So it would just kind of show up in a different way. And then at that point , is it just the restaurants would be.


S6: This. Dave and Busters is a big , you know , arcade restaurant bar. There's one in Mission Valley. They're looking into allowing betting on their arcade games. And I think you and I spoke a little bit about this , just how gambling is much more pervasive. I feel like in our culture there's like a sports gambling has really taken off. It's not legal in California , but in many states it is. So you just see it a lot in sports today. And I thought this was just sort of like another normalization of gambling in a way that we didn't have , you know , five , ten years ago. So I don't think it's , you know , it's not up and running yet , but I guess the idea is , you know , you and I could play some , um , air hockey and wager a few bucks on it.

S1: I'll take you up on that. I'll , uh , I'll meet you at the papa shot. And , uh , we can have an overunder. See who wins. Well , those.

S6: Are my two games , so I like it. Let's do it. All right.

S1: Well , Andrew Bracken , thanks for being here. Thanks , Scott. That's our show for today. You can listen to KPBS roundtable anytime as a podcast. KPBS roundtable airs on KPBS FM at noon on Fridays and again Sundays at 6 a.m.. Roundtable's technical producer is Brandon Truffaut. This show was produced by Andrew Bracken. Brooke Ruth is Roundtable's senior producer and I'm Scott Rodd. Thanks for listening. Have a great weekend.

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Pollution warning sign posted in Imperial Beach near the southern end of Seacoast Drive on Jan. 31, 2020.
Erik Anderson
Pollution warning sign posted in Imperial Beach near the southern end of Seacoast Drive on Jan. 31, 2020.

This week, San Diego leaders asked state and federal agencies to investigate the effects of cross-border pollution on public health in the region. We hear more about the impacts San Diego's South Bay communities have experienced from cross-border sewage flows.

Then, we discuss efforts at Southwestern College to address concerns of racial discrimination on campus in recent years.

Plus, we hear about other stories from this week in the roundup.


Tammy Murga, South Bay reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Katie Hyson, racial justice and social equity reporter, KPBS

Andrew Bracken, producer, KPBS