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San Diego may turn to voters to fix stormwater system

 February 2, 2024 at 4:30 PM PST

S1: This week on Kpbs roundtable. Flooding from the January 22nd storm has put a spotlight on San Diego's aging and underfunded stormwater system.

S2: And I think the scary part is with climate change , the experts seem to think that crazy things like this are going to become more normal , which is really a reason that the city probably needs to do something.

S1: We hear about the efforts to bring a tax measure to San Diego voters this November.

S3: San Diegans haven't haven't really had a stormwater tax or rate increase for many decades. And so we're paying like very little to the city to keep up that infrastructure.

S1: Plus , we take a look at how childhood has changed and has led to less playtime for kids. Don't go anywhere. Roundtable is coming up next. Yet another storm has hit San Diego , bringing more rain to a region still reeling from the impacts of January 22nd destructive floods. On top of that , another storm is expected early next week , but attention turns now to how to better address the city's aging and long underfunded stormwater infrastructure , an efforts underway now to bring a funding measure to San Diego voters this fall. Here's San Diego City Council President Sean L Rivera on Wednesday.

S4: Those storms will keep coming and the climate won't stop changing. While we get bogged down by politics and bureaucracy , the time for action is now.

S1: Here to talk more , I'm joined by Mackenzie Elmer , environment reporter with Voice of San Diego. And David Garrick also joins us. He's a reporter who covers City Hall with the San Diego Union Tribune. I want to welcome you both back to roundtable.

S5: Thank you.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: So , you know , since last Monday's storm , I think the biggest question has been , how could the destructive flooding have been prevented or at least minimized ? And , Mackenzie , you reported this week on some various kind of finger pointing going on between city officials and others about what more could have been done. Tell us about that.

S3: Yeah , I think before we even answer that , it's important to just say that we experienced an unprecedented amount of rain in a very short period of time , just the way that the weather turned up on Monday of last week. So it did dump like a lot of rain. That probably would have caused flooding no matter what the city might have been able to do with the dilapidated infrastructure that we have. But it did come to light pretty quickly that there was a press conference shortly after Monday's storm , a couple of days after , and it was clear that the city that Chris McFadden , the San Diego's deputy chief operating officer , he was kind of frequently pointing out that how big this watershed was and and a point stuck out to me. He he said , you know , well , one reason that we can't clean out a lot of these , these channels or these natural creek beds that are often channelized and concrete throughout the city are because they're considered natural wetlands and are regulated by a couple of federal and state agencies as well. And he basically said it takes years of permitting and planning for us to be able to actually move equipment in there and to take the the vegetation out and the trees out. And that's something those sort of vegetation filled channels or what the neighborhoods over in South Crest that got hit the worst with the flooding were really complaining about for years is like , please keep our channels clean. We're worried about flooding. And lo and behold , that's that's kind of one of the factors that probably contributed to some of the worst of the flooding. Um , and so I just sort of looked into I started asking around with the state and federal agencies , but I learned from them that , in fact , at least with the State Water Resources Control Board , which regulates water quality on behalf of the state , they had , uh , put in this sort of wide sweeping regulation in place a couple of years ago that said , you know , City of San Diego , if there's an emergency , if you deem there's an emergency , a threat to life or property , you we give you permission to basically go in and tear out what you need to do , even if it is a wetland , in order to , like , make it safe for people to live by these channels and creeks. And it seems like the city didn't preemptively think to do that before this particular storm. But again , I think that storm came in and hit the coastline and hit us a lot harder than anyone ever had expected.

S1: Yeah , and in that reporting , I mean , you mentioned you spoke with one Water Authority official who basically kind of pushed back on some of the city's claims there.

S3: But yeah , the state basically pushed back and said , no , we made it really easy for the city to do sort of preventative or emergency like cleaning work of these channels. Um , and , but it's sort of up to the city itself to determine , like what is considered an emergency. Um , and I'm still hearing back from the city , um , pushing back even further on that and that , you know , maybe the state said that , but , um , the Army Corps of Engineers , which is a federal agency , um , has its own set of regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service , they have their own set of regulations. So they have to sort of answer to these various regulating agencies when they want to touch any of that vegetation. But it seems like that's not really the case in a sort of an emergency scenario. So it's kind of dependent upon the city to make that call.

S2: I can jump in here and say , I've covered the city for a long time , and it's a debate almost every couple of years after a rainy season about whether the city's going to clean for storm channels that year , or 6 or 8 or ten , and whether they can do more funding. And it always comes up that they have to plan these far in advance , and they can't just immediately jump from 4 to 8 because they don't have the approvals in place. And that's for non-emergency. What McKenzie's talking about is that they have been given some ability in an emergency situation to just go in quickly , but when they're doing their general long term planning for cleaning the storm channels , they have to have a week , weeks and months of a time to get an approval before they can do it.

S1: And on top of the approvals , it seems like there's also a question of money here. McKenzie you say the city's stormwater department , you know , aside from having the resources to update its aging infrastructure , but it also has a deficit. Of over $1 billion , you know. How did that happen ? Yeah.

S3: I mean , maybe it's something David actually knows more about. My , you know , just started reporting on this issue really this year with the storm. But , you know , the city can constantly point back to this underfunding of all of these stormwater projects that need to be done throughout the city , that total like over $1.6 billion. And I guess that's partially because back in 1996 , there was a law passed that basically said that any new tax needed voter approval , and that included any kind of like tax for stormwater infrastructure. And so basically , San Diegans haven't haven't really had a stormwater tax or rate increase for many decades. And so we're paying like very little to the city to keep up that infrastructure , whereas other cities have found other ways around it. And I'm sure David knows more. Go ahead.

S1: David know.

S2: And and simultaneously , the San Diego hasn't been able to increase it without a public vote. And you've had increased requirements from the state , which is focused more and more on anti-pollution measures for waterways. And then also , we're still trying to comply with the Clean Water Act , the federal one , which was passed in 1970 , which continues to have stuff kick in. So the city is facing ever increasing level of regulations they must meet , and they can't increase the amount of money they have to meet those regulations without a vote of the public. And it's just very unlikely the public's going to approve , you know , at a two thirds rate and an increase in taxes on themselves.

S1: And earlier this week , San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria estimated that the current stormwater fees are about a dollar a month per home. But the true cost to the city is more like ten times that. It's like $10 a month. So that's quite a disparity.

S2: And I think it continues to grow. And unfortunately for San Diego , when they look at their infrastructure deficit , right. Because they can include this , they're also don't have enough money to fix their buildings and fix their roads. So it's not like they had this one problem. Maybe they could focus on it. But they have an infrastructure deficit in like eight different areas of infrastructure. And so it just gets to a point where you throw your hands in the air and you almost give up , which is bad for the residents , I think.

S1: And our other cities in the San Diego region facing similar questions. We know , you know , like Spring Valley , other areas were hit by these floods.

S2: I'm not aware , but I know that cities across the state , LA County just passed a stormwater measure four years ago , and it's raising $285 million a year. So there are there are places that are solving this problem. The question is , will San Diego voters step up and agree to tax themselves to help solve this problem ? I think right now with the flooding that we saw on January 22nd , it is sort of an ideal time because people see the impact and the potential loss of life and loss of property that can happen if this doesn't get addressed. So maybe this is the right year to go to the polls and try to get this approved.

S1: And to that point , David , you reported that San Diego City Council President Shawn Rivera is pushing for that right now. He's looking to add a water tax measure to this November's ballot. What can you tell us about that effort ? And , you know , the likelihood that it could even make the ballot at this point.

S2: Yeah , I mean , I think I think you could make the ballot. I believe there is support among the city council to to put it on the ballot. The question is , you know , will it pass ? It needs a two thirds approval , which in San Diego has been almost impossible. I mean , you just don't see that happen very often. A couple of measures here , like the transit , but that's been rare. Rare successes in San Diego with two thirds requirements. But because this just happened and we just saw people lose their homes in their lives , maybe that will be something that helps. Another problem with it is , though , that there's a sales tax measure that that's going to be a county sales tax measure for half a century , and then maybe a city full sent one. So you may have voters just be , you know , overwhelmed with a number of tax increases in November and maybe just decide to vote against all of them at once. I'm not saying that'll happen , but it's certainly something that the city people needs to think about before they put this on , on the ballot. And another another concern is they did a polling in 2022 when they considered this one previous time , and the polling did not come back very good. Like between 59 and 62%. And you need two thirds , which is 66.6%. So you really need a big jump , hopefully a campaign convincing people and maybe what we just saw will combine to maybe get them over the hurdle.

S1: I mean , as you said , they're two thirds. I don't know , getting two thirds of anyone to agree to anything seems like a challenge sometimes , although I think Kpbs is Andrew Bohn. Some others have , you know , raised recent examples that voters may be more amenable to it. And as you mentioned , you know , seeing the impacts from this storm may , may make that more of a possibility. Go ahead. David.

S2: David. One thing I would say , though , attack attacks on yourself. It's not just getting two thirds for something like when you're going to tax tourists by raising the hotel tax , but this is people be voting two thirds to tax themselves. I'm not saying they won't , but , you know , that is a , I think , an important distinction to make and one little to get technical on it. One thing they'll have to be decided before they go to the ballot is whether it'll be a parcel tax , where each individual property will pay based on its square footage , or the sort of more modern approach to stormwater taxes , where it'll be based on the amount of permeable pavement area you have in your property. So if you have a highly paved property , you are more responsible for or water stormwater runoff. And so you would be charged more. Whereas if you had an entirely grassed property , you'd be charged less.

S3: Isn't that how it's done in Los Angeles , David. They they're doing it based on permeable property. Yeah. So it's like and just from an environmental perspective , like the permeable and non permeable property , like how much a city is paved over without like let's you know there's these new driveways where you can kind of like instead of just paving over a driveway , you kind of have like a little bit of like grass here and there , sort of like a checkerboard with like some , some way for the water to actually sink down into the earth instead of just like funneling off of your driveway and sheets down the street and into the storm drain. I mean , this is one factor why we're having such experiencing terrible flash flooding right now here in like , Southeast San Diego. I mean , there's there's so much built out and urbanizing in the city of San Diego , as we know that that water has really no place to go. So it just kind of like shoots into the lowest point and just and I think that's why , you know , southeastern San Diego residents , when you talk to them about their experience last Monday of the flood , it's like the flood water rose from 0 to 6ft in like 30 minutes. And people were just standing in chest high water almost or above like four hours. And then all of a sudden it just kind of went down. It's like it's it's been a very unique experience for these folks. And just how crazy fast that that water came down from , you know , inland or whatnot.

S2: Oh , that's a great point , Mackenzie. And I think the scary part is with climate change , the experts seem to think that crazy things like this are going to become more normal , which is really a reason that the city probably needs to do something right.

S3: And like , and this , this storm that we had Monday. I mean , I talked to , you know , one of the climate scientists at the center for Western Water Extremes over at Scripps and. This was an atmospheric river , right ? These are these these storms where they carry they carry moisture from the tropics over to the western coast of the world. So this all this moisture came it it like dropped once it crashed into the coastline. And these it was actually a weak atmospheric river. It wasn't like one of these stronger ones that we experienced , like last January , where we had like a series of them up in Northern California. So , I mean , imagine if it had been , you know , an even stronger type of storm , how much more water we would have. And like you said , with climate change , we know the atmosphere actually is going to be able to hold more and more moisture. So we might experience more and or we will probably experience worse and worse storms as time goes on.

S1: And I think there's even another storm predicted for next week. And we're still going through this storm here. I mean , Mackenzie , you mentioned Los Angeles earlier.

S3: I know that there's been organizations that were pushing for stormwater tax , like Cost Keeper and in the past that , you know , have lots of interesting ideas. I mean , some some like the bigger ideas for what to do with stormwater is to somehow recycle it and treat it and put it and use it for like drinking water or potentially gray water , because right now all of our stormwater just flushes into the ocean as , as , as we talked about earlier. And that's a water quality problem obviously. But here in San Diego we have a separate separated sewer system. So our wastewater goes to a treatment plant. It can be recycled and used for drinking water , which is what San Diego is doing right now. But our stormwater is a different set of pipes. And those just all are directed to the ocean , basically. And some think that , oh , maybe we could capture that and reuse it. But I think just , you know , California as it is , the planners that be 100 years ago never thought of stormwater being a useful thing that we might reuse today. So that kind of a solution is probably very , very expensive. But it's been something that people have been talking about in the past.

S1: So , Mackenzie , you know , as we've noted , you know , our rainy season is it isn't over yet. We have another storm front expected next week.


S3: You know the the land will react to additional water coming in. I mean , the soils are very saturated. I actually don't know how saturated they are , but presumably the soils are getting quite saturated , which just means that if water , more water comes , there's nowhere for that water to go , even in the soil when it can reach the soil. So we could see increased compounded flooding as the rains continue to come.


S2: You know , I when I first started covering City Hall , David Alvarez was now an assemblyman , was the city council person for southeast San Diego. And he kept screaming from the days about they had to have more money for storm drains. And I was really confused. And he explained it all to me. And now just seeing , you know , eight , nine , ten years later , this tragedy just makes me feel like , you know , like , I mean , maybe he should have tried harder , but he certainly was sounding the alarm. And I guess also just I was at the opening of the County resource Center on Sunday and some of the stories , some of the stories about people with their dogs floating. And I mean , I don't want to bum people out , but , you know , I met a couple , they were first time homeowners. They bought their first home six weeks earlier , and now it's half destroyed. And , you know , they're having to learn how to deal with homeowners insurance and getting a property tax write down , even though they just bought their own home. Six first ever home six weeks ago. Just some really sad things happen to some people and it's really , really impacts you when you're when you meet them and talk to them and hear their stories.

S1: Go ahead. McKenzie.

S5: I just wanted to.

S3: Add that , I mean , I didn't mention anything about the people or the communities , but I spent , uh , quite a bit of time now on Bay Street down in Shell Town , one of the South Coast neighborhoods that were hit the worst. And , um , you know , you know , everybody , everybody's home like , that's right next to that storm channel , uh , is pretty much wiped out. And so people are displaced. Um , they're facing getting kicked out of their apartments , probably illegally , since there's eviction moratoriums now that the county just put in place , you know , people who have lived in their home for decades maybe don't have flood insurance because it's not required if you don't aren't paying a mortgage. And so if you don't have flood insurance , there's really probably not much hope for recouping a lot of the damage losses that you're now experiencing. And so this this flood may well have forever changed this neighborhood. And , you know , even now , I was just I just asked a resident that I had been speaking with. He's kind of my eyes on the ground over there. And he I just asked , you know , what do you want people to know about what you guys are dealing with and like what you need help with ? And he just said , like , for instance , we're now worried about utility bills. Are we going to have to pay our utility bills or even if we can't get power ? I mean , there's just all kinds of like things that just start to pile up of like needs that they have. I mean , they don't even a lot of them don't have cars because their cars were on the street and then they got flooded and now they don't work. And so now they're living at hotels with their kids and how they get their kids to school. So there's just so many , you know , inconveniences that are just sort of like stymieing the lives of the people that are already like , knew that this flooding was potentially imminent , um , for years. And so it's just it really is a tragedy to watch. Yeah.

S5: Yeah.

S1: I mean , even on Midday Edition this week , we spoke with some folks from the Black Arts and Culture district and that we know was just decimated as well in these floods. So a lot of people impacted. I've been speaking with McKenzie Elmer , environment reporter from Voice of San Diego , and David Garrick , reporter with the San Diego Union Tribune. I want to thank you both for being here today.

S5: Thanks for having us.

S2: Thanks for having us.

S1: When we come back , we explore the reasons free unstructured play is so important for kids development.

S7: It's really just kind of an opportunity for kids to explore their interests , kind of really bring their creativity to bear , and also just sort of get out and try and make up rules of their own.

S1: That's just ahead on roundtable. Welcome back to Kpbs roundtable. I'm Andrew Bracken. Childhood has changed a lot over the years. Here is how local father Dennis Lim characterized his.

S8: The neighborhood I grew up in was great for kids who was a cul de sac. My parents didn't have to really put any thought into like , you know , how was Dennis going to socialize ? How is he going to make new friends ? How was he going to learn all these skills that we're talking about , you know , social skills , you know , being physically active. They just let me go outside until it was time for dinner.

S1: Free roaming latchkey kids have been replaced by more activities and more structure for kids. But researchers say unsupervised play or free play , as it's called , can be essential for child development and increasing the amount of time kids play may be one strategy to combat the mental health crisis facing youth today. Here to talk more about the importance of play and the changes we've seen surrounding it is Corey Suzuki. He's a reporter and visual journalist with Kpbs covering the South Bay and Imperial County. Corey , glad to have you here today.

S7: Hi , Andrew. Thanks for having me.


S7: They have these rules , these guidelines. They have a lot of adults supervising them often , but free play or sort of unstructured play , which is kind of the the way that researchers describe it , it is separate from all of those , those rules. It's really just kind of an opportunity for kids to explore their interests , kind of really bring their creativity to bear , and also just sort of get out and try and make up rules of their own to kind of explore with what interests them , follow things that draw them in a direction. And , uh , just to really be able to kind of start to develop some of those rules for making up games by themselves , learning to work together to cooperate , really with some distance from adult supervision.

S1: And so talk more about that. I mean , what do we know about the benefits of free play for kids ? You know , what does the research say there ? There are a.

S7: Lot of different sort of tangential benefits associated with free play , as far as experts told me , which is there , there's , for example , free play is often associated with exercise. And we know that exercise means that kids are staying healthy , that exercise has benefits for mental health. That's one tie to free play. But free play is much more than exercise. It's also getting to really just sort of build those creative skills and kind of start to to really push deeper into the the limits of a kid's creative imagination to , to make up games , to start thinking about ways to , to work with others and to come up with scenarios where you're resolving conflicts or experiencing different situations. And so all of those really come together to give kids an opportunity to build that internal sense of what psychologists call a locus of control , which basically means that it's a it's a sense of that kids have , again , some kind of control over their life. And that really becomes a factor in mental health down the road.

S1: And your story , you examine how the way kids play has changed over time. Playtime is transitioned to becoming more supervised and monitored. You right. Tell us more about that. Yeah.

S7: Yeah. The the way the kids play has really transformed over the last recent decades. This has sort of happened in two different stages , both kind of relating to large changes in American life starting in and around the 1970s and the 1980s. The first major change that researchers described to me was a shift in the way that parents think about safety and kids specifically. That was largely triggered in the beginning by a couple of high profile abductions of young kids. The first kidnapping happened in 1979. It was a six year old boy named Ethan Pitts who went missing in New York. And then two years later , there was another six year old who was abducted in Florida. In 1989 , there was an 11 year old who was abducted in Minnesota , and that launched one of the largest searches for missing person to date. All of these , I should stress , and we try to stress in the story , and experts stress to us that child abductions , these kind of kinds of crimes were then and are still very rare. Um , less than 350 people who are under 21 are kidnapped every year on average in the United States , according to the FBI. But. That really didn't stop these cases from , um , kind of taking hold. Uh , for a lot of parents in particular , this was driven partly by a number of different shifts in popular culture. Dairy company started printing the faces of missing kids on milk cartons. There was this shift in different kinds of media that were geared towards kids. Picture books , for instance , started warning kids about the risks of talking to strangers. I think for parents , the message became that you really had to be keeping an eye on your kids at all times , whereas before , you know , kids might be going out and sort of playing freely , unsupervised.

S1: And Corey , you know , you say there's another major shift that has to do with schools.

S7: Um , it was largely driven in the beginning by the Education department under President Ronald Reagan , which warned that American education wasn't keeping pace with other countries and really was trying to prioritize that as a policy. And so this led to a big push by the federal government to get more involved in schools. And the government started requiring public schools to prove their success and academic growth through standardized test scores. And that really led to kind of this creep of school and homework and class time further into the lives of kids. The length of the school year actually increased by several weeks. And as school became more of a presence in kids lives , it took time out of their days. And that previously might have been time that they had spent kind of experiencing this sort of unstructured play that we're talking about.



S7: Really hard numbers on that. One of the the best estimates that I found was that unstructured play fell by close to 25% between 1981 and 1997 , so over close to a 20 year period between the 1980s and the early 2000. But other than that , there aren't a whole lot of sources on the way that play has changed.

S1: And the shift away from free play. It's also led to a new state law involving recess. Tell us what's going on there.

S7: Yeah , part of the change that happened in schools also led to changes in the way that schools thought about recess. And , I mean , I feel like many people think of recess is something that's just built into the schedule of elementary schools and the kind of school days of younger kids. But in many states , there really is no specific regulation of recess. Only nine states currently have actual requirements in state laws that require a certain minimum amount of recess every day. And that really led to as , uh , as the federal government in the 1980s , 90s and early 2000 was making this push to really get schools to focus on academics. That also really took a toll on recess , particularly after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act , which happened in 2001. And this really led to many districts across the country to to start cutting away recess in favor of class time. In some cities , like Atlanta , Baltimore and Chicago , officials actually eliminated it altogether. And all of this sort of led to what experts described as a sea change in the way that schools were thinking about recess , specifically , all of the pressure of the the federal government's new policies really got educators to spend more time on school work and less on things like recess.

S1: And tell us more about this law. I mean , one piece of it is that I understand , you know , kids can't be held out of recess as sort of like a form of punishment , which I feel like is probably a pretty common practice in a lot of schools. Why did lawmakers feel that that was a particularly important element.

S7: The way that that was described to me. I spoke to one of the lawmakers who worked on this law , and also one of the recess researchers who contributed to its early development. And what both of them told me was that recess , I think , for a long time , has been thought of as a privilege in some ways. People in general have kind of this idea that because recess is fun , that it's something that that kids get if they're behaving well in school. And so I think that the the lawmakers and researchers behind this law are really hoping that this will lead to a shift in how educators overall are thinking about recess and that they think about. It is something that is also critical to the mission of schools , and not necessarily just time for kids to blow off steam , but also critical time for them to also be sort of doing the same kind of learning and development that they're doing in the classroom , but just in in different ways. And also , I think two researchers seeing that , like in many areas of American life , the power structures of race play a significant role in how kids experience the education system. And this is something that they've seen , particularly in terms of recess , too , that when educators take away recess or when recess is cut back in favor of academics , that educators have taken away recess or reduced recess time , particularly for black and Latino students and at greater rates than they have for white students. And so I think that that was also a factor in the minds of lawmakers and researchers that they wanted to , um , make sure that all students were getting access to this really critical time and that the biases implicit or explicit of of schools and school systems , we're not going to be affecting which kids get recess in which kids don't. Hmm.

S1: Hmm. And another potential solution you at least allude to in your reporting is this , you know , families creating play friendly neighborhoods.


S7: Different approaches to that across the country. There are sort of just have been reports in recent years or in recent decades of parents kind of taking steps to sort of cultivate neighborhoods where kids feel more comfortable , kids and families feel comfortable being outside and just sort of playing in a way that they're able to , to have opportunities to to have that kind of free and unstructured play. And again , I think that that looks different in different neighborhoods. There are different examples of this that I read about in my reporting , ranging from examples in places in , in northern California , in suburbs to , um , to , uh , parts of New York City.

S1: One interesting part of your reporting here , I think , is you chose not to focus on screens or technology. And I think that's , you know , such a big sticking point for parents. You know what I mean ? We talk a lot about , um , the impact screens are having on children today. But I was just curious if any of that came up in your reporting on this story.


S7: Were definitely a big concern of , um , pretty much every parent that I talked to , what the experts that I spoke to for this story , I think wanted to emphasize in particular about kids lives , is that the way that play has changed , maybe having this larger role than we think. Whereas lawmakers and public health experts are often focusing on screens and technology , as what they say might be the main drivers of the youth mental health crisis. And so I think that the researchers studying play are really just kind of trying to draw our attention to this other change that may also be playing a role in the reasons that so many kids are feeling these , these feelings of of hopelessness and sadness and despair.

S9: And in terms.

S7: Of , uh , whether free play and screens can coexist , I don't think I can answer that question. I think that's something that we're still trying to understand. The relationship between the the rapidly advancing technology and kids lives.



S7: Think as somebody who has who was not a parent , I think it was it was really interesting to to work on this story. I think I learned a lot about parenting and about all of the kind of different things that that parents are thinking about. And the one thing that I am really going to take away from this story is that in many situations , I it , it seems like all of these different things that parents are thinking about , all of the different concerns they have are all very interrelated. And I think the fact that they all are coming up now is really in part because of the the pandemic , in the way that it drew so many parents to think about their kids lives in a deeper way. So many parents , so many lawmakers , so many researchers. So I think we're at a really interesting time right now where in California , the pandemic emergency declaration is over. But for for many kids , for many people , uh , for many kids in particular , the effects of the pandemic are still ongoing. And so I think that looking ahead , this is something that a lot of people are thinking about because of that and that also that a lot has changed , um , for kids and that we don't really , I think , yet fully understand either. Um , exactly has changed in how it's changed. So I think there are a lot of questions that are still there and that will that hopefully will be answered in the years ahead. But , um , I think that also there's going to be a lot of attention on those questions. So I'm hopeful about that.

S1: Well , just me as a parent , I really appreciated this reporting. I thought it was a great story and we appreciate you sharing more about it with us today. Corey Suzuki is a reporter with Kpbs , covering the South Bay and Imperial County and part of the California Local News Fellowship. Corey. Thanks so much for being here today.

S7: Thank you so much for having me , Andrew. I really appreciate it.

S1: When roundtable returns , we take a look at some other stories we've been following this week with Kpbs web producer Laura McCaffrey. Stay tuned. Roundtable is back and less than two minutes. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable , I'm Andrew Bracken. Joining me now is Kpbs web producer Laura McCaffrey. She also writes our weekly newsletter , The Catch Up , where she shares the top news each week. Hey , Laura. Hey.

S10: Hey.

S1: So what were some of this week's top stories ? I'm. I imagine , you know , a lot of them are storm related.

S10: Yeah , you're right about that. Probably every day this week , um , our top stories were anything storm related. As we know , San Diego was hit with a lot of rainfall last week , and it displaced a lot of residents. Damaged property. Um , this Thursday , we had another storm. Um , there was flood warnings , advisories , all of those things.

S1: Um , evacuation warnings too , right ? Yeah.

S10: That's right. Uh , San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria issued an evacuation warning , and people were encouraged to go to the shelter that they set up at Balboa Park. Um , and they teamed up with the United Taxi Workers of San Diego and SD unified to help people with transportation that needed it.

S1: And , you know , with this storm ending , I think we're expecting another one next week. So there may be more more weather news to come. Yes.

S10: That's right.

S1: Another popular story , as I understand , related to San Diego's Navy. What can you tell us about that ? Yeah.


S10: So last year in October , um , a San Diego based Navy captain , Daniel Defoe , she was fired , um , and she was captain on the USS Lake Erie. Um , then at the time , the Navy wouldn't say why she was fired. Um , but Kpbs was able to get a copy of an investigation about her firing. Um , so basically , that said she created a toxic work environment. She screamed at and bullied people , and she even hit and touched people inappropriately. And there might be further administrative action against her. So we'll wait to see.

S1: Another web story , I think , you know , catching a lot of attention. It's about a UCSD scientist getting honored.

S10: Um , compared to the last two stories. So Kim Prather , she's a UCSD atmospheric chemist. She was honored by the National Academy of Sciences for her work on aerosols. So those are the tiny airborne particles , um , and she's known for. Sorry. Yeah , exactly like Covid. So , um , people really knew about her work during the pandemic , um , because she was advocating for mask wearing , and she pushed federal officials to recognize that aerosols , not airborne droplets , played a key role in Covid spread. Um , and another thing she's known for is developing a way to measure the size , the chemical composition and source of aerosol particles.

S1: And there was also some land conservation news this week. Yeah.

S10: Yeah. So more science news here. There is a pretty significant land deal. Um , some conservationists were able to purchase undeveloped land in the Proctor Valley. Um , that was originally going to become some housing. Um , so the conservationists were able to purchase it for about $60 million to keep it a natural habitat. Um , and now it's part of the Rancho Hamel Ecological Reserve. Um , and what's special about that land is that there's coastal , there's coastal sage scrub , and that kind of ecosystem is pretty rare now. Um , so this is just a wonderful this is just wonderful news for all the nature lovers out there. Okay.

S1: Okay. I have one story for you , Laura. Can I give you one ? Sure.



S1: You know , there's been a lot of discussion on this tweet from Elmo , the Sesame Street character. And he had put out a simple tweet. Um , and it just said Elmo is just checking in. How is everybody doing ? But it just got a lot of response. And you're seeing a lot of discussion on mental health , the importance of mental health. You know , some of the responses were very serious. Some were , you know , were sad. Some were obviously being the internet were like , you know , humorous on the lighter side. But , um , one article I saw was from Axios , uh , Rebecca Faulkner and yeah , just kind of how it tapped into this larger conversation on mental health. And even President Biden responded to it and commented about it and he said , quote , we have to be there for each other , offer our help to a neighbor in need , and above all else , ask for help when we need it. So I just thought it was an interesting , you know , just one of those kind of viral tweets , but there's a kind of , uh , important discussion at the heart of it. And it just stood out to me this week. Yeah.

S10: Yeah. What did Elmo have to think about.

S5: That he.

S1: Followed up later ? I mean , I think he just had a follow up tweet where he just said , wow , this sounds like I need to check in more kind of thing. And I think that was sort of the takeaway is just , you know , it's never , you know , it's always okay to , you know , just check in with people , ask how they're doing.

S10: Yeah , I love that. Perfect.

S1: And aside from all the , you know , Kpbs stories you've been following this week , you found a couple others , including one that , you know , caught my interest. It's like a solar car. What's going on there ? Yeah.


S10: So there's this company based in Carlsbad called APT Terra. They're developing a solar powered car. Um , so , you know , as it sounds , you can power it with the sun with its little solar panels on it. You can also plug it in and charge it to , um , it's going to enter production soon. And the first production vehicle might be ready by the end of the year. So have you taken a look at the the picture on these of this thing here ? What do you think of that ? It's to me it kind of looks like a like a Batmobile situation. Yeah.

S1: It's it's pretty unique there. Wow. It's it's definitely I mean , I guess my first question. Yes , there's the , the look of it , but like , what's the what would the range be. Did they , do they have any information about like how far you could get on one of these. Because I know one of the challenges with , you know , just relying on electricity with , you know , powering cars is always the storage. And how , you know , how battery storage works. Did they say anything about what the range of this car would be ? Yeah.

S10: So it's a story from CBS eight , and it looks like it can travel up to 1000 miles.

S1: That's a lot. Okay. So I'll keep an eye out for that one. I mean , I will say , you know , just looking at this , I had my first Cybertruck sighting this week.

S5: Uh oh , no. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. And it was very strange. I was like , I take these walks early in the morning , you know , so I'm sort of like , half awake. And I just walked by it and I was like , oh , there's the Cybertruck. And it just looked so odd next to every other car. I didn't know what to make of it.

S10: Hey , welcome to the future.

S5: Yeah , right.

S10: So these these app terras , they actually have like nearly 50,000 orders already. So this is what the people want. Totally.

S1: Totally. Yeah. And I mean , like you said , a thousand miles. That's kind of blowing my mind. So. Lastly , we have an election coming up. It's coming up next month. It's actually coming up pretty quick and Kpbs will be obviously covering it. We have a voter hub and the voter hub for this elections launching next week.

S10: So the voter hub , uh , myself and the other web producers are hard at work getting this thing ready to launch. Um , it's officially launching on Monday afternoon. Um , there's going to be explainers on some of the races in the primary election , some guides on how to vote , and there's going to be a cool interactive that helps you explore what's on your ballot. Um , we're also going to have a lot of content in Spanish for our Spanish language , uh , speakers. We do already have some coverage on the voter hub at right now that you can check out. Plus , um , some important dates to know , like when your ballots are getting sent out.

S1: Well , I think I got my initial not the ballot , but the the voter guide I may have gotten this week. Yeah , the.

S10: Pamphlet , the.

S1: Pamphlet , yeah. Where it has all the the candidate bios and things like that. So we'll be looking for that. I mean , I think there's a lot of information , a lot of questions I know I have about the election , so I'm excited for that. Laura McCaffrey is a web producer here at Kpbs. Thanks so much for being here today.

S10: Thanks for having me.

S1: That's our show for today. Thanks so much for being here. 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 and again Sundays at 6 a.m.. Roundtables. Technical producers are Brandon Truffaut and Ben Read lorsque Brooke Ruth is Roundtable's senior producer. I'm Andrew Brackett. Thanks so much for listening. Have a great weekend.

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Rain hits the neighborhood of Chollas View in San Diego, Calif. Jan. 22, 2024.
Alexander Nguyen
Rain hits the neighborhood of Chollas View in San Diego, Calif. Jan. 22, 2024.

San Diego voters may see a tax measure on the November ballot in order to fund the city's stormwater infrastructure and disaster relief needs following the Jan. 22 storm.

Plus, kids today do not have as much time to play freely as in decades past. We take a look at some of the causes, and how kids can benefit from having more unsupervised playtime. And we take a look at other stories we've been following this week.


MacKenzie Elmer, environment, Voice of San Diego

David Garrick, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Kori Suzuki, reporter, KPBS News

Lara McCaffrey, web producer, KPBS News