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San Diego's encampment ban, one month after enforcement began

 September 8, 2023 at 12:27 PM PDT

S1: This week on Kpbs roundtable. It's been over a month since San Diego's public camping ban took effect.


S1: And alleged misconduct by prosecutors are upending some felony convictions in the Navy's Fat Leonard scandal.

S3: They're chagrined. They're embarrassed. Right. This is a terrible embarrassment to the Justice Department.

S1: Don't go anywhere. Roundtable is coming up next. Welcome to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. San Diego's controversial camping ban has been being enforced now for just over a month. It was passed by the San Diego City Council to address a growing number of encampments. But some people , including a local basketball legend , argue they aren't quite seeing the situation on the streets getting any better. Joining us to discuss how enforcement of this camping ban has been going are Lisa Halberstadt. She's a senior investigative reporter with Voice of San Diego. And Blake Nelson is here. He covers homelessness for the San Diego Union Tribune. Great to have you both here. And , Alisa , you've helped walk us through this whole saga. And we know it's been just a little bit over a month since police have actually been going out and enforcing this so-called unsafe camping ban. And I want to get each of your initial thoughts here about just kind of what you've seen so far. And so Lisa will start with you and then Blake jump in right after.

S2: The city has been enforcing homelessness related violations for years , and the outcome has largely been that unsheltered people just moved to avoid police encounters , although certainly some folks do receive citations and get arrested. That is happening to some degree now. And it's not just because of enforcement that's directly tied to this new camping ban , but I really don't think we know or understand the impact of this yet because the enforcement has been ramping up pretty slowly. And a lot of folks , you know , my experience has been a lot of folks are kind of disappearing and it's not clear exactly what happened.

S1: Blake , go ahead.

S4: Yeah , I would agree with that. I think for people who are downtown San Diego a lot , they may have noticed some shifts in the encampment landscape. You have commercial streets , some areas around Petco Park that had long been covered by tents. Those streets are suddenly clear. But then you have sort of new clusters of tents , at least we have anecdotal evidence of new encampments on some of the bridges , on some Caltrans property. So people are definitely being moved around in large numbers and in short periods of time. But whether more have decided to go to shelters or more have decided to leave the state , that all is or where they're going within San Diego County , I think that's all a very open question.

S1: And we should remind our listeners before we get too much into this , that the unsafe camping ban prohibits encampments at all times in sensitive areas. And that's like nearby parks , schools , trolley stations , homeless shelters , a couple others , too. But it also bars encampments in all public places. Now , that's only when shelter beds are available. And Lisa , I remember the last time we spoke about this.

S2: So in the first month of enforcement , the police say that they gave out 88 warnings. They cited or gave out five citations and didn't make any arrests. That's much less than a typical month of enforcement for other violations , especially encroachment , basically a violation for blocking a sidewalk that's been on the books for a long time. But as Blake talked about , there are some areas that , you know , people have moved to , some areas folks have moved away from. I think there's I've heard from folks that I'm talking to on the street that many of them aren't sure where to go , especially early on. There was a lot of fear. I think there's there are questions about how sustained will enforcement be in particular areas. One thing that I've kind of been obsessed with trying to figure out to is exactly where this enforcement is happening. So the city isn't saying specifically where it's enforcing the ban. They've been putting signs up , which they have to do to enforce near schools or in parks. Those are popping up in different areas. But the city isn't saying where they're putting them up. We do know that the initial citations were written in Balboa Park , but we don't know where those signs are going up to facilitate enforcement. And short of getting additional data , there's just a lot that we don't know. To Blake's point before , too , about how many more people are going into shelter , you know , what kind of difference are these new safe campsites that the city is opening up having ? I think there's still just a lot to be determined , and I still have a lot of questions.

S1: And Lisa , you kind of just mentioned it there. We know that enforcement began in the Balboa Park area. And you say that San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria makes the case that the city has seen a , quote , significant decrease in unsheltered activity. Do we know that to be like actually the case ? And if so , I mean , you know , unless they're getting into shelter or going into housing , do. You know where people are going.

S2: So I will say , just full disclosure , I haven't taken a walk in Balboa Park myself the last couple weeks , so I can't totally verify the mayor's claim here. But I have seen over the past month that there are fewer people in some of the usual spots where unsheltered people have camped for a long time. And since the camping ban went into effect , as you know , Blake and I are talking about , we are seeing some people seeming to move into some other areas. So I have noticed some more people in North Park , for example , or different parts of downtown. And I've also heard anecdotally from some folks who regularly go out and talk to homeless individuals that they believe that some folks that were in the park are now going deeper into the canyons where they can't be seen as easily. I haven't been able to to verify that for myself. I also know that we are hearing that people are even moving to other cities in some cases. So Community through Hope , which is an organization that serves the unsheltered population in Chula Vista , has said that they just saw a major boom in people who were seeking their services and that many of them seem to be coming from San Diego.

S1: And Blake , what have you been seeing here ? I know you had a recent headline that talked about change cities go to rehab or just kind of some of the tough decisions that people are kind of having to make right now.

S4: The San Diego Housing Commission , which oversees most but not all of the shelters in the area , fielded nearly 380 referrals to shelter in the days leading up to the ordinance taking effect. And this was a 66% increase from the start of the last month , according to agency data. But occupancy rates are still generally holding steady around 97%. And you have Father Joseph Villages , the largest provider in the area. They were saying that they did not see a significant increase or decrease in the number of filled beds in the week in a in a recent week around the time that enforcement took effect. So shelters even before all this were often teetering at capacity. The new safe sleeping site has definitely opened up many spaces , but the waiting list , I mean , for that quickly exceeded the number of spots that they had. The city is moving toward a second safe sleeping site. But I mean , we are still if everyone suddenly raised their hand and asked for a shelter spot , were still nowhere near having enough spots for everybody. Right.

S1: Which would lead me to believe that the city says that they're starting with the sensitive areas where there's no shelter requirement. But even if they wanted to , they wouldn't be able to do much enforcement in the all public places. But Lisa , you mentioned that homeless provider in Chula Vista. That's , you know , kind of cutting back its efforts due in part to what they say is an influx of unsheltered residents due to this camping ban.

S2: Poway actually already passed its own camping ban. It's on the books now in that North County city , Chula Vista and Encinitas are discussing the possibility of their own camping bans. And those are just the ones that we've heard of because there may be some discussions behind the scenes. So really , this this San Diego ban is spurring residents and leaders and communities other than the city of San Diego to question whether this new ordinance could lead more folks who are now living on the street in San Diego to move into their communities. I haven't necessarily heard of other communities doing more to provide shelter because of this ban. But what I have certainly heard , as I said , is discussions about what the impact could be.

S1: Blake , you've actually been looking into whether this camping ban is like pushing more people off of city streets and into the riverbeds.

S4: That's a local environmental nonprofit. They have staffers regularly in the Riverbed area throughout the city of San Diego and Santee. And what's really interesting is a few years ago , they started noticing anecdotally that it looked like the number of encampments along the river hidden under the foliage was increasing around the time that the city of San Diego was pushing out encampments ahead of the baseball All-Star Game at Petco Park. They noticed the same thing , just sort of anecdotally around 2017 when about 20 people died from a hepatitis outbreak. But they didn't have the sort of raw data to say , yeah , there's definitely a correlation here. So they beefed up their data collection and now we have years worth of data showing that really since late 2019 , give or take , in the months before the pandemic started , the number of active encampments along the San Diego River has been rising kind of rises , dips , rises , dips. But as of July this most recent July , there were an estimated 95 active encampments along the San Diego River and an encampment that can just be a tent , but it can also be a cluster of tents or even hand-built structures. Around a 25 meter area. So we're potentially talking about hundreds of people here. And the numbers , again , have been rising even without San Diego's camping ban. So there is definitely a lot of fear , especially in East County , that more people will start living along the river because they're being pushed out of downtown and other urban areas.

S1: And I know that this has been in the news a lot. A lot of people are talking about the camping ban. But , Lisa , we know that there's already laws on the books , you know , to address homelessness or violations that could be surrounding somebody who's living without a home. To me , that fecal habitation ordinance comes to mind. Encroachment and legal lodging. I mean , Lisa , it's not like this camping ban replaces those existing ordinances , right ? I mean , police are still enforcing those , Certainly not.

S2: So I think it's important to think about the data we were talking about before that , you know , police have just given out five citations in the first month of enforcement of this camping ban. I looked back at some data from the month of July , which is the most recent that I have available. And in that month , the police reported 144 citations or arrests for encroachment , which is essentially blocking a sidewalk. This is a thing that has been on the books for a long time. And I know I've been hearing a lot about encroachment of enforcement continuing in August and in early September as well. And police have also been enforcing vehicle habitation or essentially vehicle homelessness. And then there's illegal lodging or setting up a camp without permission , which is reined in quite a bit by a legal settlement , I think with the police would argue is that the camping ban gives them another tool to crack down on homeless camps. And it sticks out to me , you know , if in fact the greatest impact has been in Balboa Park thus far , it speaks to an issue that encroachment doesn't quite apply cleanly in a park as it would , you know , if this is a sensitive area and we're just saying you can't camp here. It is something that the police can essentially use to just force folks to move along even if they're not blocking a sidewalk.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. We're talking about homelessness this week in the city of San Diego. I'm speaking with voice of San Diego's Lisa Haverstock and Blake Nelson from the San Diego Union Tribune. Lisa , one very , very vocal critic of the mayor has been former basketball star and San Diego native Bill Walton. He actually previously called for Mayor Gloria to resign. And recently he's been emailing the mayor and you about some of his frustrations.

S2: I think many folks are concerned about how increasing street homelessness is affecting their quality of life , and they're questioning why the city can't do more to address it. And , you know , as the mayor and others talked about this camping ban , they really played up the expectations. And so I do think a lot of San Diegans are looking around and looking to see do we see fewer homeless camps or not in their communities ? And they may not necessarily understand the nuances for this new law. So , for example , I certainly gotten some questions from folks about , well , I do see a homeless person in my neighborhood While this camping ban bans camping , it doesn't ban someone who's homeless being in your area. Of course , the mayor has said homelessness is his top priority. But there are a lot of folks who wish that he could do more , including Bill Walton.

S4: I would only add that it was notable that the very first place that police decided to enforce the camping ban was a stretch of Balboa Park that Bill Walton had repeatedly complained about. Interesting.

S1: Interesting.

S2: And also one of the first places where the signs that I've been searching for went up.

S1: And this week , San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria again brought to attention the mental health crisis and its role in San Diego's homelessness crisis. Here's some of what he had to say on Thursday. Well , the.

S5: Crux of our homelessness crisis is the lack of affordable housing. There can be no question that mental health plays a significant role in people's homelessness or more poignantly , in the difficulty in resolving their homelessness and get the care that is necessary.

S1: Lisa , we know that the mayor was talking about care caught when he was making those comments. It sounds like the city is gearing up for the rollout. I mean , very top line. I know it's similar to a conservatorship , but something that's being done really across California. You were asking the mayor about where people in this program would go like the beds.

S2: It's a very small group of people with serious mental illnesses. And through this new process , law enforcement , health care providers , family members , for example , will be able to petition the court and then the county will look and see if this person qualifies for care court. And if they do and the court agrees , the county is required to come up with a care plan and the county for now expects about 250 people a year will qualify for treatment. And though there's been much talk of , you know , this potentially being , you know , a big solution for homelessness , it's really not clear what number of these individuals will be homeless. I think , you know , whatever we're talking about , the the mental health system or the behavioral health system , it's important to , you know , really have a handle on this long standing challenge , even for people who are trying to actively seek care to actually access that care , especially when we're talking about residential treatment and housing. And the county is acknowledged. It's got a lot of work to do to add new beds. They're initially planning to use some state funds to try to bolster reimbursements through Medi-Cal for boarding care homes. So those places have more of an incentive to take in more people with behavioral health conditions. They're looking at other options to just on the board and care front. They think , you know , to treat an overarching group of people that isn't just care caught folks that they need 450 more boarding care beds than they have now. You know , as for Mayor Gloria's plan , I mean , certainly the city , he says , is is prepping to make referrals itself. But the county is really the lead when it comes to care court and delivering any new behavioral health treatment options. And Mayor Gloria is really strongly also pushing a $4.7 billion bond measure that a Governor , Gavin Newsom , wants to be on the March 2024 ballot. But on top of that , Mayor Gloria and others across the state are calling for an additional $1.5 billion on top of that. So cities and counties have more dollars to invest in new care options. And they're talking about literally thousands of new beds across the state.

S1: And Lisa , also on the topic of beds like in terms of shelter , we recently learned that one of these safe sleeping sites that the city's opening the one at 20th and be that , that one is nearly full. And we know that the mayor has long talked about , you know , rolling out another one like a larger outdoor tent site. That one also near Balboa Park called the O lot. I think you just got some more details on that.

S2: It's just so folks can kind of imagine where it is. It's basically a multilevel set of lots behind the hospital and Balboa Park. And the city expects that this space could accommodate 400 tents. The next step that they have is to identify a provider or providers that would operate the safe camp site , which can be a really difficult task. They have a deadline for a formal request for proposal process next week. I'm hoping we'll learn more about when the lot will specifically open after that. For now , the city's just saying they expect it to open sometime this fall.

S1: And I remember the mayor said that hypothetically they could get that up within weeks. But I think that was a few weeks ago. I know it's a process. But Blake , you know , just on kind of the broader topic of homelessness , some other news you recently wrote about a watchdog group that wants more information about homeless in the San Diego region. That's the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. And they say that's like to sort of evaluate which organizations are doing work that's working , like in terms of some of these nonprofits in this space.

S4: And it can be very , very confusing trying to track all who's doing what. And so a lot of the fault lines and a lot of the debates happening throughout the county right now over is over. Who has a say over what program , who has a say over where money is spent , how data is shared. And one place that has popped up recently is the San Diego County Taxpayers Association wants the Regional Task Force on Homelessness to generally share all of the data it collects with the cities that are helping fund some of these programs. So let me pause there for a second , because that was those were two very large names. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association is a local watchdog. The regional task force is a really crucial part of the region's response to the crisis. It's probably best known for organizing the annual point in time count , which is probably the best annual census we have of the number of people sleeping outside or in shelters. But one of the other really important things that group does is oversees the homeless management information system. I apologize for all these large names , but if you are sleeping on the streets. And you decide that you want some help or you want a bed , you want some services , your personal information will probably be entered into that system. And what the taxpayers group is saying is when cities want to evaluate how programs are doing , if people are actually successfully being pulled out of homelessness , they need access to all of that raw data. Really , they should be seen as the owners of that data because they're helping fund a lot of it. The task force does share a lot of information and data online , but they are pushing back at giving city staffers at least access to some of the personal identifying information , saying essentially like , we need to treat this like people's private medical records and we don't want to just hand this over. Now , I should say some of the mayors that were with the Taxpayers Association at a recent press conference , the mayors of Chula Vista and Vista , they were both very clear that they they're not looking to get personal information from homeless people to then release to the public. But they , in some cases , they at least would like access to more data than they're currently getting to try to evaluate these programs. So it's a it's tension between a desire for more transparency and personal privacy concerns.

S1: Yeah , we know that the task force puts out a lot of that regional data and like even some of those , you know , unfortunate stats about more people are falling into homeless that are getting housed. But as we wrap up here , to both of you , is there anything missing from this discussion or anything that you'll be paying attention to in the weeks and months ahead as it relates to homelessness or this camping ban ? And Lisa , we can start with you.

S2: You know , I think what's missing from the conversation a lot here is the need for housing. Even though we're talking about people that are are homeless. And certainly there's a lot of discussion about new shelters. I think as the city opens up new options for people that are temporary in order to successfully get people off the street and make make it so that there are spaces in the safe campsites for other people to come in. There need to be places for those folks to go. And what I've seen in recent history is that's been really an increasing challenge. That's something that we're seeing in that regional task force on homelessness data. And so that's something that I really hope to try to pay some closer attention to in the coming months to see what we're doing. I know , you know , today the mayor noted he's got a housing action package coming forward , but what is the city doing to aggressively deliver more housing quickly ? I think that's really important for us to follow.

S1: And Blake , you have the final word.

S4: I'd only add that I am intrigued by a lot of different efforts at preventing homelessness from ever happening in the first place , especially among seniors. Our most recent point in time count saw really troubling rise in the number of people who are 55 or older , ending up sleeping in their cars or outside folks on on fixed incomes and a city that is becoming more and more expensive. The county has a program that they're they're working on right now to try to give some rental assistance to older folks , to try to to make sure they can stay in the home they're already in. So I'll also be keeping an eye on on the prevention efforts underway.

S1: I've been speaking with voice of San Diego's Lisa Haverstock and the San Diego Union-Tribune , Blake Nelson. And both of you , thanks so much for being here.

S4: Thanks for having us.

S2: Yes , definitely.

S1: Coming up , allegations of misconduct from prosecutors has some felony convictions vacated in the Navy's Fat Leonard scandal. The thing that is so striking.

S6: About what's happened in the case is that it appeared that the evidence was very strong in this case. And this was looked to be the government's strongest case.

S1: We're getting the latest developments on the US Navy's largest corruption and bribery scandal. Roundtable continues just after the break. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. There's yet another twist in the saga from the Navy's largest corruption scandal , the Fat Leonard scandal involving a military contractor bribing naval officers with lavish gifts , including dinners , prostitutes , vacations and even cash. Dozens of officers eventually pleaded guilty , but four officers convicted in a San Diego courtroom are having their felony charges thrown out. Their attorneys say it's due to misconduct from prosecutors. Joining us to help break down all these latest developments in this saga are two journalists who have been following everything. Washington Post investigative reporter Craig Whitlock is here with us. He's covered this case for many years , and he also has an upcoming book on the scandal titled Fat Leonard The Con Man Who Corrupted the US Navy. And Kpbs. Military reporter Andrew Dyer is back with us. He's also been following this for many years. I want to welcome you both back here to roundtable. You know , we had both of you guys on here just about a year ago as the trial against these last four Navy officers was wrapping up and a jury ended up convicting them. We're talking about multiple felony charges , conspiracy to commit bribery , receiving bribes , charges that I guess could have carried prison time.

S3: There are a number of things that defense attorneys allege that prosecutors had failed to abide by the law. But the main thing was that they had failed to turn over some evidence that was favorable to the defense. In particular , Turns out that federal agents had interviewed a prostitute in Southeast Asia who allegedly had slept with one of the defendants. But the prostitute told federal agents that while she had been at a party with them , she didn't actually have sex with with one of the Navy officers. So it was one episode. But , you know , it's really , really a serious issue with prosecutors. Don't turn over evidence that could be favorable to a defendant. And the judge in this case , Janice Martino , had ruled during the trial that the prosecution had committed misconduct. She allowed the trial to continue at that point. But even after the former Navy officers were found guilty , defense attorneys found other irregularities in terms of what evidence was turned over and what the prosecution had attested to. And based on that , they made a number of motions to throw it all out. And the Justice Department , in effect , cut a deal where these four defendants would agree to plead to much lesser charges , misdemeanors that would not result in any jail time , and they would throw out the felony convictions. And that that's what happened. And that is a pretty stunning turnaround in a case that had , you know , this trial had attracted attention for months. So the fact that the defense lawyers got the the felonies thrown out is a big deal.

S1: And I believe that these were the only officers that actually took their cases to trial.

S6: These were Seventh Fleet staff officers. Many of them had been in the Western Pacific for years in their careers. They had served on other ships and some had been commanding officers of other ships and had long connections to Leonard Francis. This was the so-called Wolfpack who had bounced from port to port on the Blue Ridge. That is the Seventh Fleet flagship. So the Blue Ridge is an amphibious command ship. But all the Blue Ridge really does is go to and visit foreign ports. It's like a diplomatic vessel. And so this so-called wolf pack , these were the staff officers. And , you know , they'd be in one port one day and two weeks later , they'd hit the next one. And so there was this long chain of email communications between them and Glenn Defense Marine Asia , Leonard's company , kind of arranging parties and women and all of these things. And all of these emails were in evidence. So the thing that is so striking about what's happened in the case is that it appeared that the evidence was very strong in this case. And this was looked to be the government's strongest case. But unlike the vast majority of defendants , these guys did not take plea deals and they went to trial. And by doing so , it kind of left room for the the Justice Department in the US attorney's office to kind of fumble the ball.


S3: They're embarrassed , right ? This is a terrible embarrassment to the Justice Department. And it's not just. Incompetence in a trial. But , you know , withholding evidence is a serious issue. And they had to bring in a new team of prosecutors to review the case. They've admitted they've made mistakes. The acting US attorney has said this in court. And , you know , they say , well , look , it's important that these these defendants have still pleaded guilty to some crimes , but they are misdemeanors that won't result in any jail time. So these defendants , you know , they rolled the dice. It's very difficult to go up against the Justice Department of all federal charges. You know , more than 96% of defendants end up pleading guilty. Only a handful go to trial , and it's even rarer to have a favorable outcome. So I think these defendants will take their misdemeanor convictions. They won't have to go to jail. They were looking at several years in jail , each of them , you know , now they can say that , you know , they didn't do much wrong. But again , they as Andrew said , there was you know , there was three months of testimony and evidence. And there's no doubt that these officers went to some outrageous parties with Leonard Francis , that he spent thousands and thousands of dollars on , you know , at several of these parties. He had prostitutes. They they let Leonard essentially infiltrate the Seventh Fleet Command flagship , the Blue Ridge. But what they were charged with was bribery and not just taking gifts , taking things worth thousands of dollars from Francis. But the charge was that they had there was a quid pro quo , that the attention taken action to benefit him corruptly. And , you know , now they can say that they were not convicted of those offenses.

S1: And Craig , I know that you've covered this for a very long time. I mean , a couple of questions here. I mean , one , like , were you surprised by this ? And I'm just kind of thinking like down the road a little bit , like are there any , you know , larger ramifications here ? Like are other guilty pleas or plea deals like now going to be called into question ? And Andrew , feel free to jump in after two.

S3: Yeah , maybe Andrew's more than me. So there are several other defendants who pleaded guilty who were indicted in the same case , and they haven't been sentenced yet. Their sentences have been delayed. It's unclear what will happen in those mean. I can see where those defendants would feel like , you know , pleaded guilty. They've admitted to committing crimes. But , you know , they see people who are indicted at the same time effectively getting off. So it's a little unclear still if those sentences will go through or if they can work out some kind of deal with prosecutors. I'm not sure on that front.

S6: Yeah , it's it's it really kind of torpedoes a lot of what the government either hope to do in the case with what's left of it and what it's done in the past. You know , Leonard himself pleaded guilty in 2015. That was eight years ago at this point. And , of course , he's on the lam or in custody in Venezuela. But if what the defense attorneys allege , if it's true that there were , you know , with the so-called Brady violations , where they they withhold exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys , there's also allegations of doctored emails. I don't know the specifics on those , but it really does , at the very least , open the door should somebody want to file some sort of appeal.

S1: But I think both of you guys pointed out like , you know , that these gentlemen or people involved in this have admitted crimes happened. Even the guy at the center of all this , Leonard Glen Francis , aka Fat Leonard did. And Craig , let's get a little bit more information on him. That was a whole nother saga , right ? He was on house arrest in San Diego , fled his house , later caught in Venezuela. Can you remind us of the charges against him and the what the state of the cases against him is today ? He's not in the country anymore.

S3: No , he's not. It's just a bananas story with Fat Leonard. He pleaded guilty , as Andrew said , in 2015 to bribing scores of Navy officers , and he admitted fleecing the Navy of more than $35 million in contract money , although that's almost certainly an undercount. But as part of his cooperation plea with the Justice Department , he agreed to cooperate by squawking against all these Navy officers he had bribed with gifts and prostitutes and other things over the years. So , you know , from 2015 , up until a year ago , Leonard was was singing like nobody's business about all his friends in the Navy. And not only that , but he was handing over suitcases of evidence. He had saved everything , all his communications with his friends in the Navy for 20 years. He had emails. He had photographs. He had copies of their dinner menus. He had Christmas cards , you name it. And he handed it all over the Justice Department. So there was an enormous amount of incriminating evidence against , you know , frankly , hundreds of Navy officers over 20 years who had attended his parties and accepted his gifts. You know , we've seen some of this material. Came out in this trial , this seventh Fleet officer trial that ended last year. But there's still an enormous amount of evidence that's ever come to light. Leonard , as you point out , he and the other amazing twist to this whole thing , he was supposed to be sentenced a year ago , last September and days before his sentencing when he was going to find out how long he was going to have to spend in prison , he he escaped , you know , this £350 guy who had kidney cancer. He claimed he was too sick to be in jail. He he cut off his ankle bracelet , made a run for the border , tried to go to Cuba , ended up in Venezuela and was on the lam for several weeks before Interpol and Venezuela caught him trying to hop a flight to Russia. Ever since he's been in custody in Venezuela. The other strange part of this case is the US and Venezuela don't have diplomatic relations at the moment , so the US can't technically ask for Venezuela to extradite them. But there have been ongoing discussions and negotiations between State Department officials and Venezuelan officials about some kind of prisoner swap. Whether that will happen , we don't know. But Leonard's kind of on ice for the moment in Venezuela. You know , he's not in the United States. He's not in prison here. But , you know , he doesn't have his full freedom yet.

S1: All right. Now , let's get in some more kind of reflections here. Andrew.

S6: It was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and I think 1991. And ever since then , the Navy has relied on contractors , husbanding contractors to take care of our ships. And we have a lot of ships and we have a lot of operations in that part of the world. So the opportunity has always existed in that region. There's a lot of money in these contracts , and what made Leonard exceptional was just how influential he was among Navy , the Navy commanders. But Husbanding agents continued to build the Navy to this day.

S1: And Craig , we know that you're actually wrapping up a book on this scandal. And boy , have there been a lot of twists and turns in this story.

S3: And I'm not just trying to hype my book , but what has come out so far is only the tip of the iceberg , that the degree to which Leonard Francis infiltrated the Navy , both in terms of corrupting people with gifts and prostitutes and fraud , but also from a counterintelligence standpoint. He persuaded a dozen Navy officers to leak him military secrets for the better part of a decade. He knew every admiral that passed through the Seventh Fleet. He was invited to change of command ceremonies for the top officers in the Navy. What the Navy has really tried to do over the last ten years is sweep most of this under the rug , the dirt that Leonard had on hundreds of Navy officers , including more than 60 admirals , was so embarrassing. Some of it has come to light , but a lot of it has not so far. And , you know , more of it will. But , you know , it's really bad. And the Navy really hasn't wanted to come to grips with just how extensive this corruption was and frankly , how hundreds of officers , including its most senior officers , looked the other way for 20 years. They knew this was going on , but nobody wanted to blow the whistle on on their friends in the upper ranks. And Leonard was a genius at exploiting this and enabling this to continue for as long as it did.

S1: I've been speaking with Kpbs military reporter Andrew Dyer and Craig Whitlock from The Washington Post , also the author of the upcoming book Fat Leonard The Con Men Who Corrupted the US Navy. And both of you , thanks so much for being here.

S3: You bet. Thank you for having us.

S1: When Roundtable Returns were taking a look at some other headlines happening around San Diego and our weekly roundup. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. It's now time for our weekly roundup of other San Diego stories that were following. And joining me is Kpbs roundtable producer Andrew Bracken. Andrew , what's up ? Hey , Matt. All right. What's on your list this week ? Great to have you here.

S7: Well , first , the city of San Diego announced it's suing SeaWorld for more than $12 million in what they say is back rent going back to 2019. Kpbs Alexander Nguyen was there and asking the mayor about it on Thursday. And here's a little of what the mayor had to say about what this money would mean to the city.

S5: All this money , I don't know what they pay you at Kpbs , but 12 million bucks , a lot of money to this mayor and to this city. That's a lot of money , man. That's a lot of money. That's a lot of road repair. That's a lot of police officers. A lot of firefighters. That's a lot of shelter beds. That's a lot of money.

S1: That's a lot of money , man. I heard him say that. What he was saying that I was actually watching that for for this week's roundtable to see if he talked about the unsafe camping ban. And it made me chuckle a little bit , but just a very odd situation about this , because you mentioned that they're filing a lawsuit. And I'm not sure if SeaWorld is arguing that they don't have to pay this or something because it was during the Covid times when the park wasn't open. Right ? Yeah.

S7: And it sounds like there's maybe some negotiations going on there. But , I mean , it is city leased land. But yes , it does seem rather large invoice for SeaWorld to still kind of have to settle with the city. They're still. Operating.

S1: Operating. And I know for me , $12 million is a lot of money. But. All right.


S1: All right.

S7: And this is something that I think we've heard Kpbs environment reporter Eric Anderson cover a little bit in recent years. It referenced a study that the state of California could lose as much as 75% of its beaches by the year 2100. Coastal cities have been employing a variety of strategies , engineering strategies. Oceanside has been doing this strategy of creating groins , which are kind of like rock jetties that help capture the sand and replenish the beaches. But there's complications with that and it impacts other city beaches. So it's just an interesting tale about what some of these coastal communities are doing to protect their beaches , which is just such a key part. And also how the development of places like Oceanside , which has grown a great deal , is that it can't just naturally let these beaches kind of ebb and flow the way you might have if you didn't have development all along the beach fronts. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. And I think that , you know , a lot of these places , I'm not sure about Oceanside , they'll like bring sand in because the waves , like take the sand out so they have to like buy sand to put on the beaches. But yeah , you kind of mentioned it. Tourism , you know , it draws a lot for there. But then when you get to places like Del Mar and stuff , like there's some homes that are really close to the beach now , I'm sure we're talking a very long way off from when sea level rise might impact them or erosion. But it's definitely something that's really interesting and I'm sure it's not easy to tackle when you have tourism and you have residents involved. Something definitely to follow up on. All right.

S7: He found that this nonexistent charity , Chula Vista fast Pitch.

S1: Fake charity called it.

S7: Yeah , the fake charity was collecting a commission on concessions at Petco Park , also at Snapdragon Stadium. But he published in an updated story this week saying that sports arena they must have a different verification system and that they've kind of figured this out several years ago.

S1: Yeah , I think his story said like when they went to look to verify , they couldn't verify it. And it reminds me of what he said during that interview was when he was looking into this story. And he's like , it's not real , but he's like , it was so quick for him to check that it wasn't real. Like he was wondering , is he doing it wrong or something. So yeah , kind of begs into question the processes for how charities are verified to to sell concessions and ultimately get a cut of them. All right.

S7: And I'm not sure if that's something that you would get , but it was something that caught my mind. I think , you know , some sort of memberships , some cards. We're getting used to just having a digital version of it. And it just caught my eye. I think it's going to be limited to 1.5 million people. You have to get the California DMV app to kind of sign up for it. I'm not sure how many people , you know , are interested in it , but I just thought it was , you know , a sign of things to come.

S1: That's really interesting. I don't know if I'd want a digital driver's license. And sometimes I struggle with keeping my phone charged , and I wonder how all that would play into it , You know , like , how do they if you get pulled over and say , let me see your license , but your phone's dead , what happens then ? And I've certainly use other things like Apple Pay for some things , but not to this extent of having like a government. Issued thing on my phone. But is it something that I think. Are they rolling it out , a pilot or what's the.

S7: Yeah , I don't. And even if you get this digital driver's license , they still encourage you to carry your card around , kind of like what you're talking about. So I don't I think this is just an experimental phase. But , you know , I mean , I went to Sesame Place , the water park in South Bay , and I think we forgot our cards. But I had the app and had the cards there on my phone. So , you know , you go to Padre Games , all tickets are largely on your phone there. So it's all digital.

S1: Yeah , you're right.

S7: Where things are going. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. Very interesting. All right.

S7: North County reporter Tanya Thorne had a story about how the federal funding for child care is ending. At the end of September , a lot of child care facilities went under during the pandemic. And I just , you know , I want to know a lot of families that had been struggling with child care. So it's an interesting story. Just saying , you know , if they don't get these federal funds , if they don't get extended , there may be trouble for the child care industry going forward.

S1: And Tanya's story also noted that , you know , providers are also using that fund to help increase their staff's pay. You know , as inflation is going up , increasing pay and helping retaining workers , but also making it more affordable. Andrew Bracken , thanks for joining us here on the roundup.

S7: Thank you , Matt.

S1: That's going to wrap up roundtable for this week. We appreciate you being here. If you have any comments or questions about today's show , leave us a voicemail. (619) 452-0228 or you can email us roundtable at If you missed any part of our show , be sure to check out the roundtable podcast wherever you get your podcast. Roundtable airs on Kpbs at noon on Fridays and again on Sunday at 6 a.m.. Roundtable is produced by Andrew Bracken. Rebecca Chacon and Adrian Villalobos are our technical producers. And I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us. Have a great weekend.

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Tent encampments along the side of Sports Arena Boulevard in the Midway District of San Diego, CA on July 26, 2023.
Tent encampments along the side of Sports Arena Blvd. in San Diego's Midway District, July 26, 2023.

It has been more than a month since enforcement of San Diego’s public camping ban started. What impact is it having on homelessness in the region?

Plus, there’s a new twist in the Fat Leonard scandal, the largest corruption case in U.S. Navy history.


Lisa Halverstadt, senior investigative reporter, Voice of San Diego

Blake Nelson, reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Andrew Dyer, military and veteran affairs reporter, KPBS

Craig Whitlock, investigative reporter, Washington Post