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San Diego's water battles and questionable spending in Ramona

 August 25, 2023 at 11:53 AM PDT

S1: This week on Kpbs Roundtable. Two water agencies want to leave the San Diego Water Authority to buy cheaper water , but opponents say it will only increase bills for the rest of the San Diego region. It's being dubbed the county's water divorce.

S2: Well , they'll say they're fed up with paying the ever increasing water rates that they see happening at the San Diego County Water Authority.

S1: Plus , an investigation found questionable payments to board members of the Ramona Cemetery district.

S3: Very little oversight. Special districts in the state and in San Diego County.

S1: Don't go anywhere. Roundtable is coming up next. Welcome to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. San Diegans might soon see another increase in their water bills. This one would be tied to two North County water agencies wanting to buy their water elsewhere. It's been dubbed San Diego County's water divorce , and it's getting messy with legal battles and politicians all in the mix. Now it's a little complicated , but bottom line , the Rainbow Municipal Water District and the Fallbrook Public Utility District want out of the current San Diego water system. And that current system involves largely importing water from areas like the Colorado River. There's 24 different water agencies across the county that all help pay for these expensive imports and infrastructure. But Rainbow and Fallbrook want to buy cheaper water from somewhere else. It's a move that the San Diego County Water Authority says would force the rest of the region's water agencies and taxpayers to pay more. All of this is coming as the city of San Diego and its customers are facing a potential double digit water rate increase this year. And with the water authority and some debt like $1 billion of debt. Joining us to help make sense of San Diego's water divorce are Mackenzie Elmer. She's the energy and environment reporter with voice of San Diego. Alexander Winn is also here. He's a North County reporter and has been covering this story for Kpbs. I want to welcome you both back here to roundtable. Mackenzie will start out with you. I guess a simple question , maybe not a simple answer.

S2: Well , they'll say they're fed up with pain. The ever increasing water rates that they see happening at the San Diego County Water Authority. And they saw this opportunity back in 2019 when they actually started their process to divorce from the San Diego County Water Authority that they could potentially buy cheaper water from another county , Eastern Municipal Water District in in Riverside County. And that's because they feel they have sort of a special position in geographically in the water system. They are attached basically to some water infrastructure that the San Diego County Water Authority doesn't own. So they could potentially they say they could just switch water users quite easily , leave San Diego and join Eastern and potentially get cheaper water from there.

S1: And we're going to dive into that more in a little bit. But Alex , we know that there was a vote last month to allow Fallbrook and Rainbow to actually leave the County Water Authority. And a reminder , that's the 24 partner agency that we were talking about earlier. Here's what one farmer , Nick Koenig , told you.

S4: I'm really hoping this will open up an opportunity for farmers to actually get fair water rates and get the relief that we need as a farmer that's been very much impacted by these rate increases. Having in the conversation with my family about possibly selling our land.

S1: So , Alex , where does this all stand now ? It sounds like there's a lot of levels here.

S5: Yeah , well , right now everything is still kind of in the air. Voters of Fallbrook and Rainbow will still need to vote on this issue. And that vote is happening in November. And the Water Authority is still in negotiation with Fallbrook and Rainbow Water districts for a compromise that will keep those two agencies within the water authority. And if the voters decide to stay with the water authority , well , then everything is kind of moot.


S2: I mean , they've been saying that they've been having conversations , but there's there's some , as they have called it , a gun being pointed to Rainbow and Fallbrook head by way of a state legislature legislative bill that we're going to talk about later. But it seems like there could be a chance that the water authority might offer them something that they would potentially agree to and stay. But it sounds like they're all just kind of sick of each other at this point.

S1: And so we know that these two districts , Fallbrook and Rainbow , they want to leave to save money on their water.

S5: Now , there are some caveats to that. Fallbrook and Rainbow will still need to pay an exit fee , and that fee could be roughly $25 million over the next five years. So it could be a few years before ratepayers could see any savings.

S1: And we know that these are like farming communities up there. And is the idea that the customers are saying that it's just too expensive , the water here and we want to go get cheaper water elsewhere.

S5: Essentially that San Diego County as a whole pays higher water prices than the rest of California. And it's because of a lot of the infrastructures that San Diego County Water Authority has built over the last 30 years. And that's kind of made San Diego a little bit drought proof. And we saw a little bit of that during the last drought that we had a few years ago , where there were fewer restrictions here in San Diego than the rest of the state.

S1: And so sounds like a good idea on paper for these two agencies. But Mackenzie , we know that the San Diego County Water Authority is pushing back on these efforts by these two agencies to leave.

S2: They have a lot riding on this. Like you said , it's actually I think there the water authority is facing more than $2 billion debt for all of that infrastructure they built. They built huge reservoirs. They lined a canal. They made they cut a deal with farmers and Imperial Valley to get some very precious and safe water from the Colorado River through them. So , yeah , and they also built a very expensive desalination plant over in Carlsbad , which , as we know , turns sea water into drinking water. And so that's that's one thing. There is a very real cost to the other water agencies that remain would have to shoulder if these two agencies leave. And I think that's the other fear is that once two agencies find a doorway out of the water authority , you know what others follow. We'll be talking about city of San Diego. There's Oceanside , a couple of other agencies that are building water recycling projects , and they're going to be basically drinking their own wastewater. And that will cut down on the. Need to have to buy more water from the San Diego County Water Authority. And so they just see this this kind of crushing debt facing them. And they're going to have to. They want all of their agencies to stay in on the game and help them pay off those debts.

S1: So it sounds like they're kind of saying like that you guys partially own this debt. Is that kind of what they're saying ? Yeah.

S2: And you know , they did argue that Rainbow and Fallbrook have agreed in , so to speak , by voting for these some of these water projects in the past. But there have been other efforts by the water authority to try to build newer and bigger projects. I reported on an effort a couple of years ago where some of the water authority actually , some of the city of San Diego representatives there , were really interested in building San Diego's own pipeline to the Colorado River because San Diego doesn't own any of this direct infrastructure to actually move water from the river here , we have to buy it through the Los Angeles based Metropolitan Water Authority and move it through them. And so that would have added billions more in potential debt. It would have been this huge project. And these two agencies , Fallbrook and Rainbow at that time were part of the contingent that said , No , we do not want to build newer and bigger projects. It wouldn't bring any more water to our region. And so I think all of these things sort of hit a point back in 2019 where they just said , you know what , that's enough. We've got this deal with Eastern that we can make happen and we're just going to go for it.


S5: Now , some water districts would bear more of the cost than others. The city of San Diego , for example , would have to pay $7.8 million a year over the next ten years. Of course , that would trickle down to ratepayers , and that's one of the arguments that the water authority made against Fallbrook in Rainbow leaving that would increase the rates for the rest of the county. And it's an important point to make for a lot of ratepayers in other parts of the of the county is that even though during the water crisis , the drought crisis , San Diegans saved more water than they did previously , but their rates still went up. And that's because of these infrastructures that the water authority are building or built.

S2: A counterpoint to that. I mean , the cost shift that would happen if these two agencies left has been up for debate. And it was something that , you know , the water authority kind of at on the last day of the vote at the local agency formation commission , which is this sort of like I've been calling them boundary referees , they kind of make decisions. If a city wants to leave a county or like a neighborhood wants to become their own city , for instance , or if a water district wants to leave the water authority and join another , they are the ones who make these decisions. And they did a bunch of analysis on this. They hired an economist. They studied this for three years , and they came up with a much smaller number that the cost shift would be onto the other agencies. And and Rainbow and Fallbrook have been arguing , you know , for City of San Diego , water customers would be an extra dollar per month on their bills. So the numbers are sort of in contention right now and probably going forward. The other thing , too , I wanted to mention is Rainbow and Fallbrook have been arguing that while the water authority in their huge package of building all this infrastructure to protect us from drought , they failed to actually build or left to kind of last on the list a set of pumps that would actually pump water up to North County in the event there was a large earthquake or something. And so that's what Lafco did. They looked at the cost of that unbuilt infrastructure , added it as kind of a credit to these two agencies and said , well , that brings down the cost that like everyone should have to really shoulder for them leaving. So I haven't really seen the totally the math behind the Water Authority's potential costs that they've been saying. So I think it deserves a deeper look.

S1: And McKenzie , in addition to like the actual cost of water , there seems to be like this underlying theme of like power here , like maybe voting power , but also like the power of smaller communities , you know , kind of coexisting with the bigger ones.

S2: It was studied like what happens if water authority loses two of their 24 water agencies In terms of San Diego's voting power at the larger Metropolitan Water District , which is based in LA , and that's where like Orange County , Los Angeles and San Diego all are sort of kind of like a bigger version of the San Diego County Water Authority are also like arguing over what to build to prevent drought and all of this other stuff and the cost of water up there , which affects us down in San Diego. And so they studied like. If you lose some of your agencies , your voting power at Metropolitan is based on kind of like your total assessed value of your agency. And so it would only really affect and bring down San Diego's voting power by 0.3% , which it seems small. But San Diego was arguing that , well , there have been a couple of really big votes , namely to appoint the new metropolitan general manager , who's a very powerful person and the board chair of the Metropolitan Water District , who is also very powerful person. And San Diego had a bigger hand in that they they were able to kind of elect someone in both positions that was a little bit more friendly to San Diego , which is important because they've kind of been at odds for a long time. So that was a point of contention in terms of like the voting power at the larger met. And then there's also a question of like locally here in San Diego , know what effect that would have if Rainbow and Fallbrook left. And it's kind of been lesser. I don't know.

S5: I believe it was like less than 1% difference between this candidate and the other candidate. So that's what the San Diego Water Authority is arguing to say , Like even though that 0.3 percentage point , that could mean the difference between this person or that person being the general manager. So that's the point that the water authority was making also there.

S2: If Rainbow and Fallbrook , if people move there and it continues to grow , that could potentially increase San Diego's voting power in the future. So like , you know , San Diego wants to keep all its territories because that equates to voting power. And so that's that's a big that was one of the reasons that they pointed out against the departure of these two agencies.

S1: And Alex , we know that ratepayers in both Rainbow and Fallbrook , they're going to have to vote on this actual separation. I think you mentioned it earlier , and this is kind of weird , but it sounds like the San Diego County Water Authority reached out to the San Diego registrar of voters to sort of prevent that effort from happening.


S5: All has to do with AB 399 , which , to recap , would make it harder for Fallbrook and Rainbow to leave the water authority. It requires that all voters in the county vote on the issue and would likely prevent other water agencies from leaving the water authority. And because it could appear on the ballot at the same time as voters in Fallbrook and Rainbow voting on detachment , the chair of the Water Authority , Mel Katz , argues that it would lead to voter confusion. And the registrar of voters , Cynthia Paz , says the job of the registrar is to hold an election , nothing more. So if it qualifies to be in the ballot , then the election has to be held. So for now , voters in Fallbrook and Rainbow will still cast their ballots on whether to leave the Water Authority on November 7th.

S1: And Mckenzi , let's get into this. You know , AB 399 , not to make this more complicated for people who are listening , but it sounds like it's a proposed bill that could make it harder for any water district to separate from the Regional Water Authority.

S2: You know , each each side has been kind of like adding , you know , making one move towards the other in terms of kind of like aggressive point like points of contention. So AB 399 , this was a bill that a Democrat from Encinitas , Tasha Berner , she sort of filed this amid the Lafco discussion and pre the vote and Rainbow and Fallbrook definitely saw this as kind of an aggressive move towards their process of pursuing this divorce. And basically , the bill would make a change to what's known as the County Water Authority Act. And it's it's an act that governs only the San Diego County Water Authority. And it would essentially say if anyone wants to leave , the whole county has to vote on it as well. So that de facto sort of strips lafco , which is like this other body that I described , that they're supposed to be the boundary referees. They're sort of selected by the state of California to make these kinds of decisions. It would add like a whole other like pretty big vote of everyone in the county to also sign off on these two smaller water agencies leaving. And and therefore , it probably be much more difficult to to get it passed.

S1: And then you were kind of talking about this as like a maybe a game of chess. Alex , the Water Authority has filed a lawsuit about all of this.

S5: It alleges that Lafco used outdated numbers for its analysis and also that it did not perform a sequel analysis on those two agencies , leaving now invoking sequa. And for those who don't know , that's the California Environmental Quality Act is interesting. The Water Authority says that because its water doesn't come from the Sacramento Bay Delta area and eastern municipal water in Riverside does , it would negatively affect the Delta smelt , which is critically endangered.

S1: And McKenzie , before we go any further , we've heard the term Lafco mentioned a few times there , like some sort of boundary agency , right ? I mean , what role do they play in here ? Are they like the ultimate green lighters or the people that would put up the red light.

S2: According to current law ? Yeah , they are. I mean , they like I wrote a little story about them and they're like called little legislatures almost. They're sort of these this agency that doesn't really come into the limelight until it does until there's something like this where people are trying to change their boundary lines for some kind of either a special district like water or like I said , if a city , for instance , La Jolla , they're interested in becoming their own city. So they're going to have to pursue that process through Lafco as well. There are just these kinds of boundary referees that make these decisions.

S5: And ultimately Lafco did vote to allow these two agencies to leave the water authority.

S1: And we know that here Lafco stands for San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission. And McKenzie , Alex mentioned this a little bit earlier , but you know , San Diego as well as much of California , has seen a long standing drought over the last decade. How would you characterize things today ? I think we've had you on here before where people have said San Diego was more prepared.

S2: We've had like 33% over average rain and therefore snowpack and therefore just like water also in the in the soils and kind of like so , so people need to use less water and buy less water and these kinds of wet years. But as we know with California , especially with water , it's feast or famine. So we'll we'll definitely probably see serious drought conditions again. It's going to come come again. And so we'll definitely be challenged by this into the future.

S1: And it sounds like Mackenzie , too , that we have a new agreement with the Colorado River or like pulling water for their whether that be more or less. We know it's a major source of water here.

S2: We can hash it out over a series of other talks , but there's no impact really , to San Diego. The people who are bearing the biggest brunt are farmers over in Imperial Valley. They've agreed to conserve more water on their farms in exchange for some money from the federal government in order to do some conservation projects and pay for all that infrastructure that makes it easier to farm with less water. And just to note , like , that's part of why San Diego made this huge deal with Imperial Valley to try to protect the region from drought. It's because Imperial Valley historically has just earned a the highest it's called the highest right on the river on the Colorado River. So they have basically when the Colorado River experiences drought and we need to cut back on water use. Imperial Valley is one of the last to be cut back , even though they're the lowest geographically on the river basin. And so that's part of the politics that are at play with this.

S1: And Alex , we know that the city of San Diego is also trying to become more water independent here. And that's what the Pure Water Project , it's the largest infrastructure project in the city of San Diego ever. Does that play a role into this conflict with Rainbow and Fallbrook like that ? They might.

S5: And as Mackenzie mentioned , the water authority has a $2 billion plus debt from building all these infrastructures , including the desalination plant , the Pure Water Project. And Fallbrook in Rainbow did not approve some of these projects. I believe Fallbrook approved desalination in Rainbow did not , or vice versa , something like that. And also they won't actually be benefiting from them. As Mackenzie mentioned , some of the water that these plans would make would not be pumping north toward Fallbrook and Rainbow. So most of the water's received by these two agencies come from the Colorado River.

S1: And Mackenzie , we know that San Diego is considering some big increases in water prices. We're talking about the city of San Diego. And one of those could go into effect this December. What do we know about how water rates might look for those city customers going forward ? And is anything to do with.

S2: But City San Diego , I think , is facing like a 10% increase in 2023 and then another 8.7% come 2025. That's all somewhat based on the San Diego County Water Authority is the is the one that sets kind of like a giant rate increase. And then how each of the individual 24 water districts handle that is different. It depends on their finances , depends on their demand , depends on like what other projects they have going forward. So baked into the city of San Diego is rate increase similar ? Is this pure water project that we talked about , which is this other billion dollar wastewater to drinking water recycling project that the city has to do. So City of San Diego is really getting hit from a lot of sides here. And that's part of the reason why we didn't really touch on that in our conversation. But the city has really served as kind of like the San Diego County Water Authority's megaphone. Mayor Todd Gloria's deputy chief of staff , Nick Serrano , has really been at the forefront of defending keeping the water authority together. And I think part of the reason is they want everyone to stay in the water authority because their share of the costs are also going to be impacted in the future when they roll off buying water from the water authority start , we all start drinking our own wastewater and conserving. But then the question is who's going to continue to to pay off this massive debt that we have for our drought resiliency.

S1: So we've definitely covered a lot here. And I know this might be a little bit confusing for people , but you guys have done a great job walking us through this. Before we go , what are you guys going to be watching for in the coming weeks ? Like could decisions be coming down ? And Alex , we could start with you first.

S5: Well , I'm curious to see with the lawsuit if a judge will issue a temporary injunction on the vote while the lawsuit moves forward. And also if the water authority can come up with a compromise that will keep both Rainbow and Fallbrook in the fold.


S2: And that's a voice that we haven't really heard. And partially it might be because two of its conservative members serve on the Lafco board that did make this decision. So it's sort of like it's very interesting because a lot of the people who have made decisions on one side of the argument are then asked to kind of make decisions on the other side of the argument or take a stance or something. And so it's just a lot of politics at play here as it is with water always.

S1: And we appreciate you both being here to break it all down. I've been speaking with Mackenzie Elmer from Voice of San Diego and Alexander Winn from Kpbs. Thank you both for being here today.

S5: Thanks a lot. Yeah , it was great to be here.

S1: Coming up , an investigation into health insurance payments to board members of an East County cemetery district. Why hundreds of thousands of dollars are being returned.

S3: They received a total of $402,123 since they started giving themselves this health coverage.

S1: That conversation just around the corner. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman in East County. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being returned to a public district after questions from Kpbs. This story all started when a resident began questioning health insurance premiums being paid to part time board members in the Ramona Cemetery district. Kpbs freelance investigative reporter J.W. August joins us now with more. Welcome to roundtable.

S3: Thank you. Thank you for having me.


S3: They've got a budget that they get from the county. They have a $325,000 a year budget. There are actually four of these cemetery districts , some bigger , some smaller than Ramona. There's one in Valley Center. The North County Cemetery District is bigger and then the Pomeroy Cemetery District. The Ramona district , which is actually called Nueva Memory Gardens , sits on ten acres. And the board oversees all financials , as I said , like phone power , roads maintain. It's just like a tiny city. But this one has over a thousand permanent residents.

S1: And so you started digging into the Ramona Cemetery district and you found that board members there , they're part time. They have monthly meetings that last about an hour each. It sounds like they were getting some large payouts for health insurance premiums.

S3: Yes , they were. And it's interesting to note that the records for this , a hide in plain sight. They're on the State of California comptroller's website , which lays out compensation for all these many special districts in the county and in the state. And if you look at the one for Ramona Cemetery District , it would show that one of the trustees gets $15,168 a year in health contribution and the other gets 34,800. Now , this is from the 2021. That's the latest update they have on the site. So that's the figures they got. And they never contested that. And we found we went back and checked and we find that they received a total of $402,123 since they started giving themselves this health coverage.

S1: And J.W. , can you sort of put this in perspective for us , like our other cemetery board members , given health benefits ? And I think I read in your story that the amount that these two were paid in question , or at least one of them was more than like most of the cemetery employees actually made their in. Ramona. Yes.

S3: Yes. Yes , it's true. The 34 eight was more than one of the cemetery maintenance worker at the cemetery. He makes 33,030. He made 34 eight. By the way , the names I should have mentioned , that trustee number one , as listed on the state documents is Daniel Winkler and Trustee two is William Biggs. Those are the two gentlemen we're talking about. The third trustee , Mr. Stuckey. All he gets is he gets a thousand bucks a year. So that's not a big deal. But these guys , the amount they get exceeds any of the other districts. All three other cemetery districts , none of them get compensation , None of them.

S1: And earlier , you mentioned that it was a Ramona resident actually , who serves on San Diego County's audit committee , who first started , you know , raising these questions about the health care costs.

S3: He lives in Ramona. He's he's a poster child of why citizen journalism is so important these days. Three years ago , he sat as he oversaw the county auditor's report from from San Diego County. And he saw mention of some numbers from the district , Ramona , that seemed out of whack to another auditor. And so he started monitoring it and it sent on , as a matter of course , to the civil grand jury for review. But nothing happened. And he's sitting and watching it , and then they didn't do anything. But mind you , this is not illegal. What they did , but it is certainly is questionable. As Smith tried to raise interest elsewhere in the county , nothing happened. He played it by the book. That's what he did. But when nothing happened , he came to the media and the story resulted.

S1: And to be clear , you know , these health benefits for the two board members , they weren't always like a thing , right ? I mean , at some point they had to vote to get this to themselves.

S3: That's right. I was able to find records that detailed a meeting in 2011 , I think it was October of 2011 when he voted for themselves , which is legal under the laws , the state laws this board operates under. And the details from the record show that Mr. Biggs argued that the other districts get full health benefits. Mr. Wenger said. School trustees get it. So the board voted they would get it. Of course , school trustees have huge budgets and possibly thousands of people who are affected by it. Your school teachers just running the whole thing as much bigger than running a cemetery district in Ramona.

S1: Your investigation culminated with you actually going to one of the Ramona Cemetery board meetings. And if people haven't seen the video story , they really need to check it out because there you are confronting board members about these hundreds of thousands of dollars in health benefits over the years.

S3: They did introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting , and they didn't have name plates saying who they are. So I began asking them , okay , well , who knows about this 35 grand ? And they started shaking their heads and looking at each other and said , okay , then who knows about the 15 grand ? And they kept mumbling and looking at each other. Finally , Mr. Biggs pointed to the district manager and told me , Hey , go over and talk to him. He can tell you. And then when I asked him , Well , what about this compensation they're getting ? He said , Well , I really can't comment on it.

S1: So you were at this meeting , you were confronting the board members , and then literally minutes later , there was a reversal.

S3: And and they didn't go into closed meeting to discuss what they're going to do. Clearly that Mr. Winkler , the man that gets the 35 , 34,800 a year , is wheels were spinning. He made a proposal to cut to health insurance , put it on the agenda for the next board meeting , which we would attend. He also pointed out the salary the workers were getting less than health compensation , so he proposed a 5% raise right then.

S1: Then in another twist , the board decides to call a special meeting , and that's in mid-August. And that ultimately resulted in taxpayers getting back hundreds of thousands of dollars.

S3: There was no mea culpa at all. But it's kind of interesting how what evolved had arrived early at the meeting , and the district manager came over with a copy of the check he had written because I'd said , the district manager , I need some proof , I need to see this check's written. Not that I don't trust you guys , but I'd like to see it. So he gave me the piece of paper with two checks printed on the total , the amount the banker paid back. We took shots of the of the checks on camera. I wanted to keep it. But then Banglore arrived and the district manager told them I had shown him a copy. And he he was really upset. He said the check that was payable to the district was private. That can't take pictures of it. I come over and look at it and he demanded the copy of the checks back and I figured , well , they got video , I gave it back to them.



S1: And for a moment , let's sort of get into your reporter's notebook a little bit behind the scenes here. How does an investigative story like this , you know , go from a tip to something that actually gets published.

S3: In this case , this specific story ? There is a core group of seasoned investigative reporters in our community , and we talk to each other behind behind , you know , back channels. Do you see this ? You see that ? And this tip came to me from actually from a television investigative unit. They thought it was a good story , but passed on it , I suspect , because there was nothing illegal. This was more of an ethical question , but I didn't. But frankly , the biggest hurdle in this whole story was figuring out how these special districts operate , who watches them , how does the money get there ? And frankly , there's as my expert said , there is very little oversight of special districts in the state and in San Diego County.

S1: I've been speaking with J.W. Auguste , freelance investigative reporter for Kpbs. And J.W. , thanks so much for being here.

S3: Thank you for having me.

S1: When Kpbs Roundtable returns , we'll hear about a few other stories we're following in this week's roundup , including why one local sports franchise won't be back on the field next year. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. Now it's time for the roundtable roundup where we hear about other stories happening around San Diego. Here with us , as always , is Kpbs roundtable producer Andrew Bracken. Andrew , what's up ? Hey there , Matt. You know , last week we were talking about schools returning back for the new year. And we know one of those was San Diego Unified. But the first day of school they had was delayed due to Tropical Storm Hillary. And I think you have kids in San Diego Unified had the first week back go.

S7: So far , so good. You're right. I have two kids in San Diego Unified. It got a late start because of the storm. But first day went off without a hitch on Tuesday. And both my kids started a new school. So it was kind of one of those things. You never know where it's going to go. But last week we did talk about the schools reopening and the new school year. One of our guests from last week , Jacob Mcwhinney , he published a new piece , kind of just checking in on San Diego Unified , some of the things we talked about. He put it in perspective in terms of San Diego Unified's budget situation , and it's grown immensely , I think he said it's grown like more than 40% over the past 4 or 5 years or so. And just bringing into question some of of the long term issues with its budget , because now it's facing a shortfall. And all of this is compounded by enrollment declines that happened over the pandemic as well as issues with school testing and school performance. Same thing coming out of the pandemic. Again , it's another kind of interesting write up , but a look to the future of San Diego Unified Schools and how they're going to handle this transition from having this. A lot of money came in from the federal government as a result of the pandemic , as a result of the mental health challenges facing our kids. But there's going to be some major questions going ahead.

S1: And I know when we did that show last week , our education reporter , MKG Perez said , I don't know if exactly ties into this , but the teachers recently got what he calls a historic new agreement in terms of salary and pay. So you got to wonder if that factors into something we'll definitely keep track of here on Roundtable. Okay.

S7: Tijuana had a Little League World Series team that made it to the semifinals of the Little League World Series. They fell to Curacao yesterday , but they made it really far and came close. So it was great to see another local team. I think we can remember in a few years ago , a Chula Vista team made it pretty far , but it's always nice to see one of those teams with the kids just doing so well and like , you know , getting all that attention on ESPN is really exciting to watch.

S1: Yeah , I remember we had Gustavo. So listen , he was talking about kind of covering them , how they achieved basically celebrity status down there and and yeah , how they're run here. Even though he was saying that they had an uphill battle but he was excited to see where they go. But still they won the national title in Mexico. So something that they can definitely keep their heads held high.

S7: Really cool story.

S1: All right.

S7: They doubled the northbound pedestrian lanes from 6 to 12. It's part of a major $130 million expansion from the federal government. From time to time on Roundtable , we talk about the border. We've talked a lot about the pandemic restrictions. And I think it's just another sign. Hopefully we're getting more of that cross-border , you know , trade and cross border back and forth that we're used to before the pandemic.

S1: And I think that was one of the things when we recently had our roundtable about Sandag , the San Diego Association of Governments and their CEO , that was one of the projects that he was pushing for. Right. Is expanding that border crossing.

S7: Yeah , I think you're right.

S1: And I think the San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that's $134 million expansion. All right.

S7: But what we're seeing is just far fewer apartments being built than what we need to be building right now.

S1: Yeah , I think that story I think it said that San Diego , just when I say San Diego , I'm talking about just the city of San Diego needs to build about 13,000 homes per year through 2029. That's part of its most recent housing needs assessment. That's a lot. But I mean , I think in this year , in 2023 , so far , it's like 1.2 thousand. So a long way off.

S7: Yeah , I think , you know , the reporting said about this time last year they had started about 3000 to your point. This year they're only about 1100 right now.

S1: It'll be interesting to see if things and I think the story mentioned it if you know incentives to build things like adus or accessory dwelling units , granny flats , they're called sometimes if that has any impact on all this.

S7: Well , and that's sort of the conundrum is , you know , our local government's been making all these efforts to make these buildings easier and then we're running in. To this other economic factors that seem to be like hindering these apartments that we we obviously need.

S1: Here , something that impacts everyone , whether you own a home , whether you're a renter or something , will definitely stay on top of. All right. What else you got.

S7: On the soccer front in San Diego ? San Diego is going to be losing one of its professional soccer teams. San Diego Loyal announced this week that it will be ceasing operations at the end of its current season. Here's a little of what the team chairman , Andrew Vesalius , had to say. Over the last six months.

S1: Myself , Ricardo Campos and a small part of my team have been looking at all viable options up and down the coast for us to find solutions for academy , for training facilities , for stadiums from Oceanside down to the border. We've looked at everything and left no stone unturned.

S8: Unfortunately , after looking at all of that , I've come to the conclusion that this will be the last season for San Diego. Loyal. For those of you who've gotten to know me , spent some time talking with me , you know how much this hurts for me to say.

S7: Honestly , probably to a lot of sports fans , this may not come as a huge surprise being that San Diego is getting a major League Soccer franchise in 2025. And ever since that announcement of that new team , a lot of questions have been arising about the other professional teams. San Diego Loyal was actually in the it's in the second professional division of men's soccer in the United States. And I think a lot of people were thinking their vision for the team and for the franchise was to become a major League soccer franchise. And of course , the new MLS franchise kind of took that off the table for them. But it is a team that has a lot of fans and will be missed by those fans.

S1: Oh yeah , I know. I think the slogan was like Loyal to the Soil. And we actually had a roundtable episode on this just a couple of months ago where we dove into , you know , with this new major League soccer team , could some of these other teams survive ? And I think our guests were kind of unsure they'd seen in other markets then being pushed out. Now , I think it's worth noting that the San Diego Loyal and their owner , they're saying that's not why they're leaving. They're saying it's because they couldn't secure like long term stadium rights. I know that they play at University of San Diego in their stadium , but you got to wonder if any of that MLS , you know , when I say MLS , Major League Soccer , if them coming here had anything to do with this , it's just a really interesting story. But obviously , you know , not good news for the soccer community here in San Diego. And I've just seen on social media a lot of , you know , unhappy fans because Major League Soccer is not coming anytime soon. I think we're still a couple of years off from that. So there'll be a little bit of a void. Maybe the San Diego wave will will benefit from that.

S7: Well , again , San Diego loyal. And the owner said in his statement , I mean , they're finishing up the season so you can go to loyal games over the next month or two for sure. But you're right. I mean , they do have a very vibrant fan base. There are a couple soccer supporter groups associated with the loyal , the loyal and still loyal. So it'll be , you know , interesting to see how what happens to that fan base ? Do they go , you know , does the wave see more fans as a result of this ? But clearly , I mean , the fact that San Diego is getting Major League Soccer franchise is is still a part of this story.

S1: And it sounds like you got one more story on your list.

S7: Also on the local sports front , San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller just published a piece about an investigation into the University of San Diego's football program. Allegedly , they're investigating a hazing going on there. This is something that I think has come on the radars of more colleges and universities. Northwestern University outside of Chicago , recently fired its head football coach as a result of hazing in their culture , in their program. So not too much is known , but it sounds like they're kind of digging into it. They're saying they're going to play their first game. I think it's on September 2nd , but who knows where this is going to go. And it sounds like potentially pretty serious accusations here.

S1: I think there'll be a lot more coming out on this as we learn more. I mean , hopefully sometimes these these stories have a way of like getting buried. But I was reading the NBC seven article and they had a statement from USD saying that they got reports of this during like preseason. They have a zero tolerance policy. They had suspended some football operations during when that's happening. And they also said in their statement they don't believe anyone was physically harmed. So not sure what they're talking about when they use the word hazing.

S7: Yeah , it's still a lot to be learned there. Right. And hazing can be have a lot of different connotations to it. Like I said , some of the other schools that have gone through it and when those allegations have come out have been pretty , pretty dark. So I'm sure we'll learn more in the coming weeks and months.

S1: Andrew Brackett here with the roundup. Thanks for being here. Thank you , Matt. That's going to wrap up this week's edition of Kpbs roundtable. If you have any thoughts on our show , leave us a voicemail. (619) 452-0228. You can also email us Roundtable at Kpbs , dawg. If you missed any part of this show , tune in to the roundtable podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Roundtable airs on Kpbs FM at noon on Fridays and again on Sunday at 6 a.m.. Roundtable is produced by Andrew Bracken , and Adrian Villalobos is our technical director. I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us. Have a great weekend.

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The sign in front of the San Diego County Water Authority headquarters in Kearny Mesa, July 13, 2023.
The sign in front of the San Diego County Water Authority headquarters in Kearny Mesa, July 13, 2023.

A conflict over water has two North County water agencies wanting to leave the San Diego County Water Authority. The dispute came as the price of water could rise for San Diegans. The county water agency faces a debt of at least $2 billion.

Then, an investigation into payments made to Ramona Cemetery District board members led to the board members returning funds.


MacKenzie Elmer, energy and environment reporter, Voice of San Diego

Alexander Nguyen, North County reporter, KPBS

JW August, freelance investigative reporter, KPBS