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Humane Society Draws Controversy By Sending Cats Back To The Streets And More Local News

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The San Diego Humane Society is using a controversial program that involves putting stray cats back on the streets. A KPBS Investigation found that includes not just feral cats, but friendly, adoptable ones too. Plus, there’s a connection between mental illness and methamphetamine use among people arrested in San Diego County. New research found a higher rate of mental illness reported by arrestees who have used meth. And, groundwater pumping and heavy diversion has caused many western rivers to dry up. But at least one in Arizona is getting a new lease on life, hear how.

Speaker 1: 00:00 It's Monday, November 18th I'm Deb Welsh and you're listening to San Diego news matters from KPBS coming up, research finds a connection between mental illness and meth use among people. Arrested in San Diego County at the San Diego humane society is using a controversial program that involves putting cats back on the streets. They don't care if the cats friendly or not. They're going to put it back that more San Diego news stories coming up right after the break. Thank you for joining us for San Diego news matters. I'm Deb Welsh. There is a connection between mental illness and methamphetamine use among people arrested in San Diego County. KPBS health reporter Taren mento tells us about new research that found a higher rate of mental illness reported by arrestees who have used meth. 41% have interviewed arrestees that had used meth, also had a mental health condition that's compared to 22% of arrestees who had never used meth but had a mental health condition. Cynthia Burke is research and program management director for SANDAG, which produced the report. She says the findings were based on 467 arrestees. Responding to three specific questions.

Speaker 2: 01:16 Have you ever had a mental health diagnosis? Have you ever stayed overnight in a mental health facility and have you ever had suicidal thoughts? And all of the individuals who said that they had ever tried meth were significantly more likely to have all three of those mental health issues.

Speaker 1: 01:31 Meth users who had a mental illness, diagnosis or experience and overnight facility stay also had a higher rate of homelessness. Taryn mento KPBS news fashion Valley's getting a makeover. The mall's biggest change in decades. Sarah Casianos talks about the multimillion dollar project, one of San Diego's best known malls. Fashion Valley is getting renovated. Simon property group is responsible for running the mall and says they want to give the 50 year old facility a resort like feel. Miro COPEC is the cofounder of bottom line marketing and a lecturer at San Diego state. He says Simon property is spending $2 billion to renovate 30 of its malls and they want to create an environment that will make customers stay longer. Lounges, landscaping, parking spaces, and also they're adding personal services so they're really looking to change the landscape. Construction is already underway at fashion Valley and should be done by 2021 Sarah [inaudible] KPBS news. As water becomes more scarce along the Colorado river, some users are facing serious legal risks to their supplies. Luke Runyon of member station K U N C has more on a new analysis. Back in the early two thousands the Colorado river basin saw one of its driest periods on record. This report from researchers in Colorado and New Mexico says if that were to repeat within a few years, the river's biggest reservoirs would drop upstream. States could then be forced to shut off water access farmers and cities

Speaker 3: 03:00 to meet downstream obligations. The report's author and castle of the university of Colorado Boulder says the risk of that happening is real and the entities who rely on the river need to come up with a plan to deal with it. In order to decide whether you want to buy an insurance policy and how much you want to pay for it, you need to know what the risk is that you're insuring against. Castle says, if leaders in the rivers, upper basin States choose not to come up with a plan to manage that risk, future scarcity could lead to rampant litigation among the States and only increase uncertainty about the Southwest's water supplies. I'm Luke Runyon.

Speaker 1: 03:37 A Guatemalan family of seven is being allowed to stay in the United States while they pursue their asylum case. Thanks to last week's court decision KPBS reporter max Rivlin Adler tells us why this might signal a huge change for a controversial Trump administration policy.

Speaker 4: 03:54 The family had earlier been sent back to Mexico as part of the Trump administration's remain in Mexico program even after they expressed a fear of returning to Mexico. The program has sent back over 50,000 asylum seekers to Mexico while their asylum claims are processed. The American civil liberties union of San Diego and Imperial counties had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family alleging that they had been denied the right to see a lawyer before being sent back to Mexico. A federal judge ordered that they be given access to counsel. Then the family with the help of their lawyers were found by asylum officers to have credible fears of being returned to Mexico. Though most likely now be released from custody for the duration of their asylum case. The ACL use lawsuit could have huge ramifications for the entire remain in Mexico program affecting the cases of many more asylum seekers. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for next month. Max Rivlin Adler KPBS news,

Speaker 1: 04:50 California scientists want to know how much cannabis people are consuming on a daily basis. The information could help them set safer standards for the amount pesticide pot farmers should be using on crops. Capitol public radio, Sammy K Yola got a sneak peek at the research

Speaker 5: 05:08 outside. Perfect union dispensary in Sacramento. Interviewers sat at a folding table and asked customers to talk about their weed habit and to just more out joints, ones born. Those activities, do you think that's an exact amount? That scheme was eager to volunteer. She says she's allergic to certain pesticides used in food, so she tries to be careful about what's in her pot.

Speaker 6: 05:28 They want to learn what's going in our plants. That's awesome. Hopefully they'll put some regulations on it, you know, so that we can't use those harmful pesticides.

Speaker 5: 05:38 Regulations for how much pesticide goes into fruits and vegetables is based on the amount of produce Americans consume. But California doesn't have those numbers for cannabis. Matzke was part of a pilot for a bigger statewide survey that starts in January. Any cannabis user who answers questions at their local dispensary gets a $20 Amazon gift card. Caleb Alvarez is one of the Sacramento state researchers doing the interviews.

Speaker 4: 06:01 Best place to get cannabis users is where you get cannabis. We're only interested in the ones that are being regulated, so you know if you've eaten a cookie at home, that doesn't necessarily come into our calculations.

Speaker 5: 06:13 Scientists have only been able to study recreational marijuana consumption since California legalized the drug in 2016 in Sacramento. I'm Sammy K Yola.

Speaker 7: 06:22 The local humane society took over animal control responsibilities and several San Diego County cities a year ago. In that time, they have quietly released more than 1200 stray cats back to the streets. KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traeger, sir explains why this program is controversial. Hannah Schott is setting a trap for a cat. She puts some wet cat food in the back of a small wire crate. Okay, cool. So they get a little luxury buffet tonight. Cats peek through the trees as she weaves through a narrow walkway to lay the trap. She and two other women back away to wait. A few minutes later, a cat crawls in, triggers the door to swing shut. You're okay here, go right shot. Who calls herself? Kitten lady is the founder of the nonprofit orphan kitten club. She rescues kittens but also traps their parents, usually feral cats who live outdoors and aren't socialized to humans.

Speaker 7: 07:24 He's not super friendly with me, but that's okay. I love you. Anyway, she takes the cats to a clinic to be spayed or neutered, then releases them back to where they came from, but it's controversial. Bird lovers, environmentalist, even some cat lovers say it is harmful to both the cats in the environment. Now the San Diego humane society is taking the practice to a higher level. The organization took over animal control contracts for San Diego and other local cities a year ago. Since then it is allowed more than 1200 cats to be released, including more than 700 in the city of San Diego. Gary Weitzman, the CEO of San Diego humane society says the number should be higher

Speaker 8: 08:11 just because they happen to be more wild than they are domestic should not mean that they need to be euthanized.

Speaker 7: 08:17 The city of Los Angeles tried this program called trap, neuter. Return in 2006 conservation groups sued the city for not considering the effect feral cats would have on the environment. Weitzman says he's not sure why you'd need an environmental impact report when you aren't actually adding new cats to the environment.

Speaker 8: 08:37 It sounded like we would be bringing them in from Portland, Oregon, and then releasing them. You know here in Kensington or attendance,

Speaker 7: 08:44 you though we need a big space to share. Elizabeth Tracy cuddles, a white cat named Doman who was rescued from Tijuana. Tracy and our co volunteer at Carrie Ross work for the rescue organization, cat adoption service. They say it's cruel to force any cat to live outside

Speaker 8: 09:08 Cody's Hawks, owls, foxes. Then you also have wild dogs and domesticated dogs. They don't want to leave

Speaker 7: 09:13 and the advocates claim the humane society is not just releasing feral cats. They're sending socialized adoptable cats back to the streets.

Speaker 8: 09:24 They don't care if the cats are friendly or not. They're going to put it back, Oh, that we don't do

Speaker 7: 09:27 again. Gary Weitzman, the CEO of the San Diego humane society.

Speaker 8: 09:31 If they come in and they are actually friendly and adoptable cats, we will actually put them up for adoption whether than we releasing them to the outdoors. We do not want to do that. These are the cats mostly that we're talking about that are the ones that you can't pet, that you can't touch, that are terrified, that are in traps, not in carriers,

Speaker 7: 09:48 but multiple records from San Diego humane society show cats who were easy to handle or who were brought in using carriers were slated to be released back onto the streets and KPBS obtained an email from humane society staff that says they do release friendly cats. It says, the reason is they return cats to areas where the owners might not come to look for their cat at our shelter, but advocates, Carrie Ross and Elizabeth Tracy think there's a different reason they say the humane society is releasing cats to keep its euthanization rate down. They want to show how many cats went out the door. It's not necessarily how they went up to the door or where they went. It's just that they left the building. The humane society responded saying it doesn't count. Cats who are released as adopted pets and cares about what's best for each animal. Not statistics. Claire Traeger sir KPBS news.

Speaker 1: 10:47 Tomorrow we'll talk more about what impact outdoor cats have on the environment. In the arid West, it's common disease streams dry up at certain times of the year. The causes can vary river to river from depleted groundwater to heavy diversion for cities and farms, but just because the water has disappeared for a time doesn't mean that it's gone forever. From Arizona public media Arieanna brochures reports on a newly revived stretch of the Santa Cruz river in Tucson.

Speaker 9: 11:15 Much of the Santa Cruz river is a dry desert wash only flowing after heavy monsoon rains as Tucson water hydrologists, Dick Thompson and I walk along the river South of star pass. He points out how Brown the vegetation looks, so there's no water coming out at the stretch we're looking at here, right? It's dry as bone. We walked down the drive Riverbed to where a pipe in the side of the embankment is releasing treated wastewater into the channel. As we get closer, the vegetation changes from Brown to green. Soon we can see a shallow rock bottomed pond surrounded by grasses. We're joined by aquatic ecologist and you have a professor Michael Bogan. Wetland vegetation is really starting to come in here, so received things like cat tails and sedges and this Yerba Mansa so it's looking a lot more like a, like a natural Sienna goer. And Marsh Bogan says as soon as the water started to flow, bugs and animals started to show up flying or hopping in from other areas. Nearby. Day one we saw seven species of dragon flying within hours of the water being released and more soon followed. At last count. Bogan says they've seen 41 species of dragonflies here, which represents 80% of those native to the lower Santa Cruz river and it's not just insects, toads, birds and other wildlife. Also visit the little Oasis. Those counties. Yeah.

Speaker 9: 12:34 A lot of characters down here. Many of those species rely on a permanent water source, which this revived stretch of the Santa Cruz has now become the species that we're seeing here so far are still a subset of all the species that could be here or that probably historically were here. Um, but the, the rivers essentially only four months old at this point. Right. So that's, that's not a surprise.

Speaker 8: 12:55 This isn't an artificial river. It's a dry wash.

Speaker 9: 12:59 that's Dick Thompson with Tucson water.

Speaker 8: 13:01 We're supplementing the water that's gone now. Over a hundred years ago there was enough groundwater, there was enough rain water, enough groundwater that you had intermittent flows and some places stayed wet all year round. That's all done to, to over pumping of the aquifer.

Speaker 9: 13:17 Thompson says this project offered the city a new place to store treated wastewater, which it needed because its other storage basins are full.

Speaker 8: 13:25 You can think of recharge basins and and the river as a bank where you're putting money in your bank. Sometime in the future when you need that water, you can pump it back up.

Speaker 9: 13:36 Along with creating new riparian habitat, Thompson says the project is reconnecting people with a flowing river.

Speaker 8: 13:43 The public gets to see it and see how just a little bit of water and makes such a frown difference

Speaker 9: 13:49 and he says when those people hear about water scarcity problems in other watersheds in Arizona and the West,

Speaker 8: 13:54 they can think back to this. And so I've seen that. I've seen what a little bit of water does. I can't imagine that they're drying out other places

Speaker 9: 14:03 today. Ecologists, Michael Bogan is on the hunt for damsel flies. All these little toothpicks flying around. They're kind of like blue toothpicks. Yeah, exactly. Bluetooth fixed. The prevalence of all these insects is directly tied to the high quality of this wastewater Sonoran Institute ecologist. Claire's Doug Meyer says the County upgraded its treatment process in 2013 so the big change that made a difference for aquatic life is the removal of ammonia and other forms of nitrogen that are very, very common in wastewater SEG. Meyer says her group has been monitoring the two other wastewater fed stretches of the Santa Cruz for the last decade. She's excited about this latest project, even while it may not be a totally natural river, this stretch of the river used to flow year-round, so it has this great cultural historical to, and even if it can't be exactly what it was, we have a little bit of a glimpse into the past. After a couple of minutes of searching, Michael Bogan returns with a beautiful discoveries, a common green garner dragon fly that's still emerging out of its larval skin. He says the colorful dragon fly is probably three or four months old, born here at this riparian Oasis. I'm Mariana brochures in Tucson, Arizona.

Speaker 1: 15:18 Thanks for listening to San Diego news matters. If you like the show, do us a favor and tell your friends and family to subscribe to the show.

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San Diego News Matters

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.