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LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

‘The Twilight Zone Wrapped In A Blizzard’

Cover image for podcast episode

CREDIT: U.S. NAVY

Above: An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter provides aerial firefighting support alongside Sailors and civilian fire crews on the ground to fight the fire aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020.

The state’s fluctuating rules for indoor-dining are making it harder for restaurants to stay afloat. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: the San Diego City Council Tuesday approved a bond measure for the November ballot that would help create around 7,500 new affordable homes for low-income households, concerns about the air quality in communities neighboring the Navy warship fire and more local news you need.

Military and civilian emergency crews spent a third day yesterday battling a raging blaze aboard a warship docked at Naval Base San Diego.

They made significant progress and just a small stream of smoke could be seen coming from the ship.

Despite the destructiveness of the fire, Navy officials said that the 22-year-old vessel appeared to have escaped irreparable harm.

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San Diego City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday to expand outdoor operations for restaurants and retail stores.

The rule builds on an existing executive order by reducing regulations for businesses that want to move some of their operations into nearby parking spots. The ordinance waives payments like special event processing fees and fire inspection fees for businesses that want to expand outdoors.

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Indoor operations at restaurants and other businesses throughout the county were ordered to close by midnight last night.

The state’s fluctuating rules for indoor-dining are making it harder for restaurants to stay afloat.

"This is sort of, I guess, the Twilight Zone wrapped in a blizzard."

That's Jot Condie [Notes:CON-dee] , president and C-E-O of the California Restaurant Association. He's responding to Governor Gavin Newsom's decision to - once again - close bars and indoor-dining as the coronavirus sweeps the state.

Condie says this latest move comes just as restaurants were ramping up again.

"Many of those funds that they got from ... the federal funds ... have run out. They've brought their workers back, who were on unemployment, now were off unemployment and back on the payroll. And then all of a sudden you're told 'you've got to shut down again.'"

He says, pre-COVID, there were roughly 100-thousand restaurants in California. Because of pandemic-related shutdown orders, analysts predicted about 30-thousand of them would go out-of-business. Condie says that number will likely increase with the governor's latest order.

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The San Diego City Council Tuesday approved a bond measure for the November ballot that would help create around 7,500 new affordable homes for low-income households. ‘

All together the measure would raise nearly a billion dollars for affordable housing — which Councilmember Vivian Moreno says would help attract state and federal money as well.

VM: The fact that we don't have a bond that provides significant local funding, as other cities do like Los Angeles, put us at a significant disadvantage when projects in our region compete for those tax dollars.

The measure needs a two-thirds majority from city voters for final approval.

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The Trump administration is backing out of its rule that would have required international students to leave the country if their colleges only offered online classes this fall.

Dozens of colleges sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the rule, including UC San Diego, University of San Diego and San Diego State.

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And on Tuesday, San Diego County reported 539 new COVID-19 cases and 14 additional deaths.

Three new community outbreaks were also reported, bringing the weekly total to 15 — still well above the county's metric of no more than seven in a one-week span. The new outbreaks were reported in a restaurant/bar, a place of worship and a private residence.

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From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters, a podcast powered by our reporters, producers and editors.

It’s Wednesday, July 15.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

A bit more on the Navy warship fire…

Even as significant progress has been made on the fire...the thick smoke and smell of burning rubber is still hanging in the air...

KPBS Reporter Matt Hoffman says there are concerns about the air quality in neighboring communities.

Since the fire started Sunday morning thick smoke has been pouring from the ship and into nearby communities--

Diane Takvorian is executive director of the Environmental Health Coalition and sits on the California Air Resources board.. She says all smoke is bad to inhale and wishes officials would move residents out of smokey areas around the ship.

00:04:23:17 Takvorian
it's hard to breathe when you're in regular smoke. IF that smoke includes materials like plastic and medals and potentially fuels it's even worse

The County Air Pollution Control district has brought in mobile monitors to check the air around the ship and haven't found any "volatile organic compounds." But they don't know everything that's in the air. Officials are expecting to get detailed testing results Wednesday.. Still they say to assume the smoky air is unhealthy and to avoid the area or stay inside if possible.

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An ex-San Diego County sheriff's deputy pleaded not guilty yesterday to murdering an unarmed man in May outside a downtown jail as he ran away from custody.

KPBS's Amita Sharma has more.


Former deputy sheriff Aaron Russell's not guilty plea came just hours after District Attorney Summer Stephan took the rare step of criminally charging a law enforcement officer for using deadly force. Russell, 23, is accused of second-degree murder for shooting 36-year-old Nicolas Bils in the back after he escaped out of a state park ranger's car.

Activist Tasha Williamson believes Russell was charged because of recent protests against police brutality and political calculus by Stephan.

8:03 "We understand why she's doing it. We also understand that we have yet to see officers charge when the victim of an officer involved shooting is black."

In a statement explaining the charge, Stephan said, "These decisions must be made solely in the interest of justice and not based on favoritism nor public opinion."

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In a criminal case, eyewitness identification isn't always reliable... but can still send an innocent person to jail. Salk memory scientist Tom Albright says his team has come up with a scientific approach that makes eyewitness identification more effective.


Here's the problem with the eyewitness doing it. We don't know what level of memory strength they are using to tell us that's the guy. And so this enables us to bypass that.

He says his method relies on a scientist observing the witnesses' choices of perpetrator and concluding which one is the best option.

KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani has the details.


In a standard eye exam, an optometrist will present a patient with two lens options, and ask which one is more clear? He repeats this process until there's an obvious winner.

This method of ranked choices has existed for a long time. And now Salk memory scientist Tom Albright says it can also be applied to criminal eyewitness identification. He says standard techniques-- like pointing out one person in a 6 person line up-- can be ineffective because witness' memories are affected by their personal and social biases…

ALBRIGHT: What if there's a method to extract those recognition memories covertly so that then you have these memory response, and then you as a scientist can independently evaluate those independent memory responses. That's what our method does…

The technique means witnesses look at potential perpetrators in pairs, like those different lens options. And a scientist, like the optometrist, can take the data and figure out the best option. Albright says the method helps eliminate personal bias.

Coming up after the break...how are local families coping with the death of their loved ones from COVID?

Stay with us.

Across San Diego County, more than 400 people have died of COVID-19. For some families - their sudden deaths leave behind questions about what went wrong.

inewsource investigative reporter Mary Plummer has this story on how one family in National City is coping.

It's Joseph Bondoc's birthday.

But this is not the celebration the Bondoc family hoped for:

Friends and family are gathered at Miramar National Cemetery, wearing masks. COVID-19 took Joseph's life back in May. His body was flown home to San Diego from Boston.

He was there working as a civil service mariner … when an outbreak of COVID hit the dry-docked Navy ship undergoing maintenance that he was working on.

JUSAYEN: He was doing well. Obviously before he reported, he obviously caught it there.

That's Joseph's friend Archie Jusayan (jew-SIGH-anne) - they served in the Navy together years ago.

He says Joseph was committed to his work - a guy who wouldn't say no. Jusayan questions what went wrong and why Joseph was sent to Boston in the midst of the pandemic.

JUSAYEN: Common sense should have prevailed and this could have been prevented. That's one of the big thing.

Before leaving the cemetery, Joseph's family gathers around his grave. Two flower bouquets sit in front of the temporary headstone.

They say a prayer, then they sing:

This day would have been his 55th birthday.

Joseph left his wife and three children for Boston in good health - aside from high blood pressure and cholesterol he'd been managing.

His wife Witchelda says he told her masks were not required or provided until the second week.

And at first, no social distancing was in place.

About a month in - he started feeling sick and got a fever.

He found testing and it confirmed Joseph was positive for COVID-19. It was the news his wife had feared.

The news that made it hard for her to eat or sleep:

WITHCHELDA: We cannot even eat and sleep because we kept waiting for what's the update. Hoping every day for a good news.

The good news didn't come. He returned to his hotel to isolate - but left a few days later by ambulance.

Witchelda handwrote notes in her calendar on his condition.

May 1st: ICU

May 2nd: lungs weak

May 3rd: weaker.

Witchelda says the pain of losing him was so bad that the days go black.

Joseph was placed on a ventilator and was unable to talk to his family for the last two and a half weeks of his life.

He died in the hospital without them on May 21.

Witchelda says during their last conversation he encouraged her:

WITCHELDA:

Our last conversation was like, don't cry. I'm not gonna die. I'm not going anywhere.

Now, Witchelda remembers her husband Joseph by flipping through photo books and keepsakes

There are carefully preserved pictures from their wedding day in the Philippines.

Photos of the family smiling at Disneyland. Tickets from Seaworld.

Brad and Joseph Jr - the couple's two youngest kids, remember him this way:

KIDS: Like he was like a loving and caring dad. I was so sad that when he died, that it was every night I almost cried about him. I really miss him right now.

The Military Sealift Command which maintains the Navy ship where Joseph got sick declined an interview request. A spokesperson said orders were in place when Joseph arrived for social distancing and use of personal protective gear.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the tactics to fight the virus evolved as they learned more, but repair work had to continue.

And that was inewsource investigative reporter Mary Plummer….

Coming up tomorrow from inewsource, the story of a man who caught the coronavirus while living at a memory care facility. His daughter says he shouldn't have died. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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That’s all for today. Thanks for listening.

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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.