San Diego News Matters / July 23, 2020
PHOTO BY SHALINA CHATLANI
San Diego's police budget has been under the microscope lately, since the nationwide wave of protests against police violence. Activists have been calling on city leaders to cut the police budget and give more money to libraries, parks and mental health services. But even when its budgets are cut, SDPD has a track record of overspending. Plus: sewage water in the South Bay, building up the Midway District and more local news you need.
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A prominent San Diego businesswoman faces nearly 20 years in jail for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked nearly 400-million dollars from investors.
Gina Champion-Cain founded The Patio Group - a company that once ran popular restaurants around the city including The Patio on Lamont, The Patio on Goldfinch, and Fireside By The Patio. She was also active in the San Diego business community and involved in local politics.
She pleaded guilty to securities fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice in a San Diego Courtroom yesterday.
Omar Mizell is the acting agent in charge of the FBI in San Diego. He says Champion-Cain enriched herself and tried to hide the crime from investigators.
“Hiding and destroying evidence is illegal. Lying to FBI agents to derail an investigation is illegal. This is a warning to anyone who attempts to subvert a federal investigation by obstructing justice.”
Champion Cain’s accountant also pleaded guilty to charges connected with the Ponzi scheme.
Comic-Con@Home kicked off yesterday, allowing comic book and pop culture fans to celebrate the first-ever virtual event for one of San Diego's largest conventions.
Hi everyone..this is Katie Cook and this is the first time in a decade I haven’t been at comic-con so I’m participating in comic-con at home.
Of course...because of COVID-19, organizers cancelled the event for the first time in its 50-year history.
This year’s event so far looks to be a solid attempt at making the whole thing -- the panels, workshops, exhibits and even the masquerade ball -- virtual AND free.
The con’s online offerings run through Sunday. Check out comic dash con dot org for details.
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 Thursday, July 23.
Stay with me for more of the local news you need.
San Diego County reported a jump in daily coronavirus cases to 587 yesterday after a few days of decline.
KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento says a significant sustained drop is needed before the county can get off the state's monitoring list.
That's the list that required many San Diego County businesses to cut indoor operations. The problem is our case rate — the state wants no more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents but San Diego is well above that at 154 cases per 100 thousand.
San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten says the region needs to reduce new infections to 234 or fewer a day for two weeks to bring the rate back down.
(:13) "Changing this metric will depend on all of us doing our part, including individuals, all of our sector work sites and governments -- again we all have a role to play."
Wooten says the county is working with local cities to create teams to enforce public health orders at businesses.
The county also reported 18 more people died. That's the most announced in a single day... but these deaths occurred over a few weeks and just showed up in the data yesterday.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise among nursing home residents and staff, according to the latest state data. Facilities are worried more outbreaks are coming.
Deborah Pacyna [Notes:puh-see-nuh] is with the California Association of Health Facilities.
"It's like deja vu again with the virus making a comeback across the state. Once the virus hits a community, it makes its way into facilities."
Pacyna [Notes:puh-see-nuh] says for a while facilities were letting residents see one famil y member. But now they're re-instituting restrictions on visits.
"They can only take place if there's adequate staffing, no virus cases in the facility for 14 days, and a decline in new cases, hospitalizations or deaths in the surrounding community. That pretty much shuts off visitation for the time being."
She says facilities need state and federal support to help stockpile protective gear and institute rapid testing.
CapRadio's Sammy Caiola [Notes:kay-OH-luh] has more.
Preventing infections in a skilled nursing facility takes rapid testing, lots of protective gear and enough staff to backfill workers who might have to stay home sick.
That's according to Deborah Pacyna with the California Association of Health Facilities - a trade group for long-term care homes.
"What we're looking at right now, the situation's a little troubling."
Pacyna says supplies are running low, and same-day testing isn't on the horizon.
And she says these homes were understaffed even before the pandemic.
"Added to that we have the virus, we have people staying home from work. Some are afraid to come to work."
A bill moving through the legislature would require nursing homes to hire a full-time infection prevention specialist, which some advocates feel could alleviate future outbreaks.
San Diego's police budget has been under the microscope lately, since the nationwide wave of protests against police violence.
Activists have been calling on city leaders to cut the police budget and give more money to libraries, parks and mental health services.
But as KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen explains, even when its budgets are cut, SDPD has a track record of overspending.
AB: On May 31, thousands of San Diegans gathered in downtown San Diego to protest the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
AB: That afternoon police declared an unlawful assembly and used tear gas, stun grenades and pepper balls to disperse the crowds. Protesters said that escalated an otherwise peaceful demonstration, while police say it was necessary to secure the area. Either way, it was an expensive day for city taxpayers. In the following days and weeks, police racked up more than 100,000 hours of overtime responding to protests. By mid-June, SDPD had blown past its overtime budget by more than 11 million dollars. And the overspending is not a fluke: A KPBS review of city budgets and financial reports found SDPD has spent beyond its overtime budget in all the past 10 fiscal years. Together, the decade of overspending totals more than 61 million dollars.
BP: "Our office has raised concerns with police overtime exceeding budgeted levels quite consistently."
AB: Baku Patel is a fiscal and policy analyst with the Independent Budget Analyst's Office.
BP: "All departments have a responsibility to spend within their budget, including the police department. Police department is a little unique because especially the use of overtime, if there's an emergency or a public safety issue that needs to be addressed, typically that's done through overtime."
AB: Some overtime pay is also mandatory. Officers are guaranteed overtime when they work on holidays, for example, or have to appear in court. But the biggest portion of the police overtime budget is discretionary, when police captains allow officers to work beyond their regular eight hours.
KG: We have to be honest about where this desire for policing comes from.
AB: Kyra Greene is executive director of the progressive think tank Center on Policy Initiatives. Police have justified extending shifts into overtime by saying the department is understaffed. Greene disagrees, and says the use of overtime reflects the overpolicing of some San Diego neighborhoods.
KG: It's always the case that policing is racialized. And so as this city has become more people of color, we've heard a call for more policing. That's not going to solve our problems, it actually is our problem. If you talk to communities of color about whether police make them feel safe, that's not what you hear.
AB: Greene says SDPD's consistent overspending on overtime could mean one of two things. Either all the mayors and police chiefs over the past decade have been really bad at predicting how much the department would need to spend on overtime. Or...
KG: "What we think is more true is that this is an intentional decision not to be upfront about the costs that we're putting into policing. And to do at the front end of the budget cuts to all kinds of programs under the argument that there's not enough money, and then at the back end of the budget to put that money back into policing.
AB: SDPD declined our request for an interview and refused to respond to written questions about overtime spending. Council President Georgette Gomez says the police budget does need more scrutiny. To that end, she and Councilmember Monica Montgomery commissioned a deep dive report into police spending so the council can find areas to cut responsibly.
GG: So when we are having the budget discussion and the budget allocations, we can actually make decisions based on that information, versus when we're in the official budget hearings, it makes it hard because a lot of the information is coming at us very quickly, but also at times very late.
AB: Despite a flood of calls to cut the police budget, council members last month approved Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposal to increase it by about 5 percent to $566 million. The police overtime budget also went up, to about 34 million. But in an effort to crack down on overspending, the council is requiring the SDPD to provide a detailed accounting of overtime spending as soon as half the budget is exhausted. The deep dive report on SDPD's budget is expected sometime in the late summer or fall.
KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen.
Listen to the podcast tomorrow for a closer look at calls to shift money from policing to mental health services.
Skyscrapers around the old sports arena? What does the future hold for the Midway? District if voters get rid of strict building height limits there?
That story after a quick break.
Is it an opportunity to revitalize a blighted neighborhood or a slippery slope that will lead to high rises along San Diego's coast?
It's a question that San Diego voters will decide in November.
THE city council voted Tuesday to place a proposal on the November ballot that would repeal the 30 foot height limit in the midway district.
Proposed redevelopment around the old sports arena would include dense high rise housing units that wouldn't be possible with a 30 foot limit in place. supporters say the height limit would only be changed in a small area in the midway district.
Opponents say it will chip away at height limits up and down the city's coast.
KPBS Midday Edition’s Maureen Cavanaugh talked with San Diego Union Tribune, reporter David Garrick.
remind us what the area around the sports arena looks like now and what the proposed changes would do to the area.
Speaker 2: 00:49 Well, now I think pretty much everyone agrees. It's not living up to its potential. It's a fast food chains and auto related businesses and a few strip clubs and these gigantic mega blocks that sort of don't give any sense of community. Uh, you know, it's definitely, uh, an old school, a neighborhood that is not, uh, doing what the city would like it to do economically or for housing or for really anything. Um, and it's a really, you know, very appealing area to developers and to people who want to live because it's in between by Loma and mission Bay park and the airport and interstate five. And so it's a really great location with a lot of potential
Speaker 1: 01:24 Pose changes. Do, would it add to the housing?
Speaker 2: 01:26 There are two proposals. The city's considering both of them include lots of housing, one over 2000 units and another 1400 units. Uh, the one with 1400 units would also include some, uh, entertainment elements, a 12 acre park, uh, an outdoor amphitheater and a temporary soccer stadium
Speaker 1: 01:43 Would also include a grand central station sort of thing. Remind us what that is.
Speaker 2: 01:48 Yes. SANDAG local, the county's regional planning agency wants to create sort of a grand central station mass transit hub, right in this area. It's a great area centrally located, and that would become sort of San Diego's transit future
Speaker 1: 02:02 30 foot limit on construction get put in
Speaker 2: 02:05 On 1972 voters approved a ballot proposition that basically said anything along the coast, anything West of interstate five, couldn't be higher than 30 feet. And why do they do that? Well, I think the idea was to avoid a turning into Miami beach or Waikiki beach in Honolulu and some other parts of the country and the world where you, along the coast, you see high rise buildings that some folks feel like doesn't doesn't make any sense, but it's not visually appealing. It blocks fuse. It makes the beach areas seem more commercial. And so the idea in California pretty much up and down the coast of California is you have this gradual thing where you have taller buildings farther inland, but as you get toward the actual beach, most, most communities have a height limit that prevents it from looking like Miami beach.
Speaker 1: 02:51 The vote on the city council was seven to two to put the height limit repeal on the ballot. What were the arguments council members had in the measure? One,
Speaker 2: 03:00 One is that this area of shouldn't have been included in the coastal zone to begin with. I mean, the idea is that Pacific beach and LA Jolla and mission beach and ocean beach, those are the other areas that are affected by the 30 foot limit. They are coastal beach areas where views do matter where you do have the beach, the sports arena area it's called the midway district officially. Isn't really like that. It's not really near the water. There aren't any views that are vulnerable, that tall buildings are gonna block. Um, so I think the argument is that it was just sort of arbitrarily included in the rule back in 1972, because it's West of interstate five, but it doesn't really have anything else in common with those other beach communities. I think that was sort of the main argument. I would say the second argument in favor was this is an area that needs to be improved. This is an area that needs to be upgraded. And this is an area that is right for dense housing. And none of those things can happen with a 30 foot height limit in place. It's really got to be removed for this area to reach this potential.
Speaker 1: 03:56 Here's what council member Chris ward said. He supported the measure.
Speaker 2: 04:00 I've supported this in the past that the rules committee and we'll continue to do so today because it's a proposal for a targeted, limited height removal. And having it pass will allow the recently updated midway community plan to be implemented and compliment the proposed grand central station concept as well. So this deserves to at least be placed in front of the voters for them to be able to decide,
Speaker 1: 04:20 Okay, so who voted against it? And what was their argument?
Speaker 2: 04:24 That's a woman, Barbara Brie voted against it and she's voted against it in the past. Um, she's become as she's been running for mayor this year against a Gloria and a runoff, more of a, an anti-development, uh, candidate than she has been in the past. Um, so I think that was part of it. Uh, yesterday she mentioned that she thought there were other development in the, in the, in the works, uh, including the, the Navy spite, the spa or site or network site that, that she thought maybe the other things weren't being taken into consideration when you were considering this, uh, and then Georgia Gomez voted against it. Hers was even more complicated. Um, she basically said that because the city has allowed rival developers to make proposals for the sports arena area before voters have lifted the height limit, she feels that that's legally complicated. And she's, she's frustrated with that and concerned about that, the process. So I wouldn't say either of them were vehemently opposed, but, but there were two people who decided that it shouldn't go on the bat.
Speaker 1: 05:21 So David, what proportion of voters will have to approve this height limit repeal in order for it to go forward?
Speaker 2: 05:28 It's only a simple majority, just 50% plus one, which is in contrast to some of the other things that have been on the ballot lately that have needed a two thirds approval, which is a much higher hurdle. And I think it's interesting to know that when the SeaWorld got approval to lift the 30 foot height limit a few years back, uh, and that was a situation where the polling showed that people who lived near a SeaWorld and those neighborhoods were against it, but that the rest of the city was actually in favor of it. And it ended up passing. So this could be a situation where you an interesting contrast where the people who live in the beach areas vote against it, but it still gets passed because the citywide vote. So a lot of inland communities might be able to override those people who oppose it.
And that was U-T reporter David Garrick talking with Midday Edition’s Maureen Cavanaugh. To hear more interviews like this one, make sure you’re subscribed to Midday Edition wherever you listen to podcasts.
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