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Why Is Contract Tracing Such A Challenge?

Cover image for podcast episode

Asma Al Sabag, a contact tracer for San Diego County, makes phone calls in this undated photo.


The county set a goal that 70% of new case investigations would begin within 24 hours—currently, just 11% of case investigations meet that goal. Also, a proposal for low- and middle-income housing at the Palm Avenue station has grown from 250 units to more than 400, as transit officials look to maximize the use of its real estate. Plus, more than two million unemployed Californians rely on the extra $600 a week provided under the federal CARES Act. Now that it's ending, nonprofits and the state look to help fill the gap.

Since late March, people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic have been getting an extra 600-dollars a month in unemployment benefits-- from the federal government. But that's ending this week.

San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez says if Congress doesn't extend the extra benefit, state lawmakers are looking at supplementing the amount. She says to do nothing would lead to catastrophe….

600ENDS 2A :10
"We're gonna end up with a huge housing crisis, a mortgage crisis as well as a renter's eviction crisis, we're gonna end up with people basically starving to death. I mean, it's not tenable."

Congress must decide what to do by the end of August.


A proposal for affordable housing at a South Bay trolley station is getting bigger. For the past year, The Metropolitan Transit System has been in talks with a team of developers about what to build on the nearly 4-acre parking lot at the Palm Avenue trolley stop. The initial plan was for 250 low- and moderate- income apartments. But a new plan presented on Thursday had more than 400 homes.

City Councilmember Vivian Moreno, who represents the area, says she uses the parking lot when she rides the trolley.

VM: And I agree there isn't a lot of people parking in this area. So I think we all could agree that the highest and best use of land right next to a trolley stop is not a 4-acre parking lot.

And San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez told fellow MTS board members Thursday the agency needs to maximize the use of its real estate.

GG: This is exactly what we had in mind in terms of utilizing the spaces a bit more that would really provide an opportunity to address the housing crisis. So this is very exciting to me.

The project would also include a playground for residents and on-site child care.
MTS and the development team hope to strike a deal on the project by February of next year.


San Diego's only haircutter for children with Autism and other special needs announced that she'll be joining a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the governor's order that salons must do their work outside.

Amy Mullins-Boychak [boy-chahk] is the owner of THAIRapy hair salon. She says if she followed Newsom's order, she'd be in a parking lot near traffic. She says it would threaten the safety and well-being of her clients.

"Everything has been stripped from them...they are loosing services, the schools are unable to provide the things that they need...this is also a social outlet for's safety for them..four walls and a door, they don't have to worry about running into a parking lot and get hit by a car just to get a haircut."

She serves about 20 clients per day and one client at a time. She says that so far the guidelines imposed on salons have caused her to lose 25-thousand dollars.





I’m Anica Colbert, filling in for Kinsee Morlan.
it’s Friday, July 31st. This is San Diego News Matters from KPBS News.

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

For more than two weeks, San Diego County has failed to meet its goal for contract tracing cases of covid-19. That goal was to start investigations of new cases within 24 hours. This means that people who have had close contacts with others who test positive are not being alerted quickly and are not being told to quarantine.

But, the county *is* working to put more people on the job.
KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser has more on this story.

(don’t have script from claire)

Tag: That was KPBS Investigation Reporter Claire Trageser.


A large coalition of environmental and outdoor groups are suing the Trump Administration in a California federal court. They want to overturn changes the president made to the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Trump executive order, issued earlier this month, says one of the nation’s most important environmental laws is being modernized and simplified. Critics disagree saying the changes mean there will be fewer environmental and public reviews of projects on federal lands.

NEPA 1A :10
00:04:36 – 00:04:46 “These changes are so substantial that they really change the fundamental playing field and the legal framework under which federal agencies make decision.”

That was Susan Jane Brown who works for the Western Environmental Law Office. She says the changes weaken environmental reviews and limit public input.

NEPA 2A :25
00:12:25 – 00:12:50 “We talk about the National Environmental Policy Act as the Magna Carta of American environmental law. And it really was. It was a sea change. It was promulgated in 1979 and so it had the benefit of the 1960s and 1970s where we had a growing awareness of the environmental and social justice issues associated with federal actions.”

The lawsuit has more than 20 plaintiffs including the Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Justice and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Rent is due tomorrow (Saturday) for thousands of renters in San Diego County. But many have not been able to pay during the coronavirus pandemic.

Local and statewide moratoriums have kept a wave of possible evictions on hold for months now. But many are set to expire in the coming weeks. Time for finding a solution for both tenants and landlords is running out.

KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler has our story.

RENT (4:03)
The scale of the crisis is staggering. According to a study by the consulting firm Stout, over 40% of California's renters are currently unable to pay their full rent and are at risk of eviction.

In San Diego, with its already elevated rents and lack of affordable housing, the issue looks very much the same.

Tenants like Imperial Beach resident Patricia Mendoza suddenly saw their income zeroed out. She's a single mom who was laid off in April and didn't get her first unemployment benefits until June.

She hasn't paid her rent in months.

Mendoza: It's extremely hard, because like I said, i'm the only one here. I'm supposed to keep my children safe and healthy, how am I supposed to do that when we're about to get evicted when these moratoriums lift.

She's waiting for some plan to come together to help tenants deal with the months of unpaid rent, at a time when there's no sign of economic recovery anytime, and low-income communities are being hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Help us. Help us low-income communities. Help our black and brown brothers and sister because we need this help right now. Who else can we go to? Our elected officials. They're supposed to listen to us.

Right now, the region has several overlapping moratoriums placed on possible evictions. But many of them have already expired or are set to expire within weeks.

The most pressing date for San Diego residents is now August 14th, when the state's judicial council could reopen eviction proceedings across the county in places without an ongoing moratorium.

In June, the San Diego City Council committed $15.1 million of federal CARES Act money to create an Emergency Rental Assistance Program. That would help around 3500 families pay their rent.

But Greg Knoll with Legal Aid Society of San Diego says that's still not enough.

Greg: It's going to take government dollars, whether it's local, city, county, or state dollars to help this crisis. This is no different than covid-19, it's a crisis that can explode all at once, all over us.

With unemployment benefits now cut nationwide, San Diego's tenants and landlords have pinned their hopes on Sacramento.

Bay Area Assemblymember David Chiu is the author of assembly bill 1436. It would allow renters in financial distress to stretch out their rent payments accrued during the pandemic until April 2022, and possibly beyond.

It would also make it so unpaid rent during the pandemic can't be the sole basis for an eviction.

CHIU: We all know, that it is completely unreasonable to suggest that if you've been out of work, or seen your income drop dramatically, that come August 14th you're going to magically have the money to pay any unpaid back rent you've accumulated over the past couple of months.

The bill also includes mortgage forbearance provisions for landlords.

Last week, a group of landlords held a press conference in support of AB 1436. One of those was San Diego landlord Ginger Hitzke.

She doesn't want this housing crisis to be a repeat of 2008, where investors were able to move into a distressed housing market, buy foreclosed properties, and drive up rents.

HITZKE: I feel like I'm looking at this thing from the perspective of a real estate professional and it terrifies me because renters, particularly renters on the lower end of spectrum, they're in the habit of being just people, they're not real estate professionals.

But not all landlords are quite on board with the bill.

Todd Henderson is a fourth-generation San Diego landlord. He says that without more financial support, bills like AB 1436 could still leave tenants owing an insurmountable amount to landlords.

HENDERSON: Individuals who really are in those positions are probably going to pack up and leave in the middle of the night and that happens on a somewhat regular basis.

WIth the clock ticking, it's now up to state legislators, and governor Gavin Newsom, to craft a response to the looming eviction cliff that many other cities across America are now falling off of.

Tenants like Patricia Mendoza are counting on it.
MENDOZA: When we see governor Newsom say we're in this together, we just want to be accounted for. That's it. We want to be in it together, that's it.

Max Rivlin-Nadler, KPBS News.

That was KPBS’ Max Rivlin-Nadler.

Stay with us...


Dolores Rob-ledo was the matriarch of San Diego’s fast-food Mexican restaurant Roberto’s. She died earlier this month and was laid to rest thursday. We have that story just after this break.


The matriarch behind San Diego’s fast-food Mexican restaurant chain, Roberto’s, was laid to rest on thursday. Dolores Rob-ledo died earlier this month at age 90. She worked with her husband Roberto to develop the recipes and locations for one of the nation’s first chains of taco shops. Her lifetime of hard work brought success to her family, created an iconic San Diego business and brought a new popularity to Mexican food in California and beyond.

KPBS Midday Edition Host Maureen Kavanaugh spoke with Pam Kragen, a feature writer at the San Diego Union Tribune who wrote an obituary on Dolores Rob-ledo, and San Diego food writer Mario Cortez.

Here’s that interview...

That was KPBS’ Midday Edition Host Maureen Cavanaugh, speaking with Pam Kragen, feature writer at the San Diego Union Tribune and San Diego food writer Mario Cortez about the life, legacy and remembrance of Dolores Rob-ledo.

San Diego News Matters is a daily morning news podcast powered by all of the reporters, editors and producers in the KPBS Newsroom.

Tune in to KPBS Midday Edition at noon on KPBS radio or KPBS Evening Edition at 5pm on KPBS television to keep up with the news throughout your day.

You can also find us on Twitter @ Kpbs news, or to find our podcast producer, Kinsee Morlan, she’s @ Kinsee. I’m @AnicaColbert. And as always you can find more KPBS podcasts, like Only Here or Cinema Junkie, on our website at KPBS dot org slash podcasts, or wherever it is you get your podcasts.

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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.