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San Diego Parents Have Options Come Fall

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San Diego Unified School District’s plan is to open full-time, in-person learning this fall, and also offer parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids to school a distance-learning option. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: Under intense pressure to defund the police, San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery responds to criticism over her vote to increase the police department budget and more of the local news you need.

After months of school closures, the San Diego Unified School District's board held a virtual public meeting Tuesday afternoon to share the district's plans for reopening in the fall.

The meeting included lots of public comments from parents both for and against reopening in-person learning.

Well, both those parents got what they want. The district’s plan is to open full-time, in-person learning and also offer parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids to school a distance learning option.

The news comes a day after a San Diego County health order was issued that allows all schools in the county, aside from colleges and universities, to hold classes on campus.

Hows this going to happen? It will be up to individual schools to decide on the details . Classrooms might separate desks with plexiglass. Schools might need more teachers. Recesses could be split up.

San Diego united leaders say more federal funding is needed to bring the kids back to school AND support distance learning.

A state budget, which is currently counting on federal funding that has yet to be solidified, must be passed by June 30.

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Victims of a shooting at a Poway Synagogue last year are now suing the alleged shooter and the gun manufacturer who made the AR-15 used in the attack. They're being represented by Brady, a group whose mission is to end gun violence..

One person was killed and others were injured in the shooting that prosecutors are saying was fueled by anti-semitism.

A complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court names multiple defendants, including the alleged shooter John Earnest, his parents, the California Dept of Fish and Wildlife and the store where the firearm was purchased, San Diego Guns.

Legal Analyst Dan Eaton told KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman they're also going after gun maker Smith and Wesson.

Plaintiffs are asking for compensation and policy changes to ensure something like this doesn't happen again. KPBS reached out to Smith and Wesson and San Diego Guns for comment on the story but haven't heard back.

Political action committee San Diego County Gun Owners calls the allegations frivolous saying the local gun store followed state law and therefore bears no responsibility.

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The San Diego Public Library began a month-long Pride celebration Tuesday by debuting a Facebook page which will serve as an online hub July 17.

The page is facebook dot com slash SDPLpride.

The "Virtual Pride" page will be the hub for drag queen storytime, other LGBTQ-themed storytimes, author discussions, make-at-home crafts and more.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego Pride has canceled all in-person gatherings.

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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, editors and producers.

It’s Wednesday, June 17

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

Construction crews began building a border wall here, in the Otay Mountain Wilderness, in May. It’s the first new miles of border fencing in San Diego county in decades.

And contractors continue to install new barriers across the rest of the U.S.-Mexico border, including many on sensitive landscapes, like riverbeds.

Arizona Public Media's Ariana Brocious reports that many nearby residents are disturbed by the wall's environmental effects. And they say their concerns have been ignored -- and that has been equally disheartening.

In January, hundreds of people gathered on a small bridge spanning the San Pedro River to protest the pending construction of a border barrier. (ambi: "No wall/Protect our river")

Since then, the project has moved ahead. Cottonwood trees have been cleared and construction crews are setting up, even though U.S. Customs and Border Protection says a final design for the project still hasn't been approved. Local residents and conservation groups have repeatedly criticized the wall projects. But as the last free-flowing river in Arizona, they say the San Pedro is in particular need of protection.

MILLIS: None of these border walls make sense, that's what people need to understand first about the border wall. (:04)

That's Dan Millis with the Sierra Club. He and others say the new, 30-foot high steel bollard walls are ineffective and don't address the root causes of undocumented immigration or smuggling.

MILLIS: And instead, it causes a whole 'nother set of problems like erosion, flooding, destroying wildlife migration corridors, fragmenting wildlife habitat. (:11)

But while many have voiced similar concerns, there's another overarching element of their frustration.

ENGLISH: I did not even know that they were going to be building a border wall until we read about it in the newspaper. (:06)

That's Cochise County Supervisor Ann English, whose district encompasses much of the borderlands. She says Customs and Border Protection hasn't provided any information to the county about the new border wall project, nor did it seek local expertise, like how monsoon floods could damage it.

ENGLISH: This decision was made in Washington DC, no one was asked locally, they just did it. They found the money, they hired the contractors and then they appeared on the scene. (:10)

Usually government agencies are required to complete a thorough environmental study for a project of this magnitude, including in a public review process. But the Trump administration has waived dozens of laws to speed border wall construction.

Roger McManus is a retired biologist with the Friends of Sonoran Desert:

MCMANUS: The Department of Homeland Security is operating fundamentally outside of the law in the United States of America. (:15)

Customs and Border Protection did solicit public comment a year ago for the first round of wall construction projects in Arizona. The agency declined an interview request for this story. In a statement, CBP said it reviewed and responded to the public that provided input, and incorporated relevant information into the design process.

McManus says his organization repeatedly tried to share scientific literature and expertise on how to mitigate wildlife impacts from border barriers with CBP. He also participated in the public comment process.

MCMANUS: But increasingly it's become clear that this is just a facade by Border Patrol and they're not really interested in this information and just doing it to deflect criticism. (:12)

Even one local rancher who has a good relationship with CBP says communication has dried up as the projects have advanced.

Ben Lomeli is a borderlands hydrologist who used to work for a federal land agency.

LOMELI: You can talk about hydrologic damage, ecological damage which comes after, but I think the biggest damage here was the loss of public trust. (:15)

Like others, Lomeli supports border security but says walling off a perennial river like the San Pedro is just not a great idea. It could change the river's flows, lead to erosion and debris buildup.

LOMELI: I'm looking at it as a taxpayer and someone that cares about the future of America and I'm thinking that we have much better ways to control that border. (:11)

CBP says it's working on an Environmental Stewardship Plan and is consulting with environmental firms during construction.

After months with no new details on the project design, the agency said last week the barrier across the San Pedro will consist of a bridge with gates, and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

That was Ariana Brocious in Tucson, Arizona. This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Colorado River basin, produced in partnership with Arizona Public Media and KUNC in northern Colorado.

***

Families in the San Diego area are making what could be life and death decisions when deciding whether to keep loved ones in nursing homes hit with COVID-19.

But as KPBS's Amita Sharma reports, they are not being helped by conflicting state and federal data on cases.


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published the first, highly anticipated, national data on nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths late last month. But in many instances, there are big gaps between those figures and numbers reported by the California Department of Public Health. For example, the state says so far 16 residents at Victoria Post Acute in El Cajon have died of COVID-19. But the new Medicare website says 43 residents in the facility have died.

Victoria Administrator Colton Levar wrote in an email to KPBS, "The data reflected for Victoria Post Acute Care in the CMS reports is incorrect. I am not sure of the source of the error."

Medicare & Medicaid services spokesman Jack Cheevers wrote in an email that while there may be some discrepancies in the numbers, most are accurate. He wrote that one issue has been "nursing facilities reporting cumulative cases instead of only new cases on a daily basis, which inflates their case numbers."

Whatever the cause of the errors, Tony Chicotel, staff lawyer for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, says ultimately the data is meant to identify where the coronavirus hotspots are so those facilities can get help.

06:00 "Some people get hurt when the data is wrong. I think the message to consumers is that regulators don't really have control of this."

State health officials did not comment on the discrepancies..

***

Finding antibodies isn't easy, but they are necessary to gather in the fight against coronavirus.

KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani says Scripps researchers have managed to find several highly potent antibodies in just seven weeks.

Scripps researchers looked at the blood of recovered Covid-19 patients in San Diego, and they found several antibodies. Lead researcher and microbiologist Dennis Burton says sometimes when antibodies are tested in animals, they lose weight.

BURTON: We could should show the antibodies we made stopped the animals from losing any weight. They really prevented disease in the animals. So we know these antibodies work.

Burton says the antibodies can be used in vaccine and antiviral treatments for the virus. But he says the most exciting part of the research is that it only took seven weeks. And that shows the speed at which science is responding to the pandemic.

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The San Diego City Council has approved a budget, under intense pressure to defund the police.

Not only did they NOT defund police, but they increased the department's budget by $27 million dollars, in line with the mayor's proposal.

This happened last week following 10 hours of testimony, much of it full of calls to reduce the department's funding.

Monica Montgomery is a San Diego City Council member representing district 4. She told KPBS's Mark Sauer about the factors that played into her vote, which was in favor of the city's budget to increase police funding.

Yes. Well, it was a very tough decision, but as you are probably aware when the mayor brings us a budget in order to significantly change that we do need a consensus from the council that requires six votes. And so, uh, you know, we have to keep that in mind. This is a, a major change. I think that. Uh, rightfully so, uh, protesters across the nation are pushing us to, uh, change our systems, uh, to make them better serve the people.

And I am in 100% agreement of that. Um, it's going to, uh, it's a marathon and not a sprint. So I have been dedicated to. This type of police reform for a while and will continue to be through my time on the council. Now, in general, do you support the defund, the police movement? And what does that mean to you?

I do support diverting funds from police departments, uh, budgets to more adequately serve community members, or what I mean by that is I do believe that there is a core public safety function. I do believe that. Um, but I also believe that there may be others that are. Well equipped to handle some situations that we deal with out in our communities, such as, uh, mental health, uh, situations, uh, our unsheltered population and getting resources, building trust with the population.

Um, there are quite a few different things that other folks with other professions may be able to be utilized as opposed to. Police officers. And so I do agree that we need to change this the system. Um, you may find some officers may agree with me that we have a lot of societal issues and we ended up putting all of them on officers.

And I just believe that our funding should reflect, uh, diverting, uh, some of the resources, uh, to other. Other things, other organizations, so that we're not so dependent on police officers to deal with these issues that at the, at their core function, they, uh, trained or, uh, don't, don't have that as their core function to deal with.

And as you said, police reform and accountability has been a major priority for you, but where does cutting police funding or rearranging police funds to other areas specifically fall on your list of priorities? It is a priority of mine. I also, um, made a statement, uh, the day, the night of, or the morning of the budget vote.

Saying that I was dedicated to looking at ways to divert resources. And I also have submitted a memo to our independent budget analyst to look at the police department budget in a more line by line approach. Um, it hasn't definitely, hasn't been done since I've been on council so that we can understand better.

More, we understand the better decisions that we make. Um, it is a top priority. It is a cry from our community, uh, from the protesters that are here in San Diego, throughout the County and across the nation that we have to look at this in a different way, and we can't keep blindly, uh, funding our police departments.

I definitely understand that. I think part of the, um, Additional funding came. Most of that really came from a contract that had been signed before I, I got there as well. Um, it's it's okay. Um, we, we had an obligation to that, but we, we do need to look at it in a different way, and I'm thankful to the protestors and activists and folks that are pushing us, you know, to look at it in a different way, because it is needed.

And now is the time.

That was Monica Montgomery, San Diego City Council member representing district 4, talking with KPBS’ Mark Sauer.

***

So, how are you celebrating Pride this year amid the pandemic? Call me at (619) 452-0228‬, tell me who you are, what neighborhood you call home and what you’re doing to acknowledge Pride this month.

Here’s how Manny, a board member of the social club Front Runners and Walkers of San Diego is doing it.

Again, the number is (619) 452-022.

That’s it. Thanks for listening. Hope you’ll listen again tomorrow.

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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.