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LATEST UPDATES: Election 2020: Live Results | Tracking COVID-19 | Racial Justice

Unprecedented Early Voting Turnout

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A poll worker assists a voter at the San Diego Registrar of Voters. Nov. 1, 2020.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters says if voting trends continue, we could see a turnout in San Diego of over 80 percent of registered voters. Also, a warming climate was a key talking point for national political candidates last year, but then the pandemic happened and seemed to take climate change out of political debate. Plus, we’ll have the final installment of a series on how wildfire and water intersect in the West.

Today is the third day of in-person voting. And, of course, tomorrow is election day, the final day to cast your ballot or postmark your mail-in ballot. With more voting options in California this year, the ballot count and the reporting of election results will be a bit different. For the first time there are consolidated precincts that will be reporting from super poll locations, which will be open 3 days before November 3rd.

Here’s San Diego county registrar of voters Michael Vu.

The election results for that first report will not just be those mail in ballots but it will also be polling place ballots that were cast on Oct 31, Nov 1 and Nov 2.

Mail-in ballots need to be postmarked by election night. They have 17 days thereafter to get to the registrar’s office. Keep in mind, the certification of election results is expected to be delayed this year.

We'll find out tomorrow, once again, if San Diego County stays out of the purple, most restrictive tier of COVID-19 regulations. For restaurant and bar owners in San Diego, the pandemic has been a roller coaster of having to open and close their businesses again….while also adapting to new regulations.

Rosa Buettner owns Pecs Bar in North Park. She says putting in safety measures and outdoor seating cost her about 60-thousand dollars.

"I don't even care to make money, I just want to break even and keep my employees employed. That's basically my goal. Does it cause you sleepless nights? Absolutely, absolutely."

Buettner says no one has been able to tell her whether she'll be able to keep the outdoor restaurant open once the pandemic has passed.

On a Monday, November 2nd, it is the 2nd and final day of Dia De Los Muertos celebrations. This is San Diego News Matters from KPBS News. I’m Anica Colbert. Stay with me for more of the local news you need to start your day.

Thousands of Californians went to the polls this weekend, and more are expected to line up on Election Day. CapRadio's health care reporter Sammy Caiola looks at voting during the pandemic.

When Delfina Vargas heard Sacramento County was looking for poll workers, she didn't hesitate.
"I heard that people were needed, and they were looking for individuals who were healthy and not immunocompromised, and since I had the time, I decided to sign up."
She says the first few days were busy but not overwhelming — voters mostly kept their distance. When she checks them in, she's behind plexiglass.
But she says she's still a little worried.
"I've been indoors with various people for several days, and even though I'm always masked and I'm using hand sanitizer, I just didn't want to assume I was in the clear."
The state requires counties to set up polling places with certain safety guidelines.
Health officials say if you do feel you've been exposed at the polls, wait at least five days to get a test. SOC

As wildfire seasons worsen, California researchers are finding that data about wildfires and their impact is difficult to find.. A new report highlights the need for a statewide system to share information. CapRadio's Ezra David Romero reports.

There's a lot of data being collected — everything from acres burned to fire personnel — but researchers found it's not always easily accessible.
Michael Wara is with Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He says California needs a one-stop shop for data, which could be modeled after a recently created water database.
[Notes:WARA] "So that when the governor wants to know what are the water impacts from the fires we've had this season his staff can go and look in one place and get that answer. Right now, that's not really possible."
The authors found there aren't comprehensive state-wide indexes for tracking track wildfire prevention, health impacts from smoke or even the cost of power shutoffs
Wara says creating a single database for all of that could save lives, potentially reduce the pace and scale of wildfires and unite the state on the fire front.

Nearly 9 in 10 college students who qualify for California's food stamp program don't take advantage of the benefits. That's according to a new analysis from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank in New York.

"So every single month, about $100 million in food benefits is sitting on the table for these students to claim if they applied.

Peter Granville authored the report…which looked at data from 2018 and 2019.

"And I think it's important that we make sure that students who probably are eligible are being encouraged to apply. But so often that messaging might not be getting to them."

Early in the pandemic, California took measures to further expand the number of students eligible for food stamps. The state asked the federal government to waive certain requirements...such as working 20 hours a week in addition to taking boost student participation in the program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture denied the request.

Southern California experienced the impact of a changing climate through the summer and fall as heat and flames left their mark. A warming climate was a key talking point for national political candidates last year, but then the pandemic happened.

KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says the issue was pushed to the edge of the national spotlight.

California is enduring unprecedented wildfires. San Diego’s Valley Fire was the largest locally, with scores of homes and 17,000 acres left blackened by the flames. (nat pop)
00:01:48 – 00:02:08 “Warmer temperatures, drier fuels and this has led to these extreme fires seasons.”
Tom Corringham is a researcher at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
00:01:48 – 00:02:08 “This year being an example in the Western US. We still have fires burning now in Colorado. We have fires in California at historical levels of acres burned.”
(nats of fire under this section) More than four million acres have burned this year alone. 31 people have died and more than 92-hundred structures were destroyed. The latest fire in Orange County, just last week, forced 100-thousand people from their homes. (nat pop)
On top of that, scientists saw record high temperatures. 130 degrees in Death Valley in August. Then September was the hottest month ever.
00:02:55 – 00:03:20 “We’re seeing these higher temperatures. Higher temperatures are leading to melting of the ice caps in the arctic, Greenland and Antarctica, and that leads to sea level rise.”
And Sea level rise contributes to coastal flooding. The scientific community says these events are all calling cards of a changing climate, something researchers have been warning about for decades.
00:01:10 -- 00:01:28 “There’s no way that these fires are natural. This is way outside any possible natural occurrence. This is climate change. Climate change is here at our doorstep.”
Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Jeffery Severinhaus found evidence of change as he examined ice cores in polar regions.
00:01:43 – 00:01:52 “There’s lots of undeniable evidence. It’s no longer remotely in debate.”
And in California, climate change has broken through and become part of the political debate.
00:02:36 – 00:02:46 “In California elections, we see a lot of discussion about climate change, in part because both sides recognize that it’s a really physical challenge to our state.”
Thad Kouser is a political scientist at UCSD. He says major party candidates in San Diego county and California ignore climate change at their own peril. Kouser says the issue is important because voters are getting first hand proof that a changing climate will affect them.
00:03:37 – 00:03 “When you see wildfires and you see seawater rise and floods that come from that, when you see hurricanes in the Gulf coast. These physical embodiments of climate change are what will bring it from an issue right now that is in the top ten of most voter’s concerns to an issue that will be a top tier issue that every politician will need to address.
But California’s acceptance of climate change has not broken through in a meaningful way in the national political arena.
(clip of debate)
Climate change was a discussion issue in the debate between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. Trump touted the clean, air and water under his administration and Biden called climate change the existential crisis of our time. However, the candidates spent most of the time on the topic attacking each other’s economic policies. UCSD professor David Victor says the national discussion evolved.
00:12:01 – 00:12:31 “During the primary season there was a huge amount of attention paid to climate because this was one of the areas where candidates differentiated themselves. Once you go into the general, this is largely a referendum on the incumbent. As most elections that involve incumbents are. (00:12:17)
And Victor says everyone has to be part of the solution so the national debate needs to start looking like the debate in California.
00:14:00 – 00:14:19 “(We in California are reliably on board with the need for swift action on climate change and we’ve got to recognize that) we as a state are less than one percent of global emissions and so everything we do here needs to be evaluated through the lense of how it increases the odds that other places do some other things.”
Victor says climate change has to be part of the national discussion because dealing with climate change requires a national solution. Erik Anderson KPBS News

That was KPBS Environment reporter Erik Anderson.

Coming up on the podcast... A record wildfire season has renewed a national conversation about forest management. But it's not as simple as it might sound.

"We're not going to get ahead of this in that way. We're riding the tiger. There are too many things coming at us too fast."

The final story in our series about fire and water in the west, up next after this break.

After decades of trying to get ahead of the problem of the West's big fires, it seems we're still behind. The massive fires that have burned this year don't just alter forests, they impact water supplies for people and the environment. But those megafires could refocus efforts to better manage forests. In the final story in our series on where water and fire meet in the West, Ron Dungan from KJZZ in Phoenix reports:

RON DUNGAN: In June of 2002, nearly half a million acres burned in the Arizona high country. The Rodeo-Chediski Fire was the largest wildfire in Arizona history at the time, and it got everyone's attention. There was too much fuel in the forest, and something needed to be done.
STEPHEN PYNE: "I think the first thing to recognize is that the Southwest and California are built to burn." (:07)
RON DUNGAN: That's Arizona State University professor Stephen Pyne.
STEPHEN PYNE: "We get lots of dry lightning. We're the epicenter for lightning-caused fires in the United States." (:07)
RON DUNGAN: Ponderosa forests evolved with fire. Modest-sized fires would burn grasses, small trees and brush, but leave the big trees standing. Then overgrazing and fire suppression removed grasses and allowed small trees to grow unchecked. By the time foresters figured out the problem, megafires were already happening. Ethan Aumack is with the Grand Canyon Trust. He remembers 10,000 acre thinning projects in the '90s, which felt like significant progress...
ETHAN AUMACK: " We realized that we were not working at the scale at which wildfire was working." (:10)
RON DUNGAN: And so Arizona ranchers, conservationists, politicians, foresters and local communities put aside their differences and came up with a plan, the Four Forests Restoration Initiative. 4FRI for short. Aumack says the goal was to thin more than 2 million acres in the state, from the Grand Canyon to New Mexico.
ETHAN AUMACK: "The problem is not getting smaller, the problem is only getting larger in Arizona. The same can be said across the West." (:08)
RON DUNGAN: There are two ways to thin the forest: Cutting and burning. 4FRI did both. The target for cutting is small diameter trees. That's different from traditional logging, which takes the big, fire resistant ones. Elvy Barton is with Salt River Project, which provides power and water for the Phoenix metro area through a series of dams. She says forests aren't just for wildlife and hiking. They're often headwaters for crucial rivers and streams the region's biggest cities rely on.
ELVY BARTON: "We all have overgrown forests, we have endangered species, we have large catastrophic wildfires that are you know, coming through and just devastating these landscapes and having these horrible impacts on communities and the water supply." (:16)
RON DUNGAN: Although 4FRI seemed to address the problem on paper, companies hired to thin the forest failed to deliver. The forest kept growing, and in 2011, the Wallow Fire took out another half a million acres in eastern Arizona. Climate change, drought and growing housing development have made the problem more complex. Different ecosystems have different fire regimes, and today's fires can jump from one to the next. Fire historian Pyne says that firefighters are allowing some fires to burn within certain parameters.
STEPHEN PYNE: "And I'm seeing a lot of, from fire officers on the ground, that we're not going to get ahead of this in that way. We're riding the tiger. There are too many things coming at us too fast, changing things too rapidly. We're having to work with what we're given." (:19)
RON DUNGAN: Using prescribed burns to thin the forest is complicated, but 4FRI is beginning to meet its targets. The project has also done work on springs and watershed restoration. And not all wildfires are catastrophic. Some places that burn recover, like Canyon Creek (WATER AMBI) which burned in Rodeo-Chediski. The Forest Service hopes to ramp up thinning in the near future. But Grand Canyon Trust's Ethan Aumack wonders if we can correct past mistakes.
ETHAN AUMACK: "On the other hand, I actually feel very optimistic, and sometimes foolishly
so, that we can solve this problem, and I really think the question is can we do it in time?" (:12)
RON DUNGAN: Charlie Ester is with Salt River Project. He says he thinks that 4FRI can work if it moves forward, one step at a time.
CHARLIE ESTER: "We all have to work together, we all have this common goal. And I'm very positive about the future of our forest ecosystem." (:18)
RON DUNGAN: (WATER AMBI) 18 years later, you can still see scars from Rodeo-Chediski at Canyon Creek. But there are trees standing, and clear water is flowing. You'll find trout in the stream, elk in the hills, coyotes. (COYOTE AMBI) More fires are coming. The only question is how hot they will burn, and how much ground they will consume.
I'm Ron Dungan, in Phoenix, Arizona.

That was KJZZ’s Ron Dungan reporting from Phoenix, Arizona. This story is the last in a series produced by KUNC, KJZZ, KHOL, Aspen Public Radio, and Wyoming Public Radio. Support comes from the Walton Family Foundation.

That’s it for the podcast today. If you’re voting, have a safe voting experience. And also a safe and FUN 2nd day of Dia De Los Muertos celebrations. 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.