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

Dodging Purple Tier, Again

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ALEXANDER NGUYEN

Man walking out of 7-Eleven in Bay Park on Aug. 1, 2020. The business, like many others in the county, is requiring customers to wear a mask before entering the premises to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

For yet another week, San Diego County avoided dropping into the dreaded purple tier - the most restrictive level in California's coronavirus monitoring system. The county’s adjusted case rate on Tuesday was 6.5 new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population. Plus, More school reopening details were released for San Diego Unified, meanwhile Vista School district is sending students into quarantine following an outbreak.

San Diego County dodged the COVID bullet again on (Tuesday)…staying where its at - in the red - or second most restrictive tier. Governor Newsom says no county in the state moved into a most restrictive purple tier. The Governor also announced the creation of a scientific safety workgroup in collaboration with the states of Washington, Oregon and Nevada. The group will check the data on any new vaccine to make sure it is safe for state populations.

"We're not just going to take someone's assurance. We're gonna make sure that we're objectively reviewing and be able to put on our stamp of approval."

Newsom says another group of experts will look at the ethics of prioritizing the order of who gets the vaccine.

Halloween is going to look different this year with COVID-19 restrictions in place. But one Oceanside resident is still trying to make the most of the holiday for her community.

Destiny Santana began making face masks during the first stages of lockdowns in March. Now she crafts and sells candy chutes made out of PVC pipe for socially distanced trick or treating.

"I thought that the 6 feet chute would help out a lot. I saw that online and was like 'I can do that.' My dad has the tools inside and I just started with the first one, it came out great and then people were interested in it and it just kept going, they've been selling out really fast."

The County of San Diego recommends online parties and contests, drive-through events, Halloween movie nights and pumpkin patches for celebratory alternatives to a traditional Halloween this year. And just in case you weren’t counting down, the day of spooks is just three days away.

It’s Wednesday, October 28th. 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.

San Diego Unified School District shared new details on tuesday about how they’re going to reopen schools.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong explains when students can expect to be back in the classroom.

As soon as January fourth, the district expects to have elementary school students back on campuses four days a week. Middle and high school students will be back two days a week starting January 25th. John Lee Evans is the president of the school board.
I would like to make an appeal to our community to assist us in reopening our schools. Personally I do not believe that bars and restaurants should be open before our schools can open.
But there is a big caveat. Right now San Diego County is right on the edge of being in the state's more restrictive purple tier for COVID cases. If we slip into the purple tier, the district's Phase 2 plans will be put on hold. Joe Hong KPBS News.

Meanwhile, COVID outbreaks in some Vista Unified schools have already sent hundreds of students into quarantine. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne has the story.

Since the reopening of schools on October 20th, 4 COVID cases have been confirmed on the Vista Unified School District website.

Those confirmed cases are at Mission Vista High School, Roosevelt Middle School and Alamosa Park Elementary.

Kari Avila president of the Vista Teachers Association says these were the outbreaks teachers were concerned about when they protested at the last board meeting.

"A week ago we sounded the alarm of many of our educators saying that our working conditions weren't ready to return yet ,now here we are. We have 4 outbreaks within a week. We have hundreds of teachers and students quarantined."

In a community update the district says a large quarantine may force it to return to all-virtual learning because there wouldn't be enough staff for in-person classes. TT KPBS News.

The race to represent East County's District 2 on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is tight, with lots of attack mailers flying back and forth.

KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser fact checked some of the claims…. made by the two Republican candidates, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and former state Assemblyman Joel Anderson.

Vaus's campaign sent several mailers attacking Anderson.
One claims that "after an evening of drinking with Sacramento lobbyists, Joel Anderson shouted insults at a Black woman."
These claims refer to a 2018 incident. A Senate investigation found Anderson got upset with a lobbyist and likely said "I oughta bitch slap you," or something similar.
Anderson defended himself in an interview with KPBS Midday Edition last week.
"I did not do that. There were people that said I didn't do it, but they were discounted. I swore in a bar, I shouldn't have swore in a bar, she took offense to it, because she applied it to herself which it wasn't meant to be, and I apologize for that."
Meanwhile, Anderson's campaign has sent several mailers claiming Vaus used "a shell non-profit to generate over $100,000 in income for himself that was meant for Rady Children's Hospital even after the IRS revoked its non-profit status."
This claim refers to an annual concert Vaus puts on called Carols by Candlelight.
Every year, Vaus presents a giant novelty check to Rady's with amounts above $50,000, and a spokesman for the hospital confirmed Vaus has donated $271,000 in the last five years.
But, the concert's nonprofit partner lost its IRS charitable status last year after it failed to file its tax returns for three years.
Vaus defended himself to KPBS Midday Edition.
"Outright lies. His comments about my relationship with Rady Children's Hospital. Outright lie."
Claire Trageser, KPBS News

And on the note of Mailers, Check the small print on those campaign ads cramming your mailbox. It might tell you who's trying to influence the biggest local races. Here's inewsource investigative reporter Jennifer Bowman with more.

BOWMAN: Over two-million dollars spent on the San Diego mayor's race isn't coming from the
candidates' campaigns.
BOWMAN: It comes from what's known as independent expenditures. These legal loopholes allow the biggest political players in town to donate as much as they want to outside groups to support or oppose a candidate.
BOWMAN: Todd Gloria's outside donors include the city's largest labor union and the Chamber of
Commerce. Here's the candidate in an interview with inewsource.
GLORIA: What you see is really an unprecedented coalition of organizations in our
community who sometimes don't agree with one another, yet they're in agreement that
they believe I'm the best person to be the next mayor of San Diego. (00:12)
BOWMAN: His opponent, Barbara Bry, has seen less outside support. Bry wants voters to pay
attention to who's behind the outside ads. She says Gloria will need to cater to those special
interests as he seeks a long-term political career.
BRY: 'Cause he's going to need them for the next office that he's going to run for. I'm not
going to need them. I want to do what's right for our residents. (00:07)
BOWMAN: The latest poll shows the mayor's race in a dead heat. For KPBS, I'm inewsource
investigative reporter Jennifer Bowman.

That was inewsource reporter Jennifer Bowman. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS. For more on these mailers, and to check out our fact checks from other races, go to kpbs dot org slash election.

Governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on executions in California soon after he took office. Now, he's taking his crusade against the death penalty to the courtroom. CapRadio's Nicole Nixon reports.

At issue is whether a death sentence should require a unanimous decision by a jury.
The California Supreme Court asked the Attorney General to weigh in on that earlier this summer.
Newsom also filed an amicus brief this week arguing that a sentence for the highest punishment should be reached through a unanimous verdict. He also argued the whole process is quote-"infected with racism."
Stanford Law Professor John Donohue says there are numerous studies showing race has an influence on the outcome of death penalty cases.
DONOHUE: This is an effort on the part of the governor to weigh in and make it somewhat harder to secure a death sentence. <<:10>>
Newsom's office says the brief marks the first time a sitting governor has argued in court that California's death penalty is applied unfairly.
SOC

San Diego researchers are getting a better understanding of the storm systems that bring the region most of its rain.

KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says some of that new knowledge came from work done at the end of Scripps Pier this past spring.

Gray rain filled skies seemed to dip into the ocean during a storm last March. Every three hours data analyst Chad Hecht and post doctoral researcher Alison Michaelis pulled out a weather balloon.
09:55:25 – 09:55:33 “We took it out of the package, put it on the spigot and are filling it up with helium.”
Once gas filled the balloon, Heckt tied off the end and attached instruments that recorded temperature, pressure and relative humidity among other things. With everything ready it’s a short walk to clear the buildings.
10:05:45 -- 10:06:07 “Three, two, one.”
The balloon rushed toward the clouds, growing as the air pressure outside of the balloon dropped. When it got to be about the size of a school bus it popped. Michaelis says instruments collected data on the way up and the way down.
10:14:07 – 10:14:19 “Some of our recent launches overnight got up to about 23-thousand meters. And so we’re gathering temperature data, moisture data, winds data, direction and wind speeds all the way.”
That’s important because these storm systems have an outsized influence on Southern California Weather. Marty Ralph established the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
00:03:31 – 00:03:44 “An atmospheric river is super charged with a lot of water vapor and it has a lot of wind at low altitude to push that water vapor along. So its really a river in the sky. A river of water vapor.”
That river can bring everything from a steady beneficial rain that can ease the risk of wildfires to damaging rainfall strong enough to cause floods. But researchers don’t yet know a lot about the rivers and that’s why the weather balloons are so important.
00:05:14 – 00:05:33 “It turns out the core of the AR if fairly narrow horizontally and it’s hard to get a measurement right in the right spot. So we fly airplanes through them off shore to try to sample that, but we also launch weather balloons occasionally, and quite often at the coast to measure that as well.
10:25:00 – 10:25:14 Stand-up “And what this research will do is it will allow scientists to better understand these storm systems so they can predict when they’ll happen, they’ll be able to say how intense they are and they’ll be able to gauge the impact on land.”
Those launches last spring at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Pier are already paying dividends.
00:01:09 – 00:01:36 “We just collect observations. That gives us information about these systems, both meteorologically and the physical processes that are occurring that could lead to extreme precipitation. (00:01:21) In Southern California and we’re also taking that information and assimilating that into forecast models both globally and nationally to see if we can improve forecasts with these operations.”
An analysis found current weather models fell short. Especially when researchers looked at integrated vapor transport.
00:04:11 -- 00:04:30 “which is essentially, how much moisture is moving in the atmosphere, in what direction and how strong. And it was forecasting about 300 I-V-T or integrated vapor trail over Southern California and we were able to observe about 600, almost twice as much as what was being forecast.”
Current storm prediction models also missed a bit on the exact location of the river. Application programmer Brian Kawzenuk, who also helped launch the balloons, says that's important because forecasters want to predict exactly where the narrow bands of rain will hit land.
00:05:51 -- 00:06:00 “Because we had the observations we were able to see that the models were actually a little incorrect with the placement of the AR and it actually was further north than what was expected.”
Kawzenuk says researchers also have balloon launching stations in San Diego, Orange County, near Sacramento and a couple of spots north of San Francisco. And the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes is working with water managers around the state. They hope better storm prediction models will make it easier to manage California’s scarce water supplies. Erik Anderson KPBS News

Coming up on the podcast.... After another record-breaking year of wildfires across the West, more cities are bracing for impacts to their drinking water supplies.

CUT: "We had been privileged and in some ways probably took for granted that these watersheds we're providing is consistently clean, clear water, all the time." (0:09)

That story next.

For many western communities, their water supplies originate from melting snow high up in the mountains. But this summer's record-breaking wildfires have reduced some headwater forests to heaps of ash. This can cause big problems for municipal drinking water systems.

In the third installment of our series on where fire and water intersect in the west….KUNC’s Luke Runyon reports.

TRACK: Until eight years ago, the city of Fort Collins, Colorado's main water source, the Poudre River, was nearly pristine. It tumbled out of the Rocky Mountains into the city's treatment plant, no problem.
OROPEZA6: "We had been privileged and in some ways probably took for granted that these watersheds we're providing is consistently clean, clear water, all the time."
TRACK: That's the city's water quality manager Jill Oropeza. We're along the river just outside of town, downstream from where the High Park Fire burned more than 87-thousand acres in 2012.
OROPEZA6: "That was the first time for many of us working there that we had to kind of grapple with the fact that our watersheds are under pressure."
TRACK: For the first year after the fire, every time it rained the river turned black. Mudslides of ash and scorched soil spilled into it. And before workers could turn off the river's intake, that muddy water clogged pipes leading to the treatment plant.
OROPEZA14: "And so we ended up with a lot of sediment in our pipelines that was difficult to remove."
TRACK: And even if they got water through the full treatment process, it still tasted and smelled smoky. That led the city to install an early warning system. From where we are standing, you can see a long metal pipe stuck in the middle of the river. It's measuring how turbid -- or cloudy -- the water is. If the sensor detects too much sediment, utility workers can turn off the plant's intake and switch to water from a large reservoir to avoid clogged pipes.
OROPEZA2: "It became really important for us to have a heads up for when those changes in water quality were occurring."
TRACK: The effects of the High Park's burn scar on water quality only lasted a few years. But this early warning system is about to get a lot more use ... because this summer's Cameron Peak fire has burned another broad sweep of the river's watershed.
RHOADES3: "That's one of the most important points about this whole fire is that it's in a sort of high value location for water supply in the Front Range."
TRACK: Chuck Rhoades is with the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station, and studies how big disturbances in forests can affect water quality. Between the High Park and Cameron Peak fires, nearly the entire southern half of the Poudre River watershed has burned in the last decade. And Rhoades says that will have big impacts on people downstream.
RHOADES4: "Whether they are agriculturalists, whether they're residential folks, whether they are people that are floating the river or the aquatic organisms that are using the river, they're all really linked to what's happening in those headwater forests."
TRACK: But because the High Park fire happened so recently, Fort Collins might be more prepared than other places in the West to deal with this new fire. Jen Kovecses runs the nonprofit Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed. She says the people who formed her group after High Park are already talking about recovery from the current one ... while it's still burning.
KOVECSES6: "It doesn't make the situation less stressful ... or maybe it makes it moderately less stressful, but the reality I think of a fire footprint this big is just it's it's a lot to take in."
TRACK: Kovecses says the 2020 fire season has renewed a region-wide discussion about forest health. And if cities want to avoid long-term water quality problems, she says they need to be thinking about how to first reduce the risk of megafires.
KOVECSES7: "In the West, it's not a question of if it will happen to your community, it's a question of when one of these large events will happen to your community."
TRACK: Back on the banks of the Poudre River, the city of Fort Collins' Jill Oropeza says decisions made after the last big fire, like building new infrastructure to remove sediment, will help them respond this time around. And they already have relationships with researchers, federal agencies and others to ease the burden.
OROPEZA13: "We live in fire prone watersheds, and it's part of our responsibility to adapt to that reality."
TRACK: A reality that includes drier forests, hotter summers and extended fire seasons across the West. I'm Luke Runyon in Fort Collins, Colorado.

That was Luke Runyon reporting from Fort Collins Colorado.This story is part of a series produced by KUNC, KJZZ, KHOL, Aspen Public Radio, and Wyoming Public Radio. Support comes from the Walton Family Foundation.

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