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San Diego Faces Increased COVID-19 Restrictions

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A sign reading "protect one another" hangs in the window of Richard Joseph Salon in Hillcrest. Nov. 7, 2020.

A rise in Covid-19 cases has put San Diego in the state’s purple, most restrictive reopening tier. Meanwhile, school districts are working to keep school buses virus-free -- and we’ll take a closer look. And, in honor of Veteran’s Day, a profile of former marine Luther Hendricks who fought overseas in World War II’s Pacfic Theater while also fighting racism back home.

An increase in COVID-19 cases has put San Diego County back into the state's most restrictive "purple" tier.

It means restaurants, churches, gyms and movie theatres have to stop indoor operations. Also, school districts that haven't already reopened for in-person learning have to put their plans on hold.

Some business owners say they plan to defy the state's mandate. At a press conference on Tuesday, San Diego County supervisor Nathan Fletcher says county officials are working with local police to step up enforcement for egregious violations.

No one wants to be punitive no one wants to close down business at all the simple reality is we are now faced with an increased rate of spread that threatens our community.

The state has relaxed restrictions so that personal care businesses including salons, barber shops and tattoo shops can stay open in the purple tier.

The new restrictions begin this Saturday. They’ll stay in effect for at least the next three weeks.

At the same press conference, county Supervisor Fletcher also mentioned that the county has launched a new behavioral health program. It includes help for first responders who might be suffering from trauma endured on the job. Fletcher says the stress of the job has taken too many people who put their lives on the line.

“We lose more first responders to suicide than we lose in the line of duty and we have to do better. We have to do better to provide the support for mental health treatment.”

The program is named after San Diego Fire Captain Ryan Mitchell who took his own life after enduring traumatic experiences on the job.

It’s Wednesday, November 11th, Veterans Day. This is San Diego News Matters from KPBS News. I’m Annica Colbert. Stay with me for more of the local news you need to start your day.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to drastically alter America's policy along its southern border.

KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler says reversing four years of Trump administration priorities won't be so easy.

The Trump administration has been almost singularly focused on border policy and the treatment of immigrants. It has used its authority in uncharacteristic ways along the border, and sped along policies that have run afoul of the courts.
And while president-elect Biden has promised to undo many of these policies, a new report this week from the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute says it won't be easy, and definitely won't happen as quickly as many would like.
Doris Meissner is one of the authors of the report.
They have really done more than any other president has done in the immigration system, so unwinding it, is certainly something that a Biden administration has pledged to do. But many of them will take time.
President-elect Biden has promised to end the controversial "Remain-In-Mexico" program. But he has yet to release any details on how or when his administration would do so.
Max Rivlin-Nadler, KPBS News.

Some low income residents eligible for rent relief during this economic downturn are still waiting to receive money. Inewsource Investigative reporter Cody Dulaney has more.

DULANEY: The San Diego Housing Commission was supposed to send rent relief for eligible tenants by Sept. 25. As of last week, over a million dollars still hadn’t been spent and more than 400 households were still waiting for assistance.
The commission blames the delay on the time it took to process applications. But the agency also had to temporarily stop sending payments four weeks into the program when it realized it wasn’t collecting demographic data on recipients. Some of the federal funds being used required that.
The program will cover two months’ rent for 3,700 households. For KPBS, I’m inewsource investigative reporter Cody Dulaney.

That was Inewsource reporter Cody Dulaney. Inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

San Diegans overwhelmingly passed Measure B, which will establish an independent commission to oversee the San Diego Police Department. But there are still many details to be decided about how that commission will work.

KPBS’ Claire Traegeser reports.

The measure means the city will now have a Commission on Police Practices, which would have members appointed by the City Council, along with its own staff and an independent attorney.
Most Importantly, the commission will have the power to subpoena and conduct investigations into police officer misconduct and shootings by police--something the old Community Review Board didn't have.
But first the City Council needs to draft and pass an implementation ordinance that will lay out how the new commission works, how many members it will have and how those members will be chosen.
Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe
"We need to go into a whole other stage of creating an implementation ordinance, working with the primary unions that will be affected, bring them in."
Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe strongly supported Measure B. She says the mayor and City Council will also have to budget money to hire a full-time executive director, an independent attorney and staff to support the commission--which will happen in the next fiscal year.
"They don't have to wait until July."
This is not good enough for Andrea St. Julian, the co-chairwoman of San Diegans for Justice.
Andrea St. Julian, the co-chairwoman of San Diegans for Justice
"We'll be looking for the City Council to hire the executive director within the next few months."
St. Julian says her organization plans to stay involved as the Council sets up the commission to ensure community members' needs are met.
Claire Trageser, KPBS News

With schools closed because of the pandemic, school buses were left idle for months. But now as schools slowly reopen for in-person learning, transportation departments have to figure out how to keep buses virus-free.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong visited one district to see how they’re doing it.

At Poway Unified School District's transportation center, 152 school buses are parked in long rows. Before the pandemic arrived in March, these buses transported more than 4,000 students a day. But the district's bus routes came to a halt when campuses closed. Now, months later, they're finally revving up their engines again.
Since mid-October when the district opened its elementary schools, busses have been taking about 500 students to and from school. Kim Benson is a bus driver with the district. She said she had some concerns at first about how the kids would react to the new rules.
Were they gonna be able to keep a face mask on? Were they gonna be able to social distance themselves? How were they going to react to screenings in the morning? I drive special needs and it can be a little more trying for them than other kids.
But so far Benson has felt completely safe during her routes. Students are prescreened with temperature and symptom checks before boarding, and they're doing a good job of following the rules. She says it also helps that the department is being extra careful with hygiene.
After each child disembarks the bus, we just go up and we have to make sure that every seat is just sprayed down. And this has to sit on here for five minutes.
In addition to drivers disinfecting surfaces after each trip, buses get a deep cleaning every 24 hours with a device that looks like it came out of Ghostbusters. Tyler Bouquet is a vehicle maintenance coordinator at Poway Unified.
This machine puts out a fog. So it's gonna cover every corner, under the seat, anywhere in the bus is going to be covered in disinfectant. Places you normally wouldn't be able to reach by hand or you may miss in the process.
He's wearing a backpack attached to something that looks like a hair dryer that shoots out an electrostatic fog.
The electrostatic part causes them to stick to every surface in the bus. Even if you don't point it at the surface, it's still going to fog out and touch everything and stick to it and make sure every surface comes in contact with disinfectant.
These disinfecting measures have come at a cost for Poway Unified. The transportation department has spent more than 45,000 dollars on COVID-related supplies. The district has also lost over a million dollars in revenue from the lack of bus-pass sales. Tim Purvis is the transportation director at the district.
We want our students back on our buses. We don't want the parent feeling like they have to drive their child in their automobile and getting clogged in the traffic at our school sites. We want them to have that same confidence that when they're ready to return their child to a PUSD school site, that includes the bus to go with it.
They'll face an even greater challenge if and when the district opens middle and high schools. But Purvis says they're ready.
Our driver is key in this and the parent having the confidence that the driver is ensuring the safety of that child.
Other districts are also grappling with how to figure out bus operations. Cajon Valley Union, a K-8 district in East County reopened all of its schools in September but lost 80% of its bus riders. At San Diego Unified, a limited number of schools have opened for in-person instruction, and a small number of students are riding the bus regularly. For the most part, the district's school buses have been used to deliver food and school supplies.
Joe Hong KPBS News.

Coming up on the podcast. Esther Sanchez is Oceanside’s first ever Latina Mayor. She spoke with KPBS about her new role and the needs of her city.

And, in honor of Veterans Day, we'll hear from a 95-year-old veteran as he recounts fighting in the Pacific during World War II...while also fighting racism back home.

"We were always talked of as 'boy,' 'colored people,' 'you people,' never... a man or a person, you know."

Both of those stories are next, just after the break.

Oceanside is San Diego County’s third largest city after San Diego and Chula Vista. It has traditionally been seen as a conservative town - it shares a border with Camp Pendleton … But Oceanside voters have elected a new mayor who is a Democrat: Esther Sanchez is the city’s first latina mayor, AND the first woman to serve in this capacity. She spoke with KPBS Midday Edition host Alison St John about her new role. Here’s that interview.

That was Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez, speaking with KPBS Midday Edition host Alison St John.

Now, in honor of Veterans Day, we'll hear from a 95-year-old former service member. He fought World War II in the Pacific Theater... and fought racism back at home. From Los Angeles, Robert Garrova reports for the American Homefront Project.

Luther Hendricks was just a teenager when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened... He says he was determined to fight, to save his country from the enemy.
HENDRICKS: "Once President Roosevelt declared war, I went down the next day to the recruiting station to join up and I was told they didn't take coloreds in the Marines."
But as the war effort ramped up, the armed services began following an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to open all branches of the U.S. armed forces to African Americans.
Hundreds of Black men were accepted into the Marine Corps, though they were segregated from white troops.
HENDRICKS: "We weren't allowed to go train with the white Marines, which was just across the street from us at Camp Lejeune.... We weren't allowed to go over there unless we had a white officer to go with us."
White enlistees were trained at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Black men went through grueling training at nearby Montford Point. There, servicemen like Hendricks endured substandard conditions and racism.
HENDRICKS: "We were always talked of as 'boy,' 'colored people,' 'you people,' never... a man or a person, you know."
But Hendricks says he and his fellow Marines were not deterred...
HENDRICKS: "America was the only country I know and I was proud of it. The segregation part was hard but I paid it no mind because back in them days, everyone was gung-ho to defeat the enemy and come on back and get to your regular life."
Between 1942 and 1949, 20,000 Black Marines trained at Montford Point. The Montford Point Marines as they're known, would go on to be celebrated in military history. Like the famed Tuskegee Airmen, they too were trailblazers.
After training, Hendricks saw a long tour in the Pacific...
HENDRICKS: "I was in Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa..."
But Hendricks says, while he was happy to return home after the war, there was still work to be done when he got back.
HENDRICKS: "We fought segregation fighting over there and we fought segregation when we got back home over here."
Hendricks says he would have liked to continue his military career when he returned from war, but was met with closed doors yet again. Hendricks would go on to work as an electrician's assistant and has lived in Vallejo, California ever since coming back from war.
More than six decades later, Hendricks and his fellow Montford Point Marines were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Here's California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi speaking at the ceremony in 2012.
PELOSI: "In the time of these Marines -- in the age of inequality -- breaking the color barrier in the Marine Corps took nothing less than perseverance, patriotism and courage of extraordinary proportions."
HENDRICKS: "That was a great day. I just can't say enough about that."
For his part, Hendricks, says he was never expecting to be awarded one of the nation's highest honors, especially since he and his fellow Black Marines were treated unequally by the service.
HENDRICKS: "We've come a long ways. And I have people in the service now -- like when I went back to Washington -- come up and said 'thank you for paving the way because I wouldn't be where I am without you.' And that makes you feel good. You feel like it was all worth it. But as a country, we still got a ways to go. We see changes coming now, but it's slow."
These days, Hendricks says he enjoys traveling as much as possible, seeing states across the U.S... Before the pandemic anyway. And he's proud of his grandkids... great grandkids... and great, great grandkids.
This Veterans Day, Hendricks says he'd like Americans to remember the determination of the Montford Point Marines and others during WWII. They deserve to be honored, he says. I'm Robert Garrova.

That was Robert Garrova reporting from Los Angeles. This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.That’s it for the podcast today, thanks for listening and have a great Veterans Day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.