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Child Care Centers Still Struggling

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Thursday, July 29th. >>>> Day care providers are still struggling More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines…. ######## California public health officials are supporting the latest mask recommendations from the centers for disease control and prevention. They’re now saying all Californians should return to indoor masking even if they are vaccinated. San Diego county is also now asking people to do the same. Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says masking is a tool that can help slow the spread of the virus but says the vaccine is still the best protection. "but the single most effective thing people can do is get vaccinated. 99% of covid patients and deaths are among the unvaccinated. get a vaccine that offers your best protection.” He says efforts to vaccinate individuals will continue. ######### San Diego City Councilmembers heard the results of a new audit of the city's real estate dealings on wednesday. The audit was prompted by the scandal surrounding 101 Ash Street. That's the high-rise office building that the city paid millions for... but has been unable to occupy due to asbestos and other issues. The city auditor found former Mayor Kevin Faulconer and his staff failed to follow best practices like requiring independent appraisals and building inspections. Councilmember Joe LaCava acknowledged the safeguards recommended in the audit may slow the process down. “We may lose some good real estate acquisitions because we need extra time to make sure that we are doing things right, and a seller may not be willing to wait. And I think that is okay.” Mayor Todd Gloria has agreed to implement the audit’s recommendations. ######### Last night an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Alaska, prompting the national weather service to consider the possibility of a tsunami striking southern california. As of early this morning, the NWS gave an all clear. They say there’s no tsunami threat for So Cal, but that stronger than normal currents are possible in the harbors and bays later this morning. ######### From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. Child care centers were hit hard here in San Diego and across the country during the pandemic. And their troubles aren’t going away, even with the pandemic in a new phase. KPBS reporter Claire Trageser talked to providers who are still taking precautions while trying to stay afloat financially. Randy Lum broll of Miles and Emilia in “Randy Videos” folder It’s been a rough past year and a half for Randy Lum and his four-year-old son Miles. So they were excited for Miles’ first day at a new preschool last week. But their excitement didn’t last long. “We caught a summer cold, and with any cold to go back to school, you need a negative COVID test.” After just one day at school, Miles was home again. He went back on a Friday. But on Saturday, they got more bad news. “I got a call from the YMCA saying one of the kids in his class tested positive, and that kid was at school on Friday, so Miles was exposed. Now his class is shut down for two weeks.” Lum and his wife, Abigail, are back to a reality they thought they’d moved past... trying to work from home while taking care of Miles and his younger sister Emelia. Though Emelia wasn’t exposed, they’re also keeping her home for two weeks. “Abi is upstairs working and I’m downstairs, down here with the devils. At most child care centers, it still looks like 2020. Kids 12 and under are unvaccinated, so everyone ages two and up are wearing masks. And providers are still taking other precautions--which is hard on their business. So says Laura Kohn, an early education and childcare adviser. “Some are choosing to serve fewer kids, or stay in stable groups, and all of that reduces the total amount of revenue they can pull in and already they were operating at very thin margins.” More than 500 child care businesses closed during 2020, according to a report from the San Diego YMCA. Sally Chenoweth, the owner of Discovery Preschool in Oceanside, says she’s now at 70% capacity. And she’s allowing groups of kids to mix in the morning and evening so she can extend her hours. But she can’t count on consistency, especially now that the delta variant is causing cases to surge again. “I’m kind of expecting that with the way cases are going, there’s a chance the county will come back and say we need to go back to stable groups. We could have called our entire wait list and let everyone in, but we’re so worried we’ll go back in the other direction, then I’ll have to tell all these people to leave and go do something else.” Chenoweth says she, like many providers, are struggling to hire new staff. She’s also had to pass on costs to parents-- this year she raised rates by 8%. Holly Weber, the owner of Magic Hours Childrens’ Center in Mira Mesa, says she’s at 60% capacity now. And she’s stuck at that level because she can’t hire more qualified staff to increase class sizes. “The only thing that’s stopping us is having a qualified staff member to continue to build.” The COVID vaccine for kids 2 and up should be a glimmer of hope on the horizon--it could possibly come by late fall or early winter. But it doesn’t make Weber feel much better. “Once it’s available, how many parents will be comfortable..00:14:30:01 what if I have significant portion of parents who are uncomfortable? How much longer are these restrictions going to continue to affect child development centers?” One positive is that masks have really cut down the typical illnesses that usually course through daycare centers. Weber says she plans to use them well into the future during cold and flu season. But she’s worried about the developmental impacts. “We have two year olds who have never seen the faces of their caregivers.” For parents like Lum, he knows the year ahead will likely involve staying home from work when a kid is sick--even with just a runny nose. And that puts new weight on his day-to-day decisions. “Having kids at home who are not vaccinated, I’m going to wear a mask like nothing has changed, because nothing has changed for them.” And that reporting from KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traegser. ########## A San Diego County school official says there’s been a lot of misinformation about enforcement of mask wearing. KPBS’ Melissa Mae has more. San Diego County’s Office of Education is making it clear that masks are not optional for schools… they are required inside classrooms. Bob Mueller (MEW-ler) is the Assistant Incident Commander for COVID-19 Response for San Diego County Office of Education. Bob Mueller // San Diego County Office of Education “School districts don’t have the choice to not enforce. They are clearly required to enforce.” Earlier this month, the Alpine Union School District voted to make masks optional. . Mueller says it doesn’t work that way. Bob Mueller // San Diego County Office of Education “The guidance is really clear, masks are required indoors for all students, except people with medical exemptions and adults have to wear them in indoor settings as well.” A school district does have control over how to bring a student into compliance with masks. They have the option to educate children in an outdoor space or through virtual learning. Mueller says with the elimination of physical distancing, universal mask use indoors becomes even more important. Matthew Schneck // East Village High School Teacher “Facial masks are basically what has kept us safe throughout this pandemic when we returned to in person instruction back in April.” Matthew Schneck is an 11th and 12th grade teacher at East Village High School. He says staff and educators there were united when it came to mask wearing. Matthew Schneck // East Village High School Teacher ‘There was no pushback from educators about wearing masks at all.” Schneck says the benefits of wearing masks outweighs the hindrances in school. Matthew Schneck // East Village High School Teacher “One of the reasons why I want to have our children wear masks in schools is so that they can stay in school. Absences, we know that even during regular times, absences affect student’s academic performance.” The high school teacher doesn’t like the idea of no mask enforcement. Matthew Schneck // East Village High School Teacher “I would be terrified if kids were just allowed to decide I can wear a mask if I want to, if I don’t want to. I would not want to be teaching students that were unmasked. That would scare me.” The mask requirement is being challenged by some parent groups, who are suing the state over it. That suit is still pending. Melissa Mae KPBS News. ######### A group of moms in Vista became concerned a few years ago about all of the trash littering their neighborhood. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne says rather than walking past it, they decided to do something about it. Every Wednesday morning, Jovita Serafin gets supplies ready for her volunteers. She supplies buckets, trash bags, gloves, and grabbers for the group of people meeting her at Luz Duran Park in Vista. Translated: “We're a group of volunteer moms and grandmas and right now since the kids are out of school, the children come and help too.” They call themselves “Guerreras En Accion para un Vista Limpio” or “Warriors in action for a cleaner Vista. Translated: “We want to see our community clean with a healthy environment for our children, for the elderly that walk the streets, and for the people that are in wheelchairs. Some of the wheelchairs are hand pushed and their hands get dirty because of all the trash that the wheelchairs touch.” Serafin says the group often picks up masks, used needles and syringes, pet feces, and bottles. Translated: “We want to raise awareness for Vista residents to please join us by keeping our city clean. Dispose of your trash correctly, especially face masks. We’ve been finding that a lot.” The group has been cleaning the streets of Vista for two years. Michael Saldana is a firefighter with the Vista Firefighters Association and a Vista resident. He often volunteers with the group. MICHAEL SALDANA/VISTA FIREFIGHTERS ASSOCIATION “It started off pretty rough, there was a lot of trash they were finding, a lot of needles, and that's what it was born out of, them finding needles as they walk their kids to school, finding a lot of trash as they walk their kids to school . Instead of writing someone or trying to make waves they decided to take responsibility for it and organize these walks.” Marouf suleiman, a firefighter paramedic with the Vista Fire Department says he especially enjoys seeing the kids volunteer with the group. Marouf suleiman/VISTA FIREFIGHTERS ASSOCIATION “Just us being with the kids here today,just walking around, they kind of get the exposure. Not only that but they’re asking what we do . We’re exposing the kids to us helping out and no they want to get more involved too. Theyre like ‘well we should do more things like this and its just awesome seeing theses young guys out here and gals.” I asked the kids why they like to volunteer. “Because we want our town to be clean. How does it make you feel when you see all this trash everywhere? Sad… And that reporter was kpbs north country reporter Tanian Thorne. The volunteers meet at Luz Duran Park in Vista every wednesday at 9am. And they welcome any new volunteers of all ages to come and help. ########### A new bill signed into law by governor newsom will help california farmers access fire insurance. The move comes after record wildfires saw insurance companies fleeing the market. inewsource reporter camille von kaenel explains. when insurance companies won’t cover your home or business because of high fire risk ... in california … you can turn to a last-resort insurance pool that’s required to provide coverage. but that excluded farmers -- until now. under the new law, that back-up pool must cover barns and storage buildings on farms. san diego county farm bureau’s hannah gbeh says it’s good news. gbeh: there’s still work to be done to ensure all farmers have access to affordable insurance. but certainly this is a great step in the right direction. (00:09) but she says, rising insurance costs are making the business of farming difficult. Inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS. ########## Coming up.... Lenders for the civic center plaza want to evict the city from the building. It’s unclear what that means for the more than 800 city employees who work there. We’ll hash that out next, just after the break. Civic Center Plaza building lenders say they want their rent paid. And they’ve filed suit to evict city offices and more than 800 employees from the building. The dispute is part of an ongoing effort by the city to get out of an expensive and allegedly unlawful real estate deal, which includes the abandoned 101 Ash street building. Now that the legal battle includes the Civic Center Plaza – an iconic space in downtown San Diego – the complicated real estate dispute may be having even more consequences. That’s beyond the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars already sunk into the deal. Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter with the Voice of San Diego who’s been covering the story. She spoke with KPBS Midday Edition Host Maureen Kavanaugh. Here’s that interview. Isn't the city paying its rent on civic center Plaza? Speaker 2: 00:54 The city attorney decided late last month that the city should try to back away from both its 1 0 1 Ash and civic center Plaza leases, and thus should not be paying rent anymore. Speaker 1: 01:09 And how has the Plaza been drawn into the Ash street concrete? Speaker 2: 01:13 So late last month, there was a big revelation that the city's landlord at civic center Plaza Astera development, who also did the one-to-one Ash deal with the city paid the city's real estate consultant, who was the volunteer, Jason Hughes, just over $5 million for his work on civic center Plaza and $4.4 million for his work on one-on-one Ash. Now that is significant because of a government code section known as 10 90, which essentially says that people who are acting in an official capacity, which can include people who are consultants or contractors should not financially benefit from deals that they broker in those official roles. And so the city attorney said that both of these deals should be voided. And the city's chief operating officer sent a notice to the city's landlord early this month saying there would not be any more rent payments coming for civic center Plaza. Speaker 1: 02:13 Give us an idea if you would about the city departments that could potentially be involved in this eviction effort. Well, Speaker 2: 02:20 So there are about 850 city employees that report to this building probably has been some of a decrease because of the pandemic. We know so many folks are working from home, but there are more than a dozen city departments that have this building as their headquarters, city treasurer's office, the city's it department, the city attorney's office. I have occupies multiple floors of this building. Um, even the cities city TV that some of us watch to monitor city council meetings is in this building. So they're really a lot of questions about what will happen next for these employees and these departments. Speaker 1: 02:59 But, uh, there is a charter school there that's not affected by this eviction threat. Speaker 2: 03:05 Yes, king Chavez, uh, community high school, which is, uh, as you said, a charter school basically has been sort of set aside here. The lender has said that it's not going to try to kick the school out. They're essentially a subtenant, so they pay rent to the city, but they, you know, again, the lender has said, they're not going to be trying to put the high school. Speaker 1: 03:26 Now, as you said, a city attorney, Mara Elliot's office is calling the lawsuit gamesmanship because of this lawsuit that the city has filed in an effort to avoid both the civic center and Ash street, real estate deals. But my question is, does the lender actually have the right to evict the city for non-payment of rent? Speaker 2: 03:46 Well, that will certainly be for a court to decide. And it will be interesting to see how this plays out, because right now these are two separate legal actions. You have the unlawful detainer case, essentially an eviction action. And then you also have these other legal actions seeking to essentially quash, both leases. Um, the city will have once it's actually served in the unlawful detainer case five days to respond, um, one legal expert. I talked to suggested that the city may want to, or try to, uh, put together these multiple cases because they could then sort of link the issues and actually buy themselves more time because eviction cases typically move pretty quickly pre COVID. They typically moved in about 45 to 60 days, um, which may seem like for most of us a longer period of time. But when we're talking about, you know, hundreds of city employees and lots of city departments, 45 to 60 days would be real panic mode for the city, Speaker 1: 04:48 Former mayor. Now recall candidate Kevin Faulkner tied up in all of this. Speaker 2: 04:53 Well, that's a great question, Maureen, because I also have a lot of questions about what former mayor Kevin Faulkner new Hugh's attorney, um, is making the case that the former mayor actually signed off, um, on Hugh's ability to be paid for his work on these more complex deals. Um, and also, you know, produced a letter, uh, that he says was signed by the city's former real estate director at the mayor's direction saying in fact, the Hughes could be paid. The attorney also produced text messages between the mayor's former chief of staff, um, and Hughes talking about this letter. Um, and I was able to look back at some calendars that I had obtained after public records request, um, showing that there was in fact, a meeting between the mayor and Jason Hughes on the day that that letter was signed, but the, the mayor has really not directly addressed this issue. Speaker 2: 05:50 He's implied in some statements that he did not know that he used was being paid and that the payments were not. And certainly former Faulkner administration officials have really pushed back pretty hard. The former city real estate director said that she doesn't recall signing such a letter and the mayor's former chief of staff has pushed back and criticized use and said that, that the idea that they knew that he was being paid was wrong. Um, but there are still a lot of questions that I have for former mayor Faulkner, um, about what he knew. And, uh, I think would benefit from some direct answers from him. Speaker 1: 06:28 Now, city attorney Mara Elliot's office says this city will make every effort to, and here's a quote, ensure public services go uninterrupted throughout court proceedings. But what is the potential for disruption of public services during this legal process? Speaker 2: 06:46 No, Maureen, it's really hard to say. Um, certainly the experts I spoke to who work on these sorts of eviction cases say that there will be lots of opportunities for the city to try to drag this out. And what would imagine, certainly when we're talking about the headquarters of so many city departments and so many, um, employees that the city will make every effort to try to keep those employees in that building. Um, but the city ultimately did make the call to not pay rent here. And traditionally that is something that could create the possibility of an eviction. Um, obviously in this case, the city attorney, as you pointed out is saying there's a lot more going on here that led the city attorney to stop paying rent. Um, but I guess we'll just have to see what comes next. And this one I'll certainly be closely following it. Speaker 1: 07:35 I know that you will. And that was Lisa Halverstadt, voice of San diego reporter, speaking with KPBS Midday Edition Host Maureen Kavanaugh. That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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The child care providers that survived the pandemic are struggling to stay afloat with smaller class sizes and more rigorous precautions against illness. Meanwhile, a San Diego County school official says masks are absolutely required when schools reopen – and schools do not have the choice about whether or not to enforce that mandate. Plus, lenders behind the city’s Civic Center Plaza lease are officially trying to evict the city and hundreds of employees from their downtown office space.