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Police Drones In Chula Vista

Cover image for podcast episode

MIKE DAMRON

A man wearing headphones controls a Chula Vista Police Department drone from a computer while sitting at a desk, Feb 5. 2020.

The Chula Vista Police Department is the first police agency in the nation to be able to respond to 911 calls and emergencies with drones. But the move has its critics. Meanwhile, there’s a fight going on to save The Flying Leathernecks Museum at MCAS Miramar. Plus, a deeper look at the KPBS special series covering small businesses impacted by the Pandemic.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, March 22nd.

Chula Vista police can use drones from anywhere in the city.

More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

County officials have approved a COVID-19 vaccination site at San Diego State University’s Viejas arena. In an email, SDSU officials say the site will open this tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The site’s goal is to eventually administer 1500 vaccines a day. Vaccine appointments must be made through the county’s website.

Meanwhile, Governor Gavin Newsom says current protocols of using age and health conditions to determine eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine could end by May.

We're anticipating within five and a half weeks where we can eliminate all of the tiering, so to speak, and make available vaccines to everybody across the spectrum because supply will exponentially increase.”

Newsom says 1.8 million new doses of the vaccine will arrive in California next week and the only constraint on the speed of giving the shots is manufacturer supply.

The deadline to register to vote in the 79th district special election is today (monday). Eligible voters can register at S-D-vote-dot-com up until midnight tonight. The special election is to fill now-Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s former state assembly seat. The 79th district includes south-east San Diego, La mesa, Lemon Grove, parts of Chula Vista, Bonita and National City.

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

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

The chula vista police department responds to many 911 calls by sending out drones. Now they’ve become the first in the nation to expand drone coverage to the entire city. But the move hasn’t come without its critics.

KPBS’ jacob aere reports.

Since 2018, Chula Vista police have been able to deploy drones as first responders for select law enforcement situations. In August 2019, the program was expanded to cover 33% of the city’s area. Now the F-A-A's giving them permission to expand that coverage to all of Chula Vista. It is the first police agency in the country to be able to do so.

Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy says the Drone as First Responder program helps reduce response times, and keeps the community and officers safe.

Roxana Kennedy | Chula Vista Police Chief

“These drones provide real time information to our officers while they're in the field. The drones are up -- they arrive usually prior to officers arrival. And they are able, through their cell phones or their mobile data computers, to feed them live information about what’s actually occurring.”

Chief Kennedy says one of the main advantages of the drones is helping to de-escalate otherwise unknown situations.

“Officers have the ability then to see, is this an armed individual? Is this just someone pacing in the street? Do I really need to respond into the area or would it be better for me to stay back? Do they have a pen in their hand or is it a knife in their hand? So it gives them that real, critical information to make better decisions and be able to de-escalate situations so that everyone goes home safely.”

But UC San Diego professor Lilly Irani says the drones have increased surveillance of the Chula Vista population without proper community input on the program.

Lilly Irani | UC San Diego Professor

“Of course a camera flying in the sky takes a lot of information beyond the information that might be targeted or publicly acceptable. The camera can look into private property, it might be able to see what's going on in people's backyards, it might be able to look into sites of religious worship that the community hasn't talked about.”

To date, the Chula Vista Police Department says its DFR program has responded to over 5,400 calls for service and the drone was the first on-scene to over 2,500 incidents. All drone flights are logged, and flight data and maps are available on the police department website. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.

And that was KPBS’ Jacob Aere

Residents in tiny Jacumba Hot Springs are fighting back against a German company’s proposal to put 650 acres of solar panels next to their town. Here’s inewsource reporter Camille von Kaenel (cah-MEE von kah-NELL) with more.

VON KAENEL: Drive into Jacumba now and you’ll see early 20th century buildings and scenic mountains. In the future, you could see solar panels along the two-lane highway that runs through town. Jay Cousins owns Jay’s Southern Cafe. He fears his business and home value will suffer if the project gets the county’s OK.
COUSINS: If that is placed there, it’ll become an eyesore. People won't want to come and look at this place.
VON KAENEL: Many of the town’s 500 residents have protested against the project. Last week, the local planning group voted to urge the county to permit a much smaller solar farm -- 200 acres or less.
Cherry Diefenbach heads the group. She says the pandemic has made it harder for residents to learn about the project. In person meetings have been canceled and the county doesn’t record them.
DIEFENBACH: I’m just afraid this one's going to rear its ugly head and we won’t be -- we the community won't have had an adequate say.
The project could go before the Planning Commission this summer and the Board of Supervisors in the fall. The company behind the solar farm declined to be interviewed for this story.

That was inewsource reporter Camille von Kaenel. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

You could drive right by The Flying Leathernecks museum next to Miramar Road, and not even notice it. But there’s a fight going on to save the unique military museum, which is set to close on April 1st. KPBS’ John Caroll talked to those doing everything they can to keep it open, including retired Brigadier General Michael Aguilar of the Flying Leatherneck Foundation.

You could drive right by the Flying Leathernecks museum next to Miramar Road, and not even notice it. But there is so much here to notice… the only museum of it’s kind in the country.
CG: Brig. Gen. Michael Aguilar (Ret.)/Flying Leatherneck Foundation
SOT: “This is the only Marine museum dedicated to Marine Corps Aviation, so it’s a collection of around 46 iconic Marine Corps aircraft.”

This is what the museum is named after… 1951’s Flying Leathernecks starring John Wayne. It detailed the fight for Guadalcanal in World War II. They’re flying Grumman Hellcats….
There’s a Hellcat and a Wildcat plane here… and so many others that hearken to Marine Corps aviation over the years. The museum, which sits on MCAS Miramar land is about to fly off into the sunset, unless efforts to save it succeed.

“For the past 15 years, we’ve been trying to partner with the Marine Corps to come to a partnership with them that would allow us to take over the financial burden the Marine Corps has with running this museum.”

That burden amounts to about $460,000 a year. But it’s more complicated than that. The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Foundation is the museum’s operating entity even though it’s owned by the Marine Corps. For the Foundation to take over the place, they’d have to pay current fair market value for the land… and for a multi-acre piece fronting on Miramar Road… it would be well into the six figures. But Aguilar says there are other roads to avoid closure… and they certainly have support. Both Representatives Scott Peters and Darrell Issa are lobbying the Pentagon to save it. And one of San Diego’s leading museums has stepped up to help.

“It’s complicated.”

Air and Space Museum President and CEO Jim Kidrick says the museum he leads is doing everything it can to save its companion museum.

CG: Jim Kidrick/Air & Space Museum President & CEO
“Right now, I’d like to give it a 50/50 and 50/50 is probably better than where we were 3 three weeks ago or 4 weeks ago, so I think the meetings have been very, very productive.”

But if nothing can be worked out, some iconic, historic aircraft will have to go elsewhere… like this old chopper called Lady Ace ‘09.

“This is the actual aircraft that flew the American ambassador, Ambassador Martin and the American flag out of Vietnam when we pulled out of Vietnam.”

Some of our collection will undoubtedly stay in the San Diego area while other items will go to museums where the Marine aviation story isn’t currently told. Marines take great pride and reverence in our stories and legends, and we feel this is an opportunity to share that legacy with others dedicated to history.”

Inside, the closure process is well underway… artifacts being put in storage or sent elsewhere for display. A final decision now rests at the Pentagon, with the Commandant of the Corps. Meantime, the museum, which is free, is open. this weekend… perhaps one of the last times San Diegans will be able to visit… the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum. JC, KPBS News.

That was KPBS’ John Caroll reporting. For now the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar is free and open to the public.

Thousands of former soldiers with less-than-honorable discharges might get upgrades soon. This month, a federal judge is expected to approve a settlement that would force the Army to possibly upgrade those discharges to honorable if there’s evidence of a mental health condition. Desiree Diorio (dee-OR-ee-oh) reports.

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.

Coming up....last week we brought you a special series on San Diego small businesses who were impacted by the pandemic. We’ll have a deeper look at that series next just after this break.

Local businesses have waited a long time for restrictions to ease on just how many people they can serve in-person. Restaurants, bars, salons and retail shops are now operating in the red tier as the local COVID-19 situation continues to improve. But many didn’t make it to this point.

Last week we brought you a KPBS special series by investigative reporter Claire Traegeser marking one year since the pandemic shutdowns began and the impact on small businesses across San Diego. She spoke with KPBS’ Andrew Bowen about her series.

That was KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traegeser, speaking with KPBS’ Andrew Bowen.

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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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.