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Water Rate Hikes In San Diego

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday, September 22nd. >>>> We’ll soon be paying more for water More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines…. ###### California now has the lowest coronavirus transmission rate of any state in the US. Just under 70 percent of California residents are fully vaccinated. Dr. Mark Sawyer is an infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego Health and Rady Children’s Hospital. He sits on an FDA advisory committee that recommended booster shots for those over 65 and those at high risk for catching the virus... like health care workers. "My anticipation is that CDC is going to follow the lead of the FDA committee and recommend that we at least start giving boosters to seniors and other high risk groups and once that recommendation becomes public information the vaccine is out there, we have the supply" (:17) The CDC advisory panel is meeting today (Wednesday) and Thursday. Depending on what happens, boosters could be approved as early as the end of this week. ######## Tuesday was the beginning of a massive move-in to on-campus housing at UC San Diego. In-person classes start Thursday. To protect students, the University is moving some classes outdoors, testing wastewater for COVID-19. Masks and vaccines are required with very few medical exemptions allowed for vaccines. ######## San Diego is one of six California cities joining a White House initiative to reduce homelessness. The plan is called "House America," and through it, state and local governments pledge to build new housing. Governor Gavin Newsom wants to create 84-thousand new affordable units across the state using state funding approved earlier this summer. We put up 12 billion dollars to address this issue. We’re going all in. We don’t want to play in the margins anymore. <<:08>> A quarter of the nation’s unhoused live in California. ######### From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. San Diegans will soon be paying more for water. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says, on Tuesday, the City Council approved a new rate structure that will also see some folks paying less. MMS: I know that this is not something that is going to be easy for a lot of people. I also know that we have to maintain our systems, because it could be a lot worse on the other end if we do not. AB: There's no getting around it: Water is an increasingly scarce resource in San Diego, and it's getting more expensive. The 3% increase in the city's water rates is to compensate for rising rates charged by the city's water wholesalers and the continuing need to repair aging pipelines. AB: The changes to the city's sewer fees are a bit more complicated. Right now, single-family homes are charged lower wastewater rates than apartments or businesses. The city determined that was unfair — so it's lowering sewer rates for businesses and apartments. Now they’ll pay the same rates as single-family homeowners, who will start paying more. RC: It's always difficult to increase rates. Asking ratepayers to contribute another penny is never ideal because we live in one of the least affordable regions in the United States. But we have a duty as elected officials to make those hard decisions that councils past have failed to do, which is to present you the public with the current reality. AB: That current reality: The city's water and wastewater infrastructure is in bad shape, and the city needs more money to fix it. The rate changes will start taking effect in January, with increases phased in through 2025. Andrew Bowen, KPBS news. ########## There’s been a huge increase in the number of people dying from overdoses of meth and fentanyl in San Diego County. KPBS reporter John Carroll has more on the staggering numbers - and what the county is doing about it. During a pandemic, it’s easy to overlook. But listening to San Diego County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Steven Campman focuses the mind on a crisis in our midst. Dr. Steven Campman/Chief Medical Examiner “The number of deaths due to methamphetamine is continuing to increase, more deaths this year than before.” The deaths due to fentanyl has hugely increased.” Dr. Campman’s calm demeanor belies the magnitude of the problem. The information comes from the just released report cards from the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force and the Meth Strike Force. Over the last five years, total meth-caused deaths jumped from 377 to 722 last year… a 92% increase. The situation with fentanyl is even more dire. 33 deaths in 2016 - up to 462 in 2020… a staggering 13-hundred percent jump. Dr. Campman says people often buy fentanyl injected into counterfeit pills of Oxycodone or Xanax. That highlights a larger cautionary tale that you never know what you’re getting when you buy drugs on the street. “We’ve seen people who thought they bought cocaine and died of fentanyl toxicity. There was no cocaine in them at all.” Overdoses from meth and fentanyl primarily kill men - from their mid-30’s to their mid-60’s. But perhaps more disturbingly - the crisis isn’t limited to adults. “The hospitals have seen infants and little kids in emergency rooms experiencing fentanyl toxicity.” And that was reporting from KPBS’ John Carrol. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, help is available. Call 888-724-7240. There are also resources available on the San Diego county website. On our website at you can find links to addiction resources. ########## The White House says it’s now looking into video footage of Border Patrol agents on horseback confronting Haitain migrants in Texas. Local Haitain leaders say they’re appalled at what they’ve seen. KPBS’ Alexandra Rangel has more from a local Haitain priest who says he’s on his way to Del Rio to help in any way he can. AR: Images of U.S. Custom Border Protection agents using aggressive tactics to deter Haitain migrants from crossing into Texas have circulated on the internet. Gee-on ill-e-zay duran-deez a pastor with the Haitain Ministry of San Diego says he was appalled by the treatment the Haitains received in Del Rio. In recent days an estimated 12-thousand undocumented Haitians have arrived to the border hoping to seek asylum. Duran-deez says Haiti is the last place these migrants want to return to. VM:“All of the Haistians their my brothers all of the Haitians are my sisters so that's why I’ll be in Texas to see what I can do and how I can work with them.” AR: DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas condemned the tactics used by border patrol and says a full investigation is being followed. Alexandra Rangel KPBS News. ######## Wildland firefighters accept risk when they head out to battle a blaze. But Cal Fire firefighters are getting sick, and some have even died, during training. This story is a collaboration between the investigative unit at Columbia Journalism School, the California Newsroom... and KPCC. Jacob Margolis and Brian Edwards have the report. On a hot July day a few years ago – Cal Fire firefighter Yaroslav Katkov was hiking on a trail near Temecula … when he collapsed. By the time he got was too late. He died at the age of 28 not on the fire line but while training. ASHLEY CUT 1 “They told me that everything that could’ve been done was done.” Ashley Vallario was Katkov’s longtime partner. ASHLEY CUT 2 “And I like believed them and I trusted them.” My reporting partner Brian and I reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from Cal Fire and Cal OSHA. We found a pattern of seasonal firefighters and inmates getting sick and some even dying during what should be one of the least dangerous things they do – training. Exactly Jacob. Over the last year and a half, almost four dozen Cal Fire firefighters have suffered from heat illness during training. And since 2003, five firefighters have died during training exercises….where experts say heat appears to have played a role in their deaths. And all these cases point to bigger issues within the agency. For one -- there’s a culture that values pushing on at all costs. Two -- CalFire has major issues with helping people improve their fitness levels safely. And three -- Even before they get started training, insiders say – Cal Fire’s process for catching pre-existing medical conditions is lacking. OK. Let’s start with the punitive culture issue. Cause it’s a big part of this story... Yeah - And seems to be a big part of Yaroslav Katkov’s story in particular. He collapsed and died AFTER being pushed by his Captain to do a training hike a second time. After he’d already been showing signs of heat illness. Cal Fire demoted the captain after the investigation. We were told by multiple current and former Cal Fire employees that pushing firefighters beyond their breaking points – is common. In a written response Cal Fire said it vigorously rejects the notion that a punitive culture exists. BUT there have been similar issues since Katkov’s death... Edwards 1 “I’ll admit it, we had problems in San Diego in the last four months.” That’s Cal Fire union president Tim Edwards, who spoke with us after we shared what we found He says that a supervisor had to be admonished for the way he was treating seasonal firefighters. Edwards 3 “Making them hike when they weren’t feeling good. Making them hike thinking if he pushed them a little bit further it would help them.” Another reason CalFire firefighters are getting injured during training? Uneven physical fitness standards and a lack of consistent training standards. That’s a problem for seasonal firefighters, who might take six months off between deployments and not show up in “fire fighting shape.” Here’s Edwards again. Edwards 4 “Is there a physical fitness standard coming onto the job? No, there's not absolutely not we've been pushing for years for one.” In a statement Cal Fire said, quote “Each must do his/her part year-round to ensure that they are preparing for the upcoming fire season.” Our investigation found many firefighters don’t always get clear guidelines for improvement after taking the winter off. According to the injury reports we reviewed, a majority of the seasonal firefighters that got sick with heat in the last year and a half did not have documented conditioning plans. And the final big issue? Seasonal firefighters usually only get BASIC physicals before they start working. In the Katkov investigation documents...Cal Fire Captain Cesar Nerey is quoted as saying: “You could get a better physical playing high school football than the one required by Cal Fire.” Other departments often require firefighters to go through more extensive testing before they start in the field. Meaning – for Cal Fire firefighters – there’s a chance that bigger, unknown pre-existing conditions could be missed. When we spoke with Ashley Vallario, Katkov’s long time partner, she was angry. Ashley Cut 3 “You're supposed to have faith that those people would keep them safe. … It definitely shows what kind of leadership that they're willing to allow.” How to keep firefighters safe during training is a question that will only become more pressing… as California’s wildfire outlook continues to worsen. I’m Jacob Margolis And I’m Brian Edwards. ########## Coming up.... Survivors of past fires have a message for new fire victims navigating the world of wildfire litigation: “buyer beware.” We’ll have more on that next, just after the break. As fires ravage Northern California, lawyers have descended on the region in a bid to sign up victims.. as clients. The wildfire litigation industry has become big business for attorneys in recent years. But survivors of past fires have a message for new fire victims: buyer beware. From KQED and the California Newsroom, Lily Jamali reports. Ash falls from the sky as Sandy Sullens finishes up a plate of barbeque chicken with her family and other evacuees at a park near the Plumas County courthouse here in the Northeastern corner of the state. They’re still reeling from the loss of their home of 51 years to the Dixie Fire The Dixie Fire has burned almost a million acres - making it the biggest in California history. Well, want to hear what’s being done. Because you don’t know. You only hear. It’s the same story over and over and over again. PG&E…. Days after the Dixie Fire broke out, the utility PG&E indicated to state regulators that its equipment may have played a role in sparking the blaze. The air is thick with smoke both from the fire and from the barbeque -- which is free. It’s been organized by a group of lawyers. One is local. Bret Cook has been the Sullens’s lawyer for many years. We’re just providing some food for people evacuated from the Dixie Fire. It’s a way to give back to the community. It was simply a way of putting a little smile on their face. Cook has teamed up with the law group Potter Handy based hundreds of miles south of here in San Diego -- and some of those lawyers have flown up for the event.. But not far from the brisket and butter horn rolls, there’s a stack of papers ... contracts.. to sign up with the firm in exchange for 25% of any reward. This is hardly the only firm on the prowl. “We know the destruction of wildfires all too well. When utility companies neglect maintenance and safety, homes and lives can be lost.” At least two dozen firms are making the rounds, many with the promise of suing PG&E. The utility’s equipment has sparked a catastrophic wildfire nearly every year since 2015. “Thousands of survivors’ research brought them to the Watts Guerra law firm. “ This ad is for a law group headed by Mikal Watts, an attorney based in Texas, who traveled to the fire zone to hold a town hall meeting in a public library. It featured famed consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, who joined on Zoom. She’s been a paid spokesperson for the group. Watts boasts of his role negotiating a settlement for 70,000 victims of fires caused by PG&E from 2015 to 2018. That deal promised fire victims $13.5 billion. But the deal isn’t worth that, and never has been. In a highly unusual outcome, half of it was funded as stock of PG&E which remains depressed as PG&E is implicated in more fires. The head of a special trust set up to distribute their money told us the fire victims will “never be made whole.” Victoria Gann saw an ad for Watt’s townhall on Facebook -- she lost her home in Paradise in the 2018 Camp Fire and is still living in a trailer: Oh, God, it made me sick and it made me mad. You know, like it's right on the heels of it, like, you know, give these people breaks. Gann is one of a number of fire survivors from the past who’ve been mobilizing to try to educate those now going through the harrowing experience they know all too well. And it's kind of like a dog and pony show, you know, that he puts on out there and puts on the act of a good guy. Watts declined to be interviewed. But in an email, Watts said:the deal was one he was - quote- very proud to have worked with fine lawyers across California to achieve on behalf of all our clients. “David Hollister, the district attorney in Plumas County, has some advice for victims of the Dixie Fire: “This is a big life-changing decision. so we want you to take a step back, take a deep breath, do all the research you can and make a good choice that's going to protect yourself going forward.“ Hollister says the last thing he wants is for people who just lost everything to be victimized twice. And that reporting from KEQDs Lily Jamali. KUNR’s Paul Boger contributed to this story. 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.

It’s official: San Diegans will soon be paying more for water. Meanwhile, Cal Fire firefighters are getting sick, and some have even died, during training. Plus, survivors of past fires have a message for new fire victims considering hiring a lawyer: “buyer beware.”