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At risk of becoming a banking desert

 November 5, 2021 at 8:59 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Friday, October 5th.

A shortage of banks in Imperial county. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

The 2021 school safety summit took place on Thursday. It brought together over 145 community members to learn about best practices to prevent targeted school violence.

Tim Ware is the coordinator for school safety and security for the San Diego county office of education.

“we have to shore up our foundation from a social standpoint and not just continue to put bandaids on things, so this is important to open the eyes of people and say look, ‘we need to do more.’”

The county office of education is introducing an online school safety tool kit that will help administrators, educators and teachers keep students safe.


The pentagon released a new report showing San Diego county receives more money from the pentagon than almost any other county in the country. Aside from defense contracting, San Diego County leads the country in the amount spent on military payroll - more than $7 billion was spent locally on personnel in 2020 - well above the second largest payroll, honolulu hawaii.


The San Diego Humane society says it’s in need of volunteers willing to foster animals for one to three months over the holiday season. One of the foster options is the Safety net foster programs, intended to keep pet owners facing hardships from having to give up their pets. According to SDHS, by offering a foster solution the pet never has to enter the shelter system and can return to their family where they belong after a temporary stay with a foster volunteer.


From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Access to banking is an important part of a community’s health and, as KPBS race and equity reporter Cristina Kim finds… in Imperial County a shortage of bank branches and rising temperatures can be a dangerous mix.

Noon is still hours away on a Tuesday in early August, but the streets of E l Centro, California are so hot it feels like the soles of your shoes could melt into the asphalt.

When the clock strikes 8 a.m...the temperature is already pushing past 100 degrees.

Suffering in this heat are lines of people, many eldery, outside Bank of America and Wells Fargo branches. Beads of sweat form on the faces of customers, many of them seniors, as they wait patiently to use the ATM or talk to a teller.

Ahorita en tiempo de calor es insuportable estar esperando para el cartero automatico porque no hay ni sombras ni nada.”

Juan Siqueria is an agricultural worker from Holtville, CA. He waited an hour just to use the Bank of America ATM during his break… He says… during the high heat season the wait for an ATM is unbearable because there’s no shade or anything.

Maria Lopez is retired and lives here in El Centro. She says she nearly fainted once when waiting at the bank on a hot day.

“Y viene hacer linea y me sentia mal y una senora me dijo senora esta bien estas bien demacrada y dije si y corrieron para dentro y me entraron a lo fresco.”

She was rushed indoors where it was cooler, but to this day she can’t be out in the heat for long without getting sick.

“Yo no puede andar mucho en el calor porque me pongo mala.”

The local Wells Fargo branches in El Centro and Calexico have devised systems so that people have access to shade and someone is always there directing the flow of people.

So how did it come to this?

El Centro is in Imperial County, situated on the edge of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. But the region is at risk of becoming another type of desert -- a BANKING desert.

There are only 12 brick and mortar FDIC insured banks for Imperial County’s over 180,000, predominantly Latino and low-income residents, down from 19 as recently as 2013. That breaks down to one bank for approximately every 15,000 residents.

I think we have seen a fair amount of branch consolidation in the past several years

That’s Beth Mills, a spokesperson for the Western Bank Association. She says consumer habits are driving the change… making branches less important.

There's been a lot less people going into branches now, with everyone doing mobile banking

But Jaysel Mendoza, the Director of the Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center, says not everyone is online savvy and the lack of bank branches can be challenging for the small business owners she works with…

The Culture here is very different I can honestly say that most business owners want to sit down and sit in front of a person and know who they are conducting business with, very traditional as opposed to going online and saying hey, I am going to check out these services.

Mendoza says brick and mortars are especially important in Imperial County where people come in not just to bank, but for help.

When I worked at a bank, I remember I would have individuals come in who didn’t speak English and they would come in and say I got this letter… and it wasn’t even related to the bank.. And i would say OK you know let me help you for me it was more like that could be my grandparents and what if no one helped my grandparents and so let’s help them.”

Maria Lopez…. who nearly fainted waiting in line one time… tells me she doesn’t know how to bank online and isn’t interested.

“No se hacer eso mija no mas vengo a la caja y vengo a la caja todo el tiempo porque ahi esta todo mi dinero.”

She likes to use the ATM because that’s how she gets cash. She wishes there were more banks in the area so people wouldn’t have to wait so long.

Me gustaria si hubiera mas bancos para que la genta no tubiera que hacer tanta linea.”

Juan Lopez of Well Fargo is no stranger to the lines. His own mom likes to go in and talk with the teller. I ask him if he thinks more branches could help alleviate the lines.

Probably not the best person to answer that, but I would say I would say very strong, maybe.

But bridging more branches doesn’t look like it will happening anytime soon, leaving people waiting in front of Imperial’s few bank branches no matter what thermometer reads.

He does say, however, that when the branches started to close in Calexico a few years ago. The lines got longer.

pas those shudder and consultant leave leave the community, the lines just scared. Well, you know, progressively worse because you were the only bank there in Calexico,.

Less than a mile from the Mexico Border and littered with cash checking places… Calexico’s only has the single Wells Fargo branch… where lines can take up to three hours.

California State Senator Ben Hueso represents Imperial County. He told KPBS in a statement, that banking access is “Huge problem in the valley.”

He has co-authored two recent bills that have paved the way for public banking options, which he says are needed because quote “this issue is not going away” end quote.

For now though, people are still lining up at Imperial’s few banks….no matter what the thermometer reads.

Cristina Kim, KPBS News.


The family of a man killed by border patrol is calling for an investigation into secret "shadow units" that allegedly cover up agent misconduct.

kpbs reporter tania thorne has more.

It’s been 11 years since the death of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, who was beaten by border patrol agents near the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

His death was ruled a homicide, but no charges against the agents involved were filed.

Now, new evidence suggests that an internal Border Patrol team interfered with the investigation, meant to be in the jurisdiction of the San Diego Police Department.

“We discovered Border Patrols Critical Incident Investigative Team’ or CIIT teams operate without any lawful authority to do so. This last month we were able to view the CIIT parallel report and compare it with SDPD’s report and found that the CIIT altered government documents, interfered with investigation and withheld critical information from San Diego Police Dept.”

Michelle Celleri is the human rights counsel for Alliance San Diego, the organization representing Anastasio’s widow, Maria Puga.

Puga and justice advocates, delivered a letter to the district attorney’s office requesting an investigation into these so-called ‘shadow units’ .

A similar letter requesting investigation into the CIIT teams was sent to Congress last month.

A statement from the District Attorney’s office said, ‘The District Attorney’s Office stands ready to pursue justice when the evidence supports it and where we have jurisdiction. ’

At spokesperson for CBP told KPBS that the U.S. Border Patrol disbanded their critical incident team in San Diego several years ago.



federal regulators have announced new rules on vaccinations for private companies with 100 or more workers. They must require their employees to be fully vaccinated by January fourth or require that employees undergo weekly testing.

kpbs reporter Kitty Alvarado has details on how this will affect local workers.

the occupational safety and health administration says it issued this emergency standard to protect the nation’s unvaccinated workers.

todd walters is the president of the united food and commercial workers union in san diego. he says unions still have the right to negotiate terms with employers.

the union position is we don’t want to see members losing their jobs because of the vaccine mandates.

medical and religious exemptions will be allowed... but those who qualify will face weekly testing and must wear masks.

while employers are off the hook for the cost of testing, they will be fined $14 thousand per violation.

kitty alvarado kpbs news.


Coming up.... Misinformation about vaccines for kids is already spreading online after the CDC approved covid-19 vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11 this week. We’ll have a full fact check on kids and vaccines for them next, just after the break.

This week the CDC approved COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11.

But misinformation about kids and the vaccines continues to spread on social media. CapRadio’s PolitiFact California reporter Chris Nichols explains the facts in this week’s Can You Handle The Truth segment.

He spoke with anchor Randol White.

ANCHOR: Chris, throughout the pandemic, false information about kids and COVID-19 has persisted -- including the claim that children don’t get sick from the coronavirus and don’t need to be vaccinated.

What are the facts on this?

CHRIS: Hey Randol. You’re right, there has been a lot of bad information on this topic. Here’s what we know:

Children tend to get more mild cases of COVID-19. It’s rare for them to get really sick or be hospitalized. But there are exceptions.

Yolo County Public Health Officer Aimee Sisson told a virtual town hall this week the disease still can have serious consequences for children. She cited CDC data.

“Across the United States, since the beginning of the pandemic, 791 children ages 0 to 17 have died from Covid. And 172 of these were between the ages of 5 and 11, which are the ages that we are talking about expanding vaccine authorization into.”

Sisson said she strongly recommends children get vaccinated against COVID-19.

ANCHOR: Given that there are millions of children in the United States, some skeptics might say the figures for child hospitalizations and deaths are low. What do experts say about that?

CHRIS: As Sisson pointed out in this town hall, the numbers might seem small but that’s because child deaths are always rare, from any cause.

But COVID-19 has become one of the leading causes of death for kids this year.

Among children ages five through 14, it ranked as the number 6 leading cause of death in August and September. And that’s according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

ANCHOR: That is pretty sobering. … Still, there are many people, including parents, who have questions about whether the COVID-19 vaccine itself is safe for children. What do we know about this?

CHRIS: To be approved for children, COVID-19 vaccines have to go through a lengthy process. They are tested in human trials and must meet the FDA’s standards for safety and effectiveness.

When they recommended the vaccine for young children this week, both the FDA and CDC pointed to the results of the trials conducted by Pfizer … for their vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

ANCHOR: Remind us what those studies found.

CHRIS: Pfizer’s study included 4,600 children worldwide … and it found its vaccine was 90 percent effective against COVID-19 among young children.

Notably, the vaccine for kids 5 to 11 will be one-third the dose given to teens and adults.

ANCHOR: Finally, Chris, concerns have been raised about the COVID-19 vaccine’s connection to young people developing myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. What do we know about that?

CHRIS: The CDC has confirmed nearly 900 cases of vaccine-related myocarditis in people age 30 or younger, but cases have generally been mild and there have been no deaths.

But health officials say the coronavirus itself is more likely to cause myocarditis than the vaccine, … one pediatric cardiologist who studies the disease for the CDC said this week "The bottom line is getting COVID, is much riskier to the heart than getting this vaccine.”

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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El Centro is in Imperial County, situated on the edge of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. But the region is at risk of becoming another type of desert — a banking desert. Meanwhile, human rights advocates delivered a letter to District Attorney Summer Stephan on Thursday requesting an investigation into secret Border Patrol ‘shadow units’ that allegedly covered up agents' misconduct. A similar letter was sent to Congress last month. Plus, we have a full fact check about kids getting covid-19 vaccines.