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Garbage pile-up

 December 22, 2021 at 8:18 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday December 22nd

Sanitations workers on strike

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

UC San Diego says it’s moving to online instruction only between January 3rd and 17th. They say it’s in anticipation of a surge of omicron variant covid-19 cases. The shift follows a weekend announcement that UCSD School of Medicine researchers have found an "unprecedented" spike in COVID- 19 viral load in wastewater collected from San Diego County's primary wastewater treatment facility. UCSD closes for winter break this week. Other UCs have also said they’re shifting to remote learning in the new year.


Governor Gavin Newsom says California will require healthcare workers to get booster shots of covid-19 vaccine. All California health care workers are already required to be vaccinated. Newsom says it’s to protect Californians and to ensure that hospitals are prepared for Omicron. The announcement came through Newsom’s social media channels – more details on when this mandate will go into effect are expected today.


In San Diego, county public health officials reported more than 800 new covid-19 cases on Tuesday and 12 additional deaths. The number of hospitalizations went down slightly according to state figures. The county currently has a positive test rate of 5.5%. About 87% of all eligible san diego county residents have had at least one dose of vaccine, and about 77% are fully vaccinated.


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

If you live in chula vista or clairemont mesa, you may have noticed your trash is piling up … that’s because hundreds of sanitation workers are on strike …

kpbs reporter Kitty Alvarado has more.

What do we want? Contracts! What do we want? Contracts!

Over 200 sanitation workers employed by Republic Services are on strike … they’re taking shifts picketing outside Republic offices at five locations across the county after contract negotiations between their union, Teamsters Local 542, and the company broke down. They’ve been working without a contract since November.

Manny Puma

Relief driver on strike, Republic Services

At some point you kick the dog too many times, it’s going to turn around and bite you …

Manny Puma, a driver for the company was among the picketers in Chula Vista on Tuesday morning … he says rain or shine residents have been able to count on them including during this pandemic … but the company has taken them for granted.

We weren't able to sit home and not go to the office, we were up there ground zero, picking up garbage every single day

Republic is the second largest waste management company in the country. Just days ago they reached agreements with workers in Orange County who were on strike for over a week. The union says the company’s CEO earns 154 times the pay of their average employee. Puma says being on strike is not easy, especially the week of Christmas.

We know what the sacrifice is and we’re willing to do it and we’ll be here 24 hours a day and we’ve been here 24 hours a day just to make our stance.

Meanwhile trash in San Diego’s Clairemont Mesa neighborhood and in the city of Chula Vista is piling up …

It’s nasty, it’s disgusting

Walid Ielaya, the owner of Bambino’s Pizza has been at this location for five years.

They usually pick it up I think everyday, I’ve never seen it full like that

We reached out to Republic Services to ask how long customers were going to have to deal with this? They sent us a statement that reads in part:

“... we continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve a fair and competitive labor contract. We are working hard to resume normal service as quickly as possible, and we thank our customers for their patience and understanding.”vvv

Puma says most of the striking workers live and work in Chula Vista and feel bad for those who depend on them.

We apologize for that and soon as we get back to work and we want to get back to work as soon as possible, we’re going to clean this whole city up and we’re ready to go.

Chula Vista officials say they’re getting updates from Republic and look forward to regular collection services resuming as soon as possible. Kitty Alvarado KPBS News


San Diego International Airport is getting busier by the day as we get closer to the holidays. But KPBS reporter John Carroll says HAS MORE.

The airport is a busy place on most any day… it’s the third busiest in California…

This has been a rebound year from the darkest days of the pandemic… The stretch from December 17th through January 3rd will be the busiest this year.

CG: Nicole Hall/San Diego International Airport

This year, we’re anticipating seeing about a million people coming through the airport during that time.”

Nicole Hall says thus far the airport has seen 25% more people pass through in 2021 than in 2020. But, when compared to 2019, about 20% less passengers will have traveled through this year.

CG: John Carroll/KPBS News

“Four days out from Christmas and everything here at San Diego International seems to be going along pretty smoothly. But, not just here.”

Bill Dingman left Watertown New York at three this morning to see his son for the holidays.

CG: Bill Dingman/Visiting son for the holidays

“The crowds weren’t too bad flying that early and, it was a great flight.”

Smooth sailing for Jody Christopherson as well. She’s here from Madison, Wisconsin to see an old friend.

CG: Jody Christopherson/Visiting friend for the holidays

“It was a piece of cake, and it was not crowded at all.”

“But with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly through the country, we wanted to know if any passengers had any concerns about traveling during this time.”

“Anytime you’re traveling with crowds, just take some precautions but, for the most part you can’t live in fear.”

“I’m double vaxed and boosted and wash my hands constantly and wear my mask. That’s all you can do.”

Nicole Hall says you should arrive two hours before your departure time if you’re flying domestically, three hours for international… and remember masks must be worn at all times while on airport property. If you forget to bring one, you can buy them at these vending machines or get one for free at any airport information counter. JC, KPBS News.


San Diego hired its first chief race and equity officer, Kim Desmond, over the summer. But months into the role, questions remain about what she will do.

inewsource investigative reporter Anissa Durham has the story.

Kim Desmond says like much of the U.S. … San Diego has not solved systemic racism and she is working to address disparities. But the exact goals of her new role are still unclear.

DESMOND: A typical day looks like for me, listening and learning, especially in the context of me being new to this particular city is listening and learning to various stakeholders.

inewsource spoke with local advocates who are skeptical about the changes Desmond can make to deeply rooted problems … Things like San Diego’s homeless crisis and racial profiling of Black and Latino residents.

Desmond has met with more than a dozen city departments so far and is reviewing city policies.

That was inewsource investigative reporter Anissa Durham. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.


Coming up.... Using poetry and prose to help vets work through the stress of war, and tell their story. We’ll have more on that next, just after the break.

The Veterans Reader's Theater project in Kansas City encourages vets to write poetry and prose about their military experience and present it to the public. Organizers hope it can help veterans deal with shame or guilt.

Anne Kniggendorf reports for the American Homefront Project.

KNIGGENDORF: On a recent evening, nine Kansas City-area veterans and family members gathered online to share the vivid war-related experiences they’ve spent months turning into poetry and stories.

PETTIGREW: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the fourth annual Veterans Readers Theater…

KNIGGENDORF: Navy veteran George Pettigrew acted as moderator and spoke about the night’s theme, “the classic hero’s journey.” He said the adventurer battles internal and external monsters and “sometimes the hero brings home a gift to share…” :12

PETTIGREW: … the most important gift a hero can offer is a story to tell.

KNIGGENDORF: But that story can be difficult or impossible to get out

Rita Nakashima Brock helped start the Kansas City initiative for people dealing with moral injury. :08

BROCK: When you’re talking to somebody you think might not love you again because what they hear is so awful or might think you’re a little nuts, they won’t talk about it.

KNIGGENDORF: Brock directs the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America in Alexandria, Virginia. Moral injury is a feeling of shame or guilt following an event a person participates in or witnesses – that goes against their moral beliefs. :12

BROCK: Because moral injury isn't identified as a disorder, ordinary people who are just suffering moral dilemmas in ways that make them feel like they're not good people could relate to the term.

KNIGGENDORF: Brock says that in the case of military members, the injury may follow carrying out an order to shoot, for instance, but it happens to civilians also. She says she’s seeing moral injury a lot right now in healthcare when doctors and nurses must decide who receives scarce resources during the pandemic.

The writing group in Kansas City doesn’t “treat” anyone; but Brock says it offers a safe space with writing resources for veterans and their families. :22

BROCK: And once you can externalize it in some way, you can actually process it. And that’s when you start to recover.

SMOOT: My enemies wore the same clothes;/ my career they managed to dispose./

KNIGGENDORF: During the Readers Theater, Air Force veteran Heather Smoot read her poem “My Destiny” about the trauma she suffered at the hands of other service members. But she also wrote into the recovery part of the journey. :10

SMOOT: I never set out to be an unsung hero,/but, enduring my trials, I did grow./I vowed to never sign my life away./With my destiny; I’d have the last say.

KNIGGENDORF: Army veteran Jon Michael Johnson, an independent filmmaker, didn't regularly write about his military experience. Until he joined the group, he was out of touch with other veterans and hadn't thought much about the years he spent in the Army during the Vietnam war. :13

JOHNSON: I probably was never as alone as I was in that first year or so of being in the Army.

KNIGGENDORF: The piece he wrote for the Readers Theater is called “Ars Poetica.” :03

JOHNSON: Poetry is the whispered shout of thoughts thought while walking the street, tapping the dance of shuffling feet, raising questions. What’s it about?

KNIGGENDORF: Cindy McDermott is a retired Navy veteran and executive director of the Moral Injury Association of America. She says that PTSD and moral injury share a lot of characteristics. :09

MCDERMOTT: …anger, depression, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia, and at the worst it’s self-medication with alcohol or drugs.

KNIGGENDORF: Counseling and group therapy are effective for some people with moral injury. And while writing isn’t exactly a therapy, McDermott says it can offer relief.

MCDERMOTT: It’s good for the veteran, but it’s also good for the public to be able to hear their stories and the price that we pay when we do have military action.

KNIGGENDORF: To date, 2000 veterans and family members have put their stories on paper with the Kansas City Vet Writing Group. Reframing their shame and guilt has helped them control their internal narratives and begin to heal.

That was Anne Kniggendorf reporting from Kansas City. 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. 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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Hundreds of sanitation workers are on strike in San Diego county, leaving garbage piling up in Chula Vista and Clairemont Mesa. Contract negotiations between sanitation company Republic Services and the local union broke down on December 17. It is Christmas week and–no surprise–traffic is up at the airport. But the threat of the omicron variant looms over California and the entire country. Plus, a report on how veterans are using poetry and prose to work through the stress of war.