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National issues, local flashpoints

 January 18, 2022 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday, January 18th>>>>

Local politicians voting on national issues

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

A month-long strike by trash haulers in south bay ended on monday with an agreement between unionized sanitization workers and the waste-hauling company Republic Services. Republic services says the offer was their [quote] “Last, best, and final offer.” The agreement came hours before a deadline set by San Diego mayor Todd Gloria, who had threatened to take actions to compel Republic services to honor its obligations. Details of the contract were not released, but the company says it includes significant pay increases and other benefits.

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As the omicron surge keeps demand for covid testing sky high, a new pop up testing site has opened up in the zion market parking lot on clairemont mesa boulevard.
The testing site is a result of a partnership among san diego city councilmember chris cate, the asian business association of san diego and broadwell health - the company running the site. it will be open monday through friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is free to everyone.

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After a record low last winter … the number of monarch butterflies is up this year. Encinitas’ Butterfly Farms’ owner Pat Flanagan says that could be from people planting more Milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is native to the region and is the only plant that monarch butterflies will lay their eggs in.

Last year … there were fewer than 2-thousand monarchs counted in California … this year … so far there have been more than 50-thousand. But scientists still don’t know why we're seeing such a dramatic increase.

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

There’s the old adage that “all politics is local.” But increasingly the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and local city councils are holding votes on issues that are also on the national agenda. KPBS reporter Claire Trageser explains how they reflect our intensely partisan times.

In September last year, the county supervisors listened to almost three hours of public comment. The issue at hand: abortion rights. Supervisor Nora Vargas made the proposal.

“It’s important that all San Diegans know that San Diego County is a champion of reproductive freedom."

The vote was one of several in recent times on national issues that don’t have a direct impact on local governance of the county. In April, the Supervisors voted to support state and federal gun control legislation…in November to support a ban on offshore oil drilling.

These are very much partisan issues and the board’s Democratic majority chose them for a reason. Usually the two Republicans on the board—Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson—were either absent or voted no.

The votes are likely done with an eye on future elections, says Thad Kousser, a politics professor at UC San Diego.

Thad Kousser / UC San Diego

“They are designed to set up campaign mailers and TV ads in the next election, and part of the job as a politician is being able to take a stand and explain that stand to your constituents.”

Such tactics are nothing new.The Berkeley City Council once voted on nuclear disarmament and in support of human rights in Myanmar—hardly issues a city government has any jurisdiction over. But they’ve become increasingly common in San Diego County – not just at the board of supervisors but local city councils too.

Kousser says while these votes might be obvious political ploys, there are benefits to them. For one, they tend to increase engagement in local politics.

“What we often worry about is a democratic deficit where county supervisors, city council members, school board members, people don't know who they are, don't know what positions they're taking and don't know whether they reflect their values.”

He says problems only arise if the votes happen so often that they interfere with the other business of the board or council.

Republican San Diego Councilman Chris Cate says that’s exactly what has been happening. The council began taking votes on several national issues, from transgender bathrooms to sanctuary state laws.

Chris Cate

San Diego City Council

“I just said I was not elected to do this, I don't have time to read and see all the debates regarding Senate bills or court cases and the nuances of them all. And so I just took an across-the-board position of, I'm just not going to vote on them.”

Cate chafes at what he sees as petty politics and says the votes don’t resonate in Washington DC, where something could actually be done about them.

“I don't think anyone ever called us and said, ‘boy, the city of San Diego's letter on this issue really moved the needle on this topic being debated in DC. I've never gotten that phone call.”

But local leaders should take a stand on national issues because here and elsewhere basic civil liberties like voting rights, LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights are under attack. So says Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy

San Diego County Democratic Party

“It's important that people in Democratic states or just plain states that respect human and civil rights do things to counterbalance that national narrative.”

He says, holding these votes informs the public on the issues they care about.

“The public should know who's in power and what their ideology and their values are, and if their values do not match with their own personal values, the values of families throughout San Diego, what they discuss at the kitchen table, then they should not elect them.”

Cate says that has not been his experience.

“That has never come up, it has never been a priority for residents where someone went out of their way to ask me, ‘what's your position on this federal issue that I hear about on Fox News or MSNBC. It's, ‘when are we going to fix my street? Why is my water bill so high?’”

Claire Trageser, KPBS News

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California Utility regulators have quietly removed a controversial plan to reduce the benefits of owning solar from their late January agenda. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says the move does not mean the change has been sidelined.

The California Public Utilities Commission shocked the state’s solar industry when it proposed dramatic changes to the rooftop solar marketplace. Solar backers called it a disaster. The proposal slashed the rate paid to residents when their solar panels generate extra electricity. The plan also imposed the steepest in the nation grid connection fees, close to 60 dollars a month for a typical customer with solar. A final decision on the plan was expected to be made by the commission on January 27th. But it is not on the agenda released late last week. Solar backers say that is not necessarily good news. It may just mean delaying the change. However, the Governor has hinted publicly, the proposal needs to undergo some changes before regulators make a decision.

Erik Anderson KPBS News

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In Imperial Beach, the holiday weekend ended with another round of beach closures. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis has an update on the cross-border sewage pollution.

The surf has been firing in San Diego all week. It’s been the best swell of the year. So says Imperial Beach surfer and Mayor Serge Dedina.

Every surfer on the coast knows we’ve had one of the most epic swells in a year. Just perfect surf everywhere.

Dedina has recently surfed in Ensenada, Sunset Cliffs, and Lo Jolla. But not Imperial Beach. In fact, it’s been more than two years since Dedina last paddled out in his hometown break.

I haven’t surfed IB since October 2019. Pretty much any time I went in the water before that, the water was polluted. The last time I surfed here the water was polluted. I got so sick, I had two ear surgeries, two sinus surgeries, I just can’t afford to get sick anymore.

A recent study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego shows that the water might actually be even more polluted than we thought.

The study came about because researcher Falk Fennersen kept hearing IB surfers say that the water smells funny even when water tests showed it was safe to swim.

What would happen is the surfers would say hey we taste like during south swell events the water tastes like laundry detergent or chemical or sometimes like sewage of fecal stuff.

The source of this pollution is Punta Bandera, a place six miles south of the U.S. border where sewage from a nearby treatment plant is dumped into the ocean. South swells push that pollution north toward Imperial Beach.

San Diego County determines pollution levels by measuring the amount of a specific bacteria known as fecal indicators like e coli in the ocean water.

That bacteria dies very quickly in sunlight. So it takes like a day and a half to two days for the flow to get from punta bandera to IB. If it's exposed to sunlight in that period of time the microbes they are testing for have died.

But viruses like the norovirus, which the county doesn’t test for, do survive the journey. And it makes people sick.

The team has briefed county officials on their findings. And the EPA will use this research to help decide how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure projects to help solve the issue.

Dedina is optimistic.

Despite the closures and the ongoing pollution crisis, we do have some progress on the policy and planning front. The EPA director Michael Regan announced a $600 million plan – a comprehensive solution that would involve fixing the river flows, the canyon flows and what’s coming out on the beach.

Gustavo Solis KPBS News

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Coming up.... We have a report on how the pandemic has affected the mental health of the undocumented community. That’s next, just after the break.

The pandemic has affected our mental health in ways we're only just beginning to understand. For the undocumented, the problems of the pandemic created an added layer of anxiety on top of an already deeply uncertain world. From The California Report, KPCC's Robert Garrova explores how the pandemic has shaken the mental health of the undocumented community.

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.

Reproductive freedom, gun control and offshore oil drilling – In the past year, these national issues have become local flashpoints in votes before the San Diego County Board. Meanwhile, a controversial plan to reduce the benefits of owning solar has been quietly removed from the California Utility regulators late January agenda. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Plus, the latest update on the situation with cross-border sewage pollution near Imperial Beach.