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Record number of migrant drowning deaths

 March 26, 2024 at 5:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Tuesday, March 26th.


Tijuana lifeguards are seeing a record number of deaths among migrants trying to cross the border. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….


SD-G-AND-E residential customers will be getting a credit on their statements next month.

The utility says users will see a more than 78-dollar credit on their electric bill, and those who also use natural gas will get a nearly 59-dollar credit.

All customers will automatically receive the climate credit and don’t need to do anything to get it.

The money is coming from the California Climate Credit program.

In October, SD-G-AND-E will apply a second credit from the same program, to the bills of customers with electric service.

SD-G-AND-E's rates are up 105-percent over the past decade.

If you need financial help to pay your bill, visit the SD-G-AND-E website and search “Get Payment and Bill Assistance.”


The San Diego Police Department has launched a website with information on crimes committed in the city.

The SD-PD Neighborhood Crime Summary Dashboard has three tabs that allow the public to see crime trends, categories, and where crimes occur.

Each category can be viewed at a citywide level or by a specific neighborhood.

The data doesn’t contain identifying information about victims, suspects or the exact locations of crimes and is updated daily.

There’s a short tutorial on the SD-PD's YouTube channel on how to access the information.


There’s a chance of more rain today (Tuesday).

The National Weather Service says some parts of the county can also expect gusty winds.

The mountains and desert areas will feel gusts up to 55 miles per hour through the morning.

It’ll be warmest in the deserts today, with temperatures in the mid 70s, and in the mountains temps will be in the high 40s.

In the inland and coastal areas, it’ll be in the low to mid 60s.


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


Last year was one of the deadliest years on record for migrants.

Border reporter Gustavo Solis says tougher enforcement along the border, pushes migrants to cross in more dangerous areas.

He spoke to lifeguards who are seeing a spike in drownings.

The sound of crashing waves and children playing along the Tijuana coastline lull visitors into a false sense of security. But underneath the surface, there’s a different story. Particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border. Where the wall sticks out more than 200 feet into the Pacific Ocean. “Nosotros la llamamos resaca en los Estados Unidos le llaman rip current.” Tijuana Lifeguard Captain Luis Hernandez says the metal posts from the border wall create a permanent rip current that pulls swimmers out into the ocean. These waters are unforgiving, he says. It’s not like swimming in a pool where you can just grab onto the ledge when you need to catch your breath.“Aqui no hay orillita. De que ya me canse, me agaro de la orilla. No hay de donde agararse.” This stretch of ocean is particularly dangerous to migrants trying to swim around the border. Over the last few years, Tijuana lifeguards have recorded a record number of deaths. They track rescues and drownings on a whiteboard at the main lifeguard tower. Just 5 rescues in 2020 and only 7 in 2021. Then, 59 in 2022 and 41 last year. Hernandez says migrants cross in one of two ways. The first is to simply swim parallel to the border wall – fighting that powerful current is exhausting. “Entonces lo utilizan como si fuera Escalon y se van agarrados de la reja .” The second is to wrap your arms around the wall’s metal beams and use shellfish growing along the bottom of the wall as steps. But those shells are very sharp. Lifeguards often rescue migrants with cuts throughout their body. “Eso hace que salgan con heridas en el pecho, en los brazos hasta en las piernas Tambien.” Most of the rescues happen on the San Diego side of the border – as exhausted migrants swim against the powerful rip current while trying to swim ashore. Whenever that happens, U.S. lifeguards respond. Jason Lindquist is the head lifeguard in Imperial Beach. “If we get a call from the Border Patrol that they’re watching someone hang on the fence or trying to swim around the fence or in distress, we try to respond no matter what because its in our city limit. If you look at an IB map, it goes all the way to the border.” Lindquist says most rescues involve migrants who aren’t strong swimmers. They often jump into the ocean with all their clothes on. And carry their belongings in heavy backpacks. “If the current pushes you against that fence, that’s a dangerous situation because you can’t get off of it. So the fence is dangerous, the current is dangerous, the surf can be dangerous and now, the water is polluted every single day.” Imperial Beach lifeguards also noticed more migrant drownings around 2019. After the border wall was replaced with a taller one. “We’ve had in the last two years way more fatalities from here to the border than we’ve ever had.” A new study published by researchers at UC San Diego confirms what lifeguards are seeing on the ground. Peter Lindholm and Anna Lessier found that drownings increased significantly after the wall was built. From just 1 in the four years before to 33 in the four years after. To be clear, the study does not establish causation – nor does it attribute the drownings to the new border wall. “I think it’s important for the lifeguards, the emergency response systems and the UC health system to know if we have a lot of drowning-related accidents coming in. It’s something that the healthcare system needs to handle.” Lessier is a PhD and medical student in San Diego. She became interested in migrant injuries during a rotation in the trauma surgery unit at UC San Diego Hillcrest – where she saw a lot of injuries from people who fell from the border wall. And wondered whether anyone tried to swim instead of climb. So I’m hopeful the work that we do can lay a framework for other researchers and other people who care about this issue.” Although drownings are relatively new in San Diego, they are much more common in other parts of the world. “Drowning during migration is one of the leading causes of death during migration around the world, especially around the Mediterranean area. And there hasn’t been a lot of scientific investigation into that. Both researchers called this a preliminary study. They would like to analyze more data on drownings and rescues from both sides of the border. Gustavo Solis, KPBS News.


In other border-related news… The years-long cross-border pollution problem took a big step toward a final solution over the weekend when President Biden signed the new federal budget.

Reporter John Carroll says the spending plan includes a significant amount of money for the wastewater treatment plant in San Ysidro.

The plant has been limping along for years, falling into worse condition as time goes on.  That’s meant polluted water and closed beaches from Imperial Beach north to Chula Vista and Coronado - for months on end.  Now, the International Boundary and Water Commission is getting a 156-million dollar shot in the arm to fix the plant… a 103-million dollar increase over last year.  IB Mayor Paloma Aguirre says the money will help keep the process going to fix and expand the plant.  But she says much more needs to be done. “I know that the state legislature is currently considering a joint resolution calling for a number of things including an emergency declaration, because this plant is not the one silver bullet solution.” Mayor Aguirre says more than 600-million is needed to complete all the repairs and expansion of the plant.  But she says hundreds of millions more are needed to address the big picture of cross-border pollution.  JC, KPBS News.


New California legislation is looking to curb hate littering.

It’s defined as the act of spreading flyers or other material with hateful messaging on them, targeting protected communities.

San Diego experienced several incidents last year of anti-semitic flyers being put on car windshields in historically Jewish neighborhoods.

The bill looks to update an existing law that prohibits intimidation by threat of violence to include hate littering.

The author of the bill is democratic assemblymember Chris Ward from San Diego.

“We have to recognize that these actions go beyond an expression of free speech. These flyers are a deliberate effort to intimidate and terrify the people they are targeting to turn neighbors against neighbors and make the victim afraid to be themselves.”  

Ward says there is currently a gray area when trying to prosecute these incidents and this law would clear that up.

A report from attorney general Rob Bonta showed hate crimes in California increased by 20-percent from 20-21 to 20-22.


San Diego is updating its master plan for growth and development.

Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the Blueprint S-D plan aims to help the city build more housing at a faster pace.

AB: San Diego needs a lot more housing — especially in areas that are close to jobs and public transit. But actually rezoning those communities for higher density can take upwards of 5 years. Blueprint SD analyzes where the city needs to densify in order to reduce car travel and achieve its climate goals. City Planning Director Heidi Vonblum says that high-level analysis will allow the city to update its neighborhood-level plans in just 2 to 3 years. HV: The faster community plan update process means that more people can be involved and stay involved in shaping their community's future and can focus on the issues that are really the most important to them. AB: A draft of Blueprint SD was released for public comment last week. It's set for a vote at the City Council sometime this summer. Andrew Bowen, KPBS news.


The Lincoln High School robotics team brought home a rookie all-star trophy over the weekend.

Education reporter M.G. Perez says that brings them one step closer to the world championships.

The Lincoln High School Steel Stingers placed 21st out of 50 high school teams from around the country at the FIRST Robotics regional competition held on the UC San Diego campus Saturday and Sunday. That’s a significant showing for a team of 13 students who are only in their first year of national competition. They were also awarded the Top Rookie prize…an honor they won over other teams with more resources. Jeremiah Jeffries is the robotics coach. Our kids at Lincoln are facing adversity. These are experiences that a lot of our kids don't normally get when we're competing against these other schools that’s normal stuff for. I mean, this is the dream for my kids to see themselves at their full potential.” The team has already qualified and they advance to the world championships in Houston next month. MGP KPBS News.


That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. Join us again tomorrow for the day’s top stories. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great Tuesday.

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Last year was one of the deadliest years on record for migrants. Tougher enforcement along the border pushes migrants to cross in more dangerous areas. Now, lifeguards are seeing a spike in drownings. In other news, the years-long cross-border pollution problem took a big step toward a solution over the weekend when President Biden signed the new federal budget. Plus, San Diego is updating its master plan for growth and development.