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Stalled project could’ve protected town

 August 16, 2022 at 5:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Tuesday, August 16th.

The stalled project that could have protected a town from near destruction.

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

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San Diego County is facing a shortage of behavioral health workers.

That's according to a new report by the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

The report finds that 18-thousand-500 more mental health and addiction treatment professionals are needed by the year 20-27.

It also offers solutions to address the shortage.

One of the proposals is to increase pay for the workers.

55-percent of those surveyed for the report were dissatisfied with pay.

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Covid cases in San Diego County are continuing to decrease.

There was an average of more than 890 cases reported per day over the last seven days.

That’s down from an average of 1,000 cases.

The county remains in the CDC’s medium risk level for COVID.

Since Thursday, five people have died from the virus.

5 thousand 4 hundred San Diegans have died from COVID related causes since the start of the pandemic

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The warm and humid weather is expected to continue this week.

More thunderstorms could also be on their way.

The National Weather Service says the storms are expected primarily in the afternoons and over the mountain areas.

They are also expected to be more prevalent later into the week as moisture in the air increases.

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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.

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A year ago today, the Caldor Fire burned through the small town of Grizzly Flats in Northern California.

The fire destroyed more than 400 homes …about two-thirds of the community.

A new investigation from CapRadio and The California Newsroom found that the U-S Forest Service predicted — for decades — a wildfire could devastate Grizzly Flats.

But its plan to protect the town didn’t get done.

Scott Rodd reports.

Mark Almer is one of the lucky ones. His home is still standing…but his view is now mostly scorched trees and empty foundations. “It's kind of lonely around here now. It's kind of strange.” Nearly two decades ago…the US Forest Service gave a presentation showing how wildfire could level Grizzly Flats. And they modeled a fire…that mirrored what happened last year…. “They showed a fire that … could potentially wipe out our community within 24 hours. It wasn't 24 hours, but it was close in the Caldor Fire.” So Almer… a retired fire inspector…got to work. He helped create a volunteer group of residents called the Grizzly Flats Fire Safe Council. They raised money through community barbeques and wine tastings. They wrote grants. All told, they tackled nearly $2 million worth of fire prevention projects. The Forest Service, meanwhile, removed some excess trees and brush…most of it miles from town.It wasn’t until 10 years after the community meeting that the agency announced a plan to protect Grizzly Flats … called the Trestle Project. It promised to reduce fuels in overgrown forests and set prescribed fires on 15,000 acres around the community. Fire ecologists say this work is essential to reducing catastrophic wildfires … and we don’t have any time to waste. But… “The history of the Forest Service in the time that we lived there was that everything took forever.” Kathy Melvin was a member of the fire safe council. She lost her home of four decades in the Caldor Fire. “It would take years and years and years for anything to get done.” The Forest Service originally said it would finish the Trestle Project by 2020. The agency later pushed back the date by about a decade. Our investigation found they finished only 14 percent of the planned work before the Caldor Fire…which grew to one of the most destructive blazes in state history…Forest Service officials say they faced a series of hurdles in getting the work done. Pushback from environmental groups. Staff shortages. And climate change…which has reduced opportunities to set prescribed burns. But the biggest problem … they say … was money. “Let's not make any bones about this. We do not have the funding to do the level of work that needed to be done out there.” Randy Moore is chief of the U.S. Forest Service. He’s optimistic that billions of dollars recently allocated by Congress will jumpstart this work. He declined to weigh in on whether completing the Trestle Project could have protected Grizzly Flats. “I'm not really sure, you know, why we keep talking about that question.” Others had a lot to say. We spoke to a dozen sources — including wildfire experts, career firefighters, residents and former Forest Service officials — who believe Grizzly Flats would have stood a better chance of surviving the fire … if the Forest Service had finished the Trestle Project. That includes retired district ranger Duane Nelson…one of the project’s key architects.“I think there would have been a very high probability that Grizzly Flat would not have burned in the Caldor Fire. …It could’ve meant survival.” Last year, he watched as the Caldor Fire consumed his former district. “I’m not going to say I felt guilt … But what I did feel was remorse.” Nelson says he’s proud of the plan his team laid out to protect Grizzly Flats … and proud of the work that had gotten done. But...he says there was still plenty left to do when the Caldor Fire devastated this small community. In Grizzly Flats, I’m Scott Rodd. 

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Drug cartels terrorized Tijuana and other parts of Baja California Friday night by setting dozens of vehicles ablaze throughout the state.

Tijuana residents were still on edge yesterday morning.

KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis has more.

If the cartel’s goal was to terrorize the people of Tijuana, they succeeded. Images of burned cars and buses have been published all over the world. Martin has lived in Tijuana for 20 years. He is used to high murder rates but says Friday’s violence was different. It sent a message. “Quizieron meterle miedo. Bueno, mas bien lo lograron. Le metiron mideo a la población. Martin, who did not want his last name used, says the whole city is afraid. He stayed home Friday night. He wasn’t the only one. Graciela Ramirez shut down her restaurant Friday after seeing a bus on fire nearby. She says she was too afraid to reopen Saturday morning. “No, yo tenia miedo. Yo tenia miedo porque aqui estaba solo, solo, solo. Parecia desierto.” Tijuana Mayor Monseratt Caballero tried to calm the city down over the weekend.   She said 3,000 soldiers and 2,000 police officers were dispatched to keep the peace. Gustavo Solis, KPBS News

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THE WEEKEND VIOLENCE IN TIJUANA IMPACTED BUSINESSES ON THIS SIDE OF THE BORDER.

THE MEXICAN MINISTRY OF ECONOMY SAYS EVERY DAY, ABOUT 37-THOUSAND PEOPLE CROSS THE BORDER FROM TIJUANA TO WORK IN THE U-S.

BUT STORE OWNERS SAY ON SATURDAY… MANY WORKERS STAYED HOME OUT OF FEAR.

ONE STORE MANAGER TOLD KPBS HER STORE WAS THE ONLY ONE OPEN… AND EVERY STORE IN AT LEAST TWO STRIP MALLS HAD TO CLOSE BECAUSE THEY DEPEND ON WORKERS FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BORDER.

"Desde la pandemia lo cerraron pueden a volver a cerrar o algo por lo mismo de inseguridad si esta de pensarse así como que que va a pasar  y es miedo pues porque aquí uno tiene su trabajos."

SHE SAID BUSINESSES WERE ALREADY AFFECTED BY THE PANDEMIC SHUT DOWNS… AND THEY WONDER IF THERE WILL BE MORE CLOSURES BECAUSE OF SECURITY ISSUES.

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The county Board of Supervisors will vote today (Tuesday) on an emergency action item to try to prevent drug overdose deaths in county jails.

The plan includes incentives to hire more jail staff, improving the inmate wellness check process and buying new body scanners to prevent drugs from entering the jails.

KPBS reporter Alexander Nguyen has the details.

The emergency action item was docketed by board Chair Nathan Fletcher. Jail deaths have been plaguing the Sheriff’s Department in recent years … but Fletcher says there is a shift in how inmates are dying. Previously  …  inmates died from suicide or poor medical care … now … they’re dying from overdosing on drugs… including Fentanyl. I think what you see happening in the jails is reflective of what's happening across the county. And so, while we take action to address drug issues, illicit drugs, and overdose outside the jail, we have to take the same intentional focus to address the problem that comes into the jail. Last month there were five overdose deaths at the county jails … and 15 so far this year. AN/KPBS

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Coming up.... The risk of Mega-flooding in the state is increasing, according to a new study.. We’ll have that story and more, next, just after the break.

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When you think of natural disasters in California... wildfires, earthquakes and drought often come to mind.

But KPBS reporter Jacob Aere takes a look at a new study that says the risk has increased for a different natural disaster – a megaflood washing across parts of the Golden state.

The likelihood of a “megaflood” occurring in California has doubled due to climate change, according to a new study. Marty Ralph is the Director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “The chance of bigger floods is very real. They’re rare, but not as rare as they were before the climate has been warming. And they're looking at now 200 year storms being something more plausible every 50 years.” The study says it’s possible parts of major cities such as Los Angeles and Sacramento would be underwater if the state endured the kind of winter flooding that took place during the state’s Great Flood of 1862. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.

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Across San Diego County, thousands of students returned to school yesterday…

Including students at schools in the Grossmont Union High School District... which welcomed back 17-thousand students.

The district also welcomed a new superintendent, who sent a video statement to parents over the weekend.

In it, Mary Beth Kastan said school safety is her top priority.

“teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe. I will soon be introducing to you our new Director of School Safety who will recommend security improvements and enhance our training for staff.”

Kastan also announced that each high school will have an added campus supervisor this year to monitor any safety issues.

Each campus is also getting a new therapist to offer more student mental health resources.

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With the start of school, many school board trustees are back at work on critical issues that caused conflict and chaos before.

KPBS Education reporter M.G. Perez has more.

It’s back to school in districts that include Grossmont Union, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, and Solana Beach. The return of students also means those district’s trustees are back at work handling finances, health issues, and safety concerns. Matters that created shouting matches and violence in some cases at meetings. Troy Flint is spokesman for the California School Boards Association which is launching a state-wide public education campaign, this week, hoping to provide a teachable moment. “what students can take from this is that even great disruption and calamity can be an opportunity to rebuild and to reexamine…and can be an engine for change.” The association’s campaign will include personal appeals from California school board members through social media and news outlets. MGP KPBS News.

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The festival of books is this coming Saturday.

One of the local writers in attendance is Lizz Huerta who will be on a panel about young adult fantasy.

Huerta's debut Young Adult novel is called "The Lost Dreamer" and is inspired by ancient Mesoamerica.

The book is set in a fantasy world where some women have the ability to dream the truth — they're seers known as Dreamers.

The book unfolds as two young women struggle with their gifts as the world around them is rapidly, terrifyingly changing.

Huerta previously spoke with KPBS Arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans.

Here's that conversation.

That was author Lizz Huerta, speaking with KPBS Arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans.

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

A new investigation finds a stalled project could have protected a town from being nearly destroyed by the Caldor Fire. In other news, Tijuana residents are on edge after violence broke out over the weekend. Plus, as the new school year starts for some, many school board trustees are back at work on critical issues that caused conflict before.