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State of the City

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Thursday, January 13th>>>>

san diego’s state of the city address for 2022

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

governor gavin newsom was in san diego on wednesday to promote his plan to house the unsheltered and clean up the state in the process.

$14 billion of the state’s budget will go towards reducing homelessness in the next few years. the governor is also proposing the state allocate $2 billion to go directly to cities to tackle the crisis and more money towards mental health services.

“we have strategies for rapid rehousing, for short term housing, for treatment on demand and an unprecedented $3 billion commitment to rebuild our behavioural health system.”

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San Diego is experiencing record numbers of covid-19 infections and rising hospitalizations. County health officials estimate that one in 20 san diegans currently have covid-19.

Family health centers of San Diego's Dr. Christian Ramers say with so much virus in the community right now - people need to take precautions.

“if five percent of people in the county at one time are infectious you go to a grocery store with 40-50 people in it that’s a lot of people whether they know it or not are able to spread the disease so it’s just a very very high risk time at this point.”

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The San Diego fire-rescue department’s arson team is investigating a house fire that partially damaged the home of San Diego county supervisor Nathan Fletcher and his wife, former assemblywoman Lorena gonzalez. The damage was limited to the front of the home and no one was hurt. However, the city’s metro arson strike team is investigating the possibility that the fire was deliberately set.

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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.

Sobering challenges and the strength and will to meet them. That was the central message from San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria in his 2022 State of The City speech last night. KPBS reporter John Carroll has more.

“We still find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic.”

Mayor Gloria began his second State of The City speech talking about what’s on a lot of our minds right now… the latest surge of the pandemic. Due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, he delivered his remarks from a nearly empty Convention Center… a building that served as a shelter to get the homeless off the street during the darkest days of the pandemic.

“More than 1400 individuals and families were connected to permanent or long term housing. It was also here that our region came together to provide shelter to thousands of children who arrived on our border without their families fleeing horrific violence in their home countries. Together, we cared for more than 2400 children until they could be reunited with family or sponsors in the United States. Both of these operations had dozens of partner agencies and nonprofits that tapped San Diego's talent, compassion and political will to get things done.”

Gloria talked about rising crime in San Diego, and he promised the police department would have the resources to deal with it, while emphasizing equal and fair treatment of all San Diegans.

“We will continue to provide our police Department and city attorney the resources they need to keep you and your family safe and respond to crime and hold criminals accountable…

And this help should come without excessive use of force, racial profiling, or any abuse by the men and women who are sworn to protect and serve. A great city can fully fund and support its law enforcement officers while also ensuring they honor their oath.”

The city’s large and ongoing infrastructure needs took up a lot of the speech.

“These are core systems that are aging, outdated, often neglected, and in some cases in danger of failing. In 2021, we budgeted nearly $1 billion for critical infrastructure work. That's four and a half times the amount we put towards infrastructure just a decade ago.”

The mayor talked about new programs to finally solve the issue of the unhoused in this city… and he promised new initiatives to build more housing… and to build it near public transit.

He ended his half hour speech on a note of confidence in the future.

“This is why I have so much faith in our ability to drive change on the major issues I've outlined tonight because amid the darkest of times and under the most difficult circumstances, we have seen a challenge stepped up, come together and we triumphed. This says to me that we can and will do it again.”

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The san diego unified school district has been forced to put its covid-19 vaccine mandate on hold until further notice.

kpbs education reporter m.g. perez has more.

San Diego Unified attorneys are working on their appeal to the court ruling, last week, that stopped the district’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. It would require eligible students 16 and up be fully vaccinated to return to classes for the spring semester January 24th. A judge said only the state legislature has authority to do that. Board Trustee Richard Barrera told KPBS News the only option at the moment is to simply keep pushing vaccinations; he's blunt about those who refuse.

it’s not a matter of if you will get COVID, it’s a matter of when you will get COVID. Because we’re testing regularly..if your student is positive for COVID they are not going to be able to come to school.”

The mandate remains on hold, until the district’s appeal can be heard. MGP KPBS News

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The Omicron surge has spared no sector of San Diego, including public transit.

KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere says many San Diegans rely on the buses, trolleys and trains as their main means of transport, but they will soon be working on a reduced schedule.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, commonly known as MTS, is a crucial part of life for many in San Diego.

City Heights resident Rosa Bolanos and her family are some of the folks who use the public transit system every day.

Rosa Bolanos | City Heights Resident

“We’re all the time on the buses because we have to go places. Appointments, going to food stamp place, taking them to the doctor because we don't have a car. Especially low income people don't have a car. We ain't rich like other people. ”

Mark Olson of MTS says they are seeing lower numbers of riders since the pandemic began, around 65-70% of previous ridership.

For those that are still riding, he says MTS is facing a staffing shortage that’s going to cause a temporary reduction in service starting at the end of January. He says it will last until at least June of this year.

Mark Olson | San Diego Metropolitan Transit System

“The reduction in service could be from 15 minutes to every 20 minutes, or every 12 minutes to every 15 minutes. And so we are doing that on some key routes to basically make sure that we can have a dependable schedule for our passengers so when a bus is planned to come at a specific time, it really will come and we won't miss any trips.”

Olson added that MTS is taking COVID health protocols seriously for riders and drivers alike. He says they have brought in larger buses for better physical distancing in high-rider areas like City Heights.

But Bolanos says that public transit has changed since the pandemic started. She says the buses and trolleys used to be nicer and now sees what she deems are health risks for her family.

Rosa Bolanos | City Heights Resident

“In City Heights transit center, they're doing their job. But other bus stations, other places with bus transit stations, they're not doing their job. They’re letting people on the trolley and buses sick, coughing with no mask. Baskets, stinking up the place…. so pretty much yea”

She says she’s even seen people defecating on the trolley and bus.

She also says that the bus drivers try to enforce mask wearing, but struggle to do so as they don’t want to approach maskless people and risk catching COVID-19.

Rosa Bolanos | City Heights Resident

“They let people with no masks on, they don't like have people stay 6 feet away from us and some bus driver gave us attitude and everything, it's crazy.”

Olson says people who have had negative experiences with MTS can file a complaint through one of their many online options. He added that they are in the midst of a hiring campaign to try and boost staffing levels. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.

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Coming up.... Chula Vista has agreed to give Motorola Solutions broad control over data collected through its police surveillance systems.

”I have never seen a contract this bad. If the Chula Vista City Council or administration or procurement folks reviewed this with the lens of protecting their residents' privacy and civil liberties, they completely failed.”

That’s next, just after the break.

The city of Chula Vista has become known for its aggressive use of drones and other police surveillance technology. Yet, city leaders insist they’re using these tools without jeopardizing the privacy of law-abiding residents.

However, KPBS’s Amita Sharma reports that Chula Vista is giving a private corporation wide control over any data on people collected by its police surveillance systems.

Chula Vista officials bill the police department’s new “real-time operations center” as a state-of-the-art public safety hub. Privacy advocates say it’s a Trojan horse.

In late 2020…with no public debate and no competitive bidding, the Chula Vista City Council voted unanimously to approve a contract with Motorola Solutions…. that …among other things … allows the company to use, copy, analyze, publish and offer subscription services to any data that passes through its real time operations center. THOSE data include live social media feeds, information picked up by the agency’s automated license plate readers and video captured by its drones sent out to 9-1-1 calls.

“We're talking about a real-time, perpetual history of our lives, our most intimate moments, where we go, who we spend time with, how we socialize. This is seeing who goes to church on Sunday and who goes to Friday prayers at a mosque. This is something that goes far beyond George Orwell's worst nightmares.”

Albert Fox Cahn is executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

“This is really just chilling….it feels like handing over Californians information wholesale to the surveillance vendors and a real dereliction of duty.”

Chula Vista city leaders refused to comment on the contract.

But in November, Mayor Mary Salas told KPBS “there’s always a concern” at city hall about trampling on the privacy rights of residents with new technology. and that council members and staff are “ever watchful of it.”

“On our staff, we have excellent people that really have dedicated their lives to this and that really are real students of this. And I have faith in their expertise.”

Advocates are especially alarmed that the city also granted Motorola Solutions permission to sell any data run through it’s real-time operations center, as long as it’s anonymized.

”I have never seen a contract this bad.”

Brian Hofer is executive director of the Oakland-based privacy advocacy group Secure Justice.

“....If the Chula Vista City Council or administration or procurement folks reviewed this with the lens of protecting their residents' privacy and civil liberties, they completely failed.”

Motorola did not respond to an interview request.

San Diego ACLU lawyer Mitra Ebadolahi contends the overall contract so lopsidedly favors Motorola Solutions that she wonders whether Chula Vista city officials understood the stakes or were simply outfoxed by the company’s high-priced lawyers.

“Either they lack the expertise to appropriately analyze and understand the contractual terms, in which case they shouldn't be entering into these contracts at all, or they understand these terms, and they're happily trading away the privacy rights of their residents.”

Fox Cahn says that privacy loss is Motorola Solutions’s financial windfall.

“The data broker industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that is trying to take everything we do both in digital spaces and physical spaces and turn it into a product for the highest bidder.”

He and other privacy advocates want lawmakers to bar cities like Chula Vista from cutting deals with companies giving them access to data on their residents.

“....This is something that police departments should be protecting us from, not something that they should be fueling.”

From privacy security to national security…tomorrow we’ll tell you how Chula Vista police almost exclusively buy their drones from a Chinese manufacturer on a watchlist for spying.

Amita Sharma, KPBS News.

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.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria gave his 2022 State of the City address on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, the San Diego Unified school district has been forced to put its covid-19 vaccine mandate on hold until further notice. Plus, the city of Chula Vista has become known for its aggressive use of drones and other police surveillance technology. But a KPBS investigation finds that Chula Vista is giving a private corporation wide control over any data on people collected by its police surveillance systems.