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Surveillance in Chula Vista

 December 10, 2021 at 9:45 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Friday, December 10th

Chula vista adding a real-time operations center to it’s surveillance system. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….######

The San Diego county public health department announced the region's first case of the omicron COVID-19 variant on Thursday. They say the patient tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and on Thursday DNA sequencing confirmed it was Omicron. County public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten says the variant finding was no surprise. Officials say the patient was a resident of San Diego city who had recently traveled abroad. The patent had been vaccinated against COVID-19 and had also received a booster shot.


today the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, votes on a controversial regional transportation plan.

County supervisor Jim Desmond held a news conference on Thursday backed by leaders from north and east counties to voice their opposition to SANDAG’s plan, which includes a 2 cent per mile road tax to help fund public transportation. Desmond says that’s unfair to people in his north county district and the rural east county.

it’s naive to think that the communities that depend on roads in north and east county, fallbrook, alpine, santee, could be effectively served by mass transit yet every one of those people in those communities are going to be paying for the tax


Most of San Diego got some much needed rain Thursday, and more wet weather is on the way. Alex Tardy with the National Weather Service says a large storm coming from the pacific is expected to hit san diego late monday to early Tuesday.

“We should see heavy rain. A lot of areas in San Diego county will see one to two inches of rain with even more in the mountains if it comes through like we expect right now.”


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

Chula Vista is one of the most surveilled cities in the country, according to privacy advocates. Federal and local officials have deployed high-end technology to police the border community.

Now the city is adding a real-time operations center.

In the second of a two-part series, KPBS's Amita Sharma reports.

Everyday, Chula Vista Police Department’s four license plate readers - mounted on patrol cars - randomly take pictures of passing and parked vehicles’ license plates...and then store the digits. The agency also daily deploys drones across the city to give it a live view of scenes of 9-1-1 calls.

The police department has now built a real-time operations center that sews together its data. .And what you see here is essentially a very large TV screen….”

That very large TV screen Chula Vista Police Captain Eric Thunberg refers to...contains 12 smaller screens with up-to-the-minute information...some of it community social media posts about suspicious activity...some of it...high tech.

”....If there was a drone flying through a call or DFR program, you can see the footage there. We can display our CAD system, our dispatch system here. We have some crime statistics that are displayed here.”

He says the new $550,000-dollar one-room operations center is about efficiency.

“So that when something happens, we're not running down the stairs, running over to a crowded office, standing and getting in the way of the watch commander who's answering phones”

It’s also about quick access -- again in one place -- to context -- like jail records and open source resources like Google Earth.

38:55 we're going to look and see. Have we been to that location before? We're going to look and see? Has there been history? Are there other crimes here? We're going to look and see who may have committed that crime.”

Ultimately, he says Chula Vista residents will benefit from the new operations center, which is 80 percent complete.

“Our public deserves the best response we can give them.”

“City officials who promote these technologies often speak in terms of certain public goods. They'll emphasize efficiency, they'll emphasize convenience.”

That’s local ACLU lawyer Mitra Ebadolahi. She says the public good also includes personal privacy and civil rights…something that she says is being stripped away by these policing tools.

“These technologies just keep building on each other. And we end up with a massively, surveilled part of our community, which, again, is inconsistent with just living in a free society.”

Human rights activist and Chula Vista resident Pedro Rios worries that the crime center will focus on the western part of the city where most of the area’s people of color live.

“There aren't any real guard posts to protect someone who's not involved in an incident to also not be victimized by this type of policing.”

Thunberg says the city is looking to add oversight.

And he contends the angst is more about what the center COULD do, not what it will do.

Chula Vista PD’s real-time operations center contractor Motorola Solutions states in documents that the facility has the capacity to do analytics, AI and facial recognition. Thunberg says those features won’t be activated.

“....We have no interest in that.”

But the department’s own five-year strategic plan envisions using predictive policing, which looks at data* to figure out who might commit crimes.33:47 “....If we down the road have that, it will be because we vetted it with the community.”

I asked Thunberg whether, as a private citizen, he had concerns about new surveillance tools. He didn’t.

“I’m not worried about being watched or followed. 29:10: I don’t have anything to hide.”

“....That's the exact wrong way to look at it.”

Brian Hofer, executive director the Oakland-based privacy advocacy group Secure Justice, says the wise way to frame the discussion is that we all have something to protect.

“Maybe I don't want to reveal where I live. Maybe I hang out a gay bars, but I haven't come out to my family and friends that I'm in the same-sex relationship.”P

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas says she trusts the police. The operations center …is meant to serve the public. Not to spy.

“I love my police, and I know that they're doing the right thing, and they come from the right attitude.”


Earlier this year the conrad prebys foundation, sold more than 5,000 of its mostly affordable housing units to the wall street investment firm, blackstone. today some of those tenants marched on and occupied the foundation’s offices for nearly two hours to call for greater tenant protections.

KPBS race and equity reporter Cristina Kim was on the scene.

They specifically want Blackstone to agree to stop raising rents during California’s state of emergency, which has been extended to March 2022. After that, they want Blackstone to only raise rents by less than 3%. And they want a clear communication system with their landlords.

Kathleen is a Blackstone tenant in La Mesa. She says that her rent has gone up even though the building itself is not well maintained…with paint chipping off the walls and broken railings.

WE’re not being respected as tenants, the issues are not being taken care of, and the home that was once beautiful that we were living in, is now embarrassing, somewhat, to bring family and friends.

The Conrad Prebys Foundation officially sold its housing portfolio to Blackstone for 1.1 billion dollars in late August. The president of its board told KPBS they encourage the tenants to reach out directly to the current owner.”

A representative from Blackstone told KPBS that any rents that have been raised are at less than market rate and the company has committed 100 million dollars to repairing units.

Cristina Kim, KPBS NEWS.



Last summer, we told you about a man who was held on three-quarter million dollars bail after clashing with police during a protest in downtown San Diego. KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser has an update on his case.

Denzel Draughn was protesting police brutality last August and was charged with 19 felonies for using tear gas on San Diego Police Department officers and resisting arrest.

Now he has been acquitted by a Superior Court jury of all charges.

County prosecutors alleged Draughn grabbed a pepper spray can and sprayed 11 police officers.

But Draughn’s attorney told the jury he was acting to defend another protester, who was being punched and kicked by police.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s office had no comment on the decision, and the police department did not respond to a request for comment.



MM: As of right now, January 24, 2022 is the deadline for students in the San Diego Unified School District to be fully vaccinated if they want to continue in-person learning.

MM: Dr. Howard Taras is the district physician and while he says the FDA approval for boosters for 16 and 17 year olds is a message that everyone should get a booster… An eligible student is not required to get one.

“It is not part of the district’s vaccine mandate to get a booster. It is not going to be considered you’re only fully immunized unless you have the booster, that third shot.”MM: Taras thinks that the CDC could sign off on the booster in the next few days. Melissa Mae KPBS News.


attempts to have state and local officials removed from office are on the rise. capradio’s nicole nixon explains what’s at the center of many recent recall petitions.

It’s not just Governor Gavin Newsom. Voters across California and the country are targeting their city, county and school board officials for recall.

Geoff Pallay with the election tracking website Ballotpedia says 120 local officials in California have been the subject of a recall this year. That’s nearly twice the average over the past decade.

He says COVID-19 rules have played a major role in the uptick.

PALLAY: So things like closing up schools or mask requirements or vaccine requirements. But the recall fever doesn’t always pan out. According to Ballotpedia, only 9 percent of this year’s local recall attempts in California have qualified, though a third are still in a signature gathering or review phase.

After the unsuccessful attempt to remove Newsom, the legislature is reviewing the rules governing state and local recalls. Lawmakers will likely introduce a bill with proposed changes next year… though any major tweaks would require voter approval.

And, here in San Diego, some residents have filed an intent to recall democratic county supervisor terry lawson-remer. They need to gather signatures from at least 10 percent of the district's registered voters, to qualify for the ballot.


Coming up.... California’s solar marketplace might be getting a major overhaul soon and that could change the financial dynamics of the clean energy industry

“People will still save money, they’ll just save less.”

That story next, just after the break.

California regulators could dramatically change the state’s solar marketplace next year--which is one of the biggest in the nation. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson has details.

Ricardo Castillo pushes open the door to a long narrow front yard.

“My city heights courtyard cottage. Come on max, come on. Got my tangerines. My avocados go in here. Apple, trying to get some avocados going in here.”

Castillo bought this house in the late 90’s when he was still in the Navy. The 61 year old remembers how cheap electricity used to be.

“Bill’s about 18 dollars a month, 22 dollars a month. At the highest. But that’s where energy was all around the United States. I think we were only playing about a buck 20 for gasoline at the time.”

His electric bill climbed over the years, topping out at about 280 dollars a month. That’s why he added solar energy and a new air conditioning unit.

“This thing is so quiet, it uses about that much energy. Why? Because of the big beautiful gaseous ball hanging up there in the sky. It gives us energy, it gives up warmth, it grows tomatoes.”

Castillo leases his solar system, so there were no up-front costs. This is one of more than one-point-three million rooftop solar systems installed in California over the past decade. Nearly 15 percent of the state’s electricity production comes from solar systems like the one on Castillo’s home. But the economics of solar could be changing soon. The current state regulations – called Net Energy Metering – are designed to encourage the move to rooftop solar. They set the cost of electricity sold by residents and include a small monthly fee for fixed utility costs. That could be changing.

“15 years ago, our electric rates are half of what they are today. And solar panels were more than twice as expensive.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Mohhit Chabbra is among those asking regulators to roll back the subsidy currently paid to rooftop solar owners. His organization is advocating sharply cutting back how much utilities are required to pay for electricity generated on rooftops. And charging a hefty monthly connection fee based on the size of the solar system. A monthly charge could be 40 to 50 dollars a month.

“People will still save money, they’ll just save less.

The lower buyback charges and flat monthly fees could mean it’ll take solar owners 10-to-12 years to pay off their up front investment to put the panels on their roofs. Payback times right now are about four to six years.

“So if you have solar for example you will still by my estimate, save around 50 percent of your bill if you size your solar system correctly with our export rate change and this charge. You just won’t save close to 100 percent because certain fees are fixed fees for maintaining the grid that we all depend on and social costs that are independent of electricity use.”

The California Public Utilities Commission is considering more than 70 proposals to adjust the Net Energy Metering Rules. The suggestions range from changing very little, to ones that call for steep monthly grid connection fees and slashing how much utilities are forced to pay to buy back electricity from residents. Solar advocates say eliminating the financial incentive for residents to spend thousands of dollars installing solar panels could crush demand. That endangers 68-thousand California solar jobs.

“It will mean laying off the majority of their workforce or potentially closing their doors.”

Karinna Gonzalez works for Hammond Climate Solutions, a company advocating for Net Energy Metering to only get small tweaks. She says rooftop solar needs to be encouraged because it’s crucial to help meet the state’s clean air goals.

“Less rooftop solar means we’re using more dirty energy, worsening the climate crisis contributing to climate racism, that’s in Kern County where there’s fracking in people’s backyards and we just think at a time when there’s a climate emergency we can’t afford to be taking away clean energy solutions from families.”

California’s investor-owned utilities filed their proposed revisions more than a year ago. San Diego Gas and Electric steers requests for interviews to surrogates like The Natural Resources Defense Council or The Utility Reform Network. The company declined to make an official available for an interview both last summer and in recent weeks. An email statement stays the utility is engaged in the formal process.

“we are eager to see a resolution that allows the solar industry to continue to thrive and addresses the existing inequities.

The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to unveil their plan to adjust Net Energy Metering soon. That preliminary proposal will be vetted and then voted on by the commissioners early next year.

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.

Ways To Subscribe
A combination of federal, municipal and private tracking systems has turned the border city of Chula Vista into one of the most surveilled cities in the country, according to privacy advocates. Now a new high tech operations center for the local police department will work to integrate all the data coming in from police activities. Meanwhile, a group of mostly low-income tenants and their advocates staged a protest Thursday in Mission Valley to call attention to what they say are predatory practices by the New York-based real estate behemoth Blackstone, which this year paid more than $1 billion for nearly 6,000 San Diego area rental units. Plus, the state's utility regulators are considering adjusting the rules that govern the California solar energy marketplace and major changes could be coming.