Housing Crisis Prompts First Joint San Diego County-City Meeting In decades

Goal is new era of cooperation; agencies aim for 10,000 subsidized units built on government land

The region’s housing crisis is prompting San Diego city and county elected officials to hold an unusual joint meeting Monday to spur construction of 10,000 subsidized housing units on public land by 2030.

The move comes after years of friction and lack of cooperation between the county and the city on a variety of issues, most notably the Hepatitis A health crisis five years ago.

The joint panel will take the kind of leadership role typically expected of the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional agency that also includes officials from the county and all 18 local cities.

It will be the first time in more than 22 years that the San Diego City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors have held a joint meeting, and only the second such meeting in nearly 32 years.

Leaders said Wednesday that such a meeting is necessary because of the severity of the housing crisis and its impact on the economy, homelessness, social equity and general quality of life.

The two largest government agencies in the region must come together to set an example of cooperation and leadership on building more affordable housing, said council President Sean Elo-Rivera and board Chair Nathan Fletcher.

The San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, has been mentioned in recent years as a potential leader on cooperative housing efforts. But Fletcher and Elo-Rivera said a county-city panel is a better bet.

“What makes this especially important is some of the dysfunction we see at SANDAG,” Elo-Rivera said. “I sit on the board, and it’s the opposite of collaboration at many times. There are obstructionists who are trying to prevent actions from being taken.”

Elo-Rivera was referring to battles within SANDAG over funding, ballot measures, housing goals, possibly charging drivers fees to use roads and how to connect San Diego International Airport to transit.

Several cities have resisted state-mandated housing goals, with Coronado, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove unsuccessfully appealing the mandates to the state Supreme Court.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

San Diego makes legally risky move to steer contracts to women and people of color

The move, which takes on Proposition 209, was fueled by a study that found such businesses didn’t get their fair share of contracts

San Diego will take the legally risky step of giving preferential treatment to women- and minority-owned businesses when awarding city contracts, a move that appears to be in direct conflict with a voter-approved state proposition that sought to ban affirmative action.

Despite advice from City Attorney Mara Elliott warning against creating such programs, the City Council voted 9-0 this week to establish legally defensible policies that aim to help businesses owned by women and people of color get their fair share of billions of dollars that San Diego awards in city contracts.

Councilmembers said they are aware of the legal risk, and of the failures of other cities like San Jose to successfully create preferences that aren’t struck down by courts for violating Proposition 209, the measure outlawing such preferences that state voters approved in 1996.

But councilmembers said aggressive action is needed to make San Diego a more equitable city, despite the potential legal risks.

Their move is being fueled by a disparity study released last summer that showed businesses owned by women and minorities — particularly Black people and Native Americans — don’t get their fair share of city contracts.

Businesses owned by White women and people of color received only 19 percent of $2.2 billion in city contracts awarded during a five-year period analyzed in the study, compared to the 31 percent the study says they should have landed.

“I don’t think you can look at the data, see the disparities and not think there was intent there — unless you think there was something wrong with the folks who were left behind,” Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said.

Establishing intent will be key to San Diego’s efforts, because Elliott has said preferences can only be legal under Proposition 209 if there is a compelling government interest to them, such as reversing clear evidence of intentional discrimination.

City staff and the authors of the disparity study say there is no evidence that San Diego’s inequitable awarding of contracts is the result of intentional discrimination, but council members disagree.

Councilmember Raul Campillo said many courts have ruled that substantial disparities are evidence of discrimination.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘How can the data be so skewed?’” he said.

Campillo said the spirit of Proposition 209 is an equal playing field for contracts, but the city’s track record shows the playing field has been unequal.

“A reasonable inference, and in my mind the only reasonable inference, is that Proposition 209 is being violated as we speak,” he said, contending the city is obligated to change a process that has hurt women and people of color. “I think we all know we need to take this further.”

Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, who has spearheaded the effort to establish preferences in partnership with Campillo, said San Diego must take the legal risk.

“The evidence is here,” she said. “I believe we owe it to the people to fight for what I believe is right.”

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune

San Diego Leaders Will Challenge State Law Prohibiting Race, Gender Preferences in Contracting

Two City Council members say they want San Diego to become the first city in California to successfully challenge a state law prohibiting cities from giving preferential treatment to women and people of color when awarding contracts.

The plan to challenge voter-approved Proposition 209 comes in the wake of a disparity study released last summer that showed women and people of color don’t get their fair share of the billions of dollars that San Diego awards in city contracts.

Businesses owned by white women and minorities received only 19% of $2.2 billion in city contracts awarded during a five-year period analyzed in the study, compared with the 31% the study says they should have landed.

City leaders say such a stark disparity calls for aggressive action, but Proposition 209 prohibits discrimination or preferential treatment in public contracting based on sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

The proposition, which voters approved in 1996, says gender or racial preferences are only allowed if they are narrowly tailored and there is a compelling government interest in having such preferences.

When cities have tried to create preferential programs that meet Proposition 209’s strict requirements, they have failed. For example, the state Supreme Court ruled against a San Jose law requiring “participation goals” and “targeted outreach.”

In a legal memo issued last summer, City Atty. Mara Elliott cautioned against challenging the proposition because the San Diego study didn’t find evidence that “intentional discrimination” played a role in the city’s disparities.

“Although the study revealed disparities in some categories of contracting, there is no evidence of intentional discrimination that would permit the establishment of a program that targets persons with protected characteristics, such as race or gender,” Elliott wrote.

City staff agreed with Elliott in a recent staff report. “Staff does not believe the implementation of additional, mandatory race and gender-conscious measures within the city’s contracting programs is appropriate at this time,” said Claudia Abarca, director of the city’s Purchasing and Contracting Department.

Councilmembers Raul Campillo and Monica Montgomery Steppe say they want to push against the state law anyway.

“The city of San Diego must take aggressive action to address these disparities through the creation of race and gender-conscious contracting programs,” Campillo said. “For over 30 years we have allowed these inequities to exist in our city’s contracting policies, and it’s time to right this wrong.”

Campillo acknowledged that the effort must be carefully handled, adding that he and Montgomery Steppe will work closely with Elliott and the city’s Purchasing and Contracting Department.

“This program will need much additional analysis to ensure it is narrowly tailored to address specifically the most severely underrepresented groups in city contracting,” he said.

The 659-page city study, which was created by BBC Research and Consulting, found that white women received 36% of the contracts they were capable of handling based on what portion they make up of the local contracting industry.

Black and Native American contractors got only 20% of the contracts they were capable of handling. Hispanics and Asians from Pacific islands both received 94% of what they were capable of handling.

On the other end of the spectrum, Asians not from Pacific Islands landed more city contracts than they would have been expected to get based on their share of the local contracting industry overall.

Campillo said he’s committed to proposing race- and gender-conscious programs that serve a compelling government interest. He also will provide evidence that the city’s contracting program has been unable to adequately capture the local market.

Click here to read the full article in the Los Angeles Times

Homeless Count Up 10% in San Diego County. ‘More Miserable Out There Than I Have Seen In Years’

The numbers have confirmed what many already suspected.

Homelessness has increased in San Diego County, and it’s especially apparent in several cities where tents and makeshift structures fill sidewalks, canyons and freeway offramps.

Results of the first homeless count in two years, released Thursday, found the number of people living in vehicles or outdoors without shelter increased 9 percent in the city of San Diego. In Oceanside, where city officials have introduced a hotel voucher program and plan to open a shelter, the number of people on the street increased 31 percent. In National City, where the San Diego Rescue Mission plans to open a shelter next year, the number of people living without shelter increased 19 percent.

In all, homelessness in San Diego County has increased 10 percent since January 2020, according to the report released by the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness. The actual number is likely much higher, officials said, and it could worsen as pandemic housing subsidies and protections expire.

The Feb. 24 count found 8,427 homeless people in San Diego County, with just over half in shelters. The other 4,106 were living outside of shelters, a 3 percent increase from 2020. Of that number, 713 were in vehicles.

The count usually is done annually, but this was the first since January 2020 because of the pandemicand it showed the crisis persists despite increased efforts to get more people off the street.

Since the last count, the city has purchased two extended-stay hotels and converted them to permanent housing for more than 400 formerly homeless people, Father Joe’s Villages has opened a 407-unit affordable housing project, and the city and county have worked together to increase outreach teams and other efforts.

“But even with all of that, our numbers have increased,” said Tamera Kohler, president and CEO of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, the agency that coordinates the count.

“We have more people, we have more unsheltered, we have more challenges, and it is a little bit more miserable out there than I have seen in years.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said he wasn’t surprised at the increase.

“We see this with our own eyes every single day,” he said, adding that the pandemic likely contributed to the increased homeless population, which is happening throughout the state.

“The numbers could have been larger, frankly,” Gloria said.

Like Kohler, Gloria noted that the increase in homelessness happened despite many efforts to address it, but he is hopeful that new programs, more shelter beds and additional housing will improve next year’s numbers.

The city has added 271 shelter beds in the past year, a 25 percent increase, bringing the total to 1,468. An additional 450 beds are coming in the next few months, including a 125-bed shelter in the Midway area, a 40-bed women’s shelter and a 182-bed shelter for seniors and families that will be in two sites that have not yet been announced.

“Now, is it enough?” Gloria said. “No, it’s not. But I think it demonstrates a commitment with the city to acknowledge the problem.”

Of the 4,321 people counted in shelters in this year’s report, 3,036 people were in emergency shelters such as the large tents operated by the Alpha Project, 1,249 were in transitional housing and 36 in a safe-haven, temporary housing for people in rehab programs.

As usual, the city of San Diego had the largest population of homeless people in the county, with 2,307 people in shelters and 2,494 living without shelter.

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune

San Diego County Democratic Party Chair Steps Aside Amid Assault Allegations

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, announced Friday that he is taking a leave of absence as the San Diego County District Attorney and Democratic party officials review potential criminal allegations against him.

“The allegations against me are completely false and I will work vigorously to clear my name and prove my innocence, but that takes time and in the meantime our Party has critical work that must continue on,” he stated. 

Rodriguez-Kennedy didn’t state the nature of the accusations against him, but his announcement came after Democratic activist Tasha Williamson posted a Facebook message Thursday suggesting that he had been accused of assault.

“The Chair of the San Diego Democratic Party needs to tell the Party about the allegations against him!” she stated on Facebook. “

Officials did not say whether the reports were related, but did confirm a potential criminal case. Tanya Sierra, public affairs officer for the District Attorney, said the office is reviewing police reports on Rodriguez-Kennedy.

“We are reviewing the police investigation for potential criminal charges,” she said. “There is no timeframe for how long that will take.”

Sierra did not say what the possible criminal charges are or confirm which police department submitted the investigation. San Diego Police officials would not confirm whether they investigated the complaint, and said they are unable to comment on any case after it is submitted to the district attorney.

Democratic Party official Lauren Bier confirmed that the party’s ethics committee has been informed of the allegations and is reviewing them.

“It will be going to the committee’s formal process and will be investigated per our procedures,” she said. “The Chair will not be involved outside of the testimony he provides. Our Chair Pro Tem will step in to observe the process and take the tiebreaker slot, should we need one.”

The limited information available about the allegations Friday shrouded the situation with confusion, as social media and political commentators weighed in on the matter. 

Williamson said in a phone interview that she believes the Democratic Party is dismissive of members’ safety and protective of top officials’ privacy and status, comparing it to police departments defending officers against misconduct allegations.

On his Linkedin profile, Rodriguez-Kennedy describes himself as a Marine veteran and Democratic organizer, with experience leading the Democratic Party’s millennial and LGBT community organizing efforts.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego Union Tribune

Report: Violent Crime in the Region Up in 2021

Violent crime rose 8 percent in the San Diego region last year, and property crimes rose by 9 percent, when compared to 2020, a newly released report found.

In particular, reports of rape and aggravated assault were up, according to the San Diego Association of Governments which tracks local crime data.

And even though reports of robbery and burglary hit a 42-year low last year, thefts were up overall, according to SANDAG. The number of cars stolen jumped 20 percent. And people swiped the parts off cars in surprisingly higher numbers, with such thefts skyrocketing 71 percent. The most commonly stolen parts: catalytic converters.

The agency releases an annual report comparing crime numbers year over year. It has been tracking the data since 1980.

SANDAG Senior Director of Data Science Cynthia Burke noted that while the overall 2021 crime rates are at “historic lows for our region, violent and property crimes were up last year.”

Crime has steadily declined for the last three decades, but some has started to tick back up in recent years, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Countywide last year, rapes and aggravated assaults were up 11 and 12 percent respectively in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Homicides rose slightly last year, from 115 to 118 — an increase of 3 percent. That’s far less of an increase than in 2020, when homicides spiked 35 percent.

In the homicides last year in which investigators determined a motive, nearly a third of the killings followed an argument. Another 18 percent of the deaths were gang-related.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego Union Tribune

Nearly All Major Crimes Increased Last Year In San Diego, Police Say

Biggest increases seen in hate crimes, which saw a 77 percent spike, and vehicle thefts, which increased 25 percent. The increases mirror those seen across the country.

SAN DIEGO — 

The city of San Diego saw increases in nearly every category of major crime in 2021, police officials said, mirroring a trend seen in other large cities across the nation.

Police leaders presented the findings at a San Diego City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Across the city, crime increased about 13 percent, according to the latest figures. The year’s violent crime rate of 4.2 crimes per thousand residents was the highest the city had seen in nearly a decade, and the property crime rate of 19.6 crimes per thousand residents was the highest since 2016, department officials said.

Vehicle thefts spiked 25 percent when compared with 2020 figures, and rapes increased by 18 percent. Aggravated assaults and thefts also saw double-digit jumps, while burglary and homicides rose a couple of percentage points each. Many of the increases persisted when comparing 2021 and 2019 — the year before the coronavirus pandemic prompted widespread lockdowns.

Hate crimes also saw a 77 percent increase last year, a surge that alarmed council members.

Robbery was the only major crime to see a decrease, falling about 10 percent when compared with 2020.

San Diego police Chief David Nisleit said the havoc wrought by the pandemic likely fueled some of last year’s increases — both locally and nationally.

“It’s COVID. It’s people being out of work, kids being out of school, just the anger and the frustration levels of everything over the last two years,” Nisleit said. “I think we need to acknowledge the last two years have been difficult on everybody.”

Still, experts say crime in San Diego remains at near-historic lows when compared with the rates seen in the 1980s and 1990s. Both violent and property crime rates have held fairly steady over the last decade, and, despite the increases seen in 2021, current crime rates are comparable to the late 1950s, when the city’s population was much smaller, police officials said.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego Union Tribune

Masks Won’t Be Required In Many Places Starting Wednesday 

Two months after it was put in place to handle the Omicron surge, California’s mask mandate falls at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, though face coverings will still be required in many settings, including schools, hospitals and public transit.

San Diego County’s coronavirus numbers continue to make the case that the pandemic is receding. The daily number of new case notifications received by the county health department dipped below 1,000 Saturday for the first time since Dec. 20, coming in at 933 followed by 787 Sunday.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, state secretary of health and human services, said in a news conference Monday that falling trends in the number of new cases and hospitalizations provide confidence that pulling back on the mask mandate makes sense.

But, he added that while it’s no longer a requirement, wearing a mask indoors, especially in crowded locations, is a good idea given that transmission rates remain high relative to previous quiet periods such as the spring and early summer of 2021.

“We are still strongly recommending that people wear them in public indoor places,” Ghaly said.

The public, though, has largely been ignoring indoor masking rules in many locations, especially restaurants. Generally, enforcement of mask requirements outside health care and education has recently been nearly nonexistent. The point was illustrated at SoFi Stadium Sunday when cameras panning more than 70,000 Superbowl attendees showed that the vast majority had their faces uncovered. 

Maintaining the mandate in schools, but ignoring it in stadiums, drew continued fire from many in the public Monday. Ghaly did not address the dichotomy when asked to comment Monday.

He did stress that the virus continues to exact a toll even though case rates have fallen more than 70 percent over the past month.

“People have lost their lives to this nasty virus, and that continues,” Ghaly said. “That said, we understand a little better where it’s headed, and what’s happened over the last many weeks, and that is why we are prepared, after tomorrow, to allow the guidance for public indoor settings.”

By far the biggest continuing mask requirement remains in K-12 schools. Ghaly said that masks will continue to be required in schools, though a reassessment is set for Feb. 28.

Dr. Davey Smith, chief of infectious disease research at UC San Diego, said he trusts the state’s public health apparatus to react to trends in disease data by adjusting the responses it asks for, and sometimes demands, from the public.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego Union Tribune

Hundreds of San Diego Police Officers Unvaccinated as City prepares To Impose Mandate

The city plans to send notices of termination to employees who are not in compliance

SAN DIEGO — Brandon Gibson knows just how serious COVID-19 is. He beat back the disease two months ago.

“It kicked my butt,” he said. Yet he quit the San Diego police force earlier this month after 10 years because he is not ready to get the vaccine, an imminent condition of employment for city workers.

“I am not an anti-vaxer,” Gibson, 45, said in a recent interview.

He appreciates science, he said, but he has concerns about serious side effects — which health officials say are rare — and doesn’t agree with the city’s mandate.

People rallied against a vaccine mandate for law enforcement officers and firefighters at San Diego’s Civic Center Plaza on Oct. 22.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“It’s really infringing on our freedoms,” he said. “It’s my body; it’s my choice.”

So he quit.

Whether Gibson will be an outlier among the San Diego Police Department’s 1,982 rank-and-file officers will soon be evident. Wednesday is the deadline for all city employees to show proof of vaccination or request a religious or medical exemption.

According to city figures, around 60 percent of officers were vaccinated as of Nov. 17.

Mayor Todd Gloria on Monday will ask the City Council to move forward with the mandate, which the city announced in late August, despite an impasse with the San Diego Police Officers Association over the requirements.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego-Union Tribune

San Diego council votes to require gun owners to lock away firearms at home

The San Diego City Council voted 6-2 on Monday in the first of two votes to approve a new gun storage ordinance aimed at preventing accidental shootings and other firearm-related injuries and deaths.

City Attorney Mara Elliott introduced the Safe Storage of Firearms Ordinance last month. It would require all firearms in a residence be stored in a locked container, or disabled by a trigger lock, unless they are being carried by or are under control of the owner.

Monday’s vote was the first of two required for the ordinance to become law, and came after about 90 minutes of public comment, with about two-thirds of those who spoke urging the council to pass the ordinance. Those who opposed the proposed regulations told the council the ordinance infringes on their Second Amendment rights. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Diego Union-Tribune