Task Force Meets in San Diego, Debates Eligibility for California Slavery and Racism Reparations

The task force is charged with making recommendations to the legislature by June on reparations for the effects of slavery and systemic racism for Black people in the state

A state task force charged with studying and making recommendations for reparations to Black residents of California who have suffered harm from the effects of slavery and systemic racism met in San Diego Friday and discussed at length who would be eligible.

The meeting, which continues Saturday at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center at the SDSU campus, comes less than six months before the task force is to issue its final conclusions.

The task force of nine members, including San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, has been meeting regularly for the past 18 months around the state. The work is complicated and extensive: an interim report issued in June runs to nearly 500 pages. It is also groundbreaking, the first time any state in the country has tackled the issue of historical reparations for Black citizens.

The task force has already made some key decisions. The biggest, in March, was to determine that eligibility for any future payment would be limited to Black state residents who are descendants of enslaved people, or of a free Black person living in the U.S. by the end of the 19th century.

That standard would exclude some individuals, such as Black people who came to the U.S. after the end of the 19th century.

Among other issues the task force is hashing out, economists are attempting to quantify the economic losses stemming from redlining, mass incarceration, environmental harm, and other categories.

The task force is also expected to recommend non-monetary steps the state should take. These could include issuing a formal apology from the state, and deleting language in the state constitution that prohibits slavery, or involuntary servitude, except to punish a crime. That allows prisoners in the state to be paid low wages, advocates say.

The task force was created under Assembly Bill 3121, a bill authored by then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego. Now Secretary of State, Weber addressed the task force at the start of the meeting, urging them to finish the work on time. “If you don’t push it forward, it loses momentum,” she said.

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

San Diego Already Has Plans to Get Rid of Gas Stoves

The mention of a hypothetical nationwide ban on gas-powered stoves sparked swift backlash from Republicans and a wave of media coverage. Locally, San Diego has already committed to retiring gas-powered everything – stoves included.

Congress feuded over a mere suggestion last week that gas-powered stovetops could be banned in the United States, but the city of San Diego has already committed itself to gutting almost all buildings of gas-powered everything — stoves included. 

The dispute in the capital erupted after a new study linked  the methane-powered devices to 13 percent of childhood asthma cases nationwide. The Biden Administration isn’t actually proposing a ban, as Politico reported, but the mention of a hypothetical one by a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission sparked swift backlash from Republicans and a wave of media coverage over whether it was time to retire the natural gas-powered stovetops of America. 

San Diego, by way of Mayor Todd Gloria’s update to the city’s Climate Action Plan, passed in 2022, is already committed to retiring them. That plan’s goal is to eliminate almost all natural gas use from buildings in the city by 2035. It includes not only buildings that have yet to be built, but calls for retrofitting apartments, restaurants and skyscrapers to run solely on electricity. 

Such retrofits are costly, and the city’s plan sets a dramatic target: phase-out gas from 45 percent of existing buildings by 2030 and then 90 percent by 2035. Once achieved, that’s equivalent to cutting 1.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses generated in the city per year. San Diego’s director of sustainability and mobility said in November 2021 the city plans to make this huge electrification jump by approving new building codes.

This so-called decarbonizing of buildings is a key component of the city’s wider goal of cutting nearly half of all its emissions by 2035.

Cutting fossil fuels out of homes means replacing gas stoves with electric-powered induction stovetops and swapping out gas-powered water heaters for electric heat pumps to do both heating and cooling. But the city has yet to pass specific policies directing private homes and businesses on how to achieve such retrofits. First, San Diego is looking at how it will retrofit public buildings under a Municipal Energy Strategy.

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of San Diego

‘Failing to Produce’: San Diego is Paying Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to Settle Public-Records Lawsuits — With More Coming

The Union-Tribune reviewed more than 20 lawsuits filed in the past five years that accused the city of failing to comply with the state open-records law.

The city of San Diego has paid more than $240,000 in attorney fees and court costs since the start of last year for denying California Public Records Act requests — and more judgments are likely coming soon.

In case after case, the city paid to settle allegations that officials improperly withheld documents, wrongly insisted there were no records or simply did not follow the law.

“The city violated the California Public Records Act by failing to produce at least one responsive, non-exempt public record,” Judge Eddie Sturgeon wrote in one February ruling, after considering the merits of a lawsuit brought by San Diegans for Open Government.

In that proceeding alone, Sturgeon awarded the watchdog group represented by San Diego attorney Cory Briggs more than $33,000 in legal fees and court costs.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reviewed almost two dozen lawsuits filed in the past five years that accused San Diego or other local jurisdictionsof failing to comply with the state open-records law by claiming unjustified exemptions or denying there were any documents to release.

All but two were lodged against San Diego.

It’s possible the number of alleged violations is even higher. As a public agency, the city is involved in hundreds of lawsuits a year; the legal complaints must be reviewed individually to determine whether they allege mishandling of Public Records Act requests.

The allegations do not represent hugely significant costs for a municipality that raises and spends more than $2 billion a year.

But experts say San Diego’s habit of rejecting Public Records Act requests is troubling because scrutinizing government documents, recordings and other material is one of the most important checks and balances on elected and appointed officials.

“Citizens have a right to know how their government operates,” said Dean Nelson, who directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University. “That’s part of being in a democratic society.

“Laws like the public-records mandates are guarantees that we can see how our officials are conducting themselves and how they are spending our money,” he said.

A spokesperson for San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said the city has paid $242,000 since Jan. 1, 2021, for public-records cases brought against the city. Three of those cases were lost at trial; eight others were settled out of court.

The costs are in line with costs experienced by other large cities, the office said, but Elliott is nonetheless committed to finding ways to reduce those expenses and to make sure people get the material to which they are entitled.

“The process can always be improved,” spokesperson Leslie Wolf Branscomb said by email.

“The city attorney’s office has offered global solutions since at least December 2019, when the city attorney first advocated for a centralized office under the mayor that would coordinate city response to CPRA requests to provide information to the public with greater speed, consistency, and accuracy.”

In a court appearance earlier this month, a lawyer for the city complained that Public Records Act lawsuits “are becoming such a drain on city resources.”

“We have done everything we can,” Deputy City Attorney Erin Dillon told Judge Joel Wohlfeil during a hearing called to debate whether Briggs should be paid $600 or $750 for each hour he spent winning an open-records case.

“We admitted our mistake,” she added. “And Mr. Briggs continues to insist on discovery. It rewards this sort of brinksmanship and tactics.”

Like most plaintiffs’ lawyers, Briggs relies on the legal process of discovery — collecting internal documents and conducting depositions — to support allegations in their complaints.

The city of San Diego is not alone in failing to comply with the California Public Records Act.

Chula Vista is now litigating a lawsuit filed over video records from its police department’s drone program that officials have refused to release. San Diego County recently resolved a claim over documents requested for a regional law enforcement program.

But the complaints piling up against the city of San Diego are especially notable in light of the city’s past effort to make accessing public records more difficult.

At Elliott’s request, state Sen Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, introduced a bill in early 2019 that would have required people filing requests to “meet and confer” with agencies to discuss their requests before they are fulfilled.

The legislation also would have required plaintiffs to prove a public agency “knowingly, willfully and without substantial justification failed to respond to a request for records” to prevail in any lawsuit.

The bill was vilified by good-government advocates and others who worried that it would kneecap the public’s ability to monitor their governments and would shield public officials and agencies from liability.

Hueso withdrew the bill weeks after it began generating broad statewide criticism.

“The Public Records Act is an essential component of California’s strong commitment to open government and transparency,” the senator said in announcing his change of heart.

‘Intentionally withheld’

The city of San Diego receives thousands of records requests every year, more than 6,000 so far this year.

They come from lawyers, journalists, researchers, insurance companies and everyday citizens, people who are seeking everything from billing reports and arrest data to employee emails and other internal communications.

Like many jurisdictions, San Diego operates an online portal system that residents may use to submit requests, although the law says people can ask for documents any way they like. Agencies have 10 days to provide the records or explain why it will take additional time.

The law also requires the city to help people refine requests to get them what they want.

The Public Records Act contains a handful of exceptions that allow the government to legally withhold some documents. Those include the attorney-client privilege and the more subjective finding that the public interest is better served by keeping certain records secret.

Exemption claims by San Diego officials are behind many of the lawsuits filed against the city.

In February 2021, for example, San Diego taxpayer and resident Joshua Billauer submitted a request for any writings “directed to, received or reviewed by, or sent or created” by a supervisor in the Development Services Department over the prior four months.

The city released some documents over the next several months, but Billauer suspected there were other records that were being withheld. He sued, accusing the city of failing to conduct a thorough search for the documents and refusing to disclose others.

The “city intentionally withheld the public records responsive to the CPRA request prior to the commencement of this lawsuit,” the legal complaint said.

City officials denied the allegations, citing the attorney-client privilege exemption, and a hearing is scheduled for next month.

In other cases, San Diego has insisted there were no records responsive to a particular request only to be proved wrong through the exchange of documents and testimony in advance of any trial.

Last year, for example, after La Prensa San Diego publisher Arturo Castanaras sought communications from a specific city employee, officials initially rejected the request because it was filed by his attorney, Briggs, rather than by Castanaras.

When that tactic failed, court records show, the city argued that the documents were being withheld under the attorney-client privilege and because the public interest in non-disclosure outweighed the public interest in releasing them.

After Judge Ronald Frazier directed the city to provide him the disputed records so he could determine whether they should be released, the city adopted another position.

“(The) city has now submitted a declaration stating, contrary to the city’s initial response, that no documents were withheld on the grounds of attorney-client privilege or on any other ground,” the judge ruled last month in ordering the records released.

Castanaras has filed no fewer than eight public-records lawsuits in recent years and won the majority of those that have been decided. He said public officials leave him no choice but to take his claims to court when his requests are denied.

“Either they are so incompetent that none of their CPRA responses should be believed — and everybody should be concerned about that, or they are only doing it to me and forcing me to file lawsuits to get documents that I am entitled to,” he said.

The La Prensa San Diego publisher, who has been a sharp critic of San Diego city leaders in both stories and editorials, said he does not believe the failed responses are the result of innocent mistakes.

“There are some very good attorneys in the city attorney’s office,” Castanaras said. “This is a systematic way to limit the public’s access to public documents.”

$600 an hour

For years, Briggs said, he managed a thriving practice specializing in environmental law, challenging development permits, environmental impact reports and land-use policies.

But at least 15 years ago, after discovery turned up documents that had been initially denied, he said he began filing open-records violations before proceeding with legal challenges to environmental-impact reports or general plan amendments.

“These (development) deals are all hatched before the public sees the consequences,” Briggs said. “At that point, I started exercising my rights under the open-government laws.”

It did not take long for clients to begin seeking him out for help with document requests. He has filed dozens of records cases in the past decade-plus on behalf of individuals and San Diegans for Open Government.

“Most agencies are all the same when it’s on topics that are controversial — they all try to hide it,” said Briggs, who unsuccessfully challenged Elliott in her 2020 re-election bid.

“Where San Diego is different, as you can tell by the cases, is they simply refuse to admit that they withheld documents or they didn’t do a proper search — until the person in the black robe says so,” he said.

David Loy is the legal director at the First Amendment Coalition, an open-government advocacy group based in Marin County. He said public agencies should never lose lawsuits over government records because they should not be violating the law in the first place.

“The Public Records Act is supposed to be the cornerstone of governmental accountability and transparency,” Loy said. “So if the government is forcing you to sue to enforce that, at some level the public has already lost.”

The nonprofit legal director said governments, like most businesses and organizations, should maintain an efficient and effective records-keeping program.

“The solutions to these problems are not rocket science,” Loy said. “Document control is a standard feature of any large bureaucracy. The other question is: They have the documents — and are they wrongly asserting exemptions?”

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

These Are the Stories of Newly Homeless San Diegans

SAN DIEGO —  “I never thought this would happen to me.”

It’s a refrain heard often from people who suddenly fall into homelessness, and it’s being heard more and more these days.

For some, homelessness came about for economic reasons, such as with Robert Prokosh, who began living in his car when his rent went from $700 to $1,400 in one month.

Or it could be because of domestic violence, such as what Roberta Adams escaped from before moving into the San Diego Rescue Mission.

Or a job loss, which happened to Bobbie Bray, a former caregiver who now lives in her car in Oceanside.

For whatever reasons, more people are becoming homeless, and service providers across the county say they are seeing a surge in people seeking help.

Why are so many people falling into homelessness for the first time? There is no one reason. Ask five different people why they became homeless, and you’re likely to hear five different answers.

Aisha Hobson

Aisha Hobson, 41, pulls her 2017 Dodge Journey SUV into the Dreams for Change safe parking lot in Encanto around 8 p.m. most nights after finishing her work day and visiting her mother.

“When I come here, I try to decompress,” she said about her nightly routine. “My first few minute I pray.”

Hobson moved from Chicago to San Diego with her parents and siblings in 1994, and she has worked two jobs for much of her life. In 2020, she and her son and a friend were living in a three-bedroom El Cajon apartment for $2,450 a month, which she could no longer afford after her friend moved away.

Her son moved in with her mother, and Hobson began sleeping in her car because she couldn’t find another place to live.

Since then, she has earned a license as a pharmacy technician and is working at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest some days and the county’s Psychiatric Hospital on Rosecrans on others. Her schedule fluctuates from 40 hours one week to 48 hours the next.

“I make pretty decent money, but if I’m not hearing, ‘We don’t have a vacancy,’ I’m hearing ‘You have to have a better credit score.’”

Hobson is impressed by the many services that are available for people in need, but she feels that she is in the back of the line for help as a single person who is stable, sober and working.

“I’ve met some doctors who are homeless right now,” she said. “It’s hard to live in California right now.”

As someone who came from a stable family and is a working professional, Hobson is frustrated about her situation.

“The sad part is, even with the upbringing and doing things the right way, you still can fall, and sometimes you fall hard,” she said. “That’s the part that becomes frustrating. When you try to do everything right, and it doesn’t fall in place for you.”

Robert Prokosh

Sudden rent increases are not unique to San Diego.

Robert Prokosh, 68, was renting an apartment in Las Vegas when his monthly rent jumped from $700 to $1,400 in July. Unable to find another place and knowing it would not be possible to live in a car during a Las Vegas summer, he headed back to his hometown of San Diego.

“I grew up here,” he said. “I was raised here, went to school here. I owned homes in Linda Vista and Allied Gardens and San Carlos.”

Prokosh had moved away for work, and for years had a job as a tour bus driver before settling in Las Vegas. After the rent increase, he and his wife moved into the safe parking lot operated by Jewish Family Service in Mission Valley.

He’s not sure about his future plans. A few weeks ago, he had a heart attack at the parking lot, and a buddy drove him to a hospital.

“Now they’re talking about open-heart surgery,” he said. “They think I have a tear in my heart.”

Prokosh needs surgery, but said he is unsure when it could happen because the hospital will not schedule the operation until he has a place to recuperate other than his car.

Bobbie Bray

“It’s tough out here,” said Bobbie Bray, 60, who lives in her car in Oceanside. “It’s not for me. I don’t belong out here. I don’t fit in.”

Bray had her own cleaning business and was living with a family and working as a caregiver for a member of the household. After the woman she was caring for died last year, Bray said she got an apartment in Carlsbad, but was scammed out of $6,000.

“Everything from there just went downhill,” she said. “Any money I had in the bank went to hotels because I didn’t want to be homeless. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. I didn’t realize that was going to be very expensive, but my money just dried up.”

She began spending evenings in her car, but is only able to sleep a few hours each night out of fear.

“I’m never safe,” she said. “There’s always guys around my car, looking in. A few times they’d drive by and ask for sex. No way in heck. It’s not me.”

Bray has a grown son and said she had worked all her life and is looking for a job.

“I just need a place,” she said. “I work with a dog groomer as a bather, and I want to get another full-time job. I just want to work and have a place where I can lock the door and feel safe and cook something. I don’t care how big or how small.”

Delanie Bollinger and Mike Taveuveu

Oceanside couple Mike Taveuveu, 35, and Delanie Bollinger, 28, have been living in a car since Bollinger left her job about five months ago.

“I had a little apartment nearby, and I decided it wasn’t working out and I needed a little more freedom to figure out what I actually wanted to do before I get another job in six months to a year,” Bollinger said.

Taveuveu said he had been living with hissister and herfamily in Vista, but last year decided to move out to give them more space.

The couple said life on the street is not so bad, though Bollinger said she sometimes has second thoughts when nights are so cold she can’t feel her fingers or toes and her blankets don’t keep her warm.

“There’s days when I’m really blessed, and days when I’m like, man, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” she said.

While they acknowledge their homelessness was more of a choice than something that was forced upon them, they’re not sure how to get out of it.

Taveuveu said he will look for a job that is something he’ll want to do for a long time and can get him into an apartment, but he also knows it might be hard to make rent.

Bollinger said she doesn’t want to go back to a job she does not like, but knows that could be a challenge.

“There’s a lot of jobs, but most of the ones that are available are minimum wage, and minimum wage isn’t enough to afford a place here and afford food,” she said. “It’s not really feasible. It almost feels pointless.”

Taveuveu said he keeps a positive outlook.

“No matter what, good or bad, we just know that we’re going to make it,” he said. “It’s got to be better. It’s going to get better. Just stay solid, keep moving forward and upward, you know?”

Johana Dedapper

Johana Dedapper, 47, has one of the more unusual stories about becoming homeless.

After an unhappy career working in a bank in her native Belgium, she opened an Airbnb after her two children moved out, and she decided to live an adventurous life of traveling and attending music festivals.

She met an American man staying in her Airbnb, and they became a couple traveling to concerts across Europe. When his visa expired and he returned to the United States, he invited her to join him, and she arrived in the country Oct. 6.

Their travel adventures continued, and they were joined by a male friend. Her boyfriend suggested they attend a Katy Perry concert in Las Vegas and she agreed, though the singer’s music was hardly the type they had been enjoying together.

“He had a gambling problem and I didn’t know it,” she said. “In two and a half hours, he gambled all of his money and our money. My friend and me, we were trying to do everything to get him away from the table.”

She lost about $3,700, and all three were broke, and they spent the night in their car.

The couple’s travels continue, and they arrived in Ocean Beach last month.

Dedapper then experienced another side of her boyfriend she had never seen, as he began getting cash advances from his credit card and buying cocaine. She said he became verbally abusive, and one day a homeless person she had befriended intervened, and she began living on the beach with her new friends.

”I think they probably saved my life,” she said. “I knew it was getting dangerous.”

A chance conversation with someone from the San Diego Rescue Mission led to an offer to join their program. Dedapper said she realized this was an opportunity she had to take, and she enrolled in the year-long residency program in early December.

“After three days I finally stopped crying and I said, ‘Once I get back on my feet, I’m going to give back what you guys gave me,’” she said. “Not only that, but I’m going to help every one of my friends on the beach.”

Roberta Adams

San Diego native Roberta Adams, 62, has overcome addiction and homelessness in the past year, emerging from a dark place that resulted in a week-long hospital stay and three follow-up visits.

She described a past relationship as toxic, abusive and very drug-related, which lasted on-and-off for a few years.

While living in Hemet, she left the man she was with, entered a program to become sober, and for eight months lived in her own place.

“Then COVID hit, and the next thing you know, I’m getting high again and inviting him back in my life again,” she said. “It was the same drama, worse than any other time, and that continued until I made up my mind to let that sh— go.”

Adams has diabetes, and she said she would neglect to take insulin shots when using drugs. Her health was failing by the time a friend paid her Uber fare to drive her from Hemet to Perris, where she caught a Greyhound bus to San Diego and then took a trolley to Grossmont Hospital.

“I couldn’t even see straight,” she said. “I couldn’t even walk straight.”

Her health stabilized after a week in the hospital, but Adams had no place to go. She did not want to move in with her grown children, and she found herself suddenly homeless.

Some at the hospital suggested she go to the San Diego Rescue Mission, where she entered a year-long program that she graduated from two months ago. She’s now on a waiting list for permanent housing.

“I know that God is working in my life,” she said.

She has blocked the man from her past relationship from seeing her, and she plans to attend a Narcotics Anonymous group every day once she has her own place.

“I don’t want to relapse ever again,” she said.

Christopher Johnson

San Diego native Christopher Johnson was heartbroken earlier this year and made a choice. He had to get back to his children, even if it meant being homeless.

He and his wife and four children had moved to Fort Worth, Texas, four years ago so his mother could be near her grandchildren. But the marriage broke up, and his wife moved back to San Diego with their three youngest children.

Johnson said he fell into a depression, but began to healas he focused on reuniting with children.

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

San Diego Unified Board Member Thinks Public Schools Should Replace Private Childcare Providers

California’s universal transitional kindergarten program rollout, which will bring free transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds in the state by 2025, and which San Diego Unified rolled out early, has had a devastating effect on the private childcare industry.  

Because state licensing requirements allow private childcare providers to care for significantly more 4-year-olds per teacher than younger children, 4-year-olds are the most profitable demographic for those providers. Some even take a loss when providing care for younger kids and make it up with older kids. And it’s exactly that demographic that UTK has hoovered up. 

KPBS recently reported that a San Diego County YMCA survey found “85 percent of childcare businesses have seen a reduction in enrollments of 4-year-old children and 76 percent have lost children to a TK program.”  

San Diego Unified board member Richard Barrera thinks there’s a solution for the weakened private childcare system – get rid of it altogether. 

“We can’t, as a society, look to protect a system (where) 3 and 4-year-olds are sort of a cash cow,” Barrera said. “I would hope that the goal eventually is to continue to move the public school system down to younger and younger groups of students.” 

Barrera thinks even describing the private childcare system as a system is inaccurate. To him, it’s a broken patchwork that doesn’t meet the needs of parents or workers in the childcare industry.  

“The move toward universal early childhood education is designed to replace a bad system with a good system,” Barrera said. 

The private childcare system has long struggled from a tricky dichotomy, pulled between the cost for parents and the wages of teachers. Childcare is already unaffordable for many families, while at the same time workers in the industry are underpaid. 

Barrera said a significantly expanded early education program would take care of both problems – it would be free and accessible to parents, and workers would get better paying jobs with better benefits. Encouraging the development of a pipeline of educators working in early childcare to receive the certifications required to work in TK classrooms would be vital for building up the workforce, Barrera said.  

“For people who really care about kids and devote themselves to kids, but are underpaid, don’t have benefits, don’t have any security in their employment, for them to be able to be on a path, toward working in the school district, I think would be a great approach,” Barrera said. 

San Diego Unified already has a school that has implemented the “cradle to career” model Barrera would like to see rolled out districtwide in the recently rebuilt Logan Memorial Education Campus, which provides care from preschool to high school. 

It’s an idealistic vision. But any dream of a districtwide, let alone statewide, rollout of Logan Memorial-style campuses would be a herculean task, said Rita Palet, executive director of early education programs and services at the San Diego County Office of Education. An expansion of that scale would require massive investments on top of the $2.7 billion the state has invested to support its UTK system. 

“This comes with a lot of expense, a ton of expense, and right now we’re fighting just for the education dollars that we need to meet the needs of our kids currently,” Palet said. “If it were to happen, would it be a benefit? Absolutely.” 

But Palet is also careful to point out that doing so would cause even more suffering for private childcare providers at a time when they’re stretched thin. She thinks the private industry has value for parents, especially those who prefer a school that aligns with their cultural or religious views, is in their local neighborhood or is smaller than district options.  

“You don’t want to look at eliminating that entire field because then you eliminate parents having options of where to bring their children,” Palet said. “And I think it’s really important that parents have a choice.” 

But Barrera is hopeful the realization that a new unified system is needed will come for state officials, especially given the visibility of the private childcare system’s current struggles. 

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of SD

El Cajon Looks to increase Penalties on motels Constantly Calling the Cops Amid Homeless Voucher Concerns

El Cajon leaders have recently worried about how homeless people renting local rooms affect the area.

But after reviewing records at all hotels and motels, officials now have broader concerns about how often police and paramedics are visiting facilities throughout the city.

Council members advanced a measure Tuesday to develop a plan that could ultimately penalize owners that are constantly calling first responders, in an effort to discourage motels from accepting too many “high-risk people.”

“What we’re saying is: Be more mindful of who you rent a room to,” said Councilmember Steve Goble, who’s on a subcommittee that has been meeting with owners. “That’s what is driving calls for service; it doesn’t matter where they came from, it doesn’t matter who paid for the room.”

The council’s rough plan follows a months-long dispute with county and state leaders over how many homeless vouchers should be allowed in East County’s largest city. More facilities accept vouchers in El Cajon than other parts of the region and many renters are from outside the city, which officials have said puts undue strain on local resources.

There have recently been more arrests near some hotels accepting vouchers, although police data does not show an exact correlation between vouchers and crime.

The city initially threatened to fine places accepting high numbers of vouchers, but backed down the same day the state attorney general threatened to sue.

El Cajon has 16 motels and 2 hotels, which together have almost 1,000 rooms.

Officials said facilities shouldn’t have to call police or firefighters more than one time per room, per year. Said another way, a 10-room motel would ideally ask for help no more than 10 times a year, a standard detailed in a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Only four places are currently under that limit, officials said. Five were close to the line while nine were notably above.

The city’s analysis covered calls for service from both fire and police departments during recent 12-month periods.

After Tuesday’s 4-0 vote, staffers must now hammer out more specific rules for owners. Leaders said they would first warn, and work with, motels creating a “public nuisance” before threatening to revoke licenses.

Officials cast the plan as a way to ensure residents and visitors alike are protected. Goble gave an example of domestic violence victims from outside the city who use vouchers in El Cajon.

“Those people deserve a healthy, safe place to be while they’re escaping a dangerous situation,” he said.

Goble added that he wasn’t concerned the plan would discourage people from calling during real emergencies because four places had already found a way to meet the proposed standard without prodding from the city.

“You’ll be more motivated not to rent your room to high school kids to have parties, you’ll be more motivated to not rent your rooms for prostitution purposes,” said City Manager Graham Mitchell. “This program, if it’s set up right, will give them more responsibility to be selective of who they are renting to without being discriminatory.”

California’s attorney general had previously said fining hotels accepting vouchers was a form of income discrimination.

On Tuesday, City Attorney Morgan Foley said the new plan sidestepped that concern by focusing on renters’ behavior, not their source of income.

The changes could similarly pressure organizations issuing vouchers, like Equus, to ramp up the support they offer participants, officials said.

“If you’re a property owner and you’re allowing homeless vouchers — now, all of a sudden, you have an incentive to ensure that Equus, or whoever, is doing the wrap-around services,” Mitchell added.

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

Could DA’s Decision Not to File Charges in SDSU Gang-Rape Case Have a Chilling Effect on Sex Crime Reporting?

People who work with sexual assault victims fear they the decision will give pause to sexual assault victims considering coming forward

The decision was months in the making: The District Attorney’s Office would not file criminal charges against three former San Diego State University football players accused of gang raping a 17-year-old high school senior at an off-campus party last year.

The announcement Wednesday closed one chapter in one of the county’s most-watched cases, although a civil case and a university inquiry continue.

And ripples from the case could reach far beyond those probes.

In issuing its statement, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office included this: “The conclusions reached in this review are specific to this incident and should not discourage any victim from coming forward and reporting a crime to law enforcement.”

There is good reason for concern, say activists and advocates, who fear the decision not to prosecute will give pause to victims of sexual assault who are considering coming forward.

Speaker and activist Brenda Tracy — who in 1998 reported gang rape by college football players in Oregon — said Wednesday’s decision “absolutely” has a chilling effect.

“People are looking at this and going, ‘Why, why, why should I put myself through this?’” she said.

“I’ve already seen multiple survivors on social media and people I talked to say, ‘This is why I didn’t report, and I’m so glad that I didn’t (report) because this is what I would have to go through.’”

Even after the #MeToo movement, with the societal attention and advancements it brought, struggles in investigating and prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases endure.

Believing the victim is only part of the equation. Alcohol or drugs may have been involved, potentially affecting the victim’s recall. Many suspects claim sexual encounters are consensual, and proving otherwise can be difficult.

The allegations of rape against San Diego State football players were detailed in a civil lawsuit the now 18-year-old woman filed in August in San Diego Superior Court. In it, she accused three players on last year’s Aztecs football team by name, including Matt Araiza, a stand-out punter newly drafted by the Buffalo Bills.

Within two days of the filing, the NFL team cut Araiza loose. The other two who were accused — then-18-year-old redshirt freshmen Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko — are no longer on the college team.

Attorneys for the three men said the District Attorney’s Office made the right decision to reject filing criminal charges. “I felt confident, based on what I knew, that they would reject the case,” said attorney Kerry Armstrong, who represented Araiza, last week.

Agent Joe Linta tweeted a statement Wednesday from Araiza: “I am grateful that the District Attorney and the San Diego Police Department have discovered all the facts and found no criminal wrongdoing. I am excited to continue my NFL career.”

According to the civil lawsuit, the incident happened at a College Area home not far from the university campus early Oct. 17, the end of a Saturday night party that had stretched into early Sunday morning.

The suit alleges that Araiza, then 21, had sex with the teen in a side yard of the residence before bringing her into a bedroom where a group of men took turns raping her. Leonard and Ewaliko were part of that group, according to the lawsuit.

The woman said she stumbled out of the room bloodied and bruised and immediately told her friends she’d been raped. She reported the encounter to San Diego police a day later.

The investigation lasted months.

In announcing the decision last week, District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office said a team of prosecutors and investigators “meticulously analyzed all the evidence in the case” — including a rape kit, DNA results and at least 35 taped witness interviews.

They said 10 search warrants turned up more evidence, including video of the incident itself.

When prosecutors are evaluating these kinds of cases, they have to believe they have enough evidence to prove to a jury — beyond a reasonable doubt — that a crime was committed and that the accused is guilty.

“Ultimately, prosecutors determined it is clear the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges and there is no path to a potential criminal conviction,” the office said in a statement.

The District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that it evaluated the case for several criminal charges, including statutory rape, forcible rape, forcible oral copulation and rape by intoxication.

Armstrong, a criminal defense attorney, said he was most concerned about statutory rape charges. He has said repeatedly that Araiza did have sex with the teen, but that it was consensual and he believed she was 18.

In California, if someone has sex with a child younger than 14, there is no legal defense, but if the teen is 14 or older, that person can argue that they had a “reasonable good faith belief” that the person they had sex with was 18, Armstrong said.

In the young woman’s lawsuit, she said she told Araiza that she was a student at Grossmont High School in the El Cajon area.

But Armstrong said he and his investigators spoke with witnesses at the party that night who said they heard the teen tell Araiza and others that she was 18 and a student at Grossmont College, a community college in El Cajon.

“Just because we see it a certain way doesn’t mean the DA will, but we felt really good about that particular charge,” Armstrong said.

Former prosecutor Samuel Dordulian, who spent 13 years as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County, said that when prosecutors decide not to file charges — even if that decision is appropriate — what the sexual assault survivor hears is: “They don’t believe me.”

He said survivors may not understand that prosecutors aren’t necessarily making a decision about their credibility.

“It’s a determination of whether they can prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence that they have.”

Dordulian, who now represents sexual assault victims in civil cases, agreed that decisions against a criminal case can have an unintended chilling effect on others.

“It keeps future survivors from coming forward,” he said, “because they say, ‘Well, look, this woman has the guts to come forward and look what happened. She got shamed in public, and now, no one believes her. Everyone’s calling her a liar.’

“That’s not what’s happening, but that’s how they’re reading it, that’s how they’re interpreting it,” he said.

The news of no charges frustrated Tracy, an activist and public speaker — a role that unwittingly tied her to the San Diego State case. Weeks after the reported assault, the university asked Tracy to give her presentation to its athletes, starting with the football team. She did so, but was not made aware of the specific allegations against Aztec players.

Tracy said one of the “most infuriating things” about the district attorney’s decision not to file charges “is chatter from people who say, ‘Well, if there was really a case, the DA would take it.’

“That’s just not true,” Tracy said.

It’s unclear how the district attorney’s decision will affect the ongoing civil suit.

Dordulian said judges often do not allow juries in civil cases to be told that prosecutors declined to bring charges in a criminal case. That’s partly because criminal and civil cases have different standards of proof.

In a criminal trial, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, it’s far lower — a preponderance of the evidence, or, more simply stated: the allegations are more likely true than not true.

There is another notable difference between civil and criminal trials. In a criminal trial, the jury must come to a unanimous agreement to reach a verdict. In a civil trial, only nine of the 12 jurors have to agree.

Verna Griffin-Tabor, CEO of the Center for Community Solutions, the only rape crisis center in the county, said moving through the justice system can be traumatic. It can involve lengthy and invasive forensic exams, reliving trauma during interviews with detectives and prosecutors, and facing the accused during a trial.

To go through that, only to learn that a case isn’t moving forward, is devastating for survivors, she said.

Griffin-Tabor said she also worries about others who haven’t decided whether to report their experiences.

“I always am concerned that if there isn’t an outcome that the survivor wants, not only will it impact that person, but also other survivors from coming forward.”

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

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