San Diego County has long faced criticisms that it doesn’t do enough to help the vulnerable populations it serves.

Last year, county leaders took a step toward addressing that charge by announcing Project One for All, an ambitious project to move 1,250 seriously mentally ill homeless people into apartments.

As our Lisa Halverstadt reports, “the county’s efforts have brought some early success. The county and housing authorities placed 95 clients in permanent housing through the end of last month. Another 145 were searching for homes, and many had moved into temporary housing while they looked.”

But vouchers aren’t always a ticket to a home, and the homeless people with serious mental illnesses being targeted by the program can be resistant to accept help. On top of the difficulties and complexities of helping a vulnerable population, there’s also been some confusion as the program ramps up.

“The manager of a downtown-focused homeless outreach team whose contract was beefed up last year with the influx of Project One for All resources in mind told me he wasn’t sure where to take clients to get Project One for All housing vouchers,” Halverstadt writes.

Trump Watch: Sanctuary State?

“The California Legislature advanced a bill Tuesday that would provide statewide sanctuary for immigrants by restricting local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities,” the AP reports. The bill is still in the early stages of the legislative process.

Meanwhile, Mayor Kevin Faulconer has issued another relatively mild statement opposing the refugee ban  (it’s “not the right direction”), and the city of San Francisco has sued the president, “claiming the executive order that cuts funding from sanctuary cities is unconstitutional and a ‘severe invasion of San Francisco’s sovereignty.’”

Robert McElroy, San Diego’s Catholic bishop, ripped into the president’s refugee ban in a statement: The act “repudiates our national heritage and ignores the reality that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression.” He adds that “this week is just such a shameful moment of abandonment for the United States.”

The U-T reports that simply being a “welcoming city” — a city that simply welcomes immigrants — is controversial in the South Bay. (A “welcoming city” is a far cry from a “sanctuary city,” which implies that law enforcement won’t cooperate with the feds on immigration matters.)

Encinitas, Lemon Grove and Solana Beach have declared themselves to be “welcoming” to immigrants, while Imperial Beach’s mayor said the city is welcoming but then retracted his statement because the City Council hadn’t weighed in. National City’s leaders have tentatively voted to be “welcoming,” while Chula Vista, the second-largest city in the county, is thinking about it.

Water Woes: San Ysidro Students Turn From Tap

Over 1,500 students and teachers at three schools in San Ysidro are drinking bottled water after tests found elevated levels of lead, copper and bacteria in school sinks and drinking fountains.

According to school district Superintendent Julio Fonseca, lab results show “slightly elevated levels” of lead and other toxins are coming from old faucets and fixtures – not the water itself or other plumbing in the schools. He said the district is working to upgrade faucets in coming weeks at San Ysidro Middle School and Smythe and La Mirada elementary schools. Lead poisoning, which can cause development problems, is most likely in low-income communities. The State Water Resources Control Board is working with schools across California to test for lead.

— Ry Rivard

A Fast, Efficient Rail Ride to L.A. Is Possible

Riding the train from San Diego to L.A. can be a great convenience compared with enduring Orange County and Los Angeles traffic, but it takes a long time (three3 hours if there aren’t delays due to problems like crashes), it’s not cheap and it’s not always reliable since the service sometimes shuts down completely for repairs.

In a VOSD commentary, Alon Levy, a Paris-based mathematician and public transportation policy writer, notes that this train route and the nearby I-5 freeway are mighty busy. “Yet the plans for California’s high-speed rail prioritizes the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco instead. It will take decades for high-speed rail service to reach San Diego.”

However, he writes, “there are steps Southern California officials could take in the meantime, however, that would drastically improve rail services and encourage more people to ride.” They include: lighter electric trains and bypassing Miramar Hill.

Pot Rules Still a Little Hazy

The San Diego City Council voted to approve regulations that would give medical marijuana dispensaries exclusive rights to sell recreational marijuana beginning in 2018, reports the Union-Tribune. The Council tabled a proposed ban on other pot-related activities, like growing, processing and testing and decided to come back and re-evaluate whether to allow those businesses later this year.

Legislators are worried that the state won’t have a system in place to regulate recreational marijuana by the end of the year. (L.A. Times)

Amid Long Waits, S.D. Misses VA Funds

A joint investigation by KPBS and NPR probes congressional efforts to shorten VA wait times: In Southern California, the journalists “found no discernible pattern in how the VA actually spent the money earmarked for hiring. The VA says 5 percent of $2.5 billion was held so they could give priority to 33 VA hospital systems around the country. In fact, every Southern California VA medical center was given priority except San Diego’s. Yet in 2014, if a veteran needed to see a mental health specialist, San Diego had one of the longest wait times in the country.”

The money was gone by the time San Diego asked for it. Now, wait times for mental health professionals are becoming shorter, “although more veterans are waiting longer than 30 days to see a mental health provider in San Diego than when the law passed in 2014.”

Lawyer: Traffic Ticket Amnesty System Is Broken

More than 175,000 Californians have been able to get their traffic ticket fines reduced thanks to a 2014 amnesty. But the number of cases in San Diego County is just 7,000, suggesting that the program hasn’t caught on here as much as elsewhere in the state.

What’s going on? In the second part of a two-part series, an attorney tells KPBS that “hundreds of people with traffic tickets have complained to her office over the last two years that their applications for amnesty are being returned as incomplete.”

The amnesty program ends in March. “Only people who received tickets due by Jan. 1, 2013, who have a suspended driver’s license and who are paying off tickets qualify for amnesty,” KPBS reports. “They can receive up to an 80 percent reduction on what they owe.”

Unpaid traffic fines can add up, especially when they multiply. And the fines can haunt people for years, even decades: In 2009, I wrote a VOSD story about a Washington state man who found himself facing a $322 bill for a busted taillight ticket he got in San Diego … in 1991. He said he’d paid, but he didn’t keep 19-year-old records.

“For the perspective of the county court system, however, it’s business as usual,” I wrote. “An old debt is no different than a new debt, and the passage of time doesn’t get anyone off the hook.”

Culture Report: A New Old Town Attitude

The tourist haven of Old Town is looking to draw locals through a brand-new collection of artists, craftsmen and entrepreneurs housed in 1920s-era cottages. That’s the lead story in this week’s VOSD Culture Report, which notes that the businesses hope “to be a cool destination for locals.”

Also in the Culture Report: Spoken-word opera, the impact of potential cuts to federal funding for the arts and a new neighborhood sign that may be unlike any other.

Quick News Hits: What’s Their Frequency?

Henry Coker, the chief county public defender, is retiring, the U-T reports. He’s run the public defender’s office since 2009.

The airport is debuting two hours of free wi-fi for passengers instead of the usual 30 minutes and upgrading it to allow video streaming. Of course, if someone needs to be at the airport for more than two hours, shouldn’t they get all the wi-fi (and mood stabilizers) that they could possibly need?

The city’s looking to expand its rent-a-bike program to La Jolla, and some La Jollans aren’t happy. Critics include a bike rental business owner who says he’s been losing customers. (CW6)

CityBeat columnist Ryan Bradford drops by a “Past Life Therapy” meeting at the Unarius Academy of Science, home to a “science” (as its folks call it) or a “cult” (as other folks call it) devoted to “past lives, self-healing, Atlantis, higher planes, and interdimensionality.”

This spectacularly wig-happy compilation of Unarius films will tell you more about the history (now 60-years-plus) of what the io9 blog calls “the most awesomely bad UFO cult ever.”

Bradford learns that Unarious stands for Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding Of Science. He also discovers that aliens “keep buzzing our planet because they’re raising our consciousness … and Unarius is trying to meet their frequencies.”

Hold all my calls! I have some frequencies to meet.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. He is also immediate past president of the 1,200-member American Society of Journalists and Authors (asja.org). Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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