Just last year, California voters approved allowing local school districts to borrow $28 billion for various projects. Local governments borrowed even more for other projects. Taxpayers, of course, will pay the money back. Who’s minding the store to make sure the money is spent as promised? Watchdog groups are supposed to, but a new report by an independent state entity says they lack something important: Teeth.
In general, the overseers “have proven ineffective and some committee members have told the Commission that is at least in part, by design,” writes the Little Hoover Commission. “Most of the concerns revolved around bond oversight committee members who lack training, have conflicts of interest, either real or perceived, and the difficulty committee members have receiving required documents from the districts.”
As our Ashly McGlone reports, “those same issues have surfaced in San Diego County, where some appointees represent workers building bond projects and others get paid to lobby the very government officials they oversee.”
Groups that oversee San Diego Unified’s school bonds and SANDAG’s Transnet tax, for example, have had members who also work for contractors by day, the same ones who get the work from the bonds.
Opinion: Open Up on Scandal, SANDAG
In a VOSD commentary, local lawyer Gil Cabrera takes note of the unfolding scandal at the San Diego Association of Governments we uncovered regarding last year’s transportation ballot measure: “The public is entitled to know what the board members knew, when they knew it and what they did or did not do about it. Transparency and accountability go hand in hand. Those at SANDAG who are responsible for this monumental mistake must be held fully accountable.”
Cabrera, who unsuccessfully ran for city attorney last year, is former chairman of the San Diego Ethics Commission and current vice chair of the San Diego Convention Center Board of Directors.
No Clarity on Sanctuary Cities
KPBS digs into how local law enforcement agencies haven’t the foggiest idea what a “sanctuary city” is, even though the president says he will attack them by eliminating federal funding. The secretary of Homeland Security dropped by last week but didn’t help clarify anything.
We’ve reported on the muddled debate over what sanctuary cities (and states and counties) actually are. According to KPBS, California could be considered a sanctuary state because cops can’t hold non-felons on suspicion of being undocumented immigrants and then wait for federal officials to come collect them.
The state could go even further in this direction, and Sheriff William Gore seems to hope it won’t because $30 million for his department is at stake: ““Anytime you’re talking about the loss of federal funds it’s a concern. Personally, I don’t see San Diego County as a sanctuary county but that’s pretty poorly defined right now.”
• “Rumors of increased immigration raids and checkpoints in San Diego County are causing widespread panic among immigrant communities,” KPBS reports, “but officials and community leaders told KPBS that many of the reports are false.” According to the station, “some immigrants have become unwilling to leave their houses, go to work or drive their children to school.”
• The superintendent of San Diego Unified schools told parents in a letter that the district won’t allow immigration raids on their campuses.
Meanwhile, the district that runs community colleges in the city declared last month that it “would not allow federal immigration officials on campus without legal authority; act on behalf of federal agencies to enforce immigration laws or aid in deportation, or share student records containing immigration or citizenship status.” (U-T)
Legislator Pointed Donors to Boyfriend’s Charity
The U-T investigates how Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher “solicited tens of thousands of dollars in donations to her then-boyfriend’s fledgling charity” from major companies like SDG&E. The boyfriend, now her husband, is former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. “Several of them came after the same donors contributed the maximum allowed to Gonzalez-Fletcher’s re-election campaign” the paper writes.
Both deny any wrongdoing, and Gonzalez Fletcher said she might do this kind of thing — called a “behested payment” — again. Behested payments are legal, although a professor who follows local politics says “this is using public power to advance a personal interest.”
For more on behested payments, check out this explainer from 2015. Another local legislator, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, has collected far more of them than any other lawmaker in the state.
North County Report: Issa’s Crucible
This week’s VOSD North County Report focuses on Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the most high-profile members of Congress and a fierce foe of ex-President Obama. Now, he appears to be sluggish about the unfolding White House scandal over former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn: “Issa so far seems less interested in what President Donald Trump knew about Flynn’s communications with the Russians, and more concerned about how the information was leaked out,” writes Ruarri Serpa.
National Republicans have included Issa on their list of the 10 most vulnerable House members in 2018. Issa survived the scare of his political career in the 2016 election, edging out an obscure Democrat. (L.A. Times)
• Inewsource explores why Carlsbad’s Encina power plant, whose smokestack has been looming over the coast since 1954, will still be operating beyond the date it was supposed to be closed in order to protect the environment.
That’s because its $2.2 billion gas-powered replacement, built with a high (but apparently not the highest) level of urgency, won’t open on time. “It is impossible to know what kind of electricity project might have won if there had been competition for least cost, best fit and cleanest power,” KPBS reports. “But it is clear the new fossil fuel plant goes in at a time when new sources for electricity are burgeoning.”
Quick News Hits: Born in Baja
• “San Diego’s crime rate last year was the second-lowest in 47 years,” the U-T reports, based on numbers from city officials that show crimes like burglaries and domestic violence attacks are down. Still, “there were more 12 more homicides, six more rapes, nine more robberies and 743 more vehicle thefts last year than the year before.”
The rate of violent crime dropped by nearly 5 percent, the lowest in four decades.
• Poway Unified School District has tentatively hired a new superintendent, City News Service reports. She’s Marian Kim-Phelps, who now runs the Westminster School District in Orange County.
• The Reader has an update on the endless legal battle over the rebuilding of a Jack in the Box in North Park.
• The A.V. Club website has come out with dispatches from “the fish taco trail along the Baja coast.” Turns out “fish tacos are the only Mexican classic to originate in the peninsula.” (For details about how Mexican cuisine got to the U.S., check out my 2014 VOSD interview with a food guru.)
The new story also notes while “the last few years have seen Baja cooking sweep across mainland Mexico with the force of a storm surge,” Baja food — other than the fish taco — is only about 10 years old.
Here’s another tidbit: “According to local lore, fish tacos first emerged sometime in the 1950s, shortly after the first Japanese immigrants arrived there, as Baja’s answer to tempura.”
Interesting! Excuse me, I have to send a thank-you note to Tokyo.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.