A meeting of the San Diego Unified school board / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Local school district pension payments are on the rise for a couple reasons.

For starters, the state’s pension funds — CalSTRS and CalPERS — decided to lower their annual expected earnings on investment. The higher the expected earnings, the less money an agency needs to put up, because the assumption is that the market will make up the difference.


Secondly, the state’s pension funds enacted plans to completely balance their liabilities and assets in the coming decades.

Combine those changes with local employee raises and early retirement incentive packages, and it’s easier to understand why some school districts around the region are feeling the strain.

“Pension costs at San Diego Unified rose from $90 million in fiscal year 2016, to almost $120 million this year,” Ashly McGlone reports. “Contributions are expected to rise to $136.5 million in 2019 and $153.6 million in 2020.”

McGlone also takes a look at Grossmont Union, Poway, Sweetwater and Vista school districts.

Lorie Zapf and the Great Vacation Rental Stalemate

If you missed our Member Coffee this week, don’t fret. In this week’s Voice of San Diego podcast, Andrew Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt echo a similar conversation they had at the gathering at Liberty Station about upcoming ballot measures.

The San Diego Housing Federation wants to raise property taxes to help fund roughly 7,500 apartments for homeless and other vulnerable, low-income populations. The group will deliver its pitch to a City Council committee next week for a $900 million bond.

On the second half of the show, San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who’s running for re-election in District 2, came in studio to talk about the impact of criminal justice reforms on the homeless population. She also talks about the City Council’s stalemate on meaningful vacation rental regulations and why the voting public may need to intervene.

“Our neighborhoods are just completely falling like dominoes,” she said. “And there are turnstiles of tourists living in single-family residential neighborhoods.”

Removing Limits for Cancer Treatment

California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins introduced two interesting bills this week.

One removes any time limit for low-income and uninsured women receiving breast and cervical cancer treatment as part of a state-funded program. “There is no good reason to stop providing care while someone is still in need of it,” Atkins said.

The other bill would require hotel and motel employees to be trained in spotting the signs of sex trafficking and report those signs to cops. “San Diego is on the FBI’s list of top cities for sex trafficking,” writes Marisa Agha in this week’s Sacramento Report.

At the same time, the Senate unanimously approved whistleblower protections for legislative employees who want to report harassment and other illegal activity. Numerous lobbyists and staffers in California’s capitol have come forward in recent months to say they were harassed or assaulted and then professionally ostracized for complaining.

Also in the Sacramento Report, Democratic candidates for governor are preparing to debate in San Diego at the end of the month, an event that marks the start of the party’s convention. The California Republican Party is also hosting its convention in San Diego in May. Is San Diego now a swing region in California politics?

Commentary: Get With the High Times

Various elements of the marijuana industry will be paying attention to the South Bay next week when the Chula Vista City Council considers an adult-use ordinance — the second in a region of more than 3 million people. But as I wrote earlier in the week, the city is not exactly thrilled about what it’s doing.

Ahead of Tuesday’s public discussion, Manny Biezunski, a San Diego-based cannabis consultant, writes to encourage officials on. He gives them props for including drivers in the proposed licensing system.

“Consumers view cannabis no differently than they do a pair of headphones from Amazon or a large poke salad from DoorDash,” he says in an op-ed. “We want to place an order from our smartphone and trust that it will be delivered to us promptly and in good condition.”

Overheard in the South Bay

Chula Vista’s willingness to write regulations — even reluctantly — got me wondering whether the stigma of marijuana is waning in other parts of the South Bay (and San Diego).

I asked Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, among others, if he’s noticed a shift in attitudes. His city is considerably more liberal on these matters, I know, but I wanted his perspective anyhow.

He was adamant: Nothing changed in IB with the passage of Proposition 64. When he was seeking election in 2014 and knocking on doors, he said, “everyone I talked to was either high or wanted to get high.”

We Probably Need Another Plan for Getting Money to Build Things

Michael Smolens of the Union-Tribune argues we shouldn’t count on Congress and President Trump to solve the region’s transportation woes. Despite Trump’s plan to pump $1 trillion or more into state and local projects, the president, as I also reported last year, is more likely to get around $200 billion through Congress.

In a recent podcast, Scott Lewis and Keatts asked U.S. Rep. Scott Peters about whether San Diego would be able to collect what it anticipated from the federal government. The San Diego Association of Governments’ entire plan for local transportation depends on it getting more than $3 from either the state or federal government for every $1 it is investing in those projects.

SANDAG officials have acknowledged to make this come true, they expect legislators to pass yet another increase in the state’s gasoline tax and money from it will help SANDAG reach its goals. We’re not even certain the one just passed will survive a potential referendum.

Peters said any expectations of major federal investment in things like SANDAG’s plan should be managed.

“We think the Trump administration is eviscerating everything,” he said. 

In Other News

In addition to her annual pension, San Diego’s departing police chief is expected to leave with nearly $900,000 in a deferred retirement option program account. (Union-Tribune)

Campaign finance reports for the last three months of 2017 are trickling out this week, and Duncan Hunter’s campaign raised about $50,700, the lowest during its decade-long existence. The congressman is under federal investigation for campaign spending. (Union-Tribune)

The U-T also surveyed fundraising totals in the county races.

A former American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties spokeswoman is alleging that her firing was the result of age and sex discrimination and a hostile workplace. (Times of San Diego)

 President Trump’s border wall prototype project has cost the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department $1.4 million, about half of which represents overtime pay. (NBC 7)

The rapper MC Flow filmed a music video at one of San Diego’s Urbn Leaf dispensaries several weeks ago, but it just popped up on Reddit. Several commentators used it as an opportunity to complain about the price of the legal weed, which is echoed in shops across the city.

Top Stories of the Week

1. It Looks Like San Diego’s Preparing Its Vast Sports Arena Land for Redevelopment

San Diego owns many acres of land in the Midway District and it appears to be reluctant to extend leases around the Valley View Casino Center, and at the arena itself, beyond 2020. City planners are also finalizing new zoning rules for the area. It’s all heading toward a major redevelopment. (Lynn Walsh)

2. How Police Stumbled Onto a Human Smuggling Ring — At a House They’d Been Called to 53 Times

Neighbors called the cops 53 times on a home in Chula Vista. But it took pure dumb luck for Border Patrol and the San Diego County Sheriff’s to find out a human smuggling ring was operating there. (Adriana Heldiz)

3. Reluctantly, Chula Vista Is Going All-In for Pot

San Diego’s marijuana permitting system is up and running, while South Bay communities are still ironing out the details and taking vastly different approaches. In Chula Vista, the marijuana industry’s threats of forcing the issue onto the ballot have worked. (Jesse Marx)

4. Politics Report: Sports Arena Intrigue

We got a hold of a new poll. The DA and former DA go to the Women’s March. Labor Council goes with Fletcher for county supervisor. (Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts)

5. Illegal Pot Shops Are Opening Faster Than San Diego County Can Shut Them Down

San Diego County has banned pot dispensaries in its unincorporated areas, but the Sheriff’s Department can’t enforce the ban, because the locations that are shut down just re-open. Spring Valley has become the Wild West for illegal pot shops. (Kinsee Morlan)

Check out the rest of the list here.

Jesse Marx

Jesse Marx is Voice of San Diego's associate editor.

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