Photo by Sam Hodgson

Ever since they arrived in San Diego, automatic license plate readers have given civil liberties groups and reporters pause.

The cameras take pictures of the license plates on virtually every car in the county and enter them into a massive database that records where people go and when they go there, which law enforcement agencies say is useful for everything from finding lost cars to locating suspects of serious crimes.

But in late 2015, the state passed a law intended to put some privacy safeguards in place for how that data could be used. It was a modest set of regulations that wasn’t opposed by anyone, including law enforcement.

It’s not clear that the San Diego Police Department is following even those modest requirements, as Andrew Keatts reports in a new story.

That law forces users to log who accesses the system, when they accessed it, what license plate they searched for and the purpose for their search.

According to periodic reviews of SDPD’s records in both 2016 and 2017, officers haven’t entered a reason for their search nearly half the time they’ve accessed the system.

A spokesperson for a digital privacy advocacy group says it’s a clear violation of a simple law. SDPD, though, thinks it’s safe, since officers usually entered a case number into the system, even if they didn’t spell out the specific reason. Nonetheless, following Voice of San Diego’s inquiry, SDPD says it’s updating its policy.

The author of the 2015 law isn’t ready to litigate the disagreement. He says he wants local agencies to pass policies and have this sort of conversation about how to implement it.

SDG&E vs. City’s Climate Action Plan

SDG&E says it supports the city’s much-praised Climate Action Plan, which aims to protect the environment and reduce pollution. But, as our reporter Ry Rivard explains in this week’s VOSD Environment Report, the utility’s actions suggest something else: opposition.

There are two ways the city could reach the goals laid out in the plan: SDG&E could start providing power from much greener sources than it uses now, or the city could form its own agency to buy green power. SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra, says it backs the Climate Action Plan, but it has also “formed a special lobbying department, called Sempra Services, to attack the city’s efforts to enter the power market, citing potential risk to taxpayers and the public,” Rivard reports. “That means Sempra seemingly opposes one route to making the mayor’s vision a reality.”

And it might oppose the other route, too. It created a plan to use more green power, but a city-funded study of that plan found a lot to be desired.

“At this point, the accumulation of Sempra’s actions are a direct challenge to the logic of the plan. But the company seems unwilling to acknowledge that,” Rivard writes.

Also in the Environment Report: New developments in the age-old fight over Colorado River water, another nail in the coffin for our chances of getting a big water grant, an update on the border sewage mess and more.

Under Fire, Horse Rescue Outfit Shuts Down

Amid allegations of “multiple government investigations over allegations of fraud, animal abuse and improper veterinary practices,” Valley Center’s controversial HiCaliber Horse Rescue organization is closing, inewsource reports.

As inewsource explains, “the stories detailed ongoing investigations by local and state agencies; statements from former HiCaliber board members who said they knew nothing about the nonprofit’s financials and that records filed with the government were inaccurate; an alleged outbreak of a highly contagious equine disease at the ranch that was kept under wraps; and Knuttila’s questionable expenditures, including thousands of dollars spent on Weight Watchers, spy technology, late-night fast food and bar tabs and other purchases.”

News Isn’t Good for Newsom

It’s been a bad few days for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who’s running for governor.

First, the L.A. Times reported that he blew off “scores of meetings held by the University of California Board of Regents, the California State University Board of Trustees and the California State Lands Commission.” The story’s headline is pretty damning: “As lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom has had few duties — and he skipped many of them.”

Now comes a report in The Sacramento Bee that Newsom didn’t go to rehab for alcoholism as he led people to believe back in 2007.

He says he drinks now on occasion after quitting completely. (He’s a partner in three wineries.) Back then, he said, “I just stopped.There was no treatment, no nothing related to any of that stuff. I stopped because I thought it was a good thing to stop.”

Back then, his drinking and affair with one of his employees — who was the wife of his campaign manager/best friend — “grew into political scandal that tarnished the polished yet rebellious image he’d cultivated as the young, handsome mayor who wasn’t afraid to buck the Democratic Party establishment.”

Report: Border Patrol Made Up Agent Assault Figures

Attacks on Border Patrol agents have jumped in recent years, federal officials claim, with last year’s number up 73 percent compared with 2016. But The Intercept took a closer look and found 126 of those attacks took place in a single incident.

Wait, were 126 agents attacked at once? No, seven were. “According to conventional law enforcement accounting, this single incident should have been tallied as seven agents assaulted — not seven agents times six perpetrators times three projectiles,” The Intercept reports. “Subtracting the seven agents from 126 leaves 119 extra ‘assaults’ that falsely and grossly inflate the data, making it appear to the public that far more agents were assaulted.”

The vice president has referred to the surge in assaults on Border Patrol agents, offering it as reason to build a border wall.

Jail System Touts Opioid Crackdown

The county jail system, long under fire for its rates of suicides and deaths, is reporting what it considers to be good news: Prescriptions of opioids to inmates have gone down dramatically — by 98 percent since 2013 — thanks to a program that encourages use of over-the-counter painkillers, the U-T reports.

While officials are touting the numbers, critics warn that the national backlash against opioids is leaving pain patients in the lurch.

The jail system now appears to be sending out press releases about inmate deaths, VOSD contributor Kelly Davis noted on Twitter.

Improvements in fingerprint technology allowed the Escondido Police Department to link a suspect (now in custody) to a 1986 murder in which an elderly man was stabbed 31 times. (U-T)

State Considers Health Care Price Controls

So you may have heard of “single-payer,” a proposed way to overhaul the health insurance system that’s popular among progressive Democrats but hasn’t managed to gain traction at the national or state levels — including a failed push to bring a single-payer system to California last year, led by Sen. Toni Atkins. Now there’s a new idea in Sacramento, New York magazine reports: It’s called “all-payer.”

This system “pegs privately insured costs to whatever the federal government decides to provide via Medicare.” In other words, price controls.

“The California proposal (Assembly Bill 3087) will get its first test in a committee of the state legislature’s lower chamber [this] week,” the magazine reports. “It is supported fiercely by unions and consumers groups, and opposed just as fiercely by doctors and hospitals. One important variable is whether single-payer advocates view price controls as unwelcome competition for their own ideas, or support them as an alternative. Many eyes will be on the largest state’s approach to health care costs.”

Quick News Hits: Westworld Comes to San Marcos

A state Senate report “says not all school districts have to offer transitional kindergarten, or TK,” KPBS reports, and a legislative committee is considering a bill to “extend TK to all four-year-olds in the districts that offer it by 2022.” VOSD’s Kinsee Morlan has written on her desire to see TK extended to all students.

Here’s a cool video of the Chicano Park Day celebration.

Just in time for the season premiere of “Westworld,” KPBS profiles the San Marcos company RealDoll, which “makes sex dolls and is about to release its first model with artificial intelligence.”

KPBS quotes a “full-lipped robotic head” as saying “My name is Harmony. I have dynamic AI that learns through interaction. I’m from a place of ones and zeroes, maybe you’ve heard of it.”

Some reprogramming is in order. Buyers of these dolls are clearly more interested in finding the perfect 10.

The company’s CEO says the dolls aren’t just useful for intimate interludes: “Anywhere that you could conceivably see a use for a life-sized and fairly realistically weighted and posable figure then people find a use for it.”

How about to fill passenger seats in carpool lanes? Could be problematic, however. I can see it now: “Hello, officer. My name is Harmony. My name is Harmony. My name is Harmony.”

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 ( Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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