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An immigration court in downtown San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The American legal system is designed around the idea that courts should be speedy.

They’re usually not, though. Resolving a speeding ticket can take months. A murder trial can take years. Lawsuits can take decades. This we know.

Our Maya Srikrishnan spent a day listening to more than a dozen hearings in immigration court to get a better sense of what goes on in these proceedings. She found the commonplace bureaucracy you’d expect from the courts, but also the little ways – language barriers, lack of legal representation and different rules – in which the proceedings are often stacked against immigrants.

Also, despite the Trump administration’s push to deport as many people as possible as fast as possible, we find a waiting game. One Mexican national has been pushing off his case since 2013. One judge doesn’t have openings for new hearings until 2019.

At the downtown courtroom, judges only hear cases of people who are not currently detained – they’re allowed to continue living and working while they await their hearings.

As Srikrishnan reports, that makes for an entirely different ambiance than the immigration courtrooms at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, where all the hearings are for detainees – most of whom don’t have attorneys or visitors in court. She once witnessed a Brazilian asylum-seeking man there beg an immigration judge to “just deport me.” He was so convinced of the hopelessness of his plea that he wanted to just get what he saw as an inevitable deportation over with.

Meanwhile, at the border: Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a Monday appearance along San Diego’s border with Mexico, where he talked about a new policy that will result in more children being separated from parents who are apprehended at the border.

Sessions also made clear that this administration is increasingly using criminal prosecutions against unauthorized immigrants. Immigration courts already face a huge backlog and immigration-related prosecutions are increasingly taking up the limited time and resources of federal prosecutors at the expense of other crimes, which is why the Justice Department announced last week that it would be sending more immigration judges and U.S. attorneys to the southwest border, including San Diego.

Sessions’ news conference, which was in front of the part of the border fence that extends out into the Pacific Ocean, was interrupted by a protester calling the administration racist.

Speaking of appearances by national politicians …

… President Barack Obama also swung through town on Monday.

Environment Report: Water and Power

Last year, it looked like some long-running litigation over the price of water in San Diego was finally over. Courts, by and large, had rejected the argument that San Diego ratepayers were being overcharged for water by Southern California’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan Water District.

But it now seems like another round of litigation is on the horizon, as well as a new public relations campaign by the San Diego County Water Authority, which has been suing and bashing Metropolitan for much of the last decade. Some of the issues are major – billions of dollars is a lot of money – but other issues seem petty.

I also listened into Sempra Energy’s first quarter earnings call on Monday to hear what the company’s new CEO, Jeffrey Martin, had to say. He said the company is not worried about a draft ruling that denies Sempra’s bid to build a new $600 million natural gas pipeline into San Diego and that the company is not so much as a “gas company” as an “infrastructure company.”

(Disclosure: Mitch Mitchell, the vice president for government affairs at one of Sempra’s major subsidiaries, San Diego Gas & Electric, sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.)

O-mentum?

Omar Passons, one of five candidates for County Board of Supervisors, seems to be picking up some steam.

First, he was randomly chosen to be the first name listed on the ballot in that race. This simple thing can boost a candidate enough to tip a race. The so-called “ballot position effect” can be tiny for high-profile races with well-known candidates, but can be huge for races where voters aren’t really sure what is going on.

Second, the Union-Tribune’s editorial board endorsed Passons on Monday. The editorial board, which once prided itself for its Republican tradition but has endorsed Democrats in recent years, said Passons, a Democrat, outshines his opponents “on temperament and preparedness.”

The paper got in a jab at the one Republican in the race, former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who it wrote “showed little grasp” of major issues. We asked Dumanis about that line — and a host of other issues — in a podcast interview that’s dropping later this week. She said she’s been busy boning up on housing and other issues. Stay tuned.

What the Heck Is That Thing? North Park’s New ‘Water Tower’

North Park is getting a new landmark “water tower,” but anyone who tells you it’s real is all wet.

Residents and passersby have been buzzing for days about the weird-looking structure under construction at the eastern edge of North Park where Meade Avenue crosses the 805 freeway. City documents reveal it’s the skeleton of a 49-foot cell phone tower that will be disguised as a small water tower emblazoned with the name of the neighborhood.

The new water tower-like cell tower in North Park. / Photo by Randy Dotinga

North Park already has an iconic water tower, so the idea is that this will be a kind of faux twin.

How the heck did we end up with this thing? It’s all according to plan — the city’s General Plan. It says cell towers should be concealed in existing structures or hidden through “camouflage and screening techniques.”

Turns out there’s a whole industry devoted to hiding cell towers in fake houses, fake trees, fake rocks and even fake saguaro cactuses.

Is there a camouflaged cell phone tower in your neighborhood? Drop us a line (and a photo!) if you know of one. Or check databases like antennasearch.com or cellreception.com/towers to locate nearby towers that may be so hidden that you don’t even know they’re there.

Maybe you’ll find one in a grain silo, a big flagpole or – quirkiest of all – in a church steeple or cross. Makes sense because getting four bars in the middle of nowhere is nothing if not a religious experience.

Randy Dotinga

In Other News

  • Billionaire George Soros dropped a huge amount of money into the district attorney’s race. A new campaign finance disclosure shows he gave $1.5 million to the California Justice & Public Safety PAC to support Deputy Public Defender Geneviéve Jones-Wright in her race against interim District Attorney Summer Stephan. That’s on top of a $275,000 donation made public last week. (Disclosure: Voice of San Diego receives general operating grants from the Open Society Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Soros. Our supporters are listed here.)
  • As of Monday, ballots for the 2018 June primary election are headed to the mailboxes of those who’ve chosen to vote by mail. The San Diego County Registrar of Voters told KPBS that about 65 percent of registered voters in San Diego opt to vote by mail.
  • San Diego’s homeless court was launched 29 years ago as the first mobile court of its kind in the nation. The program serves homeless defendants by holding court at homeless shelters and helping people more easily resolve outstanding misdemeanor offenses and warrants. The Union-Tribune dropped in on a recent homeless court session and highlighted the stories of some of the people it serves.
  • It’s Southern California’s biggest dilemma: Homeless populations are surging, and everyone wants them off the streets, but no one wants housing for the homeless near them. The Washington Post says “compassion fatigue” is pushing cities across the state to clear out homeless camps, like officials did in San Diego last year when the hepatitis A crisis was unfolding. In response to the story, Assemblyman Todd Gloria tweeted, “You can’t end homelessness by ignoring it or shuffling those without homes from one city to the next. To solve this incredibly complex problem, we must engage and build more permanent supportive housing.”
  • A group is pushing for a ballot measure that would reform San Diego Unified school board elections. Group members told KPBS the current process is “stacked against change.” The school board just wrapped up a series seeking community input on possible reforms, and school board president and candidate Kevin Beiser said he’d consider the feedback before making a decision, but that the district is doing well and the elections are already a “significant process.” He’s running unopposed. VOSD recently broke down the reforms being proposed. As Mario Koran pointed out, the district isn’t obligated to accept or incorporate any of the reform proposals.
  • The San Diego Police Department is still struggling to fill open jobs and retain existing officers, but an upcoming pay raise is expected to help. (City News Service)
  • A three-day health care union strike is underway, and the staffing shortage will affect five UC San Diego medical centers. (NBC 7)
  • “A rugby revolution is taking place in the United States,” reports The New York Times. San Diego is one of the cities home to a professional rugby team.
  • Watch out wine country: Escondido-based Stone Brewing opened the doors to its new restaurant and brewery in a historic building in Napa over the weekend. Here’s Stone co-founder Greg Koch at the opening:
Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch at the grand opening of the new Stone Brewing restaurant and Brewery in Napa. / Photo courtesy of Stone Brewing

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