The San Diego Convention Center / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Now that a hotel-tax hike proposal to pay for the San Diego Convention Center expansion will not be on the 2018 ballot, questions are swirling about whether the project is still salvageable and whether the city must still fork over a $5 million deposit to secure the land for the project, VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt writes.

A hasty June deal that secured the land relied on voters to decide if the expansion should happen, but didn’t specify what would happen if voters didn’t get to decide this year. Voters may still get a say in 2020, but the city will have to decide what to do between now and then. Skipping the payment will likely invite a fight with the land’s leaseholders, who’ve said they’re owed the money. But it wouldn’t be the first time the government reneged on its commitment to pay for the lease after expansion funding plans fell apart.

An Ideas Lab Is Coming, Naturally, to the IDEA District

The IDEA District is the lofty name for an area in East Village envisioned as a place that will be home to innovation, design, education and the arts.

So it’s only natural that the latest planned addition to the neighborhood is a place that will generate … ideas.

“The community center, dubbed the Design Thinking Incubation Lab, will be built at the corner of Park and Russ Boulevard. … It’s planned as part of a new campus for Urban Discovery Academy, a charter school with locations in East Village and Little Italy,” Kinsee Morlan writes in this week’s Culture Report.

The CEO of Urban Discovery said the vision is for students to work with professionals and academics to brainstorm solutions to all kinds of real-world challenges, from food waste to affordable housing.

Judge: Undergrounding Is Above Board

A judge sided with the city on a lawsuit challenging the plan to move overhead power lines underground.

The suit claimed that an SDG&E surcharge used to fund the project was an illegal tax that should have gotten voter approval.

“By removing the SDG&E overhead system of poles and lines from our neighborhoods, we enhance their beauty, safety, and walkability,” City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said in a statement. “Had plaintiff prevailed, our Utilities Undergrounding Program would have been thrown into chaos, and the huge payout he sought would have come at the expense of community services like parks, streets and public safety.”

The city has an interactive map where you can see the status of the various undergrounding projects around town.

Opinion: Officials Should Take Pension Risks Seriously

While some blame the stock market crash of 2008-09 for underfunded public pension systems near and far, Robert Fellner makes the case in a new VOSD op-ed that San Diego County’s pension problems can be traced back to government decisions that boosted benefits and ignored investment risks. The county fund, known as SDCERA, has seen accrued liabilities balloon by nearly 1,300 percent in the last 30 years and, “The real culprit was an explosive growth in the size of promised pension benefits, and the flawed accounting practices that encouraged such recklessness,” writes Fellner, executive director of the public pay database Transparent California. Fellner says it’s high-time San Diego County pension fund leaders acknowledge the real risk posed by investments, because not doing so punishes taxpayers and new government employees.

County officials recently approved an extra one-time payment of $13 million to the pension fund to help narrow the funding gap between assets and liabilities, which totaled more than $3.5 billion in fiscal year 2017.

In Other News

  • KPBS lays out what’s known and unknown about the final hours of Earl McNeil’s life in National City police custody in a visual timeline. As VOSD’s Jesse Marx has reported, National City officials have responded to protesters with open disdain, and the case raises new questions over how police respond to the mentally ill.
  • San Diego County students passed AP exams at a higher rate than the state average in 2017, new data shows. (inewsource)
  • A hammerhead shark gave Oceanside beachgoers a scare Tuesday. (Union-Tribune)
  • Fire officials no longer believe a fire burning off of state Route 78 in San Pasqual Valley was set by an arsonist, and now think it was sparked by the rim of a car tire. (Union-Tribune)
  • The founder of San Diego’s Black Panther chapter died this month. As the Union-Tribune’s Peter Rowe recalls in an obituary, Kenny Denmon is remembered as a powerful speaker who railed against poor housing and the inadequacy of the legal system and founded a free breakfast program at the Christ the King Catholic Church. He also went to jail in 1980 for 16 counts of armed robbery that he committed while chasing gambling debts. His funeral is Wednesday morning at St. Stephen’s Cathedral God in Christ Church.
  • The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has found that activists deserve to have their free speech claims heard in court, over their case against the Customs and Border Protection’s policy requiring prior permission before taking photos or video on port of entry property, reports the Union-Tribune. One of the plaintiffs is Christian Ramirez, the human rights director of Alliance San Diego who ran for City Council in June, missing a place in a November runoff by just three votes. We had Ramirez on the podcast earlier this year.
  • The San Diego City Council revamped its business incentive program, making it more focused on supporting businesses and growing jobs in low-income neighborhoods, and increasing the program’s transparency and notoriety so it isn’t reserved for people already connected to City Hall. Those changes came on the heels of a blistering city audit that found the program rife with problems. Earlier this year, we covered those problems, ranging from poor record keeping, offering incentives to businesses that shouldn’t have qualified, failing to reach poorer communities and a lack of any analysis demonstrating that the incentives were achieving concrete goals.
  • The Chargers still haven’t won over Ice Cube in Los Angeles. He had a request for San Diego: Stop sending teams we don’t want to Los Angeles. Plans to ship over the group that screwed up the Convention Center signature-gathering effort were put on hold.

The Morning Report was written by Ashly McGlone and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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