A Border Patrol agent makes a drug arrest. / Photo courtesy of Customs and Border Protection

Increasingly large quantities of drugs are being seized at San Diego’s border.

Just this past weekend, Border Patrol Agents nabbed over 400 pounds of illegal drugs at ports of entry in San Diego and Imperial Valley, reported Fox 5.

But even as the border region has become a major gateway for drug smuggling, Voice of San Diego’s Maya Srikrishnan reports that federal agencies seem to be referring the lowest number of cross-border drug cases to the San Diego district attorney’s office in years.

The U.S. attorney’s office disputed two analyses showing fewer prosecutions, but wouldn’t provide any numbers of its own.

What’s causing the drop in prosecutions? Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy at the border, just about everyone caught crossing the border illegally is charged with a misdemeanor crime. The surge in prosecutions of those misdemeanor cases has crowded out other types of prosecutions at the border – including drugs. Charles LaBella, a former prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego, also told Srikrishnan that there are likely other factors at play too, including possibly a lack of communication or coordination with authorities in Mexico.

Why this matters: While many say drug prosecutions do effectively deter drug smuggling, LaBella, the former prosecutor, also told Srikrishnan that fewer drug prosecutions could mean fewer chances to gather intelligence about bigger drug operations. Low-level drug mules who get caught, for example, sometimes give prosecutors useful information that can lead to more impactful cases because they fear being put in jail, he said.

Fixing the City’s Water Woes

The head of the city of San Diego’s water department is stepping down, reports Ry Rivard.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has ordered a shakeup of the troubled department after a series of embarrassing problems were revealed.

Among the issues: After a wave of customer complaints about improbably high bills became public, instead of attempting to get to the bottom of the issues, the city’s water department denied fault, resisted oversight and downplayed problems, as Rivard reported in July.

The Effort to Overturn Vacation Rental Rules Moves Forward

Vacation-rental groups opposing new city rules expected to dramatically reduce the number of short-term rentals in the city on Thursday turned in signatures in hopes of overturning those regulations, reports NBC 7.

The committee of supporters led by vacation-rental platforms Airbnb and Expedia — known as Stand for Jobs, Stop the Vacation Rental Ban — reported it turned in more than 62,400 signatures to the county Registrar of Voters, thousands more than the nearly 36,000 required to qualify.

Now the county registrar’s office will begin conducting a random sample of signatures. Per city rules, the registrar will need to finish that review by Sept. 29.

If the measure qualifies, the City Council will then need to decide whether to send the matter to voters, or to rescind the restrictive vacation rental rules within 10 business days.

The Back-to-School Blues and More School News

It’s the first week of school for San Diego Unified.

In the recently rebooted Learning Curve, VOSD education reporter Will Huntsberry discusses how back-to-school time brings out the blues in some folks who will never go back to school again. And he brings up the not-so-cool fact that many San Diego schools have started the year without air conditioning yet again and reminds readers of the upcoming teacher shuffle that happens after the third week of every school year.

Huntsberry also explains why Airbnb is suddenly focusing on teachers.

Lawmakers OK Two Bills Inspired by VOSD Reports

State lawmakers are in a last-minute flurry to pass all bills for the year by the end of the day Friday. Among the many measures they’ve OK’d this week are two bills written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that were inspired by Voice of San Diego investigations.

AB 1974, would bar a school district from penalizing a student for any debts. It was inspired in part by Mario Koran’s report that San Diego Unified sent low-income parents who couldn’t afford to pay fees for their kids to ride the school bus to a collections agency. San Diego Unified, in the wake of the story and Gonzalez’s efforts on the issue, voluntarily ended its policy, but the bill is aimed at preventing all kinds of retaliatory moves by school districts as a result of students not being able to afford school fees.

AB 1584 attempts to close a loophole that the San Diego Police Department had found that allowed it to collect DNA from juveniles despite a state law limiting the practice, as VOSD contributor Kelly Davis reported.

The bill requires law enforcement officers to have a court order, warrant or consent from both a minor and his or her parent before a DNA sample can be taken.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto all bills.

In Other News

  • Local cities’ lawsuit against the federal government for not doing enough to stop cross-border sewage spills can proceed, a judge ruled this week. (Union-Tribune)
  • Ry Rivard and NBC’s Monica Dean explain why more housing is coming to rural areas that are at high risk for wildfires in the latest San Diego Explained video.
  • The Padres beat the Mariners on Wednesday, which might not seem like news, except that for the Padres, a win is news and, as The Atlantic points out, the Padres may be trying to profit off their poor performance and intentionally tanking, a controversial strategy to get better draft picks in the future.
  • The Union-Tribune reports that letters to the Justice Department from Rep. Duncan Hunter’s lawyer show the Hunters’ legal defence may rely on pointing to campaign finance law “gray areas” and calling the accusations civil, not criminal matters.
  • If you’re in our nation’s capital in early October you can take part in the “Duncan Hunter DC Pub Crawl” by hitting up some of the spots where the congressman is accused of misusing campaign funds. (Roll Call)
  • Lights in the sky Wednesday night were apparently military flares, not aliens. Though, of course, that is what they would say if it were aliens. (Fox 5)
  • San Diego has good tacos, of course, but people are really raving about Lola 55, a new shop in East Village. (Union-Tribune)

The Day in Police Dog News

The Morning Report was written by Ry Rivard and Kinsee Morlan, and edited by Sara Libby.

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