Some smart meters are known to be unreliable. / Image courtesy of NBC 7

A new audit, prompted in part by a Voice of San Diego and NBC 7 Responds investigation, gives more insight into the city’s outrageous lack of planning for a project to install over a quarter million new “smart” water meters in the city.

The program has been plagued with problems, which department officials initially tried to cover up.

While the meters did not contribute to erroneous bills sent to hundreds of customers over a year ago, auditors found new problems associated with the program. An untold number of customers – thousands, perhaps – received late bills from the city, resulting in multiple bills at once. That’s because of data entry errors and the way they are handled by a computer system and by department staff.

The audit finds that water department staff underestimated how complicated the project would be. There are still over 150,000 smart meters left to install.

Encinitas Case Reveals Subjective Email Deletions

An Encinitas employee’s deposition in a public records case against the city has provided a window into the subjective and arbitrary ways in which public employees decide which of their emails are part of the public record, as Jesse Marx reports in a new story.

As part of the case, in which an Encinitas property owner sued the city for refusing to release all written communications between the city and developers for a hotel project on Coast Highway 101, attorney Felix Tinkov deposed Todd Mierau, an associate planner for the city.

Mierau said he prints out copies of emails and their attachments that are worth saving and puts them in a physical file. He deletes everything else within a few weeks, where it’s lost to the public record forever.

“Emails are kind of irrelevant,” he said.

Tinkov asked him if he regularly cleans out his inbox every couple weeks.

“Purge it – yeah – physically … it’s not important to the record, essentially,” Mierau said.

He goes on to describe his subjective basis for distinguishing between emails worth saving and those that aren’t.

Kelly Aviles, an attorney who specializes in public record cases, said the state’s loose definition of what emails constitute a public record was intended to capture more records, not less. It hasn’t worked out that way.

“Having those arbitrary destruction policies creates an environment where people can delete things they just prefer the public not have,” she said. “And that’s not the law. It flies in the face of the whole policy.”

9th Circuit Revives Case Against SDPD Officer Who Shot Unarmed Man

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday brought back to life a civil lawsuit against SDPD Officer Neal Browder, who fatally shot and killed an unarmed man in 2015.

The court’s ruling sends the case back to the district court for a potential trial.

Voice of San Diego led a coalition of media outlets to unseal surveillance footage of the shooting.

The video shows that Browder didn’t activate his lights or sirens, did not announce himself as a police officer or give any warnings and fired at Nehad within seconds of arriving on the scene though Nehad was not advancing quickly toward him or otherwise threatening him.

The 9th Circuit cited all of those issues in reversing a federal judge who sided with Browder and the city of San Diego in tossing the case.

The ruling gives a blistering account of Browder’s many missteps, and also offers harsh criticism of SDPD, including its investigation into the incident and its response in general to officer-involved shootings:

“Plaintiff submitted evidence that: (1) 75% of the San Diego Police Department’s officer-involved shootings were avoidable; (2) the Nehad shooting was approved by the department, which took no action against Browder; and (3) the department looks the other way when officers use lethal force. Indeed, Chief Zimmerman explicitly affirmed that Browder’s shooting of Nehad ‘was the right thing to do,’ and the department identified Browder as the victim of the incident and conducted his interview several days after the shooting, once Browder had watched the surveillance video with his lawyer,” Judge Dean Pregerson wrote.

We reported in 2016 that no SDPD investigators or anyone from the DA’s office interviewed Browder about the shooting, and he didn’t receive any discipline or additional training after the incident

The following year, Browder accidentally fired his gun into a baby’s crib during a probation check.

He remains on the force.

Back to the Busing Debate

Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Joe Biden brought busing rolling back into the national debate. In his latest Learning Curve, VOSD’s Will Huntsberry takes a look at the school segregation situation in San Diego. At San Diego Unified – the county’s largest school district – the school board has focused less on desegregation and more on its goal to create a quality school in every neighborhood. But that goal, Huntsberry notes, has not come to fruition: nine traditional public schools in the district are on a list of worst-performing schools in the state.

Vocal Opposition Emerges Against Gomez Housing Plan

San Diego’s Planning Commission – prodded by a coalition of business leaders and developers – is opposing the city’s plan to force developers to build more homes for low-income residents within their housing projects, as the Union-Tribune reported Thursday.

The Planning Commission rejected the proposal championed by Council President Georgette Gomez, instead proposing a policy with significant changes that the commissioners said wouldn’t threaten new housing construction and possibly worsen the region’s housing crisis.

Gomez’s proposal would have forced developers to provide 10 percent of units in a project to people making half of the region’s median income or lower, or pay $22 per square foot into a fund used to build low-income units. Both are increases in the so-called inclusionary housing policy’s attempts to alleviate housing costs.

But Gomez’s proposal, introduced earlier this year, was itself seen as a compromise from what activists had hoped to see from a new, more progressive Council back during election season, as our Lisa Halverstadt reported in May.

The Building Industry Association and Chamber of Commerce are now pushing for a more scaled-back proposal that would nonetheless increase the policy’s benefits from where they are today.

The Planning Commission embraced those suggestions, and added that the plan should revert to its current state if there’s an economic downturn.

In Other News

  • The city of San Diego will pay $300,000 to an employee who faced religious discrimination from a deputy director of the city’s Archives and Records Management Department. (NBC7)
  • Changes to how Sweetwater Authority operates has raised concerns about the water agency’s transparency. Directors now can’t seek information from staff without the general manager’s knowledge, meeting minutes are no longer required when directors on committees convene and the general manager can now spend up to $75,000 without board approval. (Union-Tribune)
  • Vice President Mike Pence visited two U.S Navy bases in San Diego Thursday, watched the Coast Guard unload of 39,000 pounds of cocaine and 933 pounds of marijuana seized by a Coast Guard cutter and attended a fundraising dinner for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. (City News Service)

The Morning Report was written by Maya Srikrishnan and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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