A home burned in the West Fire burn in Alpine. / Photo courtesy of Salvation Army San Diego

Insurance companies often deny coverage or hike prices in areas at risk of wildfires with little explanation.

Ry Rivard pulled back the curtain and found insurance companies are often relying on secret formulas to make those decisions.

Rivard reviewed thousands of pages of regulatory filings by eight of the state’s largest insurers that revealed companies are using wildfire risk models to score homes – models that some researchers say can fail to take into account factors such as the age of a home or fire-resistant features that can reduce risk.

Officials at California’s Department of Insurance dub the models objective measures of wildfire risk yet different companies and consultants can come away with different takeaways on how likely homes are to burn.

Rivard notes the secret models are getting more attention. Earlier this summer, the state Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery recommended that the models be vetted publicly – and some industry watchdogs are claiming that the models run afoul of a 1988 ballot measure that made insurance companies publicly justify what they plan to charge customers.

Council Votes to Restore Firefighter Death Benefits

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously to restore death and disability benefits for firefighters that had been eliminated seven years ago with the passage of a larger pension-reform effort known as Proposition B. 

Since then, 10News reports, the city’s fire department has hired about 350 new people. Those employees are now entitled to 50 percent of their base salary until death if they’re injured in the line of duty. If they’re killed, the money goes to a spouse. 

As the U-T noted earlier this year, Prop. B required that city officials find a similar benefit for firefighters and lifeguards, but they couldn’t reach a deal with outside companies. Part of the problem, reporter David Garrick wrote, was that the companies only provide death-and-disability coverage with a defined benefit pension, not the 401(k)-style retirement plan that Prop. B created. 

So in true San Diego fashion, nothing happened for a long time. 

“It’s been kind of a hot potato for the city,” the president of the city’s firefighters union said. 

Talk radio show host Carl DeMaio and Assemblyman Todd Gloria got into a dispute about it ahead of the City Council vote. Enjoy.

Culture Report: Arts Against Cancer

Dozens of local artists are formally joining the fight and raising funds to support several members of the San Diego arts community who are battling cancer. 

In this week’s Culture Report, VOSD contributor Julia Dixon Evans writes about two upcoming fundraising events in Oceanside and Barrio Logan set to feature the donated works of more than two dozen artists.

Evans also took a closer look at this year’s Commission for Arts and Culture allocations and found that many groups received larger chunks of cash from the city this year, in large part thanks to smaller checks to a handful of organizations including Comic-Con International, the Fleet Science Center and the Mingei International Museum.

NBC 7 San Diego mapped murals and other street art throughout San Diego County.

Judge Rules Lincoln Park Warrants Were Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that two men arrested using controversial gang conspiracy law after a series of 2013 Lincoln Park gang shootings were arrested without probable cause – and that San Diego police misled the judge who signed search and arrest warrants.

The Union-Tribune reports that U.S. District Judge Barry “Ted” Moskowitz found that evidence gathered by investigators about rapper Brandon “Tiny Doo” Duncan and Aaron Harvey, who were charged using the conspiracy law for belonging to the same gang as the shooters, did not show the two were actively involved in the crime or that they benefited from the crime. Both standards are required by law.

A San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed the case against Duncan and Harvey in 2015. That ruling came shortly after Sara Libby’s investigation into Harvey’s case and then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ use of what was then an obscure statute.

Margaret Hunter Wants Sentencing Pushed Back

Attorneys for Margaret Hunter asked the court to push back her sentencing until December, so that she can cooperate with federal prosecutors in her husband’s criminal trial in September, the Union-Tribune reports. 

She pleaded guilty in June to the conspiracy charge, as part of a larger case against the couple, who’ve been accused of using more than $250,000 worth of campaign expenses for their personal use. 

As part of her plea deal, Margaret Hunter agreed to testify. But the court, the U-T’s Morgan Cook noted, has yet to rule on whether she’ll be allowed to take the stand at trial.

News Nuggets

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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