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A detainee gets patted down by an officer at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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The number of sexual assault complaints surged last year at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which houses people detained by the U.S. Marshals Service or by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A report by CoreCivic, the private company that runs the facility, found a 158 percent increase in complaints – the largest increase of all the facilities audited by the company in 2018, Maya Srikrishnan writes. Otay Mesa also saw the second largest raw number of complaints in 2018 – 49 – of the 41 facilities in the report.

According to data Voice of San Diego obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, there were also 10 complaints filed from the beginning of 2019 through March 24, 2019.

Most of the complaints, according to data and the CoreCivic report, were detainee-on-detainee sexual assaults. But the number of complaints involving employee-on-detainee assaults or harassment doubled from seven to 14 complaints between 2017 and 2018.

The Otay Mesa had an average daily population of more than 1,400 people in 2018. 

While the number of complaints drastically increased at Otay Mesa last year, former detainees who filed reports in 2018 told Voice of San Diego that lodging the complaints was not easy and often led to repercussions while they were still in detention, both from staff and other detainees.

The facility has come under fire before for having a large number of sexual assault complaints. 

It’s not clear what’s behind the sharp increase in complaints. Neither ICE, CoreCivic nor the U.S. Marshals Service would respond specifically to questions about the increase.

How Humans Have Shaped the Border Ecosystem

A new exhibit at the Bonita Museum and Culture Center in South Bay is using art to highlight the ways in which humanity has made its mark on the ecosystems of the San Diego-Tijuana border region and beyond. 

The museum’s director told Julia Dixon Evans for this week’s Culture Report that she wanted to find out how artists and scientists were understanding and processing the human impact on geology and natural landscapes. Earlier this summer, the museum chronicled the past 250 years of the area. 

Plus: Writers for Migrant Justice are raising funds and awareness for immigrant rights at Verbatim Books on Wednesday. 

What’s Next for CityBeat? We’re About to Find Out

Dixon Evans also interviewed former CityBeat editor Seth Combs, who was abruptly fired Friday. He aired some of his lingering concerns about the alt weekly’s future.

Earlier this summer, Southland Publishing sold CityBeat to an Arizona-based company, and Combs offered one possible reason why: AB 5, a state bill written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that would codify existing rules for when workers can be classified as independent contractors.

Publishers who rely on freelance journalists for more than 35 articles a year would have to hire those journalists as staffers or stop using them. The state’s newspaper publishers have been anxiously watching the bill all year — and collectively freaked out in recent days as it became clear that delivery drivers could also need to be brought on full-time.

On Labor Day, the California Newspaper Association called AB 5 a “death knell” for some print publications. “It’s not the only challenge to professional journalism in 2019, but it is by far the most serious,” reads an editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. 

Audrey Cooper, editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, tweeted Tuesday that “some major newspapers are talking about having to mail the newspaper instead of delivering it to doors. Others have used the b-word: bankruptcy.”

It’s unclear what the new CityBeat will look like, but the next issue is supposed to hit newsstands Wednesday. 

Another Sobering Homebuilding Stat

San Diego County experienced the biggest drop in homebuilding permits in the first half of 2019 in all of Southern California. The Union-Tribune reports that the county constructed 43 percent fewer homes in that six-month period than the year before. 

The building industry blames environmental regulations and higher labor and material costs for the slowdown. In the meantime, lawmakers in Sacramento are working on a bill that would protect millions of Californians from significant rent increases. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already given his blessing. 

In case you missed it, Andrew Keatts explained Tuesday how San Diego’s housing shortage became so bad. For decades, the region has failed to keep pace with population and job growth. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Ry Rivard and Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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