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The San Diego Police Department headquarters / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The head of SDPD’s crime lab is out, capping off months of scandal since Voice of San Diego revealed department staff had been directed to test some rape kits from the city’s backlog of untested kits under less rigorous standards.

Jennifer Shen, the crime lab’s long-time manager, is no longer with the department, an SDPD spokesman confirmed to VOSD. Her last day was Dec. 30. The spokesman said he could not divulge the nature of her departure from SDPD.

Previously, the department had installed Capt. Stephanie Rose to lead the crime lab, the first time a sworn officer was in charge of the lab in at least 20 years, but the department said at that time no other personnel changes had been made.

Five crime lab analysts told Voice of San Diego in September that they had been instructed to test some of the untested rape kits from the city’s backlog less rigorously than others. They also said they had been instructed to treat DNA found in some of the previously untested kits differently than those from new rape kits, keeping some DNA profiles out of the federal DNA database. The department has since decided to join the rest of the county’s law enforcement entities in sending its backlogged rape kits to private labs for testing.

After arguing for years that there was no value in testing the previously untested rape kits, the department finally succumbed to political pressure to begin analyzing them, and immediately started finding potential investigative leads in them, according to records Voice obtained.

Hunter Makes it Official

Rep. Duncan Hunter announced he will officially resign Monday, the Union-Tribune reports.

Hunter notified House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter Tuesday of his resignation, almost six weeks after he pleaded guilty to a felony involving the misuse of campaign funds.

Hunter was indicted last August on 60 federal counts alleging he and his wife stole $250,000 of campaign money and used it for family vacations, groceries, his extramarital affairs and other non-campaign uses, including airfare for a pet rabbit.

Since his resignation has come past the filing deadline for the ballot for the March primary, it leaves Newsom with two options: leave the seat vacant until the November election or call a special election. 

Grossmont to Train Staff on Cultural Competency

After expelling black students at a higher rate than any other district in San Diego County for years, Grossmont High School District is planning to train its teachers and security staff on cultural competency. Last semester, teachers received an initial round of training, but that work will be ongoing. 

“It won’t be done overnight, but we needed to make that step,” Superintendent Tim Glover told VOSD’s Jack Molmud on Tuesday. “We really believe the cultural competency work we are embarking on this school year will pay dividends.”

For the past two years, Grossmont has been responsible for almost all the expulsions of black students at high school-only districts locally. 

Three years ago, Grossmont vowed to reduce its rate of black expulsions to 0.2 percent or below by 2020. The most recent data from the State Department of Education shows that rate is at about 1.46 percent.

Glover said he and his staff were surprised to hear the expulsion rate hadn’t dropped, despite the district’s attempt in recent years to approach discipline from a perspective that takes a student’s complete background and possible trauma into consideration.

He cited drugs and weapons as two of the most common factors contributing to expulsions on campus. 

Inside Uber’s AB 5 Maneuvering

Uber insists that AB 5, the new law limiting independent contract work, doesn’t apply to its ride-sharing business. But in case that argument doesn’t work in court, the company has launched a new app for its California drivers that revamps some aspects of the job, including the ability to see estimated trip fares up front and reject a trip. Drivers who cancel too many trips have been penalized in the past.

“Those new features — some now publicly unveiled — would help Uber build its case that its drivers are free from its control and are independent, key aspects legislators outlined as exceptions to the new statewide employee mandate,” the Washington Post reports.

A company spokesman said the changes are intended to further strengthen the independence of drivers, so they can work when, where and how they want.

That’s important because — like the state Supreme Court case that it’s based on — AB 5 lays out criteria for whether an independent contractor should be considered an employee. That includes whether the contractor is actually free from the control and direction of the company.

In response to the news, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who wrote AB 5, laid out Uber’s evolving position on the new law like this:

-We want an exemption from AB5.

-We won’t follow AB5.

-AB5 doesn’t apply to us.

-We will exempt ourselves from AB5 by initiative.

-We will sue CA about AB5.

-Oh, wait, we will change our business model to try to fit AB5. #PickALane

SB 50 Is Back

State Sen. Scott Wiener from San Francisco unveiled new changes to Senate Bill 50, the contentious measure that would dramatically increase housing growth in the state.

The bill would require cities and counties to allow denser and taller apartment buildings in areas close to public transit stops and major job centers. 

The most significant change would give cities and counties two years to create plans to boost housing development in their communities before the state mandates to increase density would go into effect, the Los Angeles Times reports. Much of the criticism over the initial version of the bill revolved around the lack of local control. Wiener’s latest changes would give local jurisdictions time to decide where they wanted increasing housing density in their cities.

In response to another criticism of previous versions of the bill, communities across the state at risk of gentrification will have five years — instead of two – to develop their own development blueprints. Groups representing lower-income communities had argued SB 50 would exacerbate the displacement of residents in those neighborhoods. 

The bill will represent a major test of San Diego Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ leadership. Atkins was so sensitive to critiques that she let the measure die last year that her staff tried to change the description of her involvement on her Wikipedia page. Weiner told us at Politifest this year that he’s had positive interactions with Atkins regarding the bill and he was confident she’d help it succeed.

A Personal Plea for Pedestrian Safety

Vicki Granowitz was struck by a car in December 2018 outside her South Park restaurant. She stood Tuesday at the same intersection to release the surveillance footage of her hit-and-run.

NBC San Diego reports that she and mobility advocates urged the city to set aside more funding for street safety. Officials have a plan in place to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025 by redesigning streets with high-visibility crosswalks, bike lanes, roundabouts and more.

San Diego had 34 pedestrian deaths in 2018.

In an op-ed for us, Granowitz wrote more about her experience and argues that the hit-and-run did not have to happen

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Maya Srikrishnan and Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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