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In a strange reversal, I might have been the only one who thought Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s move this week to close city beaches and parks was a great show of leadership.
It’s not because I don’t like parks or beaches – I work out in the park multiple times a week and have a 2-year-old whose only hobby is going to the park – it’s because it’s the right thing to do regardless of how personally inconvenienced I am.
Faulconer and other leaders across the state reacting to the insane amounts of people who continued to congregate despite pleas rightly implored people to take this pandemic seriously and to stay inside except when necessary.
But governments need to take their own directives and lessons learned to heart, too. They need to – just as they’ve urged their own constituents – take this seriously.
And that means a few things beyond holding daily press conferences and crafting legislation to help residents and businesses (which are good!).
The county, in particular, was knocked – like officially knocked, in the form of an intensely critical state audit – for transparency issues amid the hepatitis A crisis. Yet the county has already begun limiting the availability of public health officials to answer questions about what’s happening.
Several cities in the county and others around the state have said they won’t produce public records for the foreseeable future.
Transparency isn’t just possible under the current circumstances, it’s most likely the best possible course. South Korea has been lauded as a model for its response to the coronavirus – and that response hasn’t just come in the form of abundant and aggressive testing, it’s been rooted in “transparency, open information, and technology-supported deployment of public-health measures,” Foreign Policy noted. “The state has a clear strategy built by the executive branch and communicated transparently to the public through twice-daily press briefings.”
Being transparent, even – no, especially – in the midst of a crisis is the government’s legal and moral responsibility. And it might just produce better outcomes than any of the alternatives.
What VOSD Learned This Week
As we deal with two simultaneous crises – one a public health emergency, the other an economic one – we’ve been chronicling the implications for local governments. Ashly McGlone examined budget records to identify which agencies are best prepared to weather the coming storm. Andy Keatts laid out why local governments are caught in the middle – desperate to help but themselves impacted by dwindling revenues. Naturally, it’s not looking great for school budgets either.
Governments are addressing the pandemic in other ways too. This week the city sharply limited use of outdoor space, and opened Golden Hall and the Convention Center to homeless residents. But they’re not all reacting with the same sense of urgency: The VA was slow to allow remote working – and the consequences have been dramatic. Oceanside is letting beaches and parks stay open.
The economic impact of coronavirus closures started to come into focus this week: Biotechs are being forced to cancel clinical trials and research, San Diego Magazine laid off its entire staff, San Diego Theatres laid off half its staff, border businesses are worried amid new travel restrictions and Mission Bay lease holders are asking the city for rent relief. Both sides of the AB 5 debate say the coronavirus illustrates why their position is right – and their fight is boiled down to its essence in the city attorney’s ongoing case against Instacart. Cannabis, meanwhile, has gone all the way from illegal to essential.
Then there’s the virus itself: An SDSU scientist detailed why this week is crucial in San Diego’s fight against COVID-19, a Rady Children’s Hospital doctor discussed what the hospital is doing to prepare and the county released some frightening projections that drive home the fact that the worst is yet to come. Scripps Health is dealing with this after three of its top leaders recently left or stepped down.
Somehow, schools are still striking deals with teachers accused of misconduct in which they offer cash payouts and agree to keep their behavior a secret from future employers.
Carlsbad is working on its own “smart cities” program – and is hoping to avoid some of San Diego’s mistakes.
What I’m Reading
- A great piece of accountability journalism: Doctors are hoarding potential coronavirus treatments … for themselves. (New York Times)
- Family ties are Italy’s greatest strength – and also what made the coronavirus so deadly. (Wall Street Journal)
- Here’s a wonderful profile of Rep. Katie Porter, who has made the House Financial Services Committee, against all odds, must-see TV. (California Sunday)
- This perfectly articulates a feeling I’ve been having as I scramble to edit more stories than we’ve ever had: The case against pandemic productivity. (The New Republic)
Line of the Week
“It’s that sense of normalcy that’s so important in American life. The feeling of working so much you never see your children, the familiar comfort of surviving paycheck to paycheck — that’s what we’re working so hard to get back to. Grocery store employees, who in these trying times are realizing they are essential workers who deserve to be paid an investment banker’s salary, need to feel like they’re unskilled and worthless again.” – Here’s to rushing to return to our normal terrible lives.