The city of San Diego is turning the Convention Center into a temporary homeless shelter in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and city managers have told hundreds of city employees that they should not report to work on Monday and will not be paid unless they take accrued leave time — essentially beginning a furlough of city workers deemed non essential. The order appears to have heavily affected library and parks employees. It does not include police officers, fire fighters and lifeguards.

The Politics Report learned of the decision late Friday. City management and labor unions were arguing into the night about whether the city had the power to essentially furlough hundreds of workers.

“If an employee is not essential or supporting essential functions or able to telework, then they are required to use their accrued leave until it runs out,” said Craig Gustafson, a spokesman for the mayor, in a written statement. He said many employees had already transferred departments. Several library employees were helping in development services, for example. Others were assisting homeless support efforts at the Convention Center.

The workers are represented by different unions. Michael Zucchet, the general manager of the Municipal Employees Association, said he was pushing the city for clarity about its powers to do this. There are procedures for layoffs, he said, and for transfers but not for furloughs. And these aren’t layoffs.

It is really crummy situation for city employees who face only bad options to choose from,” he said. “It’s not right and we are vigorously challenging the city’s ability to even do it.”

It was unclear Friday just how many people the mayor’s office was telling to not report to work Monday.

“In general, most City employees have continued to work throughout this crisis by telecommuting and others have already begun performing other duties,” Gustafson wrote.

City leaders updated the staff leave policy Friday to adapt to new federal laws.

Faulconer was asked whether he had furloughed employees during a special social media Q&A Friday. He did not answer the question but said he had done an executive order that classified all employees disaster workers so they can be used flexibly in different roles supporting hospitals and community groups.

“I’m proud of them. They’ve really stepped up during this time and I’m going to need them,” he said.

The Mayoral Candidates on the City’s Response and Their Race

Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Diego Councilwoman Barbara Bry / Photos by Dustin Michelson and Vito Di Stefano

Between them, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry have probably shaken a total of 150,000 hands in the last two years. They’ve gone to countless events, meetings, coffees, fundraisers in their race for mayor.

Now, like many of us, they are on the phone and Zoom meetings a lot. In many cases, they’re listening to very sad stories. Most of what we’re hearing from people in politics is some version of “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a candidate right now.”

Well, neither can Gloria and Bry. Both told the Politics Report that their campaigns are essentially on hold as they focus on their jobs in current office.

Bry is the chair of the city’s Budget Committee. That job just got a lot more interesting. (See above.) The city has seen its hotel and sales tax revenue crater. A budget deficit has become a budget catastrophe.

The consequences of their decisions will be lasting. No pressure.

We spoke with both about what their campaigns and messages look like. We asked essentially the same questions:

It seems like there have been two major decisions among countless others Mayor Kevin Faulconer has had to make. We wanted to ask you about them. Do you agree with the mayor’s decision to close the beaches and the parks?

Bry: Yes, I think he made the right decision. People were abusing it.

Gloria: Yes, he made the timely and correct decision to close the beaches and parks. History will look kindly on those who took aggressive action sooner rather than later.

The other major decision was the one to transform the Convention Center into a homeless shelter. Was that the right call?

Bry: I think it was a good decision. It will be able to house up to 2,500 homeless residents.

Gloria: Yes. In this crisis, we have to do more. It’s an elegant solution in my mind. It’s an asset that is unused at the moment and it’s an opportunity to get a lot of people off the street now.

Is the city now responsible, though, for those homeless residents to permanently ensure they don’t end up back on the streets?

Bry: I think we have options available to us that we didn’t have before that each of these people get a case manager who is working with them to figure out a long-term plan. People will be able to be at the Convention Center and move into permanent places.

Gloria: It’s a shared responsibility between all the cities in the region. This is a regional asset meant to bring people from all over San Diego County. If someone comes in from Lemon Grove, I don’t think they would like it if we just dropped them back off in Lemon Grove. The fact we’re stepping up is the right thing to do. But it was already the right thing to do. Having thousands of people living on our streets is indefensible in a city as wealthy as San Diego.

We have heard that librarians are being furloughed or asked to switch roles. What kind of urgent actions do you think the city is going to need to take to address its fiscal crisis? Is this the right sort of move?

Bry: Right now, the mayor is offering people the opportunity to stay employed. As we know, thousands of San Diegans do not have a job right now.

Gloria: I don’t have enough information … I recognize this is really bad. There’s going to be some difficult and unpopular decisions made. At the same time, we have to remind ourselves this is a temporary situation and make sure there are not permanent scars from a temporary situation.

Padilla on the Mend

Chula Vista Councilman Steve Padilla / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

It’s been an onslaught of bad news lately, but San Diego experienced a rare bright spot Friday morning when Chula Vista Councilman Steve Padilla announced he was being moved out of intensive care following weeks of a brutal bout with the novel coronavirus.

“Friends – I’m off the ventilator, out of the ICU, and will be home soon,” Padilla wrote on Twitter. “After an intense 3-week battle with coronavirus, the relief and gratitude I’m feeling right now are overwhelming.”

Padilla, who is also the chair of the California Coastal Commission, began feeling sick while in Santa Cruz for commission hearings during the week of March 9. He flew home after he felt too sick to chair a Friday meeting and tested positive March 14 after he couldn’t shake a high fever. Padilla was hospitalized March 19 and was quickly put on a ventilator due to shortness of breath.

The whole ordeal, from the earliest symptoms to yesterday’s announcement, lasted 23 days. He has not yet been released from the hospital. Ashleigh Padilla, Steve’s daughter, has been communicating his condition to the public.

It feels like months ago that Padilla announced his diagnosis, which predated the first wave of social distancing restrictions from Gov. Gavin Newsom by a few days. Back then, “it’s just like the flu” and “it only affects old people” were much more common deflections.

We’ve heard from plenty of readers who said hearing about how serious things got for Padilla, and how quickly, made them understand how serious it was.

Just imagine: Now Padilla has to catch up on everything that’s happened in the country since he was first put on a ventilator.

Dem Party Chair Is Recovering Too

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, attends an election night event at Golden Hall. / Photo by Megan Wood

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the San Diego County Democratic Party chair, also tested positive for the virus. He was hospitalized as well. He has been quarantined since he was discharged on March 26.

We caught up with Rodriguez-Kennedy Friday. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

You sound like yourself. Does that mean you feel like yourself?

Rodriguez-Kennedy: I feel like I’m about 80 percent, maybe 90 percent. I’m doing better. The illness attacks your lungs. It’s hard to tell, since I’ve been stuck in this quarantine room for seven days, I haven’t walked around outside the room, to know if I would’ve gotten winded. I do notice in my conversations, I take an extra breath and normally I talk really fast.

I’m feeling stir crazy barely leaving my house — seven to eight days in a room sounds even worse.

Rodriguez-Kennedy: I mean, I’ve been quarantined since the 13th of March, and then on the 14th I started showing flu symptoms. So I was self-quarantined with what felt like a strong flu, but I had the flu in January, so it was unlikely I had it again. The same day I became feverish, people started testing positive, and it started to feel like it was time to get tested. I was tested on Monday, the 16th. I was intent on fighting the symptoms at home. There’s a social responsibility with this thing. You don’t rush to ER for a cough. If you can treat it, there’s no reason to go to the hospital because there’s no treatment, except to treat the symptoms, and some of the symptoms can kill you. I also didn’t have health care. My COBRA benefits were no longer active. I was looking into different Covered California plans, but the problem is, to get on health care it could take a month or two to get on it. So I was thinking, if I call 911 I’m liable for all those charges. So that played into my thoughts. A friend who worked for Rep. Scott Peters, he said, ‘You’re a Marine veteran, you’re eligible for VA health care,’ and they could enroll me day of. So they said, ‘There’s no reason not to call the VA and see what they say. I called the VA and they walked through my symptoms. I was having trouble breathing, and that was triggering coughing, and that coughing triggered vomiting. They said you need to come in, you’re having trouble breathing. Situation deteriorated on Friday the 20th. When I got there, I couldn’t sit up in a chair.

Did you get the sense that your exposure to Steve (Padilla) was why you were able to be tested?

The thing about Steve is, I don’t think he infected me. Everyone got sick at very different times. I was the last one to get sick. I was self-quarantined early. We’re the party of the people. I could have been infected during get out the vote, on election night. I knocked doors for eight different candidates. Anyone who shook my hand could have infected me. And Steve, I believe he may have been infected on March 10 (in San Jose). If that’s the case, I didn’t see him after March 10. It’s just hard to pin down, and that’s for county public health to figure out. There’s a complete possibility this was coincidence. I mean Andrea (Cardenas) lives in Chula Vista, Kelvin (Barrios) lives in City Heights, I live downtown [Barrios and Cardenas are two Democratic candidates who also tested positive]. But yes, because I knew Steve, they asked, ‘Did you come in contact with anyone?’ and I said yes, so that took place.

Have you had time to think about how this changes your job as a party chair in November?

The Democratic Party has already begun assessing how to campaign in the event that COVID-19 expands in the election cycle. We’re cutting edge on digital targeting, mail targeting, communicating with voters electronically. We already have the tools and ability to reach voters in a robust way. This also means pushing more people into permanent absentee voting. If we’re still worrying about a quarantine, we need to communicate to our voters a safe way of voting. We’re a successful party, and we have a millennial at the helm who is tech-savvy and experienced, not to toot my own horn.

What do you make of the response to the virus among local leaders in San Diego?

I feel like we’re doing well. I think officials like (County Supervisor) Nathan (Fletcher) and (Council President) Georgette (Gómez), and even – I don’t normally tout Republicans — but Mayor Kevin Faulconer was in sync with the Council with their response as well. I think it’s going well. I think there are areas we need improvement in how to handle spread among the homeless population, and for people in marginalized communities to know what resources are available. That’s always the case, but we need an eye on it because we don’t want people to die in the street. I think Nathan Fletcher has taken a calming role, I think people are reassured when he’s leading the effort.

There was dangerous reporting in the media I think was unhelpful.

What reporting did you take exception with?

There was a report on 10News – they’ve generally do a good job, and overall our media is level headed compared to other places – but local residents were concerned that a hotel in one area that I won’t say, it was blocked off, residents saw it, and it was a hotel that was part of the county’s quarantine effort. And they had video of people going in and out. That’s a privacy concern, these are patients. That type of reporting could deter hotels from participating in the program. What if a patient was walking in? There could be a stigma associated with the disease. As an LGBTQ member, I worry about that.

Have you experienced any sort of stigma, not necessarily an LGBTQ member, but just in general?

Stigma can represent itself in different ways. Sometimes it’s aggression or hostility. Other times it’s fear. Four Democrats came down with an illness. It’s dangerous to say these illnesses are connected, or to say that these illnesses aren’t connected. Some people could come away saying, there’s illnesses everywhere among Democrats. We have older and at-risk people who are fearful. My role in this as the leader of the plurality party is to project strength. Here are your resources, here’s how to help. We have a responsibility to each other to follow medical professionals’ advice, and to not panic.

Gonzalez Slams Parks and Beaches Closures as ‘Cruel’

Residents of Oceanside, Encinitas and Coronado have been hostile to beach closures. But now they have company from the other side of the region. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who represents much of South Bay and City Heights, spoke up on Twitter Friday saying that closing the beaches and parks was particularly harmful to poorer people in San Diego.

“In my district, you have apartments being shared by multiple families / generations and kids that have no place to exercise, play or get fresh air. I actually think it’s cruel to close all our open spaces,” she wrote. She followed that the city should not have closed them off.

“Instead, we should have limited usage & monitor for social distancing,” she wrote.

We asked the mayor’s office if he would want to respond to the contention that the policy was cruel to poorer residents, and he did not.

Ikhrata: COVID-19 Won’t Affect Five Big Moves

Hasan Ikhrata / Photo by Megan Wood

San Diego Association of Governments Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata last year promised a transformational plan for the region’s transportation system, ending the region’s historic focus on expanding freeways to instead build an ill-defined but ambitious public transit system capable of taking residents from anywhere to anywhere in the county in a time competitive with driving.

So far, that plan has been described only in the broadest strokes – Ikhrata’s so-called “5 Big Moves” platform for rewriting the agency’s regional transportation plan, a mandate of both the state and federal governments.

That lack of definition hasn’t kept SANDAG board members from northern and eastern cities from voicing strong opposition, or from progressive and urban leaders from signaling support.

Ikhrata was scheduled to deliver much more detail on exactly what his vision entails on April 3. The coronavirus pandemic put an end to that. Now, that presentation is scheduled for May 1, Ikhrata told the board a week ago. That could be delayed as well.

In any case, Ikhrata said the agency is not in danger of blowing its fall 2021 deadline for adopting the new regional plan (and that date is itself an extension: the agency was due to adopt a plan before the end of 2019, but opted to instead risk losing state and federal funds so staff could start from scratch on a plan aligned with Ikhrata’s vision).

“This won’t affect the schedule moving forward with the plan,” Ikhrata told the board. “If May 1 doesn’t happen, we’ll adjust accordingly … so this change will not delay the overall schedule, we can still meet the required deadline to have an approved plan by the fall of 2021.”

Correction: We quoted Todd Gloria incorrectly. He referred to the transformation of the Convention Center into a homeless shelter as “an elegant” solution. 

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I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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