It’ll be months before officials know the full extent of the coronavirus-induced crisis. There are too many unknowns, but one can safely predict there’ll be significantly less money to spare.
Andrew Keatts explains what this level of uncertainty means for local governments trying to put together new budgets and how they’re monitoring the economy in real time.
Both SANDAG and the city of San Diego are considering a move to quarterly budgets. SANDAG’s chief economist has created a dashboard based on information he’s collected from top employers and other sources, and shared some of his findings.
“Drug stores and food markets are up,” Keatts writes. “Perhaps least surprising: so are liquor stores.”
Vehicle sales and wholesale construction materials, however, are way down, and that’s bad news for the agency’s sales-tax funded transportation infrastructure program, which was already facing a multibillion-dollar shortfall through 2050.
So begin the furloughs (maybe) …
In San Diego, top officials have told hundreds of city employees deemed non-essential not to report to work Monday. Scott Lewis and Keatts broke the news in this weekend’s Politics Report that those employees will not be paid unless they take leave time and the order appears to have heavily affected staffs at libraries and parks.
On Saturday, the Municipal Employees Association, a labor union, challenged the city on its power to furlough hundreds of workers.
A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer said many employees had already transferred departments. Others were assisting homeless support efforts at the Convention Center.
Other governments are taking a wait-and-see approach on the coming financial storm, but preparing for layoffs as services are reduced. Escondido’s city manager stressed to the Union-Tribune that those layoffs would be “carefully tailored to avoid impacts to public safety and keep core operations intact.”
Also in the Politics Report: A Q&A with the mayoral candidates now that everything is different. They reviewed some of the current mayor’s biggest decisions.
Ag Industry Also Faces Uncertainty
Although business seems to be booming at grocery stores, farmworkers, farmers and food distributors are experiencing the economic impact of the pandemic as hard as anyone else as they quickly shift to accommodate a changing marketplace.
Adriana Heldiz visited farms and nurseries and documented their experiences in a new photo essay.
Not all items are flying off the shelves. San Diego is known for its specialty crops, and one produce seller said his profits have been cut in half as farmer’s markets close and packing houses cancel orders.
- The U-T reports that some restaurants are converting into mini supermarkets and grocery delivery services, leaning on suppliers that have excess food and nowhere to sell.
First California Politician to Announce Positive Test Is on the Mend
Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Padilla announced he’s off the ventilator and out of the ICU at UCSD Medical Center. He expressed relief and gratitude toward the doctors, nurses and staff who saved his life.
“America’s healthcare professionals are true heroes showing undaunted courage on the frontlines of this fight,” he wrote.
His symptoms started more than three weeks ago while he was in Santa Cruz for a California Coastal Commission meeting, which he chaired.
Padilla wasn’t alone. The apparent spread of the coronavirus within the Democratic community rattled many activists and campaign workers.
- As they say, leaders be leadin’. This week’s podcast is an assessment of how the people in charge locally have responded to the crisis.
- State lawmakers have been in recess since they passed a $1.1 billion relief package to aid local governments, hospitals and schools two weeks ago. They were due back April 13, but Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins told us that’s not feasible.
- Members of the San Diego delegation have also complained to the governor that his soft closure of state beaches are either not working or creating confusion. All of the coastal cities, including Oceanside and Coronado, are now closing their beaches. (City News Service, CBS 8)
- Chula Vista Elementary School District’s bond measure to build affordable housing for teachers passed with barely enough votes. (Union-Tribune)
- U-T columnist Michael Smolens writes election officials are quickly trying to figure out how to safely conduct an election in November, assuming the current health threat continues, even if to a diminished degree.
Courts Continue Operating on Limited Basis
The San Diego County Superior Court will not reopen for business Monday, as expected. Judges will only be hearing emergency matters for the rest of April. That includes domestic violence restraining orders and gun violence protective orders, NBC San Diego reports.
Meanwhile, four Sheriff’s Department employees have tested positive for COVID-19, along with an inmate, the U-T reported. Inmates also shared with the newspaper a petition from mid-March asking for cleaning and sanitizing supplies.
To help reduce the prison population and stop the spread of the coronavirus in jails, San Diego’s presiding judge on Friday authorized the Sheriff’s Department to accelerate the release of inmates “up to 60 days from when they would otherwise be released.” As the U-T noted, all arraignments, preliminary hearings and trials are on hold in San Diego, but the court is expected to begin video appearances for felonies and misdemeanor cases this week.
In Imperial County …
The main courthouse reopened last week for what the U-T described as an array of criminal matters from arraignments to preliminary hearings.
In a letter, Imperial’s presiding judge said the court — which plans to hear most cases with the aid of technology — has a constitutional duty to due process while protecting the health and safety of anyone who enters through the building.
A lawyer for the union that represents court employees called the decision to reopen “disturbing,” and several state and local lawmakers, including Atkins and Sen. Ben Hueso, urged the presiding judge to limit or rotate staff inside the courthouse.
The Recorder is keeping track of how state courts are grappling with the pandemic and regularly updating its list.
San Diego Loses Veteran Journalists
In a farewell column, Rowe said goodbye to the beer beat after 25 years by looking back on some of the biggest stories. It reads like a mini-history of the brew scene — from the bold beginnings to the age of anxiety that we’re all currently experiencing.
“Unfortunately, I am taking my leave during a period of uncertainty and turmoil. Still, I have no doubt that San Diego beer — to steal a line from a prodigious imbiber, William Faulkner — will not only survive but thrive,” Rowe wrote.
We wish everyone well.
In Other News
- VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga did a Q&A with one of the people watching over thousands of sea animals in La Jolla. Using his journalistic powers to channel the animal mind, Dotinga writes that the tropical fish are enjoying a little alone time, but the sea turtle still needs a human touch.
- Gov. Gavin Newsom granted clemency to four state prison inmates whose freedom has long been championed by the California Innocence Project based in San Diego. (Union-Tribune)
- Chula Vista is done warning and educating people. The Police Department will start issuing fines to those who disobey health orders. (Union-Tribune)
- Same goes for the Sheriff’s Department, which cited 22 people near beaches in Encinitas on Friday. (NBC San Diego)
- Companies forced to close by the government are quickly finding out that their property insurance policies, which protect against the interruption of business, don’t apply to the pandemic. (Union-Tribune)
The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.