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A plane touches down at San Diego International Airport. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

San Diego airport officials are grappling with the immediate financial impacts of the coronavirus and it’s not looking good. The airport’s CEO projected that the lost revenue will be “six times the impact of Sept. 11.”

Ashly McGlone reports that the airport has amassed a healthy $853 million-plus reserve over the years, but the loss of flights, passengers and related consumer activities amid shelter-at-home orders could take a toll long term. 

The airport’s CEO has created a financial resilience plan that calls for a hiring freeze, delayed and reduced non-essential spending and a stop to non-critical capital projects. The hard-fought $3 billion plan to rebuild Terminal 1 is still on the list, but it’s an open question whether the airport will still issue bonds on time. 

Officials plan to award the construction contract for the $2.2 billion Terminal 1 rebuild in May and break ground in November 2021. 

The Next Likely Casualty of Coronavirus: Transit Tax

The Metropolitan Transit System has been talking for years about putting a potential tax increase on the November ballot. But if that actually happens, consider us surprised. 

Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts report that the board this week is not expected to move forward with a measure that would pay for increased bus and trolley frequencies and build new routes, including a trolley connection to the airport. 

MTS ridership has plummeted and the agency is going to begin scaling back service Monday. Plus the elected official expected to lead the campaign for the measure is now taking a leading role in the county’s response to the coronavirus. 

Other highlights from the Politics Report: The San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition is trying to pre-empt talks of cuts to the arts. And it looks like the mayor is walking back his plan to furlough hundreds of city workers.

Politics Roundup

  • State coronavirus funds have started rolling into San Diego. We’ve got more details on the special subcommittee that will start vetting the spending in the Sacramento Report. Plus, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber said she’s working with the state superintendent on a plan that includes intensive summer school and Saturday school for students. 
  • On the podcast, the crew considers Measure C, the initiative to raise hotel taxes in San Diego, and how officials are trying to keep it alive through the courts. They also talk about Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s pandemic-pummeled (punished? petrified?) budget and what it’ll mean for the next administration. 
  • Putting a citizen’s measure on the ballot has never been easy, and it ain’t getting easier. U-T columnist Michael Smolens noted that laws prevent online signature-gathering in California. Even when life returns to normal, he wrote, signature gatherers might not be able to hang around public places. 

Elected Official Has Some Thoughts After Surviving COVID-19

Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Padilla, who also chairs the state’s Coastal Commission, was the first politician in the state to announce a positive test. He was hooked to a ventilator and in a medically induced coma for 11 days. Now he’s on the mend. 

And in an op-ed for the U-T he acknowledged that the swift medical response that likely saved his life is not available to everyone else. He’s taking the opportunity to advocate for more public health funding and supplies, and additional federal relief efforts. 

“After this pandemic, it should be intolerable to us that millions of Americans don’t have access to paid sick leave and live just a paycheck away from economic catastrophe,” he wrote. 

Concerns About Jail Conditions Growing

Attorneys and advocates have been raising alarm bells in recent weeks about the spread of coronavirus in jails, where social distancing is nearly impossible and hygienic measures are inadequate.

The U-T now reports that the testimony of inmates and their family members contradicts statements made by Sheriff’s officials about the true condition of the George F. Bailey Detention Facility, the county’s largest jail. They cite a lack of tests and inadequate protective gear and medical care.

City News Service also reports that three people were cited during a “noisy protest” outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center. The Sheriff’s Department said about 30 cars parked outside the facility honked their horns. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says 10 migrants who are detained in the facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Migrants detained at Otay Mesa told NBC San Diego the conditions there made it a “death trap.”

The New York Times reported that immigrants being held at Otay Mesa were asked to sign a waiver absolving CoreCivic of any responsibilities related to coronavirus. They also claimed they were pepper-sprayed after asking for masks, which a CoreCivic spokeswoman denied.

In a statement released over the weekend, Sen. Kamala Harris called the conditions at Otay Mesa unacceptable.

“Every day that officials continue to lock up low-risk and vulnerable people is another day that people in U.S. custody along with countless facility and court personnel, legal representatives, witnesses, and family members are put at risk of a preventable death from a deadly virus,” said Harris. “We are in a moment of crisis that requires leaders to respond swiftly and humanely in the interest of public health. The Department of Homeland Security has failed to take sufficient commonsense actions that would save lives. That needs to change — now.”

In Other News

  • Health systems across San Diego County are reporting manageable numbers of COVID-19 patients. Tijuana, on the other hand, is overwhelmed. One doctor likened the scene at a hospital to a “war zone.” (Union-Tribune) 
  • Researchers are mounting a coronavirus counterattack. “I have never seen an entire scientific community change direction so fast to focus on one problem,” a UCSD official told the U-T. 

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

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