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Lemon Grove / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The coronavirus pandemic could not have come at a worse time for Lemon Grove.

Reserves for the small, East County suburb were already expected to dip below 25 percent within five years. Now, a drop in sales tax revenue means those reserves could run out in just two years.

“These projections are especially jarring when one considers that voters rejected a three-quarter cent sales tax in March,” reports VOSD’s Bella Ross. “Without the additional tax revenue, some proponents of Measure S said they feared that the city would have to disincorporate, meaning Lemon Grove transfers authority over its affairs to the County Board of Supervisors.”

City officials are now considering a new ballot measure in November and the possibility of federal and state funding to supplement revenue amid the pandemic.

Speaking of how things have changed …

New data from the month of April gives us a snapshot of just how much San Diego has transformed over the past month. The virus is now considered a top cause of death in the county and an estimated half of all businesses have shut down. Meanwhile, traffic accidents reported to the police fell by half as drivers stayed off the roads.

VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga explains the numbers in a new story.

City Council Puts Smart Streetlights in the Spotlight

After hearing pushback from community members and activists, six of the eight San Diego City Council members who participated in Tuesday’s Budget Review Committee hearing were critical of the smart streetlights. Some asked for more information related to costs while others, including City Council President Georgette Gómez, called outright for the program’s end.

At the same time, some also complained that the city’s Sustainability Department, which oversees the smart streetlights, was not setting aside immediate funding for next year’s climate action plan report. 

The smart streetlights were sold to the City Council in 2016 as a way to reduce the city’s energy costs through LED lights and as a tool of civic innovation. Boosters said the mobility and transit data collected in public rights of way could be used to build apps.

More than three years later, though, as Jesse Marx reported last week, the program is not producing the data like it was supposed to while costing more than anticipated.

In his new budget proposal, Mayor Kevin Faulconer has asked that the City Council approve another $1.3 million in spending, bringing the total cost of the program to $2.1 million. A report by the independent budget analyst notes that the program is currently about $1.5 million over budget and the energy cost savings are only enough to cover the debt payments for the initial purchase of the equipment.

The only way to significantly reduce costs associated with the smart streetlights would be to turn off the sensors, the report concludes. But even if officials did hit pause or permanently cancel the program, “the city would still be responsible for the initial financing payments for the equipment.” 

San Diego Joins With L.A., S.F., State to Sue Uber and Lyft

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott joined with her counterparts in Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to file suit against Uber and Lyft. The lawsuit argues the rideshare giants are illegally misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors, in violation of AB 5, the landmark law passed last year by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

AB 5 and the state Supreme Court decision it’s based on limit the instances in which employers can classify their workers as independent contractors instead of employees. Because Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t employees, they don’t have access to benefits like health care, paid sick leave and workers’ compensation – all of which have become more relevant during the coronavirus crisis.

This isn’t Elliott’s first go-round with taking on a gig company over worker classification. Her office is in the midst of suing grocery delivery service Instacart over the same issue, and successfully won an injunction against the company earlier this year. That decision, though, was put on hold to allow Instacart to appeal to a higher court.

Meanwhile, Uber, Lyft and other apps are hoping voters approve a November ballot measure they’ve spent tens of millions of dollars on that would exempt them from having to meet AB 5’s requirements.

In Other News

  • The city’s troubled smart water meter program is set to almost double in cost in the mayor’s latest budget. (NBC San Diego)
  • Community colleges are expecting massive budget cuts as the coronavirus pandemic devastates state revenue streams. (inewsource)
  • UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla announced Tuesday that the university is going to begin mass coronavirus testing as a step toward resuming on-campus courses in the fall. Beginning next week, 5,000 students currently living on campus will be given self-administered tests. (Union-Tribune)
  • Three new coronavirus testing sites are open throughout the county – with long lines. (KPBS)

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

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