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Just as San Diego officials were wrapping their heads around a $300 million budget shortfall from the unprecedented economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, $248 million from the federal government showed up in city coffers.
Yet it’s not clear to what extent the city can use that money, appropriated in the federal government’s CARES Act, to blunt the sweeping budget cuts it was already preparing.
Sorting out the ambiguities over how the Treasury has said cities can and can’t spend that money is emerging as a critical political fight at City Hall, Andrew Keatts reports.
Some Council members say the law leaves ample leeway for the city to book costs it’s already incurred against the new federal funds, and that the money could obviate the city’s plan to draw down reserves to help balance the budget. They say the city’s low-income communities are going to bear the brunt of cuts and are pushing the city to view the federal money as a way of avoiding those diminished neighborhood services.
But others, like Councilman Chris Cate, say the city needs to seriously consider the possibility of appearing before a congressional oversight committee for mis-appropriating federal revenue – or at least being forced to pay some of the money back down the line.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office is involved in the dispute and determining how much discretion it has in spending the CARES Act money, as is the city’s independent budget analyst. Faulconer will issue a report on the question later this month, when he updates the budget picture for the current year, and the one scheduled to begin in July.
The smaller cities across the county might find San Diego’s problem about what it can and can’t spend money on a bit adorable. They got nothing, or close to it.
VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt and Ashly McGlone detail local cities’ campaigns to appeal to county supervisors to share the wealth they received from the federal government through the CARES Act. The county and the state both have the power to dole out federal funds to smaller cities, it’s just not clear whether that will actually happen, or when.
“The city of Oceanside, for instance, received $30,000 for its municipal airport and nothing else so far, said Michael Gossman, Oceanside’s assistant city manager, even as other costs pile up and long-term revenue declines in sales and tourism taxes come into focus. The city eventually anticipates another $800,000 to help low-income residents, though the money has yet to arrive,” Halverstadt and McGlone report. “City officials from across the county say existing financial supports are not enough and are pleading for more direct aid from whoever will give it.”
Did San Diego Leaders Forget We Have Children?
Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis exhaled his frustrations over policymakers’ apparent forgetfulness that children exist in plans to reopen the economy.
“Planning for salons … to open but not even mentioning where their employees’ kids will go during the day is like setting out all the chairs for a wedding ceremony without discussing the fact that the bride is actually dead.” Lewis writes.
In the meantime, schools seem to be preparing for a COVID-19 retrofit of the traditional in-person, five-days-a-week model. Schools may become occasionally visited learning centers and parents, expected to help manage their child’s daily education, according to reporting by the Union-Tribune.
“San Diego is not ‘ready to recover’ until schools are,” Lewis writes.
Why San Diego Stinks
No, it’s not a gas leak or your overflowing dumpster (but check it out anyway). That sulfur smell around town is coming from the ocean.
The perhaps record-breaking algal bloom off the coast is the cause of brown waves by day and electric blue waves by night, and now it’s dying. Its decomposition is causing a trash-like stench, wafting over a mile inland. The breakdown of a protein within the algae also creates a foam across the water, said Michael Latz, a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The city of San Diego posted the science behind the smell on its Instagram feed Wednesday after getting numerous calls from concerned residents about the odor.
Red tides aren’t always malicious. They frequent California’s shores in springtime, but unusually hot ocean temperatures may be the reason why this particular, and so far non-toxic bloom has survived well over its annual two-week debut. As the mass of algae dies off, it’s creating a deadly, low-oxygen environment for some animals. Citizens spotted dead fish by the dozens in La Jolla this week.
Otay Mesa Immigrant Detainee Dies From COVID-19
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee at the Otay Mesa Detention Center who tested positive for coronavirus has died. His death marks the first of an ICE detainee from COVID-19.
Otay Mesa has one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks at an ICE detention facility in the country. As of Tuesday, there were 189 confirmed cases, 123 of which are ICE detainees. The remainder are U.S. Marshals Service inmates.
Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, a 57-year-old man from El Salvador, tested positive on April 24 when he was taken to the Paradise Valley Hospital in National City due to symptoms related to COVID-19, according to government documents obtained by Buzzfeed News. Three days later, he was taken to the hospital’s ICU and placed on a ventilator.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to review detainees at Otay Mesa Detention Center whose conditions would make them more susceptible to the coronavirus’s worst symptoms for release. Monday, 131 ICE detainees had been identified to Sabraw as particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, but few have actually been released so far.
In Other News
- In a new op-ed, a pair of UC San Diego grad students argue that the university should expand the eligibility of COVID-19 related funding and provide an equal proportion of aid. Grad students make up 20 percent of the student body, they write, but they’re only expected to receive 10 percent of the federal money set aside.
- Parks and trails will reopen in Chula Vista on Friday. (NBC San Diego)
- U-T columnist Michael Smolens considers the logistical challenges of reopening some businesses as soon as Friday. Safety supplies, child care and legal liability are among the hurdles.
- Health care professionals say the state’s plan to pay assisted living communities to take in COVID-19 patients is unnecessary and dangerous. In San Diego County, congregate facilities make up 22 percent of the region’s cases and account for nearly half of the deaths. (KPBS)
- San Diego County’s unemployment rate was estimated at a whopping 27 percent. SANDAG’s chief economist said the good news is that many jobs are expected to return when the economy reopens. (Union-Tribune)
- San Diego’s legal cannabis industry hasn’t escaped the economic downturn. After being declared an essential service by the state and after a surge in sales in mid-March, dispensary owners say they’ve been seeing fewer customers. (KPBS)
The Morning Report was written by MacKenzie Elmer, Jesse Marx and Maya Srikrishnan, and edited by Sara Libby.