Health workers at North County Health Services assist patients via telephone. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Community clinics — which tend to serve the poorest and most at-risk San Diegans — have taken large financial hits due to the coronavirus pandemic

In recent weeks, most have cut back on services like dental and other non-emergency services. “Nearly all have had to furlough staff and some clinics have had to close locations,” reports Maya Srikrishnan. 

There’s a double whammy here: as unemployment claims rise, and more people are dropped from the rolls of their company-provided insurance, there could be much higher demand for these services. The clinics, though, may be less able to provide support. 

Kevin Mattson, CEO of San Ysidro Health Center, said his organization has lost roughly 400 patients per day in dental visits. 

Initially, he had to furlough 300 full-time employees, but has been able to maintain their health insurance. Since then, he partially furloughed another 300, cutting hours by 50 to 80 percent. San Ysidro Health Center has shut down a total of 13 clinics. 

Telehealth appointments have been one of the few saving graces for community clinics. The federal government gave them special permission to fully bill for telehealth appointments, which now account for the majority of their business. If that provision is rolled back, clinics could be in further financial trouble. 

In March, we wrote about the rapid growth of telehealth options in San Diego.

San Diego Unified Is Getting a New Pilot School

Students play during a break at the San Diego Cooperative Charter School Mountain View campus. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

What’s a pilot school, you ask? Will Huntsberry previously gave us the detailed answer, but here’s the short one: pilots are unique, district-managed schools that have wider latitude to operate outside of normal constraints. 

In this case, the San Diego Unified school board decided on Tuesday to convert a charter school campus that abruptly closed in December into a pilot. The previous school — it was the satellite campus of the San Diego Cooperative Charter School — was a progressive education experiment gone wrong, Huntsberry previously reported. 

The new pilot school will hew to the values of the previous charter school, officials have said. Educators will focus on the “whole child” and igniting students’ personal passions, rather than test scores. 

November Ballot Update

A San Diego City Council committee took another step Wednesday to putting a measure on the November ballot that would rescind the 30-foot height limit in the Midway-Pacific Highway community.The full City Council will make the final decision to put the measure on the ballot this summer.

A coastal height limit approved by voters in 1972 caps the height of new buildings north of downtown, west of I-5. If approved, the new measure would remove the Midway-Pacific Highway area from that restriction, allowing the city to pursue a dense redevelopment of the Sports Arena area. Councilwoman Jen Campbell, who represents the Midway area area, proposed the measure along with Councilman Chris Cate.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry, in the midst of a mayoral campaign, voted against putting the measure on the ballot, arguing it was not an urgent need for the city, as KPBS’ Andrew Bowen reported. Throughout her campaign, Bry has positioned herself against proposals by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and state lawmakers to make way for new, denser development in the city. 

Nick Serrano, a spokesman for Assemblyman Todd Gloria, Bry’s opponent in the mayor’s race, said Gloria agrees with the committee’s decision to advance the measure and “give San Diegans the opportunity to consider a new life for the Sports Arena property.”

Ranked-choice voting moves forward: The Council committee also advanced a measure that would implement so-called ranked choice voting for future elections. In that system, voters rank their preferences among candidates on the ballot. The top four candidates in a traditional primary will advance to a general election, which would be settled by ranked-choice voting. Proponents argued it’s a more democratic system. People will be more willing to rank their preferred candidate first rather than one they are settling for over a much worse option. It would encourage more candidates to run for office. Opponents argued it would create confusion by forcing voters to deal with different electoral systems when voting for federal, state and local offices. 

Project labor agreements may be validated: The committee also advanced a measure backed by construction unions to overturn a 2012 ballot measure that restricted the use of project labor agreements on city infrastructure projects. Project labor agreements require contractors to hire workers through union halls and stipulate certain wage and benefits, while unions guarantee enough labor to complete the project. Councilman Mark Kersey and Bry opposed advancing the measure.

Palomar College Reconsiders Its Bond Promises to Voters

The community college district had been considering another bond measure for the 2022 ballot, but like all things in coronavirusland, no one’s sure what the future holds. The economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic suggests voters may not be so keen on passing a new tax even a couple years from now. 

Voters approved the last one, Proposition M, in 2006, and it’s starting to wind down. 

Although the district has begun many of the maintenance and modernizing projects on its list, district officials said they don’t have enough funding to complete all of them. College officials are now debating among themselves how the remaining funds should be used and which parts of the district are more deserving. 

Kayla Jimenez breaks down the dispute in the North County Report

EPA Wants to Dedicate Millions More to Sewage Problem

The Environmental Protection Agency is requesting that Congress dedicate $300 million toward addressing the toxic sewage flowing across the border under the Trump Administration’s new trade deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Tuesday’s announcement by the EPA came as a surprise even to those who’ve been advocating for more resources. 

Congress still needs to approve the budget request. Even then, it’s unclear exactly how the money might be divided up. 

The issue is so hard to resolve, in part, because different government agencies — from U.S. and Mexican city governments to binational agencies — control different parts of the Tijuana River Valley. But regional leaders identified two projects on the U.S. side of the border that they’d like to tackle first. 

Those projects, said Marvin Mayorga, the land-use policy advisor to Supervisor Greg Cox, could divert and treat 163 million gallons of sewage flows per day. That would cut down the number of days that beaches in the United States have to close due to pollution, he said. However, those projects wouldn’t fix broken infrastructure on the Mexican side of the border. 

Another Major San Diego Convention Canceled

The Society for Human Resource Management announced this week that it has canceled the conference it had expected to hold at the San Diego Convention from June 28-July 1.

The Convention Center Corp. had expected about 24,000 attendees and projected the convention would pump nearly $74 million into the regional economy.

The HR convention is one of about 50 events that has been canceled or postponed since March. For now, the Convention Center’s primary function is as a homeless shelter that’s served as a temporary home to more than 1,000 during the pandemic.

The next major event that still remains on the Convention Center schedule is the National Association of Chain Drug Stores expo from Aug. 8-10.

In Other News

  • Cities that didn’t get large federal CARES Act checks have been urging the county to share some of the $334 million it received. Supervisors Greg Cox and Kristin Gaspar said they’ll ask fellow supervisors to consider doling out $50 million next week. Meanwhile, Supervisor Jim Desmond says San Diego has only had “six pure” coronavirus deaths
  • Friends of SDSU began running ads pressuring the City Council to approve the purchase and sale agreement for the Mission Valley stadium land the university submitted last week. The Council President has so far been unwilling to put the matter on the City Council docket. Friends of SDSU and Councilwoman Barbara Bry accused unnamed city officials and special interests of deliberately trying to scuttle the deal. We broke down City Attorney Mara Elliot’s concern about the final deal points here.
  • The University of California says it’s likely none of the 10 campuses, including San Diego’s, will fully reopen in the fall. SDSU plans to cancel nearly all in-person classes, too. (CNN) (However, SDSU sports are on. “I don’t know that it necessarily impacts us at all,” John David Wicker, SDSU’s director of athletics, told the Union-Tribune.
  • On a per capita basis, National City has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the county. The mayor announced a free testing program. (Union-Tribune)
  • A pandemic has not stopped people from buying houses, but there are fewer homes on the market. And the homes that are selling are getting at or above asking price. (Union-Tribune) 
  • The San Diego Superior Court is now livestreaming criminal court proceedings on YouTube to provide public access during facility closures. (City News Service) 
  • Curbside pickup and delivery are already available for restaurants and pot shops. It’s now coming to malls and might soon come to libraries. (10 News, Union-Tribune) 

The Morning Report was written by Will Huntsberry, Jesse Marx, Lisa Halverstadt, MacKenzie Elmer and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Scott Lewis.

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