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SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata at a live Voice of San Diego Podcast recording at Whistle Stop Bar. / Photo by Megan Wood

It feels a bit strange to write this, but there was a time in our recent past in which the biggest local political debate centered on whether the region should pursue a transit-centric transportation plan, or one that continued the long tradition of prioritizing highways and driving.

That transit-centric plan, proposed by SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, was called the 5 Big Moves and promised to remake the region’s transportation system so that taking transit could be as quick and convenient as driving. But the specifics – like what types of transit would be built out and how much it would all cost – had been kept under wraps.

That was supposed to change in March. Then the coronavirus happened.

SANDAG put the unveiling on hold, opting to wait until it could wow the board in person with large 3-D models and video demonstrations. It’s now grappling with how much longer it can wait, Andrew Keatts reports in a new story.

“We would rather wait until we can get together,” Ikhrata told Keatts. “But if this goes until September or October, we’re probably going to have to unveil of it through technology.”

SDG&E Overcharges for Undergrounding, City Attorney Claims

In the fall of 2019, the city of San Diego and the region’s private utility company announced an effort to accelerate the burying of power lines. But it appears the agreement was never put in writing and the money for the program is at risk of running dry because of mounting costs.

That’s according to a memo written last week by a deputy city attorney who said San Diego Gas and Electric was charging millions more than expected to bury electricity lines underground while refusing to provide enough documentation justifying why.

San Diego manages its own undergrounding program by picking which projects get done when, but the city has to work with SDG&E and local telecommunications companies to fund the projects and coordinate the actual work.

A spokeswoman for SDG&E told MacKenzie Elmer that the utility “looks forward to resolving this matter as quickly as possible and continuing the undergrounding work at the city’s discretion.”

The decision to underground was partly aesthetic and also partly about safety, as power lines have been responsible for some of the state’s most devastating wildfires. 

Police Reforms in the Works But Far From Done

An attempt to create an independent oversight committee with sweeping powers gained traction last week by earning the support of the mayor and the district attorney. But at least one of the leaders behind the initiative is skeptical.

Andrea St. Julian, co-chair of San Diegans for Justice, told Sara Libby in a podcast interview that she’s wary of the high-profile endorsements because the support gives the impression that the effort is a done deal.

“I hope people understand that this is an ongoing struggle,” St. Julian said.

Important to keep in mind: The language for a potential November ballot measure isn’t finalized. It’s still going through a closed-door process with the city’s and the police union’s negotiating teams and eventually it’ll need to go before the City Council. So it may have changed already and that watered-down version is what’s earning support. 

At present, the committee overseeing police practices can only make recommendations to police and gets advice from the city attorney, who also represents the Police Department. 

In response to police agencies ditching the carotid restraint last week, U-T columnist Michael Smolens wrote: “Laudable as it may have been, in reality, politicians and police grabbed low-hanging fruit in hopes of tamping down a crisis in public trust that has been simmering for years.” 

Also on the horizon: San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery is proposing an Office of Equity and Inclusion, a three-person team that would be able to work across departments, whether on policing, land use planning or economic development, to address systemic racism in the city. 

Montgomery made police reform and accountability central to her campaign in 2018. She spoke to Keatts in a separate podcast interview

In the meantime: Video surfaced last week of undercover SDPD officers shoving a woman into an unmarked van and speeding away. A police spokesman said she swung a cardboard sign at a motorcycle officer. City Council President Georgette Gómez called for an investigation into an incident, the U-T reports. 

In a 45-second video posted to Twitter, you can hear people demanding to know where the officers are taking the woman. KPBS also reports that one officer told a protester: “If you follow us, you will get shot. Do you understand me?” An SDPD spokesman defended that warning to KPBS.

Calls for defunding strike at larger issue: Some criminal justice reformers have argued that at least a portion of police department budgets should go to community groups that are better suited to address the root causes of crime. The U-T reports that some officers might actually welcome a shift in practices

From reporter John Wilkens: “Their duties have expanded over the years — war on drugs, war on terror, war on homelessness — making the job more militarized and complicated.” He also quoted Dallas police chief David Brown, who in 2016 said: “Every societal failure, we put it on the cops to solve.” 

State to Debate Police Use of Rubber Bullets

San Diego lawmakers in Sacramento announced measures last week to set clearer standards on when and how certain projectiles can be used on crowds of protesters. As Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez put it: “Breaking a city-imposed curfew is not a sufficient basis for use of rubber bullets. Crowd control where there is no rioting is not proper grounds to use rubber bullets.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he supported a new use of force standards at protests, tweeting: “Protesters have the right to protest peacefully — not be harassed. Not be shot at by rubber bullets or tear gas.”

Gonzalez chairs the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which gives her significant power over the fate of any bill that comes with it a hefty price tag. In the Sacramento Report, we also highlighted several major bills that got the all-clear, including one written by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber that lays the groundwork for reparations.

The not so lucky: A bill sponsored by Microsoft that would have created a legal framework for facial recognition technology. Local privacy and criminal justice advocates argued the bill set no meaningful restrictions on how the technology could be used in public and private spaces. 

San Diego’s History of Hating on Free Speech

The city was once a hotbed for leftist uprisings sparked by labor unions in the early 20th Century, but those efforts were eventually crushed by unsympathetic city leaders and newspaper publishers, VOSD contributor and history nerd Randy Dotinga reports.

The impassioned took to a “soapbox corner” at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and E Street downtown. Then city leaders cordoned-off a free speech-free zone. Fines were hefty and accompanied the threat of a month in jail.

Instead of rubber bullets and chemical weapons, San Diego police turned fire hoses on protestors and dumped some in the Sorrento Valley, where they were reportedly tarred and feathered by vigilantes. 

San Diego set a national precedent, Dotinga writes, for how the federal government eventually muzzled dissidents of all backgrounds.

What’s it Like to Learn at a Distance?

Tired. Too busy. Overwhelmed.

We asked San Diego families and teachers to tell us about their experiences over the last school year and that’s how many of them described it. Adriana Heldiz compiled the testimonies, which you can view for yourself in a new video

It’s been nearly three months since the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order. Families and educators alike are still struggling with this new reality as they navigate the world of distance learning while juggling all of life’s other responsibilities. 

In Other News

  • A black man died in Chula Vista police custody in March after his family called 911. The district attorney’s office is investigating. Nearly two months later, the autopsy has not been completed and the city says it won’t make the document public when it is completed. (Union-Tribune) 
  • La Mesa has dropped its criminal case against Amaurie Johnson. Protestors in recent days have pointed to his arrest as an example of unjust and unfair police practices against black men and women. 
  • Wendy Wheatcroft, an educator and City Council candidate, argues in an op-ed that schools need a hybrid model of in-classroom and online education as a cushion in case we have to go back into quarantine in the fall. The state released its guidance on schools reopening and it’s some top-quality word salad. 

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A Note From Our Development and Engagement Teams …

Voice of San Diego is launching Local Boost, a new marketing campaign that provides local small businesses and nonprofits discounted sponsorship and marketing packages on the Voice of San Diego website, newsletters, podcasts and virtual events. 

We know times are tough right now. It’s our goal to help spur the local economy by making it easier for locally owned businesses and nonprofits to promote their products and services during the coming months. Small businesses and nonprofits can showcase their organization, share their response to COVID-19 and reach tens of thousands of San Diegans on our platforms. Click here for more information.

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

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