Streetlight cameras in downtown San Diego / Photo by Megan Wood

The police reform movement in San Diego is turning its attention to tech. 

After years of mounting frustration and criticism over the mission creep of San Diego’s smart streetlights program, the City Council is poised to begin debating the merits of a surveillance ordinance. Activists and elected allies want to set new rules guiding the use and acquisition of any devices that are capable of watching and listening to the public.

They’re also interested in the creation of a new privacy advisory commission made up of experts in law, auditing, security and more. No politicians. No police.

“We want to keep it independent and make sure there’s no political pressure or pressure otherwise,” said Geneviéve Jones-Wright, a member of the Trust SD Coalition, at a panel this week.

Ahead of the upcoming deliberation, Jesse Marx revisits the timeline of events to show how the city’s smart streetlights went from an energy-saving program that captured data on the environment and transportation to a tool of law enforcement. 

Two key members of the City Council say a new system of checks and balances is overdue. Two others walked back statements they previously made about not knowing the devices were being used by police to investigate crimes.

Analyst: San Diego’s Proposing a ‘Sweetheart’ Deal for SDG&E

Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled what the city could ask its future gas and electric provider to do in exchange for the right to build stuff on public land. 

Environmental advocacy groups think the city is low-balling itself from the get-go. 

San Diego already has interest from two other companies, that’s two more than SDG&E had to compete against the last time it negotiated the franchise fee agreement 50 years ago. And one of them – Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway – is extremely flush with cash.

Consultants hired to craft the city’s offer said the contract should be only 20 years long and ask the winner to pay an upfront cost of $62 million. (Rob Nikelowski from the Union-Tribune outlined the consultant’s recommendations in more detail.)

The citizens – who actually pay the franchise fee instead of the utility due to some shenanigans at the state regulatory level almost 50 years ago – would see the amount they pay drop by just a sliver of a percent under the proposed deal.

“This is a sweetheart deal for SDG&E,” said Tyson Siegele, an energy analyst for Protect Our Communities, a local environmental advocacy group. 

Siegele said the consultant based the recommended upfront cost on “bad math” and undershot SDG&E’s true profit from building the grid on public land. 

The recommendations will go before a Council committee on July 16. It’s the Council that ultimately will vote on the final agreement language before going out to bid. 

The contract with SDG&E expires on Jan. 17. 

Supes Candidate Says Getting a COVID Test Was Impossible

As San Diego comes to grips with renewed business closures amid worsening cases, hospitalization and ICU numbers from the not-so-novel-anymore coronavirus, it’s becoming clear that the region’s public health response is still a work in progress.

The latest indication came from county supervisor candidate Nora Vargas, who posted on Facebook Thursday a nightmare story of her attempts to get tested for the virus due to exposure she experienced in the course of her campaign. Long story short: She tried lots of ways to get a test and came up empty on all of them.

The county, meanwhile, had another day Thursday with more than 500 new cases. On June 24, the county set a record with 332 new cases; the county has approached or surpassed 500 in a day 11 times since then. The 560 new cases Thursday represented 6 percent of all new tests, as City News Service reported, and the 38 new hospitalizations were a new record.

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by MacKenzie Elmer and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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