A General Atomics SkyGuardian drone is pictured at a 2018 air show in the United Kingdom. / Image via Shutterstock

Drone technology that primarily developed for the war on terror and is now being integrated into U.S. civilian life did not take flight over San Diego in 2020 as expected.

The SkyGuardian attracted local and national media buzz last year because it was part of a larger strategy to integrate larger drones into domestic skies and open up new forms of surveillance. In April, General Atomics, a local defense contractor that was partnering with NASA, wound up re-routing the drone away from the city and into the desert. 

Jesse Marx reports that the Federal Aviation Administration had concerns about the safety of the flight and was preparing for the possibility that the drone, while in the air, lost connection or malfunctioned, which is not uncommon for drones. The communications among regulators were released through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit we filed in May.

A spokesman for General Atomics said the company, which is headquartered in the San Diego region, holds the “safety and welfare of the public in the highest regard.”

Court documents also suggest that the flight was intended to impress foreign military diplomats in the market for drone technologies, months before the Trump administration loosened restrictions on international arms sales. One report showed that the drone makers themselves had been pressuring the federal government.

Bry Would Recuse Herself From Franchise Fee Decisions if Berkshire Hathaway Bid

Councilwoman Barbara Bry said she might stay out of any big decision over San Diego’s energy future because of substantial financial interest she holds in a company that wants a lucrative city contract. 

The bidding on the city’s next iteration of its electric and gas franchise contract ended Friday, just as news broke that Bry’s husband owns between $100,000 and $1 million stock in a potential major bidder, Berkshire Hathaway. Bry disclosed her ownership of the company and other major investments, both personal and via her spouse, in fossil fuel companies earlier this year. 

So far only SDG&E has said it submitted a bid and other bidders won’t be known until the Council dockets an item, but Bry has promised to recuse herself if one of them is Berkshire Hathaway Energy. 

The company, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, announced in February that it was interested in taking over the city’s franchise agreement.

Bry has already cast Council votes on the topic. She voted against soliciting bids for the contract at an Aug. 6 City Council meeting and during a July 16 Environment Committee meeting. Yet those moves don’t appear to constitute a legal conflict of interest, said one government ethics expert. 

In the meantime … 

The City Council is set to consider Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s most significant land use proposal between Election Day and the swearing-in of new elected officials. His so-called Complete Communities plan would encourage dense development near transit and change the way developers contribute to park and transportation funding.

As Keatts and Scott Lewis note in the greatest San Diego newsletter delivered to inboxes on Saturday mornings, Faulconer’s proposal didn’t go as far as he’d suggested last year. Still, the city’s lame duck session is a familiar place for controversial topics. 

Also in the Politics Report: VOSD’s resident historian and extremely tall person Randy Dotinga explains why the public votes for judges and how that process has changed over time. For instance, judges used to openly run under their political party banner but the good-government progressive movement put a stop to that. 

San Diego’s Most Competitive State Races

In U.S. politics, the terms “citizen” and “consumer” are often conflated, so that democracy becomes another extension of the marketplace. Consultants talk about the “name ID” of elected representatives, as though they were commodities.

Normally, incumbents would be expected to walk across the finish line (unless they’d done something scandalous). But Sara Libby writes in the Sacramento Report that the two most competitive state races this year appear to be Assembly Districts 76 and 77, where Democrats Tasha Boerner Horvath and Brian Maienschein are running for re-election.

The circumstances have certainly changed over the last four years — Maienschein left the GOP — and both have major campaign cash advantages. But their Republican opponents have also been buoyed in recent weeks by a conservative group, the California Freedom PAC. 

In Other News

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

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