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The B street pier, near where the Port of San Diego installed a series of smart streetlights to monitor traffic. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego’s system of smart streetlight cameras has attracted local pushback and national scrutiny, leading officials to draft new rules for the future use and acquisition of surveillance gear. But it turns out the city wasn’t the only government downtown experimenting with devices capable of watching and listening to the public.

The Port of San Diego installed nearly two dozen smart cameras along Harbor Drive in 2017, but dismantled the program after a year-and-a-half trial run. Port staff wanted to use the technology to help with traffic studies but found they could get the same, if not better, data by using traditional methods of counting cars and pedestrians.

One of the key differences between the two: Port staff said they never turned over control of the system to police, as San Diego did. Port commissioners, who oversee the agency, were also cognizant of what the technology might mean for civil liberties and communities of color and talked about it — openly. 

If there’s a lesson embedded in both projects, writes Jesse Marx, “it’s that smart technologies aren’t as cost-effective and sophisticated as salespeople often claim and not as useful as officials had hoped.”

The port still owns the equipment, so it could resurrect the cameras in the future. But that would depend, in part, on other governments building out their smart platforms to increase the quality and analysis of the data they collect.

Devices that hook up to the internet and collect information in public rights of way are beginning to proliferate across the county. Qualcomm has plans to accelerate the trend. 

Shelter at Convention Center Could Last Until March

Mayor Todd Gloria will ask the City Council next month to keep the Convention Center homeless shelter open through March and said he identified a funding source: a combination of money already budgeted but unspent, and state grants.

Lisa Halverstadt reports that Gloria is promising his proposal will shave about $700,000 off the $5.7 million monthly cost of operating the shelter by renegotiating some contracts and making other adjustments. 

Despite a recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the shelter, Gloria has argued that it remains the best option to shelter homeless San Diegans during the pandemic. Advocates and experts have suggested the city and the county more people into hotel rooms where they can safely adhere to stay at home orders.

The city has stopped taking in new clients. At any given time since the shelter opened in April, as many as 1,300 people slept there each night. Hundreds have moved into permanent or longer-term housing. 

The Restaurants Saga Continues

Republicans lawmakers cheered on a San Diego County Superior Court ruling last week allowing strip clubs and other dining establishments to reopen in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home order, Sara Liiby writes in the Sacramento Report

The state filed an appeal seeking to immediately halt the ruling’s impact on Friday, KPBS reported, and the court granted it Friday evening, meaning restaurants that had opened had to shut back down just as suddenly.

Rethinking San Diego

Our Rethinking San Diego series last week explored some of the biggest issues and institutions in San Diego and how they might change. The latest VOSD podcast is dedicated to the way things could be

The series considered four questions: Is defunding the police really possible? What does a border for the people look like? And should we just redo this terrible school year?

MacKenzie Elmer also considered whether San Diego could control its own electricity

About That …

On Friday, Gloria informed the City Council that he would be rejecting a bid for the city’s gas and electric franchise submitted by San Diego Gas & Electric. Instead, he said in a statement, “I will be pursuing an extension of the existing agreement between the City and SDG&E to allow enough time for the new City Council to get up to speed and more opportunities for public engagement to occur.”

The city had hoped to create a bidding war between utilities for the right to provide power to its residents, but only SDG&E responded. 

City News Service reported last week that SDG&E’s offer met the minimum of what the city said it would accept. 

In Other News

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

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