A streetlight camera / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

Local governments have routinely acquired and deployed new technologies like smart streetlights without fully considering how the information collected could be used, or the biases embedded in the technology.

VOSD’s very own surveillance expert Jesse Marx examines some of the smart tech projects we know about – because, yikes, there are likely many we don’t know about – and what lessons we can draw from them.

“The boosters of smart cities — who often have something to sell — view the problems of society as merely technical in nature,” Marx writes. “They offer new tools in the name of efficiency and convenience that seem impartial and nonideological on the surface. But there are value sets embedded in any form of technology, and officials ignore this reality at the risk of exacerbating rather than flattening inequities.”

Marx’s takeaways include that smart tech often becomes a tool for law enforcement, which can result in civil liberties concerns, and that the technology can prove to be quite costly to government agencies. 

San Diego Scientist Gets Closer to Understanding Why the Coast Collapses

California lawmakers are just starting to push forward policy ideas that tackle the crumbling state of its coastal cliffs, but science can’t yet pinpoint which shorelines are most vulnerable to collapse. 

Enter Adam Young, a geomorphologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who has just compiled perhaps the most detailed dataset on an unsteady cliff faces to date, as our MacKenzie Elmer covers in a new story. It took three years of driving up and down a 1.5 mile span of cliff along the Del Mar shoreline, firing a laser at the rock face from an instrument strapped to his research truck. 

But the end result is a suite of information showing how ocean waves and rain interact to eat away at a cliff face at both ends. People have lost their lives by seemingly random landslides, and now that this dataset exists scientists can begin to model and predict where and when a cliff might fall after a big storm, say. 

“As we start to understand how the (waves and rain) are eroding the cliff, then we can build better models so we can understand how things will evolve in the future,” Young said.

Cliff erosion will only get worse as the sea level rises due to human-exacerbated climate change. And some lawmakers are putting wheels on policies that would allow Californians to put up their own defenses now.

California Sen. Pat Bates, a Republican representing portions of San Diego and Orange counties, plans to reintroduce a bill this session over homeowners’ rights to build their own seawalls without first getting permission from the California Coastal Commission. An Encinitas family who lost three members to a 2019 landslide supported the bill’s introduction this year, but opponents from groups like Surfrider say there are better ways to stem cliff erosion.

Mayor Hails Progress on Climate, But That’s Not the Full Story

Mayor Todd Gloria released Monday the city’s annual update on its goals to combat climate change, like building bike lanes and cutting planet-warming greenhouse gases emitted by the municipality, in an enthusiastic press release.

The report says San Diego in 2019 cut its emissions 25 percent from 2010 levels, slightly ahead of the pace of cuts envisioned in the city’s Climate Action Plan. But total energy use in the city actually increased 4.5 percent during that period.

Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, pointed out the city actually only cut its emissions by 1 percent between 2018 and 2019. In 2018, the city announced it’d cut emissions by 24 percent mostly by fulfilling state mandates, as the Union-Tribune outlined at the time

“I would characterize these results as the city basically hitting a plateau and still not getting reductions from regional or local actions,” Capretz wrote in an email.

On a number of specific fronts from its climate plan, it’s doubtful San Diego is going to meet the 2020 reduction targets next year. For instance, San Diegans are supposed to cut their home energy use by 15 percent by then, but we’re less than halfway there thus far. And though the city set a goal for 50 percent of its municipal fleet to be zero-emission vehicles, by the end of last year it was 2 percent of the way there. By 2020, 22 percent of people living near high-frequency transit are supposed to walk, bike or take transit to work, but as of this year just 13 percent does so.

The city is expected to write another five-year Climate Action Plan in 2021 which will include a new assessment of the city’s baseline greenhouse gas emissions. 

Regional COVID Updates

  • The regional stay-at-home order in effect across Southern California is expected to be formally extended Tuesday, City News Service reports. The region’s ICU capacity is still effectively 0 percent, by state calculations.
  • A respiratory therapist who works at Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s ICU told NBC 7 that when they have zero bed availability in their ICU – which has happened before – it means people can’t be moved out of the ER. On Christmas Eve, there were 23 patients who were COVID-19 positive in the medical ICE at Sharp Grossmont.
  • The situation isn’t much better south of the border. December has also been the worst month of the pandemic for Baja California, writes VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan in this week’s Border Report. Not only are ICUs at capacity in the state, but many people are dying before ambulances can even reach them.

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Maya Srikrishnan and MacKenzie Elmer, and edited by Andrew Keatts.

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