Councilwoman Monica Montgomery speaks at a press conference announcing San Diego Police Department’s decision to stop using the carotid restraint method. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Councilwoman Monica Montgomery speaks at a press conference announcing San Diego Police Department’s decision to stop using the carotid restraint method. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

As the outgoing San Diego City Council was winding down last month, it signed off on a grant application for homeland security dollars. The vote was routine. But in the process, elected officials gave city employees permission to buy cell-phone hacking technology and other law enforcement gear without realizing it. 

No one asked any questions about how the money would actually be spent. But even if they had, they wouldn’t have gotten much information. That’s because the regional law enforcement groups responsible for divvying up anti-terrorism funds every year have shielded their actions from public disclosure. 

Jesse Marx got his hands on a wish list of tactical police and fire gear from agencies across the county. It includes everything from radios to robots to rapid response vehicles and more.

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, who chairs the city’s public safety committee, said she understands that police need to be prepared for emergencies but looks forward to a more detailed analysis of anti-terrorism funding at a future hearing. Although she voted in favor of the grant application in December, she’s gone on record in the past with her criticisms over the secretive nature of the process.

That process is now the subject of a lawsuit. Several weeks ago, the newspaper La Prensa filed a complaint alleging that the main law enforcement group overseeing the distribution of anti-terrorism funds is violating state law by failing to make its meetings open and accessible. 

Gloria: State of the City Is ‘Fragile’

New Mayor Todd Gloria started his first State of the City address on Wednesday night with some real talk.

“Honestly, the state of our city is fragile right now,” Gloria said, speaking from the empty San Ysidro branch library.

He spoke about the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, struggling businesses, job losses that have also affected his partner and father, the untold cost of climate change, the city’s infrastructure backlog and city workforce issues – and a massive budget deficit that will make it much harder for the city to address all of the above.

But Gloria said he believes the city can tackle those challenges.

“Together, I believe that we can and will solve the biggest problems of our time,” Gloria said. “We will lift each other up and create a future that is better for all of us.”

Gloria did fit in some announcements Wednesday night. He revealed he has brought on Matthew Doherty, who for years led the agency coordinating the federal response to homelessness, to advise the city on its crisis. He pledged to reform the way the city prioritizes road repairs to increase equity and prioritize long-term fixes on the city’s most used streets. He also announced that the city will close parts of Fifth Avenue in Gaslamp Quarter and Normal Street in Hillcrest to cars and transform them into public gathering spaces. He touted plans to create a “Buy Local Online Portal” featuring local businesses to encourage San Diegans to shop locally.

Gloria also gave full-throated support to SANDAG’s Five Big Moves, a regional initiative to transform the county’s transportation system, and said he will push for the city to fast-track community plan updates and to add more incentives for middle and low-income housing development that has long fallen short of demand. The city will also help directly, Gloria said, by incorporating housing into new and redeveloped new city facilities.

Gloria, a Democrat, also made some jabs at predecessor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who is mulling a bid for governor, with references to structural city budget challenges Gloria said had gone unaddressed and the former indoor skydiving facility turned homeless service hub.

“In this new year, with my new administration and this new City Council, we will fight for a better future,” Gloria said, referencing the Democratic supermajority leading the city. “We are a big city and it’s time we started acting like one. I know we have it in us.”

Vaccines on the Way, But Demand Far Exceeds Supply

At a briefing Wednesday, San Diego County’s director of epidemiology said the rollout of vaccinations at the newly established superstation at Petco Park had been delayed after six vaccine recipients had allergic reactions. NBC 7 reports that it’s too early to know what caused the reactions, but public health officials swapped the vaccines it was using for a new batch. 

The county opened its “vaccination super station” on Jan. 11 with a goal of immunizing 5,000 health care workers daily. 

Meanwhile, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher encouraged the public to be patient. He said the total number of vaccines that have arrived in San Diego so far is about 200,000. But there are more than 600,000 people in the top tier of the state’s priority list. California also expanded its guidelines so that residents 65 and older are also eligible. It’s an open question how the state intends to accommodate an influx in demand. 

The county’s goal is to administer 250,000 doses by the end of the month, according to KPBS reporter Tarryn Mento, and eventually vaccinate 1.8 million residents by July. Doing so would require 23,434 doses every day, for 150 days.

Delivery Drivers Lose Jobs After Prop. 22

A San Diego grocery store is laying off its delivery drivers and replacing them with gig workers after the passage of Proposition 22. KPBS reports that one man was called into a meeting late last month, believing he might be getting a raise. Instead, he was told his job was being eliminated.

In November, California voters exempted companies like Uber, Lyft and Door-Dash from the state’s new labor law, AB 5, which was written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Those same companies spent an unprecedented amount of money — more than $200 million — to convince the public that they needed a carve-out. Some threatened to leave California.

Albertsons contends that Prop. 22 had nothing to do with the changes it made to its business model, but one law professor said the entire industry is moving in a similar direction because the monetary incentives are there. 

MTS Hires New Security Chief

The Metropolitan Transit System announced Wednesday it has hired a veteran transit enforcement leader from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to lead its security force.

Al Stiehler, who has worked in transit enforcement for more than 30 years, is set to become MTS’s director of transit security and passenger safety effective Monday. He will be paid $185,000 annually.

Stiehler’s hiring follows the August retirement of former MTS security chief Manny Guaderrama, who was the architect of the agency’s aggressive enforcement model.

MTS selected Stiehler after a national search amid months of board discussions about reforms to the agency’s security approach. Board members have called for a significant change in direction to the agency’s enforcement approach after years of increased crack downs on quality of life crimes, including fare evasion.

In a press release, MTS highlighted Stiehler’s work on homelessness, fare inspection and accountability, key areas where the agency’s board has pressed transit officials to improve their approach.

In Other News

  • The new San Diego County Board of Supervisors is proposing a number of changes, including the creation of a public records portal. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Vowing not to impeach President Donald Trump after last week’s violent Capitol building siege, Rep. Darrell Issa is finding himself at odds with the rest of the San Diego congressional delegation. Issa, writes U-T columnist Michael Smolens, “has taken action that critics believe directly or indirectly supported a mob that sought to harm some of his congressional colleagues.”
  • Here’s what three of San Diego’s congressional reps had to say Wednesday before voting to impeach the president for a second time. (NBC 7) 

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

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