Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

More than four years ago, San Diego installed audio devices in predominantly Black neighborhoods as a way to more quickly respond to gunshots. Since then, there hasn’t been much scrutiny of the technology, except for the occasional update to elected officials.

That’s about to change.

Jesse Marx reports that the city’s proposed surveillance ordinance isn’t law yet, but it’s already having an effect. Citing larger concerns from the community, the San Diego Police Department said it renewed its contract with ShotSpotter on a monthly rather than annual basis.

The agreement was unilaterally struck by city staff in 2016 — with the support of outside law enforcement groups — and if the program is going to survive long term it’s going to require City Council approval.

There’s been growing uneasiness over the way surveillance devices have been rolled out in public rights of way, and evidence that ShotSpotter, in particular, is not as effective as it’s been portrayed. One of the selling points of the technology was that it could capture DNA and ballistics information useful to investigators, but not all the stats previously offered by SDPD hold up today.

Police, in the meantime, said they intend to review all relevant crime statistics and work with elected officials to see if ShotSpotter is still in the community’s best interest.

One of the earliest critics of the program was Monica Montgomery Steppe, who now chairs the city’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee. 

Guilty Pleas in Charter School Fraud Case

Prosecutors have extracted pleas and at least $215 million out of a charter school fraud case.

Will Huntsberry wrote in-depth about the charges in 2019 and the heads of A3 Education who were accused as part of a scheme that involved enrolling fake students into their online schools and collecting public money for each student.  

“Online charter schools are allowed to collect just as much money per student as brick-and-mortar schools,” Huntsberry writes in a new story. “But the case has pushed legislators in Sacramento to re-examine the rules surrounding online charters.”

Lawmakers have since agreed to a two-year moratorium on the creation of new online charters and are considering additional changes to the state’s enrollment and funding practices.

Politics Roundup

  • Police reform typically doesn’t happen in California without the consent of police officers, because their unions are consistent supporters of the members who make up the Legislature. That said, there’s a national push among progressives to stop accepting police union support in elections. At a debate last week, VOSD’s Scott Lewis asked the candidates running for the 79th Assembly District whether they’d accept police union donations and endorsements. He got an array of answers, which Sara Libby captured in the Sacramento Report.
  • After many years of talk and delay, the San Diego City Council approved new rules for vacation rentals. But before you start shot-gunning beers, lower the volume on LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” and check out the podcast. Hosts Scott Lewis, Sara Libby and Andrew Keatts assess what the new rules could look like in real life and whether they may have the desired effect anytime soon.
  • Don’t worry though, there’s still another long-running political saga to keep everyone engaged for a while: Footnote 15 is back, reports the U-T’s Jeff MacDonald.

EPA’s Tijuana River Solution Over Two Years Out

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it’s cranking its bureaucratic wheels to get something built at the U.S.-Mexico border that could stem sewage flows from Tijuana into San Diego. But that solution is still 24 to 36 months away, officials said during a public meeting Friday.

The EPA has $300 million to spend from the new NAFTA trade agreement called the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement. But it’s in the middle of a lengthy engineering evaluation and it also has to get a permit to do this kind of work. 

But they hope to finally pick a project by June. That could mean building an entirely new and bigger wastewater treatment plant in San Diego, though one already exists called the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant. That plant was pretty much built with too little capacity to take on all the water that the river can deliver, especially during the rainy winter season.

It could also mean helping Mexico fortify some of its broken and struggling infrastructure like a pump system that is consistently the culprit of cross-border flows when it gets clogged with trash or there’s too much water. 

David Smith, the EPA regional permits manager, acknowledged that the source of the sewage (and the problem) is in Mexico but reiterated that most of the $300 million should be spent in the U.S. 

It’s still unclear, once something is built, who is going to pay for its upkeep in the future. Smith said the EPA is “taking that cost into account” as it plans for the construction project, where the majority of that USMCA money will go. 

In Other News

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

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