The city of San Diego is temporarily housing homeless residents at the Convention Center in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

After San Diego’s tourism economy shut down in March 2020, officials quickly announced that the Convention Center would become a homeless shelter. Dozens began moving in within days, and hundreds of people would eventually sleep there on cots spread six feet apart.

That decision, Lisa Halvertstadt writes in a new story, proved to be a smart business move during a pandemic that left many event centers vacant. The Convention Center has long been considered a leading economic engine and its finances were looking bleak.

More recently it pivoted to hosting young migrants, and won praise for the humanitarian effort.

Now, with new guidance from the state, Convention Center managers are preparing to transition back into an events center, but no one is sure when business travelers will return en masse with money to spend. The tourism industry and its works are waiting to see what happens next.

If the number of hospitalizations remains low, the state is expected to allow convention centers to begin hosting events again over the summer. In the meantime, Halverstadt notes, San Diego’s Convention Center Corporation “is still asking the city to provide $10.2 million in subsidies in the fiscal year that begins in July to help balance the facility’s budget.”

In a separate story, Scott Lewis reports that the San Diego City Council last week took a monumental step that could forever change our understanding of municipal finance by asserting that Measure C, a hotel room tax increase to fund a Convention Center expansion, passed, even though it failed to get two-thirds of the vote. But the wording in the ballot summary for Measure C may trip up the city’s argument. 

In the Politics Report, Lewis reiterates that what was once considered a long-shot theory for passing tax increases to fund desired projects is now reality. “Measures to pay for a bevy of infrastructure projects or affordable housing or Balboa Park or a new sports arena could come forward,” he writes.

Police Changes in the Pipeline

A pair of competing bills in the California Legislature, both written by Democrats, are aimed at the education of police officers. One of those bills, AB 89, would require officers to have a college degree. The other, SB 387, would incentivize officers to pursue higher education. 

Police groups champion the latter and argue that the former would stifle their efforts to recruit candidates of color. The legislator who wrote AB 89, however, said the suggestion that individuals of color cannot meet education requirements is offensive. 

We surveyed the county’s law enforcement agencies to hear where they stand and the reactions varied. As Sara Libby noted in the Sacramento Report: “Some said a vast majority of their officers already hold four-year degrees; others said they don’t even keep track. Some were not yet willing to take a position on the bill; others said outright that they oppose it.” 

No local police agency said definitively that it supported AB 89. 

In the meantime … San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria released a list of his public safety priorities and proposed police reforms on Friday. Atop his list: limiting the use of pretextual stops and military-grade equipment, and eliminating existing gang injunctions.

He’s also prioritizing the creation of a privacy advisory board and the passage of the city’s proposed surveillance ordinance, the first draft of which the City Council approved in November and would place restrictions on technology capable of watching or listening to the public. Those proposals are now undergoing review by his office and the city’s public employee unions, and still require a second vote.

Interestingly, Gloria is also advocating that the city’s Office of Homeland Security be detached from the Police Department. The two were joined together in fiscal year 2020 under then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration (around the same time the city was talking with a defense contractor about using a military-grade drone to catch speeders on the freeway). Gloria said he wants Homeland Security to “focus on large-scale anti-terrorism and emergency efforts, while SDPD focuses on building trust and public safety in our communities.” 

To do that, he said, the city must increase transparency so the Council and the public are aware of Homeland Security efforts. As Jesse Marx reported in January, elected officials unknowingly gave permission to purchase cell-phone hacking technology and other surveillance/tactical gear. 

Politics Roundup

In Other News

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

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