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School districts across San Diego rely on mental health and social-emotional training from the County Office of Education and local community groups. But they haven’t spent more money during the pandemic on crisis counseling despite receiving millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding.

Kayla Jimenez reports that state and federal governments have been encouraging districts to spend the relief funding on mental health services for students, but schools don’t have to if they don’t want to, because the schools are given wide latitude in the end.

Psychologists, counselors and county education staff said crisis counseling would be a particularly good use of money to ensure kids don’t suffer any long-lasting psychological effects from the pandemic. One noted that while schools aren’t the best place for, say, psychoanalysis, they are often the first place that families go when they need help.

Jimenez takes a closer look at San Marcos Unified, where a student died last month by suicide. At first glance, the district appeared to be making new investments in counseling for students, spending nearly $2.5 million in coronavirus relief money on crisis counseling. But that money was spent on existing salaries and benefits. 

A Franchise Fee That’s Friendlier to Council’s Demands

After three weeks of what interim city of San Diego Chief Operations Officer Jay Goldstone called “hard negotiations,” Mayor Todd Gloria announced Friday he’s cut a deal with San Diego Gas and Electric. 

It’s still technically a 20-year deal, but unlike the first iteration of the mayor’s franchise fee bid in March, the City Council would have the power to cut ties with SDG&E after the first locked-in decade. 

“The Council can terminate it for any reason,” said Jessica Lawrence, Gloria’s director of policy.

Advocates for publicly owned power (either a power company run by the government or a separate agency like a school board overseeing a district) wanted a five-year term, a growing trend among cities learning to use their franchise fee agreements as leverage at the negotiation table. 

“We found out through this process to encourage competition (on the bid) you need more than a five-year term,” Lawrence said, though SDG&E was the only company to bid on the city’s 10-year plus franchise fee – twice. “It costs a lot to invest in infrastructure. A 10-year deal allows for investment to be made over a longer period of time.” 

Gloria’s staff said the proposed agreement still gives the city the right to buy out SDG&E’s equipment should it want to take the public route, but keeps intact the old way of doing that called “condemnation,” a slow and costly litigation process instead of by “appraisal,” which is  what the city’s hired consultant recommended. That’s what the city of Long Beach did with its electric franchise, and what the consultant looked to as a model. 

SDG&E ultimately agreed to a number of new city terms like the creation of a citizens oversight committee on the franchise fee, an extra $20 million paid by utility shareholders for so-called climate equity initiatives and rebates to poorer San Diegans for adding solar.

SDG&E would also have to come before the City Council every time it wanted to increase San Diegans’ electric or gas rates, and explain why. That almost-impossible-to-follow ratemaking process occurs in Sacramento at the California Public Utilities Commission without much city oversight at the moment. 

The franchise fee is basically like rent that SDG&E pays to build stuff on public land. But it passes that rent onto the city by charging ratepayers instead. The city could challenge this at the CPUC and Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe said in a memo to Gloria that she wanted the shareholders to be responsible for the full burden of the franchise fee, not the ratepayers.

But it appears that’s not part of the deal. Montgomery Steppe and three other Council members said they wanted a five-year term in memos sent to Gloria earlier this year. The four of them could vote down the mayor’s deal with SDG&E if they hold to their inked priorities because he needs six votes to pass the contract. (There are nine Council members total.)

The Council is scheduled to vote May 25 on the franchise fee, according to the press release. Council President Jen Campbell would first have to agree to docket it. 

Learning Loss Bill Stuck in Neutral

A bill written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, which would allow students to repeat a grade or request a pass/no pass in lieu of a letter grade because of the pandemic, is stalled in the state senate. As Sara Libby writes in the Sacramento Report, there is some urgency behind getting the bill approved and signed into law because it includes a provision requiring school districts to notify parents about the changes by June 15, less than a month away. 

In the meantime, Libby writes that there’s growing scrutiny over a police use-of-force bill written by former Assemblywoman Shirley Weber — specifically whether the compromises that secured police unions support went too far and made the bill less effective in the end. 

CalMatters recently concluded that the new law has not been as transformative as supporters had hoped and the new deadly force training that accompanied it hadn’t been as widespread. 

More Politics

  • Over on the podcast, hosts Scott Lewis, Andrew Keatts and Sara Libby discuss the mixed messaging that’s coming from the city on outdoor dining structures.
  • The 2 Legit 2 Quit crew over at the Politics Report™ (brought to you by jam-band music and wistful glances out the window) has some thoughts on County Supervisor Jim Desmond’s recent op-ed in the U-T about the state of political discourse. And there’s major, epic dramz involving LAFCO and the Water Authority.. 
  • Speaking of SDG&E, again, about 100 protesters gathered outside Sempra headquarters in San Diego during the company’s shareholder meeting. Inside, a proposal to detail how Sempra’s assets and lobbying activities align with the international Paris treaty on climate change was shot down. (Union-Tribune) 

In Other News

  • Six lawmakers from San Diego County have asked the state auditor to investigate years of deaths inside the local jail system, which has recorded the highest mortality rate among California’s largest counties. (Union-Tribune) 
  • The FAA is investigating a near miss between two planes at San Diego International Airport. (10News)
  • A federal grand jury is issuing subpoenas as part of a criminal probe into the nomination of San Diego developer Doug Manchester to be President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the Bahamas. (Union-Tribune)

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Jay Goldstone.

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

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