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A passenger boards the trolley at the Old Town station on July 16, 2020. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Organized labor groups and environmentalists are spearheading a citizens’ initiative that would put a sales tax increase to pay for new transit and highway projects on next year’s ballot, as the Union-Tribune reported Thursday morning.

Since citizens are putting the measure on the ballot, rather than the San Diego Association of Governments, it would need approval from only a majority of voters, after SANDAG’s 2016 measure failed despite 58 percent voter approval. It needed support from two thirds of voters.

This initiative, though, is being led by a coalition that is nearly the same as the coalition that opposed the 2016 measure to increase sales taxes to pay for transportation improvements. The coalition includes labor groups for construction workers, electricians, and carpenters, as well as environmental groups focused on both climate change and environmental justice. It also includes large engineering and infrastructure firms.

The group has not released the measure’s ballot language, though that could happen as soon as next week. When that happens, we’ll be watching how prescriptive it is – does the measure spell out broad priorities, or does it lay out a specific project list as previous local measures have? Projects like relocating the coastal rail line off the crumbling Del Mar Bluffs, connecting the airport to the transit system and building a new rail line from the South Bay to Kearny Mesa would all be on a short list for transit advocates, but the coalition would at some point face tough decisions because they’re so expensive.

Related to that is whether the measure raises the tax permanently, or sets an expiration date at some point, which along with revenue forecasts will dictate how much is available for spending (that hasn’t always gone well). Advocates will also focus on what percent of the money goes to highway improvements, after highway-versus-transit fights have dominated SANDAG since Hasan Ikhrata took over the agency.

The measure would be a first step to building the $200 billion, long-term plan for transportation in the county that SANDAG’s board could adopt by the end of the year. That plan, though, anticipates multiple local tax increases to build everything we’ll need, plus billions more from the federal and state governments. The coalition’s measure, though, could use SANDAG’s plan as a menu of options for future projects, or it could look for other ways to spend money on transportation instead. 

Advocates Call For Chula Vista Homelessness Commission

Chula Vista-based nonprofit Community Through Hope this week urged the Chula Vista City Council to create a homelessness commission following the city’s decision to return the sprung structure that a foundation loaned the city last year.

The Union-Tribune wrote that Sebastian Martinez, Community Through Hope’s executive director, said they’d like a committee made of community leaders, homelessness experts and advocates to help the city make decisions about its emergency shelter plans.

Our Lisa Halverstadt earlier this month broke the news that Chula Vista had quietly decided not to use the tent structure it received free of charge.

The city is now pursuing another shelter concept. The city earlier this week issued a callout for service providers to submit bids to operate a homeless shelter with 66 individual units at an industrial site south of Main Street and Broadway. The City Council is set to get a briefing on the city’s latest shelter plans on Nov. 9.

  • The county reported Thursday that 26 homeless residents – most of whom have stayed in central San Diego – have now contracted shigella, a highly contagious intestinal infection spread via contaminated food and water and sometimes person-to-person.

Water Authority Activates Water Restrictions Region-Wide

We’ve told you before: San Diego has plenty of water (and the prices to prove it), so why did the San Diego County Water Authority board trigger the first step in its drought action plan Thursday? The region’s water managers basically had to because Gov. Gavin Newsom extended his drought emergency proclamation statewide this month. 

Until Newsom’s Oct. 19 order, San Diego had successfully staved off the great eye of the state. 

This is the second-driest year on record for the state of California. And Newsom had already asked us all to voluntarily reduce our water use by 15 percent from 2020 levels. But news hit in September that SoCalifornians, particularly in Los Angeles and San Diego, were actually using more water, according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times. On the whole, California only cut its water use by 5 percent. Oops.

Under Newsom’s proclamation, the State Water Resource Control Board can start cracking down on wasteful water practices, like using drinkable water to wash sidewalks and driveways. (We’re not sure why people have the desire to do that in the first place.) 

The Water Authority board’s unanimous vote to initiate Level 1 (there are six levels) of its drought plan doesn’t mean we’ll see a bunch of water cops hit the streets of San Diego. But it gives all the 24 individual water agencies, like the San Diego Public Utilities Department, the ability to do their own voluntary water savings initiatives. What are those? They are things like promoting water-efficient landscape classes, rebates for water-saving devices and turf replacement and water-use checkups from professionals who can suggest water-saving ideas. 

If weather gets worse, and the Water Authority’s supplies are actually at risk, the next level of the region’s drought contingency plan would trigger a 20 percent mandatory water restriction. Hopefully, we’ll never get there. 

Photo of the Week

Matt Costa, a coastal oceanographer, stuffs a sample of into a small jar on Sept. 16, 2021. Researchers will use the sample to determine how much carbon is in the Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve in Mission Bay. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

From Adriana Heldiz: I have to be honest. I have favorites at Voice of San Diego and MacKenzie Elmer is one of them. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love all my coworkers, but when it comes to photo assignments, MacKenzie’s requests always give me a jolt of anxiety and excitement, like the feeling you get before riding a rollercoaster. 

In the year and half that she’s been at VOSD, she’s made me take photos of poop, giant rocks on the beach, sewage pools, glacial waters, dead fish and more poop. So when she told me she was writing a story about mud I just asked, “when and where?”

When we got to the Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve in Mission Bay, I knew it was going to be a challenge to make photos of mud interesting. After all, what’s so great about this particular mud? The answer, as MacKenzie taught me, is EVERYTHING. 

We witnessed centuries-old mud being pulled from the soil right below our feet. And this mud hasn’t just been sitting there doing nothing. It’s been capturing carbon that pollutes our air. It’s been a habitat for the endangered birds. This wetland is literally trying to save our lives and we’re not appreciating it!!

Anyway… 

I left that day regretting not becoming an environmental scientist. I have MacKenzie Elmer to thank for that — the Bill Nye of VOSD. Only she can make me passionate about poop and mud. 

Read MacKenzie’s story here.

Clarification

A previous version of “The Mission Bay Mud That Could be Worth Millions” was updated to reflect more detailed information about how California’s cap and trade system functions.  

In Other News

  • The city of Encinitas is bending to pressure from vacation rental owners who were ticked off about new regulations that required a five-night stay minimum which, owners argued, would hurt the number of bookings they’d get for their units. The council agreed to revise the policy. (Union-Tribune)
  • In a letter to Congress, a coalition of U.S.-Mexico border organizations allege U.S. Border Patrol operates a secretive, shadow police unit that works to cover-up wrongdoing, takes a life or uses force. (Union-Tribune)
  • Costs for Pure Water, the city of San Diego’s wastewater-to-drinking water project, spiked 12 percent due to lawsuits over which workers would build the system and higher costs for materials to build it during the pandemic. (Union-Tribune)
  • While travel restrictions over the U.S.-Mexico border are due to end, the pandemic shutdown of non-essential travel has really harmed businesses in San Ysidro, causing hundreds to shut down permanently. 
  • Mayor Todd Gloria’s administration is forcing city staff to review all road widening projects against the city’s goals for mitigating climate change and increasing pedestrian safety, after KPBS reported on a widening of El Cajon Boulevard that activists argued ran afoul of those goals. But prior to the new commitment to review road widening projects, the city’s goals of increasing biking, walking and transit use and decreasing the number of bike and pedestrian deaths — and the role of making corridors more pedestrian friendly by making them less car-centric — have been highly publicized and notably embraced by Gloria during his campaigns.
  • The San Diego Padres have hired a new manager. Bucking the trend from his last two hires, General Manager A.J. Preller this time hired someone who has done the job before, in Bob Melvin, the manager of the former manager of the Oakland Athletics. His teams made the playoffs in each of the three years before missing them this year. (Associated Press)
  • California condors, San Diego Zoo researchers have found, can reproduce without having sex, the Union-Tribune reports. Life, uhh, finds a way.

This Morning Report was written by MacKenzie Elmer, Andrew Keatts, Adriana Heldiz and Lisa Halverstadt. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña. 

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