This week we are looking back at some of our region’s most pressing issues, biggest stories and the most eye-opening, sometimes disturbing, discoveries.
To start, we focus on seven observations about who COVID killed following our series, Year One: COVID-19’s Death Toll. Our Will Huntsberry highlights the biggest findings from a Voice of San Diego analysis of death certificates.
Huntsberry writes that the data tells many new stories. But if he could boil it down to just one statistic, it would be this: For every $6,600 increase in median income in a given San Diego County ZIP code, the rate of death decreased by 10 percent.
Money, in a way, protected people from COVID. And that’s not all. Huntsberry writes that an individual’s educational level and occupation also played a role.
Politics Report: About That Other Height Limit Measure
As San Diego grapples with its attempt last year to revoke the coastal height limit in one neighborhood, someone is exploring whether to take another shot at it in a different neighborhood, write Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts in the most recent Politics Report.
Lewis and Keatts write that we don’t know who, but someone conducted a poll this week on a potential ballot measure that would remove the 30-foot height limit near one of the new Mid-Coast trolley stations in University City.
“The following measure may be on the ballot in the near future. It reads: Shall this ordinance be approved to expand affordable housing by removing the 30-foot height limit on buildings in the area just west of the Nobel Drive Trolley Station near UCSD, with all future developments in the area required to comply with all other governing laws?” the poll reads.
Related: On the VOSD Podcast this week, hosts Lewis, Keatts and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña break down the OG height limit measure. There’s also an interview with our favorite immunologist Shane Crotty about Omicron. That starts around minute 33.
Faulconer Speaks — Under Oath — On 101 Ash
A big question emerged this summer with the bombshell that the city’s purported volunteer real estate adviser was paid $9.4 million for his work on two city lease deals: What did former Mayor Kevin Faulconer know – and did he sign off on onetime city adviser Jason Hughes’ paydays?
After all, Hughes’ attorney has showed off evidence suggesting Faulconer and other city officials approved of those fees.
Now, our Lisa Halverstadt writes, Faulconer has weighed in – under oath. In a more than five-hour deposition tied to city legal actions that followed that big bombshell, Faulconer maintained that he didn’t know Hughes was anything more than a volunteer.
Faulconer stuck to that story even as Hughes’ attorney – who asked most of the questions last week – showed him text messages, the former mayor’s own calendar showing a key meeting between the mayor and Hughes and two 2014 letters including a draft version drafted by Hughes to get top city officials’ approval for him to seek payments for his work on complex lease-to-own deals.
Faulconer’s attorney said the former mayor testified that he didn’t recall the November 2014 meeting with Hughes and didn’t see the letter Attanasio referenced until it was reported in the press this year.
Hughes’ attorney, meanwhile, accused Faulconer of “acute political amnesia” due to his lacking memory and the debacle surrounding the 101 Ash Street remodel on his watch that ultimately revealed the dumpster fire that has since also extended to the city’s Civic Center Plaza lease. The city is now trying to void both deals and recoup tens of millions of dollars in past lease payments.
In Other 101 Ash News…
- The Union-Tribune reports that a federal judge on Friday dismissed an NBC 7 San Diego journalist’s suit against City Attorney Mara Elliott filed in the wake of a story about the 101 Ash Street lease and an infamous footnote in an outside investigation on the issue that the city attorney argues was fabricated. Elliott’s office had urged the judge to dismiss the case. NBC 7 producer Dorian Hargrove’s attorney has said he may pursue an appeal or file a Superior Court case.
- The Union-Tribune also broke the news that criminal investigators want to interview former city real estate chief Cybele Thompson, but that the Faulconer administration official is postponing the meeting until city officials decide whether to cover her legal fees.
East Village Bathroom Operators Struggle to Maintain Access
The city is on a mission to add more public restrooms in a bid to make those amenities available within a five-minute walk of anywhere downtown. But private operators of two of the city’s existing downtown restrooms have found keeping them open is far from easy.
In a new story, our Lisa Halverstadt documented a series of struggles to keep a recently installed East Village prefabricated restroom and two public toilets at nearby Fault Line Park accessible– and how those struggles complicate the city’s goal to ensure public restrooms are actually plentiful.
Issues with the so-called Portland Loo that reappeared in East Village a couple weeks ago have included a broken lock and vandalism that affected water service, scenarios that the association told the city have led it to proceed with upgrades to try to make the loo less vulnerable to vandals.
At nearby Fault Line Park, public restrooms promised as part of a two-tower development are now locked, requiring those who want to use them to flag down a security guard. Developer Pinnacle International told Halverstadt it made that change after a series of issues that have also resulted in closures to the restaurant adjacent to the bathrooms, but also that it would also add signage with a phone number to help visitors more easily connect with guards and access its restrooms.
Experts say that security or attendants posted at the facilities provide more robust oversight that can prevent the closures, vandalism and other security issues often associated with public restrooms. Indeed, one advocate said that city-operated port-a-potties flanked by security guards have been more consistently open and operational. But staffing comes at a cost – and the city thus far isn’t requiring private operators to foot that bill.
- County health officials reported Friday that 46 homeless San Diegans – 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. But the county says cases appear to be declining.
COVID Cases at Two Shelters Lead to Paused Intakes
The city has paused intakes at two city-funded homeless shelters after a small spike in coronavirus cases.
City spokeswoman Ashley Bailey said Friday that 11 post-Thanksgiving cases at Father Joe’s Villages’ Paul Mirabile Center in East Village and three cases at Alpha Project’s nearby 16th and Newton shelter led the city to temporarily stop welcoming newcomers to minimize spread.
The city had also temporarily halted intakes at its Golden Hall shelter, which is also operated by Father Joe’s, but began allowing newcomers again on Thursday.
Bailey said the city will wait on results from another round of testing at the other two shelters before giving providers the go-ahead to take in homeless residents.
Prior to the new positive cases, Bailey said the city had been testing shelter residents on a two-week cycle but now will test once a week “until the numbers indicate less than two positives per cycle.” It has also continued requiring shelter dwellers to wear masks and that shelters continue with enhanced sanitation efforts.
Residents who test positive are isolated and then transported to county-funded hotel rooms, Bailey said.
City shelters have endured more significant outbreaks before. Dozens staying in two Father Joe’s Villages shelters tested positive in August and the Convention Center was hit with more than 200 cases last December, two scenarios that highlighted the risks of congregate settings.
In Other News
- NBC7 reports that San Diego County officials have collected no fines from the enforcement of its mask mandate, but the state has taken action against at least 13 local businesses and government agencies. When Jesse Marx spoke to business owners earlier this year, several said they’d received a city ticket but got the impression from police that nothing would come of it.
- The Union-Tribune reported that our … um … waste is alarming UC San Diego researchers. Turns out scientists took samples from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant and found the “highest levels of the coronavirus that the university has seen since February,” writes U-T biotech reporter Jonathan Wosen.
The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, Lisa Halverstadt and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.