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Weeks after trash workers began their strike, Chula Vista leaders are prepared to declare a state of emergency in hopes it will help end the standoff.
But the city has much less leverage over the dispute than it might otherwise, due to a contract it signed with Republic Services, the private company it hired to handle trash collection, back in 2014.
It’s that company whose wage negotiations with more than 250 workers represented by Teamster’s Local 542 stalled, leading to the strike. Chula Vista’s emergency declaration is its attempt to gain leverage and push the company to a deal.
That play isn’t worth what it could be, though, because the city’s contract with Republic Services stipulates that the company isn’t at fault for any “uncontrollable circumstance,” and the contract included a strike as one of those circumstances outside the company’s control.
“I don’t think that should be in anybody’s franchise agreement to be frank and I certainly hope in the coming years that it won’t be there,” said Chula Vista Councilman Steve Padilla at a public meeting this week.
Jesse Marx outlines the dispute in a new story, spelling out the weak position the city finds itself in and how far apart the union and the company are on a new collective bargaining agreement.
County Scales Back Isolation Timeline for Homeless COVID Cases
The county has dialed back required isolation times for people staying in county-provided hotel rooms in the wake of a spike in COVID cases that has increased demand for them.
Packed homeless shelters have been particularly reliant on hotels where people without a safe place to isolate can remain for what had been a recommended 10-day period.
But as our Lisa Halverstadt reports, county officials this week revealed they have reduced the required isolation to five days for people staying in their hotels who are asymptomatic and test negative for COVID following new federal guidance.
That contradicts Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for people who would return to shelters — facilities that in the city of San Diego reported more than 120 cases over the last three weeks.
The county defended that switch, noting that the likelihood of COVID transmission is “significantly reduced after five days” and that it wanted to prioritize serving people who were known to be positive for COVID.
Two major city shelter providers said they plan to maintain a 10-day isolation period for their residents as a precaution, even if that means using their own resources to keep shelter residents who test positive isolated. Using their own resources has recently translated into party tents outfitted with cots and heaters.
The county’s move comes after two consecutive weeks with about 50 positive cases in city shelters. As of Thursday afternoon, testing this week so far had uncovered 22 cases at Father Joe’s Golden Hall shelter and two at Alpha Project’s 17th and Imperial Avenue shelter. The city and providers are awaiting additional test results.
San Diego Unified Addresses Staffing Shortage
In an email sent to parents late Thursday, San Diego Unified officials said it’s “very likely” that over the next few weeks students will be supervised by centralized personnel, work in a study hall environment or have instructional time replaced by “self-paced activities” due to staff shortages following the latest surge in coronavirus cases.
“These are temporary measures required by the pandemic, and employing these strategies will allow us to keep classrooms open,” officials wrote. “If, after exhausting all available options, a principal – working with his/her district support team – determines it is unsafe to continue with in-person instruction due to severe staffing shortages, she/he may ask a COVID Impact Day (similar to a heat day) to be declared at their school.
“The State of California does not require schools to close once a particular COVID-19 case rate has occurred on campus, and no one should anticipate any district decision to return all students across the city to online learning. Rather, San Diego Unified health leaders will consult with their County colleagues in order to establish an appropriate threshold of positivity rates above which they do not advise the continued operation of a particular school facility.”
According to San Diego Unified’s COVID-19 Dashboard, 648 staff and 142 students had active cases last week — a 37 percent increase over the previous week.
Mysterious Sewage Spill Baffles Officials
Federal officials are investigating why millions of gallons of sewage-laden water isn’t making its way from Tijuana to the international wastewater treatment plant in the U.S. Instead, that untreated wastewater is flowing into San Diego through a border drain, which indicates there’s probably a broken pipe or a clog somewhere in Tijuana.
The runaway flow began Jan. 7 around 1:30 p.m. when almost a million gallons of sewage escaped from Tijuana through Stewart’s Drain, which sits just east of the International Wastewater Treatment plant operated by the International Boundary Water Commission.
The plant can handle up to 25 million gallons of wastewater per day, and usually does. But around that same time, the plant started receiving just over half the wastewater it normally should from Tijuana — about 12 to 13 million gallons, Lori Kuczmanski, a spokeswoman for the commission, said Thursday. That basically means wastewater is escaping the sewage system somewhere up the pipeline in Tijuana and finding its way into the Tijuana River on the San Diego side elsewhere by gravity.
“It was a little alarming,” Kuczmanski said. “We don’t know right now if there’s a break in the system or a broken pump. We’re exploring everything.”
City Makes More Vacation Rental Lottery Plans
The city has settled on a proposed lottery system for vacation rental applications crucial to long-wanted regulations it hopes to implement in July to limit the number of rentals and crack down on problem properties.
After hearing an initial lottery methodology presented back in October, City Council members directed Mayor Todd Gloria’s team to come up with a way to legally prioritize so-called good actors. The City Council requested a plan within a month. That month came and went.
In a Jan. 7 memo obtained by Voice of San Diego, City Treasurer Elizabeth Correia wrote that the city plans to institute a weighted point system based on factors including whether existing rental operators pay required hotel taxes and have no recent verifiable code violations to give good actors a leg up on getting one of a limited number of licenses for rentals operating more than 20 days a year.
There’s at least one more hurdle to cross before the regulations are enacted, though. The state Coastal Commission must give its stamp of approval and the city has previously acknowledged that a delayed Coastal Commission review could keep it from enacting the new rules on time.
A Coastal Commission spokeswoman told VOSD this week that the agency is for now planning to try to review the city’s regulatory proposal in March or April. That could give the city time to make any tweaks the commission may propose ahead of the intended July implementation date.
Photo of the Week
From Adriana Heldiz: Anyone who drives on our city’s streets or freeways has seen the increase of homeless encampments in the last couple of months. There’s no doubt our region is facing a crisis, and officials are carving out plans to help get people off the streets — something we heard from Mayor Todd Gloria in his State of the City address and during a recent visit by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
As shown above, Newsom on Wednesday helped Caltrans workers clean up a homeless encampment near Interstate 5. The area was crowded with city officials and reporters.
When I got there, I immediately began snapping photos of Newsom picking up trash. I try to get a photo from every angle: some up high and some down low. One of Newsom’s staff members who saw me step over trash looked at me with a smile and said, “Ah, the life of a still photographer!”
Catch up on our coverage of city and state plans to curb homelessness here.
In Other News
- Privacy advocates weighed-in with KPBS on the city of Chula Vista’s police surveillance contract with Motorola Solutions, which our Jesse Marx reported back in September allows the company to tap a wide range of data from camera feeds, drones and license plate readers. At the time the council inked the contract, there was no council discussion and no one from the public spoke for or against it.
- San Diego’s police union is challenging the city in court on the claim that its officers have been barred from recording their interviews about exemptions from the city’s employee vaccination mandate, arguing it’s within an officer’s bill of rights to record any interview that could result in discipline. (ABC 10)
- Blood supplies in San Diego County’s trop trauma centers are running so low that there might not be enough blood to supply victims in a catastrophe as small as a four-car pile-up, according to the medical director of transfusion services at UC San Diego Health. (Union Tribune)
- The Port of San Diego is planning to double power capacity at the port via a contract with Baker Electric, Inc. which will provide equipment so more cruise ships can use electricity instead of running diesel auxiliary engines while docked. (sdnews.com)
- Logan Heights gets its first high school this fall — the newest high school cluster since 1993 within the San Diego Unified School District. (Union Tribune)
This Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Lisa Halverstadt, MacKenzie Elmer and Adriana Heldiz. It was edited by Megan Wood.