San Diego Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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The City Council created a temporary committee Tuesday that will be tasked with potentially reforming the San Diego Housing Commission, the agency created by the city to handle its low-income housing services, following a tough year for the agency.

Last year, Voice of San Diego revealed that a broker hired by the agency to help it buy hotels to be converted into homeless housing had invested in a company that sold one of those hotels before he helped negotiate the deal, and that multiple people died in those hotels without Housing Commission officials alerting City Hall. 

The new Council committee, composed of Council members Chris Cate, Stephen Whitburn, Marni von Wilpert and Joe LaCava, will now consider making changes to CEO Rick Gentry’s annual performance reviews, the agency’s real estate acquisition process, whether the agency should still be responsible for homeless-related programs, the role of the agency’s legal counsel and to when the agency can award funds to the affordable housing developer it controls.

Cate, who helped push for the creation of the special committee last year, said the agency’s budget and responsibilities had grown so much in the last decade that it was time to take a closer look at its role.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who with Cate pushed for the committee, said changes were necessary even if they wouldn’t draw headlines.

“The work this committee will be doing is all about good governance,” he said. “This is not glamorous work, but … if it isn’t done well, all the big bold things we want to do will fall on their face for lack of a solid foundation.”

  • In the meantime, the Council might get a head start involving itself in Gentry’s reviews. As we reported in the Politics Report this weekend, Cate and Elo-Rivera last week in a memo asked to pull Gentry’s review from the Housing Commission board’s agenda into a future closed session meeting. In a follow-up memo Monday, Cate and Elo-Rivera also asked the city attorney to figure out if the chair and vice-chair of the Commission’s board could be present for that discussion.

Gloria, Attorneys Meet About Homelessness Enforcement

Two attorneys who threatened possible legal action over enforcement affecting residents of a Midway District homeless camp met with Mayor Todd Gloria and other city officials on Tuesday afternoon.

Scott Dreher, whose past lawsuits against the city have resulted in multiple settlements that dictate how the city conducts enforcement and clean-up operations at homeless camps, told VOSD that the initial meeting called by Gloria was a good start.

“We met and believe it’s productive and fruitful to keep meeting and avoid lawsuits,” Dreher said.

Gloria spokesman Dave Rolland told VOSD that the mayor had a similar take on the meeting.

“The mayor agrees (the meeting) was productive and will continue the dialogue,” Rolland wrote in a text message.

The Tuesday meeting followed a Saturday letter from Dreher and fellow attorney Coleen Cusack warning the city not to proceed with a plan to enforce crimes tied to homelessness there this week, alleging that the expected crackdown would violate residents’ constitutional rights. 

San Diego Unified Students Can Unmask Outside

Students at Lafayette Elementary inspect for bugs in the school’s garden. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Starting Wednesday, San Diego Unified students and staff won’t be required to wear masks outdoors.

10 News reports that the school district also announced that it will lift restrictions on field trips.

The district’s indoor mask requirement will remain in place through at least Feb. 28. The district has said it plans to consult experts at UC San Diego before rolling back its indoor mask mandate.

San Diego Unified’s outdoor masking policy change coincides with the expiration of a state mandate that Californians wear masks indoors. Starting Wednesday, only unvaccinated people will be required to wear masks in all indoor settings. Fox 5 provided a list of locations and settings where masks will still be required indoors.

Let’s Talk About Schools

We’re hosting a virtual community meeting tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. to discuss our Parent’s Guide to San Diego Schools. Bring your questions about school choice, performance data or anything else you’re curious about.

Download the guide here and join us live on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. RSVP here to get more details and a reminder before the event starts.

City Attorney, Former Councilwoman Tangle Over Whistleblower Lawsuit

The Union-Tribune revealed former City Councilwoman Barbara Bry’s husband filed a whistleblower suit alleging that one of the largest home leasers in the nation cheated 18 California cities, including San Diego, out of permitting fees and property taxes, but the city hasn’t joined the lawsuit

Though City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office said it hasn’t uncovered fraud itself, it argues Bry should have shared evidence of fraud the lawsuit alleges with the city because she had a fiduciary duty as a councilwoman. But an attorney representing Bry and her husband Neil Senturia says Bry didn’t know about her husband’s work on the suit — and won’t benefit if he prevails in court due to a prenuptial agreement. (Warning: The story is for subscribers only.)

That all seems related to a separate story in the U-T that says the City Attorney’s Office referred unspecified allegations involving Bry to criminal investigators. 

In Other News 

  • A Superior Court judge on Tuesday denied an emergency request to appoint a referee to monitor contentious depositions in a taxpayer lawsuit challenging the city’s 101 Ash St. lease. The Union-Tribune reported that Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil now plans to take up the issue at a March hearing — and that he wouldn’t allow attorneys to delay depositions while they await next month’s decision.
  • Federal officials are refusing to say whether a downtown federal jail run by for-profit GEO Group will remain open following the expiration of a six-month contract extension by President Joe Biden. (inewsource)
  • The longtime legal chief at the local American Civil Liberties Union is moving onto a new gig. (Union-Tribune)
  • KPBS reports that the new Otay Mesa border crossing could open ahead of schedule. (KPBS)

Correction: The op-ed published on Monday, Feb. 14, titled, “Chula Vista’s Trash Service Debacle Should Push City Toward Possible Alternatives” was written by Rudy Ramirez and Ruth Jordan. A previous version did not include Jordan as a co-author. 

This Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Andrew Keatts. It was edited by Megan Wood and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.

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