The North City Pure Water Facility / Photo by Megan Wood

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For a long time, recycling sewage into drinking water wasn’t a cool thing to do. But the federal government told San Diego it has to do it in order to prevent undertreated wastewater from reaching the Pacific Ocean through an aging treatment plant off Point Loma. 

Now in the face of intensifying drought crippling California’s main water resources like the Colorado River, wastewater recycling doesn’t sound like such a bad idea anymore. In fact, three water agencies in eastern San Diego county want to build their own recycling plant to help curb the ever-rising price of imported water. 

That’s thrown the city of San Diego and the East County faction into a very public dogfight, both blaming the other over an unraveling deal after the latter invoked eminent domain over the city of San Diego to buy a critical piece of property needed to build its recycling plant, slated to break ground June 1.  

In a world where sewage is now a commodity, and as more cities decide to roll off the regional sewage system and start recycling their own, San Diego faces another costly problem that’s since flown under the radar: Who’s going to be on the hook to keep those sewage pipes in good repair? 

Voice of San Diego’s MacKenzie Elmer dives into the politics of sewage systems in a new piece.

City Attorney’s Office Not Making Changes after Infraction Ruling

City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office told the Union-Tribune it isn’t planning to change its procedures weeks after a Superior Court appellate panel concluded that her office violated the constitutional rights of a homeless man.  

As our Jesse Marx has previously reported, Elliott’s office has long come under fire for removing itself from the discovery process in infraction cases, effectively turning San Diego police officers into prosecutors who are responsible for turning over evidence that could clear a defendant’s name.

Coleen Cusack, who represents San Diegan Matthew Houser, argues the recent court ruling mandates that city prosecutors provide evidence on minor cases such as tickets for traffic violations or offenses commonly tied to homelessness.

An Elliott spokeswoman said last week that her office saw the decision as “binding only to that case” and said that policy changes wouldn’t be forthcoming unless the state Court of Appeal or Supreme Court makes a ruling.

The District Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes infractions elsewhere in the county, told the U-T it’s still assessing the impact of the ruling.

  • Sheriff’s race candidate John Hemmerling, Elliott’s chief criminal prosecutor, abruptly retired from the City Attorney’s Office last week. The announcement came a day after the U-T reversed its endorsement of his candidacy. The newspaper changed its stance after hearing audio of an April meeting where Hemmerling criticized a recent county-approved ordinance that included transgender women in its definition of women. Catch up on Marx’s coverage of the sheriff’s race here

In Pod Land

In the latest Voice of San Diego podcast episode, our hosts checked in on the redevelopment of the  Sports Arena.

Host Scott Lewis recently dubbed it ‘the new San Diego Special.’ (Oy!) But last week, the San Diego City Council made a move to kickstart the project — voting unanimously to narrow the list of potential redevelopment applications to just three teams.

Now, the Council must do all it can to ensure compliance with the state law that killed the last effort. On the pod, we listened in on some back-and-forth between the local reps and the state land use expert to suss out what can be done with these 50 acres of primo land.

Hear the full podcast here and subscribe wherever you listen.

Speaking of which: In the Politics Report this week, Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts spelled out the implications of the city’s decision to whittle its group of potential Sports Arena developers to three. Namely, the mayor is now invested in asking voters this year to increase the height limit in the entire Midway community. That’s necessary after a court ruling that the city broke the state’s environmental law in 2020, when it last asked voters to raise the height limit in the area (voters agreed, but they’ll need to weigh in again).

Also in the Politics Report this week: Did you know that when the city of San Diego, led by former Council President Georgette Gómez, tried to strengthen the city’s requirement on developers to build low-income homes as part of their projects, it did so by first dramatically reducing the number of low-income homes they needed to build as part of their projects? As a result, the city currently has the lowest such requirement of any city in the county that has one.

ICYMI: Our pod crew recently spoke with Tamera Kohler, CEO of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, about the latest point-in-time count. Voice Engagement Editor Megan Wood pulled some of the most interesting parts of that conversation for her latest newsletter.

Check it out here and subscribe.

San Diego Food Bank Gets a New CEO

The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank has appointed a new leader nearly a year after its longtime CEO quietly and abruptly left the nonprofit at a time of unprecedented need.

The Food Bank announced last week that its board selected veteran Food Bank executive Casey Castillo, who has served as the agency’s interim CEO, to permanently lead the organization. Castillo has worked at the Food Bank since 2008 and previously served as its chief financial officer and vice president of finance and administration.

Our Lisa Halverstadt broke the news last year that Jim Floros, who had served as the Food Bank’s CEO for nearly nine years, abruptly left the nonprofit last July. Last fall, Castillo said the Food Bank was serving nearly 550,000 people a month but was planning for future upticks in need along with rising food costs and the end of pandemic-tied aid and enhanced unemployment.

“We expect to feed a lot of people throughout the next couple years at a similar pace,” Castillo said.

Hunger organizations across the nation, including San Diego’s two major food banks, have reported dramatic spikes in demand in recent months. Last week, Castillo told NBC 7 San Diego he’s predicting even more need in coming weeks due to an expected July reduction in state food stamp benefits and the end of the school year, which will leave tens of thousands of low-income students without access to free and reduced-price meals at school.

In Other News

  • Late Friday, Union–Tribune reporter Jennifer Van Grove got the scoop that the development group that won a competition to redevelop two state-owned blocks downtown did so with a bid that included a new City Hall as part of the project. What’s in it for the city? Well, they’d pay market rate for new office space built as part of the 1,000-unit project. The city was already kicking around its own idea for a new City Hall, as part of SANDAG’s dream of building a massive regional transit hub downtown. That concept didn’t necessarily include the two state-owned blocks contiguous with the current City Hall and two other high-rises caught up in litigation, but the mayor acknowledged they’re so close that it would be worth thinking about them.
  • Cory Briggs is suing the city of San Diego on behalf of a nonprofit group, alleging that the City Council’s approval of a development deal with the San Diego Padres to turn a surface parking lot near Petco Park into 1,800 units broke a handful of city and state laws. (Union-Tribune)
  • The Associated Press this weekend covered the extent to which, amid a drought throughout the western United States, the San Diego region secured its water supply – at a cost.
  • Stricter regulations on those outdoor dining patios that popped up during the pandemic are about to go into effect in the city of San Diego, forcing restaurants to make changes to keep their spaces up and running. (NBC 7 San Diego)

This Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, MacKenzie Elmer, Nate John, and Andrew Keatts.

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