Friendship Park in Tijuana on Dec. 1, 2019.
Friendship Park in Tijuana on Dec. 1, 2019. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

The federal government is working on plans to roll out dozens of new surveillance towers across San Diego. The large, metal structures are equipped with cameras and other technology capable of detecting and classifying people and cars up to several miles away.

Customs and Border Protection is deploying 35 new towers at stations in Imperial Beach, El Cajon, Chula Vista and in Otay Mesa. Each are between 33 and 80 feet tall.

It’s part of an effort to digitize the border with autonomous technology that, as Jesse Marx reports, is a bipartisan project in the nation’s capital going back decades, with the aim of creating a virtual wall running parallel to the physical one that reduces demand on border agents.

Surveillance towers are already operating near Friendship Park and on private property close to Del Mar Dog Beach.

But while CBP refers to the technology as a “force multiplier” and President Joe Biden talks about the need for investments in “smart security,” local immigration advocates argue that the towers have serious consequences — pushing desperate migrants into more dangerous terrain.

Read the story in its entirety here

Maienschein Launches City Attorney Run

Assemblyman Brian Maienschein made it official Monday, announcing his plans to run in 2024 for the San Diego city attorney seat that will be vacated when Mara Elliott hits her term limit.

Maienschein ended his two terms on the San Diego City Council, as a Republican, in 2008. He won his first Assembly election in 2012, and switched political parties in 2019, two months after winning re-election to his fourth term. He has won two more terms as a Democrat since then.

“San Diego needs a lawyer who can make good decisions,” Maienschein said. “San Diego doesn’t need someone who settles lawsuits with the public’s checkbook.”

His rollout came with endorsements from Mayor Todd Gloria and Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, and some of the region’s highest profile politicians with whom he served in the legislature.

Also in the running is Heather Ferbert, a chief deputy in Elliott’s office.

Elliott has not endorsed a candidate in the 2024 race.

Still, these local endorsements stand out.

Beef backgrounder: Elliott and Elo-Rivera had a public dispute in the fall. And Gloria and Elliott had their own public standoff this summer over Gloria’s decision to settle, against Elliott’s wishes, lawsuits related to the 101 Ash Street scandal.

Looming over all this: the prospect that the city attorney’s office could someday lose its current powers or those would shift to an unelected, appointed general counsel. Right now, the city attorney is both the legal advisor and advocate for the city and the prosecutor of misdemeanor crimes within the city. A couple years ago the Council considered placing a ballot measure that would separate those offices and make only the prosecutor an elected official.

It seems likely to return in some form.

More Taxpayer Money on 101 Ash Legal Fights

The City Council voted Monday to spend another $900,000 on outside lawyers navigating remaining lawsuits tied to the city’s 101 Ash St. debacle.

Some background: 101 Ash is a downtown high-rise that the city acquired in a 2017 lease-to-own deal, agreeing to essentially pay mortgage payments to own the building after 20 years. The building that was supposed to house hundreds of city workers has sat empty since the city evacuated it in January 2020 following county asbestos violations.

In 2021, scandal further engulfed City Hall when it was revealed that the city’s now-former landlord paid real estate guru Jason Hughes, who years ago volunteered to help the city address its real estate woes, $9.4 million for his work on the city’s earlier Civic Center Plaza and 101 Ash leases. Hughes has argued he told multiple city officials he wanted to be paid by someone other than the city and produced a letter he says the city’s former real estate director signed giving him the go-ahead to seek compensation for complex city lease deals. The former real estate official and other former city officials have said that they didn’t know the city’s landlord paid Hughes.

The situation has spawned multiple lawsuits, including two city-filed civil conflict-of-interest suits against Hughes that are set to go to trial next month. The city reached a settlement last August that allowed it to buy out its leases.

The City Council on Monday also approved a plan to issue $126 million in bonds, in part to backfill money moves tied to the city’s settlement. Now that the city owns the two buildings, it is expected to include those spaces in its broader Civic Center redevelopment plan.

Read Voice of San Diego’s complete 101 Ash coverage here.

In Other News

  • San Diego could soon have a new top law enforcement official. Twenty-six months after taking office, President Biden announced Monday he’s nominating Tara McGrath to be the new U.S. Attorney for the region, as the Union-Tribune reported. McGrath, a Marine Corps veteran, was a prosecutor in the local US attorney’s office from 2008 through 2019.
  • San Diego’s new ban on polystyrene foam will take effect April 1, banning foam food trays, take out containers, egg containers, pool toys and more. The ban has been held up by lawsuits from restaurants, container companies and other businesses for three years. Starting April 1, retail stores are also banned from selling these products, and residents can’t use them in city parks or beaches. (Union-Tribune)
  • The city of San Diego is considering replacing the Ocean Beach pier. The 56-year-old pier has been repeatedly damaged by storms over the past several years, undergoing constant repairs and construction. The city will host a series of workshops to gather input from the community. (KPBS)
  • During his stop in San Diego on Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a measure that will go before voters in 2024 to fund residential facilities for people experiencing mental illness and addiction. The facilities would house and treat up to 12,000 people per year. (KPBS)
  • After two fishing boats carrying Mexican citizens capsized earlier this month, leaving eight people dead, their families may not find out for days or sometimes weeks. The Union-Tribune dug into the difficult and unofficial channels that families of missing migrants have to go through to find out what happened to them. (Union-Tribune)
  • The City Council voted Monday to move forward with a fourth safe parking lot for people living in vehicles.

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, Tigist Layne, Andrew Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt. It was edited by Andrew Keatts.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that City Attorney Mara Elliot endorsed Heather Ferbert, a chief deputy in her office. Elliot has not endorsed a candidate in the 2024 race.

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