Asylum seekers dropped at off near the Iris Avenue Trolley Station in Otay Mesa on Sept. 14, 2023. After being dropped off, some were trying to figure out how they could reach out to friends and family to meet them or be picked up.
Asylum seekers dropped at off near the Iris Avenue Trolley Station in Otay Mesa on Sept. 14, 2023. After immigration officials dropped them off, some were trying to figure out how they could reach out to friends and family. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Federal officials dropped off an untold number of migrants at transit stations in the county this week so they could clear an area where hundreds had been camping between border fences.

Almost 700 migrants packed into that stretch, NBC 7 reported. Authorities closed the Pedestrian West border crossing in San Ysidro Thursday so U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents could help process asylum seekers.

On the ground: Our Ariana Drehsler watched dozens of migrants leave white buses at an Otay Mesa trolley station Thursday. Some struggled to access the internet, crucial for deciding their next steps. Others were desperate to charge their phones.

A young woman's hands through the border wall in San Ysidro on Sept. 12, 2023.
A young woman’s hands through the border wall in San Ysidro on Sept. 12, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

What San Diego’s already been seeing: Craig Thomas, an outreach supervisor for homeless-serving nonprofit Alpha Project, told Voice that, for the past two weeks, migrants have showed up at the organization’s Barrio Logan shelter hoping for a place to stay.

Heather Lezon of the Youth Assistance Coalition, an organization that serves homeless youth, said 16 migrants have been referred to her nonprofit during the same period.

What about migrant shelters? Catholic Charities San Diego CEO Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor said his nonprofit had until recently operated three shelters in San Diego and Imperial County.

But one of the Imperial County shelters closed Wednesday, leaving his organization with fewer beds specifically meant to serve migrants preparing to move elsewhere. For now, he said federal authorities have ordered Catholic Charities to prioritize vulnerable people and those who had been staying between border fences

That means others may be forced onto the street. 

In a statement, the San Diego Rapid Response Network, which operates another migrant shelter, wrote that it is operating under the same rule and that its resources have been “stretched to capacity each night.” The group said it would continue receiving up to 300 people daily even under the more limited intake policy. The group said it’s also “providing technical assistance and coordination to welcome at our shelter any identified vulnerable populations who have inadvertently been released to the streets by DHS” as it’s able.

Why this could get even harder: Pajanor said Catholic Charities is preparing to move out of the Mission Valley hotel it’s now using to shelter up to 1,100 people at a time into a smaller 550-bed facility next month as the state dials back spending on migrant services amid a tighter budget situation.

“After that, we will have very little capacity here in San Diego,” Pajanor said.

Pajanor wants the federal government to provide more aid for migrant shelters to ensure his organization can continue to serve what appears to be a growing volume of asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers dropped at off near the Iris Avenue Trolley Station in Otay Mesa on Sept. 14, 2023.
Asylum seekers dropped at off near the Iris Avenue Trolley Station in Otay Mesa on Sept. 14, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

County Supervisor Jim Desmond also called for more federal government support after he said he learned 500 migrants would be dropped at transit stations in the county Thursday after a series of Wednesday drop-offs.

“If the federal government wants to process asylum seekers, it must provide adequate resources to manage people entering our area,” Desmond wrote in a statement. “We already have a severe homeless problem in San Diego County, this will only worsen it.”

The Rapid Response Network, meanwhile, called on all levels of government – including local governments – to step up to fix the nation’s broken immigration system and aid asylum seekers.

“We call on the local San Diego government to step forward and support those left on its streets by DHS that we do not have the capacity to assist,” the group wrote.

What San Diego governments are doing: A San Diego County spokesman said the county has no immediate plans to increase services or shelter to support migrants. A spokesman for the San Diego Housing Commission, which oversees most city shelters and a downtown hub where people seek beds, said the agency has gotten anecdotal reports about an increase in migrants visiting the center and that staff are “working to identify resources to be available on-site to assist them.”

Big Changes Coming to Public Transit 

A woman stands in front of the PRONTO machine at 12th and Imperial Avenue in downtown on May 1, 2023.
Photo by Ariana Drehsler

San Diego’s public transit board agreed to add credit card tapping to fare payment options for buses and trolleys Thursday. 

Complaints mounted over the Metropolitan Transit System’s new digital ticketing app called Pronto. Transit advocates argued the cumbersome technology deterred first-time riders from choosing public transit out of convenience. 

Voice of San Diego revealed MTS was losing money because the majority of riders boarded without validating their digital ticket and avoided the fare. MTS expects riders will be able to tap credit cards to ride by April of 2024 under a $1.2 million addition to its contract with the creators of Pronto: Innovations in Transportation, Inc. 

There’s more – MTS is adding more transit “cops:” Well, technically they’re called code compliance inspectors and aren’t sworn officers. MTS security chief Al Stiehler pitched hiring and training 34 more inspectors including additional supervisory staff to address the perception the system is unsafe. 

That’s an increase of more than 50 percent in security staff at a cost of $3.7 million including salaries and benefits. These new hires will work with contract private security guards who also patrol on and near MTS trolleys and buses.

MTS was already working on a pitch to boost security staff when two people were killed at trolley stations in August, the Union-Tribune reported. 

Latest security shift: Thursday’s vote marks the latest change for MTS’ security operation. A few years ago, there was a chorus of concerns about the agency’s security structure, training and the way its teams interact with riders. Voice spotlighted MTS’ 2017 decision to take a more punitive approach and the boom in fare evasion enforcement that followed. MTS has since hired Stiehler, hired a new security contractor, tried a fare evasion diversion program and reduced ticketing during the pandemic.

Schools in the Housing Game

Board of Education in University Heights on Oct. 24, 2022.
San Diego Unified offices in University Heights on Oct. 24, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

From community colleges to K-12 districts, schools across the county have set their sights on getting into the housing game.

Some of that housing, like one planned San Diego Unified development, is for teachers. The district earmarked more than $200 million in its latest bond measure to make it happen.

Others, like City College’s plan to build towers on the college’s downtown campus, would also incorporate student housing.

The big picture: The common thread is planned partnerships with private developers. The big moves come because schools tend to have plenty of unused land, a rarity in today’s tight real estate market. 

But while some of San Diego Unified’s projects seem to be moving forward smoothly, community colleges plans to build hit a snag in recent months.

Read the whole story here.

In Other News 

  • It’s going to take a lot more money to fix a broken wastewater treatment plant at the U.S.-Mexico border. Representatives with the International Boundary and Water Commission, which operates the plant, revealed Wednesday that it’s going to take $900 million to fix and expand the plant — $300 million more than what officials predicted. (Union-Tribune) As our MacKenzie Elmer has reported, the treatment plant is busted, and Congressional leaders are not stoked about it. Follow her coverage by subscribing to the Environment Report for free. Click here
  • And speaking of money, California State University students got some unwelcome news this week, tuition is going to get more expensive. The university’s Board of Trustees approved a 6 percent annual increase for five years. This is set to start in the 2024-2025 school year. (Times of San Diego) 
  • Tijuana authorities are investigating possible drug cartel threats made against Mexican singer Peso Pluma who is scheduled to perform in the city in October. NBC 7 reports that officials will know in the next few days if they need to cancel the event. Peso Pluma also has a show in Chula Vista later this month. (Union-Tribune, NBC 7) 
  • Your dose of cute: Two Sumatran tiger cubs at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park finally have names and they are adorable. (Union-Tribune) 

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, MacKenzie Elmer and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña. It was edited by Scott Lewis.

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