San Diego CityBeat Blogs - Last Blog on Earth | News <![CDATA[What prompted advocates for juvenile detainees to file a complaint against San Diego County]]> Dave Maass contributed to this post.
Earlier today, the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center (YLC) and a coalition of nine civil-rights groups announced that they'd filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice over pepper-spray abuses in San Diego County juvenile-detention facilities. The 34-page complaint, which follows CityBeat's reporting on the excessive use of pepper spray in county juvenile facilities, highlights dozens of troubling examples of the chemical—also referred to as OC (oleoresin capsicum)—being used indiscriminately on kids who posed no physical threat to staff.

More than 70 percent of juvenile-detention facilities in the U.S. forbid the use of pepper spray on detainees. But, as we reported in a longer story on the complaint, "... probation staff sprayed youth at risk for suicide; youth who simply were disobedient; youth with respiratory, cardiovascular and skin problems; and youth being treated with psychotropic medication." The complaint highlights, too, probation's use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment—a practice that's been widely condemned by experts—as well as cases where suicidal female detainees were ordered to strip naked in front of male staff, a violation of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. 
The complaint asks the DOJ to conduct its own investigation of the probation department's policies and procedures governing the use of OC spray and require probation to "adopt policies that eliminate the use of OC spray in its juvenile facilities."
Through a public-records request, Youth Law Center obtained two years' worth of incident reports from county probation. Below, we've included, verbatim from the complaint, summaries of some of the more troubling incidents. ]]>
<![CDATA[UC San Diego's Books for Prisoners downgraded to a storage closet]]>

Volunteers with Books for Prisoners are trying to figure out how to cram dozens of boxes of donated books—tomes that had once filled more than 600 square feet of space—into a storage room one-sixth that size. The UCSD student-run group, which, since 2001, has provided prison inmates with free books, was told last month that they had to vacate the space they’d been using for almost six years.

<![CDATA[San Diego's frozen funding pipe]]>

It’s no secret that San Diego needs all the help it can get when it comes to repairing aging water pipes and sewer lines. With more than a billion dollars in unmet infrastructure needs, officials have been looking under every couch cushion to keep the disrepair to a minimum.

What might seem odd, however, is that the city has ostensibly given up access to tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure grants and loans provided routinely by the state. Despite warnings from Sacramento officials, in June 2012, San Diego voters passed a ballot measure, Proposition A, that’s in direct conflict with state law.

<![CDATA[Bonnie Dumanis releases controversial letter, takes shots at the media]]>

This morning, KUSI aired a live interview with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, during which she discussed a controversial letter of recommendation that she wrote for the son of Susumo Azano, who’s been charged by federal authorities with making illegal contributions to Dumanis’ campaign for mayor of San Diego. Azano’s son was seeking admission to the University of San Diego.

<![CDATA[Affordable-housing compromise proposed]]>

The San Diego Housing Commission next week will propose to the City Council's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee a new plan for funding affordable housing and making market-rate housing cheaper.

Here's a draft of the report that will go to the committee. CityBeat will follow up with some analysis of the details soon.

The proposal stems from a battle earlier this year: The City Council passed an increase to a fee that developers of commercial properties pay to help finance affordable housing, but opponents of the fee—calling themselves the Jobs Coalition—waged a successful campaign to get a referendum on the ballot to repeal the increase, and the City Council conceded defeat, repealing its own ordinance.

The plan is being billed as a compromise between the Housing Commission, which spearheaded the effort to increase the affordable-housing fee, and the Jobs Coalition, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer is on board.

“I promised to bring housing advocates and the business community to the table to work on a compromise and that’s exactly what happened," he said in an written statement provided by a spokesperson. "This deal strikes a fair balance that provides more funding for affordable housing without stifling economic development.”

<![CDATA[Fighting human trafficking in secret]]>

One of San Diego County’s most touted advisory groups has failed to follow state open-meeting laws.

Since its inception in June 2011, the San Diego County Regional Human Trafficking and CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) Advisory Council hasn't posted agendas or made its meetings known to the public, Steve Schmidt, spokesperson for county Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office, confirmed Tuesday. No information about the advisory council’s meetings can be found on the county’s website; nor is any information listed on the "Committee Fact Sheets" web page.

<![CDATA[Faulconer's 2015 budget included money for homeless 'triage beds']]> When the city of San Diego's homeless shelters close on Tuesday, July 1, gone will be 24 so-called "triage beds" where outreach workers—like Kelly Knight with Downtown's Clean & Safe program and the San Diego Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team—have been placing homeless folks temporarily until a more permanent bed can be found. The triage beds are reserved for people at risk of illness, injury or worse should they remain on the street. ]]> <![CDATA[Smile, you may or may not be on camera]]>

To the chagrin of the ACLU of Southern California, a new San Diego Police Department policy on body cameras released Wednesday would give officers discretion over when to record an encounter.

The ACLU took issue with several provisions in the new policy, but perhaps the most concerning to the civil-rights group was a stipulation that reads: “Generally, officers should not record informal or casual encounters with members of the public.”

<![CDATA[Todd Gloria compromises on minimum wage]]> What a difference a few days—and a few bucks—makes. On June 5, Harry Schwartz, who owns the Gaslamp Ace Hardware, offered up his storefront for a joint Chamber of Commerce / San Diego County Taxpayers Association press conference to point out flaws in a proposed local hike in the minimum wage. Schwartz said that his business, which already pays workers above the state minimum, wouldn't be able to absorb any additional increases. 
Today, Schwartz was at City Hall to support of a scaled-back wage-increase proposal by City Council President Todd Gloria. ]]>
<![CDATA[District Attorney's office won't release Azano letter of recommendation]]> Earlier this month, District Attorney candidate Bob Brewer asked a federal judge to release a letter of recommendation that DA Bonnie Dumanis wrote on behalf of Edward Susumo Azano, the son of a wealthy Mexican businessman at the center of a campaign-finance scandal. The letter, dated Sept. 28, 2012, and written on official District Attorney letterhead, was addressed to University of San Diego president Mary Lyons; it had been sealed as part of the U.S. Attorney's corruption probe. ]]> <![CDATA[Law enforcement review board finds deputy error in inmate suicide]]> In the last nine months, the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), the independent oversight body charged with investigating deaths-in-custody and allegations of law-enforcement misconduct, has twice found that San Diego County sheriff's deputies violated policy and procedure in instances of inmate suicides.]]> <![CDATA[Susumo Azano apparently promoted Dumanis on both sides of the border]]> In late May 2012, when District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis was running for mayor, this flyer hit the streets, promoting Dumanis' election on one side and, on the other, "Coed Thursdays" at Belo, a now-closed Downtown nightclub.]]> <![CDATA[Ed Harris, you've been Zapfed!]]>

Nobody blames a candidate for wanting to win, but have we abandoned all decorum for the sake of a little extra camera time? Maybe so.

<![CDATA[Ethics Commissioner Andrew Poat in a boat]]>

Did newbie San Diego Ethics Commissioner Andrew Poat cross an ethical line when he recently posted comments on CityBeat’s website that appear to endorse the re-election of Councilmember Lorie Zapf?

If so, that would not only run counter to city law, but it would put the former city official in a position to be removed from his newly acquired post by a simple majority vote of the San Diego City Council.

<![CDATA[City drags its feet on development plan for Encanto, City Heights]]>

Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit tasked with winding down redevelopment projects, has been drooling over the possibility of bringing its Downtown development strategy to the neighborhoods of Encanto and City Heights. For months, Civic San Diego's president, Jeff Graham (who stepped down earlier this year), was going around to City Council members, talking about an opportunity to bring in federal “new market” tax credits and bank loans to help revitalize underserved neighborhoods.

However, there was a catch: Civic San Diego needed control of planning and permitting for those areas, Graham insisted.


About a dozen people milled around Tuesday across the concrete bridge connecting a multi-story parking structure to the city of San Diego's Development Services Department’s third floor. It was an informal queue that almost everyone expects will grow in the run up to Thursday morning, when the city plans to issue its first-ever permits for operating medical-cannabis dispensaries.

<![CDATA[Sarah Boot tracks down Lorie Zapf at contentious candidate forum]]>

What does a voter need to do to get a debate around here?

Wednesday night's Q-and-A session featuring City Council District 2 candidates Lorie Zapf and Sarah Boot was a long time in the making.  

<![CDATA[Faulconer's budget plan includes $1.9 million for homelessness]]> In early February, interim Mayor Todd Gloria announced a plan to reallocate the $1.9 million former Mayor Bob Filner set aside to keep the city's two homeless shelters open year-round. The money would still go to homeless services programs, Gloria said, just not entirely to the shelter.
Unknown was whether Kevin Faulconer, who was elected mayor on Feb. 11, would include the full $1.9 million in the 2015 budget. In March, Matt Awbrey, Faulconer's communications director, told me via email:
Homeless services are a budget priority for Mayor Faulconer. Because the fiscal year 2015 City budget is still being developed, it's premature to say whether the budget proposal will be exactly the same as the Council President's, but because Mayor Faulconer supports funding homeless programs that help San Diego secure more federal funding and focus on long-term rehabilitation and care, it is reasonable to expect there will be more similarities than differences.
Faulconer released his spending plan today and it includes Gloria's full $1.9-million proposal. The City Council will still need to approve the budget.
The biggest chunk of the money, $800,000, will go to the city's winter shelter and provide enhanced case-management services. This month, after being open for 17 months, the adult shelter in Barrio Logan and the veterans tent in Sports Arena will close and revert back to their traditional November through April schedule, temporarily reducing the city's already low number of emergency shelter beds by 370. 

How the $1.9 million breaks down:

$800,000: Covers four months of shelter operations, plus additional case-management services

$400,000: Helps fund a countywide coordinated intake and assessment system, as required by federal law, that would track people as they move off the street and through programs

$120,000: Restores a funding cut to the San Diego Police Department’s Serial Inebriate Program, which puts homeless chronic alcoholics into treatment rather than jail

$80,000: Pays for additional services at the Neil Good Day Center in East Village

$40,000: Helps fund the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team

$150,000: Covers operating costs for the Homeless Transitional Storage Facility, where people can store their belongings

$300,000: Closes a funding gap for Connections Housing

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<![CDATA[Susan Riggs heads to Sacramento]]>

In late January, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he'd appointed Susan Riggs to the position of deputy secretary of housing policy at the state's Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. It was good and bad news for left-leaning San Diegans—good news to have a San Diegan working on housing policy at the state level, bad news because Riggs, who'd been the executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation since 2010, had been a charismatic champion not just for affordable housing but also a larger progressive vision for the city. 

I sat down with her a couple weeks ago for an informal chat before she left for Sacramento (her last day with the Housing Federation was March 7). At that point, the City Council hadn't yet voted to rescind an increase in the workforce-housing offset (also known as the linkage fee), an impact fee that commercial-building developers pay into the city's affordable-housing fund. The council, with its Democratic majority, passed the fee increase in December. Soon after, a coalition of developers and business groups, led by the Chamber of Commerce, launched a petition to overturn it. Riggs was hopeful the fee increase would go to the ballot—specifically the November ballot, which would give affordable-housing advocates time to develop a campaign strategy. She acknowledged that countering the housing-offset opponents' "jobs tax" soundbite would be tricky, and she talked about misconceptions about the fee, an idea for boosting housing production and one of her proudest accomplishments at the Housing Federation.

<![CDATA[The silent treatment]]>

A recent issue concerning government transparency in the city of San Diego has been defined largely not by open communication but reticence and obfuscation.

Citing concerns from the City Attorney’s office, the City Council has swept aside a ballot initiative, sponsored by City Councilmember David Alvarez, aimed at increasing access to public records.

In response to concerns about a culture of secrecy at City Hall, Alvarez teamed up in November with government-transparency group CaliforniansAware to craft an initiative for the June ballot.

“Since I’ve served on the City Council, I have seen that, in many cases, the city has not lived up to the spirit of open-government laws,” Alvarez said in an email. “There have been many times that the media or members of the public are denied access to information without cause.”

The proposed measure would change San Diego's city charter to require the city to legally justify each of its individual policies in the municipal code for withholding documents from the public that exceed what's already exempted from disclosure under state or federal law. There are roughly 20 city policies that would need to be approved with legal findings, according to the Independent Budget Analyst's office. The council would need to approve these findings two years after adoption of the measure and then again readopt findings every three years.

However, the council, which had to approve the wording of the proposition for it to be placed on the ballot, never discussed the merits of the proposal. Instead, the council repeatedly directed CaliforniansAware to work on the proposition with the City Attorney's office, which in turn continuously rejected the draft language.

The proposal was then indefinitely tabled at a Feb. 25 City Council meeting after Councilmember Sherri Lightner expressed concern that the proposal might “overlap” with a statewide ballot initiative.

“It has recently come to light that there is a state initiative, Proposition 42, which will be on the June ballot and includes many of the proposals included in Councilmember Alvarez’s initiative,” she said at the meeting.

If Prop. 42 passes in June, the state will no longer be responsible for reimbursing local agencies for costs related to the Brown Act—the state's open-meetings law—or the California Public Records Act, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. At the same time, it would amend the state constitution to require that local governments continue to follow open-government laws.

The two ballot proposals have no "substantive overlap whatsoever," Terry Francke told the council. “It’s essentially a financial policy decision. It’s adds nothing to either the Brown Act or the Public Records Act. It subtracts nothing from the Brown Act or the Public Records Act."

In response to a CityBeat inquiry, the City Attorney’s office said Prop. 42 overlapped with Alvarez’s ballot initiative because his proposition could also give the state an excuse not to reimburse the city for its costs associated with public records.

“Proposition 42, which is already on the ballot, will also affect this, because its passage would eliminate the state’s obligation to reimburse the city for certain state-mandated requirements,” said Deputy City Attorney Catherine Bradley in an email. “Thus, there is concern about the overlap of the charter provisions and the state measure, and the effect they may have.”

If state reimbursements were cut off by Prop. 42, it would render moot any similar concerns about the local initiative. So it's not clear how the two propositions could affect each other.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Council President Todd Gloria and Councilmember Lightner all declined to comment for this story.

Starting in January, the City Attorney’s office opposed the idea of having to legally justify withholding information from the public, citing concerns it could open the city up to litigation. What followed were several failed attempts by CaliforniansAware to get the City Attorney's office to help draft a proposition on which the council could vote to put on the ballot.

“From the start of the discussion about the proposed amendments to the city charter, the City Attorney raised questions but did not offer much in the way of solutions,” Alvarez said in an email. “Two of the three reports written by the City Attorney were either released the day before or the day of a public hearing where the proposal was discussed, which allowed little to no time to address their ever-evolving concerns, which I think was by design.”

About a month after first receiving the proposed language, the City Attorney’s office provided a report on the ballot measure one day before the issue was docketed to be heard by the council's Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

The committee—which consists of Chair Lightner, Vice Chair Mark Kersey, Alvarez and Marti Emerald, as well as Faulconer's vacant council seat—voted unanimously (including Faulconer, before he was sworn in as mayor) to have the City Attorney work with CaliforniansAware to solve concerns so that it could have an opportunity to be placed on the June ballot.

When the issue returned to the City Council on Feb. 10, the City Attorney's office released its second report just hours before the meeting.

Citing a need to review the report, Lightner made a motion to continue the issue to Feb. 25, when it would be indefinitely tabled.

Alvarez and Emerald voted against the continuance, as Lightner would not amend her motion to require the City Attorney's office to work with CaliforniansAware to produce a ballot proposal that could be voted on at the subsequent meeting.

“I can only support this continuance if we are guaranteed an ordinance back here on the 25th of February,” Emerald said. “Otherwise, I can only believe that this memo coming at the last minute is a stalling tactic.”

During the Feb. 25 council meeting, both Gloria and Faulconer declined to make any comments. However, Councilmember Lorie Zapf pointed out the elephant in the room.

“Changes to the city charter are permanent and very difficult to change quickly or often,” she said. “We’ve seen that time and again in the last few years that I’ve been here. I believe doing this as an ordinance rather than a charter amendment, we can still achieve the same goal without having our hands tied or be ensnared in any legal nightmares should there be any unintended consequences that are locked into a charter.”

Both Alvarez and Emerald quickly said they would support tabling the ballot initiative if the council would support an open-government city ordinance, which is far easier to tweak than a charter amendment. 

However, that idea got no traction.

“There are a lot of very good goals in this proposal, but I think there are some pretty key questions that Ms. Lightner raised that I’d like to see answered,” said Mark Kersey.

With that, the issue was tabled at least until after the June ballot, and the City Council completed what had amounted to three months of skirting any sort of substantive debate on Alvarez’s open-government-initiative proposal.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the City Attorney's office had no written contact with CaliforniansAware between mid-January and Feb. 10. That was inaccurate, and we regret the mistake.