City Attorney Jan Goldsmith says he’s found a way around the worry he floated weeks ago that the city could not commit to a stadium site without following the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act. It seemed to mean the city might not be able to hold a vote until it went through what could be a year-long process. It threw the mayor’s timeline for a 2016 vote off.

Goldsmith told us his idea on this week’s podcast.

He also discussed his philosophy on the different approaches to the role of city attorney: “Some people think, when it’s in the gray area, city attorney, if you don’t really like what they’re doing, the risk they’re taking, don’t sign off on it. Then there’s some who say, well it’s the client who takes that risk. I’m of the latter.”

In addition to Goldsmith, we talked about Mission Valley’s great growth spurt on the way, even without a new stadium.

Listen to the podcast hereon Stitcher or on iTunes.

Download Audio

These were the most-read stories for the week of March 21-27.

1. Fact Check: The Plume Makes a Plum Red Herring

2. How a Chargers Move Would Happen, and How the City Plans to Make a Deal Here

3. Inside the Mayor’s Nonprofit That’s Not Really the Mayor’s Nonprofit

4. Get Ready for Mission Valley’s Massive Growth Spurt (Planners Aren’t)

5. Planners Leave Logan Heights Out of Smart Growth Push

6. Taxpayers Group: Drop the Free (for Some) City Trash Law

7. The DA’s Master Class in Missing the Point

8. Meet the Michael Jordan of Signature-Gatherers

9. No, the City Did Not Nix the 2005 Chargers Plan Over Traffic

10. Sorry, Chargers — the City Can’t Afford a Handout

When Assemblywoman Shirley Weber began talking to law enforcement officials to discuss the raft of bills she’s writing to address concerns about policing and people of color, she said their reaction was very different than it used to be.

“All of them seem somewhat open and receptive to data collection, body cameras, a little more oversight,” Weber told me. “They might have some things that they higgle, higgle about. But they’re not saying, ‘Oh no, this is too much intervention. We can’t have this.’ It’s a totally different kind of conversation now.”

The relationship between police officers and communities of color has dominated the media spotlight both nationally and locally over the last year or so. In San Diego, racial profiling remains an issue after we revealed last year that SDPD had quietly stopped following a key policy to monitor and safeguard the community from racial bias.

Weber’s bills would require police departments across the state to collect racial data on their traffic stops and use of force and create statewide standards for police body-worn cameras.

Weber’s body camera bill would ensure that cameras are turned on whenever an officer makes an enforcement contact, such as during an arrest or traffic stop, and would prohibit officers from viewing footage until after they’ve made a statement about an incident.

Weber, a San Diego State University professor emeritus who represents southeastern San Diego, Lemon Grove, parts of Chula Vista and other areas, talked with me about the motivations behind her legislation and why she disagreed with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ unsuccessful prosecution of two alleged gang members on conspiracy charges.

Was there any particular event, either locally or national, that happened in the past couple years that was the impetus for you to propose these bills?

I wouldn’t identify a specific issue where I said, “OK I gotta do this.” I do know that as things escalated and things began to get worse this past fall, you began to see almost every other week something was happening. This is nationally as well as locally things are taking place.

My son, who is an adult, was watching some of the protests in the street and he said, “You know, mom, you and [Assembly Speaker Toni] Atkins have juice. You guys can handle this. We kids are just running around here protesting. But you folks need to respond to this.”

And I actually told [Atkins], my son said you and I have juice. You are the speaker of the Assembly. I’m the chair of the state budget committee. We got juice. How do we use this juice? How do we try to intervene on behalf of our communities to make a difference? That became part of the driving factor. I looked around and I realized that these young people are around here protesting and marching, and they need to have someone say, “We hear you and we’re going to deal with this.”

How would you assess policing and prosecution in San Diego specifically as it relates to people of color?

I don’t think San Diego is any different than any other city. I’ve not seen any great difference, and I don’t think anyone would say there’s a great difference. It’s kinda hard to a certain extent at my level because I know all the police. I know the chief of police, so when you’re at that level you know that people are nice. (Laughs.) So it’s kind of hard to evaluate it.

When I ask young people, whether it’s my students or others, they find the same thing to be true. I taught at the university for 40 years and my students consistently complained about the police department around San Diego State University. That when black students would have a party, they’d be right there no matter what the noise was. They observed that when others were having similar parties that didn’t look like them, they never raised an issue.

What’s your opinion of Bonnie Dumanis?

Once again, I know Bonnie as a person. We sit and we can chat about a number of things. I think she’s wrong in the prosecution that she’s engaging in with [gang conspiracy charges].

Brandon Duncan and Aaron Harvey, right?

Yeah. I met with her about that. There comes a point where you have to acknowledge that people have certain rights in this country. One of the rights is to be innocent until proven guilty. And that guilt by association, you’re not guilty by who you know and associating with individuals if you haven’t committed a crime. I did meet with Dumanis and I expressed that, that I was very disappointed.

As I point out to people, nobody supports gangs. Nobody thinks gangs are a great thing to have in a community. Yes, they do wreak havoc on communities as well as a lot of other things that do. But you can’t become so vigilant about that that you then turn around and violate the civil rights of the people who are there.

We did that years ago when we created greater penalties for crack cocaine than powder cocaine. We did that and the community initially thought it was a good idea because the community was being ravaged by crack cocaine. No one at that time, out of anger and frustration about what crack was doing in our communities, didn’t look at it in terms of the overall impact of putting all these people in jail for longer periods of time, destroying families and so forth. Then when the community looks around and says, “Oh my God.” These same little kids with money who get powder cocaine get rehab and therapy and everything else and they’re walking the streets and have their families. These folks who smoke crack have their kids in foster care, their kids in juvenile hall, families are broken up, all this kind of stuff and we still haven’t solved the problem necessarily. But we have criminalized a group of individuals almost by economics and race.

That’s my concern with this. Yes, gangs are bad but sometimes you can overact and take away the rights of individuals in the process.

Right now, San Diego has been collecting this [racial] data for a year, concluded that there are disparities between the populations of blacks and Latinos and their stop-and-search rates, but also said they couldn’t determine evidence of racial bias and sent it to a San Diego State professor. That study is going on now. Given how difficult it is to go from pure data to conclusions about data, how would collecting the data alone – which is what your bill would do – how would that get at the nut of what the problem or concern is?

To me, if you are disproportionately stopping individuals, you should be able to come to some conclusions of whether the stop is justifiable, of whether you stopped them probably because they’re black. If you look and ask, was there a weapon, was there this, was there that. And you discovered none of those things existed. Then you ask: Did this person violate the law? Were they driving too fast, were they driving too slow, why did you stop them?

You are talking about individual stops. My understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, is you’re going to be collecting data in the aggregate. So individual stops aren’t going to be identifiable in the data. How are we going to get at the circumstances you’re describing?

In New York City in the stop and frisk case, it was an analysis by a law professor that convinced a judge that the program was racially biased. It took that professor a couple years to analyze that data. There’s a methodology to control for other factors. Again, my question is OK, we’re going to get this data, but without this analysis behind it, what exactly is that going to tell?

You have to do an analysis. The community will probably call for an analysis once you look at the data. If you look at the data, and the attorney general looks at the data, and you see “Oh my God, look at all these people getting stopped.” The community is going to ask, what does this mean? There are people who can analyze it come up with some conclusions. In the absence of data, it’s all anecdotal.

What you’re saying is that you’re confident that there would be some additional analysis done even if the legislation doesn’t mandate it and that it would take time and money to do it?

You’d hope your attorney general would do it. The attorney general is supposed to give an annual report to the Legislature. At that point, I’m sure people would ask questions as to, what does this mean, what’s happening?

What’s the most important aspect of your body camera legislation?

I think they’re all important. Probably the pieces that might be the most controversial is notifying people that you’re taping them. That and not being able to look at the tapes until after you have written the report.

The purpose is to make sure that these body cameras, that we use them really do begin to address some of the issues and don’t begin to become a problem by themselves.

I would hate to have body cameras where police just go in and tape everybody and then they go back and say, oh we can prosecute him for this, we can prosecute her for this because we saw that she didn’t have this or didn’t have that or there was something illegal in the house. That kind of stuff. All of sudden you then start creating crimes for people, and people are more victimized by the cameras than helped. That was really my concern. We didn’t really want the cameras to become the tool that people become victimized by. We wanted it to become the information in times of conflict and to talk about what is correct and what took place.

Anything else you want to mention about these issues that you want to make clear?

I think the more information we have, the more process and procedure we have, it makes people much more conscious of it, in terms of what they’re doing, what they’re engaged in and whether or not those things are appropriate or inappropriate. I think they’ll become good tools for our police department to improve with, as they look at their data, as they see themselves.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Christmas lasted all year long for state lawmakers.

San Diego’s 11 state lawmakers accepted more than 300 gifts last year, with a combined retail value of more than $84,000. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez topped the list of San Diego gift recipients with $19,408 in freebies – more than all four legislative leaders.

Sacramento Report logoChavez’s biggest gift was a $12,552 trip to Chile paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, a group that “draws money from unions and corporations,” according to the Sacramento Bee. Hey, the trip was just research. In his recent campaign announcement for U.S. Senate, the first-term Republican cited having “been around the world a few times” as part of his qualifications.

Chavez wasn’t the only traveling lawmaker in 2014. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez stayed in-state with trips to the Rose Parade, Disneyland and Universal Studios. Assemblyman Brian Jones and state Sens. Marty Block and Ben Hueso were the guests at the Independent Voter Project’s infamous conference held at Maui’s luxurious Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel. The conference, which is organized by an out-of-state pharmaceutical executive, provides lawmakers with thousands of dollars in free travel and lodging that is paid for by special interest groups that lobby Sacramento.

Congratulatory gifts stacked up in Toni Atkins’ new digs in the Speaker’s office. She accepted the most gifts, 86 items valued at $10,228, which included flowers, wine, cigars and an edible arrangement from well-wishing friends and colleagues. At the other end of the gift list, state Sen. Pat Bates reported just one gift in 2014, $248 in meals from the Barona Band of Mission Indians.

State lawmakers were subject to a $440 gift limit last year, but could exceed that limit for travel payments from a non-profit entity. Only gifts worth $50 or more are required to be disclosed. But, some lawmakers were enticed by the sweet smell of transparency. Jones, easily the most thorough member of the delegation, disclosed a $2.50 fragrance sachet from the International Fragrance Association, North America.

The top 5 local state lawmakers in order of total gift value:

  1. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez: $19,408
  2. Assemblyman Brian Jones: $12,680
  3. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins: $10,228
  4. Sen. Marty Block: $9,271
  5. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez: $9,245

John Hrabe

Meet Gov. Faulconer, Climate Hero

Dan Walters thinks Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s recent stop in Sacramento might be a hint that he’s running for governor. Faulconer was in the Capitol to tout “his climate action plan” as a model, Walters reports.

How mad would you be if you were Todd Gloria – the person who willed the climate action plan into existence – reading that the mayor might use it to wield a moderate campaign against you?

About That Job-Killer Narrative …

Actual data keeps contradicting the popular narrative that California, with its environmental rules and business regulations, is a jobs assassin.

“New numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tell a different story,” reports the L.A. Times. “Total jobs created in the 12 months ending Jan. 31 show California leading other states. California gained 498,000 new jobs, almost 30% more than the Lone Star State’s total of 392,900 for the same period.”

When we dug into the business climate in San Diego, Lisa Halverstadt similarly found evidence to counteract the idea that the region and the state chase companies out. When businesses do relocate away from San Diego, they often stay in the state.  We dismantled a few more myths about the local business climate here, including another big one: that companies relocating even matters.

The Oregon-ization of California

Last week we told you about some statewide efforts to boost voter turnout. Secretary of State Alex Padilla took those efforts to a new level this week. He wants to emulate Oregon’s recent move to automatically register anyone who makes contact with the state DMV. (Sacramento Bee)

Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill young woman who moved to Oregon to utilize the state’s Death With Dignity act and who died last year, spoke to California legislators this week via video testimony. Her words pack a powerful 1-2 punch: They are reasoned and fact-based, and yet incredibly stirring and emotional. (L.A. Times)

State News Hits

• Mario Koran explains a package of bills cracking down on charter schools. Surprise! Charter schools aren’t so pleased about them.

It’s the initiative heard round the world: A proposed measure to shoot gay people in California is, unsurprisingly, generating lots of outcry. Attorney General Kamala Harris is making moves to stop the measure from going forward, and Lakewood Assemblyman Anthony Rendon has proposed a bill in response that would make any petition signatories subject to the California Public Records Act. If you sign a petition for a bill to kill gay people, the thinking goes, you should at least be opening yourself up to public shame. (Guardian)

Plastic bag-makers from around the country pumped $3.1 million into the effort to delay California’s plastic bag ban. And they’re primed to spend much, much more before the 2016 election. (Reveal)

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber introduced two bills this week that would require law enforcement officials to collect racial data during traffic stops, and to report use-of-force incidents to the state Justice Department. Our 2014 investigation revealed SDPD had stopped collecting racial data, violating its own policies. The department has vowed to collect it again.

The state Assembly has passed a bill that would create a “Yellow Alert” system to help catch hit-and-run drivers by broadcasting their information on freeway signs. The bill now moves on to the Senate. As Mario Koran revealed in an investigation last year, 87 percent of drivers responsible for hit-and-run deaths and injuries in San Diego between 2009 and 2012 were never punished. (NBC San Diego)

The NFL regulates how its teams are supposed to move from one city to another. With three teams vying and/or head-faking for Los Angeles, the league might speed up the process. Let’s look at how the league’s rules say a move is supposed to work.

First, the league indicated this week it may change the dates that teams are allowed to formally decide to move. Accelerating the relocation process from Jan. 1, 2016, to sometime this year would place even more pressure on St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego to get their stadium proposals together in a hurry. Commissioner Roger Goodell, as quoted by the U-T, said:

Stadium Nuts and Bolts logo“We’ve had some discussion … about whether that’s the appropriate timeframe to do so,” Goodell said, referring to the Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 window in which teams can apply to move. “There’s a lot to do when you relocate your franchise.”

The NFL’s relocation policies describe a number of processes, both internal and involving the “incumbent community” from which the team seeks to move. Assuming the league doesn’t suspend or amend those rules as well, they include the following:

Procedures Relating to Notice and Evaluation of the Proposed Transfer

Before any club may transfer its franchise or playing site outside its current home territory, the club must submit a proposal for such transfer to the League on the following basis:

1. The club must give the Commissioner written notice of the proposed transfer, including the date on which the proposed relocation is to become effective, and publish the notice in newspapers of general circulation within the incumbent community. The notice must be filed no later than February 15 of the year in which the move is scheduled to occur. The League will provide copies of the notice to governmental and business representatives of both the incumbent community and the community to which the team proposes to move, as well as the stadium authority (if any) in the incumbent community (the “interested parties”).

This notice would presumably have to be filed by the end of whatever new relocation window the league may decide on.

2. The notice must be accompanied by a “statement of reasons” in support of the proposed transfer. The statement must address each of the factors outlined in Part C below, and may also identify and discuss any other relevant business factors that the club believes support its request to move.

Part C refers to “Factors That May Be Considered In Evaluating The Proposed Transfer,” such as level of fan support, adequacy of the current stadium, public financial support to the franchise and the team’s financial performance, whether the team has negotiated in good faith with its current city and other factors relating to the effect of the move on the league as a whole. The Chargers will likely be regarded as having satisfied these factors.

3. With the assistance of appropriate League committees, the Commissioner will evaluate the proposed transfer and report to the membership. The Commissioner may also convene a special committee to perform fact-finding or other functions with respect to any such proposed transfer.

The league formed a Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities last month after the announcement by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke of his intent to build a stadium in Inglewood. The committee consists of the owners of the Chiefs, Patriots, Giants, Texans, Panthers and Steelers.

4. Interested parties will have an opportunity to provide oral and/or written comments regarding the proposed transfer, including at a public hearing conducted by the League in the community from which the team seeks to relocate; written comments may be submitted within 15 days of the conclusion of such hearing.

Will the NFL follows through with this part of the process, if we reach that point? A public meeting held after the Chargers file for relocation would be a potentially ugly spectacle. Though after 54 years here, San Diego would certainly have earned at least that gesture.

5. Following the Commissioner’s report on the proposed transfer, the proposal will be presented to the membership for action in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws, either at a Special Meeting of the League held for that purpose or at the Annual Meeting.

The annual meeting just happened, so if the relocation window is moved up, this would be the actual vote held at a special meeting of NFL owners. Twenty-four of the league’s 32 teams must vote to approve a relocation.

6. After any League vote on a proposed relocation, the League will:

i. publish, within 30 days of any relocation decision, a written statement of reasons in newspapers of general circulation within the incumbent community setting forth the basis of its decision in light of the League’s rules and procedures for evaluating franchise relocation; and

ii. deliver copies of its written statement of reasons to the local governments of the community from which the club seeks to relocate and any sports authority or similar entity with jurisdiction over the stadium or facility from which the club seeks to relocate.

This is the NFL equivalent of a Dear John letter after the owners vote to approve a move. The final nail in the coffin.

These regulations aren’t law and the league could decide to amend or alter its own rules. But until further notice, these are the guidelines relocating teams are expected to follow.

Also of significance was the news that San Diego has taken steps to hire an investment bank for the potential financing of a stadium. U-T San Diego’s Lori Weisberg reported that Mayor Kevin Faulconer solicited a firm “to review revenue sources for a stadium and float bonds if and when the time comes to build what could be a more than $1 billion project. … Such advisers would also assist Faulconer once negotiations with the Chargers commence.”

This is an important step. San Diego has previously retained the services of these kind of hired guns, like consultant Mitchell Ziets and the financial advisory firm Lazard, without getting much, if anything, done. But things appear more serious now. The city has a history of negotiating unfavorable deals with the Chargers and loses millions each year operating Qualcomm Stadium. Among its other responsibilities, the to-be-hired investment bank will be expected to help prevent that history from repeating.

Of course, the financial incumbent in this story is investment bank Goldman Sachs working with the Chargers, the St. Louis stadium authority and the governor of Missouri.

San Diego sent the Request for Proposal to firms on Feb. 26 and is currently evaluating five proposals. This is arguably one of the strongest indications to date that the mayor’s office is proactively engaged and not simply waiting for the stadium task force to complete their work.

The RFP sent to investment banks explains that San Diego solicited firms from the “City’s Investment Banking Services – Underwriter Pool, Senior Manager Classification.” Goldman Sachs is one of the firms in the city’s underwriter pool. The city knew Goldman would be a counter-party to any potential stadium negotiations, and the mayor’s office confirmed that Goldman was not solicited for a proposal.

A dry bureaucratic document, the RFP does contains relevant details for those closely following the stadium process. It identifies the city’s objectives in hiring an investment bank:

(1) assist the City in exploring various financing options unique to sports facilities; assess the revenue capacity of potential revenue streams of the stadium facility and related development; provide as needed expert consultation to the City such that the City is able to formulate a comprehensive financing proposal; and (2) serve as the underwriter for any financial instruments or bonds to be issued if a feasible project and financing plan is proposed and receives affirmative public support and other necessary approvals.

The firm San Diego hires will be paid to advise the city on a stadium financing plan, as well as earn fees and commissions as the underwriter of loans for the project if it becomes a reality.

Requirements listed in the RFP for a submitted proposal include:

6. Provide two client references for the firm where the firm was involved in offering expertise in the development and execution of financing plans for stadiums, sports facilities, or similar large scale for profit projects. Please ensure your client has agreed to provide a reference in advance.

7. Exceptions and capital conflicts: Confirm your firm’s ability to complete all services requested in this request. If there are exceptions to services that your firm cannot complete, please describe. List all conflicts of interest and potential conflicts of interest your firm may have in providing the services to the City.

Too bad Goldman Sachs works for the Chargers, since it is one of the most expert firms in stadium financing. It may be worth knowing if any conflicts were disclosed by the firms that submitted proposals.

The city anticipates selecting an investment bank in April. Time will tell if that firm actually gets to underwrite the financing for a stadium, or if instead, the ball of relocation rolls up the 5 to Carson.

Amid all the banter surrounding the possibility of a new Chargers stadium in Mission Valley, there is a small contingent of people who are thinking even bigger than just a stadium. Scott Lewis reports on how a subset of the group charged with proposing a stadium solution has started to discuss much larger changes to the Mission Valley area.

Fast-forward a few years and Mission Valley is going to be a much more crowded neighborhood. Six major developments currently moving forward will “about double” the 12,000 residences that currently sit in Mission Valley. Throw in some more shopping and the certain surge of daily traffic. Now add a stadium. “Without major infrastructure improvements, a redesign of the many portals in and out of the neighborhood and new amenities, it could make an already troubled place a chaotic mess,” Lewis writes.

But the city has a master plan for the community’s future and how to develop it, right? Nope. No community plan updates have been completed for Mission Valley since 1985.

• The city of San Diego and San Diego County will partner up to find a financing plan for a new Chargers stadium in Mission Valley. (NBC 7)

• NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week said the league is in “no rush to return” to Los Angeles. “We’re not focused on 2016,” he said. (New York Times)

• A proposed stadium in Inglewood may have cleared a critical hurdle Thursday when developers announced they had reached an agreement with labor groups, ending a month-long disagreement. (L.A. Times)

Learning Curve: Where’s the Music At?

Mario Koran has been taking your questions about San Diego schools and digging up answers. In his most recent installment of The Learning Curve, Koran looks into music programs inside schools and why more schools don’t have them.

The cost of programs is one factor, but some elementary schools are trying to work around that by creating programs that provide something, even if it isn’t a full program. “About 60 schools offer an ‘exploratory music’ program, where teachers rotate on a nine-week schedule,” Koran writes. Aside from money, the programs desperately need more musical instruments.

But you can keep your old recorder from your early school days, in Koran’s opinion. “It’s objectively true that the recorder is the world’s most annoying instrument,” he writes.

Tax Hawks: Pay for Your Trash Pickup

Recently the board of the San Diego Taxpayers Association, a group not known for cheering on more fees from the city, came forward and said we should end the fee-less trash pickup that many San Diegans enjoy. Traditional analysis has been that such a change would require San Diegans to vote themselves out of the free service, which could be a tough hurdle to clear. Our Scott Lewis joined NBC 7’s Catherine Garcia to review why we get free trash pickup and why the taxpayers group thinks we should throw it out in our most recent San Diego Explained.

Big Change on Sex Offender Enforcement

California’s state corrections department announced it will change its policy on enforcing where sex offenders can live in response to a recent state Supreme Court ruling. Previously, all convicted sex offenders were prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks, a restriction the court found went too far. The new policy will be to only enforce the 2,000-foot restriction when a sex offender was convicted of an offense involving a child, or when a parole agent deems it necessary, the L.A. Times reports.

‘Yellow Alert’ Proposed for Hit-And-Runs

A new law making its way through the California Legislature could help crack the code on solving the state’s hit-and-run epidemic, according to NBC 7. Driver and car information taken from a hit-and-run scene would be published on freeway signs, similar to Amber Alerts that give details of abductions. Unlike Amber Alerts, the hit-and-run “Yellow Alerts” would not be sent to cell phones. We recently looked into how huge of a problem hit-and-runs are for San Diegans.

News Nibbles

• 10 News published a video of former Mayor Bob Filner giving a deposition where he admitted it wasn’t unusual for him to make comments with sexual innuendos while he was mayor.

• How many people live in San Diego County? That’d be 3.3 million as of July 2014, making us the fifth most populous county in the country. (KPBS)

• A judge has tentatively decided that San Diego is not responsible for the smell of animal feces at La Jolla Cove in a lawsuit filed by La Jolla businesses. (KPBS)

• 1940s actress Sally Forrest died on Thursday. (Times of San Diego)

• A larger panel of federal appellate court judges will re-hear arguments over whether rules on issuing concealed weapons permits in San Diego County should be loosened. (Reuters)

Cops and Doggies

When a San Diego Police Department officer responded to a home alarm recently, he was unknowingly walking into a situation that has drawn a lot of recent media attention. That’s because unbeknownst to Officer Tom Bostedt, the house wasn’t only guarded by an alarm. The resident’s 105-pound white dog Casper was also on duty, U-T San Diego reports. All turned out well in this case, though. In a note left for the residents, the officer explained he had intended to check the home’s windows in the backyard, but had been rebuffed by Casper. “On a side note, I can still run and jump a 6-foot fence as good as I could in the academy 28 years ago!” Bostedt wrote. “Nice doggy.”

The officer and the homeowners caught up with each other for a laugh on Twitter.

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can email him at or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

I spend most of my time at VOSD looking into specific tensions or conflicts, then following those threads over time. That can mean zooming in on concussions, school foundations or graduation requirements. Focusing on narratives like these is a good way to understand systems in place and why problems exist.

Learning Curve-01But sometimes digging deeply into a single issue takes me out of the loop. I don’t meet as many new people. I don’t see as many schools or learn about new happenings. The Learning Curve is turning out to be a good way for me to learn more about the ways schools work.

Today, we’re talking about music. Let’s have at it.

Question: “Given the plentiful research that shows that music and arts support academic performance specifically in elementary school, why are these programs not consistently available in every single school?”  – Meridith Coady, San Diego Unified parent

First, you’re right, Meridith, findings from a number of studies have suggested music training supports academic performance. It can also sharpen the part of kids’ brains that processes language.

In short, music is rad. So why doesn’t San Diego Unified offer more of it?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is money. To address the question, I reached out to Mark Nicholson, a San Diego Unified instrumental music specialist in the district’s Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) department.

The littlest kids – first-, second- and third-graders – are pinched the most. Some schools offer a kind of intro class that exposes them to musical concepts, and gets them ready for fourth and fifth grade, when they’ll have hands-on experience with instruments. But due to budget constraints, those intro classes aren’t available at every elementary school.

Still, Nicholson said, his department is more robust than popular opinion suggests. A couple years ago, when the district was looking at mass layoffs, VAPA was on the chopping block. But in the end, the department survived.

“We’re still here, we’re looking strong. And things are looking up,” Nicholson said.

At 40 schools, fourth and fifth graders have music class twice a week. These are the traditional kinds of classes where students have a music teacher and access to instruments.

About 60 schools offer an “exploratory music” program, where teachers rotate on a nine-week schedule. Each cycle, kids get exposed to a new kind of instrument, so by the end of the year they’ll have had access to brass, woodwind, strings and percussion. Every high school has a music program. Some have both band and orchestra.

That’s not to say Nicholson’s department is flush.

“The main thing that we desperately need are instruments for the kids. If we were able to put an instrument in every kids’ hands, we’d have a much stronger program,” he told me.

To address that need, the district partners with a nonprofit that collects and repairs instruments and hands them off to schools.

The underlying question that music departments face, and not just in San Diego, is whether the arts are extras or central to the core academic mission.

Bonus question: “Given that the recorder is the world’s most annoying instrument, why does SDUSD insist on offering this?”

Meridith was hesitant about letting me use her name for this question. She thought it sounded snarky.

But, c’mon. It’s objectively true that the recorder is the world’s most annoying instrument. Its dumb, flat whistle corrodes the soul. Of course, my negative associations might be related to the fact my sister used hers to beat me when I wouldn’t get out of her room.

Turns out there’s an actual reason schools encourage the recorder. Little-kid fingers aren’t all that dexterous. Because it’s a bit easier to play, it serves as a nice transition that gets kids ready for more complicated instruments like the clarinet, Nicholson said. Plus, they’re cheap. You can buy one on Amazon for about $10.

So it looks like the recorder might be here to stay. Lord help us.

The Local Ed Scene

At a Wednesday press conference, California lawmakers, along with members of California teachers unions, unveiled four bills they said would increase charter school accountability, transparency and unbiased access to all students.

You can read the text of each bill on the California Teachers Association website. They’re about completely separate topics, but here are few things they’re trying to change:

Ensuring due process to students who are expelled (and improved notifications to the districts they’re located in)

Changing the governance structure of charter schools and granting the public greater access to charters’ inner-workings

Tightening admissions and enrollment policies that critics say enable charter schools to “cream,” or accept only the best and brightest students

The California Charter Schools Association responded with its own statement that basically pointed out how current state law already provides for those protections. The gist: These are bills in search of problems.

One salient point CCSA made, and I’m paraphrasing here: Maybe if CTA spent a little less time worrying about charter schools and more about what they’re doing to improve academics, fewer of their students would leave for charter schools each year.

“These are unnecessary bills predicated on the assumption that these problems exist in the first place,” Myrna Castrejón, CCSA’s senior vice president of government affairs, told me.

It’s illegal for schools to cream, for example. If there’s evidence of that, it’s the job of the authorizer – the education board that originally approved the charter – to crack down.

Castrejón said many of CTA’s claims were misrepresentations. For instance, this part of CTA’s statement: “California’s 1992 charter school law created a cap of 100 charter schools. In such a short period of time there are now more than 1,100 charter schools and the law has not kept up with the rapid growth.”

But that cap refers to 100 new charters per year, Castrejón said, and charters have never exceeded that.

That’s relatively small potatoes, though, when we consider the implications. Essentially, the bills seek to make charter schools look and act a lot like traditional public schools. That may strike you as reasonable, but consider that charter schools were created precisely to do just the opposite: offer an alternative to the one-size-fits all approach taken by traditional public schools.

Ed Reads of the Week

The Worst State for Kids Up Against the Law” (The Marshall Project)

It’s settled. Florida is the worst state. On top of that, it’s the harshest state in the country for juveniles in the criminal justice system.

Florida law is among the most expansive in allowing prosecutors discretion to file juvenile cases in adult court. As a result, Florida transfers more kids to adult court than any other state. It also means 14- and 15-year-olds charged with nonviolent crimes could wind up in adult prison, subject to very adult threats – like rape and assault.

Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces on Education: Teachers and Wealthy Donors” (New York Times)

You knew this was coming. Clinton can avoid any of the landmines that befell Barack Obama. He collected some scars for pushing Common Core and the Race to the Top initiative, which made states eligible for funding if they implemented certain reforms, like tying teacher evaluations to performance.

Without a strong challenger, Clinton still has time to make smart alliances. I don’t see teachers unions throwing their support behind Republican options Ted Cruz, Scott Walker or Jeb Bush anytime soon.

What Schools Should Teach Kids About Sex” (The Atlantic)

Brace yourself, parents. Just because schools aren’t teaching teenagers much about sex doesn’t mean they’re not having it.

In fact, Jessica Lahey points out, nearly half of all high schools students have had sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – 41 percent without using a condom.

If you remember the sex ed classes you had in high school, it probably looked a lot like what one author calls the global norm: “a smattering of information about reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings about putting them to use.”

When it comes to sex, what to teach, and how to teach it, is left up to local districts. In a shockingly high number of states (37!), there’s no law requiring that the information be medically accurate.

Lahey throws a curveball, too: Part of the reason sex ed may be so lacking is related to increasingly diverse student populations. At the risk of offending students – or their parents – many schools decided to simply avoid in-depth discussions about sex.

If you live on a city street in San Diego, you might have to kiss your free trash pick-up goodbye.

In 1919, a law mandated that the city of San Diego provide trash removal services to homes within the city for free. The law, or People’s Ordinance, has since been amended to apply to single-family homes on city streets.

Now the San Diego County Taxpayers Association is challenging the ordinance, calling the free trash service a measure of inequality. The board of directors for the group recently voted to recommend the amendment or removal of the law.

Here’s how a repeal could affect you if you live in a single-family home: You might need to contract with a waste collection firm to have your trash collected. Or, you might need to start paying the city a fee to collect your trash.

Getting rid of the ordinance is a long ways off, though. Repealing it would require a vote of the people. On this San Diego Explained, Scott Lewis and NBC 7’s Catherine Garcia lay out what this recent move by the Taxpayers Association could mean for the city of San Diego and the 2016 ballot.

Mission Valley is about to blow up.

Even before we see a plan to accommodate the antsy Chargers and a new football stadium, the snarled center of jobs, shopping and about 12,000 residences is going to about double that number in new homes in the next several years.

Six major developments are in various stages of the planning process. The largest, Civita, is already under construction. The projects are not following any comprehensive plan for the area – each one is a separate change to the 1985 community plan and several other site-specific zoning laws.

The city is only now about to embark on a new community plan update, which might be done right around the time all these projects are nearing the finish line. That means it won’t affect any of them.

Others are rushing into the planning vacuum.

The mayor’s task force, which was given the job of finding a site and financing plan for a new stadium, has begun exploring design and infrastructure challenge issues for the whole of Mission Valley.

“I know we are focused on the site selection and on the financing of a new stadium. It seemed to me that we should look at the bigger area,” said Mary Lydon, a member of the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group and executive director of the Urban Land Institute.

The group she formed includes six stadium task force members, architects and people familiar to the development world like Perry Dealy, president of Manchester Development, which is managing one of the major projects going forward in Mission Valley, the redevelopment of the Union-Tribune headquarters.

It will meet again April 1.

The chairman of the task force, Adam Day, called soon after my talk with Lydon to clarify that the group was not an official part of the stadium group.

I’m not sure why he would want to distance himself from it. A stadium plan will have to consider the broader Mission Valley hyper-development under way.

They’re all coming to the same conclusion: Mission Valley might be able to fit thousands of new homes, but without major infrastructure improvements, a redesign of the many of the portals in and out of the neighborhood and new amenities, it could make an already troubled place a chaotic mess.

The city does have one plan in place that should help: The San Diego River Park Master Plan. City planners assured me all new projects will have to conform to the effort to revitalize the hidden river.

For perspective, taken together, the six projects are about 20 times the area and number of housing units of the controversial One Paseo project, which is still causing major fights after its approval several weeks ago.

But the developers and city believe Mission Valley can take it – though some of the projects still need approval and may have to adjust as their impact becomes more clear.

Planners and government leaders often cite the SANDAG projection that the region’s population will grow by 1 million more people by 2030, and that we’ll need 290,000 new homes for them.

“Mission Valley is probably one of those locations that can handle a lot of that growth,” said Michael Stepner, a professor at the New School of Architecture and San Diego’s former city architect.

Stepner had a caveat, though. The neighborhood can handle this growth if it fixes some problems. While Mission Valley might have unparalleled access to freeways and transit – there are four major freeways, Friars Road and several trolley stops – they’re not exactly easy to get on. For instance, transit stations might be a walkable distance in Mission Valley, he said, but often it’s still easier to drive than walk.

“Trying to cross Friars Road is life threatening,” Stepner said.

Photo by Dustin Michelson
Photo by Dustin Michelson
The intersection of Friars Road and Frazee Road.

That’s partly why Civita’s developer had to commit to build a pedestrian and bike bridge over Friars. And the transit stop at Hazard Center will soon be more accessible as well as a developer plans to put in 473 new housing units there.

Approval for the Hazard Center project has already been granted.

For all the six projects totaled, more than 10,600 new units are in the works. The new projects stretch from the Town and Country Resort to Civita, which is already going up. The Town and Country is about to submit plans for up to 900 new residential units that would go along with a renovated hotel. The city is contemplating Doug Manchester’s plan to replace the Union-Tribune building with two seven-story buildings and 200 residential units.

Nearby, the Bob Baker Ford lot on Camino Del Rio is about five acres wide and developers have approval to begin work on constructing 305 residential units along with some offices and retail.

Then the next biggie: The Levi-Cushman family is working with one of California’s largest developers, Related, to turn the Riverwalk Golf Course into up to 4,000 residential units plus offices and hotels.

Here’s an interactive map of all of them.

And here’s the permitting status of each project.

mission valley table


Dealy, who is overseeing the Union-Tribune project, told me the big projects going forward in Mission Valley will have to shoulder much of the burden of helping with the mobility and infrastructure issues.

He was thinking of the Qualcomm Stadium land and the Riverwalk Golf Course projects.

“Those two projects are going to have to add some significant infrastructure. I think it’s going to be a challenge,” he said.

Dealy will be reporting to the seven stadium task force members in the design group about a so-called Valley Infrastructure Plan.

For its part, city officials say they have no idea what infrastructure redevelopment the Qualcomm site would need, but planners told me that each project going through the process now must consider the neighborhood as a whole, not just its own immediate needs.

The Hazard Center and Civita projects plans have already satisfied the requirement to mitigate their impact on the neighborhood. Things like the pedestrian bridge and new roads passed the city’s muster and are under way.

And if plans for the Qualcomm Stadium land are fast-tracked to assuage the Chargers’ angst, so too will the technical evaluation of the development of that land, said Brian Schoenfisch, a longtime city planner for the area.

That could take some time. Todd Majcher, vice president of Lowe Enterprises, is the point man on the Town and Country’s big development plans. He said he expects them to be done with permitting issues within the next two years.

His project is 40 acres.

The Qualcomm Stadium site would be much bigger. The Chargers’ last proposal for the site a decade ago envisioned 6,000 units. That’s compared with up to 900 units and a hotel for the Town and Country site.

Day cautioned that the stadium task force won’t be coming up with a number of housing units for the Qualcomm Stadium site.

“It’s not our purview and we’re in no way, shape or form designing development for that plot of land,” he said.

Like the Barrio Logan neighborhood nearby, Logan Heights is a prime example of what happens when the city neglects a poorer part of town and allows a crazy quilt of houses and industry to sit next to each other.

On Commercial Street, homes sit not-so-charmingly next to auto-wrecking plants, scrap metal yards and warehouses. Logan Heights is hardly an ideal place for young urban types, but it’s in the right place: Next to transit and right smack next to downtown. So will it become the next North Park?

It doesn’t look like it. “A new plan for the area is finished and the eastern portion of Commercial Street is set to remain a place for industrial businesses, not people,” VOSD’s Andrew Keatts reports. “That decision has surprised the city councilman for the area and could be another setback in the city’s vision for an urban future.”

But a city planner says the community likes this plan, and some property owners seem to want to keep the industry around. There’s also still a chance things could change.

How Gangs Fill Gaps Left by Law Enforcement

In her new best-selling new book “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America,” L.A. Times reporter Jill Leovy explores the toll of homicides in black neighborhoods and says law enforcement’s failings allow gangs to flourish.

San Diego doesn’t have the same kind of gang problem as L.A., but deadly gang violence still bloodies the streets of southeastern San Diego. And, as in L.A., blacks are much more likely to be victims of homicide; while Latinos have gangs of their own, they’re not killed in numbers much higher than their portion of the population.

In a VOSD Q-and-A with me, Leovy talks about the roots of society’s neglect of crimes with black victims and her rejection of the usual liberal and conservative platitudes: “There’s romanticism on the left about community and communalism, and there’s romanticism on the right on the power of individual self-improvement.” The truth, she says, is that law enforcement is both too harsh and too weak. (For more, check my story about 6 startling revelations in “Ghettoside.”)

One Paseo Poised to Go 2-for-1

Carmel Valley’s One Paseo project may have beaten back the haters: Opponents filed 60,000 petition signatures in a bid to overturn the City Council’s support of the project, but a huge chunk of them may be invalid after being withdrawn by voters.

A spokeswoman for One Paseo confirms a bit of political skulduggery: It purposefully snapped up signature-gatherers to push a meaningless petition regarding the Chargers.

Not-so-fun fact via KPBS: “If the group is successful, it would be San Diego’s fifth referendum since December 2013. Since 2012, there have been only four local ballot referendum measures combined between the five other biggest cities in California.”

What the Cops See When You Drive By

Cops in the San Diego area use license-plate scanners to track the locations of cars, but no one’s been able to get the police to cough up the data so we can figure out who’s being monitored. It’s one of those “just trust us” situations that we’ve been faced with a lot lately. Not so in Oakland: the Ars Technica website got car-tracking data and finds that “if you have driven in Oakland any time in the last few years, chances are good that the cops know where you’ve been.”

“Where someone goes can reveal a great deal about how he chooses to live his life,” a law professor says. “Do they park regularly outside the Lighthouse Mosque during times of worship? They’re probably Muslim. Can a car be found outside Beer Revolution a great number of times? May be a craft beer enthusiast — although possibly with a drinking problem.”

Politics: Killer Initiative May Get Snuffed

• That wackadoo state ballot initiative calling for the deaths of gay people, by shots to the head or other methods, may not get anywhere near a petition drive. (L.A. Times)

• The left-leaning ThinkProgress news site says San Diego’s lawsuit against the monolith Monsanto company “shows just how hard it is to hold polluters accountable.”

• The inewsource news outlet is once again going after prominent land-use attorney Cory Briggs, a longtime enemy of City Hall types, in a story that features people accusing him of unethical behavior in a case that he took on for free: “In the end, the only one who walked away with anything of value was Briggs.” He’s not talking.

How Cities Pick Your Pockets

This week, HBO comedian John Oliver tackled the menace of municipal fines, which pad city coffers. As Gawker puts it, “a traffic ticket can put a low-income person in an inescapable spiral of additional fees and eventually land them in jail.”

How persistent are cities about chasing scofflaws? Just ask a Seattle man we interviewed a while back: He got a fix-it ticket in 1990, and said he paid the $72 fine. But the San Diego County court system’s collection agency says he didn’t. It found him in 2009, even though he hadn’t been hiding (he’d even bought a house) and wanted him to cough up $322; like a normal person, he hadn’t saved canceled checks for 19 years. So he was in pickle.

At the time, in 2009, the county’s collection agency was trying to track down people who hadn’t paid about 84,000 fines that were at least 9 years old. The take-home lesson: Paid a ticket? Save that canceled check, and save it forever. The government doesn’t care about any measly save-for-seven-years-then-dump-it guideline about financial records.

Quick News Hits: (Non-)Hospitality, Santee-Style

• Sea lion and otter shows are back at SeaWorld after a break while the theme park took care of sick sea lion pups. (L.A. Times)

• The Padres have gone way up in value thanks to new stars. (Forbes)

• Orange County is creaming San Diego County when it comes to “health outcomes.” (L.A. Times)

• Randy Voepel, Santee’s forever mayor (he’s had the job since 2000), is running for state Assembly. ( We know him best for being another one of those ever-quotable East County elected officials: Back in 2012, he snapped back at a Chinese person who dared to ask for his autograph. He’s not a fan of China: “Please accept me as a very determined enemy, as I assume you to be to me.”

Can’t wait to hear what he has to say about his rivals in the legislative race. And if he wins, the Assembly fact-finding trip to China is going to be epic.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:




Log In or Create an Account

Registered users can check donation history, follow narratives, comment on stories, and RSVP for events.

Forgot Password?
New to VOSD? Create an account

Test Modal
  • Note: You cannot change your username.