The Stories the Scandal Swallowed - Voice of San Diego

Bob Filner UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

The Stories the Scandal Swallowed

Coverage of the scandal surrounding Mayor Bob Filner has overshadowed several stories that would have otherwise been major news.

San Diegans have been inundated with coverage of sexual harassment allegations leveled against Mayor Bob Filner, as other major stories have taken a backseat.

And there have been plenty of them.

Here’s a look at six big stories that have been overlooked in the wake of the Filner debacle.

Council votes to pay contractors more

For years, Democrats have pushed for a higher wages for city construction contract workers and they got their wish this week.

The City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday to pay industry-standard wages to workers whose companies win construction and maintenance contracts.

Democrats and labor leaders, who have long advocated for the so-called prevailing wage, hailed the vote as a win for middle-class workers.

But an independent budget analyst’s report suggested the increased wages could delay projects, including up to 44 miles of streets initially set to get new asphalt this year.

Tourism Authority announces major layoffs

Tourism Authority chief Joe Terzi announced July 25 that a key requirement in the city’s new tourism marketing contract forced him to lay off 40 percent of his staff.

That new rule requires city hotels to submit waivers to ensure the city’s day-to-day fund won’t take a hit if the a judge decides hoteliers can no longer collect a 2 percent surcharge on hotel stays. Few hotels signed the paperwork so the Tourism Authority, which relies on that cash to cover the majority of its budget, had no choice but to let staffers go.

Months earlier, the Tourism Authority repeatedly warned of the impact of fewer marketing efforts to draw tourists to San Diego as the mayor refused to sign the new tourism marketing contract. Now that very agreement led to the layoffs tourism officials feared.

On the day of the Tourism Authority announcement, four prominent San Diego women accused Filner of sexual harassment in an interview with KPBS.

Student abandoned in DEA facility gets $4.1 million settlement

A UC San Diego student left in a Drug Enforcement Administration interrogation room for more than four days without food or water will receive a $4.1 million settlement, his attorneys announced Tuesday.

Daniel Chong, who was forgotten in the DEA facility after an April 2012 drug raid, described drinking his own urine to stay alive and hallucinating while stuck in the windowless, 5-by-10 foot cell.

The DEA introduced new detention standards including cameras and daily inspections in the wake of the horrific situation but U.S.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the leading Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this week more questions must be answered.

“How did this incident happen? Has there been any disciplinary action against the responsible employees? And has the agency taken major steps to prevent an incident like this from happening again?” he told the Associated Press.

Cabrillo Bridge to remain open (for now)

Mayor Bob Filner initially wanted to shut down the iconic Cabrillo Bridge on weekends and holidays as part of his effort to clear cars from Balboa Park’s central mesa but those plans are now history.

At a Tuesday City Council meeting, staffers announced they’d nixed those plans amid opposition from nearby residents and park institutions. Filner previously said he’d like to close the bridge ahead of planned construction work that will shutter it early next year.

This news is significant because many park visitors use the bridge to enter the park and preservations, museums and institutions have long opposed closing the historic bridge.

San Diego Film Commission shuts down

For 38 years, the San Diego Film Commission helped movie crews get necessary permits and access to key locations for shoots. It’s now history after its three staffers were laid off this week along with other Tourism Authority workers.

The commission had merged with the Tourism Authority last year following a few years of funding shortages.

Despite those struggles, the organization helped attract film crews to San Diego repeatedly over the years. U-T San Diego described the group’s assistance with productions including “Anchorman 2” and the now-canceled TV series “Terriers.”

In 2011, the Film Commission reported drawing more than 7,000 hotel room nights for film crews, according to the U-T.

City’s ambulance provider teeters toward bankruptcy

The private company the city recently agreed to pay for another year of ambulance service could soon file for bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Rural/Metro Corp. is struggling with increases in unpaid ambulance trips and mounting debts.

Officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., learned of the news last month and rushed to check on backup plans in case a new ambulance provider is suddenly necessary, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

It’s unclear whether San Diego leaders are having similar discussions about a month after the City Council rushed to extend its contract with the company after delays that pushed back a planned competition for the city’s ambulance contract.

As we detailed in an investigation last month, delayed responses are already all too common in San Diego. A Voice of San Diego analysis found medical personnel arrived late more than 37,000 times to high-priority emergencies during a 21-month period ending in March.

If the ambulance company falters and the city doesn’t develop a plan, San Diegans could face delays not only in immediate treatment, but potentially in transports to the hospital.

Alex Corey contributed to this post.

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