Morning Report: Conflicted Business Dealings at Charter School Chain - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Conflicted Business Dealings at Charter School Chain

The inside of Learn4Life Chula Vista / Photo by Megan Wood

State conflict-of-interest laws bar public agencies from cutting deals with companies in which a board member or key employee of the agency have a financial interest.

An investigation by Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry found that a charter school executive was profiting on deals made between the public agency he worked for and a for-profit company, which he partially owned.

John Helgeson was hired in May 2015 to work as an executive vice president of Learn4Life – a statewide network of more than 60 publicly-funded charter schools – but at the time he was hired he also owned a stake in Charter School Capital, a for-profit company that he helped start in 2007. A public servant having an ownership stake in a private company is fine – just not when the public agency is doing business with the private company. 

Charter School Capital loans money to Learn4Life schools and pockets the interest. It also owns Learn4Life’s corporate headquarters and leases the building to Learn4Life. In effect, Helgeson figured out a way to collect not just one, but two paychecks from California’s cash-strapped public school system. 

Legal experts say the deals raise serious legal and ethical questions. 

Morena Boulevard Housing Update Passes, With Changes

The City Council unanimously approved new development restrictions for Morena Boulevard Thursday, making way for more than 9,000 homes near two new stops on the $2.1 billion Mid-Coast Trolley extension.

Developers can now propose projects up to 100-feet tall near the Tecolote Drive station, but the city didn’t make any changes to the area around the Clairemont Drive station.

Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell tried to amend the plan to keep building heights to 45 feet near the Tecolote station, but her colleagues rejected the proposal. She succeeded, though, in making two changes to the city’s plan. Morena Boulevard will remain four lanes, instead of being narrowed to three lanes, forcing the city to scale back planned bike and pedestrian improvements. And developers in the  area will now be forced to reserve 15 percent of their new housing units in their projects for low-income households —rather than the citywide 10 percent requirement.

Builders will not be allowed to pay a fee to get out of that obligation, though they will be able to build low-income units in another location.

Asked and Answered on the Wave of Honduran Migrants

VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan recently took part in a Reddit AMA session about her recent reporting trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where she dug into the reasons why so many Honduran migrants have fled to the United States.

We pulled together the best questions and answers from the session. Among them: Why are so many Hondurans coming all the way to the U.S.? Have Trump administration crackdowns changed Hondurans’ perspectives on the prospect of a better life in the U.S.?

Srikrishnan has also separately tackled the issue of what fleeing Hondurans are considering when they decide to leave their home country and the role of family connections in driving migration.

Housing Commission: Residents of Closing SRO Haven’t Sought Help

This spring, city housing officials scrambled to help dozens of residents who would soon be forced to move out of the downtown Plaza Hotel, the latest historic single-room occupancy hotel set to shut down in anticipation of a redevelopment project. Housing commissioners took an unprecedented step to offer up to $500,000 in relocation assistance for residents who would soon be forced to leave.

Four months later, city housing officials tell the Union-Tribune that only a handful of Plaza Hotel residents have sought housing aid.

The Housing Commission reports 51 former Plaza Hotel tenants, including the nine who received financial help, have received help finding new homes and that an equal number have moved without Housing Commission assistance. Another 22 of the 159 former residents received eviction notices earlier this month.

That’s led the Housing Commission to conclude housing aid might not be necessary when future SROs shutter, which has left some advocates scratching their heads.

News Nibbles

  • San Diego CityBeat has a new owner. Southland Publishing, which started CityBeat after purchasing SLAMM magazine in 2002, has sold CityBeat and several other publications to Times Media Group, which owns and operates papers in Arizona. Here’s a story about the deal from one of the papers the company owns in Scottsdale.
  • In our latest San Diego Explained video, VOSD’s Ry Rivard and NBC 7’s Catherine Garcia lay out three worst-case scenarios that could affect San Diego’s water supply when an earthquake hits.
  • A judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging county government attorneys violated the rights of three children who had filed a separate suit against the county by looking at their juvenile case files without permission. (Union-Tribune)
  • Assemblyman Todd Gloria has so far outraised City Councilwoman Barbara Bry ahead of their dueling 2020 bids for mayor. (Times of San Diego)
  • Search warrants released this week show the Poway synagogue shooter was inspired by earlier attacks at two New Zealand mosques. (Associated Press)
  • A jury ruled late Wednesday that an El Cajon police officer was not negligent when he shot and killed Alfred Olango, who was unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis. (Courthouse News)
  • For nearly 17 years, a man known only as “Sixty-Six Garage” was kept alive in a Coronado nursing facility with breathing and feeding tubes. Joanne Faryon documents his story and the effort to identify him in a story and podcast series. (Los Angeles Times)

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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