Morning Report: Downtown Jail Outbreak Goes From Bad to Worse - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Downtown Jail Outbreak Goes From Bad to Worse

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A downtown federal jail now has one of the steepest numbers of active cases in any federal prison facility in the nation.

VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan reports that COVID-19 cases have surged in recent weeks at the federal Bureau of Prisons’ Metropolitan Correctional Center.

As of Thursday, there were 129 active coronavirus cases among inmates and 140 people had recovered. There were another dozen active cases among staff members.

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman told VOSD that the downtown prison has been performing targeted coronavirus testing and has tried to limit inmate moves between facilities.

But a federal defense attorney said he has struggled to get information about clients who have tested positive and has heard they are being isolated with minimal care. He is one of a number of federal defense attorneys who have been sounding the alarm about conditions at the downtown prison, arguing that people being detained in the facility were being put at risk.

NBC Retracts 101 Ash St. Story Implicating Gloria

NBC San Diego announced Thursday evening it had retracted its story last week that purportedly showed mayoral candidate Todd Gloria had evaded investigators’ questions about his dealings on 101 Ash St., a real estate debacle that has dogged Mayor Kevin Faulconer and become an issue in the race to replace him.

One of the documents NBC relied on for the story was “a forgery – raising more questions about who created it, and the intentions behind it,” the reporters wrote.

NBC says it received the forged documents from an anonymous source but that a city source mistakenly verified their authenticity, “but since then, acknowledged there was a miscommunication.

If that weren’t enough …

In a new op-ed for VOSD, former 101 Ash St. owner Sandy Shapery argues that a recent estimate that the scandal-plagued building needs $115 million in repairs before it can again welcome city employees is flawed.

Shapery, who owned 101 Ash St. for 24 years, argues that the assessment – which called for tens of millions of dollars in asbestos abatement, renovations, repairs and systems replacements – was “significantly overblown” and dramatically overstates needed fixes. A more thorough analysis would dramatically lower the cost estimate and limit the work needed and the time needed to complete it, Shapery argues.

In an interview with VOSD’s Scott Lewis this week, a top aide to Mayor Kevin Faulconer noted that the estimate now includes a 45 percent contingency and could be reduced as general contracting firm Kitchell digs in further.

“Kitchell is doing their second phase, where they’re really diving into all the systems, Faulconer Chief of Staff Aimee Faucett said during Wednesday’s Voice of San Diego at Home. “The mayor wants to know what is a must have, what is recommended and what’s a nice to have.”

  • Former city attorney Mike Aguirre and his law partner Maria Severson fired off a Thursday letter urging City Council to “postpone any blanket release” of records tied to the 101 Ash fiasco to avoid hampering their legal effort to get the city out of the mess. The letter follows multiple recent leaks, including an outside investigation given to NBC 7 San Diego that City Attorney Mara Elliott and the law firm that produced it have said was doctored.
  • Before Faulconer directed the city to stop making 101 Ash St. rent payments last week, an attorney for the city’s landlord argued breaching or challenging the lease could hurt the city’s credit rating and hamper its access to public debt markets. On Wednesday, credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service issued a statement saying the halted rent payments have “limited implications for the city’s credit quality and publicly issued debt” though it dubbed the 101 Ash debacle a “governance breakdown.”

San Diego Unified Desperately Wants to Hold Onto Students

San Diego Unified School District and school districts across the country are panicking about the prospect of students and parents opting out during and after the pandemic.

And as Will Huntsberry writes in this week’s Learning Curve, there’s a simple reason for that.

San Diego Unified gets about $10,000 per student enrolled in the district and it could have a huge budget problem if a significant number of parents decide to bail on the district.

Huntsberry explained what the district is doing to try to discourage parents from making that decision and how the district has updated its attendance policy for the COVID era in his latest education column.

Lawmaking Is Done But the Drama Is Not

The state Legislature is done for the year but the drama is still going.

The public and lawmakers themselves have expressed disappointment in the fact that the legislative session ended without major action on housing and police reform, and the finger-pointing is intensifying one week after the session ended. 

Assembly Speaker Anthnoy Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins took swipes at each other in George Skelton’s Los Angeles Times column Thursday. Atkins reiterated her charge that Rendon intentionally ran out the clock on her bill to allow duplexes on single-family lots. Rendon denied doing so. Another senator backed up the idea that Atkins didn’t ask other lawmakers to make her bill a priority.

Meanwhile, another prominent San Diego lawmaker also got caught up in the drama surrounding Rendon’s handling of the end of the session.

Rendon caught intense criticism after it was revealed that Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks was forced to bring her infant daughter into the Capitol with her to vote after Rendon denied her request to vote by proxy.

In a Sacramento Bee column, Gil Duran writes that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Rendon ally, “apparently worked behind the scenes to undermine a key part of Wicks’ story” despite praising Wicks publicly.

Gonzalez told the Bee she’s apologized to Wicks, but still seemed to reject the idea that Rendon was at fault or that Wicks was “forced” to vote in person. 

“I commend her for being a legislator so committed to ideals that she felt like she had to, but that’s different than the speaker forcing her to, wouldn’t you say?” she said.

County Law Enforcement – Sans SDPD – Nearly Clears Rape Kit Backlog

The district attorney’s office announced that it has sent all of the 2,030 previously untested rape kits in the county to a third-party lab for testing, and results have already come back for 90 percent of them, according to the Union-Tribune.

Of those kits already tested, about 36 percent found a DNA profile for someone other than the victim, the DA’s office said. Those results will now be uploaded to an FBI database to be cross-referenced from results from other crimes to potentially identify perpetrators. 

Not included in that batch of kits sent away for testing are any of the untested kits possessed by the San Diego Police Department. SDPD declined to join District Attorney Summer Stephan’s move to test all of the county’s untested kits, and Voice of San Diego later revealed that the department’s leadership directed crime lab analysts to test certain kits in the untested backlog less rigorously to “check a box” after they were required to begin testing the kits by local, state and federal officials. The city changed its policy, after coming under criticism from District Attorney Summer Stephan, and the crime lab manager left the department.

SDPD has the most untested rape kits in the state, by far, according to a state audit released earlier this year. SDPD now says those kits have all been sent to a third-party lab for testing, but it doesn’t expect them to all be tested for two years.

Stories From Outside VOSD

Correction

A Sept. 1 story on the Water Authority’s plan to build a pipeline to deliver Colorado River water to San Diego misstated how many homes could be powered with the amount of power the pipeline would require. It could power 124,000 homes.

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

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