Morning Report: Hotel Workers Want Their Jobs Back - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Hotel Workers Want Their Jobs Back

Michelle Zakopyko lost her job at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina after 40 years of working there. / Photos by Adriana Heldiz

Hotel workers who’ve spent decades at their place of work say they’re barely getting by since the pandemic hit and the layoffs began to roll. But as visitors return and despite their seniority, some are finding that they’re no longer welcome.

One woman told Maya Srikrisknan that she was frustrated that she and others had spent half their lives at a single company only to get laid off, while less experienced workers stayed.

“Can you imagine?” she said in Spanish. “It’s not easy for us to find other jobs anymore.”

The union that represents the hotel employees, Unite Here Local 30, recently filed a grievance against the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, where the woman worked, with the National Labor Relations Board. Only about 20 percent of San Diego’s hotels are unionized.

In the meantime, Local 30 is proposing that workers at least be allowed to reapply for their jobs as the industry gets up and running again. The City Council will consider the measure Tuesday. A similar state measure, which would take effect in 2021, was still on the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom as of Friday.

The owner of the Sheraton didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the head of a hospitality trade group said the proposal would put restrictions on hotels, which are private entities, that no other businesses have.

Lawyers Investigating 101 Ash Double Down on Fake Document Claim

An outside law firm that’s investigating the 101 Ash St. tire fire has doubled down on its claim that a local media outlet recently published a document of theirs containing information the firm didn’t write. 

In a letter this weekend, attorney Brain Pierik of Burke, Williams and Sorensen wrote that he had no knowledge of the information attributed to him. He demanded the journalists “immediately correct the record” and included two depositions attesting under penalty of perjury that the version of the document NBC 7 published was doctored. 

City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, a mayoral candidate, demanded in a letter of her own Monday that officials release “all documents associated with the transaction and subsequent investigations, including drafts, closing documents and communications between the attorneys.” Doing that would likely require a vote of the City Council. 

In 2016, the city agreed to purchase a downtown high-rise, but it now sits vacant, because of asbestos violations, costing taxpayers about $18,000 a day. 

Last week, NBC 7 reported that city officials inflated the value of the building to bring it closer to what they’d already agreed to pay. The part of the document that Pierik disputes strongly suggests that Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who’s running for mayor, knew what was going on. 

Gloria said the story was “fictitious and harmful” and threatened to evaluate “next steps” (i.e. sue). 

This is a lotta information to process, we know. In the Politics Report, Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts break down the ongoing real estate scandal so that readers have a better sense of how we got here. Before city employees can move back into the building, officials are likely to throw millions more at the remodel.

Yet when the City Council signed off on the deal, they were told the building was excellent and workers could simply move in. For months, journalists, lawyers and politicians have been asking what officials knew about the condition of the building, who brokered this deal and why the construction went haywire. 

In an interview with La Prensa, Jan Goldsmith, who was city attorney in 2016, distanced himself from the mess. He said he was not involved in the negotiations of the 101 Ash St. lease because he was out of the office with a head injury at the time. He argued that his successor, Mara Elliott, who’s running for re-election, signed off on the deal. A deputy city attorney signed the deal.

Speaking of real estate … the city purchased an indoor skydiving facility several years ago with the plan of turning it into a “housing navigation center” for the homeless. The Union-Tribune reports that an appraisal has come back showing the building is worth slightly more than the original sales price

Why, you ask, would the city buy property without knowing upfront what it was really worth? 

The U-T said it reviewed records showing that an appraisal “would have added months to the purchase process and Mayor Kevin Faulconer wanted to announce the project in his 2018 State of the City Address.”

Lisa Halverstadt did an easy-to-read examination in 2018 of how the deal came together after pressure from one of the mayor’s political supporters.

At UCSD, Poop Is a COVID Alarm Bell

UC San Diego is testing its sewage to monitor the spread of the coronavirus on campus and potentially catch outbreaks before they occur. 

VOSD contributor and guy-who-thinks-a-lot-about-bodily-fluids Randy Dotinga reports that sewage analysis is sophisticated enough to detect one infected person out of 100,000 who are flushing toilets and taking showers. A virologist told him: “You can survey an entire community, can get an idea of the number of infected people, and see whether trends are going up or down.”

The tests, in other words, could serve as an early warning system that a group of people are sick before they realize they’re sick. 

In fact, they already have: Over the weekend, UCSD officials alerted the campus community that the virus had been detected at one of the school’s colleges.

Vaccine Exemption Doctor Can No Longer Write Vaccine Exemptions

Dr. Tara Zandvliet was once the vaccine-exemption doctor of choice in San Diego. Now she’s agreed to three years of professional probation for a grossly negligent amount of vaccine exemptions, according to the state Medical Board. Will Huntsberry reports that as part of her probation she’ll also be required to take a medical ethics course. 

Zandvliet’s exemptions have often been issued for reasons outside of widely accepted medical science. She issued many exemptions for patients with a history of autoimmune disease — which goes against guidance from the American Academy of Pediatricians and other organizations. 

A hundred years ago, in 2019, Zandvliet’s story came to public attention when Huntsberry revealed that she had written nearly one-third of all vaccine exemptions for students at the San Diego Unified School District. A new state law has since been passed that exposes doctors who write significant numbers of exemptions to increased scrutiny

Major Housing and Police Reforms Flopped

The California Legislature ended its session in a familiar way: Lawmakers scrambled to strike last minute deals and whip votes. There was continued bitterness over AB 5 and another major housing production effort failed

This time around it was Senate President Toni Atkins’ SB 1120, one of the few measures she signed her name to this year. The bill would have allowed single-family home owners to build duplexes on their lot, without requiring special permission. 

Opponents threw a time-tested argument at the bill, arguing that it would destroy the “character” of neighborhoods. But as Union-Tribune columnist Michael Smolens noted: “Atkins suggested the impacts of her measure would be more subtle and wouldn’t significantly change communities while adding needed homes.” 

There’s been disagreement over what happened — Atkins blamed the Assembly for dragging its feet — and a pair of major police reforms also failed to meet the deadline, including SB 731. That bill would have allowed a state commission to decertify police officers who commit “serious misconduct.” 

A statewide reporting project that included VOSD and dozens of other newsrooms last year found that California was only one of five states without uniform regulations for taking a police officer’s badge and gun away. 

Florida and Georgia have some of the toughest rules in the country. Yet the California bill encountered stiff opposition from law enforcement groups and unions in San Diego and beyond, and plenty of criticism from Democrats when it went through the committee process

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated who signed off on the 101 Ash St. lease.

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