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Morning Report: Legal Bills Grow at San Diego Unified

A meeting of the San Diego Unified school board / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

In 2012, San Diego Unified expanded its legal department in order to save money on legal fees charged by outside law firms. That worked out, for a couple of years. But since 2015, Ashly McGlone reports legal bills to the district have skyrocketed, and have been reaching higher and higher.

“Legal bills rose from less than $1.5 million Superintendent Cindy Marten’s first year on the job, to nearly $2.8 million last fiscal year,” McGlone reports. To put it in context, the costs of outside law firms could support the salaries of roughly 28 additional teachers, she writes.

Those most recent figures include a sharp increase in costs for using the firm Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton, which has provided more than just outside services to the district. “Several district employees were hired away from the firm, including San Diego Unified’s deputy general counsel and chief labor relations counsel, Kari Dawn Searles Sullivan,” McGlone writes.

Vacant Home Story Provoked Hot Takes

Vacation rentals – and stories that touch on them – continue to be one of San Diego’s most reliable Rorschach tests.

Lisa Halverstadt published a story Wednesday about a new SANDAG estimate suggesting about 57,000 homes countywide are serving as vacation or second homes and thus unavailable to long-term renters, further compounding San Diego’s housing crunch.

That story drew vastly different reactions. Andy Kopp called for local leaders to incentivize making those homes available to renters. Other commenters noted cities including Paris, Vancouver and London levy taxes on owners of often-empty second homes.

PR pro Jeremy Ogul argued the new data proved vacation rentals “have little, if anything, to do with San Diego’s housing crisis.”

And national anti-vacation rental group Share Better criticized Airbnb and other online rental platforms for robbing San Diegans of 5 percent of the county’s housing.

That last claim is false, though. “SANDAG sought to estimate how many homes are unavailable to San Diegans,” Halverstadt writes. “Its goal was to report how many homes the region needs to produce to keep up with demand – not to tally the number of vacation rentals. And not all of those unavailable homes are rentals posted on sites like Airbnb. Many are second homes sitting empty while owners spend time elsewhere.”

Speaking of vacation rentals, the wait for regulations continues. Last month, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s team told us they were hoping to get City Council members on board for an April City Council vote after years of legislative failure. “A Faulconer spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that work on proposed regulations continues,” Halverstadt writes. “No date has been set for a vote.”

Cate Wants Crack Down on Cannabis Advertising

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate issued a pot-related press release at 4:20 p.m. but it’s doubtful the anyone in the black market found it funny.

Judging by online platforms and data released recently by the state, San Diego is awash in illegal dispensaries and delivery services. Cate previously called on the city attorney’s office to step up enforcement. Now he’s proposing regulations to weed out bad actors and “ensure the safe and legal access of marijuana.”

That means rules pushing any marijuana billboard advertisements 1,000 feet away from schools, parks, libraries, churches and the like, and 100 feet from homes. First-time offenders – for both licensed and unlicensed outlets — will be prosecuted as infractions and possibly as misdemeanors after that.

Cate is also proposing that the city prohibit illegal dispensaries and delivery services “from advertising on internet advertisement platforms, billboards, newspapers, circulations, magazines, or other publications” within San Diego.

Cate said his regulations would be “fair and reasonable” and provide local law enforcement with additional tools to police the marketplace.

— Jesse Marx

Escondido Sides With Trump

After three hours of a meeting that involved all the personal insults and verbal outbursts that have come to characterize the immigration debate, Escondido’s city council voted on Wednesday to file a legal brief in support of President Trump’s lawsuit against California’s so-called sanctuary laws. Only Councilwoman Olga Diaz, voted against the proposal, saying it was an inappropriate use of the city council’s time and would be “of no legal consequence,” the LA Times reports.

Buzzfeed points out how Escondido is simultaneously mostly Latino in its demographics and yet rigorously opposed to undocumented immigrants in its politics. “The city’s approach is so harsh that immigrants in Escondido call their home ‘Little Arizona,’ in reference to the state’s history of passing laws against the undocumented,” Buzzfeed writes.

We’re still waiting to see if the County Board of Supervisors will also vote to file a brief in support of the same lawsuit, a move that is widely expected.

(Disclosure: Diaz serves on Voice of San Diego’s Board of Directors.)

Wouldn’t Want To Look Bad

Dave Myers, a candidate running for Sheriff, has found himself sidelined at his job in the Sheriff’s Department as he wages a campaign to unseat his boss, Sheriff Bill Gore, the Union-Tribune reports. “Once a commander with 400 people reporting to him, he now has no subordinates,” and he has been reassigned from handling court security to less important tasks, the U-T writes.

“I wish Dave would take a leave of absence and go work somewhere else,” Sheriff Bill Gore told the U-T. Gore admitted that firing Myers had crossed his mind, but he decided it would look bad. “How would that look? Oh, the sheriff has fired the guy he’s running against. What’s he got to hide, why is he afraid of this guy?” Gore explained.

Lightning Round

• A proposed deal before regulators to shave $775 million from the taxpayers’ bill for the shutdown of San Onofre is threatened by disagreements over how much to pay the lawyers. (Union-Tribune)

• Attendance at SeaWorld San Diego plunged 14 percent last year (Union-Tribune)

• Mayor Faulconer has once again changed his mind on the best way to protect cyclists from cars. He’s now reverting back to his original plan for protected bike lanes, but with long delays. (Union-Tribune)

• The Barrio Logan Community Planning Group didn’t like the way their election day went in March, so they’re throwing out the results and will try again in April. (KPBS)

• Understaffing at the Chula Vista Police Department means their one DUI enforcement officer patrols 52 square miles alone. (Union-Tribune)

• Tijuana is seeking to install its very own Hollywood-esque sign on the slopes of Colorado hill in the southeastern part of the city. (Mexico News Daily)

• The Menendez Brothers, famous from trials in the 90s where they were convicted of killing their parents in 1989, have been reunited at San Diego’s Donovan State Prison. (Patch)

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can email him at voice@s3th.com or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

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