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Morning Report: National City Officials Aren't Interested in Dialogue With Protesters

Protesters demanding information about the death of Earl McNeil confront Sheriff’s deputies. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Thirty years ago, National City’s police chief intentionally picked up officers who had been dismissed by other agencies for being too aggressive, according to now-Mayor Ron Morrison.

“We had a reputation for being a cowboy police department, but that has not been true for 25 years,” Morrison told Voice’s Jesse Marx. “The police department today is nowhere near that nature.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that the city is showing much contrition following the recent death of Earl McNeil, a mentally ill black man who was hospitalized after an encounter with the city’s police.

Activists and community members have asked for the city to release the names of the officers involved in the incident as well as body-worn camera footage from the morning of May 26, when McNeil came to the station. National City police said McNeil was high and combative and so they put him in a restraining device.

At the county jail, he stopped breathing and later fell into a coma. His family pulled him off life support on June 11.

Typically, city officials at least pay lip service to those demanding accountability and dialogue with the community following controversial deaths involving the police. But as Marx details, National City’s mayor and police chief have spoken about activists demanding information about the circumstances surrounding McNeil’s death with open disdain.

Police Chief Manuel Rodriguez smirked while a spokeswoman for the McNeil family shouted at officials and was arrested. Rodriguez said he can’t help that he smiles a lot.

Both he and the mayor believe the activists are making insincere demands because they don’t live in National City.

“I’m not answerable to them,” Morrison said. “Just because they bark orders, we won’t jump.”

But as the activists have pointed out, McNeil didn’t live in National City, either. Thousands of commuters pass through National City – on Interstate 5, on Interstate 805, on Harbor Drive, on Euclid Avenue – and are subject to the city’s policing even if they don’t live there.

  • Two City Council members who’ve expressed some sympathies for the activists, Mona Rios and Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, are now urging the public to be patient and let the death investigation play out. (A medical examiner’s report is expected in mid-August.) That statement is getting grief from both social justice organizations and fellow Council members, the Union-Tribune reported.

Ballot Watch: Vacation Rental Fight Could Keep Going Through 2020

A coalition of vacation rental operators want voters to overturn the city’s restrictive vacation rental rules in 2020.

Vacation rental platforms Airbnb and HomeAway and advocacy group Share San Diego on Tuesday announced they began collecting signatures over the weekend in hopes of getting a referendum on the ballot.

Airbnb confirmed that its PAC has already sunk $100,000 into the signature-gathering effort, which will continue through August.

City Councilman Scott Sherman, who opposed the new regulations, was apparently among the first to sign. Vacation rental operators provided his signed petition Tuesday.

The city’s vacation rental rules, which only allow for a primary residence to be rented out for up to six months a year, are set to go into effect next July. It’s unclear if the referendum could change that timeline.

It could get held up in other ways, too.

The regulations still need to clear the state Coastal Commission, which has panned restrictive rules in other cities.

The vacation rental coalition says it’s also mulling its legal options.

  • Lisa Halverstadt broke down the two big days coming up for the mayor’s push to get a measure on the November ballot to raise hotel taxes to expand the convention center, pay for homeless services and repave streets. The county registrar has until the end of Wednesday to certify signatures collected to qualify the measure, but the City Council will need to hold an emergency meeting Thursday to put the measure up to beat Friday’s deadline to finalize the ballot. That could put the city in an odd position if measure opponents challenge the validity of the signatures: City attorneys have determined the city can put the measure on the ballot pending the challenge, and even if the challenge prevails there’d be no recourse to remove the measure from the ballot. Nonetheless, a former councilman and current radio host, and a homelessness advocate, have vowed to oppose the measure in the fall.
  • The state’s appellate court will allow both the SoccerCity and SDSU West proposals to go before San Diego voters in November. The city challenged the legality of both initiatives, which ask the public for permission to redevelop the Mission Valley stadium site. (Union-Tribune)
  • San Diegans won’t be voting this November for a civilian oversight commission with the expanded power to conduct its own investigations of police officers, because City Council members failed to authorize the necessary talks with city employee unions first. KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen lays out the timeline of procedural delays.

These Aren’t Your Mom’s Ceramics

No longer a material reserved for the dinner table, ceramics are making a comeback in the San Diego art scene, and some radical stuff is taking shape.

In this week’s Culture Report, Kinsee Morlan talks to Sasha Koozel Reibstein about how she pushes the possibilities of ceramic and porcelain sculpture with the hope of giving our surroundings a more magical look. “I think the world’s really depressing right now,” she said

In Other News

  • San Diego County supervisors on Tuesday voted to sink $25 million into seven affordable housing projects they hope will deliver 500 new units to the region, 10News reports. Officials are sitting on a $2 billion savings account and the $25 million allocation reflected supervisors’ recognition of a growing push for the county to use its bank account to help alleviate today’s problems.
  • The city of San Diego began last year putting homeless people into tents known as “bridge shelters.” It expected 65 percent of them would have transitioned to permanent housing by the end of May. Instead, 12 percent have. (KPBS)
  • A new report from the Center on Policy Initiatives says several San Diego decision-making bodies do not represent the communities they serve, as judged by whether the decision-makers are as diverse as their constituents.
  • Two businessmen who were denied a medical marijuana dispensary permit in La Mesa are suing the city, alleging that officials failed to provide written documentation explaining their decision. (Union-Tribune)
  • One day after an upbeat earnings report, SeaWorld says it’s cutting 125 jobs. (Union-Tribune)

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

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