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Morning Report: Purple Haze

Desks at Lafayette Elementary School are adorned with plexiglass to protect students from the spread of coronavirus as San Diego Unified begins phase one of its reopening plan at elementary schools. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The state of California has placed San Diego County into the purple tier, indicating widespread transmission of SARS-Cov-2. It means, essentially, all indoor restaurants, gyms, places of worship and more must either move operations outside or close by Saturday. All of them [1] must close up, that is, except barber shops and hair salons.

School districts that have already opened or begun to open can continue. Del Mar Union School District, for example, assured parents immediately that nothing would change. But school districts that haven’t opened cannot without a waiver and those are only for elementary schools.

County officials requested that police and sheriffs step up efforts to enforce the rules.

One notable holdout: Jim Kidrick, the CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum, said he would not follow the order [2] and close the museum. Kidrick has often served as a de facto spokesman for institutions in Balboa Park.

Also announced: Beginning Thursday, the county will be releasing case rate information by municipality. Right now you can see how many cases are in different ZIP codes but you don’t know the rates of positive tests. It may help illustrate, a bit better, where the spread is occurring.

Charter School Students Least Likely to Be Attending in Person

Many of San Diego County’s 42 school districts have already opened for some in-person learning. And on Tuesday, the San Diego County Office of Education released a nifty dashboard that shows how many students within each school district [3] are back in school. It also includes charter and private school students. 

Here are some interesting stats for you from the dashboard:

Private Schools: 57 percent in-person, 27.1 percent hybrid, 15.9 percent distance learning

Charter Schools: 2.5 percent in-person, 13.8 percent hybrid, 83.7 percent distance learning

Traditional Public Schools: 3.1 percent in-person, 33.7 percent hybrid, 68.1 percent distance learning

Exactly, how you define hybrid education gets complex. In theory, it means students attend some in-person classes while also doing some school work online. The county ed office seems to have been particularly inclusive when tallying that number. San Diego Unified, for instance, is is offering “hybrid” services to roughly 3,000 students, according to the dashboard. But the services are only offered on an appointment basis. Some students might only come to a school once. 

In other districts, students doing hybrid learning come to school more often – generally between 1 – 3 days each week. 

Sweetwater Union High School District appears to be the only district that did not report any figures to the County Office of Education.

San Diego Unified Gets Testing Program in Place That Could Be Key to Reopening

In recent weeks, San Diego Unified officials have started pushing the idea that reopening schools will be contingent on the availability of widespread testing within schools. Now, the district appears to be much closer to making those tests a reality. 

The district plans to spend $5 million to create a partnership with UC San Diego Health to ultimately run tens of thousands of tests per week. The program will initially start on several campuses, but the ultimate goal is to test all students and staff once every two weeks [4], the Union-Tribune reported. 

Some parents have criticized the district for, they say, slow-rolling its reopening. Now that a robust testing program is coming together, it could put more pressure on the district to reopen in the coming weeks.

New Board, Old Sheriff Head for a Showdown

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher / Photos by Jamie Scott Lytle and Adriana Heldiz

Among the issues to watch as a new, Democratic majority takes over the County Board of Supervisors is how it will interact with the Sheriff’s Department.

The county controls the Sheriff’s budget, and criminal justice reform advocates are hopeful the new board could reduce the department’s budget, put social workers in charge of current law enforcement responses and curtail the department’s interaction with federal immigration officials.

But the Sheriff is an elected official, too, and in recent history has cooperated with the Board of Supervisors without public conflict. Though the board sets the department’s budget, its relationship is unlike the city’s relationship with the San Diego Police Department, in which the chief reports directly to the mayor.

Earlier this year, when Supervisor Nathan Fletcher attempted to intervene in the department’s operations over county jails, Sheriff Bill Gore quickly asserted that the board had only a financial role over the department, and could not involve itself in law enforcement operations.

As Maya Srikrishnan covers in a new story [5], we could be headed for more standoffs like that now that Democrats are leading the county. Even the board’s control of the budget might not be as significant as advocates are expecting, according to an expert, and experiences in other counties across the state under similar circumstances.

Council Approves Surveillance Oversight Ordinances

The San Diego City Council unanimously approved two ordinances Tuesday, one to regulate the city’s use, acquisition and funding of surveillance technology, and the other to establish a privacy advisory board to oversee those practices. But advocates from the Trust SD Coalition, who helped write the ordinances with Councilwoman Monica Montgomery, say the city still has more privacy loopholes it needs to close.

The new surveillance ordinance provides a systematic oversight process for the city to develop solutions to privacy questions before they arise, rather than dealing with them after the fact, Lilly Irani, associate professor of communication and science studies at UC San Diego, argued to the City Council. She said the ordinance answered previously open questions about what kinds of data the city can collect, and who will have access to it.

The newly created Privacy Advisory Board — made up of experts, community members, transparency advocates and lawyers — meanwhile, would conduct annual reviews of any existing surveillance technology in San Diego, and set up a path for future analysis for any technologies that are introduced down the road.

Despite the ordinance’s unanimous approval, though, Trust San Diego has two outstanding issues with the versions of the ordinances [6] that came out of the city attorney’s office. One city revision permits the unapproved use of surveillance technology for “exigent circumstances and large-scale events,” which Trust San Diego fears allow SDPD to continue surveilling protests, a practice it employed [7] over the summer when SDPD used “smart streetlight” footage to investigate protestors calling for police reform.

The city attorney’s revisions also include language allowing the city to withhold information about the use of surveillance technology if releasing it would undermine the city’s “legitimate security interests.” Trust SD members argued the ambiguity of the language not only creates loopholes that government departments can exploit, but also feeds the distrust within the community over the use of surveillance technology.

The ordinances now need to undergo review by labor groups; after that, they’re expected to go back in front of the City Council for a second vote in the near future. 

— Kara Grant

Anderson Pulls Into Lead Over Vaus for County Seat

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus’ election night lead over former State Senator Joel Anderson in the race to represent the East County seat on the County Board of Supervisors is gone.

Anderson now leads Vaus by seven votes in the District 2 race, 143,268 to 143,261. 

Vaus had a 111 vote lead as of last night, but Anderson had been steadily gaining ground ever since Election Day, as officials carried out the routine task of tallying every vote cast before Election Day, even if they weren’t all reported that night. (Are we being too subtle? This is a very normal process, it happens every election, and the shenanigans over it in the presidential race right now are a farce to anyone who pays attention to elections.)

In Other News

Correction: The story Monday about women politicians facing harassment [12] has been revised to clarify that the allegations in Councilwoman Cori Schumacher’s restraining order application pertained primarily to one of the three men from whom she sought protection.

The Morning Report was written by Will Huntsberry and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Scott Lewis.