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Morning Report: San Diego Ripe for Transit-Oriented Redesigns

Lori Saldaña says the county's ban on marijuana was knee-jerk, Sen. Toni Atkins wants to change the culture of Sacramento, and more in our daily news roundup.
The Metropolitan Transit System Green Line goes from Santee to downtown San Diego, cutting through Mission Valley. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

I was walking west on El Cajon Boulevard the other night when a man approached asking for advice. He’d just missed the bus and he needed to get downtown. He was wearing an orange safety vest.

He didn’t have a car or a smartphone, so I quickly checked mine and read aloud a couple options in the area, each of which involved him taking at least one bus.

He was appreciative of the effort, but I could hear him grumbling under his breath. He might as well walk all the way downtown, he complained.

For those of us who can afford one, a car remains the easiest way to get around and, yes, despite the traffic, the quickest.

Yet at the center of most of the region’s planning documents is the idea that more desirable transit options won’t come to fruition without denser development. Obviously, in a sprawling city like San Diego, that’s a huge challenge.

“The good news for San Diego is that it still has plenty of low-hanging fruit,” writes transportation expert and VOSD contributor Alon Levy. “Many areas near trolley stations zoned for industrial businesses are ripe for transit-oriented redesigns.”

 In case you missed it, Levy’s highlighting of the most expensive mile of subway track on Earth inspired a major New York Times investiation.

Goodbye Tronc, Hello Lori

Judging by social media, Southern California reporters and editors are feeling cautiously optimistic this week.

In his first public statement since buying the Los Angeles Times and Union-Tribune, billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong said he would respect the independence and local control of those outlets and others. He departed from the tone set by his predecessors at Tronc, and his choice of words did not go unnoticed. He repeatedly referred to the work of the papers as “journalism” rather than “content.”

On this week’s episode of the Voice of San Diego Podcast, Andrew Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt consider what Soon-Shiong’s ownership means for San Diego readers.

They also discuss a piece I wrote earlier in the week about how the county’s ban on marijuana would factor into the district attorney’s and sheriff’s races. Dispensaries are opening faster in unincorporated communities than deputies can shut them down.

On the second half of the show, Lori Saldaña, a Democrat who’s running for San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said the ban was a knee-jerk reaction. Proposition 64 allowed municipalities to collect a portion of marijuana tax revenues for the purposes of enforcement.

“Apparently no one recognized that,” she said, “and calculated that into the cost of this policy.”

The interview casts a wide net, touching on the local labor turmoil over Mickey Kasparian, affordable housing, public health and more.

Changing the Culture in Sacramento

Toni Atkins is about to take the reins of the California Senate at a tumultuous time. The Legislature unanimously approved — and Gov. Jerry Brown immediately signed — whistleblower protections for Capitol employees who report illegal activities. It followed multiple, ongoing, reports of sexual harassment that had been swept under the rug.

Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, has been quiet in recent weeks, but told the Sacramento Bee that new policies governing the ways Legislative employees and politicians interact will only go so far. There has been a zero-tolerance policy on the books. What’s needed, she said, is a change in the culture.

Meanwhile, Atkins continues to introduce pieces of legislation, one of which caught the attention of Marisa Agha in this week’s Sacramento Report. That bill would allow survivors of domestic violence to spend state relocation funds on pet deposits and pet rent.

Also in this week’s roundup of statehouse news, Ry Rivard reports that a multibillion-dollar water tunnel project is again uncertain. It would ship water from Northern to Southern California beneath sensitive habitats and, despite the state Department of Water Resources’ offer to build the tunnels in phases, environmentalists aren’t happy.

#MeToo Movement Looks Inward

On the heels of an Duncan Hunter expose — in which the East County Republican congressman blamed his wife for possibly illegal campaign spending — Politico this week dropped a second big story. It quotes a former legislative employee, and an anonymous lobbyist, both of whom accuse Los Angeles Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of unwanted groping.

Garcia has been a vocal ally of the #MeToo movement, celebrated by Time magazine as a “silence breaker.” She denied the allegation, but announced Friday that she would take unpaid leave.

Her detractors have been gloating online, causing Carol Kim, political director at the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council, to say on Twitter: “Get a grip. We should NEVER celebrate anything that makes it harder for a woman to be believed the next time.”

Too Young to Play Football?

Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher introduced a bill this week that would establish a minimum age for organized tackle football programs, and former San Diego Chargers defensive end Burt Grossman wants in. He offered the Democratic Assemblywoman his help Friday through Twitter.

After getting some blowback for suggesting the government should interfere in children’s sports, Gonzalez Fletcher wrote, “Among the parenting decisions the state regulates: if your child is in a car or booster seat, gets a vaccine, wears a helmet, smokes a cigarette, drinks alcohol, gets a tattoo, goes to school, buys a gun, gambles.”

She added, “I’m ok with adding plays tackle football to the list.”

Huge Payout for San Ysidro School Officials

How is it possible that two San Ysidro School District officials cashed out nearly $178,000 in vacation and leave days after only two years on the job? The numbers crunched by Leonardo Castañeda, a reporter at inewsource, don’t add up.

He notes that Superintendent Julio Fonseca and Deputy Superintendent Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias, both of whom resigned last year, walked away with more pay than their contracts appear to allow. Fonseca’s departure triggered a lawsuit and a state audit.

Board members have accused administrators of deceiving them. Still, the district’s finances continue to be a source of bad news.

Voice’s Ashly McGlone also reported late last year that the district had paid a Long Beach-law firm nearly half a million dollars while trying to recover $291,000 from a previously disgraced superintendent.

In Other News

San Diego County tried dragging Kelly Davis, a freelance journalist and VOSD contributor, into court for her sources and research. That effort was unsuccessful, but she tells the Union-Tribune that it had a chilling effect on her work — at least temporarily. The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists called the county’s actions “unconscionable” and demanded a public pledge to refrain from such tactics in the future.

Remember when President Trump said a judge couldn’t rule fairly because that judge’s family had come from Mexico? Well, Gonzalo Curiel is presiding over a border wall lawsuit. (KPBS)

Politico reports that millennials are having less sex, citing the research of SDSU-based psychologist Jean Twenge, a national source on all things wrong with my generation (it’s fine). She came on the podcast last year to talk about the negative consequences of smartphones.

Those “immigrant crossing” road signs are quietly disappearing. (Union-Tribune)

School officials apologized for a student newspaper cartoon that depicts racial stereotypes. Evidently, the cartoon was attempting to satirize a controversial H&M advertisement. (NBC 7)

Top Stories of the Week

1. Opinion: The County’s Outrageous Targeting of Reporter Who Exposed Jail Deaths

Taxpayer-funded attorneys are needlessly harassing a journalist who did her job and did it well. They need to knock it off. (Randy Dotinga)

2. How Police Stumbled Onto a Human Smuggling Ring — At a House They’d Been Called to 53 Times

Neighbors called the cops 53 times on a home in Chula Vista. But it took pure dumb luck for Border Patrol and the San Diego County Sheriff’s to find out a human smuggling ring was operating there. (Adriana Heldiz)

3. It Looks Like San Diego’s Preparing Its Vast Sports Arena Land for Redevelopment

San Diego owns many acres of land in the Midway District and it appears to be reluctant to extend leases around the Valley View Casino Center, and at the arena itself, beyond 2020. City planners are also finalizing new zoning rules for the area. It’s all heading toward a major redevelopment. (Lynn Walsh)

4. Illegal Pot Shops Are Opening Faster Than San Diego County Can Shut Them Down

San Diego County has banned pot dispensaries in its unincorporated areas, but the Sheriff’s Department can’t enforce the ban because the locations that are shut down just re-open. Spring Valley has become the Wild West for illegal shops. (Kinsee Morlan)

5. Pension Bills Are Soaring and San Diego School Districts Are Bracing for More

State trustees changed how they calculate the amount districts owe. That, combined with local early retirements and raises, means the resulting bills are big. (Ashly McGlone)

For the complete list, check the site.

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