Morning Report: Smart Streetlights Are Experiencing Mission Creep - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Smart Streetlights Are Experiencing Mission Creep

Streetlight cameras in downtown San Diego / Photo by Megan Wood

The San Diego Police Department has said it accesses smart streetlight footage only to help solve the most serious, violent crimes. But a closer look at the data shows that investigators have also used the streetlights in cases related to vandalism, illegal dumping and destruction of city property.

Jesse Marx reports that the definition of what constitutes a crime worthy of investigating with the aid of one of San Diego’s thousands of camera-equipped streetlights is growing.

Two outside privacy and security experts said the city’s smart streetlight program from the beginning has experienced “mission creep,” a concept known in military circles for when the focus of a campaign drifts into unexpected terrain. We talked a bit about the history of the project on the podcast.

An SDPD spokesman said investigators decide which cases are worthy of pursuing through the streetlights on an individual basis, with a goal of protecting life and property with potential for serious loss. But what constitutes a “serious” crime is not always clear.

To prevent any abuses and mischief, Brian Hofer, who chairs the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, said San Diego should create clearer guidelines and a forum for people to ask hard and candid questions about the use of technology before it ever reaches a legislative body.

“Reasonable people will say, let’s chase down homicide and sexual assaults and kidnappings, and all those terrible things,” he said. “Where people have different opinions are on the smaller, minor stuff.”

Our media partners at NBC 7 first reported the streetlight data last week. 

Trustee Accused of Harassment Is Back in the Classroom

When Sweetwater Union High School District teachers returned to school for the start of the second semester on Jan. 13, so did Kevin Beiser. Four men accused him last year of sexual harassment and assault. All were political professionals and aspiring candidates. 

Andrew Keatts reports that the district found nothing to keep Beiser from teaching. None of the accusations against him included inappropriate behavior involving students or minors. 

Beiser, who also sits on the San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees, has denied them. 

Politics Roundup

SB 50, a bill that would dramatically increase housing density near transit, was defeated again last week. Afterwards, Sen. Pro Tem Toni Atkins called for a housing production bill in the legislature, but whether she’ll be writing that bill herself is unclear. “The opponents of SB 50 have real concerns, but have offered no substantive alternative with the same kind of scope of SB 50,” she said. “Things have to change.”

In the Politics Report, Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts explain why Michael McConnell is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to kill a hotel-room tax hike, and why the Tourism Authority paid the GOP to support it.  

A federal judge in Sacramento on Friday granted an injunction blocking the state from implementing a law written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez last year that forbids companies from requiring mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sued over the law, arguing it was pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act. The judge agreed. Mandatory arbitration agreements came under fire in the #MeToo era when multiple investigations revealed they’d prevented women from speaking up about the harassment and abuse they’d experienced at work. (The Recorder)

A South Bay Dem Club Shuts Down

The South Bay Democratic Club announced Sunday that it was shutting down operations because certain campaigns for the District 1 Board of Supervisors and Chula Vista City Council had chosen to play “petty factional games.”

Ricardo Ochoa, the club president, told us in December that his group had decided not to make an endorsement in the D1 race, but was forced to reconsider when several candidates and their allies joined the club and padded its membership. Their efforts to get an endorsement vote ultimately failed and, according to Ochoa, they stopped showing up to meetings.

But increasing the size of the South Bay Democratic Club also increased the number of people who needed to be present to officially conduct business. Ochoa told us that his club couldn’t meet anymore.

Last year, Democratic Party leaders passed a series of reforms intended to shed more light on how local clubs operate and restore integrity in the endorsement process after complaints surfaced that a South Bay political consultant had been using the club system to steer resources to his friends and clients.

On Sunday, Ochoa said it was ironic that the same people who tried to stack his club were the ones complaining about corruption in the process. He argued that the reforms themselves had incentivized the behavior that was now forcing his club to shut down.

Democrat Running In East County Unsure About Impeaching Trump

Ammar Campa-Najjar, the Democrat who came close to ousting Rep. Duncan Hunter in 2018, declined to say whether he would have impeached President Donald Trump. All four San Diego House Democrats did. 

Campa-Najjar told U-T columnist Michael Smolens that to take a definitive stand he would need knowledge of the public testimony, access to confidential evidence and the ability to question witnesses. Without that information, he said, he was speaking in hypotheticals

The district is heavily Republican and Trump won there in 2016 by 15 percentage points. In 2018, when Campa-Najjar ran against then-Rep. Duncan Hunter, he similarly broke with Democrats by saying he supported a repeal of the gas tax.

The Union-Tribune also reports that Marisa Calderon, another Democrat in the running for Hunter’s seat, has dropped out. She cited family responsibilities. She was polling at 3 percent in recent weeks.

In Other News

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

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