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Morning Report: The Airport and the Port Are Feuding

A plane touches down at San Diego International Airport. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

The San Diego International Airport has kicked up a storm by joining a lawsuit challenging the legality of a rental car fee recently imposed by the Port of San Diego.

The Port reinstated the $3.50 fee in April to raise at least $5 million annually to pay for a new $40 million parking structure it wants to build on Chula Vista’s waterfront alongside a new convention center, hotel, and shopping and dining complex. The Port was recently sued by two rental car companies who allege the fee is actually an unlawful tax. The airport’s decision to join that lawsuit threatens to derail the entire bayfront project, port and other South Bay leaders say.

The move also appears to have reignited tensions with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who abandoned efforts to consolidate the airport with the Port earlier this year. She tweeted Wednesday the airport’s participation in the litigation was a “slap in the face to my district” and pledged to “look at possible governance changes next year.”

An FAQ on the Big Family Separation Case

San Diego-based federal District Judge Dana Sabraw is overseeing the reunification of more than 2,000 children who were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

There have been hearings and new documents filed a near weekly basis, tracking the progress of reunification and raising new issues. It’s been hard to keep up.

Voice’s Maya Srikrishnan explains what you need to know about the ongoing legal challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

What happens to the children whose parents were deemed “ineligible” for reunification is still an open question in court. That includes more than 700 kids and 400 parents who were already deported.

The ACLU has also asked that Sabraw require the government to wait seven days before deporting reunified families because they need to make a tough decision: whether to be deported with their child, or be deported without their child and let their child keep trying to gain legal status in the United State.

The next updates in the case will be Friday.

City Council Approves Vacation Rental Rules — Again

The City Council on Wednesday voted 6-2 in favor of restrictive vacation-rental rules allowing only San Diego residents to rent to visitors up to six months a year. The hours-long second hearing kicked off with a last-minute warning from City Attorney Mara Elliott that proceeding with the vote could draw legal challenges. Elliott revealed that city officials had failed to update language about a once-planned exemption for Mission Beach in the Wednesday City Council agenda, a mistake that could run afoul of the state’s Brown Act. That exemption had been axed in the previous July 16 vote.

The City Council voted to continue the hearing despite protests from City Councilmen Scott Sherman, David Alvarez and Mark Kersey and ultimately approved the regulations a second time. Sherman and Alvarez voted against the measure.

The city’s vacation rental drama isn’t likely to end this week. Vacation rental operators have said they are exploring their legal options and the city’s new measure will also have to clear the state Coastal Commission, which has been hostile to restrictive vacation rental rules.

Public Safety Committee Has No Questions About Bogus Police Stats

The San Diego City Council’s public safety committee hadn’t planned to resurrect last year’s dispute over marijuana permits, but that’s where audience members tried to take it Wednesday.

Activists called out a police lieutenant who was there to talk about illegal delivery services for his role in previously providing the City Council with misleading stats. Last September, then-police chief Shelley Zimmerman testified that licensed medical marijuana had been responsible for 272 calls for service over two and a half years.

A closer look at those calls revealed that many did not involve a dispensary at all, and that some were for non-criminal offenses, like false security alarms, water leaks and requests to tow cars.

Yet none of the public safety committee members questioned the police lieutenant at the meeting Wednesday about the stats he presented, or about the misleading numbers provided by Zimmerman.

Activists who showed up to the committee meeting had some comments, though.

“The last time the San Diego Police Department spoke about medical cannabis, the testimony made national news,” said Terrie Best, a medical marijuana activist with the group Americans for Safe Access.

Dems Summon Star Power for Local Candidates

Former President Barack Obama endorsed two local Democrats on Wednesday, Mike Levin, who is running for Rep. Darrell Issa’s open seat in the 49th District, and Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is challenging Rep. Duncan Hunter in the 50th District.

Other big names are being deployed, as part of a national strategy to flip conservative House districts in Southern California. Comedian Chelsea Handler and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are headlining a Sunday afternoon fundraising in Los Angeles for Levin and two other Democratic congressional candidates.

Some national observers think Democrats have a good shot at taking Issa’s seat away from Republicans this fall. The district includes parts of Orange County and northern San Diego County, which have long been a dependable source of GOP voters.

At the end of June, Levin had $850,000 in cash on hand compared to his opponent Diane Harkey’s $170,000. However, the potential for large outside spending makes the size of a candidate’s own coffers an unreliable indicator of how much money will actually be spent.

Harkey seized on the Obama endorsement in an email to supporters Wednesday: “I need your help to stop Obama from coming into California and stealing this seat!” she wrote.

Joe Trippi, a political consultant who worked for Jerry Brown and Howard Dean, joined Campa-Najjar’s campaign, a sign that efforts to unseat Hunter will be vigorous. Hunter has been considered safe thanks to solid support for his and his congressman father’s legacy in East County, but a recent poll released by Campa-Najjar suggests the race is closer than most had assumed.

Hunter has other woes. The FBI has been looking into his alleged misuse of  campaign funds. Perhaps not coincidentally, the congressman last week criticized federal investigators for looking into President Donald Trump’s campaign. Hunter said investigators just need to leave Trump alone so “the greatest president of my generation can do the work that the American people duly elected him to do.”

As the Union-Tribune’s Michael Smolens noted in a column on the speech, Hunter did not mention he, too, is under scrutiny by the same law enforcement agency.

Ballot Watch

  • The League of California Cities, a trade and lobbying group for city officials from across the state, filed a friend of the court brief to support San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott’s attempt to strike both the Soccer City and SDSU West proposals from the November ballot. Elliott argues the ballot measures to redevelop Mission Valley unlawfully tie the hands of city officials. A trial court judge rejected that argument, but Elliott appealed. “To the League’s knowledge, no initiative has ever tried to force the sale or lease of public property in the guise of an ordinance,” the league’s deputy general counsel said.
  • California voters will decide in November whether to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, a 1978 law that severely restricted the ways in which cities can implement rent control policies across the state. Our pal Liam Dillon moderated a panel in the Bay Area on the pending fight over Prop. 10 and published his opening presentation, which serves as a helpful explainer on the state of rent control laws right now, and how they’d change if voters approve the ballot measure.

Cars as Homes and More on the Housing Crisis

Governing magazine takes a look at “the new form of affordable housing” – cars. More people have begun to live in their cars because of rising housing prices. In San Diego, we’ve seen this kind of homelessness double but officials recently failed to count some of these people, which gave the impression of a decrease in homelessness. Being forced to abandon land for cars is not new. During the Dust Bowl, another grim time, the folk singer Woody Guthrie sang that he’d “swapped my farm for a Ford machine.”

In Other News

  • Community pools are a happy refuge from the heat – unless they have rats. NBC7 found that over 600 pools in the county failed health inspections. “Though the most common violation was for failing to have safety signs posted, more than 30 pools or spas were cited for not being ‘free from vermin and animals.’ And at least 50 pools failed a serious violation for not meeting ‘healthful, safe and sanitary’ requirements.”
  • USA Today takes a thorough look at the case of Kellen Winslow II, the San Diego native football player accused of kidnapping and raping two homeless women and raping an unconscious, 17-year-old female in 2003 when Winslow was 19. The paper found that even in high school, Winslow was known for his temper: “As a senior in 2001, Winslow was sued for $3 million by a classmate who said Winslow kicked and punched him in the face, resulting in a broken jaw, an eye injury and head injuries. (The matter was settled out of court.)”
  • Coronado hates bike-sharing. Lime, the dockless bike company, paid the city more than $9,000 to get 94 of its bikes out of the city’s impound lot, the Union-Tribune reports. “Had Lime not picked up its bikes, Coronado would have trashed them.”
  • The San Diego office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wants an investigation of claims that a Syrian refugee was bullied at an El Cajon middle school over the past year and a half. “Even after her parents complained to the school, eight students allegedly followed the student home and attacked her, her mother and her father,” CBS8 reports.

Correction

In Wednesday’s story on the City Council’s public safety committee’s lack of questioning of SDPD’s marijuana statistics, we misidentified Councilwoman Barbara Bry as chair of the committee; she is vice chair.

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

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