Morning Report: The Coronavirus Is Ravaging the Convention Center Shelter

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Morning Report: The Coronavirus Is Ravaging the Convention Center Shelter

Rip Rippetoe, CEO of the San Diego Convention Center speaks at a press conference for Operation Shelter to Home. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

An outbreak was inevitable. But between April and December, the homeless shelter at the Convention Center was the site of only two dozen or so COVID-19 cases.

That number skyrocketed this month, with more than 160 residents and staff testing positive, causing dozens to temporarily isolate and fueling more uncertainty for those who remain at the Convention Center.

Lisa Halverstadt reports that the spike in cases has ratcheted up calls to move more homeless San Diegans into hotel rooms, a safer option, according to health experts.

The uncertainty of the moment was compounded over the last week by a transition at City Hall. Mayor Todd Gloria took the reins on Dec. 10 with a promise to find the funding to keep the shelter open into the new year, even though the City Council had yet to sign off.

The operation is already expected to cost around $40 million to operate through Dec. 31. On Wednesday, Gloria confirmed his commitment to keeping the whole thing going despite the large sticker price but still has not detailed specifically how it will be paid for. 

“We are not gonna be in a position where we’re putting hundreds of people back out on the street at the same time we’re telling people to stay home to protect their health,” he said. 

A 61-year-old man who’s been staying at the Convention Center since April said he and others have been feeling uneasy and were unsettled to see staff replaced and beds removed. The city reported that 665 people were staying at the Convention Center shelter on Thursday.

Why San Diego Went Blue

San Diego County has long been known for its right-of-center politicians. Over the last century, voters have consistently thrown their support behind Republican presidential candidates, with a few exceptions (including FDR in the depths of the Great Depression).

But that changed in 2008 and hasn’t swung back.

In a new piece, VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga considers the factors that earned President-elect Joe Biden 60 percent of the vote here. He talked to Earl Warren biographer and longtime Los Angeles Times journalist Jim Newton, who cited the region’s shifting demographics and the rise of the environmental movement, which is more closely aligned with liberals than conservatives.

He also considers the impact on the Republican Party by a successful attempt in the ‘90s to bar undocumented people from essential services, like health care and public education. 

Restaurants Reopen as ICU Space Dwindles

The Southern California region’s intensive care units are now at 0 percent availability, KPBS reports. Overall, the state’s ICU availability is at 3 percent.  

As the region’s hospitals deal with increasing pressure, a judge confirmed his ruling for strip clubs to remain open extends to all restaurants in San Diego County. Questions remain, though, whether restaurants can open indoors and whether capacity limits will still apply to them.

The county has said it would suspend enforcement activities while it seeks clarity on the judge’s decision and in the meantime, some restaurants have started to reopen, NBC7 reports. 

Gloria issued a statement citing the high number of deaths and hospitalizations. He said the city would be working with the county and state to understand the implications of the judge’s ruling. 

“We have a collective obligation to accept the personal responsibility of keeping each other safe,” Gloria said. “I am asking San Diegans to continue to stay home as much as possible, wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, and order to-go to support small businesses.  The health of our local economy hinges on the health of San Diegans.”

Assessing the Damage at Schools

Serious question: Are the kids OK?

The National Education Association released a survey this week suggesting that students aren’t falling behind because of distance learning. The vice president of the San Diego Unified school board expressed a similar sentiment earlier this week, while acknowledging that the internet was a poor substitute for the classroom.

But in the Learning Curve, Will Huntsberry writes that, while teachers are working as hard as they can, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest chronic absenteeism is up, the achievement gap is widening and that at least a fifth of students may be so far behind they should not move on to the next grade level.

Some have suggested an infusion of cash to make class sizes smaller and bringing mental health workers into schools.

“If teachers and public education advocates want to implement the kind of expensive and widescale plan that might equitably restore the damage done by the pandemic, then we need to be real about assessing the damage, instead of trying to have it both ways,” Huntsberry writes.

  • Data released by the county office of education shows an increase in students learning online, rather than in person as the pandemic worsens. Now 75 percent of all students are learning online, up from 68 percent a month ago. (Union-Tribune)

SDG&E Lone Bid to Provide Power to City Residents

The city of San Diego had hoped to create a bidding war between utilities for the right to provide power to its residents. Former Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the previous City Council tried to induce multiple bids for the city’s so-called franchise agreements, where utilities pay the city millions for the right to turn a profit by managing gas and electricity infrastructure.

It didn’t play out that way. The City Council unsealed the bids it received from interested utilities, and it turns out only SDG&E made an offer. And the offer the made was for the bare minimum the city sait it would accept in a new deal, as City News Service reported after a special Council meeting Thursday.

The existing agreement between the city and SDG&E expires Jan. 17. Mayor Todd Gloria and the new Council now need to decide whether to accept the bid, persuade SDG&E to accept a one-year extension of the old deal to start from scratch on a new deal, or explore municipalization, whereby the city itself would take over the responsibility. Mackenzie Elmer took a closer look at that possibility this week, as part of our series on rethinking big issues in the city.

In Other News

  • We’ve got a pair of development op-eds for ya. One argues that San Diego can help reach its housing goals in a responsible, transit-oriented and environmentally friendly way by repurposing golf courses. Another argues that the new Board of Supervisors have an opportunity to stop sprawl and promote a more thoughtful, sustainable approach to planning. 
  • The sole bid received for San Diego’s next utility franchise agreement was a minimum $80 million offer from San Diego Gas & Electric to provide the city’s gas and electric utilities for the next 20 years. (City News Service)
  • The union that represents nurses, mental health counselors and other San Diego County jail employees have lodged a complaint with state officials accusing the Sheriff’s Department of failing to bargain in good faith with the union about a proposal to outsource health care service in county jails. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Tribal casinos in San Diego County have canceled or postponed some events but remain open despite a surge in COVID cases. (inewsource) 
  • The president and CEO of the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank said the number of San Diego County residents who were experiencing food insecurity has doubled since last year from an estimated 450,000 to 1 million. (KPBS)

The Morning Report was written by Maya Srikrishnan, Jesse Marx and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby. 

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