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Morning Report: Water Department Downplayed Water Meter Issues

Some smart meters are known to be unreliable. / Image courtesy of NBC 7

Amid hundreds of complaints of water bill spikes and problems with new smart water meters, the city of San Diego’s water department has resisted public records requests, dodged its oversight board and misled the public about the extent of the issues, an investigation by VOSD and NBC 7 Responds found.

Less than a month after Vic Bianes began leading the department last fall, he emailed staffers who were preparing a presentation for one of the water department’s oversight bodies. Bianes said it’d be best to be “vague” and not give the department’s watchdogs any specifics about how the department was handling ongoing customer service issues.

“No need to allow them to focus on giving us direction on how to improve,” Bianes wrote.

The months since Bianes’ email show there’s room for improvement. Over 1,000 customers have complained about bill spikes or other billing problems. Yet other officials in the department seem to have followed his lead by being reluctant to talk candidly about internal problems, including customer bills and the department’s $60 million program to install “smart” meters across the city.

Prosecutors Accidentally Brought Juvenile Border-Crossers Into Adult Court

The government is supposed to handle juveniles it suspects crossed the border illegally much differently than adults. When minors are apprehended at the border without a guardian, they are handled by the Department of Health and Human Services.

But, as he government struggles with its “zero tolerance” plan to prosecute everyone who enters the country illegally, prosecutors are making errors they normally wouldn’t – including multiple instances in which juveniles were mistakenly brought to federal criminal court to face charges.

Maya Srikrishnan reported this story as part of our ongoing coverage of the new immigration crackdown.

Earlier this week, she pointed out that courts are struggling to find enough translators – because, contrary to popular perception, a lot of people cross the Mexican border into the United States are not Mexican or even Spanish-speakers. That’s causing a number of problems, including some humanitarian ones: A couple of Punjabi speakers from India were unable to tell employees in the detention facility where they are in custody that they are vegetarian for several days, so they were hardly able to eat.

There’s Something Special About That Viral Lemon Video

This video of a lemon rolling down a street by San Diego podcaster Mike Sakasegawa has racked up over 4 million views in less than two days.

The famous rolling lemon / Photo by Mike Sakasegawa

“I’m a little confused about it, to be honest,” Sakasegawa said. “I wasn’t expecting anything like this to happen with a silly little video of a lemon.”

There is something wonderful and relaxing about the video. People have likened it to the blowing plastic bag in “American Beauty” or the feather blowing in the wind at the end of “Forrest Gump.”

Sakasegawa’s lemon seems to have a life of its own. It rolls for a really long time down a hill, effortlessly pushing its way through piles of gutter gunk (the grade is much steeper than it appears on film, which explains how the lemon rolls so forcefully). Viewers either find themselves transfixed or soothed by the lemon, or sort of rooting for it.

“It’s kind of gratifying but also deeply strange to see other people talking about how they’re inspired by this lemon,” Sakasegawa said.

Sakasegawa, by the way, signed a contract with one of the many “viral video researchers” who reached out to him, and he could make some money off the lemon video if its popularity continues.

What Hillcrest’s LGBT History Tour Reveals

Gargoyles on a rooftop. A hidden sunken garden. Dozens of fossils in the sidewalk, all embedded in medallions from gravestones. Plenty is revealed during the Hillcrest LGBT history walking tours presented by Lambda Archives, which preserves local LGBT history.

Our contributor Randy Dotinga asked tour guide and archive manager Walt Meyer for more detail.

What surprises the people who go on the tour?

It sometimes surprises people how Hillcrest became as gay as it is.

A lot of it had to do with the departure of the Hillcrest Sears store in the 1980s and the relocation of car dealerships and other stores to Mission Valley.

LGBT history walking tour in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego. / Photo courtesy of Lambda Archives of San Diego

There were all these empty storefronts, rent was cheap and the neighborhood was getting pretty rundown by that point. Suddenly there were super cheap rents for the LGBT folks.

There was already a gay presence dating back to World War II, but it really caught on when bars like the Caliph, The Loft, Number 1 Fifth Avenue and Flicks opened in the early 1980s.

Before that, gay bars really didn’t concentrate in Hillcrest. They were located from Oceanside to Imperial Beach. Paul Detwiler, who wrote, directed and produced the documentary “San Diego’s Gay Bar History,” counts 138 gay bars in San Diego County over the years.

What moves people on the tour the most?

The hate crime plaque in front of Cody’s Home + Gift on University Avenue. It’s right near the curb, so unless you’re feeding the parking meter or using that fire hydrant, you wouldn’t see it.

John Wear was a 17-year-old who was walking down the street with friends on Essex Street in 1991. A group of guys stopped them and started saying anti-gay slurs, and then start beating and attacking them. John Wear got stabbed and bled to death from his wounds.

There was no indication that he or his friends were gay. It was a case of wrong place, wrong time, and he paid the ultimate price.

The neighborhood, the community, said, “This will not stand, and we will not forget this.” Every year on the anniversary of his death, local activists place candles and flowers on his plaque.

Why is the plaque on University Avenue and not Essex Street?

Other businesses didn’t want to be associated with the plaque, and some were anti-gay. This was still 1991. But the Obelisk bookstore, which had just opened, was willing.

Discussions about the plaque touch people. They don’t know that this sort of stuff isn’t completely ancient history.

We also talk about the tear gas attack on the Pride Parade in 1999. This wasn’t that long ago.

Of all the groups in the parade, they lobbed tear gas into the Family Matters group, and some kids were in the hospital for days.

We’re not out of the woods yet from the hostility we face in the greater world. This wasn’t something that ended in 1980.

Endless Mission Valley Stadium Saga Update

SoccerCity and SDSU West, the competing proposals to redevelop the former Chargers stadium property in Mission Valley, will go before voters in November, after two judges ruled against City Attorney Mara Elliott’s attempts, approved and funded by the City Council, to throw them off the ballot.

Now, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association is out with its analysis of the proposals, and has determined that SoccerCity would produce a better return for taxpayers.

The analysis determined SoccerCity would bring in $4 million in annual revenue, and SDSU West would bring in $1.9 million each year; over 99 years, SoccerCity would bring in an estimated $396 million and SDSU West would bring in $188.1 million.

A SoccerCity representative told the Union-Tribune that the analysis showed it was a better proposal, while an SDSU West spokesperson said it didn’t fully consider the economic value of expanding SDSU.

In Other News

  • The point of a dry dock is to keep the dock dry so ships can be built or repaired. A San Diego dry dock flooded Wednesday night, defeating the point of the dry dock. The ship, a new Navy sea base, “is safe and in stable condition,” said General Dynamics NASSCO, the owner of the dry dock and builder of the ship. (10News)
  • For migrants who are gay or trans, making the trek to the U.S to seek asylum can be especially harrowing. The New York Times tells the story of the harassment and abuse a transgender woman from El Salvador and other  LGBT migrants faced on their journeys. One trans woman from Honduras said she was harassed and sexually assaulted while in custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego.
  • On the latest San Diego Explained, Voice of San Diego’s Lisa Halverstadt and NBC 7’s Monica Dean detail Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s vacation rental proposal and describe some of the City Council and community reaction to it.
  • A Border Patrol agent who worked mostly in the San Diego region is under investigation, accused of misusing government computer systems after he obtained the confidential travel records of a journalist and tried to use them to pressure her to give up sources. (New York Times)
  • The son of a Chargers legend will stand trial on charges of raping two women. (Union-Tribune)
  • San Diego Pride events started Thursday. Here’s a Pride guide from San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

We Read Social Media So You Don’t Have to

The Morning Report was written by Ry Rivard and Kinsee Morlan, and edited by Sara Libby.

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