Morning Report: What a Year of Policing Reforms Got Us

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Morning Report: What a Year of Policing Reforms Got Us

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit speaks at a press conference announcing the release of a study analyzing SDPD data. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

After a year of debates over policing and criminal justice following the murder of George Floyd, we decided to take stock of what’s changed, and what hasn’t, in California and San Diego.

Demands for police funding cuts, for instance, haven’t materialized here, as San Diego this year increased its police spending for the 11th straight year, despite consecutive years of activists organizing for funding cuts. And police departments are still hiring internally when they need new chiefs, officers are still disproportionately stopping and searching Black people, and many of the most ambitious reform attempts in Sacramento failed, But the district attorney has ended gang injunctions, the state barred the use of choke holds (after cities across the state had already done the same), city voters approved an empowered police oversight committee, as Sara Libby and Jesse Marx lay out in a new story reflecting on the last year.

One expert, though, said the material changes are less significant than the shift among the public, on what sorts of events they’re willing to tolerate.

“The importance of the voice of the people cannot be overstated,” Julia Yoo, a San Diego civil rights lawyer, told us in an email. “In the past year, [the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board] reversed itself after a number of citizens called in to passionately speak on behalf of Elisa Serna, who was left to die in her cell after staff members watched her suffer a seizure and lose consciousness. There is a call for the district attorney to criminally charge those who were responsible. There was a public outcry after Jesse Evans was tackled in La Jolla. It was the actions of the citizens who got involved when they witnessed a violation of a man’s rights that brought this to the forefront.”

San Diego Unified Is Gearing Up for Its Superintendent Search

Community members will have a chance to share what they want in San Diego Unified’s next superintendent in the coming weeks during a series of town halls hosted by the district. 

As Will Huntsberry explains in the latest Learning Curve, those conversations are sure to be heated.

“Many people in the Black community don’t trust district leaders to do right by them,” Huntsberry writes. “And several prominent Black San Diegans – including Francine Maxwell of the local NAACP and former mayoral candidate Tasha Williamson – are frequently outspoken in their criticism of the school board during public forums.”

In 2013, former Superintendent Cindy Marten was hired with no public input during a closed session meeting. But the process looks much different this time around.

The district’s school board has brought on a 46-person committee to help narrow the list of candidates to 10 this fall. The board will then have the final decision.

Audit Pans City Real Estate Dealings

A city audit released late Thursday found that real estate acquisitions on former Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s watch suffered from insufficient due diligence, less than full disclosure to the City Council and a lack of clarity on various responsibilities that led to increased costs and underutilized properties.

The city audit – which covered the 101 Ash St. debacle, the city’s controversial acquisition of a shuttered downtown skydiving facility and three other deals – found that the city failed to follow best practices and to establish who was in charge of various tasks, including vetting properties.

“Overall, we found that a serious lack of policies and oversight caused the city to miss or skip key steps in the acquisition process, and allowed the prior city administration to leave out or misrepresent key information about building acquisitions when presenting them to the City Council and the public,” auditors wrote.

Among the missteps documented in the audit: Auditors found that the city often failed to seek independent appraisals ahead of acquisitions or to conduct asbestos inspections required by city policy.

The release of the report follows moves by the city to void its 101 Ash and Civic Center Plaza leases in the aftermath of the revelation that the city’s purportedly volunteer real estate adviser Jason Hughes was paid $9.4 million for his work on the deals.

Auditors concluded that, per the city’s conflict-of- interest code, Faulconer’s former chief of staff should have documented Hughes’ duties and advised him on whether he needed to file formal city disclosures. Auditors argued that Hughes should have had a formal contract with the city.

Faulconer and the city’s former real estate director did not sit for interviews with city auditors despite requests.

Auditors also alleged that city attorneys failed to consistently point out legal risks to the city, particularly on the 101 Ash lease-to-own deal – a finding that City Attorney Mara Elliott disputed in her response to the audit.

“The audit overlooks that the former city attorney, like the council, had no reasonable basis on which to raise ‘red flags’ at the time of approval of the 101 Ash transaction,” Elliott wrote.

To avoid future missteps, city auditors urged multiple reforms including a new municipal code section allowing enforcement should city officials fail to accurately represent information to the City Council, creating best practice and due diligence checklists for acquisitions and developing a strategic city real estate plan, among other recommendations.

In Other News

  • A new audit found the city overpaid a contractor $1.18 million to rent six portable shower trailers at its Convention Center shelter during the pandemic. (10 News)
  • San Diego County public health officials said COVID-19 cases have increased 82% in the past week with 400 to 500 new cases daily. (NBC 7)
  • Rep. Mike Levin, who represents the 49th District that’s home to the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, has formed a bipartisan caucus to pursue solutions there and for other power plants to dispose of nuclear waste. (Union-Tribune)
  • The state sent $1.5 million to San Diego to build a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge in Mission Trails Regional Park, at a river crossing where Max LeNail, a 21-year-old-man, drowned in January. (City News Service)
  • Mayor Todd Gloria is touting a rash of appointments to city boards and commissions, and the appointees are overwhelmingly people of color. (Union-Tribune)
  • Mikey Williams, the high school basketball phenom who hails from San Diego, announced Thursday that he’s signed a contract with a sports agency to pursue endorsement deals, after the Supreme Court last month ruled the NCAA can’t restrict athletes from doing so. ESPN said he is the first high school basketball player to land such a deal. (NBC 7)
  • The San Diego Black Contractors is urging the San Diego Association of Governments to reject a proposed project labor agreement, a union-backed deal that stipulates wage and benefits for public construction projects and dictates that contractors hire through union halls. (Union-Tribune)

The Morning Report was written by Megan Wood, Andrew Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt and edited by Sara Libby.

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