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Morning Report: What’s Standing in the Defund Movement’s Way

Hundreds of protesters march through University Avenue to demand justice for George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.⁣⁣ / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

As Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets this summer, some cities took steps to make modest cuts to their police budgets. Presented with the same scenario, San Diego increased its budget.

Now, with a newly elected Democratic mayor and a 8-1 Democratic supermajority on the Council, cuts to the police budget are still likely to prove elusive in San Diego, for both practical and political reasons, as Ashly McGlone outlines in a new story highlighting the obstacles for the defund movement in San Diego [1].

Practically, the vast majority of the city’s police spending is on personnel, and the city’s contract with its police union makes it difficult to make substantial changes to that expenditure, even with that contract up for renewal. 

But a bigger problem is that the newly elected mayor has made clear that he doesn’t support the idea. He was elected with police union support, as were two other Democrats on the City Council. The city official most identified with police reform – Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe – lost her bid last week to be the city’s Council president. She retained her seat in charge of the Council’s committee on policing, but she’s joined on the committee by three Council members who voted against her (including the two who won their races with police union support).

Where there might be some change, though, is with practices and procedural changes that wouldn’t necessarily entail big spending reallocations. The head of the police union and Gloria, for instance, have both signaled some support for making social workers, instead of police, the first responders for many homeless-related calls.

This is the final piece in our Rethinking San Diego this week. Earlier entries pondered what it would take to take San Diego’s power system fully public [2], what a locally designed border might look like [3] and the possibility of redoing the 2020 school year [4].

Anti-Vaccine Doctor Accused of Overprescribing Opioids

California’s Medical Board alleges in new charges [5] that Dr. Tara Zandvliet over-prescribed addictive painkillers to at least four patients, did not treat their addictions and did not attempt to taper off their doses, the latest trouble for the self-proclaimed “South Park Doctor” who Voice of Diego in 2019 revealed [6] had written nearly a third of all vaccine exemptions for students in the San Diego Unified School District.

That story led to state lawmakers passing a law cracking down on vaccine exemptions, and Zandvliet being put on probation by the Medical Board for gross negligence.

She is now charged with gross negligence, incompetence, repeated negligent acts and unprofessional conduct. 

In one case, she is said to have prescribed over 10 times the recommended maximum daily dose of opioids to one patient for nearly six years.

Things Are Getting Dire at San Diego’s Hospitals

San Diego ambulance crews waited hours outside of emergency rooms [7] or are being turned away in some instances when there isn’t enough room to accept their patients, the Union-Tribune reported. That’s because hospital beds are almost full in the region as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to course through the county.

San Diego County reported 2,807 new positive cases Wednesday, the second highest daily total, said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher during the county’s daily COVID-19 update. Fletcher said hospitals said they’re delaying procedures like tumor removals for cancer patients and organ transplants [8] to make more beds available for a COVID-19 patient, according to KPBS reporter Tarryn Mento.

“Our hospitals are struggling,” Fletcher said. 

Local hospitals took the unprecedented step to change their ambulance protocols. Usually, ambulances can make patient deliveries wherever is needed. But the county’s director of emergency medical services, Dr. Kristi Koenig, issued a directive this week ordering hospitals to only take deliveries from their designated geographic areas. 

But that’s led to disorder and long waits for emergency crews over the weekend. The new policy allows the county to completely stop ambulance deliveries to hospitals that are already full unless the patients are suffering from “uncontrollable life-threatening problems” like a heart attack or obstructed airway that could be fatal if not cleared in minutes. 

“It’s certainly unprecedented in our county, and I’m not aware of anywhere where it’s used exactly like this,” Koenig said.

One hospital used the change immediately after the policy went into place on Tuesday when 17 ambulances needing advanced life support arrived at a single hospital ER in less than an hour. 

The numbers: The county reported that 1,171 people were in the hospital struggling with COVID-19, more than double the peak numbers from the summertime surge. And 301 of them are in intensive care. 

There’s also a lack of trained staff, from nurses to respiratory therapists, who can help care for patients who need everything from special medication to high-flow supplemental oxygen. County officials called on retired or out-of-work doctors and nurses [9] to come back into practice and provide volunteer healthcare assistance through the San Diego Medical Reserve Corps. 

The Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties asked the county to request additional staff support from the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he’d send additional state-contracted specialists where they’re needed. 

The seven-day average of people dying from COVID-19 has increased from 41 on Nov. 14 to 167 on Dec. 14.

Some brighter news: There’s video of county psychiatric hospital workers receiving the first COVID-19 vaccines on the county’s Facebook page.

But … Restaurants Can Reopen

The county announced that it was suspending enforcement [10] of the state’s stay-at-home order that closed dining at restaurants after a judge ruled in favor of two strip clubs [11] that challenged the order, at least granting them relief before a trial. The judge went further and enjoined the county from both enforcing its cease and desist order against the strip clubs and businesses with restaurant services.

The judge, Joel R. Wohlfeil, also hammered the county’s evidence. The county had argued to him, among other things, that the number of new outbreaks in one week in November had soared to 83, and that’s far above the trigger of 11 the county had set. He wasn’t having it.

The evidence was “vague and marginally relevant, if at all, to the limited issue before the Court; namely, whether Plaintiffs providing live adult entertainment and San Diego County businesses with restaurant service, such as Plaintiffs’ establishments, subject to protocols, present any risk – much less a greater risk than
before Governor Newsom issued his December 3, 2020 Regional Stay at Home Order – to the spread of COVID,” Wohlfeil wrote.

“With record numbers of new infections, deaths, and ICUs at capacity, we want to remind everyone to do your part,” the county wrote in a statement to the public.

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by MacKenzie Elmer and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.