Politics Report: Anatomy of an Outrage

Politics

Politics Report: Anatomy of an Outrage

How teachers volunteering to work with migrant kids staying in San Diego became a national outrage. Plus, that Chargers news, explained.

Jim Desmond
Jim Desmond / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

It all started with an announcement Monday from the San Diego County Office of Education. The agency was seeking teachers who could support an educational program being developed for the girls ages 13-17, who recently crossed the border and are awaiting processing to determine whether and with whom they can stay in the country.

The girls are likely to stay here up to a month each and the shelter will operate out of the Convention Center until July.

The line that probably sparked the fire was this one:

“The in-person educational program may not have traditional hours, so there may be opportunities for the county’s educator workforce to teach at the convention center after regular work hours,” read the announcement from, again, the County Office of Education.

County Supervisor Jim Desmond jumped on that “in person” reference.

“The San Diego County Board of Education will be sending teachers for in-person learning for the migrant children at the convention center. It’s great there’s in-person learning for them, I wish every child in San Diego County was allowed the same opportunity,” he tweeted.

Some facts: Nothing is running yet. The federal government is focused on getting the kids “a bed and fed,” said a Bonnie Preston, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s not a school. The girls can’t leave and the program will offer English language learning and social emotional support.

It will be operated by the San Diego County Office of Education. The County Office of Education provides services for the dozens of school districts within San Diego County. It provides shared resources, like insurance and legal support and it acts as a financial overseer of the districts. It also does manage some schools and educational opportunities, particularly for kids with behavioral problems or who do not have shelter or other special needs.

It’s the right group for the job.

One important fact about the County Office of Education: It is not the same agency as the San Diego Unified School District. They are very different entities.

But the story shifted: Many of the school districts in San Diego County have been open for in-person learning in some form. San Diego Unified, the largest district, has not been open for much in-person learning at all. It is the biggest district.

As he stoked the outrage, Desmond started referring to San Diego Unified School District instead of the County Office of Education. San Diego Unified not offering in-person education was a better foil.

“We have 130,000 kids who haven’t been allowed in a classroom for over a year in the San Diego Unified School District. It’s great that there’s in-person learning for those unaccompanied minors from Central America, but I wish every child in San Diego County was allowed the same opportunity for in-person teaching,” Desmond told the Washington Examiner.

He knows San Diego Unified isn’t providing in-person learning to unaccompanied minors. But that’s what took fire.

Real Fox News Anchor: “Outrage in San Diego tonight as parents learn teachers from San Diego Unified School District are teaching migrant children in person while American students in San Diego are still remote learning right now.”

From there it just went nuts. New York Post: “Outrage as migrant kids get in-person schooling before locals in San Diego.”

San Diego Unified teachers are not teaching in person right now. When the education program does start at the Convention Center, it’s certainly possible it will include some San Diego Unified teachers but we don’t have that information yet. Preston was still working on finding out how many teachers would be involved as of Friday.

To put it even more directly: There’s no indication anyone providing services to the federal government and these girls or anyone authorizing those services is active in any way in keeping schools closed in San Diego. The County Office of Education supports school districts that have been open and those that have been closed to in-person learning alike. And San Diego teachers voted with a 92 percent majority to go back to in-person schools two to our days a week, depending on space a school had.

It’s not the ideal full-time many of us are longing for and school communities need to be re-launched as soon as possible. But it’s not at all comparable to the limited experience girls held in captivity at the Convention Center are going to get for a month before they are sent somewhere else to live.

None of this concocted hysteria could have been possible if not for the confusion about the difference between the County Office of Education and San Diego Unified. These are two completely different organizations. The scandal can’t have that, though, because it is built on the idea that one agency is denying services to U.S. kids that it is providing to girls who just crossed the border.

That is not happening. There is no agency doing this. But that didn’t stop a lot of people from saying it is and stoking completely unnecessary resentment.

If you’re interested in facts: Andy interviewed Tom Wong, the director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego for a special podcast episode. Wong and Keatts break down exactly what is happening at the border and whether it’s actually that unusual.

Campbell Recall Defense Underway

Council President Jen Campbell has started building her campaign to fend off a recall effort that could go before voters this fall.

The recall campaign still has two months before it needs to fork over enough signatures to put the question before voters, but in the meantime, Campbell has started fighting back.

In a robocall to would-be supporters, Campbell said she’d be sending recipients a website where they could donate to fight the recall.

“Seems to be the latest fad, Nathan Fletcher, Gavin Newsom: if you’re an elected Dem, it’s the only way they can get you out, is a special election,” Campbell said in the call. “So, hopefully we’ll be able to fight them off and remain with the City Council, making good progress for our city.”

You can see the strategy: Campbell’s brief call indicates a couple messages we can expect to hear. One is to put her in company with other high-profile figures, one of whom (Newsom) she could end up sharing a special election ballot with. There’s no formal effort to recall Fletcher underway, but we can charitably say he’s been a subject of criticism in recent months and his opponents have at least discussed a recall.

The other related point is to galvanize Democrats by painting the recall effort as a Republican attempt to win seats they can’t win during a normal election cycle, which has been the central defense of the Newsom campaign as well. Get used to hearing it: Campbell and Newsom, two Democratic lions under fire from the same external conservative threat.

But, where are the Campbell opponents? The Campbell recall initiative has been going on long enough that it’s now officially curious that no one has emerged in the simultaneous race to replace her, if the recall is successful. Former Mayor Kevin Faulconer and local businessman John Cox entered the statewide recall field early, and plenty of other names have circulated as possible future contenders. Where are the people who want to represent District 2, if the effort to recall Dr. Jen succeeds?

Council Dynamics Taking Shape

In the new City Council’s first act as a legislative body, it picked its new Council president – Campbell – in a heated affair that ended in a stark 5-4 split.

Council watchers eagerly identified the two voting groups as potentially lasting coalitions on the body, which with an 8-1 Democratic advantage can no longer be analyzed on a partisan basis. Those analysts – including KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen – made note a few weeks later, when the city’s appointment to the Convention Center Corp. split on the same 5-4 basis.

It was only two data points – one shy of the popular journalistic threshold for a trend story – but the idea was out there. There was a four-vote progressive wing of Council members Monica Montgomery Steppe, Vivian Moreno, Sean Elo-Rivera and Joe LaCava, and a centrist majority composed of Campbell, Marni Von Wilpert, Raul Campillo, Stephen Whitburn, along with Republican Chris Cate.

Well, maybe. It was too early then to say that was true, and it’s too early now to say it isn’t.

But on one other big issue before the Council right now – one that could put the Council cross with Democratic Mayor Todd Gloria on a major issue early in his term – it doesn’t appear to be breaking down like that.

As our MacKenzie Elmer reported this week, four Council members signed memos officially opposing Gloria’s attempt to ink a 20-year deal with San Diego Gas & Electric to provide energy and gas to city residents. Those four – Montgomery Steppe, Von Wilpert, Elo-Rivera and LaCava – are instead pushing for a five-year deal. A shorter agreement is seen as a way for the city to gain leverage over the utility, by creating more decision points where SDG&E would be forced to make concessions to the city’s long-term climate goals.

That could change. It’s a big deal, and both the mayor and SDG&E are likely to work hard to flip one of those votes (the so-called franchise fee agreement requires six votes for approval, giving the four-vote minority significant power here).

It’s not the only vote where this might play out: Tuesday, the City Council is set to decide whether to continue pursuing its white whale: the expansion of the Convention Center.

This time around, that means deciding to settle on a legal interpretation that voters actually approved Measure C – last year’s proposition to increase hotel taxes to build a bigger meeting space and create a new revenue source for homeless services and infrastructure – even though two thirds of them did not vote for it.

There have been a series of favorable court rulings to that argument, and the city seems poised to go with it. Gloria and company want the Council to affirm that the measure did pass, since it got over 50 percent of the vote (it was very close to 66 percent, actually), based on the recent rulings that say that’s all that’s needed for a citizen initiative.

But seeing how the votes on the Council shake out could be another indication of how – or if – any lasting coalitions are forming on the body. Alliance San Diego, for instance, is vehemently opposed to the move, after feeling the same way about the decision to put it on last year’s March ballot in the first place, a decision it viewed as a breach of trust from then-Council President Georgette Gómez, damaging her progressive bona fides.

There are five new Council members since that decision. We’ll be watching how the votes shake out, even if the Council pushes on with Measure C, as it’s expected to.

That Chargers Thing

Mission Valley stadium
The last remaining section of San Diego’s Mission Valley stadium was torn down on March 22, 2021. / Photo by Megan Wood

Did you guys see this letter Dean Spanos sent his siblings? It was released after his sister, Dea Spanos Berberian, asked a court to force him to sell the Chargers. The longtime Chargers president shares ownership of the team with his siblings. If you are really in to this stuff, you should read the whole filing. But the most interesting part is the letter Dean Spanos sent promising to hire an investment bank to market the sale of the team in 2024.

“I agree, in my capacity as Manager and on behalf of the Company, to retain an investment banking firm reasonably acceptable to Dea, Michael and Alexis to market the sale of the Company, and I will cooperate in such marketing effort in order to maximize value for the benefit of all Members,” the letter reads.

It, importantly, does not obligate him to actually sell the team and he and his other siblings said they won’t do that.

“If Dea no longer wishes to be part of this family legacy, the three of us stand ready to purchase her share of the franchise, as our agreements give us the right to do,” Spanos and his other brother and sister wrote in an official statement.

Dean Spanos’ longtime special counsel, Mark Fabiani (Yes! Fabiani! Always and forever!) drove home the point. The letter promising to market the team was written in 2019 before huge new labor and media deals that will make NFL owners like the Spanoses a ton of money.

“Now, back in 2019, all of this was theoretical, since the team was still in the soccer stadium, and the new tv deals and CBA hadn’t been finished. So Dean said, to keep the family peace, wait until we are in the new stadium for five years. At that point I will commit to hire an Investment Banker to value your shares, Dea, and if you decide to sell I will not object. There is nothing in the letter that requires any sale of any kind whatsoever,” Fabiani wrote in an email.

Sam Farmer, a Los Angeles Times columnist, gave fans in San Diego some hope when he speculated it all could eventually lead to the team moving back to San Diego.

That’s how well things in L.A. continue to go for the team. The big time NFL columnist in the city isn’t alarmed by the possibility the team may leave. He just notes it as a throwaway line.

Spoiler alert: The team is not moving. C’mon. Remember how good their deal is?

Maybe Soccer Will?

ESPN had another little tidbit for San Diego sports fans in a story about Sacramento’s struggle to land a Major League Soccer expansion team: The league could come to San Diego after all.

“San Diego’s expansion hopes were thought to be dead in 2018 after a stadium referendum backed by FS Investors was defeated in favor of a competing project supported by San Diego State University. As it stands, the lack of a potential owner would appear to be a major impediment to reviving any kind of expansion bid. But a source with knowledge of the situation said initial discussions have taken place between MLS and SDSU regarding the framework of a deal that would see an MLS expansion team play in 35,000-seat Aztec Stadium, which is projected to open in September 2022.”

We will always have this kind of story to remember who we are. San Diego, always dreaming about good sports.

If you have a dream about sports in San Diego or about not caring about sports or maybe it’s just a dream about the Padres and how wonderful they are or maybe it’s just a thought about something else we should consider for the Politics Report, send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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