San Diego Unified, Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement on New 3-Year Contract. Here’s What’s In It

The proposed contract would give teachers raises of more than 15 percent over two years and boost schools’ nurse and counselor staffing. A ratification vote by union membership will begin Thursday.

San Diego Unified School District and its teachers union have reached a tentative three-year contract agreement that would give teachers raises of more than 15 percent over two years and boost schools’ nurse and counselor staffing, the union announced late Friday, after months of negotiations.

Teachers would get 10 percent raises retroactive to July 1, 2022, with the retroactive wages paid in a lump sum later this year. A 5 percent raise would follow next year, and the 2024-2025 school year would bring a wage reopener, when possible new raises would be bargained.

The proposed contract would also double paid maternity leave to six weeks, allow more teachers to be paid for their work with schools’ after-school activities and have a specialized team again perform private-school assessments for students with disabilities — assessments that schools’ special-education teachers had been performing themselves in recent years, said Kyle Weinberg, the union president.

“We were able to have a very ambitious platform and achieve almost everything in that platform,” Weinberg said.

The contract would also require full-time nurses in every high school and full-time counselors at every elementary school with more than 500 students enrolled.

Nurse and counselor staffing had been a key bargaining goal of the union. Weinberg called the boost important to address the impact of trauma from the pandemic and students’ growing mental health needs.

Currently, dozens of San Diego Unified schools are still making do with a counselor or nurse on campus a few days a week, a recent San Diego Union-Tribune analysis of staffing data found.

Click here to read the full article in SD Union Tribune

County Prepares for Quiet Transition as Nathan Fletcher Leaves Office Monday

San Diego County staff are preparing for a quiet transition when Nathan Fletcher resigns Monday, after the turbulent period since he first took medical leave seven weeks ago amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Fletcher ended his campaign for state Senate in late March and announced he would seek treatment for post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse. Days later, he announced he was stepping down from the board of Metropolitan Transit System and then from the Board of Supervisors, after a former MTS employee sued him and the transit agency for alleged sexual harassment and assault.

Fletcher’s sudden downfall from what had seemed an ascendant career created chaos as the four other county supervisors debated how to conduct business and how to fill his seat. Earlier this month, they voted to hold a special election in August, with a runoff to follow in November if no candidate wins a majority.

Despite the uncertainty over the district’s representation, officials expect the transition Monday to be uneventful.

Fletcher’s resignation will take effect at 5 p.m. Monday, and no additional steps are needed to finalize it, county spokesperson Mike Workman said. Although county counsel told board members Fletcher could in theory revoke his notice of resignation and reclaim his seat before then, staff have no indication that he will and don’t expect him to appear in person Monday.

His office has provided constituent services during his absence, and once his resignation is final, District 4 staff will continue that work, reporting directly to the county’s Chief Administrative Office.

The county has spent $1.9 million on security for Fletcher since an apparent arson incident at his home early last year, but his security coverage ended March 26 when he announced his medical leave. His pay and benefits as a supervisor continue through Monday, amounting to $39,168 since he went on leave.

Following the sexual misconduct accusations against Fletcher at MTS, Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said any complaints at the county would be investigated.

Helen Robbins-Meyer, the county’s chief administrative officer, sent an email to all staff last month detailing the county’s policy on sexual harassment and urging them to report any complaints.

“Most of you are aware of recent events that have put the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace back in the spotlight,” she wrote. “I want all employees to hear from me directly, in no uncertain terms: We have no tolerance for sexual harassment here. Zero.”

Robbins-Meyer directed managers to reinforce the message “until it reaches every single employee.” She noted that people who have been targets of abuse are often hesitant to speak up and asked anyone who has experienced or witnessed harassment to report it to a supervisor, manager, department head or human resources or by calling the county ethics hotline at (866) 549-0004.

MTS, which is also a defendant in the sexual misconduct suit against Fletcher, has commissioned an outside law firm to investigate the complaint against him.

But the county was not named as a defendant in that lawsuit and has not conducted any investigations related to Fletcher, Workman said last week.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

Former MTS Employee Allegedly Assaulted by Nathan Fletcher Speaks Out

The former Metropolitan Transit System employee who accused Supervisor Nathan Fletcher of sexual assault has spoken out for the first time since her allegations were made public in a lawsuit filing late last month.

Grecia Figueroa, who worked as a public relations specialist for the transportation agency until earlier this year, expressed frustration for how she has been treated since coming forward with her allegations in a blog post published on Saturday.

“It’s no wonder people feel they’ll be judged when speaking up about sexual harassment, if seeking vindication of one’s own rights leads them to be called a liar, a mistress, a gold digger, and far worse names,” Figueroa wrote.

She did not directly address Fletcher or the lawsuit in the post.Timeline: Unfolding of the Nathan Fletcher scandal

In her statement, she instead lamented about how the hostility directed to her exemplifies the kinds of responses that often keep people quiet about sexual harassment.

Formal action is infrequently taken after individuals experience harassment: according to estimates from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, roughly three out of four people do not report harassing conduct to superiors.

“It’s no wonder women feel threatened to come forward,” Figueroa said of these statistics. “Because even other women will label the situation a ‘salacious scandal’ before a single piece of evidence has hit the courtroom.”

“Choosing to come forward is not an easy feat, and it should be respected,” she continued.

The full statement from Figueroa can be found here.

Figueroa’s lawsuit was first made public on Mar. 29, several days after Fletcher had announced that he would be suspending his State Senate campaign to enter in-patient treatment for alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress.

The nearly 30-page complaint detailed at least two alleged instances of sexual assault by the Supervisor in his role as chairman of the MTS Board of Directors. MTS was also named as a defendant in the case.

Less than one day after the complaint was made public, FOX 5 learned of similar claims from a 27-year-old woman, who said that Fletcher harassed her in 2015 while she was an intern at his non-profit for veterans.

Fletcher’s representatives have denied the allegations of sexual misconduct from both the women.San Diego councilmember seeks Fletcher’s District Four seat

Fletcher did, however, admit to engaging in encounters with Figueroa in a statement released on Mar. 29 that announced her lawsuit filing, arguing that the interactions were consensual.

Click here to read the full article in FoxNews5

Two Escondido Teachers Sue School District, State Leaders Over Gender Identity Privacy Policy

State-level and district guidance advise schools not to disclose to parents if students are transgender without the student’s consent, citing safety concerns. A lawsuit by two Rincon Middle school teachers argues parents deserve to know.

Two Escondido middle school teachers have sued their own school district and the California Board of Education over policies designed to ensure transgender students’ right to privacy.

Rincon Middle School teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West believe they should be able to tell parents about their child’s transgender identity, according to the lawsuit.

Escondido Union School District policy and California education guidelines state that transgender students’ gender identities must be kept private, including from parents, unless the students give consent. State officials say that’s in order to protect students from potential abuse.

Mirabelli, who is Catholic, and West, who is Christian, argue that this forces them to go against their religious beliefs, violating their First Amendment religious and free speech rights.

“The policy also forces Elizabeth and others like her to violate faith,” said Paul Jonna, the plaintiffs’ attorney, in an interview. “She has constitutional rights that are being violated by this policy, which is forcing teachers to lie and participate in deception.”

Federal and state authorities prohibit discrimination in schools based on gender identity. Since 2013 California law has required that schools allow students to participate in school sex-segregated programs and facilities consistent with their gender identity regardless of their sex assigned at birth.

California education officials say anti-discrimination laws include a right to privacy. They warn schools that disclosing the fact that a student is transgender may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by making a student more vulnerable to harassment.

Family rejection has been associated with dangerous outcomes for transgender people, including domestic violence and heightened risk of homelessness, suicidal attempts and sex work, according to results from the latest U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2015.

“Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. Thus, preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance,” the state education department says on its website.

The California School Boards Association, which provides legal advice to school districts and charter schools, says schools must respect students’ wishes regarding disclosure of their gender status.

“(Local education agencies) are required to, with rare exceptions, respect the limitations that a student places on the disclosure of the student’s transgender status and consider the student’s privacy rights and safety associated with this information, including not sharing that information with the student’s parents except with the student’s authorization,” its guidance says.

Escondido Union School District policy aligns with that guidance, holding that teachers and staff are not allowed to disclose a student’s transgender identity to anyone else, including their parents, without the student’s written consent, unless the disclosure is otherwise required by law or to protect the student’s physical or mental well-being.

“The Escondido Union School District is committed to providing a safe and positive environment that enables our students to learn and actualize their unlimited potential and that empowers our teachers to excel as educators,” superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra said in a statement Friday. “As part of that commitment to student learning, the district observes all federal and state laws.”

The two teachers’ lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, names as defendants the members of the Escondido Union school board and Escondido administrators including Rankins-Ibarra, along with Tony Thurmond, the state schools superintendent, and the members of the state Board of Education.

The state education department said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Mirabelli and West say in their lawsuit that they do not believe a gender spectrum exists and that people are innately and permanently either male or female, based on God’s design. They believe that gender dysphoria and gender identity issues should not be left to children to decide on their own.

The lawsuit argues that by using students’ preferred names and pronouns, school staff are reinforcing what they call “the whims of gender-confused children — while denying parents any say.”

“Parents should not be left out of their child’s school life. What parent would want that?” Mirabelli said in an interview.

Jonna, who is part of the Rancho Santa Fe-based law firm LiMandri & Jonna LLP, has filed multiple lawsuits in the last two years regarding California school policies as special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based nonprofit that has long fought for abortion restrictions.

In 2021 LiMandri & Jonna sued San Diego Unified on behalf of a Christian student at Scripps Ranch High School, accusing the district of religious discrimination because its student COVID-19 vaccine mandate did not allow for personal belief exemptions. That case effectively ended after the student vaccine mandate was defeated by another lawsuit filed by parents affiliated with Let Them Breathe.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

San Diego to Pursue Buying Three Hotels to House Homeless People — at a Cost of $383,000 Per Room

San Diego Housing Commission would use state funds toward $150 million purchase of extended-stay hotels

The San Diego Housing Commission will apply for state funds to help purchase three extended-stay hotels with more than 400 rooms that could provide homes for people experiencing or facing homelessness.

In a move contingent on funding from the state, commissioners voted 4-0 at the board’s April 20 meeting to pursue the purchase of the 107-unit Extended Stay America Hotel at 3860 Murphy Canyon Road for $40.7 million, the 140-unit Extended Stay America Hotel at 7440-7450 Mission Valley Road for $52 million and the 165-unit Extended Stay America Hotel at 2085-2095 Hotel Circle South for $65.2 million.

The total cost of the three buildings would equate to about $383,000 a unit, which is greater than the per-unit cost of two hotels the city bought for housing three years ago.

Each unit will have a kitchenette and be near public transportation routes and other services.

As with the purchases from 2020, some funding for the new purchases would come from the third and final round of funding from the state’s Project Homekey, which was created by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a competitive grant program for public agencies to quickly develop housing through the use of hotels, motels, hostels, multifamily apartments, manufactured housing and other means.

The latest round has $736 million throughout the state, and $34 million has been set aside for the San Diego region. On top of the money set aside for San Diego, local agencies also can apply for a share of the statewide funds.

As part of the application process, the Housing Commission will begin due diligence on Thursday, which SDHC Vice President of Real Estate Finance and Acquisitions Buddy Bohrer told commissioners involves zoning conformance, pest control, inspections for potential environmental hazards and peer-review appraisals, among other steps.

Bohrer said the Housing Commission also will have to invest $750,000 to perform due diligence as part of the application process, which it would fund through its federal Moving to Work funds.

Applications for Project Homekey funds will be submitted in May or June, and awards are expected in August or September. If all goes well, the anticipated close of escrow will be in October, Bohrer said.

The per-unit cost of the three properties would be about $380,000 for the Murphy Canyon Road hotel, $371,000 for the Mission Valley Road hotel and $395,000 for the Hotel Circle south hotel for an average price of $383,192.

Commissioners praised their staff for working on the proposal that could house hundreds of homeless people at a time when the area’s median home price is about $750,000.

“This seems like a fantastic value proposition here,” Commissioner Ryan Clumpner said.

“These programs are incredible when you see the cost at the door,” Commissioner Stefanie Benvenuto said, referring to the per-door cost.

“When you can find a way to pick up 412 rooms and begin housing people and close in October, you have to be thrilled about the opportunity,” said Commissioner Eugene “Mitch” Mitchell.

This is the second time the Housing Commission has pursued hotels with Project Homekey funds.

In October 2020, the San Diego City Council approved the Housing Commission’s plan to buy two extended-stay hotels.

A 190-unit hotel on Hotel Circle South cost $67 million, or $353,000 a room, and the 142-room hotel in Kearny Mesa cost $39.5 million, or $278,000 a room.

The $383,000 per-unit cost of the three hotels being pursued by the Housing Commission is greater than the cost of the two hotels purchased in 2020 and other similar projects, but less than some affordable housing projects built from scratch.

Father Joe’s Villages purchased a South Bay hotel that was converted to housing and opened in October 2020 as Benson’s Place. The 82-room hotel and its reconstruction cost $24.5 million, or $299,000 a room.

In February 2022, Father Joe’s Villages opened Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa, a 407-project that cost $145 million, or $356,000 a room.

Earlier this month, the 95-unit affordable housing Amanecer Apartments in Linda Vista opened at cost of $51.1 million, or $538,000 a room. The project developed by Community HousingWorks required the demolition of existing projects and was supported with Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers from the Housing Commission and $7 million from the county.

San Diego Union-Tribune article from September 2020 asked several people in a variety of fields if purchasing hotels to house homeless people was a good use of tax dollars. Three said no, citing the cost and suggesting other solutions, while 10 people said yes.

Bob Rauch of R.A. Rauch & Associates, which owns and operates hotels, was among the people who thought the last purchases were bad deals, and he has problems with the proposed cost of the new ones.

“They’re nuts,” he said. “They overpaid last time during a pandemic, and they’d be overpaying again.”

Rauch said extended-stay hotel rooms would fetch more than regular hotel rooms, but still sees the Housing Commission’s proposal as too high.

He also said he has a high-end, 120-room extended-stay hotel in Del Mar, and its value is about $300,000 to $325,000 a room.

Alan Gin, an economic professors with the University of San Diego Knauss School of Business, said homelessness and the housing market are serious and related problems that should be addressed.

When compared to the Amanecer Apartments, Gin said the proposed purchases were a good deal, but he also said he would have to research the market more.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego Union Tribune

Nathan Fletcher Announced a Big Merger of His Nonprofit Focused on Veterans. The Merger Never Happened.

The current county supervisor founded the Three Wise Men Foundation in 2014.

As Supervisor Nathan Fletcher faces growing calls to resign immediately over allegations of sexual harassment and assault in a civil lawsuit, there are questions about what happened to a nonprofit he founded nearly ten years ago.

Fletcher is a veteran, and over the years, has supported numerous military causes.

After he served in the Assembly and ran for mayor of San Diego twice, he founded a nonprofit called Three Wise Men Foundation in 2014.

A few years after that, he made a big announcement—his organization was merging with The Headstrong Project, based on the East Coast. Headstrong is a nonprofit mental health organization that is focused on helping veterans, service members and families.

In an announcement online dated Mar. 10, 2017, Fletcher wrote, “By combining forces and merging our operations with Headstrong, we can have a much stronger impact and serve more veterans.”

At the time, both Fletcher and Headstrong celebrated the merger.

“Together we’ll join forces to provide care for even more post-9/11 vets,” The Headstrong Project posted on its Twitter account.

Team 10 discovered the merger never happened.

Two people currently involved with Headstrong confirmed via email and over the phone that Fletcher’s organization did not join with Headstrong.

They did not want to be named, but one person emailed Team 10 a statement that said, “Mr. Fletcher served on the board for a very short time and left the board over six years ago. His organization dissolved and never merged with The Headstrong Project. He has no affiliation with The Headstrong Project and we’ve been out of touch since his departure.”

In a separate emailed statement, another person involved with Headstrong said, “Mr. Fletcher left the board several years ago and has no affiliation with The Headstrong Project.”

According to IRS records, Nathan Fletcher—his name spelled as “Natan Fletcher”—was listed as a director for Headstrong in 2017. He is not listed in IRS records after that.

Fletcher’s biography at UC San Diego, where he taught for years as a professor, is still active. “He remains active with many veterans organizations including serving on the board of the Headstrong Project,” the biography stated as of Apr. 19.

His campaign website has been taken down, but an internet archive search showed that as of June 2020, his website also listed him as a Headstrong board member. A person currently working at Headstrong told Team 10 he was not affiliated with the organization at that time.

Team 10 also spoke to someone who served on the board of Three Wise Men. The individual said they do not know why the merger never happened.

When asked why the merger fell through, the source at Headstrong said the person to ask would be Fletcher.

A spokesperson for Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s office told Team 10 that Fletcher “is unable to respond due to the fact he is in treatment.”

Click here to read the full article at ABC News 10

Ordinance Banning Encampments on San Diego Sidewalks to Get Its First Hearing This Week

SAN DIEGO —  A proposal to ban homeless encampments on San Diego sidewalks, parks and other places is expected to get a hearing this week.

Councilmember Stephen Whitburn’s proposed ordinance is scheduled to be heard Thursday by the Land Use and Housing Committee, which could lead to it advancing to the full City Council for approval.

Whitburn and Mayor Todd Gloria announced plans for the ordinance last month. The proposal comes at a time when downtown encampments in the council member’s district have surged to record highs and residents in the area have expressed frustration at what they see as the city’s lack of response.

Change isn’t going to happen overnight, however. Besides having to first go through a committee hearing and then approval by the City Council, Gloria said last month that enforcement would begin after new resources for homeless people are created.

The mayor was referring to a new safe parking lot for people who live in vehicles and Whitburn’s plan to create a “safe sleeping” area, an alternative to shelters that would provide people in encampments a place to legally live outdoors.

Federal law prohibits people from being cited for sleeping in public places if there are not other options, such as shelters. The addition of a new safe parking lot and safe sleeping area would give the city more flexibility for enforcement.

The safe parking lot is expected to open this month, but Whitburn has not found a place for the safe sleeping project.

“The safe sleeping initiative is going to take longer, but I’m hoping that by the summer we’ll get our first safe sleeping site up and running,” Whitburn said. “We have not settled on a location definitely yet.”

Homeless shelters, safe parking lots and even storage facilities used by homeless people often are opposed by community members who don’t want any homeless services in their neighborhood, and Whitburn already has run into opposition to his safe sleeping plan.

He had discussed using an under-used parking area called Inspiration Point in Balboa Park as a safe sleeping site, but community groups that support the park have come out against the plan as an inappropriate use.

Whitburn has not abandoned the site, but isn’t committed to it as the only location for a safe sleeping area. But even after a site is located, there still would be many time-consuming steps before it could open.

Funding will have to be identified, possibly with the help of philanthropy, and the property would have to be prepared to accommodate the project. The city also would have to put a contract out to bid to hire a service provider to run the operation, adding more time to the process.

With all those steps in mind, Whitburn is hopeful enforcement of a new ordinance could begin by mid-year.

“My intent is people will begin to see a downtown and a city where more people are living in shelter and safe sleeping sites and other better options, and fewer people living in encampments,” he said. “I’m confident we will get there. I don’t want to put a specific timeline on that because I’m more interested in doing this right, but I do think we will be making progress this summer.”

The word “homeless” does not appear in the proposed ordinance, which amends an existing municipal code, but it does contain new language about camping.

The ordinance prohibits camping on any public property, including sidewalks, and violations would be prosecuted as misdemeanors.

Camping would be prohibited regardless of the availability of shelters in certain areas, including within two blocks of a school or a shelter, waterways, any transit hub or trolley platform, in Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park, Presidio Park and parks near beaches.

Following an agreement that has been in place for several years, the ordinance states there will be no enforcement of the rule against public camping between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

“If people share my view that we need an ordinance like this, I would encourage residents to make their feelings known and help advocate for this ordinance,” Whitburn said about the upcoming meeting.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

Supervisor to quit San Diego board

He faces sexual misconduct claims and a lawsuit. Agency to weigh its next steps.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Thursday that he will resign effective May 15, amid sexual misconduct allegations and a civil lawsuit that have thrown into free fall what had just four days earlier seemed a rising political career.

He plans to remain in office but on medical leave until then, he said, after announcing his plans to resign late Wednesday night. He had said March 26 that he was ending a campaign for state Senate to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse.

The Board of Supervisors will decide May 2 whether to appoint a candidate to fill his seat or hold a special election to replace him, county officials said.

Board Chair Nora Vargas did not say which option she will propose for replacing Fletcher, but said she agreed with his decision to resign.

“I’m deeply disturbed by the allegations against Supervisor Fletcher and support his resignation,” Vargas said. “We must work to create a safe environment for all the dedicated people who work throughout San Diego County, and I won’t accept anything less.”

The announcement of his resignation came hours after Fletcher acknowledged inappropriate behavior with Grecia Figueroa, a former Metropolitan Transit System public relations officer who accused Fletcher of kissing and groping her in a lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court.

Fletcher denied the assault and harassment allegations but resigned Tuesday from the MTS board, which oversees the San Diego trolley and bus system and which he had chaired.

“The strain on my wife and family over the past week has been immense and unbearable,” Fletcher wrote in a statement late Wednesday night. “A combination of my personal mistakes plus false accusations has created a burden that my family shouldn’t have to bear.”

Fletcher’s initial announcement Sunday had prompted an outpouring of support on social media from constituents and well-wishers who applauded his decision to seek mental health treatment.

But the mood turned critical Wednesday after he acknowledged his interactions with Figueroa.

Supervisor Jim Desmond, a Republican, posted a statement Thursday saying he was “concerned and disappointed by the disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct” against Fletcher, and calling his resignation “a necessary step for the future of San Diego County.”

Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer did not comment on the allegations or on Fletcher’s resignation, but said in a statement that the board would continue to operate effectively in his absence.

“I have every confidence in our chairwoman and look forward to working with my colleagues to keep delivering for our region,” Lawson-Remer said.

Republican Supervisor Joel Anderson declined to comment.

At least two staffers in his county office resigned Wednesday as a result of the accusations, even though Fletcher broadly denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

Policy director Emily Wier, who had served with Fletcher since 2019, stepped down, as did senior policy advisor Dr. Eric Rafla-Yuan. Both confirmed their resignations but declined to comment.

In his resignation message, Fletcher thanked his supporters and constituents.

“I am proud of what we accomplished together,” he said. “My decision today is solely based on what is best for my family.”

Fletcher’s wife, former state Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, registered her support for her husband in a social media post late Wednesday night.

“I love my husband,” Gonzalez said on Twitter. “He has acknowledged his mistakes & I believe his name will be cleared of false accusations. Still, I asked him to resign to lessen the strain on our family.”

Former state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña called for the San Diego County Democratic Party to take action, noting that Fletcher is the second high-profile local Democrat accused of sexual misconduct in just the last year.

Former county party Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy stepped down from his position in May after being accused of rape. After an investigation, the district attorney declined to file charges.

Saldaña characterized Fletcher’s behavior toward Figueroa as an “abuse of power” because of his position of authority in the organization.

“When you have a powerful person coercing, expecting, demanding, something from a subordinate, it makes it very difficult for that person to consent without some form of pressure being placed on them,” she said.

Under the party’s bylaws and code of conduct, Central Committee members can be removed for causes including unwelcome advances, retaliation or alcohol or substance abuse, among others, Saldaña noted.

She urged acting party Chair Becca Taylor to ask members to vote on whether to remove Fletcher and Rodriguez-Kennedy from their committee positions.

Taylor said in a statement that she supported Fletcher’s resignation from his county office but did not respond to Saldaña’s request.

Figueroa said in her lawsuit that Fletcher first began interacting with her on social media in 2021. Within several months, she said, he began inviting her to private meetings and kissed and groped her against her will.

She said she was fired from her job at MTS on Feb. 6 — the day Fletcher announced his campaign for state Senate — in what she believes was retaliation.

The transit agency said Figueroa’s termination was “solely related to ongoing performance concerns” and said Fletcher had no role in that decision. It said the board has assigned the labor law firm Paul Plevin Quarles to investigate her allegations.

“None of the decision makers involved in this personnel decision were aware of the allegations about Nathan Fletcher until after the decision to terminate,” the transit agency said in a statement.

“Neither Mr. Fletcher nor any other MTS Board Member was aware of or involved in the decision to terminate Ms. Figueroa.”

No sooner had Fletcher announced plans last month to seek termed-out Sen. Toni Atkins’ state Senate seat than he became the immediate favorite in the race.

But his announcement March 26 that he was ending his campaign, followed by his plan to resign as supervisor, leaves wide open the race not only for Atkins’ Senate seat but also one for the 4th Supervisorial District, which he now represents.

The Board of Supervisors must decide whether to appoint a successor, hold a special election or choose a combination of those options. The board has not indicated how it intends to fill the upcoming vacancy.

The cost and timeline for a special election vary depending on the jurisdiction, the number of registered voters and whether it is an all-mail election or would involve in-person voting, among other factors, San Diego County Registrar of Voters spokesperson Antonia Hutzell said Thursday.

Although the registrar does not have a cost estimate for a special election to replace Fletcher, the most recent special election for the 80th Assembly District — to fill the seat vacated by Gonzalez — cost $2.3 million, Hutzell said.

Potential candidates are already throwing their names in the hat for Fletcher’s seat.

Amy Reichert, who lost a challenge to Fletcher in November, is considering a second run.

“I do hope there is a special election,” Reichert said Thursday. “I think the people deserve to vote for their elected representative. I am absolutely interested in running for county Board of Supervisors.”

Veterans advocate Janessa Goldbeck had previously announced plans to run for Fletcher’s open seat should he be elected to the state Senate but said Thursday she’s prepared either to run for the seat or to apply for an appointment now.

“This obviously changes the timeline, but I’m not deterred; I’m doubling down,” Goldbeck said Thursday, calling Fletcher’s behavior “deeply disturbing and disappointing.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Opinion: Why Nathan Fletcher’s Behavior Toward an MTS Employee Makes Him Unfit for San Diego Office

The editorial board operates independently from the U-T newsroom but holds itself to similar ethical standards. We base our editorials and endorsements on reporting, interviews and rigorous debate, and strive for accuracy, fairness and civility in our section. Disagree? Let us know.

Three days, two hours and seven minutes.

That’s how long it took for San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s soaring political career to end this week after a series of revelations that included an admission of alcohol abuse and inappropriate behavior and allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by a former employee of the transit agency whose board Fletcher chaired.

It is a stunning abuse of power and a sudden fall from it for a politician whose name will now be recalled alongside other local rogues forced from office after misconduct — like Duke Cunningham, Duncan D. Hunter and Bob Filner. In two series of Twitter posts, Fletcher bowed out of a fledgling state Senate campaign at 8:24 p.m. on Sunday, and announced plans to step down as a supervisor at 10:31 p.m. on Wednesday.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, which endorsed Fletcher in the 2018 and 2022 general elections and is a devotee of due process, was prepared to call for his resignation before he announced he would step down. Now, the fallout for him could get worse. Thursday, NBC San Diego reported that a former UC San Diego student accused him of improper behavior in 2015 when she was 19 years old and working as an intern for an organization he founded and that Fletcher had denied it then and now.

The legal process may be conclusive, or the public may never know whether 46-year-old Fletcher’s “interactions” with then-public relations specialist Grecia Figueroa, 34, were “consensual,” as Fletcher claims, or “a pattern and practice of sexual harassment” that created “a hostile, offensive, oppressive and intimidating work environment,” as Figueroa’s lawsuit claims. There are other questions. What did Metropolitan Transit System officials know? MTS fired Figueroa. Why? Will other accusations against Fletcher follow? Is this really happening again in San Diego politics?

Fletcher denies allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault and said Figueroa and her attorney “demanded millions of dollars from me and my family with the threat of not only embarrassment but a willingness to lie about the circumstances and nature of the interactions.” Fletcher’s attorney says, “The simple truth is that Ms. Figueroa pursued my client, their interactions were consensual and Mr. Fletcher does not and never had authority over her employment.”

But social media messages documented in Figueroa’s lawsuit paint a picture of the pursuit of a Metropolitan Transit System employee by a person with a vote and a lot of influence over MTS’ $355 million operating budget — and thus over Figueroa’s future. And Figueroa’s lawsuit claims that Fletcher and his wife, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, intended to sue Figueroa and her lawyer for extortion.

The suit alleges that Fletcher twice groped Figueroa in a room adjacent to one where official MTS board business had just concluded. It alleges Fletcher “stalked” and flirted with Figueroa on social media for months, kissed her in May in a hotel stairwell, grabbed her breasts in a conference room adjacent to an MTS Executive Committee meeting in June, and grabbed her breasts and further touched her sexually in the same room in December. And Figueroa says she was fired on Feb. 6 — the same day Fletcher launched his campaign for state Senate — despite good marks at a job where, by her account in the lawsuit, she generally did well on annual performance reviews and “got along well with her colleagues, and took pride knowing that she was a valuable asset to her team.” MTS said Thursday the firing was related to documented performance concerns.

Again, a legal settlement or ruling could tell us more. But what’s clear by Fletcher’s own acknowledgment of a “terrible mistake … with someone outside my marriage” is that this was an absolute abuse of power. It erodes public trust, and the supervisor’s office should be ceded to someone more deserving of it.

This is now a massive scandal for MTS, which must answer questions forthrightly and publicly about why Figueroa was fired and who knew what about Fletcher’s conduct. That should be documented in an independent investigation, perhaps by the district attorney, but not solely in one arranged by MTS, an agency whose conduct is in question.

Until this week, Fletcher was a star in the local Democratic Party, and one of the county’s most recognizable politicians. A distinguished Marine turned Republican state Assembly member, Fletcher sponsored Chelsea’s Law, which toughened penalties and restrictions on violent sexual predators, in 2010. He later quit the GOP to become an independent and then a Democrat while finishing third in consecutive San Diego mayor’s races in 2012 and 2013. His 2018 election to the county Board of Supervisors paved the way for Democratic control of a board that had been a Republican stronghold for decades, and his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic helped the region better manage a complex public health crisis. He won re-election last year by a landslide and he was as clear a favorite in his state Senate campaign as a person can be a year before any vote.

Fletcher stunned the San Diego political establishment on Sunday night in a series of tweets while citing post traumatic stress disorder from military “combat piled on top of intense childhood trauma that’s been exacerbated by alcohol abuse” to say he would drop out of his Senate campaign and check himself into an extended inpatient treatment center. Fletcher did not acknowledge any specific reason for his decision, and a who’s who of San Diego area politicians announced their support for him on Twitter. Meanwhile, Figueroa’s lawsuit said Fletcher’s citation of “post traumatic stress, trauma and alcohol abuse” without any mention of the Figueroa allegations about to drop was “a PR stunt designed to shift optics from villain to victim in anticipation of a scandal.”

On Tuesday, he issued a statement about the lawsuit, denying “the things they are alleging” while acknowledging that he “did violate the basic trust and loyalty of my marriage and set a terrible example for our children.” Fletcher did not directly address his responsibilities as MTS board chair or its role in the scandal.

The first reaction of many people to Fletcher’s stunning announcement Sunday was the humane one. Many San Diegans were thankful that Fletcher was seeking help and in a public way. It seemed in keeping with his commitment since being elected in 2018 to represent central San Diego County’s supervisorial Fourth District to destigmatize mental health care and make it more widely available through county programs.

This reaction was no surprise. Normally, a community that reveres and values its veterans should have empathy for a public figure having a reckoning with the personal impact of serving combat tours in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Near East — and from having dealt with a “violent and very chaotic” childhood in a badly broken family.

But then the larger picture emerged — a married politician pursuing an employee of the agency whose budget and work he oversees is a trespass against the employee, the spouse and the public. What happens in their marriage should be between Fletcher and his wife. But that privilege of privacy does not extend to public office. Just Fletcher’s self-admitted actions show he is unfit to serve and was right to resign. The court case and new allegations may prove he is even more unfit.

Two of Fletcher’s aides quit Wednesday in the wake of this week’s revelations. Others may leave, too, and the residents of his supervisorial district deserve to have leadership they can count on, so relying on a short-staffed team of unelected officials for any substantial period is unacceptable. He must go now. We hope his staff serves until the supervisors appoint a successor or call a special election to find someone of better character, quickly and fairly.

All of Figueroa’s allegations are concerning, but those that Fletcher groped her after meetings in MTS buildings are especially troubling in a city where the disgusting memories of former San Diego mayor and serial sexual abuser Bob Filner are not even a decade old.

Fletcher no doubt experienced horrific things in combat and awful childhood traumas. But that doesn’t excuse his abuses of power, and announcing he was stepping back from politics because of his past without fully disclosing his transgressions makes his comments seem more self-serving and political than honest and heartfelt.

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune

Lawsuit Against Supervisor Fletcher Alleges Sexual Assault

SAN DIEGO — San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher is facing a lawsuit over allegations of sexual assault and battery from a claimed extramarital affair that he engaged in with a subordinate who worked for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.

Fletcher announced the potential lawsuit in a statement Wednesday, saying that he had consensual interactions with a former employee of MTS and that individual had filed a lawsuit for several million dollars against him and his wife, former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

The complaint, however, details two alleged instances of sexual assault by the County Supervisor in his role as chairman of the agency’s board. 

MTS was also named as a defendant in the complaint. Gonzalez, on the other hand, is not a named party.

Fletcher’s attorney, Danielle Hultenius Moore, said in a statement released early Wednesday that the allegations in the lawsuit were false, claiming that the woman had pursued her client. 

“…Their interactions were consensual and Mr. Fletcher does not and never had authority over her employment. We will aggressively fight this issue in court and the full record will show the truth,” Moore said in the statement.

The employee had started with the agency in 2019. She most recently worked as a public relations specialist until earlier this year, when she was allegedly fired abruptly on Feb. 6 – the same day that Fletcher announced his campaign for the California State Senate.

The complaint said that, while the employee was with MTS, she would frequently attend events where Fletcher was present, but had very little direct contact with him in the scope of her work and he was not her direct superior.

Fletcher allegedly instigated contact with the employee over social media in early 2021, starting as a repeated viewing of the employee’s posts before escalating to direct messages towards the end of the year.

That flirtatious contact via direct message continued into 2022, according to the complaint. The document stated that the employee was fearful of losing her job and “felt obliged to entertain the Chairman of the MTS Board… Thus, she responded in kind to most of Fletcher’s messages.”

In May 2022, the social media messages reportedly evolved into direct solicitations from the Supervisor to her for meetings outside of work, insisting that they could “keep it very ‘discreet.’”

This led to the first alleged physical encounter named in the complaint between Fletcher and the employee, after asking her to visit him for a drink at the hotel he was staying at with his family. Gonzalez was apparently out of town at the time.

She came to the hotel and met with the Supervisor in the stairwell, where he was described as attempting several advances before kissing the employee.

Several weeks later, in early June, the employee alleges that Fletcher initiated physical intimacy again in a conference room after an MTS Executive Committee meeting. The complaint said he kissed her again and grabbed her over her shirt. Afterwards, she “pushed him back.”

Messages reportedly continued following that incident. In an Oct. 5 phone call to Fletcher mentioned in the document, the employee had allegedly voiced concern about being “dragged into some kind of scandal,” and asked if they could return to a “strictly professional relationship.”

But, according to the complaint, another incident of alleged sexual assault occurred a few months later on Dec. 1 — also after an MTS meeting — when the Supervisor reportedly pulled off some of the employee’s clothes and engaged her in more aggressive sexual behavior.

Flirtatious messages from Fletcher continued into 2023, according to the complaint, before ending on Jan. 26. The employee was apparently fired from MTS a little over a week later.

It is unknown if there were any additional instances of physical intimacy, outside of those detailed in the court filing.

Fletcher and the employee were apparently attempting to settle the matter outside of court proceedings, however, discussions fell apart on Sunday of this week. 

Hours later, the complaint alleges, Fletcher announced that he would be suspending his campaign for higher office to seek treatment for substance abuse and post-traumatic stress.

Fletcher has not denied engaging in a sexual relationship with the employee, but refutes the sexual assault allegations. In his statement, the politician admitted he made a “terrible mistake” and violated the trust and loyalty of his marriage.

His full comments on the matter can be found here.Sweep underway to remove homeless encampments downtown

In a statement to FOX 5, MTS said that they were aware of the lawsuit and have brought on an outside law firm to conduct an investigation. 

They said that Fletcher has resigned from his position as Board Chair and San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn will assume the role in the interim.

A handful of local leaders have since condemned the alleged behavior of Fletcher described in the lawsuit filing, including San Diego City Council President and member of the MTS board, Sean Elo-Rivera.

Click here to read the full article at Fox5