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

Back-to-back Storms Will Hit San Diego County With Heavy Rain, Moderate Snow and High Winds

The bad weather will begin with a weak system on Monday that will give way to a much larger storm Tuesday that’s drawing extra moisture from the subtropics, which will increase projected rainfall.

The spring equinox arrives Monday. But it will feel like mid-winter across San Diego County. A weak storm will deliver light rain ahead of a bigger system that will push ashore Tuesday with heavy precipitation, moderate snow, biting cold, and fierce winds from the desert to the sea, the National Weather Service said.

Forecasters said the storms could raise the water level in the San Diego River in Mission Valley to near-flood stage and produce winds strong enough to snap trees from Oceanside to San Ysidro, where gusts will be in the 54 to 60 mph range.

The coast and inland valleys are projected to receive up to 3 inches of rain from early Tuesday to early Thursday and 4 to 5 inches at Palomar Mountain, which has recorded 49.77 inches of precipitation since the rainy season began on October 1. That’s 19.36 inches above average.

The heavy rain is worrisome to public works crews. The landscape is saturated from a seemingly endless string of Pacific storms, many of them beefed up by moisture from the subtropics. The rain contributed to a cliff collapse at Black’s Beach in January and created a massive sinkhole on state Route 78 in Oceanside last week.

The larger storm now approaching San Diego has tapped into moisture from northwest of Hawaii, generating an atmospheric river that is forecast to move directly over San Diego County.

The incoming winds also have people on edge. The weather service said in an advisory that the system could “translate to a very strong wind event that we only see once every few years. The strongest winds will be ahead of and with the cold frontal passage on Tuesday.”

The air will become very unstable late Tuesday and early Wednesday and could result in sporadic thunder and lightning across much of the region.

On Wednesday, the conversation will shift to the cold air. The daytime high in San Diego is only expected to reach 59, which is eight degrees below average. Communities across the region will be 5 to 15 degrees cooler than normal.

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

Sheriff Rejects Stricter Rules for Housing Transgender People in San Diego County Jails

Sheriff Kelly Martinez won’t implement a recommendation to tighten rules for booking transgender people into San Diego County jails that coincide with their gender.

The Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, or CLERB, recommended last year that the current policy be revised “to mandate that an arrestee shall be taken to a facility that coincides with the arrestees’ gender identity.”

But in a letter released late Thursday, sheriff’s officials said they would not be changing the policy because no change is needed.

“The department believes CLERB’s desired outcome, properly booking and housing all transgender arrestees, has already been met,” they said. “Therefore, we will not be amending Field Operations Manual Policy 25.”

The letter was dated Jan. 31 and signed by Lt. Edward Greenawald of the department’s Division of Inspectional Services.

Greenawald also noted that the existing policy calls for deputies to “receive, evaluate, house and provide secure, safe and humane custody of all persons, including transgender, intersex and non-binary,” who are booked into San Diego County jails.

The policy says: “An arrestee should be taken to a facility that coincides with their gender identity.”

Greenawald said the suggestion to change “should” to “shall” also was rejected in part because most of the 48,000 people booked into county jails in 2021 were not arrested by sheriff’s deputies.

The proposed revision “would do nothing to redirect other agency arrestees, who account for roughly 75 percent of all bookings, effectively failing to ensure officers take arestees to a booking facility that aligns with their gender identity,” he wrote.

The review board made the recommendation last year, after The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman who was severely beaten while being held in the Men’s Central Jail.

Kristina Frost said in her 2021 lawsuit that deputies placed her in a cell with three men despite the fact that she, her driver’s license and her public presentation and dress all identified her as a woman.

She was seated and asleep when she woke up to a beating, she said.

“Sadly — and foreseeably — one of the men in the cell viciously attacked Ms. Frost,” her federal complaint stated. “His closed-fist punches to Ms. Frost’s face resulted in serious bodily injuries, including a broken jaw, so far requiring two surgeries to repair.”

The lawsuit also alleged that Frost should not have been booked into custody, and that after the assault she was forced to wait up to 12 hours without medical care.

“She was in excruciating pain from her injuries the entire time she waited,” it said. “And because her jaw was injured, she could not eat food or even drink water while she waited.”

The Sheriff’s Department did not initially respond to requests for comment on the allegations. But hours after the November 2021 story was posted, officials issued a statement appearing to blame Frost for her injuries.

“The person who allegedly assaulted Miss Frost stated he was assaulted by Miss Frost first and stated he acted in self-defense,” department spokesperson Lt. Amber Baggs said at the time. “Additionally, Miss Frost declined to press charges.”

A settlement of her lawsuit is likely to add to the millions of dollars San Diego County taxpayers have spent in recent years to settle wrongful-death, excessive-force and other claims against the department.

According to court records, both the plaintiff and defendants agreed this week to a settlement proposed by the judge. Details will not be publicly disclosed until the county Board of Supervisors approves the payment.

“The settlement is conditioned on county board approval, which won’t happen until later this month,” said Trenton Lamere, one of Frost’s attorneys.

The decision is the latest spurning of the civilian oversight board by the newly elected sheriff, who was sworn in early this year after winning the November election.

Last month, Martinez rejected a recommendation to screen employees and others for illegal drugs when entering county jails as a way to reduce in-custody overdoses.

The department has been plagued with an escalating mortality rate, including fatal overdoses. Earlier this month, a veteran deputy was arrested for allegedly bringing cocaine onto jail property.

Martinez also declined to release internal reviews of critical incidents despite her campaign pledge to do so, and despite a recommendation from the oversight board.

The county Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board is a group of volunteers that examines complaints against sworn personnel at the sheriff’s and probation departments. It also investigates shootings by law enforcement officers and in-custody deaths.

Even though the board members are volunteers, the office is staffed by professionals and supervised by executive officer Paul Parker, a former police officer.

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

San Diego County, City Invest $503K for 20 Youth Shelter Beds

A $503,000 refurbishing project funded by the city and county of San Diego has created 20 additional shelter beds for youth and could end homelessness for about 60 young people each year, the head of the nonprofit running the program said Monday.

The project expands the number of shelter beds at Urban Street Angels’ downtown program to 70, and youths ages 18-24 years old will begin moving in Feb. 23, said the nonprofit’s founder and CEO, Eric Lovett.

The $503,000 to expand the shelter came from the $25 million County-City Behavioral Health Impact Fund created in 2020 as a resolution to a lawsuit between the city of San Diego and the county over how to spend former redevelopment funds after former Gov. Jerry Brown shut down the state Redevelopment Agency in 2011.

The shelter expansion is the seventh project to use the fund, which also has paid for transitional housing units, vehicles for crisis care teams, telehealth connections and other projects.

Lovett said the grant from the Behavioral Health Impact Fund paid for two new bathrooms, the removal of walls and other improvements. The room had been used as offices for Father Joe’s Villages, owner of the Fifth Avenue building.

Father Joe’s had used the building to operate the Toussaint Academy, which provided homes for teenagers and young adults before closing in 2016.

The 50 upstairs beds are in individual rooms while the new first-floor shelter is more like a dorm, with each of the 20 single beds separated by a small wooden wardrobe. Signs above heads of some beds have inspirational slogans such as “You Matter” and “If You Believe in Yourself, Anything is Possible.”

During a Monday morning news conference announcing the upcoming opening of the shelter, Lovett said there are about 1,000 homeless youths outdoors in San Diego on any night.

“They need hope,” he said. “They need a place to go. What this entire space does is it gives them that.”

Clients also receive meals, clothing, mental health help, job training and other services, with an average stay of 60 to 90 days, he said. The program has ended homelessness for 300 youths each year, and now will help 60 more, Lovett added.

Urban Street Angels also operates a 60-unit home for youths in a former La Mesa hotel the nonprofit bought about a year and a half ago, he said.

Stressing the need to help homeless youths get housing and stable lives, Lovett said about half of homeless adults on the street became homeless when they were young.

The San Diego Housing Commission will pay for supportive services for youths at the shelter, including case management, housing and job placement, occupational therapy and linkage to health care.

The Lucky Duck Foundation and Price Charities provided move-in supplies such as bed frames, mattresses and hygiene products at the new shelter addition.

Drew Moser, executive director of the Lucky Duck Foundation, said the philanthropic group was recognizing the city, county and Urban Street Angels with a Shamrock as part of its Shamrocks and Shipwrecks initiative, which gives Shamrocks as praise for positive achievement in homeless solutions and Shipwrecks for inaction.

Moser said the public/private collaboration that included the city, county and a nonprofit in the shelter project should not be a one-off, but should be replicated on a larger scale.

“Twenty beds is great,” he said. “Let’s do 200 beds. Lets do 500 beds.”

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who helped broker the deal that created the Behavioral Health Impact Fund, also attended the Monday news conference.

“We know we have a lot more to do,” he said. “We know the challenges of homelessness are immense and great, but you’ve got to get up every single day and say, ‘What is it we can do today that’s going to give somebody a shot at a better future?’”

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

San Diego to Use $2.4 Million State Grant to Help 50 Homeless People Near Old Library

Part of the money will go toward securing the streets so the encampments do not return

In a new, focused approach to helping homeless people get off the street and into housing, outreach workers will begin engaging with about 50 people who are living in tents along six city blocks near San Diego’s former Central Library.

A unanimous San Diego City Council, with Councilmember Jennifer Campbell absent, approved spending about $2.4 million in state funds on the plan Monday.

In presenting the plan to council members, Hafsa Kaka, the city’s Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department director, said the effort will begin in about two months and will differ from traditional outreach work by providing a more intense and personal focus on each person’s individual needs.

“What happens with normal outreach, to be honest, is sometimes people will fall through the cracks,” she said. “These individuals (outreach workers) are intensively going to be following the people who have been identified.”

The grant will fund services ranging from outreach to housing for the approximately 50 people in the six-block area over the next two years, and some of the grant will be used to keep the area clear of future encampments once people are housed.

The focus will be on placing people into long-term permanent housing and also can be used to subsidize shorter-term bridge housing such as independent living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, placements with family members and supportive housing through California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (CalAIM). Clients who have been referred to permanent supportive housing may be placed in hotel rooms as temporary housing.

The approximately 50 people living in encampments within the six-block area represent a fraction of the city’s homeless population. A monthly count conducted in December by the Downtown San Diego Partnership found 850 people living in East Village, which includes the E Street area that will be the focus of the new grant. In all, the count found 1,839 people living downtown on sidewalks, in tents and in vehicles in December, the fifth straight month of a record high.

San Diego was one of eight California communities awarded a portion of the $48 million Encampment Resolution Funding Program in October, with 19 other communities receiving the grant funds earlier last year. The grants are administered by the California Interagency Council on Homelessness with a goal of finding housing for people living in specific encampments.

Kaka said the majority of people in the encampments are black women, and many are seniors. The outreach will address existing disparities in access to services in those populations, she said.

The San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness has created ad hoc committees to address the growing population of senior homeless people and the disproportionately high percent of homeless people who are black, she noted.

Outreach teams will focus on F Street, E Street and Broadway between Seventh and Tenth avenues. The area includes the old Central LIbrary, the U.S. Postal Service and the Andaz San Diego hotel.

While not large geographically, some stretches have dense encampments. In recent days, the sidewalk on the north side of E Street has been filled with tents between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

District 8 City Councilmember Vivian Moreno supported the motion to allocate the funding, but said she was concerned about its focus on one neighborhood in District 3, represented by Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, while a part of downtown she represents has a growing homeless population,

“If you were to go there today with me, you would see encampments just lining up the streets,” she said about Commercial Street and other areas near the Father Joe’s Villages campus on Imperial Avenue. “They are not safe or sanitary for people camping there and it’s also not safe for people walking through the area.”

Moreno said the council had allocated $1 million to increase outreach in the area six months ago, and she questioned Kaka on how the money had been used.

Kaka said the city had submitted to the state an earlier funding application that did include Commercial Street, but it was not awarded. She said someone at the state advised her to submit an application that focused on a specific area in the next funding cycle, which led to the grant for the E Street outreach.

She also told Moreno that the $1 million allocated to outreach in her district has been put to use through People Assisting the Homeless.

Kaka said money for more outreach in other areas could come in the future, and the city and the county have discussed submitting a joint application to the state for the next round of funding.

Under the program adopted Monday, $1.2 million will be used for housing and flexible subsidies, and $950,000 will go toward outreach services for people in encampments.

The grant will provide $150,000 for support services to help people stabilize when they receive housing, and $116,500 will pay for administrative costs. Once encampments are cleared from the city, the grant will provide $30,000 to keep the area secure and prevent encampments from returning.

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

Task Force Meets in San Diego, Debates Eligibility for California Slavery and Racism Reparations

The task force is charged with making recommendations to the legislature by June on reparations for the effects of slavery and systemic racism for Black people in the state

A state task force charged with studying and making recommendations for reparations to Black residents of California who have suffered harm from the effects of slavery and systemic racism met in San Diego Friday and discussed at length who would be eligible.

The meeting, which continues Saturday at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center at the SDSU campus, comes less than six months before the task force is to issue its final conclusions.

The task force of nine members, including San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, has been meeting regularly for the past 18 months around the state. The work is complicated and extensive: an interim report issued in June runs to nearly 500 pages. It is also groundbreaking, the first time any state in the country has tackled the issue of historical reparations for Black citizens.

The task force has already made some key decisions. The biggest, in March, was to determine that eligibility for any future payment would be limited to Black state residents who are descendants of enslaved people, or of a free Black person living in the U.S. by the end of the 19th century.

That standard would exclude some individuals, such as Black people who came to the U.S. after the end of the 19th century.

Among other issues the task force is hashing out, economists are attempting to quantify the economic losses stemming from redlining, mass incarceration, environmental harm, and other categories.

The task force is also expected to recommend non-monetary steps the state should take. These could include issuing a formal apology from the state, and deleting language in the state constitution that prohibits slavery, or involuntary servitude, except to punish a crime. That allows prisoners in the state to be paid low wages, advocates say.

The task force was created under Assembly Bill 3121, a bill authored by then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego. Now Secretary of State, Weber addressed the task force at the start of the meeting, urging them to finish the work on time. “If you don’t push it forward, it loses momentum,” she said.

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

San Diego Already Has Plans to Get Rid of Gas Stoves

The mention of a hypothetical nationwide ban on gas-powered stoves sparked swift backlash from Republicans and a wave of media coverage. Locally, San Diego has already committed to retiring gas-powered everything – stoves included.

Congress feuded over a mere suggestion last week that gas-powered stovetops could be banned in the United States, but the city of San Diego has already committed itself to gutting almost all buildings of gas-powered everything — stoves included. 

The dispute in the capital erupted after a new study linked  the methane-powered devices to 13 percent of childhood asthma cases nationwide. The Biden Administration isn’t actually proposing a ban, as Politico reported, but the mention of a hypothetical one by a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission sparked swift backlash from Republicans and a wave of media coverage over whether it was time to retire the natural gas-powered stovetops of America. 

San Diego, by way of Mayor Todd Gloria’s update to the city’s Climate Action Plan, passed in 2022, is already committed to retiring them. That plan’s goal is to eliminate almost all natural gas use from buildings in the city by 2035. It includes not only buildings that have yet to be built, but calls for retrofitting apartments, restaurants and skyscrapers to run solely on electricity. 

Such retrofits are costly, and the city’s plan sets a dramatic target: phase-out gas from 45 percent of existing buildings by 2030 and then 90 percent by 2035. Once achieved, that’s equivalent to cutting 1.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses generated in the city per year. San Diego’s director of sustainability and mobility said in November 2021 the city plans to make this huge electrification jump by approving new building codes.

This so-called decarbonizing of buildings is a key component of the city’s wider goal of cutting nearly half of all its emissions by 2035.

Cutting fossil fuels out of homes means replacing gas stoves with electric-powered induction stovetops and swapping out gas-powered water heaters for electric heat pumps to do both heating and cooling. But the city has yet to pass specific policies directing private homes and businesses on how to achieve such retrofits. First, San Diego is looking at how it will retrofit public buildings under a Municipal Energy Strategy.

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of San Diego

‘Failing to Produce’: San Diego is Paying Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to Settle Public-Records Lawsuits — With More Coming

The Union-Tribune reviewed more than 20 lawsuits filed in the past five years that accused the city of failing to comply with the state open-records law.

The city of San Diego has paid more than $240,000 in attorney fees and court costs since the start of last year for denying California Public Records Act requests — and more judgments are likely coming soon.

In case after case, the city paid to settle allegations that officials improperly withheld documents, wrongly insisted there were no records or simply did not follow the law.

“The city violated the California Public Records Act by failing to produce at least one responsive, non-exempt public record,” Judge Eddie Sturgeon wrote in one February ruling, after considering the merits of a lawsuit brought by San Diegans for Open Government.

In that proceeding alone, Sturgeon awarded the watchdog group represented by San Diego attorney Cory Briggs more than $33,000 in legal fees and court costs.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reviewed almost two dozen lawsuits filed in the past five years that accused San Diego or other local jurisdictionsof failing to comply with the state open-records law by claiming unjustified exemptions or denying there were any documents to release.

All but two were lodged against San Diego.

It’s possible the number of alleged violations is even higher. As a public agency, the city is involved in hundreds of lawsuits a year; the legal complaints must be reviewed individually to determine whether they allege mishandling of Public Records Act requests.

The allegations do not represent hugely significant costs for a municipality that raises and spends more than $2 billion a year.

But experts say San Diego’s habit of rejecting Public Records Act requests is troubling because scrutinizing government documents, recordings and other material is one of the most important checks and balances on elected and appointed officials.

“Citizens have a right to know how their government operates,” said Dean Nelson, who directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University. “That’s part of being in a democratic society.

“Laws like the public-records mandates are guarantees that we can see how our officials are conducting themselves and how they are spending our money,” he said.

A spokesperson for San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said the city has paid $242,000 since Jan. 1, 2021, for public-records cases brought against the city. Three of those cases were lost at trial; eight others were settled out of court.

The costs are in line with costs experienced by other large cities, the office said, but Elliott is nonetheless committed to finding ways to reduce those expenses and to make sure people get the material to which they are entitled.

“The process can always be improved,” spokesperson Leslie Wolf Branscomb said by email.

“The city attorney’s office has offered global solutions since at least December 2019, when the city attorney first advocated for a centralized office under the mayor that would coordinate city response to CPRA requests to provide information to the public with greater speed, consistency, and accuracy.”

In a court appearance earlier this month, a lawyer for the city complained that Public Records Act lawsuits “are becoming such a drain on city resources.”

“We have done everything we can,” Deputy City Attorney Erin Dillon told Judge Joel Wohlfeil during a hearing called to debate whether Briggs should be paid $600 or $750 for each hour he spent winning an open-records case.

“We admitted our mistake,” she added. “And Mr. Briggs continues to insist on discovery. It rewards this sort of brinksmanship and tactics.”

Like most plaintiffs’ lawyers, Briggs relies on the legal process of discovery — collecting internal documents and conducting depositions — to support allegations in their complaints.

The city of San Diego is not alone in failing to comply with the California Public Records Act.

Chula Vista is now litigating a lawsuit filed over video records from its police department’s drone program that officials have refused to release. San Diego County recently resolved a claim over documents requested for a regional law enforcement program.

But the complaints piling up against the city of San Diego are especially notable in light of the city’s past effort to make accessing public records more difficult.

At Elliott’s request, state Sen Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, introduced a bill in early 2019 that would have required people filing requests to “meet and confer” with agencies to discuss their requests before they are fulfilled.

The legislation also would have required plaintiffs to prove a public agency “knowingly, willfully and without substantial justification failed to respond to a request for records” to prevail in any lawsuit.

The bill was vilified by good-government advocates and others who worried that it would kneecap the public’s ability to monitor their governments and would shield public officials and agencies from liability.

Hueso withdrew the bill weeks after it began generating broad statewide criticism.

“The Public Records Act is an essential component of California’s strong commitment to open government and transparency,” the senator said in announcing his change of heart.

‘Intentionally withheld’

The city of San Diego receives thousands of records requests every year, more than 6,000 so far this year.

They come from lawyers, journalists, researchers, insurance companies and everyday citizens, people who are seeking everything from billing reports and arrest data to employee emails and other internal communications.

Like many jurisdictions, San Diego operates an online portal system that residents may use to submit requests, although the law says people can ask for documents any way they like. Agencies have 10 days to provide the records or explain why it will take additional time.

The law also requires the city to help people refine requests to get them what they want.

The Public Records Act contains a handful of exceptions that allow the government to legally withhold some documents. Those include the attorney-client privilege and the more subjective finding that the public interest is better served by keeping certain records secret.

Exemption claims by San Diego officials are behind many of the lawsuits filed against the city.

In February 2021, for example, San Diego taxpayer and resident Joshua Billauer submitted a request for any writings “directed to, received or reviewed by, or sent or created” by a supervisor in the Development Services Department over the prior four months.

The city released some documents over the next several months, but Billauer suspected there were other records that were being withheld. He sued, accusing the city of failing to conduct a thorough search for the documents and refusing to disclose others.

The “city intentionally withheld the public records responsive to the CPRA request prior to the commencement of this lawsuit,” the legal complaint said.

City officials denied the allegations, citing the attorney-client privilege exemption, and a hearing is scheduled for next month.

In other cases, San Diego has insisted there were no records responsive to a particular request only to be proved wrong through the exchange of documents and testimony in advance of any trial.

Last year, for example, after La Prensa San Diego publisher Arturo Castanaras sought communications from a specific city employee, officials initially rejected the request because it was filed by his attorney, Briggs, rather than by Castanaras.

When that tactic failed, court records show, the city argued that the documents were being withheld under the attorney-client privilege and because the public interest in non-disclosure outweighed the public interest in releasing them.

After Judge Ronald Frazier directed the city to provide him the disputed records so he could determine whether they should be released, the city adopted another position.

“(The) city has now submitted a declaration stating, contrary to the city’s initial response, that no documents were withheld on the grounds of attorney-client privilege or on any other ground,” the judge ruled last month in ordering the records released.

Castanaras has filed no fewer than eight public-records lawsuits in recent years and won the majority of those that have been decided. He said public officials leave him no choice but to take his claims to court when his requests are denied.

“Either they are so incompetent that none of their CPRA responses should be believed — and everybody should be concerned about that, or they are only doing it to me and forcing me to file lawsuits to get documents that I am entitled to,” he said.

The La Prensa San Diego publisher, who has been a sharp critic of San Diego city leaders in both stories and editorials, said he does not believe the failed responses are the result of innocent mistakes.

“There are some very good attorneys in the city attorney’s office,” Castanaras said. “This is a systematic way to limit the public’s access to public documents.”

$600 an hour

For years, Briggs said, he managed a thriving practice specializing in environmental law, challenging development permits, environmental impact reports and land-use policies.

But at least 15 years ago, after discovery turned up documents that had been initially denied, he said he began filing open-records violations before proceeding with legal challenges to environmental-impact reports or general plan amendments.

“These (development) deals are all hatched before the public sees the consequences,” Briggs said. “At that point, I started exercising my rights under the open-government laws.”

It did not take long for clients to begin seeking him out for help with document requests. He has filed dozens of records cases in the past decade-plus on behalf of individuals and San Diegans for Open Government.

“Most agencies are all the same when it’s on topics that are controversial — they all try to hide it,” said Briggs, who unsuccessfully challenged Elliott in her 2020 re-election bid.

“Where San Diego is different, as you can tell by the cases, is they simply refuse to admit that they withheld documents or they didn’t do a proper search — until the person in the black robe says so,” he said.

David Loy is the legal director at the First Amendment Coalition, an open-government advocacy group based in Marin County. He said public agencies should never lose lawsuits over government records because they should not be violating the law in the first place.

“The Public Records Act is supposed to be the cornerstone of governmental accountability and transparency,” Loy said. “So if the government is forcing you to sue to enforce that, at some level the public has already lost.”

The nonprofit legal director said governments, like most businesses and organizations, should maintain an efficient and effective records-keeping program.

“The solutions to these problems are not rocket science,” Loy said. “Document control is a standard feature of any large bureaucracy. The other question is: They have the documents — and are they wrongly asserting exemptions?”

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

These Are the Stories of Newly Homeless San Diegans

SAN DIEGO —  “I never thought this would happen to me.”

It’s a refrain heard often from people who suddenly fall into homelessness, and it’s being heard more and more these days.

For some, homelessness came about for economic reasons, such as with Robert Prokosh, who began living in his car when his rent went from $700 to $1,400 in one month.

Or it could be because of domestic violence, such as what Roberta Adams escaped from before moving into the San Diego Rescue Mission.

Or a job loss, which happened to Bobbie Bray, a former caregiver who now lives in her car in Oceanside.

For whatever reasons, more people are becoming homeless, and service providers across the county say they are seeing a surge in people seeking help.

Why are so many people falling into homelessness for the first time? There is no one reason. Ask five different people why they became homeless, and you’re likely to hear five different answers.

Aisha Hobson

Aisha Hobson, 41, pulls her 2017 Dodge Journey SUV into the Dreams for Change safe parking lot in Encanto around 8 p.m. most nights after finishing her work day and visiting her mother.

“When I come here, I try to decompress,” she said about her nightly routine. “My first few minute I pray.”

Hobson moved from Chicago to San Diego with her parents and siblings in 1994, and she has worked two jobs for much of her life. In 2020, she and her son and a friend were living in a three-bedroom El Cajon apartment for $2,450 a month, which she could no longer afford after her friend moved away.

Her son moved in with her mother, and Hobson began sleeping in her car because she couldn’t find another place to live.

Since then, she has earned a license as a pharmacy technician and is working at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest some days and the county’s Psychiatric Hospital on Rosecrans on others. Her schedule fluctuates from 40 hours one week to 48 hours the next.

“I make pretty decent money, but if I’m not hearing, ‘We don’t have a vacancy,’ I’m hearing ‘You have to have a better credit score.’”

Hobson is impressed by the many services that are available for people in need, but she feels that she is in the back of the line for help as a single person who is stable, sober and working.

“I’ve met some doctors who are homeless right now,” she said. “It’s hard to live in California right now.”

As someone who came from a stable family and is a working professional, Hobson is frustrated about her situation.

“The sad part is, even with the upbringing and doing things the right way, you still can fall, and sometimes you fall hard,” she said. “That’s the part that becomes frustrating. When you try to do everything right, and it doesn’t fall in place for you.”

Robert Prokosh

Sudden rent increases are not unique to San Diego.

Robert Prokosh, 68, was renting an apartment in Las Vegas when his monthly rent jumped from $700 to $1,400 in July. Unable to find another place and knowing it would not be possible to live in a car during a Las Vegas summer, he headed back to his hometown of San Diego.

“I grew up here,” he said. “I was raised here, went to school here. I owned homes in Linda Vista and Allied Gardens and San Carlos.”

Prokosh had moved away for work, and for years had a job as a tour bus driver before settling in Las Vegas. After the rent increase, he and his wife moved into the safe parking lot operated by Jewish Family Service in Mission Valley.

He’s not sure about his future plans. A few weeks ago, he had a heart attack at the parking lot, and a buddy drove him to a hospital.

“Now they’re talking about open-heart surgery,” he said. “They think I have a tear in my heart.”

Prokosh needs surgery, but said he is unsure when it could happen because the hospital will not schedule the operation until he has a place to recuperate other than his car.

Bobbie Bray

“It’s tough out here,” said Bobbie Bray, 60, who lives in her car in Oceanside. “It’s not for me. I don’t belong out here. I don’t fit in.”

Bray had her own cleaning business and was living with a family and working as a caregiver for a member of the household. After the woman she was caring for died last year, Bray said she got an apartment in Carlsbad, but was scammed out of $6,000.

“Everything from there just went downhill,” she said. “Any money I had in the bank went to hotels because I didn’t want to be homeless. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. I didn’t realize that was going to be very expensive, but my money just dried up.”

She began spending evenings in her car, but is only able to sleep a few hours each night out of fear.

“I’m never safe,” she said. “There’s always guys around my car, looking in. A few times they’d drive by and ask for sex. No way in heck. It’s not me.”

Bray has a grown son and said she had worked all her life and is looking for a job.

“I just need a place,” she said. “I work with a dog groomer as a bather, and I want to get another full-time job. I just want to work and have a place where I can lock the door and feel safe and cook something. I don’t care how big or how small.”

Delanie Bollinger and Mike Taveuveu

Oceanside couple Mike Taveuveu, 35, and Delanie Bollinger, 28, have been living in a car since Bollinger left her job about five months ago.

“I had a little apartment nearby, and I decided it wasn’t working out and I needed a little more freedom to figure out what I actually wanted to do before I get another job in six months to a year,” Bollinger said.

Taveuveu said he had been living with hissister and herfamily in Vista, but last year decided to move out to give them more space.

The couple said life on the street is not so bad, though Bollinger said she sometimes has second thoughts when nights are so cold she can’t feel her fingers or toes and her blankets don’t keep her warm.

“There’s days when I’m really blessed, and days when I’m like, man, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” she said.

While they acknowledge their homelessness was more of a choice than something that was forced upon them, they’re not sure how to get out of it.

Taveuveu said he will look for a job that is something he’ll want to do for a long time and can get him into an apartment, but he also knows it might be hard to make rent.

Bollinger said she doesn’t want to go back to a job she does not like, but knows that could be a challenge.

“There’s a lot of jobs, but most of the ones that are available are minimum wage, and minimum wage isn’t enough to afford a place here and afford food,” she said. “It’s not really feasible. It almost feels pointless.”

Taveuveu said he keeps a positive outlook.

“No matter what, good or bad, we just know that we’re going to make it,” he said. “It’s got to be better. It’s going to get better. Just stay solid, keep moving forward and upward, you know?”

Johana Dedapper

Johana Dedapper, 47, has one of the more unusual stories about becoming homeless.

After an unhappy career working in a bank in her native Belgium, she opened an Airbnb after her two children moved out, and she decided to live an adventurous life of traveling and attending music festivals.

She met an American man staying in her Airbnb, and they became a couple traveling to concerts across Europe. When his visa expired and he returned to the United States, he invited her to join him, and she arrived in the country Oct. 6.

Their travel adventures continued, and they were joined by a male friend. Her boyfriend suggested they attend a Katy Perry concert in Las Vegas and she agreed, though the singer’s music was hardly the type they had been enjoying together.

“He had a gambling problem and I didn’t know it,” she said. “In two and a half hours, he gambled all of his money and our money. My friend and me, we were trying to do everything to get him away from the table.”

She lost about $3,700, and all three were broke, and they spent the night in their car.

The couple’s travels continue, and they arrived in Ocean Beach last month.

Dedapper then experienced another side of her boyfriend she had never seen, as he began getting cash advances from his credit card and buying cocaine. She said he became verbally abusive, and one day a homeless person she had befriended intervened, and she began living on the beach with her new friends.

”I think they probably saved my life,” she said. “I knew it was getting dangerous.”

A chance conversation with someone from the San Diego Rescue Mission led to an offer to join their program. Dedapper said she realized this was an opportunity she had to take, and she enrolled in the year-long residency program in early December.

“After three days I finally stopped crying and I said, ‘Once I get back on my feet, I’m going to give back what you guys gave me,’” she said. “Not only that, but I’m going to help every one of my friends on the beach.”

Roberta Adams

San Diego native Roberta Adams, 62, has overcome addiction and homelessness in the past year, emerging from a dark place that resulted in a week-long hospital stay and three follow-up visits.

She described a past relationship as toxic, abusive and very drug-related, which lasted on-and-off for a few years.

While living in Hemet, she left the man she was with, entered a program to become sober, and for eight months lived in her own place.

“Then COVID hit, and the next thing you know, I’m getting high again and inviting him back in my life again,” she said. “It was the same drama, worse than any other time, and that continued until I made up my mind to let that sh— go.”

Adams has diabetes, and she said she would neglect to take insulin shots when using drugs. Her health was failing by the time a friend paid her Uber fare to drive her from Hemet to Perris, where she caught a Greyhound bus to San Diego and then took a trolley to Grossmont Hospital.

“I couldn’t even see straight,” she said. “I couldn’t even walk straight.”

Her health stabilized after a week in the hospital, but Adams had no place to go. She did not want to move in with her grown children, and she found herself suddenly homeless.

Some at the hospital suggested she go to the San Diego Rescue Mission, where she entered a year-long program that she graduated from two months ago. She’s now on a waiting list for permanent housing.

“I know that God is working in my life,” she said.

She has blocked the man from her past relationship from seeing her, and she plans to attend a Narcotics Anonymous group every day once she has her own place.

“I don’t want to relapse ever again,” she said.

Christopher Johnson

San Diego native Christopher Johnson was heartbroken earlier this year and made a choice. He had to get back to his children, even if it meant being homeless.

He and his wife and four children had moved to Fort Worth, Texas, four years ago so his mother could be near her grandchildren. But the marriage broke up, and his wife moved back to San Diego with their three youngest children.

Johnson said he fell into a depression, but began to healas he focused on reuniting with children.

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

San Diego Unified Board Member Thinks Public Schools Should Replace Private Childcare Providers

California’s universal transitional kindergarten program rollout, which will bring free transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds in the state by 2025, and which San Diego Unified rolled out early, has had a devastating effect on the private childcare industry.  

Because state licensing requirements allow private childcare providers to care for significantly more 4-year-olds per teacher than younger children, 4-year-olds are the most profitable demographic for those providers. Some even take a loss when providing care for younger kids and make it up with older kids. And it’s exactly that demographic that UTK has hoovered up. 

KPBS recently reported that a San Diego County YMCA survey found “85 percent of childcare businesses have seen a reduction in enrollments of 4-year-old children and 76 percent have lost children to a TK program.”  

San Diego Unified board member Richard Barrera thinks there’s a solution for the weakened private childcare system – get rid of it altogether. 

“We can’t, as a society, look to protect a system (where) 3 and 4-year-olds are sort of a cash cow,” Barrera said. “I would hope that the goal eventually is to continue to move the public school system down to younger and younger groups of students.” 

Barrera thinks even describing the private childcare system as a system is inaccurate. To him, it’s a broken patchwork that doesn’t meet the needs of parents or workers in the childcare industry.  

“The move toward universal early childhood education is designed to replace a bad system with a good system,” Barrera said. 

The private childcare system has long struggled from a tricky dichotomy, pulled between the cost for parents and the wages of teachers. Childcare is already unaffordable for many families, while at the same time workers in the industry are underpaid. 

Barrera said a significantly expanded early education program would take care of both problems – it would be free and accessible to parents, and workers would get better paying jobs with better benefits. Encouraging the development of a pipeline of educators working in early childcare to receive the certifications required to work in TK classrooms would be vital for building up the workforce, Barrera said.  

“For people who really care about kids and devote themselves to kids, but are underpaid, don’t have benefits, don’t have any security in their employment, for them to be able to be on a path, toward working in the school district, I think would be a great approach,” Barrera said. 

San Diego Unified already has a school that has implemented the “cradle to career” model Barrera would like to see rolled out districtwide in the recently rebuilt Logan Memorial Education Campus, which provides care from preschool to high school. 

It’s an idealistic vision. But any dream of a districtwide, let alone statewide, rollout of Logan Memorial-style campuses would be a herculean task, said Rita Palet, executive director of early education programs and services at the San Diego County Office of Education. An expansion of that scale would require massive investments on top of the $2.7 billion the state has invested to support its UTK system. 

“This comes with a lot of expense, a ton of expense, and right now we’re fighting just for the education dollars that we need to meet the needs of our kids currently,” Palet said. “If it were to happen, would it be a benefit? Absolutely.” 

But Palet is also careful to point out that doing so would cause even more suffering for private childcare providers at a time when they’re stretched thin. She thinks the private industry has value for parents, especially those who prefer a school that aligns with their cultural or religious views, is in their local neighborhood or is smaller than district options.  

“You don’t want to look at eliminating that entire field because then you eliminate parents having options of where to bring their children,” Palet said. “And I think it’s really important that parents have a choice.” 

But Barrera is hopeful the realization that a new unified system is needed will come for state officials, especially given the visibility of the private childcare system’s current struggles. 

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of SD