California Student at Home? Check Your Mail for $738 Per Student

During the pandemic there have been a number of programs created to support workers, families, and students. In California P-EBT 2.0 is currently being distributed – funds for many California students. (P-EBT is a SNAP / food stamps program providing money for grocery purchases.) The cards are being mailed out to California families from early August 2021 through November 2021. I recently received two of the P-EBT cards for my elementary school children, with a value of $738 each.

The California Department of Social Services has a good summary of the current P-EBT program and who qualifies. The program covers a broad swath of students and schools and there is no application process – you may be sent a card without expecting it, as our family did.

I wanted to write up a brief post on this program specifically because the program doesn’t seem to be widely known, applies to families that likely haven’t received this sort of benefit in the past, and because the cards come in very non-descript envelopes that I imagine are being thrown away as junk mail by many.

Here’s the envelope our card arrived in – it came from South Dakota and no mention of P-EBT, schools, or even the state of California. When I picked it up I thought it was a credit card solicitation.

The letter inside has quite a bit of information and the process to register and activate the card is pretty simple, as long as you have the personal information for the student receiving the card.

The San Diego Hunger Coalition has a helpful post with information about the distribution timing for the P-EBT cards, phone numbers you can call for help, and more.

I had not used a food stamp / P-EBT program in the past and was surprised at how easy the card is to use. You simply swipe it like a debit card, enter the PIN, and payment is processed for any grocery items on your bill, with non-grocery items needing separate payment. I’ve used the card at Vons, Target, and even on Amazon. If you receive P-EBT but don’t want to use the funds personally, I’ve found a few websites where you can donate P-EBT funds online, but none in California. (Perhaps there are ways to do this locally in San Diego – if you can drop a Comment on this I’d appreciate it.) Or, as this Chicago story notes, you can purchase items to donate if you like.

I hope if you live in California and have school-aged children you’ll keep an eye out for these benefit cards, and that yours doesn’t end up in the rubbish bin. The money is a significant amount and can be a great help for many children.

So excited to be back in school!

Hiking Cowles Mountain – Big Rock Trail (NE Trail)

I’ve hiked Cowles Mountain many times with my son since he was a baby, but until today had only used the Golfcrest Trailhead, the south-west and most popular starting point. Today we headed to Big Rock Trailhead, the north-east starting point.

The distance was about 2.1 miles from the trailhead to the peak and the ascent took us an hour with the return trip taking about 40 minutes. It certainly felt longer and more strenuous than the Golfcrest trail we’ve typically done. (Might be my post-Covid weaker body, or actually is a harder trail.) There was a great breeze going and this eastern trail had more shrub shade than the western side, to my surprise. Not a lot of shade, but some portions had a bit. We sat at the top and had a picnic lunch, which is a great way to take a nice break and enjoy a chat and views at the peak.

Guest content from my hiking partner, Ambrose:
“My favorite part was eating lunch. I want to do another hike sometime – one with a waterfall at the end.”

Cowles Mountain is one of 5 peaks in Mission Trails Regional Park that make up the “5 Peak Challenge“. The map below highlights the location of the peaks and it’s fun to do them all whether solo, with a friend, or with your family. I did the 5 Peak Challenge a few years ago solo and it was a great, challenging day.

COVID-19 Antibody Testing – Now Included with SD Blood Bank Donations

The San Diego Blood Bank recently started testing all blood donations for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) antibodies. I gave blood last month and received the antibody results about 7 days after my donation via the Blood Bank donor portal, a personal site that gives a donor history, blood type, and now COVID-19 antibody results.

Per the Blood Bank, the antibody test “detects if your immune system has developed antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Results of SARS-CoV-2 testing is intended for qualification of COVID-19 convalescent plasma and may NOT be used for diagnostic purposes.  As this is NOT a diagnostic test, it will not detect active COVID-19 infections or recent exposure.” More information on the antibody test can be found on the Blood Bank related FAQ page here.

If you are wondering if you may have already had COVID-19 donating blood may be a free, convenient way to find out while also providing a blood donation to help others in the community.

You can schedule an appointment to donate blood with the San Diego Blood Bank at:
https://www.mysdbb.org/donor/schedules/zip

Sunrise over Americas Cup Harbor on November 28, 2020. (Not a blood donation center, but was a pretty morning.)

Short Term Rentals in San Diego – The Newest Rebuke

Tomorrow, December 3, 2020, the San Diego Planning Commission will consider a proposal to greatly reduce and regulate the short-term rental industry in the city. This item will likely move to the City Council for consideration in 2021.

The relevant Agenda for the meeting (STR issue is Item 1) can be found here: https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/dsd_pcagenda_20201203.pdf

This Agenda item is based on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) created between UNITE HERE Local 30 (a labor group) and Expedia Group. (MOU below)

You can add a comment or sign up to give live testimony via the Planning Commission website. Below is my short comment, opposing the MOU and supporting the many thousands of hosts in the City of San Diego.

The view from a recent Airbnb stay in Northern Wisconsin.

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This amendment / action would reduce the number of short term rentals in San Diego by approx. 65% and harm thousands of property owners during a period of economic turmoil. I urge the Planning Commission to oppose this amendment / action.

I agree with requiring a license number for each unit rented on a short-term basis, and requiring the posting of this license number on any online platform. I also agree with enhanced enforcement of noise and other nuisance laws, including an escalating fine scale for repeat offenders.

Short-term rentals are immensely popular (and have proven to be more resilient than hotels and other accommodations in the current Covid climate). I hope the Planning Commission will embrace short-term rentals and support this long established opportunity for San Diegans for the years to come by opposing this item. Thank you.

Mount Laguna Morning Hike

The Laguna Mountains lie about 45 miles straight east of Downtown San Diego. Reaching a maximum height of 6,378 feet they have a very different climate from the nearby beaches that San Diego is better known for. The many campgrounds in the Lagunas are our favorite places to camp near our home.

This week I took our older kids and some friends for a morning hike at the Wooded Hill trail in the Lagunas. It had rained a bit in San Diego over the weekend but we didn’t expect a snow covered scene when we reached the higher altitudes. It was a gorgeous morning, about 50 degrees, and with both evergreen trees and some oaks starting to change to fall colors.

We walked about 2 miles in 2 hours, taking time to throw snowballs, climb boulders, and enjoy the sunshine at the summit of the trail. (Strava recording in images below with more details along with some scenery photos.)

On the return journey to San Diego, about 50 minutes total drive time each way, we stopped at the absolutely fabulous Grand Ole BBQ y Asada in Flinn Springs (the Eastern edge of El Cajon). With current Covid restrictions the lawn games weren’t available but it was wonderful to sit in the 70 degree sun with a light breeze and enjoy the best barbeque in San Diego County. If visiting San Diego or live here, highly recommend a trip and the brisket or beef ribs.

San Diego has great beaches and wonderfully temperate weather for which it is mostly, and rightfully, known. The broader area has a wide variety of plants and land forms to explore and many like Mount Laguna deserve more love.

Germs

– A Guest Post By Ambrose Anderson –

Germs are sort of like bacteria. Germs can be good and bad. Good germs fight bad germs and bad germs like virus, cold, and flu germs fight good germs. There is a five second rule – if you drop a piece of food on the ground for more than five seconds you should not eat it. If less than 5 seconds if you want you can eat it. The sponge we used to clean our dishes had millions of germs on it every time you use it to clean plates the germs from the plate get on the sponge. To avoid that throw away the sponge every week/few days and use a different one for the next week/few days.

Dirty pan

Germs spread by touching other people for a long time (more than five seconds). Fist bumps and high fives are okay, but you should do a fist bump instead of high five. They don’t spread as many germs as touching some one. You can have family rules to keep your family safe from most bad germs.

My dad and sister doing a high five
The author in action

How the coronavirus is affecting lives throughout San Diego (and the world)

– A Guest Post by Eva Anderson –

Dozens of people throughout San Diego had their lifestyle influenced by the coronavirus, a sickness that is leaving destruction in its wake at it moves rapidly around the world. People are going into chaos when the coronavirus hits their country, state, city, or community. New rules are popping up all over countries to keep people safe. The coronavirus epidemic is becoming a world wide struggle. New things that are happening, such as the closing of shops, are going on because people don’t need the things inside the shop, plus when people gather, like to shop or play, germs get on to other people, causing them to become sick. The coronavirus is a contagious disease, which means that if someone else gets the germ that person will get the same sickness. Therefore, shops are closing. Rules such as only ten people in the supermarket at a time are being made world wide to prevent the spreading of germs. Supermarkets are pretty much the only kind of stores open nowadays. Schools have been closed so me and my brother Ambrose have been doing home school to keep up on our learning progress. I can tell you that these changes have been affecting people I know, such as my classmates, teacher (Mrs. Bobier), and my around the block friend Sophie have all had to make many changes in order to adjust to this new lifestyle. Public parks (or at least their parking lots) have been closing due to these changes.

Ambrose Anderson riding his bike

My morning routine has changed as well. Instead of going to school in the morning me and my dad have been teaching Ambrose to ride his bike and we’ve been going on rides throughout San Diego (although he complains about hills a lot). Today we rode to South Park and back. My dad spray painted Ambrose’s bike red and black. I have heard that in Italy people are not allowed to leave their house except to get food. My family bikes every morning to get fresh air and exercise because those two things are very important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which is important to have due to circumstances beyond our control – the coronavirus.

Eva Anderson pulls Ambrose and Oliver Anderson
The author riding on her bike

Posted March 25 2020 by Eva Caroline Anderson

North Park Way and 30th Street – An Intersection In Need of Improvement

Although North Park’s “Busy Corner” lies a block north, the intersection of North Park Way and 30th Street is a popular crossing for pedestrians in the neighborhood.  In the heart of North Park, this intersection hosts Waypoint Public, Pigment, the North Park Parking Garage, and North Park Family Dentistry with many more businesses and residences nearby.  It is also an intersection that needs improvement to increase safety and convenience for residents and visitors to North Park.

Today my neighbor recounted being hit by a car driver at this intersection last week while she was pushing a stroller and walking with her seven-year-old.  The driver did not yield when making a left turn and did not use a blinker to indicate the left turn.  She plowed into the group of three in broad daylight.  If you walk this intersection you may have had close calls with drivers as I have on a number of occasions.  We need to do much more to make our neighborhoods safer – motor vehicle crashes are the top cause of death for American children and adolescents ages 1 to 19.

For this specific intersection here are a number of improvements we can make. (The following could be applied to many areas across the city as well and hopefully some, like LPI, become the default treatment rather than reactive to areas with injuries.)

  1. Sync pedestrian signals.  Currently the east-west and north-south crossing signals do not sync – if you push the button on the east side only that side will give a “Walk” signal on green. These indicators should be synced for both sides of the street.
  2. Automate pedestrian signals with minimum crossing times.  In addition to pushing the pedestrian walk request (aka “beg buttons”) the pedestrian walk symbol should automatically be triggered and illuminated for the minimum crossing time when a vehicle triggers a light change.
  3. Add a Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) in addition to automatic minimum crossing time signal.  An LPI gives pedestrians a 3-7 second head start when crossing an intersection.  NACTO notes that LPIs “have been shown to reduce pedestrian-vehicle collisions as much as 60% at treated intersections”. You may have seen LPIs in action at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street or other locations.
  4. Add “Yield to Pedestrian on Turns” signs. A simple reminder to look around when driving and be aware.
  5. Add curb bulbouts to the intersection corners to reduce the road width (and consequently road speeds). The image below is the current intersection with red added for potential curb bumpouts to reduce the road width and in which plants and trees could be added or benches to sit.  The bulbouts would also reduce the roll-through turns that are common enough to be known as “California Stops”.  The yellow portions are for potential additional parking spaces to accompany the bulbouts. (I don’t favor more auto parking in the area as there are better uses for our limited public land but seems to be a way to help get safety improvements done since many like a free lunch.)

6. Add red light cameras to penalize bad actors (after remaking them legal in San Diego).  In 2013 San Diego got rid of red light cameras that were used to penalize those breaking laws at intersections.  Cameras are cheap and effective ways to enforce laws like speeding, running red lights, etc. and would be ideal for areas like this intersection where common law-breaking by drivers has more severe repercussions due to the high number of humans nearby.

7. Lower speed limit to 20 MPH.  Lower speeds help to avoid collisions and reduce the harm when collisions occur.  This article has a great interactive chart showing the relative fatality risk at various speeds.

If you’re interested in helping make this intersection better in the ways noted above (or your own) you can help by contacting our City Councilmember, Chris Ward at christopherward@sandiego.gov and the Council Office Rep for North Park, Tyler Renner  – trenner@sandiego.gov.

Taking a moment to send a message as simple as “Please make the intersection at 30th and North Park Way safer. Our family walks there often. Thank you.” are great and really help to make improvements on the ground reality.

[Related note: Thank you to all that voiced support for a new crosswalk at Jefferson Elementary – located 3 blocks directly west of the intersection highlighted in this post.  Mr. Renner informed me this is scheduled to be installed in 2019 as part of the new Mini-Park in North Park behind the Observatory.]

For context here are a few photos of the intersection I took today, 1/5/2019.

A New Crosswalk Request in North Park at Jefferson Elementary

Let’s make the neighborhood a bit safer and more enjoyable for all

North Park has had a number of crosswalks installed in recent months, including some with push-button flashing lights as you can now see at the corners of 30th Street and Myrtle as well as 30th Street and Polk, as well as other locations.  It has seemed to make a positive impact on the likelihood of drivers that yield to pedestrians at these intersections and hopefully an overall greater awareness for those walking in the area.

This post is to request a new painted crosswalk on the south portion (east-west crosswalk) of the intersection of North Park Way and Utah Street, in front of Jefferson Elementary.  This intersection is just outside the front doors of the school and this three-direction intersection has a stop sign for each direction of oncoming traffic.  There are currently painted crosswalks on the other two crossings at the intersection but just a “No Ped Crossing” sign for the third.

This aerial image shows the existing crosswalks to / from the Jefferson Elementary block in Yellow and the requested additional crosswalk in Red.

With all vehicles already needing to stop at this intersection it seems natural to include a painted crosswalk for pedestrians.  Especially given that the school provides services for children from preschool through fifth grade it seems even more needed to have visible markings and crossings to ensure drivers are aware of the hundreds of small children in the area.

Many parents and children walk to the school from the south and east directions, either from residences or from parking in the neighborhood.  Another marked crossing option would make the journey to school quicker, safer, and more convenient for all.  (And outside of school hours for anyone walking in the neighborhood.)

Below is the current status of this crossing.  Hopefully we can make this small improvement soon, for the use of students and the community at large.

If you’d like to help make this crosswalk a reality please reach out to the San Diego District 3 Councilmember, Chris Ward, at the following email addresses and simply voice your support.  A message as simple as “Crosswalks at Jefferson needed and I support. Thank you.” are great.

Councilmember Ward – christopherward@sandiego.gov

Council Office Representative Tyler Renner  – trenner@sandiego.gov

Transient Occupancy Tax in San Diego – Airbnb Overcharging Visitors

Airbnb has collected and remitted Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) for hosts in the City of San Diego since July 2015, making collection of these taxes easier for both hosts and the City Treasurer.  Per the City TOT FAQs, TOT is charged for the following stays:

“If you are renting a room for less than one calendar month, the rental is subject to the TOT.”

The exact rules of the TOT can be found in the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) §35.0101.  Here the City states there is a TOT:

“It is the purpose and intent of the City Council that there shall be imposed a tax on Transients”
And to whom that tax applies in the definition for Transient:
“Transient” means any Person who exercises Occupancy, or is entitled to Occupancy, by reason of concession, permit, right of access, license, or other agreement for a period of less than one (1) month. A month is defined as the period of consecutive days from the first calendar day of Occupancy in any month to the same calendar day in the next month following, or the last day of  the next month following if no corresponding calendar day exists.”
This definition does not rely on a strict number of days to qualify as a month – it is dependent on the number of days in each month.  A stay of 28 days (or 29 or 30) in February (of a non Leap Year) are not subject to TOT  but a stay of those durations in July would have TOT since July has 31 days.

The City of San Diego TOT is 10.5% for small short-term rental operators, those with less than 70 rooms.  An additional TMD assessment used to apply to small operators but now applies to large operators only, effective September 1, 2016. Rates and additional information available on City website for TOT.

Airbnb has not correctly implemented the definition of a calendar month in collecting the TOT in San Diego and instead is applying the tax to any stays of 30 days or less.  Per an email from Airbnb this week the company is collecting “10.5% of the listing price including any cleaning fee for reservations 30 nights and shorter”.

The Airbnb site can be used to see how the TOT calculation is being applied by entering dates and then clicking a property to see the reservations details, where the TOT is listed as a separate line as “Occupancy taxes and fees”.  Below are a few sample results showing the TOT being charged when it should not be.  The erroneous TOT charges are for hundreds of dollars each. I also called the TOT help phone number at the City (619-615-1530) to confirm that TOT should not be applied to these specific date scenarios.

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I’m a big fan of Airbnb both as a host and as a guest.  Having the company collect and remit TOT for hosts is a nice convenience, as previously short-term rental hosts on the platform had to complete and file a monthly return to report TOT.  The incorrect application of the TOT rules and resulting overcharging of customers is not right and needs to be corrected.  I’ve reached out to the company a number of times requesting this and either due to a difference of understanding or other reasons a correction has not been made. I’m hopeful that this article may result in corrective action being taken.