Morning Report: A Sudden Museum Raid, an Intriguing Backstory

 

Federal authorities called San Diego’s Mingei International Museum a “repository for stolen Thai archaeological resources” when they suddenly raided the institution, ordering 67 items to be immediately taken from public view.

The inquiry thrust the museum, dedicated to “arts of the people,” into the spotlight. But more than three and a half years later, Kelly Bennett reports, those 67 items remain locked away. Though there’s been little public progress in the investigation, federal prosecutors in L.A. tell Bennett they’re still working on it.

“The whole story bursts with intriguing tentacles,” Bennett writes, telling a backstory that includes an alleged “grave robber,” a key player’s death in custody and hints as to how a quiet museum in Balboa Park got ensnared in an international smuggling case focused on antiquities from a long-ago Thai culture.

• Next door to the Mingei, the San Diego Museum of Art is hosting work right now from the Spanish masters, including Picasso, El Greco, Dalí, Miró and Goya. (KPBS)

People: A Father to Many, A San Diego Son

• Leon Williams is a man of many firsts: The first black city councilman and the first (and only) black county supervisor. He’s also left a legacy of mentorship, as three of his aides have gone on to fill his council seat and others remain active in San Diego civic life, says a Union-Tribune profile on Williams.

“I expected people to be honest and to be fair and to be just,” the story quotes the soon-to-be-89-year-old Williams as saying. “And when they weren’t, it was always a problem for me.”

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When we sat down for a Q&A with Williams this April, we got a healthy dose of smart lines like that as well as one of my favorite portrait photos (complete with the trademark fedora) in Sam Hodgson’s portfolio.

• If you don’t remember Ambrose Schindler from the 1940 Rose Bowl, where he played quarterback for USC, perhaps you’d recognize him from “The Wizard of Oz.” The San Diego native spurned professional football for Hollywood, where he played the stunt double for the Tin Man, according to an LA Times profile of the 94-year-old. He later spurned Hollywood for teaching and coaching.

The Coast: The Plunge’s Fall and the Tsunami’s Plastic Legacy

• Did bureaucracy kill our famous swimming pool The Plunge in Mission Beach? Or is it one businessman’s political power play? The LA Times’ Tony Perry weighs the case from both sides in a look at our boardwalk battle.

• Debris from the Japan tsunami could wash ashore California’s coasts in three years or less. (U-T)

“It’s an intriguing prospect for beachgoers who comb the sand for trinkets or oddities from far-off lands — say fishing buoys, household objects or the proverbial message in a bottle,” writes Mike Lee. “It’s also a reminder of Mother Nature’s unpredictable fury and a testing ground for scientific models of ocean movements.”

• Even before Japan’s massive earthquake, plastic debris has been a major issue in the world’s oceans. (An estimated 3.5 million tons of it accumulates in the North Pacific Gyre alone.) University of California, San Diego researchers have been studying its impact, and now have put a figure on how much is ingested by fish in the north Pacific: between 12,000 and 24,000 tons a year. (New York Times)

The Chief Speaks

In a Q&A with police Chief Bill Lansdowne, the Union-Tribune talked with the chief about the officer crisis and the paper asked him specifically about our story last month saying the department had recommended charges for an officer it later put back on duty, only to see him accused of five more sexual assaults afterward by the district attorney. A police attorney has said the case was merely forwarded to the DA.

The paper said: “Help put that in context. If you send a report to the district attorney saying here are charges that could be filed, isn’t that in itself a recommendation that you believe, or that your department believes, there was criminal misconduct that ought to be prosecuted?”

Here was his response:

A: We take cases of criminal misconduct, any case, to the district attorney. It’s not our decision if we’re going to prosecute. It belongs rightfully with the district attorney, after an independent review of the case. So that’s exactly what occurred – a review of the case. How they made their decisions I would not speak to, nor would I speak to anything other than this: If I thought that Officer Arevalos had committed a crime I would have fired him.

Q: And you didn’t, at that time.

A: I did not.

Here’s a guide to following our reporting on the case.

How to Stop Your House from Being Inefficient

How’s this for imagery: “Leaky heating ducts, thin attic insulation, and ancient appliances suck energy from a home like a tick sucks blood from an unwary hiker.”

If that scares you into action, just follow the link to the North County Times for more on how to deal with the problem. If it doesn’t, well, then you are a stronger person than I.

Testing Gone Wrong, and Lunching Gone Wrong

• A cheating scandal in Atlanta schools has highlighted how California no longer collects information on erasures, which was the data used to discover the problem there. Schools here are just required to self-report problems. Emily Alpert takes a look at local schools’ self-reported testing irregularities, and finds issues in Chula Vista, National City, Poway and San Diego.

• San Diego Unified has ended its free lunch programs in two wealthier schools after questions were raised about their eligibility by the Union-Tribune.

What’s Up in the Mayor’s Race

• Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher has closed his statewide fundraising campaign now that he’s running for mayor, but he’s opened up a new one. It allows legislators to raise up to $50,000 to cover things like travel and cell phones for their staff, but not for campaigning. The line between daily operations and campaigning can be thin, but as one expert tells us, there are much better ways for donors to help a politician out if they want to go around the city’s fundraising rules.

Also: Fletcher says he’s close to making up his mind on the pension reform initiative that will likely grace the same ballot as the June 2012 mayoral primary.

• Carl DeMaio, a city councilman and a fellow candidate for mayor, just sent out an alert this morning that he’ll be protesting what he’s calling the city’s “cat tax.” He says the city wants cat owners to register their cat and pay a roughly $25 fee. “We need to send this idea to the litter box,” he says in his press release.

We’ve seen the arts and library supporters mobilize at City Hall recently to fight their cause. Next up: the cat lobby? I might need to bring some allergy medicine to the press conference.

I’m the editor of VOSD. You can reach me at andrew.donohue@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526. Follow me on Twitter: @AndrewDonohue.

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Andrew Donohue

Andrew Donohue
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