There was no earthquake, no big storm, no disaster. All that happened was that the power went out.

Much of our local infrastructure couldn’t handle it: generators stopped working at hospitals, cell phone service vanished in places and millions of gallons of sewage flooded into the ocean.

What’s behind the outage?

Keegan Kyle searched for answers. He spoke to numerous experts and insiders to give us a picture of what is known, what is unknown and what is under investigation. He looked into:

  • What exactly went wrong?
  • Why did the San Onofre plant shut down?
  • How could San Diego’s entire power grid have collapsed from one short circuit?
  • Who’s ultimately responsible for the blackout?

The Havoc

• We’re now beginning to understand the full havoc caused by the blackout: At Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, the sole emergency generator went out, the Union-Tribune reports, and seven patients had to be evacuated, although batteries kept life support systems working. State inspectors will look into the failure, the U-T says.

Generators also malfunctioned at Sharp Memorial Hospital and at a nursing home that needed to evacuate 21 patients.

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• “From Fallbrook to the southern edge of San Diego, utility managers scrambled to cover weaknesses in a sprawling series of pumps and pipes that deliver clean water and remove waste water,” the U-T says.

• Our photographer Sam Hodgson roamed the city during the blackout, which was pretty brave considering how many people didn’t bother driving with caution. He captured images of clogged roads, a heroic City Hall intern, busy city officials and the barely lit downtown skyline.

• Wondering why your iPhone just didn’t feel like working yesterday? The NCT has an answer: hundreds of AT&T cellular towers failed, although they were restored in about six hours. Other cellular companies fared better.

• Play on! If there’s another power outage, you could spend the off time at the card table: several casinos weathered Thursday afternoon and evening with generators. A radio report said the Golden Acorn casino even had generator-powered gas pumps up and running.

• Just last week, I wrote about emergency radios in the North County Times and noted that there’d never been a big and lasting power outage here in my memory. Well, scratch that! But do check out my tips about crank-powered radios that don’t rely on batteries.

• We’ve compiled various reactions to the blackout, spotlighting acts of generosity and what-me-worry attitudes. Golfers kept golfing, families went to a University Heights park that’s usually quiet at sundown, and people appreciated the starry night. (Hey, can we not have a near-full moon next time this happens? Some of us wanna see the Milky Way!)

Advocating for the Youngest Mentally Ill

Dr. Gabrielle Cerda, a child psychiatrist at Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego who mainly treats the poor, sees two extremes on the job.

On one hand, parents resist getting care for their kids because of the stigma of mental illness. A shortage of child psychiatrists, especially those who take insurance, makes it hard even for those who want help for their children.

On the other hand, actually getting care can be a gamble. She sees preschool-age children who are, she says, on too many medications. “Today’s society wants a quick fix, and that usually involves medication,” Cerda said in this weekend’s Q&A feature. It may be cheaper to just give the kids some pills instead of invest in the time that therapy takes to achieve results.”

Cerda also talks about cultural differences in the way people look at mental illness, her battle against stigma and the most common conditions she’s seeing in children.

Kibbles and Tidbits

• The Washington Post tracks the worsening feud between local Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the most powerful players in Washington D.C., and a journalist for the New York Times.

• A UCSD study claiming that people enjoy stories more if they know the ending — i.e., yay spoiler alerts! — has gotten plenty of media coverage in the past few weeks. Now, TV’s Stephen Colbert uses the research as an excuse to talk about life and death while spilling the beans on a bunch of famous movie endings.

Soylent Green is what?! Jeepers, next thing they’ll be telling me that “To Serve Man” is a cookbook.

• The attempted robbery of a local 7-Eleven by a person in a Gumby costume — yes, a Gumby costume — is making a splash nationally. “The Daily Show” mocked CNN for asking viewers to choose whether they’d like to see a story about an energy crisis in Japan, a rescue of a rhino or, yes, the Gumby thing.

• The skygazers at Palomar Observatory have discovered a nearby supernova that’s “practically in our backyard,” as one astronomer put it to Reuters.

It “will likely become the most-studied supernova in history” and “has created a worldwide stir among astronomers, who are clamoring to observe it with every telescope at their disposal, including the giant Hubble Space Telescope.” Soon, the exploding star is expected to be visible to amateur astronomers.

Could we hook up a reliable power transmission line to that thing?

Fact-Checking the Morning Report

In Friday’s Morning Report, we drew attention to a correction we needed to make in Thursday’s Morning Report. But we did not explain it properly.

In a Fact Check this week, we rated a statement from Andy Berg, president of the Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council, saying his neighborhood’s petition challenging the San Diego Redistricting Commission comprised more people than all of the “emails they’ve received, written comments they’ve received and other petitions from other communities they’ve received.” Since the commission received more comments and emails than the number of signatures on the petition, we rated it false and stand by that.

But in Thursday’s Morning Report, we erroneously claimed that Berg had falsely said the commission heard “more from his neighborhood’s residents than all other communities combined.” Berg tells us this is actually the comparison he wanted to make and he stands by its accuracy.

And he should. It is accurate, according to our research. Had he made the claim clearly, our Fact Check would have come to a different determination. But we rated and analyzed his comparison between the number of signatures on the petition and the number of comments, emails and other feedback the commission received.

We regret and apologize for the error in the Morning Report.


What We’ve Learned This Week:

County Supervisor to Leave Post: Buried in all of Thursday’s hubbub was a big story in local politics: Pam Slater-Price, a county supervisor for almost 20 years, will step down in 2012, the U-T says. Slater-Price — who represents parts of coastal North County, La Jolla and Pacific Beach, and inland areas like Escondido, Rancho Bernardo and Mira Mesa — had been expected to run again.

This means the five-member board will gain a new face for the first time since the first Clinton Administration.

Unanswered Questions in Water District Deal: Secrecy surrounds a cross-border deal that’s being considered by the Otay Water District, which serves a big swath of South County. It would like to to spend $4 million on a plan to buy water from a Mexican plant that takes the salt out of seawater. But it’s not saying who’s involved.

There’s Meaning In Here Somewhere: We asked the four leading mayoral candidates to tell us where to photograph them. Rep. Bob Filner touted jobs with his choice, while Councilman Carl DeMaio used his photo to promote his efforts to fix the city’s faults. Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher spotlighted the region’s beauty, while District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis highlighted her personal side.

Bill Walton’s Tall Order: The local native and one-time basketball star took time off from other activities (like wearing a water bottle costume on TV) to make a media-savvy appearance in support of the Balboa Park makeover.

Many of our commenters thought his debut as a political tool was anything but a slam dunk.

Is Demise of Libraries Overdue? Commenters continue to argue about the value of public libraries, with a critic now saying the city’s library budget could buy a Kindle for every kid in the city’s school district with money to spare. The discussion inspired one commenter to mention the word “flibbertigibbet,” which doesn’t appear in print nearly enough. (If anyone thinks I’m one, just remember: it’s Mr. Flibbertigibbet to you, buddy.)


Quote of the Week, First Runner-Up:No other Gumby thefts have been reported in the area.” — an Associated Press report about the Gumby attempted robbery, paraphrasing a San Diego police detective.

Quote of the Week, Second Runner-Up: “‘Some guy from Arizona’ is always a good guess for ‘who started the Apocalypse this time?’” — The blog on reports that a power worker near Yuma set off the giant blackout.

Quote of the Week:The beer’s still working.” — Josh Bloomekatz, talking to the LA Times during the blackout from a pub at UCSD. Plenty of others around the county discovered the same thing.


Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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