Jehovah’s Witnesses armed with brooms. Illicit poultry. Blame-worthy San Diegans, the big blackout and “affordable housing” that’s mighty expensive.

These topics, along with five others, attracted big-time readership on this year and landed among the Top 10 Most Popular Stories of 2011.

Here’s a quick look at these stories along with a few updates about what’s happened since they drew all of those eyeballs.

1. Cleaning the Football Stadium for God, May 26.

The Story: They scrubbed. They swept. They wiped, scraped, vacuumed, Windexed, washed and raked.

Together, about 6,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses cleaned Qualcomm Stadium on a spring Saturday before their big annual convention. It wasn’t a one-time event: they do it every year in exchange for free rent, but usually no one pays much attention. This year we were on hand to watch, ask questions and take photos.

Read the story here.

Postscript: Leon Opolski, a Jehovah’s Witness who appears in the story armed with an ancient cell phone, tells us he’s not surprised by story’s popularity. “I got calls from four different countries. Even from people offering to buy me a new cell phone.”

He added that a couple dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses went out in September to repaint all two miles of curbs outside the stadium. He said they plan to clean the stadium again next year too.


2. Mexico’s Ocean Could Become U.S.’s Drinking Water, April 24.

The Story: Water agencies from across the Southwest are looking into something that hasn’t been done before: tapping into water from Mexico via a plant designed to remove salt from seawater. It may end up being a great deal, but critics suspect their goal is to find cheap labor and fewer regulations south of the border.

Read the story here.

Postscript: The Otay Water District, which serves a section of the South Bay, is the agency looking into bringing desalinated water from Mexico. It’s been mighty secretive about its plans, making it difficult to understand who’s involved and what they’re after. Meanwhile, a key partner in a deal is trying to pull out.


3. Just How Empty Are Mission Valley’s Homes?, April 7.

The Story: Census figures indicated that Mission Valley has a major residential vacancy problem, with about 12 percent of its homes empty. But real estate types questioned whether the numbers reflect reality.

The debate is crucial to the future of Mission Valley: If it’s got lots of room, does it still need more homes and more development? And more of that perennial Mission Valley scourge? No, not rickety Swedish furniture at Ikea or losing teams at the stadium. We’re talking about traffic.

Read the story here.


4. Why San Diegans Are to Blame for the City’s Problems, Sept. 30.

The Story: You know those politicians and business types who have run San Diego over the past decade or two? Don’t blame them for the mess that the city is in, University of California, San Diego professor Steve Erie told us. Instead, we should look within.

“The problem with San Diego is that the ocean and the sun are both our blessing and our curse,” said Erie in an interview in connection with the new book he co-authored. “Obviously, it’s a wonderful place to live in if you can afford it. But the problem is, is that it induces sort of a sense of complacency that as long as the sun comes up everything is OK.”

Read the story here.


5. Building ‘Taj Mahals’ with Taxpayer Money, July 21.

The Story: This was one of our big investigative projects of the year, and our findings were a doozy: we discovered that affordable housing is mighty expensive. Many recent local affordable housing projects have cost taxpayers $400,000 to $500,000 per apartment, sometimes for small studios and one-bedroom units.

Since 2007, close to $600 million in public money has been spent to build 2,134 for-rent affordable apartments units in San Diego.

Read the story here.


6. Photos: The San Diego Blackout, Sept. 9.

The Story: The lights went out on a Thursday afternoon, and they stayed out for hours. Photographer Sam Hodgson captured eerie photos of a city in the dark.

See the photos here.

Postscript: We’re still waiting to hear exactly what went wrong.


7. Once Homeless, Now Headed to Harvard, June 19.

The Story: Not too long ago, Alicia Zamora lived in a homeless shelter and longed for food and good health.

She found both. As of last June, the Madison High valedictorian and prom queen looked forward to college at Harvard University. “Everyone gets the same meal plan and you get to swipe your card as many times as you want, as much food as you want, and then you get a place to sleep with a bed and a heater and a desk and it’s paid for,” she told us. “That’s like all I need. Just food and a place to sleep.”

Read the story here.


8. NFL Star Sues Billionaire’s Son Over La Jolla Home, June 8.

The Story: Troy Polamalu’s backyard fell and it couldn’t get up, so the long-haired Pittsburgh Steelers football star and his wife sued the son of local billionaire Ernest Rady. They claim he sold them a troubled $4.75 million La Jolla home that suffered from a big landslide.

Postscript: Court proceedings are continuing.


9. Illegal Chickens Forced into Hiding, May 15.

The Story: We met Oscar and Owl, a pair of fugitive hens. They were banished from their North Park home because the city evicted them, saying they couldn’t live in a backyard due to regulations. Their plight focused attention on strict city rules that make it difficult for residents to try to grow their own food, farm-style.

Read the story here.

Postscript: The good news: Owl doesn’t have an identity crisis due to her name anymore. The bad news: That’s because a coyote ate her after our story was published. (Don’t blame us. We didn’t publish her new address, we swear!)

The city, meanwhile, is moving forward with new, more lenient rules regarding backyard poultry.


10. Fact Check: The Rock Church’s Masses, Jan. 7.

The Story: Point Loma residents have been miffed by heavy traffic around The Rock Church, saying its popularity cramps their lives. A local woman launched a class-action suit against the developer that built the Liberty Station development, which is home to the church (and’s offices).

We bestowed a “barely true” verdict on her claim that about 15,000 people attend services on Sundays.

Read the story here.

Postscript: The church hopes a satellite building in North County will relieve some of the congestion in Point Loma. Court proceedings in the legal case are continuing.

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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