Thanks to a “school choice” program that lets student opt out of their neighborhood school in favor of better schools in other neighborhoods, Castle Park High in the South Bay is witnessing a flood of students leaving the campus for greener pastures. More than 25 percent of that neighborhood’s students requested transfers out of Castle Park, with many citing the threat of violence, lackluster academics or just the school’s bad reputation as their reason.

That creates a vicious cycle, our Bianca Bruno notes. “Money follows students,” Bruno writes. When students leave the school, so does the government money, which is allocated based on attendance. Without money, the school can’t establish more academic programs, and Castle Park is now struggling to keep the programs it does have afloat.

No Clear Path for CEQA Reform

We’ve been writing about the California Environmental Quality Act and some of the problems that folks from all sides of the political spectrum have with the law, namely its impact on business development. But Brian Joseph, our Sacramento correspondent, notes that even with bipartisan champions willing to back the idea, CEQA reform is unlikely. The law’s politics are complex, and opponents fear that any change to the law, no matter how well-meaning, will lead to it being gutted.

“The interests involved are so far apart,” Joseph wrote. “They can’t agree on what the problem is with CEQA.” For her part, San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins supports the idea of reforming the law, but wouldn’t offer up any specifics other than wishing for “thoughtful” and “balanced” reform.

SANDAG’s Failing Transit Plan, in One Chart

CityLab caught wind of our area’s embattled transit plan and boiled the opponents’ argument against the transit plan down to one simple chart. One charted line, “rising through 2010 then falling dramatically, represents California’s preferred outlook,” which calls for cutting greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050. But a different line only dips slightly in the short term and then creeps up to match, and possibly exceed, current emission levels by 2050. That second line is SANDAG’s plan. “It’s very dramatic, isn’t it?” said a lawyer for the plan’s opponents.

SANDAG has opted to oppose the 2050 goal all they way to the California Supreme Court.

District Slams Brakes on Train Boozing

One of the most unique things about taking the Coaster train throughout San Diego County was the option to enjoy your favorite craft beer and wine products on board. Open alcohol containers were permitted on the Coaster train until 9 p.m. But NBC 7 reports the fun came to a screeching halt hursday when the North County Transit District board decided alcohol consumption on the Coastermust stop. “It’s banned, period,” said Board Chair Bill Horn.

The public overwhelmingly disagreed with the decision. In a 332-page report of public comments on the proposal, 98 percent of the comments opposed the ban. “We are in the transportation business, we are not in the entertainment business and we are not in the refreshment business,” Horn said, according to U-T San Diego.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner is apparently in the ridership business, and will still get you around while selling San Diego’s craft beer from their cafe.

• The board also approved a $20,000 raise for NCTD Executive Director Matthew Tucker.

SDPD Quiet on Spying Technology

How are San Diego police using technology to track cell phone users during their investigations? One group asked SDPD to reveal how they are using so-called Stingray devices, which are capable of indiscriminately gathering information from all cell phones within an large area. inewsource reports the department was not forthcoming about its usage of the “spy” devices. “So far, the Police Department has refused to release any information” about how, when or to what extent they use the devices, inewsource writes. The group First Amendment Coalition filed a lawsuit this week to try to force the department to open up about how police safeguard the information of innocent people collected when the Stingray is used.

News Nibbles

• Work done by San Diego scientists on synthetic DNA was voted as the most important discovery of 2014 by readers of the journal Science, edging out a cure for Hepatitis C and the landing of a spacecraft on a comet. (KPBS)

• In Chula Vista’s race to fill a seat on the City Council, a single vote may not have made any difference. But two votes made all the difference, as candidate Steve Padilla called off the recount of votes Thursday, 10News reports. Perhaps he read our story and realized that recounts are rarely ever worth it.

• It’s a great time to live on the border: Border wait times continue to plummet, even during the busiest parts of the day. (NBC 7)

• State Sen. Ben Hueso was sentenced to three years’ probation in exchange for pleading guilty to a charge of “wet reckless” in connection with an August incident in which he was suspected of driving while intoxicated. (U-T)

• San Diego was tied for the worst wage growth in the country among the 10 largest cities, the U-T reports.

• California is doubling down on efforts to get English-learning students the help they need to use and understand English at grade-level, the L.A. Times reports. We recently broke down why English-learning kids should matter to everyone.

• When former Mayor Bob Filner suggested San Diego could host a binational Olympics with Tijuana, people within San Diego scoffed. But on Thursday, the International Olympic Committee decided the dual-nation Olympics idea wasn’t so bad after all. (L.A. Times)

• NASA has been checking out San Diego’s holiday lights from space. (U-T)

‘Serial’ Ends, a Star Is Born

If you haven’t heard, the makers of the popular public radio show “This American Life” launched a new podcast a couple of months ago called “Serial.” The show re-investigates a 1999 murder in Baltimore, told serially in 12 successive episodes. It has enjoyed millions of downloads and endless speculation. The show’s conclusion was published Thursday and generated tons of attention across the internet.

Our Scott Lewis had been closely following the show and was invited to join a team of Serial analysts on a Slate podcast about the podcast. Slate calls its show a “spoiler show” because the hosts talk about many details revealed in the show.

That’s right, Lewis appeared on a popular podcast, which is actually about another, more popular podcast. “I’m big time now!” Lewis tweeted.

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can email him at or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

Seth Hall is co-founder of the community group San Diego Privacy, which is a member of the TRUST SD Coalition.

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