A note from the management: VOSD debuted a new website yesterday, and we’re dealing with various inevitable glitches that come whenever we upgrade to new technology. A tech bug or two sneaked into the Morning Report, but we expect to return to normal quickly. Thanks for your patience!
Last year, after prosecutors accused a Mexican businessman of illegally donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to a handful of San Diego politicians, we set out to answer a big question to emerge from the scandal: Just who was this guy?
He was often referred to simply as the “foreign national” – but his name is José Susumo Azano Matsura. And we learned that his interactions with local politicians were possibly the least interesting thing about him. For one, Azano sells advanced surveillance technology, including an almost a half-billion dollar deal with the Mexican government for Israeli-made spy gear.
Another thing we quickly found out: You can’t study Azano for long before you run into a major San Diego force, Sempra Energy.
Sempra and Azano have been locked in an intense feud that has lasted years and led to countless claims of bribery and other wrongdoing, and has roped in the highest levels of the U.S. and Mexican governments.
The first story in our three-part series, called A Cross-Border Clash of the Titans, starts with a major flare-up in the feud. It involves guns – big ones.
They were wielded by Mexican police officers who descended on a Sempra plant in Baja California in 2011. The raid stemmed from a disputed piece of land inside the plant’s gates. A rancher claimed Sempra stole the land from him.
The rancher, on his own, was in no position to take on a Fortune 500 giant like Sempra. But he had a powerful ally in his corner: Azano.
City Drops Bombs on AirBnB Hosts
The city of San Diego means business when it says Airbnb hosts need to cough up taxes like hotels or get in big — and expensive — trouble. As we report, the city has sent out more than 240 letters telling Airbnb hosts to pay up.
“Since then, 175 of more than 3,100 local hosts have signed up to pay taxes, and at least a quarter of them have been told they’ll owe more than just future bills,” VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt reports. “At least 40 hosts have started to pay back taxes — which can include late charges of up to 25 percent — for stays that occurred weeks, months or even years ago, according to the city treasurer’s office.”
At 11 percent a night, the taxes aren’t huge. But people who rent our rooms via the Airbnb service also need to buy business licenses and get any required permits based on their neighborhoods.
More about VOSD’s Anniversary and Upgrade
Neiman Lab, an outfit that tracks journalism innovation, is out with a story examining changes at VOSD as we enter our second decade. “I got the website I wanted, I got the money I wanted, I got the staff I wanted,” VOSD’s Scott Lewis says. “I’ve got no more excuses. I’m really excited to see how it works.”
• We take a look back at 10 of VOSD’s most amusing, surprising and revealing moments over the past decade.
On the Agenda: No ‘Free’ Trash Pickup?
Councilwoman Marti Emerald wants to look into asking voters to eliminate the city’s guarantee that trash pickup will be “free.”
Trash pickup isn’t free, of course, because the city budget pays for it. But residents don’t get bills. This is all thanks to the infamous People’s Ordinance of 1919, which is still in force and makes us the only major city in the state to not charge to collect trash.
KPBS has a round-up of that and other suggestions from city officials about changes to the city charter.
I explored the origin story of the People’s Ordinance in a VOSD history flashback.
Police Blotter: Pimps Outsource
Local pimps are enlisting women to serve as a kind of assistant who helps with operations. These women “still turn tricks but reap none of the profits and are used to shield pimps from police scrutiny,” KPBS reports.
• Somebody drove into the Welcome to Grantville”/“Welcome to Mission Valley” stone sign on Friars Road. RIP, sign. A new one could, amazingly, cost $20,000-$30,000, the Reader reports. The driver skipped the scene.
L.A. Stadium Crew Tries to Go Rogue
If L.A. builds a stadium or two, the Chargers will face more pressure to skip town. Now comes news via the L.A. Times that the developers of a proposed Inglewood stadium want to avoid pesky red tape by going directly to voters. That way, the thinking goes, they wouldn’t have to deal with government officials sitting around and listening to the public.
The NFL, meanwhile, is reminding teams for some reason that they can’t get up and move without permission.
Quick News Hits: Shaken Shack
• An agency that provides water to Southern California might slash supplies by 10 percent this summer because of the drought. (City News Service)
• Qualcomm will pay a $975 million fine in China. (U-T)
• One of the joys of local life is zipping past traffic on a freeway express lane. But some are reserved for carpoolers. State legislation could change that and allow the lanes to be open to all outside peak hours. (U-T)
• “Several penguins at SeaWorld are acting as test swimmers for a dive study” NBC 7 reports. The emperor penguins are wearing body cameras as part of a test to see whether a research project is feasible.
• We’re getting details about the 34 local Radio Shack stores that are going out of business: Eight will close and the others apparently will be “sold to wireless carrier Sprint and a hedge fund that was the 95-year-old company’s biggest investor,” City News Service reports.
Darn it. Now I’m never going to find parts for my 8-track player and CB radio! Breaker, breaker …
Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.