A note: I am headed to Hawaii next week. (Do you know — do you have ANY IDEA — how glorious it feels to type those words?) That means What We Learned This Week will be taking a vacation, too. I’ll miss making a Sunday cameo in your inboxes, but not too much. I’ll see you again in two weeks.


You might’ve heard that our pal Mario Koran has been named Journalist of the Year by the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. We’re super proud.

Another journalist, our friend and contributor Ken Stone, reached out a couple days ago to do a write-up of the honor for the Times of San Diego. He sent a few questions to me and Scott Lewis about Mario and his career.

One of the questions he asked was whether we were nervous that Mario would get scooped up by another news outlet. The short answer is yes — I miss working with Liam Dillon, Caty Green, Dagny Salas and all the other great journalists who’ve moved on to awesome gigs, as proud as I am of all of them.

But I initially misread Ken’s question, and thought he was asking whether, as Mario was working on his series of investigative stories surrounding former school board trustee Marne Foster, I was worried about getting scooped by other news outlets — that is, whether we were under pressure to get the stories out quickly before other journalists beat us to the news.

My misreading Ken’s question also coincided with me putting together an application to enter VOSD for an award, a process that required me to go through all the stories we’ve published in the last year. It made me realize something interesting: Two of our biggest stories over the past year — which also happen to be two with some of the most clear-cut examples of impact — came from situations that had been out in the public for quite some time.

In the case of the Foster story, a grand jury report suggesting bad behavior on Foster’s part had been public for months before Mario dug in. Same with the Lilac Hills Ranch project — this was a development years in the making that had been written about countless times. Yet, when Andy Keatts and Maya Srikrishnan pored time and resources into examining the project, they uncovered many improper or questionable dealings. Now, Foster is no longer a member of the school board, and County Supervisor Bill Horn has been disqualified from voting on Lilac Hills.

Residents countywide may end up voting on the project as the developer was forced to find an alternative route to approval.

Those stories are a good reminder that getting scoops in the traditional sense — revealing information seconds or minutes before other journalists get to it — isn’t the only way to uncover important news. Sometimes it means looking where others have looked before, or revisiting stories or cases that give you that itching sensation that there’s more there, that something just isn’t right. Both of those stories gave our journalists that feeling, and I’m so glad they followed it and scratched until they found something.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Let’s get right to business. There was an election this week!

A couple days before the primary, Andrew Keatts tagged along on some get-out-the-vote efforts for candidates on both sides of the aisle. That experience drove home a message: Residents care a lot about the presidential race, and far less about local contests.

On Election Day, as our reporters fanned out across the city, that same message was made clear again and again and again. (Points to D3, though, whose residents were vocal about the mayor’s performance as well as homelessness issues.)

Then came the results. Some were not so surprising: Chris Ward, who had more endorsements and money than his opponent, won enough support to win the District 3 City Council race outright. So did Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Scott Lewis analyzed the power of the Faulconer Doctrine now that it has major voter validation: “Accept political realities that you cannot change, then engage them. For instance, the city was going to pass a climate action plan. Don’t just hold your nose and let it go through; own it and embrace it. I actually think this is Faulconer’s genius: identifying exactly when he can’t beat them and so will join them.”

Some results, though, were quite surprising. Namely, the success of Mara Elliott in the city attorney’s race, and Barbara Bry’s major win over Ray Ellis in City Council District 1.

Keatts and Lewis did a rundown of what it all means on the VOSD podcast.


A few weeks ago we ran an op-ed titled It’s Not Too Late to Launch a Legitimate Anti-Stadium Campaign. That author was onto something, because now a legitimate anti-stadium campaign has launched.


You might not know it because the election was such a show-stopper, but we actually had a crush of education stories this week.

Ashly McGlone discovered that Poway Unified has paid twice the amount spelled out in a contract with a financial firm, in just half the contract term. Then, she was the first to report that Poway Unified is actively searching for a new superintendent, as current Superintendent John Collins remains in limbo.

Sherman Elementary is finding a lot of success with bilingual education in a community that usually doesn’t have access to such programs. Mario Koran examined how Sherman is making things work, and what’s stopping other schools from replicating that success.

We also had a disturbing encounter with the public information officer for San Diego Unified, and Scott and I shared our thoughts on the incident here.


Otay Mesa is having a bit of an identity crisis: Should it be a center for manufacturing jobs, or to new homes?

What I’m Reading

• Donald Trump told his most high-profile campaign surrogates 1) not to listen to his own campaign staffers, and 2) to call anyone asking about his comments on an American-born judge of Mexican heritage the real racists. (Bloomberg)

• A writer who’s built a solidly upper middle-class life describes why she can’t shake the mindset she developed growing up “really, actually, truly, definitely poor.” (Fusion)

• Every piece by Nikole Hannah-Jones will be the best thing you read that week. This – about deciding where to send her daughter for school – is no exception, and lays out the challenge facing so many urban families: Should you do what you can to improve your neighborhood school, or prioritize your own child by sending him or her elsewhere? (New York Times Magazine)

• How America’s attitude on domestic violence has changed, as told through People magazine covers. (Buzzfeed)

• This piece about the ways in which people cheat on corporate fitness challenges (including attaching their Fitbits to ceiling fans, dogs, hamster wheels and power saws) is delightful. (Wall Street Journal)

Line of the Week

“Empathy is a blessing. But empathy’s not even-handed. It’s idiosyncratic. Judges empathize with defendants who share their life experiences – and only a narrow and privileged slice of America shares the life experiences of a judge. That’s one reason that justice in America looks the way it does.” – From an insightful and honest post from a well-known blogger and criminal defense attorney on Brock Allen Turner’s infuriatingly short rape sentence.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said residents might not weigh in on the Lilac Hills Project. They indeed might still vote on the project.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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