Normally, news outlets essentially close up shop at the end of the year and fill their pages with retrospectives. We do that too. But 2016 was different.
Over the past two weeks, our journalists have been very busy. They uncovered news about a number of important topics like the fire danger facing local arts venues, a pair of potentially devastating lawsuits facing a top local labor leader and Poway’s stunning rejection of housing for poor veterans. Meanwhile, a coalition of government agencies confirmed what we’ve been reporting: a $18 billion miscalculation.
In case you’ve been preoccupied, we’ve put together a quick guide to the VOSD stories you may have missed.
A Multibillion-Dollar Mistake, Confirmed
A few weeks go, we uncovered some startling facts that will affect just about everyone who drives, takes public transit or bikes around the county: The San Diego Association of Governments had dramatically underestimated the amount of sales tax collections from a 2004 tax hike, threatening transportation projects approved by voters back then. The gap could be $17.5 billion, with a b. Well, make that a B.
What’s new is that SANDAG, the region’s top planning agency, finally admitted to overestimating revenue from the 2004 tax hike, and staff declared that its forecasting was out of whack.
VOSD reporter Andrew Keatts watched the meeting where all this came out, and he waited for board members — local elected officials — to ask questions. And he waited some more. No one asked a thing.
In a commentary, VOSD’s Scott Lewis expressed fury about what he calls deliberate misleading of voters last fall when SANDAG put forward Measure A, which used the same calculations.
“This is now a scandal. Why? Because if it were not for Andrew Keatts, on our staff, nobody would know about this. This is something SANDAG officials should have disclosed themselves,” he writes. “That would be upsetting enough if it were not also for the fact that based on the same assumptions, SANDAG officials spent 2016 trying to sell the public on a new tax hike, on top of the old one, to build more transportation projects.”
Labor Leader Faces a Legal Crucible
Local labor leader Mickey Kasparian is facing serious accusations from two women in separate lawsuits.
One alleges gender discrimination and wrongful termination. The other, as Keatts writes, “is far more troubling. It is brought by Isabel Vasquez, a former United Food and Commercial Workers clerk, who says Kasparian forced her into a years-long, sporadic sexual relationship that she relented to out of fear that she would lose her job.”
Meanwhile, “a handful of other women say UFCW under Kasparian was a workplace defined by bullying, control and paranoia, and that women receive especially harsh treatment.”
Our story doesn’t just exhaustively detail the two lawsuits. It also explains what they tell us about the prickly relationship between Kasparian and progressive politicians.
Fire Officials Crack Down on Arts Venues
As our Kinsee Morlan reported, three local arts venues — Glashaus and La Bodega in Barrio Logan and Bread & Salt, a music and arts venue in bordering Logan Heights — must halt all or many of their public events while their owners improve fire safety. This could stop activities for months.
The crackdown comes in the wake of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland that took 36 lives. “Artists and musicians have long thrived in the gritty spaces, trading cheap rent for safety,” Morlan writes. “Especially in cities like San Diego with high costs of living, artists often have little choice but to sacrifice safety for affordable spaces to live, work and perform.”
At least one owner isn’t simply working to fix things. He believes the venues are being unfairly targeted and accuses officials of ignoring hazards elsewhere.
More Stories Worth a Look
• Our Scott Lewis checked in with two lease owners who want to build a hotel at Fifth Avenue Landing “and totally kill that board’s decade-long push for an expansion at its current location.”
• The city of Poway didn’t come out looking like a rose when it recently refused to allow a low-income veterans housing project to be built. Critics of the project cried foul, saying they didn’t have a problem with veterans.
That’s true, our Maya Srikrishnan wrote in a story based on her extensive reporting. They don’t dislike veterans specifically. Instead, “the opposition stemmed from fear of low-income housing and the people who would live there.”
• We heard voices. Voices that made a difference, that is. We named the downtown homeless as VOSD’s Voice of the Year: In 2016, we noted, “the shanty towns throughout downtown San Diego became impossible to ignore.”
We profiled other Voices of the Year too: The artists of Barrio Logan, Lincoln High parent activist Cindy Barros, former San Diego State coach and whistleblower Beth Burns, environmentalist Nicole Capretz, Councilman Chris Cate, the El Cajon police shooting protesters, the Encinitas opponents of new housing, Measure A proponents Gary Gallegos and Ron Roberts, craft beer leader Jacob McKean, Rep. Scott Peters, architect and downtown visionary Rob Quigley and Chargers CEO Dean Spanos.
• Why yes, we did do roundups! A whole lot of them. Here are just a few: The favorite 2016 stories of VOSD staff members and contributors, our most memorable photos, our five best podcast episodes, the journalism from outside VOSD about San Diego that thrilled us and the craziest and most memorable quotes of 2016.