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Yesterday, we told you about how the state’s water pollution rules are a disaster of California-sized proportions: “The state doesn’t know how many unpermitted businesses are out there or how much damage they’re doing.” Now, the second part in our three-part series looks at who’s minding the store.

Turns out that “a private police force of local attorneys and environmentalists” has taken over much of the state’s job, our Ry Rivard reports.

Locally, water control officials in recent years didn’t even look at lab reports from possible polluters. But “a fresh pair of eyes has been going over those files for the last several years: private attorneys. The regulatory paperwork is public, so outside environmental groups are combing through it, looking for companies to take to court,” Rivard writes.

The result is “a patchwork of costly settlements for the businesses that actually submit lab reports about how much pollution is coming off their property, in accordance with state law. But that doesn’t include companies that evade the system entirely.”

We Didn’t Take That Holiday Break After All

As you settle into the New Year, we’ve put together a quick guide to our best news coverage from the past couple of weeks. The holidays are normally a dead zone for journalism, but we managed to publish a surprising number of important stories.

We’re calling this guide “While You Were Out” because it’s designed to catch you up if you’ve been away or otherwise distracted from local goings-on.

Check it out here. You’ll find stories about the multibillion-dollar mess at the San Diego Association of Governments, the city’s crackdown on arts venues over fire safety (see an update on this one below), the accusations against a prominent labor leader and more.

Previewing Balboa Park’s Big Year

Our Lisa Halverstadt takes a look at what 2017 holds for Balboa Park. This “could be the year city leaders start etching out plans to address Balboa Park’s many needs and break ground on a controversial project some believe will chip away at a long-running park problem.”

As her story explains, there’s action expected on several fronts: Focusing on the park’s needs, figuring out priorities, repairing the Starlight Bowl and resolving the endless controversy over the Plaza de Panama Project.

Opinion: No ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ at Union

As local labor leader Mickey Kasparian faces lawsuits alleging gender discrimination and sexual misconduct, he’s getting a strong defense from Rosalyn Hackworth, former secretary-treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, in a VOSD commentary. “To imply that I as a woman — an advocate for women and social justice, and the second in charge of the UFCW — would allow demeaning behavior toward any being sickens me,” she writes.

In another VOSD commentary, Dwayne Crenshaw, CEO and co-founder of RISE San Diego, calls for inclusion in leadership and makes several suggestions. “Let’s resolve to be inclusive leaders in our workplaces, churches, schools, neighborhoods, public service — everywhere,” he writes.

Culture Report: Arts Venue Cleared Over Fire Safety

The owner of the Bread & Salt arts venue says it’s been cleared to open after three venues were shut down over fire safety concerns. Meanwhile, La Bodega, a gallery on Logan Avenue, is pleading with its fans to raise money to pay for fire safety upgrades. “La Bodega’s future is now in jeopardy and we are in need of desperate help,” it declared in an appeal.

As we first reported, the city is acting to promote fire safety in arts venues in the wake of the deadly Oakland warehouse fire.

This news is just part of this week’s VOSD Culture Report, which leads off with a profile of a barista who’s part of “a growing subculture of baristas who travel to competitions across the country to showcase their coffee-making skills and help raise the profile of baristas. She’s also the founder of the San Diego Coffee Training Institute, a new nonprofit that will soon be helping people become better trained, even certified baristas.”

Border Report: Mexican Gas Prices Spike

This week’s Border Report leads off with news of soaring gas prices in Mexico. Also: The Corona brand of beer is getting its own aqueduct, Tijuana’s murder count reached a record level last year and a Tijuana city councilman is in jail over here in the U.S. and facing corruption and money-laundering charges.

Quick News Hits: Naked Man Speaks for Us All

“San Diego Gas & Electric’s plan to lobby on the alternative energy program called community choice aggregation was approved in August 2016, but now has been suspended because it does not comply with state directions,” KPBS reports.

Here’s your snowpack/drought update, via the L.A. Times.

Activists want the city to stop “the citing, arresting and issuance of stay-away orders to unsheltered residents,” KPBS and City News Service report. In other words, the homeless. We were the first to report on the city’s use of a law meant to target trash dumpsters being increasingly used on the homeless.

Three prominent Democrats are already raising money for the 2018 governor’s race. One started his bid three years ago (!). (L.A. Times)

Here’s a sentence I didn’t expect to write today: SeaWorld is planning to build an electric eel-themed roller coaster in 2018. (Union-Tribune)

We’ve previously explored exactly what SeaWorld can and can’t do with its property.

Back in high school, my very first job was at Jack in the Box, where I got assigned to stuff meat and cheese into the tacos. Hot oil burned my fingers, and I was slow. Somehow I got left off the schedule, permanently. Maybe they were trying to send me a message? It’s still a mystery!

At least I can say that I contributed to the making of some of the 554 million tacos that Jack in the Box has sold over the decades. “More than 1,000 times a minute, someone bites into what has been described as a wet envelope of cat food — and keeps eating,” the Wall Street Journal reports, in a story about the cult popularity of a “gooey, deep-fried beef envelope” described as “‘vile and amazing.”

It’s not the first time this week that the home of the Breakfast Jack (yum) has been on my mind. On New Year’s Eve, the police radio-monitoring Twitter feed @sandiegoscanner tweeted this memorable update: Reporting party “wants to advise he is naked in front of Jack in the Box and has lost his mind.”

We’re with you, naked Jack in the Box man, after all that 2016 wrought. Have a “wet envelope of cat food” on us.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. He is also immediate past president of the 1,200-member American Society of Journalists and Authors (asja.org). Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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