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When one retired accountant in Banker’s Hill got hepatitis A in June, he had no idea the city and county of San Diego were grappling with a growing outbreak.

Very few people did. It would be several more weeks before major awareness campaigns began.

What took so long? In an exhaustive behind-the-scenes account of what happened, Lisa Halverstadt goes through the timeline — from an alert that the outbreak had started in March, to the mad scramble that followed her story several weeks ago highlighting the lack of urgency. Now, the outbreak is national news. Emergency shelters are coming. Sanitation stations have popped up across the city. Mass vaccinations are attracting long lines.

The mayor decided not to accompany a delegation of San Diegans visiting D.C. with the Chamber this week. It’s an annual trip he usually joins.

Halverstadt weaved in patients’ stories and various city and county leaders as they addressed the crisis with different levels of alarm.

The U-T has also compiled a bunch of quotes and emails from city and county officials blaming one another over the handling of the outbreak.

What Halverstadt’s story helps illuminate, though, are the widespread assumptions that the outbreak was isolated to the homeless community and that county officials would be able to control it with vaccinations. Neither was true.

Meet VOSD’s New Environment Report

The VOSD Morning Report doesn’t always get along with its siblings (Moommm! The Culture Report is looking at me!), but it’s always happy to welcome a new one to the fold. And here’s one now: VOSD is debuting the Environment Report, which will come out every other week.

Our reporter Ry Rivard, who covers a variety of environmental issues, will be in charge. His debut column, which you can read here, takes a look at several topics, including dueling perspectives on dethroning SDG&E’s monopoly on power, the fate of underground tunnels to keep water flowing from north to south in the state and yet another threat from climate change. Plus: Rivard takes a trip to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, where wildlife still runs wild.

Remembering a Famous Killer with Grim S.D. Tie

Back in 1957, cops thought a machinist named Edgar H. Smith had killed a 15-year-old cheerleader in New Jersey. He was convicted and sentenced to death, but fought back in court.

“So began the strange, riveting and horrifying odyssey of Mr. Smith, who became a cause celebre when influential conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. began campaigning for his release in the mid-1960s,” The Washington Post reports.

Buckley “transformed Mr. Smith into a symbol of the heavy-handed justice of the state” and helped him get released. He became a celebrity for a while, then moved to California, where he kidnapped and stabbed a Chula Vista woman in 1977.

“He taped her wrists and threatened to rob her,” the Post reports. “As he sped off down a highway, she loosened her hands, reached for the steering wheel, pressed on the brakes and was stabbed savagely. She jumped from the stalled car and survived to testify against Mr. Smith after he was caught and subsequently convicted.”

That’s not all. He admitted killing the girl in New Jersey too.

Smith died earlier this year in state prison, the Post says, at the age of 83.

In 1989, the L.A. Times talked to his Chula Vista victim, who said “he can get out of prison in a few years, but I have to live with what he did to me forever. … He changed my life.”

Confederate Cemetery Monuments Under Fire

A few weeks ago, the city acted swiftly — in a matter of hours — to remove a plaque from Horton Plaza that honored a cross-country highway named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. Then the city did nothing, as far as we know, regarding another Confederate-related monument at Horton Plaza, this one honoring a cross-country highway named for … Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

We revealed that a Confederate memorial sits on San Diego city property at Mt. Hope Cemetery, where it honors soldiers buried there. Now, the New York Times says other Confederate monuments at other cemeteries are under fire.

One was removed from a cemetery in Hollywood, another from one in a city-operated cemetery in West Palm Beach, Fla. And there’s another battle brewing in the liberal enclave of Madison, Wisc., where one cemetery monument has been evicted and another may be removed. But, the story asks, “while a Confederate statue in a busy town square honors the dead, does a monument in a tranquil, little-trafficked cemetery have the same effect?”

Quick News Hits: When Cactuses Attack

Wired has a rather epic story about the massive and sometimes salacious struggles at the fact-checking site Snopes.com, which has major San Diego ties.

The new downtown courthouse, which cost more than half a billion dollars, still isn’t ready for anyone to move in. Fire control issues are to blame. (U-T)

Here come the border wall prototypes. (10News)

“San Diego city and county governments have squirreled away about $1.61 million that doesn’t belong to them, and some of the money won’t make it back to its rightful owners,” the U-T reports. You can insert a questioning-man emoji in response to this nugget: “In one instance the county owed itself $12,365, the county’s records show.”

Amtrak, the best way to get to L.A. if you have plenty of time, is eliminating service to North County stops at the Carlsbad Poinsettia and Encinitas Coaster stations due in part to low ridership, the U-T reports. But more stops will be added in San Diego at Old Town.

Pro-tip: Don’t squeeze a prickly pear cactus to see if it’s soft or hard. You may get stuck with a lot more than those big spikes that stick out. This advice comes courtesy of a handy Reddit thread titled “What is the strangest encounter you have had with a Cactus?”

Further research reveals that these spikes are known as glochids and only seen in certain cactuses. “Glochids occur in tufts, often around a main spine,” says gardeningknowhow.com. “They are deciduous and have backwards-pulling barbs that resist removal. Glochid spines dislodge with even the gentlest touch. They are so fine and tiny that removal is almost impossible.”

Holy moly. There are a couple prickly pear cactuses in my backyard, and I’m now thinking about surrounding them with yellow caution tape. It should also be noted that “Glochid: Mean & Green!” could be the best cheesy San Diego horror movie since “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Paging Steve Peace …

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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