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Newspaper dispensers line a street in Encinitas. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

In 2018, San Diego journalists chronicled tales of injustice, outrageous behavior and disaster. In some cases, exposure of wrongdoing and poor policies helped to make things right. But other times, it was just too late.

Here’s a look back at some of the most notable news stories from local journalists in 2018:

Foster Care Program Failed Two Boys

A pair of twin boys told county social workers about sexual abuse they were suffering at a foster home, and they weren’t the only ones to speak up. An educator, a lawyer, a psychologist and others also told social workers they suspected abuse. But, as the U-T discovered, the county foster care system didn’t promptly act to protect them, an outcome that “suggests a series of lapses.”

The foster father pleaded guilty to multiple charges of abuse. The county denied allegations in two lawsuits connected to the case, and in a legal filing even blamed the twins for their own abuse. But in August, the county agreed to settle the suits.

Reporter Morgan Cook discussed the case and her extraordinary story on the VOSD Podcast.

Inside Duncan Hunter’s Unraveling

Before that stunning indictment came down accusing Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife of dozens of charges, Politico peeled back the curtain on Hunter’s life in D.C. in a detailed piece that painted him as a gallivanting heavy drinker at best, and corrupt at worse.

Exposing Hostile Workplaces

Local hotel magnate and enthusiastic Trump supporter Doug Manchester seemed destined to snag a cozy post as ambassador to the Bahamas when the new presidential administration rolled into power. Who’d possibly care about the free-wheeling, cheesy atmosphere of sexism that he created at the Union-Tribune during his stint as publisher? Then the #MeToo movement came along. In a stunning and deeply reported story, The Washington Post said he encouraged a “retrograde,” “Mad Men”-style atmosphere. “It was a boys club, and the boys picked which women they wanted,” one former executive told the paper. Manchester publicly apologized and privately defended himself. It doesn’t seem likely that he’ll become an ambassador.

In a sprawling story that tracked allegations over four decades, the journal Science exposed multiple sexual harassment charges against high-profile Scripps Institute cancer scientist Inder Verma. He later resigned.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed reported that some San Diego tech bros purchase sex in Tijuana in order to escape the #MeToo movement: “It’s one of the harsh realities of #MeToo that border cities provide an escape hatch for some of the very men the movement sought to enlighten about the treatment of women. The men may be hearing the message, but it’s easier to ignore it down here.”

A Closer Look at Deaths and Close Calls

The U-T exposed the shocking story of how “San Diego city work crews nearly killed a homeless person who was inside a tent they scooped off the sidewalks and placed into a garbage truck.” The city fired an official who was in charge of the operation, but a department rehired her later.

It’s not unusual for patients to develop opioid addictions and die of overdoses after they’re prescribed painkillers by a physician. In some cases, the doctors never know about their crucial role in these deaths. That changed when a new project began notifying local physicians when their patients died of opioid overdoses. The project “found several troubling patterns, including doctor shoppers, people mixing drugs with other substances and physicians who don’t seem to be paying attention to the prescription drug histories of their patients,” the U-T reported.

“A series of government surveys prompted by a botched surgery more than one year ago have steadily revealed a series of problems, ranging from drug theft to lax incident reporting, at Palomar Medical Center Escondido and its downtown Escondido campus,” the U-T reported. The story uncovered firings, layoffs of 42 executives and other changes at the troubled hospital.

inewsource uncovered serious allegations of animal abuse and fraud at HiCaliber Horse Rescue in the North County community of Valley Center, where horses were allegedly often euthanized via shots to the head. A series of stories over the year dug into the claims, and HiCaliber Horse Rescue was evicted this month.

Attacks on the Poor — and the Rich

In principle, the legal system should allow the poor as much access to justice as the rich. In reality, as the U-T found, the county stuck it to low-income or even no-income people such as inmates by forcing them to hire expensive court reporters. The state Supreme Court balked and overturned the policy. In a series of tweets, reporter Greg Moran explained why the ruling is so extraordinary.

At a vigil to remember the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, Times of San Diego pressed District Attorney Summer Stephan about why a campaign website of hers targeted Jewish billionaire George Soros, even including a bizarre alleged quote from him about his childhood’s “rather potent messianic fantasies.” Stephan was one of many Republican candidates across the country who made attacks against Soros a centerpiece of their campaigns. Stephan “stared, turned and walked away with her security blocking a reporter.”

San Diego’s Starring Role in Big Climate Debates

inewsource found that more donors from San Diego supported Prop. 6, the gas tax repeal, than any other city, reflecting the outsize influence of talk-show host and former Councilman Carl DeMaio. Prop. 6 failed.

Ivan Penn, a New York Times reporter based in L.A., wrote a nuanced and at times moving piece about the battle over clean and affordable energy in San Diego. Penn interviewed Bishop George McKinney of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ, who said, “I think that the inner-city residents are being taken advantage of. The cost of energy now is escalating in the community. There has to be someone who is willing to speak truth to power.”

Vanity Fair profiled the “aquatic superheroes” working to keep San Diego’s beaches and waterways clean.

Following the Money, or Lack of it

Reporter Aaron Burgin took a closer look at the political action committees pumping thousands of dollars into North County city races and laid bare some of their financial and personal interests.

inewsource discovered that the San Diego Unified School District lost out on up to $750,000 in funding for homeless students because of a simple error — a missing signature.

The U-T found that the city of San Diego was spending almost $18,000 a day on a vacant, 19-story downtown office building.

Dreams Deferred, and Prizes Too

How golden is the Golden State these days? Is the California dream still attainable? CALmatters and partners took a look at big four parts of that dream: Getting out of poverty, becoming (and staying) middle class, doing better than our parents, owning a home. The verdict: “The California dream is suffering. Yes, in many ways it is harder to live here than it used to be.” Still, more than two-thirds of us say we’d rather live here than anywhere else.

Every year, Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego holds a raffle with a potential grand prize of a multi-million dream home. But no one has actually won a dream house since 2005. The U-T looked into the consultant who runs a bunch of these raffles and discovered a conspiracy of silence about how often homes are actually won.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized the history of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego’s dream-house raffle. A dream house was last awarded in 2005. 

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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