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Anytime journalists tackle a story, they want to accomplish a number of things: Hold powerful people accountable. Elevate diverse voices. Tell good stories. Expose wrongdoing.

And there’s something else: Journalists want to inspire change. The best stories make people think and feel – and act.

We put together a list of things that wouldn’t have happened this year were it not for Voice of San Diego’s reporting.

Homeless arrest numbers were added into the annual point-in-time count.

Shopping carts and other belongings sit along the curb of an East Village street in 2017. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Back in January, Lisa Halverstadt broke the news that San Diego police massively ramped up enforcement and arrests in the run-up to the annual point-in-time count of the region’s homeless residents.

Advocates and local officials tasked with addressing the region’s homelessness crisis condemned the arrests, and said they could have negatively impacted the annual effort to track the region’s homeless population.

When the results of that count were released, San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless officials revealed that they took the unusual step of adding in the people who’d been arrested – people they only learned about from VOSD’s reporting.

Law enforcement agencies across San Diego must disclose misconduct records.

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit / Photo by Megan Wood

Journalists across the state marked their calendars for Jan. 1, 2019 – the date SB 1421, a new law requiring police departments across the state to disclose certain types of police misconduct records.

It may shock you to learn that on Jan. 2, records did not start flowing.

In San Diego, police unions across the county sued to block the requests, arguing that the law didn’t apply to existing records, only new ones that might be created after Jan. 1.

Voice of San Diego joined with other news outlets across San Diego to enforce the law in court.

In March, a San Diego Superior Court judge sided with news outlets and the ACLU, and ruled that the law did, in fact, apply to existing records.

The records that have been disclosed by various agencies reveal everything from the details of the shooting of an unarmed man who was running away, multiple instances of officers groping and assaulting women and more.

San Diego Unified passed a resolution urging Kevin Beiser to resign.

A group of local activists and parents demand that San Diego Unified Board Trustee Kevin Beiser resign from his position. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Our months-long investigation into accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser led to an official resolution from the board urging his resignation, as well as calls from the San Diego Democratic Party, a slate of state leaders and the local teachers union that he step down.

After Beiser refused to resign, the San Diego City Council put a measure on the ballot amending the city’s charter to give the Council power to remove trustees from office if they’re convicted of a crime or for dereliction of duty.

A proposed law to gut the Public Records Act died a quick death.

State Sen. Ben Hueso and City Attorney Mara Elliott / Photos by Sam Hodgson and Jamie Scott Lytle

We were the first to reveal that the person behind Sen. Ben Hueso’s law to neuter the California Public Records Act was actually San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott.

SB 615 would have required members of the public to take certain steps before asking a court to intervene when a government agency does not provide records under the California Public Records Act. It also would have made it significantly more difficult to collect attorney’s fees from agencies found to be in violation of the law. That is often the only consequence agencies face if they fail to comply with a Public Records Act request, willfully or not.

Our coverage of the law and its potential impact was a major factor in Hueso’s decision to table the bill. When the San Diego City Council weighed in with its disapproval of the measure, Councilman Mark Kersey noted in his comments that they wouldn’t have known about Elliott’s involvement had they not read about it in Voice of San Diego. Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the bill conflicted with his efforts to make city government more transparent.

Though the bill is dead, the issue is continuing to make waves: When Elliott endorsed Todd Gloria’s mayoral bid, his opponent Barbara Bry sent out a press release reminding everyone that Elliott worked to undermine the public records law. Attorney Cory Briggs – someone who has sued often for public records – is now challenging Elliott in the race for city attorney.

The state revoked Martin Teachworth’s teaching credential.

La Jolla High School / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

After our 2017 report detailing numerous accusations of groping against a La Jolla High School teacher, two of the women who went on the record filed complaints against the teacher with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The CTC opened an inquiry, which led to the blockbuster revelation that the district had, for years, lied to VOSD by saying it had no records of complaints or investigations related to the teacher. In responding to a CTC subpoena, the district provided numerous documents it told us for years it didn’t have.

The commission held a hearing and later determined Teachworth’s credential should be revoked.

The state reformed the requirements for medical vaccine exemptions.

The exterior of Dr. Tara Zandvliet’s office in South Park / Photo by Megan Wood
The exterior of Dr. Tara Zandvliet’s office in South Park / Photo by Megan Wood

One of the loudest, rowdiest, most intense debates of the year began with a quiet medical practice in South Park.

In March, we revealed that Dr. Tara Zanvliet was responsible for writing nearly a third of all the medical vaccine exemptions so kids could attend San Diego Unified. She charges $180 for a visit.

Soon after, state Sen. Richard Pan announced SB 276, a state law to rein in medical vaccine exemptions. He referenced VOSD’s reporting in making the case for the bill.

“A few unethical physicians advertise medical exemptions for cash,” Pan said. “These physicians were often not even trained in pediatrics or family medicine and were not providing ongoing care for these children. Instead, they were monetizing their medical license by selling these exemptions.”

After months of wildly contentious hearings – one of which was halted when anti-vaxx protestors hurled menstrual blood onto the Senate floor – Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 276 into law.

In October, the state attorney general charged Zandvliet with gross and repeated negligence, as well as failure to properly maintain records.

A new state law aims to prevent San Diego’s hepatitis A crisis from repeating itself.

Workers power-wash a sidewalk near the Midway area amid a hepatitis A outbreak. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

In 2017, as the hepatitis A crisis was claiming people’s lives on San Diego city streets, Halverstadt reported that county officials had responded by the urgent crisis by … slowly moving to approve permits for just two hand-washing stations far from where they were needed most.

The reporting led to a flurry of action, as well as a state probe into officials’ response. That audit inspired AB 262, written by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, which clarifies the role of public health officers during public health crises. It also requires local health officers to make relevant information available to affected jurisdictions such as locations and concentration of cases.

Newsom signed it into law in October.

Federal immigration authorities can get far less info from state databases.

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When California lawmakers passed AB 60 in 2013, allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, the goal was to bring them out of the shadows.

But an investigation by Maya Srikrishnan showed that the law might actually be helping federal immigration authorities track down and arrest immigrants with no criminal histories after they gave their personal information to the California DMV.

After our investigation published, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced AB 1747, which limits state database sharing with federal immigration authorities.

It was signed into law in October.

School districts and agencies are taking steps to address teacher misconduct.

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan speaks at a press conference on Nov. 14. / Photo by Kayla Jimenez

For two years, Voice of San Diego has been investigating how local public schools handle cases of abuse and harassment, and has revealed a number of systemic shortcomings, including problem teachers being shuffled from school to school, agreements that prevent schools from sharing information about teacher misconduct and more.

Over the last decade, school districts across San Diego County have paid out millions of dollars as a result of lawsuits from students abused by educators who argued the schools did not have sufficient policies or training in place to protect them.

The state doesn’t require such policies. But after Kayla Jimenez’s report, some started implementing them anyway.

The County Office of Education adopted a policy spelling out student-teacher boundaries.

In November, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office announced the creation of an online reporting tool for students, parents or school employees to report abuse in schools, as well as a task force to handle complaints.

There’s new leadership at SDPD’s crime lab.

The San Diego Police Department headquarters / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Two weeks after Voice of San Diego reported that the San Diego Police Department crime lab had lowered its testing standards in order to clear its rape kit backlog, the department transferred Capt. Stephanie Rose to oversee the lab, replacing Jennifer Shen.

Shen had for years argued against testing all rape kits.

Rose’s ascension marks the first time a sworn officer has led the crime lab since the late 1990s.

There have been other changes, too.

In the wake of VOSD’s reporting, District Attorney Summer Stephan blasted SDPD’s entire approach to analyzing previously untested rape kits. She said she had not been made aware of the policy change, but later acknowledged one of her deputies, who is on a task force with SDPD to sort through untested rape kit backlog, had been told of the change, but did not approve it.

A day later, SDPD Chief David Nisleit announced all rape kits would undergo the same testing procedures, and agreed to join a Stephan-led effort to send all untested rape kits in the county to a private, third-party lab for testing. SDPD had previously refused to join the Sheriff’s Department and all the other jurisdictions in the county in that effort.

San Diegans finally know how much the Pure Water project will add to their water bills.

The North City Pure Water Facility / Photo by Megan Wood

The city is working on a multibillion-dollar plan to purify enough sewage to provide a third of the city’s drinking water by 2035.

Of course, that will come at a cost. But for years, city officials declined to estimate publicly how much Pure Water will affect city water customers.

After repeated questions from Voice of San Diego, officials prepared an analysis that showed customers’ bills will soon go up by $6 to $13 a month to fund the first part of the project. By 2022, customers will be paying about $17 a month for Pure Water.

There are numerous caveats to those projections. But they represent the first time residents have been offered a glimpse of what it will cost to fund the latest effort to provide a drought-proof water supply.

Sara Libby

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

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