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Perhaps nothing riles me up more than when East Coast journalists parachute into California and get things wildly, maddeningly wrong.

I’ve ticked off the worst examples before: the times they’ve accidentally thought Baja California was in the United States, the time they all suddenly discovered the debate over AB 5 long after the bill had passed.

That’s why I feel obligated to offer this mea culpa of sorts: When it comes to coverage of SB 50, the bill that would allow far more home-building near transit that failed for a third time this week, journalists from East Coast-based publications and other East Coast observers have offered by far the most observant and reasonable takes on the bill’s demise.

“Congrats to wealthy California homeowners,” the New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie tweeted in response to the bill’s demise.

Elsewhere in the Times, Conor Dougherty characterized the opposition well: “the effort drew opposition from two key constituencies: suburbanites keen on preserving their lifestyle and less affluent city dwellers seeing a Trojan horse of gentrification.” The Times’ headline for that piece was appropriately harsh, amusingly proving that the Times is capable of such force when the target isn’t racists or the president but the state of California: “California, Mired in a Housing Crisis, Rejects an Effort to Ease it.”

A Boston planner was more blunt about the forces opposing the bill: “One of my major frustrations about housing debate is that people aren’t honest about this reality. A large number of people, across the ideological spectrum, just want growth and other people to go away – they just won’t admit that’s what motivates them.”

In a piece before SB 50 failed, The Atlantic’s Annie Lowery (who does, in fact, live in California) was more sympathetic to some of the criticisms: “As for the concerns about low-income housing and gentrification—they are fair.” Still, her ultimate assessment of the bill was that it’s desperately needed: “If the bill passes, California would become denser, cheaper, greener, and more affordable—a state less centered on car culture, and more centered on walkable neighborhoods; less responsive to the aesthetic complaints of longtime property owners, more responsive to the needs of young families.”

Typically East Coast journalists’ distance from California is a handicap when it comes to writing about the state: without personal familiarity, they’re forced to rely on stereotypes and assumptions about what the state is like.

In this case, though, their distance is an asset. Free from feeling forced to litigate every insincere argument about local control or the untouchable virtues of single-family zoning, they can see the situation for what it is: California lawmakers, for three consecutive years, have chosen to look a dire crisis in the face and do nothing.

What VOSD Learned This Week

It’s 2020, so Will Huntsberry decided to assess San Diego Unified’s Vision 2020 plan to ensure the district has a quality school in every neighborhood by 2020. He found there have been some successes, but that the vision is still far from a reality. Nowhere is that more true than in southeastern San Diego.

Meanwhile, a task force created by San Diego Unified to identify ways to better handle sexual misconduct cases released its report and recommendations. Our initial take on the recommendations: It’s heavy on trainings and light on substantial policy changes.

San Diego Unified board trustee Kevin Beiser has resumed teaching middle school within the Sweetwater Union High School District following accusations from four men that he abused and harassed them. Beiser remains on the school board.


When Scott Lewis caught Councilwoman Barbara Bry in a policy reversal while he was moderating a debate, Bry assured him her position had always been the same. Readers, check the tape for yourselves.

Bry has made opposing SB 50, the state law that would allow for far more home-building near transit, a centerpiece of her campaign. That bill, to her great delight, failed this week. It had targeted localities that haven’t done their share to accommodate new housing. Localities like … Encinitas, the most housing-averse city in the state. Kayla Jimenez wrote this week about how Encinitas nonetheless ended up with a mayor who got the city to comply with state housing law for the first time in years.


If I was writing a screenplay about Mara Elliott’s dustup this week with smart streetlights activists, I’d call it “Smart Streetlights: Takin’ it 2 the Streets.”

Jesse Marx came on the podcast this week to discuss the controversy.

Finally, while we’re takin’ things 2 the streets, San Ysidro leaders wish pedicabs could hit the streets again.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Throughout the novel, I describe Pottery Barn as being a barn where they sell pottery, which apparently is not the case. I maintain that if they didn’t want people thinking that’s what their store was, then they shouldn’t have called it that.” – If you, like me, cannot look away from takedowns of “American Dirt,” this is the parody for you.

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

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