The Raschke family featured earlier this summer in Voice of San Diego, were finally able to move into a three bedroom apartment all their own last week. Lulu, 4, celebrated the freshly-painted, carpeted bedroom she will share with her sister by tossing a shiny new blue dress in the air and catching it. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego
Lulu, 4, celebrated the freshly-painted, carpeted bedroom she will share with her sister by tossing a shiny new blue dress in the air and catching it. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

Sometimes you need to leave the office – and City Hall – to tell a story. The Voice of San Diego news team is proudest of our 2022 work when we did just that and listened to people in the communities we cover. 

Here are just a few things we discovered: San Diegans have moved north to Riverside County to escape sky-high home prices – and they say they’re happy despite endless commutes. The city has created safe parking lots for the homeless – but still managed to tow the RV that housed a homeless family of six. Mexico takes a big share of a shrinking regional water supply – but taps are running dry in Ensenada.

We dug into mysteries: How did a young man die in his car in Hillcrest? Why do so many people refuse to vote? What’s behind a megachurch’s embrace of conspiracies? Can an Escondido neighborhood do anything about endless gunshots? We found good news too: A North County man has gone from a childhood working in the fields to an elected post where he can represent the voiceless.

We also explored San Diego’s past too where we uncovered hidden history. A big chunk of the traffic-clogged Midway District – home to strip joints, fabled Sports Arena rock concerts, and Tower Records (RIP) – may soon become a residential neighborhood for the second time. Who knew? And looking even further back, we profiled the queer pioneers who called San Diego home long before gay meant gay.

Here’s a look at our news team’s favorite stories from 2022.

When a Diverse Neighborhood Thrived in Midway

The federal government’s Frontier Housing Project in Midway separated by a no-man’s land buffer from Loma Portal neighborhood as seen in 1946. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego History Center

Scott Lewis, CEO/Editor in Chief

The Story: You May Never Look at the Sports Arena the Same Again

What It’s About: The city has entered into negotiations to redevelop its nearly 50 acres of land at the Sports Arena site in the Midway District, and voters once again approved a measure to lift the building height limit so developers can build more than 3,500 homes there.

It seems like a remarkable transformation is in the works for an area known as unattractive and chaotic. It’s not, though.

The strip malls and vast parking lots were not the first developments on the old floodplain. A diverse neighborhood — with affordable homes, schools, rec centers, and churches — once thrived in Midway. But the city eventually took the land and evicted the residents. Yes, the same city that wants to turn it into a residential neighborhood again. This is the story of what happened. 

Why the Writer Liked It: As I researched this story, I dug into my neighborhood’s history and learned fascinating details – both provocative and shameful – about my predecessors. It was like digging into an archaeological site and discovering a community you never knew existed, one whose names and stories were about to be lost forever.

I finally knew the answer to questions like “Why is the Sports Arena there?” and “Why are Ocean Beach and Point Loma so White?” Almost a year since writing it, people still send me notes about it and mention it when I see them. And the effort changed the way I covered the plans to redevelop the land.

What’s Happening Now: The voters approved Measure C, another initiative meant to lift the height limit for Midway. Local residents are suing, once again. The city is negotiating with a partnership of developers and financiers who want to tear down the arena and build thousands of homes in the area, but it could be many years before they break ground.

A Lonely Death in Hillcrest and a Lingering Mystery

Alberta Armenta holds a photo of her son Luis Alberto Antonio Armenta. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News

The Story: The Mysterious Death of Luis Alberto Antonio Armenta 

What It’s About: This story is about a family desperate for answers about the circumstances surrounding the death of their 31-year-old son Luis, who was discovered in his parked car in Hillcrest in 2021. His body was face down with his head on his car’s passenger-side floorboard and his feet on the headrest. He was missing a shoe and some of his personal belongings, according the a police report.

The family was convinced that police missed key details and tips that suggested their son could have been a victim of a crime. The police told me there are often unusual circumstances in deaths, but that doesn’t mean foul play was involved. 

Why the Writer Liked It: I first learned of Luis Alberto Antonio Armenta’s death from one of his friends who was frustrated because she felt the police had not investigated his death. I documented Luis’ last whereabouts through documents and interviews provided by family and friends. And I spoke with the investigator in charge of the case.

This was a difficult story because police would not give answers about the decisions they made when they found his body. But a retired detective helped me piece together what the police could have done that day.

This story was heartbreaking, and I think about it nearly every day. I still bump into readers who mention this story and wish the police had done more for the family. 

What’s Happening Now: Unfortunately, not much has happened with Luis’ case. But the family did feel that the story gave them a sense of closure. Their story was finally told, and they still hang on to hope that someone will read it and come forward with information. 

They Swapped Endless Hours on the Road for a Better Quality of Life

The Castillo and Lopez-Beltrán family moved to the city of Murrieta due to the high cost of living in San Diego. Dohney Castillo (far right) commutes daily to his job at Republic Services in Chula Vista. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Andrew Keatts, Managing Editor, Projects and Investigations

The Story: In Search of Cheap Housing, Families Pay a Different Price

What It’s About: A sizable portion of our workforce have become economic migrants, moving to Riverside County in search of cheaper rent. But they’re also taking on massive commuting costs and mind-numbing times on the road. How are they doing?

We spent time with families who are happy with the trade-offs they’ve made. They’re getting the homes and lifestyles they want, even if it comes at the expense of time spent with family and three or four hours a day on the road.

Why the Writer Liked It: I wanted to show the different ways that housing costs are making life worse in our region. Policymakers should ask whether it’s fair to ask residents to make those choices.

What’s Happening Now: Gas prices are trending down, and housing prices might be dipping too. But this matters little to a typical family. There’s no end in sight to the economic pressures facing San Diegans, and the policy solutions being discussed will only nibble at the margins. We’re too content with the indifferent region we’ve created.

The Lonely Ballot Box: Why San Diego’s Nonvoters Don’t Bother

A campaign sign for one of the 80th Assembly District candidates greets drivers near Cesar E. Chavez Parkway and Kearney Avenue in San Diego. / Photo by Jesse Marx

Jesse Marx, Associate Editor

The Story: How Government Failure Has Nurtured Voter Apathy

What It’s About: Significant numbers of San Diegans sit out elections, despite being told they’re important. I compared all the data points I could and found that nonvoters tend to live in impoverished communities.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. Researchers have been warning since the 1980s that there’s a correlation between the abstention rate and a decline in union membership, ensuring that our political discourse and policies are tailored to the interests of the middle- and upper-classes. 

Why the Writer Liked It: Political reporting is laser-focused on the margin between the two candidates on the ballot. This story gave me an opportunity to actually listen to nonvoters and understand where their dissatisfaction comes from. Some don’t believe it matters whether a Democrat or Republican holds office while the rich get richer. Others focus on making their own communities better.

While I sympathize with all that, the truth is that many of the problems we face require a collective response beyond the control of any individual.

What’s Happening Now: The participation rate among registered voters for the November 2022 election was 54 percent. If you take a step back and look at eligible voters, the participation rate drops even further. We should be talking about why only half of all adult citizens weighed in.

City Makes Things Worse as Homeless Family of 6 Survives on the Street

Natalie Raschke cuts a piece of chicken into smaller bites for Lulu, 4, center, and Alo, 8, right, in early June. Raschke is cooking on a propane stove outside the family’s van in a park in Clairemont, as the night gets darker and colder. The older children wait in the van to stay warm. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

Lisa Halverstadt, Senior Investigative Reporter

The Story: Inside One Family’s Homelessness Nightmare

What It’s About: The Raschke family of six – with kids ages four to 15 – ended up homeless during the pandemic. Then the city of San Diego towed the RV they were staying in, forcing them to spend many nights in a van.

Freelance photographer Peggy Peattie and I met the Raschkes after Natalie Raschke emailed me in February asking if I could tell her family’s story. The story that resulted documented the family’s experience with homelessness, including a series of struggles and tough decisions along the way.

Why the Writer Liked It: Homeless families often take great pains to remain under the radar, and their stories tend to be undercovered by media outlets. The Raschkes were gracious and courageous to share their story – and their experience revealed a lot about the challenges folks face as they try to get off the street.

Their story also struck a chord. A week after the story published, City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera invited Natalie Raschke to speak to the City Council about her family’s experience and why the city’s existing safe parking lots for people living in vehicles didn’t work for them. The City Council then voted to expand the hours at one of its safe lots, explore potential safe lot locations in every City Council district, and establish family-friendly zones at each site.

What’s Happening Now: A couple months after sharing their story, the Raschkes moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Mission Valley. Natalie Raschke says her family has since been adjusting to having routines and a home base. She’s continuing to try to assist others she met during her family’s homelessness journey whenever she can.

“I’m so thankful,” Natalie Raschke said. “I want to help these other people fight their fights.”

City towing policies that affected the Raschkes continue to face scrutiny. A recent city audit and another viral story that highlighted the impact of city towing practices have sparked a debate over whether the city should make changes. The city also plans to open a fourth safe parking lot in Bay Ho early next year that will focus on serving families. 

One Migrant’s Journey: Lettuce Fields at Age 5, a Seat at the Table at 29

Oscar Caralampio (second from left) with his mother and siblings. / Photo courtesy of Oscar Caralampio

Will Huntsberry, Senior Investigative Reporter

The StoryAt 8, He Was a Migrant Worker in North County. Now He’s a School Board Member

What It’s About: Oscar Caralampio, a Guatemalan immigrant, was afraid to get on the school bus when he first moved to North County as four year old. Instead, he would run and hide in the avocado groves. Today, Caralampio is a school board member at Fallbrook Union High School District. He is the only Latino member of the board – and one of the first-ever — even though 68 percent of the district’s students are Latino. Until recently, Fallbrook had no Latino representatives at all, and it took legal action to pave the way for change.

Why the Writer Liked It: Ever so often, we get to bear witness at Voice of San Diego. This story got a big reaction from readers because it took them to a world right next door.

Caralampio has had an incredible journey. His parents “literally” never attended a day of school, he told me. But he went on to graduate from Cal State San Marcos and become a teacher and a school board member.

People tell Caralampio he’s “one of the good ones.” He doesn’t take it as a compliment. 

What’s Happening Now: Caralampio, who’s one of the few elected Latino representatives in the rural community of Fallbrook, re has big dreams for Fallbrook’s high school district. He wants the curriculum to speak to the students. He wants North County’s large immigrant population to feel at home in school. And he wants students to graduate, even as they feel pressure to work in the fields. I hope to follow up on some of these dreams in the New Year. 

Gunshots Never Stop in Escondido Enclave – But It’s Not What You Think

John Carroll, a resident who lives in Escondido, on a trail near his neighborhood on Sept. 25, 2022. Carroll has complained for years about the sounds of gunshots coming from the property owned by the Freedom Fighters. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Tigist Layne, Reporter

The Story: Rifle Shots Ring Out from an Escondido Plant Nursery

What It’s About: This story is about a neighborhood in Escondido that has dealt with the constant sounds of gunshots coming from a neighboring property for years. The residents of this neighborhood believe this property may be an illegal shooting range, but they still don’t have answers after years of complaining to city and county officials.

Why the Writer Liked It: There’s a remarkable juxtaposition here between an upper-middle class neighborhood filled with families and retirees and an organization called the Freedom Fighters Foundation that shoots high-powered weapons for hours on end, several times a week.

What’s Happening Now: From what I hear, the shooting continues. There hasn’t been much more action from the county or any other entity. Keep an eye out for more stories about this topic in 2023.

In Water-Deprived Ensenada, Running Taps Are Becoming a Luxury

Water trucks called “pipas” are filled with water from a desalination plant in Ensenada to serve residents whose water service has been cut, sometimes for months. / Photo by Carlos A. Moreno for Voice of San Diego

MacKenzie Elmer, Reporter

The Story: Ensenada, Last in Line for Colorado River Water, Is Facing the Worst of the West’s Drought

What It’s About: This story is one of the best examples of my collaboration with Mexican journalist Vicente Calderón of Tijuanapress.com.

On the U.S. side of the border, American journalists cover the effects of intensifying drought on the Colorado River. But Mexico’s stake in the river water as a resource is largely overlooked. Northern Baja California is almost completely dependent on what amounts to a quarter of all the water California receives. We traveled to Ensenada to confirm rumors of residents going months without running water. We were sorry to find that indeed was the case.

Why the Writer Liked It: Journalists face obstacles in getting and confirming information officially within Mexico. So we chose to gather the personal stories of regular people living this experience. 

What’s Happening Now: ­­The government continues to shut off the water in Baja California. The true reasons for this are hard to track and confirm. Through our collaboration, we plan to continue our investigation into the severe water scarcity of the region. 

Christ and Conspiracies Converge As Megachurch Embraces the Extreme

Pastors Jurgen and Leanne Matthesius finished the evening with a prayer for Tucker Carlson. The crowd gathered at Awaken Church bowed their heads as Jurgen thanked the lord for Carlson’s vision and honesty on April 2, 2022./ Photo by Jakob McWhinney

Jakob McWhinney, Reporter

The Story: How a San Diego Church Became a Nexus of Anti-Vaccine, Anti-COVID Lockdown and Right-wing Political Organizing 

What It’s About: Awaken Church is a flashy megachurch that boasts thousands of congregants and multiple locations across the county. The church, and its founder, comes from a tradition of evangelicalism that’s been increasingly scrutinized in recent years.

During the pandemic, the church’s leadership routinely sparred with health officials about COVID regulations. By 2022, the church’s founder had veered hard into right-wing conspiracy mongering, preaching from the pulpit about vaccine misinformation and genocidal plots by global elites.

This story tracks the church, and its founder, from their humble origins congregating in hotel lobbies and elementary schools to hosting some of the most powerful right-wing media figures in America. I spent a month and a half researching the church, listened to dozens of sermons, and attended events, including one when they hosted Tucker Carlson at their San Marcos campus. I broke the news that Carlson claimed he was unvaccinated, and national outlets picked up the story.
 
Why the Writer Liked It:
I’ve long been interested in the ways conspiracies spread and evolve, especially as the pandemic sent them into hyperdrive. This was a fascinating opportunity to explore what that process looked like locally.  
 
What’s Happening Now: 
Awaken Church has continued to grow, opening a new campus in El Cajon earlier this year and expanding its K-12 Awaken Academy. I plan to follow several threads in 2023 from the vantage point of my role as an education reporter.

Long Before Gay Pride, Queer Pioneers Made Mark in S.D.

The Villa Montezuma house (left) and female impersonator and Alpine resident Julian Eltinge (right) / Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the Los Angeles Public Library, Herald-Examiner Photo Collection

Randy Dotinga, Freelance Contributor

The Story: Before Gay Meant Gay: Meet San Diego’s Early LGBTQ Pioneers

What It’s About: San Diego’s queer community may have come into its own in the 1970s, but we’ve long been home to people who lived non-traditional lives. For this story, I profiled several local LGBTQ pioneers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries: a pair of progressive, upper-crust women who hosted a former president and first lady, a spiritualist who built one of the most stunning mansions in town, a famous female impersonator, and a La Jolla physician with a secret that stunned the country.  

Why the Writer Liked It: I try to write about local queer history for Voice of San Diego every summer to commemorate Pride Week. My articles have explored the secret history of gay life here in mid-centurya landmark 1970s criminal case that spurred San Diego gay activists to actionthe role of AIDS in city politics, and the work of local author Lillian Faderman, the “Mother of Lesbian History.”

This time, I had a chance to reveal the community’s deep roots and spotlight those who came before. While their private lives may be murky, it’s clear that “sexual and gender diversity has always been with us,” as Faderman told me. “It’s important to know that they were there, that we didn’t invent this. It’s just within the human spirit.”

What’s Happening Now: I took a walking tour during a visit to New Orleans this month, and the guide surprised me by mentioning one of the people profiled in my article – a famed female impersonator. Julian Eltinge, a star of vaudeville and silent movies, is said to have haunted a bar called Tujague’s after someone took down an old signed photo of him in female attire. The photo is back on the wall, and the bar owner thinks Eltinge – a patron – is at rest. Lesson learned: Don’t mess with history… or a drag queen.

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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2 Comments

  1. A late friend of mine, John Gongora, was the son of Luis Gongora, who was a man who lost two homes to eminent domain, one to make room for the Midway Project and one to make way for commercial development on Mission Bay. From the early 20th century until the 1950s, Luis worked in Mission Valley, tending a farm owned by The Sisters of Nazareth. He had at least six children, some of whom might be living.

  2. The fundamentals of supply and demand continue to favor a costly home market like San Diego. Housing prices in San Diego continue to climb, albeit at a slower rate than in the previous year. When we were looking for a retirement community for Dad, we did some research and discovered several articles about it, and we found https://silvergaterr.com/. It is ideal for our financial situation.

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