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In 2022 Voice of San Diego remained at the center of public affairs discussions in the region. What we wrote about, people talked about. When we didn’t cover something, that too was taken as impact. Some of the toughest criticism we get is from people who desperately want us to put our research and voice on a topic that’s important to them, precisely to drive impact.
Last year we took on San Diego’s top kitchen-table conversations like housing and homelessness and shared kitchen-cabinet level analysis on the elections. Our journalists were the first to report on instances of corruption and malfeasance, and the only ones to devote the resources to fully researching the impacts of Covid-19 on our region.
Cost of Living Crisis
San Diego’s cost-of-living is the region’s fatal flaw, the central force driving all the policy ailments we report on in all our different coverage areas. Recognizing that, we dedicated a week last year with the entire newsroom focusing only on the cost-of-living crisis and the ways housing, transportation, childcare and utility costs in the region are adversely affect people’s ability to live in this community.
After our week of coverage, city and regional officials acknowledged that the hyper-focus clarified the extent to which addressing those costs – housing especially – dominates their jobs.
Volunteers of America: Year of Correction
In August, the county took control of a 120-bed treatment facility as part of ongoing fallout from a scandal of financial misdeeds and self-dealing we uncovered at Volunteers of America Southwest. County officials also demanded years’ worth of repayment from the nonprofit, which also experienced an overhaul in leadership and governance.
The treatment center is a crucial part of the region’s mental health support system.
101 Ash St. Settlement
Local media swarmed after city of San Diego officials announced their plan to settle most of the legal disputes associated with the 101 Ash St. scandal we’ve covered for years. But, between the legal technicalities at play and the scent of corruption emanating from it, too many skipped providing a clear articulation of what the city was getting out of the deal, what the public wouldn’t ever learn because of the deal, and why officials made those decisions.
In a reported piece on the complex legal settlement and a column analyzing the city’s motivations, we crystallized the terms of debate. The public discussion of the settlement and other reporting eventually adopted Scott Lewis’s primary thesis that had previously been missing: The city decided that it wanted to own two downtown high-rises so that it could develop the land. That was the primary motivation to settle the legal disputes.
That moment, though, had already been informed by months of Voice of San Diego revelations about how the flawed deal came together in the first place, and who was responsible for it.
Homelessness Is Worse Than Ever, And Only Getting Worse
Homelessness in 2022 got worse, worse than it’s ever been before, and public officials haven’t offered any hope that they expect it to get better any time soon. Our coverage highlighted something missing from other coverage of the region’s annual federally required count of homeless residents: the 10 percent increase understated the actual increase, and everyone involved in the count knew it.
Likewise, we uncovered that two-thirds of the time that homeless people are approached by outreach workers and indicate that they would like to be placed in a shelter, they do not receive shelter, often because there is no space available. But that was just the beginning – by year’s end, our reporting and data requests provoked the regional agency in charge of homelessness to begin publishing monthly reports on the components driving that persistent increase. It showed that for all the effort from public officials to put homeless people in homes, far more people in homes were losing them and ending up on the street each month. Our demands for those numbers, and our unequivocal reporting on what they said, has changed the shape of the homelessness conversation, forcing officials to stop congratulating themselves for accomplishments that ignore more than half of the equation.
It was also our coverage of one high-profile reaction to the crisis – from Bill Walton – that kicked off an international story about how desperate the situation in San Diego had become. He didn’t go public on his own, but after we reported on what he was doing in private, he provoked a major conversation that is ongoing.
The Raschke Family
Lisa Halverstadt this year profiled one family who at the end of a series of individually logical decisions throughout the pandemic found themselves homeless. Her profile and the accompanying photos shed light on the policy failures that contributed to one family’s nightmare – and led the city to make immediate changes. The city immediately made safe-parking lots for homeless families more accessible, and increased the number of options available. Not much later, the Housing Commission placed the Raschkes in their new home.
Year Two of Covid-19
In 2020, we wanted to better understand who was dying from Covid-19. The County denied sharing the full scope of records unless we knew the name and date of birth of the deceased, barring us from analyzing the broad picture of the crisis. We disagreed, sued, and a judge decided that we were right. But we still had to drive to the coroner’s office in Santee to log every death certificate individually in order to analyze the data.
In 2022 we analyzed year two of Covid-19, to understand how much the arrival of the vaccine changed the answers to those initial questions. We learned that half as many people died in the pandemic’s second year, but the median age of those who died came down, partially driven by younger people’s relative reluctance to get vaccinated, and by younger people spending more time out and about in a re-opened society. We found that while race was not as correlated with death rates in year two as it was in year one, the correlation between death rates and class stayed strong. And we learned that while death rates plummeted in almost every zip code in the county, they actually increased in Lakeside and a few surrounding zip codes. Those were also the zip codes with the lowest vaccination rates in the county.
Since the project rolled out, our reporters have been on TV and radio stations describing their findings, providing a more robust, comprehensive and nuanced dialog on the pandemic.
Aspen Leaf Raid
In March, we reported that state officials raided a private preschool over its policy against requiring kids to wear masks, during which they separated toddlers from adults and interrogated them without anyone they knew present. The story was picked up nationwide as a sign of pandemic overreach.
Quietly, months later, regulators dropped charges against the preschool.
Few in San Diego noticed when county public health officials moved to become the first county in the country to begin using a new test of coastal water quality to determine when bacteria levels were too high for human contact. The new test, which measured the bacterial DNA in the water, was not only more sensitive than previous tests, it was also faster. Suddenly South Bay beaches were closed during times of the year they had almost never been in the past. Sewage from the Tijuana River typically shuts down Imperial Beach coasts during the rainy winter months. In May, though, county officials closed Coronado beaches when it hadn’t rained, due to bacteria levels in the water.
MacKenzie Elmer’s coverage of the situation grew into a heated back and forth between mayors of the South Bay cities and the county. Elmer’s coverage drove the conversation to confront that basic fact: if the beaches aren’t safe, why are they open? If you stand by the new testing method, why not close the beaches? In response, the county rolled out an evolving series of changes, eventually deciding they’d close beaches when the tests indicated a problem and there was a known contamination event that would have caused the bacteria increase. Even then, though, there was no sign of the county actually closing the beach and enforcing it, in spite of their own tests indicating it was unsafe.
Oceanside’s Treasurer Troubles
The city of Oceanside set new qualifications for those running for the elected city treasurer position in October following a controversy in its treasury department. North County reporter Tigist Layne was the first to report on the allegations made against the city’s treasurer and later found out the individual making the allegations had a history of making allegations, and winning settlements, against government agencies. He also had a felony theft conviction for stealing the City of Oceanside’s credit card when he was young.
How Awaken Church Became a Nexus of Anti-Vaccine, Anti-Covid Organizing
Jakob McWhinney’s story on the role Awaken Church played in local anti-vaccine, anti-Covid and right-wing political organizing sparked a conversation about what this church was doing. The story was shared by multiple local and national outlets. McWhinney wrote this story when he was our intern, using a lot of the knowledge about the church to produce other stories about school board candidates who found inspiration to run for office because of organizations tied to the church.
Election Coverage: School Board Races and Bond
McWhinney produced high quality reporting on the school board races at San Diego Unified. Early on he worked on profiles on each of the candidates and dug deeply into their messages. He led the conversation locally on what the school board was attempting to do with its new bond on the ballot by explaining how the school district has used previous bond money. He also used his Learning Curve newsletter to spotlight interesting messages and stories about how the school bond would affect teachers.
Voice of San Diego Website Is Bursting with Life
Our new multimedia journalist Ariana Drehsler has brightened our stories and improved how we share them with the world. She’s worked closely with reporters to present stories in a compelling manner. Some of our favorites included the photographs of the humble community behind Del Mar’s multimillion-dollar horse racing industry, the imagery of Imperial Valley farmers at the center of the Colorado River Basin discussion, and the fentanyl crisis plaguing the homeless population.
Thank you for being a VOSD reader and supporter. We truly appreciate your support because without it, San Diego would not have our curious journalists investigating powerful people and institutions.
I truly hope we made you proud in 2022.