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North of the Fence: South Bay Loses and Icon

Susan LuzzaroSusan Luzzaro passed away on May 1, 2017, after a year-long battle with brain cancer. She was 68. She was also an extremely important voice in the South Bay. A gifted writer, she taught at Southwestern College and penned many features in the San Diego Reader dating as far back as 1999.

Several tributes have been written about Luzzaro. Her obituary highlights her many contributions. The San Diego Reader gave links to some of her more important works, including an article in which Luzzaro described her parents’ brutal unsolved murder in 1988. Randy Dotinga at the Voice of San Diego also gave a tribute to Luzzaro under the heading RIP, South Bay’s Voice of Outrage.

A lifelong Chula Vista resident, Luzzaro spoke truth to power. She was best known for uncovering corruption in the Sweetwater Union High School District. A true community activist, her writings took tremendous courage. Her bravery was well-known and admired by many reporters.

South Bay Journalism In Crisis

The loss of Luzzaro comes during a time when the entire country faces a crisis in journalism. With the Trump Administration waging a “fake news” war on major news outlets  — including the Washington Post, which supports an ever-decreasing number of investigative journalists — the South Bay has also taken several hits.

I can identify only two full-time paid journalists whose focus is exclusively the South Bay (defined as anything South of the I-54 to the border): Robert Moreno, who is the only full-time journalist at the Chula Vista Star News and Allison Sampite-Montecalvo at the San Diego Union Tribune.

Christine Huard, who covered South Bay school districts, was laid off in February.

The Voice of San Diego, the Union Tribune, the Times of San Diego do have journalists who cover the South Bay, but not full-time. Instead, they must also focus on other regions.

What’s more, some of the journalists who have gone out of their way to cover the South Bay in an investigative way recently became targets of a vicious Internet scam, likely meant to discredit them.

Think on that for a moment. One full-time paid journalist (Robert Moreno) is hired to cover all of Chula Vista & National City which make up approximately 250,000 and 60,000 residents respectively. The Chula Vista Elementary School District is the largest elementary school district in the state of California.

Allison Sampite-Montecalvo seems to cover an even larger swath of land for the Union Tribune: the entire South Bay, which is made up of approximately 450,000 residents living in 4 separate cities (which means trying to cover 4 city councils, 4 school districts, a community college, plus events and important happenings). Both Moreno and Sampite-Montecalvo do an exceptional job, by the way, with the small amount of resources they are given.

I have talked to acquaintances who would like to establish publications in the South Bay (they shall remained anonymous). They told me that the advertisers they approached generally said they don’t want to be associated with controversial news articles — they would prefer to advertise in publications that have articles about food, places to visit, people. “Fluff,” basically.

It’s unpleasant to have pesky investigative journalists at a city council or school board meeting. However, their presence alone tends to change behavior: people remain a bit more diligent when they know someone is watching for transparency and truth.

More and more, however, nobody wants to pay for it. People have to find other ways to support themselves while they write news copy on their “free” time. According to this article, the number of journalism jobs continues to shrink; public relations jobs are replacing those positions.

What happens when a populace has no reporters? What does this mean for the South Bay?

It means that checks and balances are gone. There’s no one around to make sure taxpayer money is wisely (and ethically) spent. There’s no one around to see if building contracts with schools and cities are being legally made, that campaigns are being fairly launched, that companies are considering the safety of their consumers not just their bottom-lines and that children are provided a decent education.

If you’re looking around the South Bay and wondering why your property taxes are going up so high, or your kids don’t have paper in schools or your friends are getting laid off, or there’s lead in the water you’re drinking, or there are potholes on your roads — chances are, it’s because there’s nobody around to invest in a cohort of well-trained, full-time journalists.

That said, this week in the news that’s available:

Five of Eleven Chula Vista City Services Out of Compliance

Eric Crockett, Chula Vista’s director of economic development, spoke to the Oversight Committee in February 2016. (Photo Courtesy of Barbara Zaragoza)

Each year, Chula Vista’s unique Growth Management Oversight Commission issues a report about the state of public facilities, services and infrastructure in Chula Vista. This year was no exception. The Chula Vista City Council and the Planning Commission passed a resolution accepting the report. The report revealed that 5 of 11 city services were out of compliance with specific standards, including libraries, police responses, traffic, fire & emergency medical services as well as parks & recreation.

You can read the report here. The problem? Each year, the Oversight Commission — that has hard working volunteer commissioners — spends many hours researching the state of the city. A report is created and then —  nothing ever seems to change anyway. (San Diego Union Tribune)

Lawsuit Filed Against National City Regarding Welcoming Proclamation

Chris Schilling and San Diegans for Open Government filed a lawsuit for alleged Brown Act violations of the National City Council. Although city staff had submitted a Welcoming Community resolution, at the last minute during a February council meeting, Mayor Ron Morrison introduced an amended version that had not been presented to staff or the public. Then, Councilmembers Jerry Cano and Albert Mendivil voted for the mayor’s diluted version, although they had presumably just seen the document at the meeting.

Did the three council members speak beforehand about the substitution resolution? The lawsuit apparently seeks to find out. Schilling is requesting documents — including text messages and emails — which may have mentioned the draft substitute resolution. (San Diego Reader)

Quick News Hits

U.S.-Mexico Border

U.S.-Mexico Border

–The Imperial Beach shoreline closed once again this week as sewage-contaminated runoff from Tijuana entered the our oceans. Rainfall caused the contamination this week. (Imperial Beach Patch) This occurred after a massive sewage spill in January wreaked havoc for the region. There’s been protests. Mayor Serge Dedina and San Diego Councilmember David Alvarez have clamored for more help. Still, this week, same problem, no resolution: sewage continues to contaminate our binational environment.

–Under pressure from local groups, the Chula Vista City Council voted unanimously to increase fines for illegal marijuana dispensaries from $1,000 to  $2,500. Marty Graham reports in the San Diego Reader.

Chula Vista Brewing just opened on Third Avenue. You might want to check out my Beer Rant of several weeks ago.

(First published at San Diego Free Press.)

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