Page 1

From Rising Star to Lone Wolf: After Ditching the GOP, What’s Next for Nathan Fletcher?

MAY 2012

Vol. 1 No. 1

Why San Diego Isn’t Joining the

Teacher Evaluation

REVOLUTION School districts around the country are using cutting-edge stats to evaluate teachers. So why isn’t San Diego? BY WILL CARLESS

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May 2012

Volume 1 Number 1

18  ARTS

Mothballed An old brewery in Barrio Logan once boasted bright murals and colorful ceiling beams. That art’s been sitting in storage for decades, begging for a home. BY KELLY BENNETT


Why San Diego Isn’t Joining the Teacher Evaluation Revolution All around the country there’s a conversation about how to best measure, nurture and hold accountable teachers. It’s one that’s not even being had at San Diego Unified. BY WILL CARLESS

Inside 2  EDITOR’S NOTE | Andrew Donohue Welcome to VOSD Monthly



From Rising Star to Lone Wolf: The Surprising Path of Nathan Fletcher In shedding the Republican Party, Nathan Fletcher might have found the only way to become mayor. He risks destroying the political identity he’s spent his entire life building to do so. BY LIAM DILLON

Surfing in sewage | Rob Davis The developing brain | Kelly Bennett Filner makes a funny | Keegan Kyle The candidates’ top five flips | Scott Lewis

9  GRAPHIC | Keegan Kyle Our Crumbling Streets

32  FACT CHECK | Liam Dillon DeMaio Says Convention Center Expansion Is ‘Private’

35  COMMENTARY | Scott Lewis Mayor of Dissolving City


What San Diego’s Neighborhoods Want We hit the pavement to find out what San Diego residents really want from City Hall. May 2012  VOSD MONTHLY


Editor’s Note Welcome to VOSD Monthly


Andrew Donohue STAFF WRITERS


IRST, WE WERE A WEBSITE. That was a novel concept back in 2005 — just a website. Then we got into television. And then radio. Now, here we are, Voice of San Diego, a print magazine. At this rate, you’ll soon see me riding through the streets of San Diego on horseback and yelling out the results of our latest stories like some sort of gangly version of Paul Revere. But this isn’t any kind of reversion for us. These are all calculated ways to get our stories in front of as many people as possible and build a longterm, sustainable business model. We’re constantly pushing to innovate, experiment and simply be better. When we first started out in February 2005, and for many years afterwards, people referred to us as an “online-only” organization. Heck, even our name said it: Over the years we’ve become a lot more than just a website. Just this month we booted the “.org” from our name and went with the regular old Voice of San Diego. Welcome to the latest iteration, Voice of San Diego Monthly. I’m thrilled to take the absolute best work this small, hard-working staff puts together over the course of a month and showcase it in one glossy magazine. Many of the stories you read here will have already appeared on our website, at least some version of them. With an “on-demand” publishing model, we’ve found a pretty inexpensive way to publish our stories in print and on an iPad. I used to be surprised at how often engaged, regular readers missed our important stories. That helped me realize the power of regularly packaging our stories together in different ways. It’s easy to miss stories in the rush of the day. You shouldn’t have to work hard to find our stories. That’s our job. So, here’s our latest effort to give you another way to find our stories. I hope you enjoy them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go see a man about a horse.

Kelly Bennett, Will Carless, Rob Davis, Liam Dillon, Keegan Kyle CREATIVE DIRECTOR

Ashley Lewis


Scott Lewis


Mary Walter-Brown WEB EDITOR


Summer Polacek FOUNDERS

Buzz Woolley & Neil Morgan BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Reid Carr, Bob Page, Bill Stensrud, Gail Stoorza-Gill

May 2012  |  Volume 1 Number 1 Subscriptions and Reprints


Editor Thank you to John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for supporting innovative journalism.


2 VOSD MONTHLY  May 2012

VOSD members at the Speaking Up and Loud & Clear levels receive a complimentary subscription to Voice of San Diego Monthly magazine as a thank you for their support. Individual issues and reprints may be purchased on demand for $7.99 at Digital editions are also available for $2.99.


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the Voice of San Diego! DID YOU KNOW that Voice of San Diego is a member-based news organization? That means the service relies on contributions from individuals, foundations and community partners to power our award-winning journalism. This service has been operating for seven years now, but we’re still surprised to find that many people don’t realize we’re a nonprofit. It’s my job to make sure residents know they must get involved if we’re to continue. Last month, we launched our “Raise Your Voice” membership program. We truly believe that you are the Voice of San Diego and you are the voice we represent in our irreverent approach to uncovering the truth. The mission of the Raise Your Voice program is two-fold – to cultivate a community of educated and informed citizens who can participate in important civic discussions while, at the same time, building a sustainable revenue source to fuel our investigative reporting. I’m sure you can see where this is headed…we want you to join our community! There are four different levels in the Raise Your Voice program. You determine your level based on what you can afford and how “in the loop” you want to be. Benefits include an exclusive member newsletter with editorials you won’t find anywhere else from our CEO Scott Lewis. You’ll also get “first looks” at our special investigations, invitations

to our member events, a subscription to this magazine and promotional opportunities on our website and in the magazine for you, your company or favorite organization. You won’t get coffee mugs, pens or other tchotchkes as a VOSD member but you will receive invitations to attend our events and participate in lively discussions and debates. Our monthly member coffees provide a forum to explore the issues shaping San Diego with a diverse group of citizens from all different niches and neighborhoods. If mornings aren’t your thing, we also host “Brews & News” happy hours at local breweries where you’ll find our reporters leading different discussions at each table. Members are also invited to attend our new conversation series with local newsmakers and the “VOSD Experience” bus tours where the stories we cover come to life – get ready to ride over some potholes! Go to to learn more about the benefits of membership. If you join at the “Speaking Up” level, you’ll receive this magazine every month via mail, or digitally if you prefer to go paperless. Flexible payment options even allow you to contribute by the month. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly:, (619) 325-0525. I’m always happy to chat and I look forward to getting to know all our members better. Thank you for your support!


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4 VOSD MONTHLY  May 2012


On the Street


Where Sewage Flowed Freely IF ANYONE should have known he might be surfing in sewage, it’s Mark West. The 44-year-old Imperial Beach resident volunteers with the Surfrider Foundation’s local chapter. He sits on an advisory committee for the federal agency responsible for intercepting and treating Mexico’s sewage as it crosses the border. Before he paddles out during the rainy season, West goes online and checks the direction of the ocean’s current to make sure the Tijuana River, which carries Mexico’s sewage and polluted storm water runoff across the border, isn’t flowing and unfurling its trademark brown plume in his surf spot. And so there West was Tuesday morning, surfing chest-high waves just south of the Imperial Beach pier in what he thought was clean water. It hadn’t rained in weeks. No warnings were posted. But the water smelled and tasted funny. Like detergent, an indicator of sewage. Unbeknownst to West, the Tijuana River had been flowing into the ocean for days. Pumps that intercept the polluted river before it reaches the Pacific were shut off because of a system failure. An estimated 6 million to 7 million gallons of sewage a day had been seeping into the ocean for almost a week. Currents had been pushing it south toward Mexico until Tuesday, when it moved north to Imperial Beach. County health officials closed the beach there later Tuesday — after West got out of the water. The incident is just one symptom of a major pollution problem that has plagued San Diego’s coast for decades, one that was supposed to have been fixed 15 years ago but that’s been dragged down by missed deadlines, bureaucratic bungling and local infighting. Mexico’s sewage infrastructure is inadequate for its booming population, and with nowhere else to put it, the country’s waste ends up flowing into the United States and the Pacific, where it pollutes area beaches. Even surfers who actively try to avoid the border’s polluted waters sometimes end up unknowingly paddling into waves tainted by sewage. “I live my life watching where the plume is

going, because I don’t want to get sick, I don’t want to surf in somebody’s sewage,” West said. “I’m supposed to know.” The recent problem began with a sewage spill at a treatment plant in San Ysidro, which has a long history of violating pollution standards. County health officials were notified of the spill the day it occurred, took seawater samples and found no problems, said Mark McPherson, the county official who oversees its water quality testing program. But sometime between Monday and Tuesday, the current switched and began pushing the river’s pollution north. The county closed Imperial Beach on Tuesday, but not before West and other surfers unwittingly paddled out into the funky-smelling water. “Somebody from one of those agencies should’ve notified the public that there’s an active spill going on,” West said.

— Rob Davis

Posted April 11, 2012


This Is Your 8-Year-Old Brain on Violin and Karate A SLEW OF POPULAR BOOKS AND CDS focuses on ways humans can allegedly increase their brainpower by listening to certain music. Studies have shown encouraging results for music therapy helping victims of strokes and other mental impairments. But a group of scientific heavy-hitters are after even more comprehensive data that would match both brain imaging (what physically changes in our brains) with cognitive and behavioral testing (what effects those changes would have). They’re taking kids who are learning to play instruments for the first time in Chula Vista afterschool programs and following them over the course of five years. Then they’ll compare that group’s results to kids who are learning karate or other martial arts for the first time. Could it be that whatever impact music has, karate or another disciplined May 2012  VOSD MONTHLY


On the Street

Behavioral and Brain Development in Kids ▸

The specialty of UC San Diego’s Center for Human Development, where researchers have been doing highly regarded research for a dozen years.

The Relationship Between Music and the Brain ▸

That’s what Aniruddh Patel and John Iversen study at the Neurosciences Institute. They’ve developed special questions and tests to add to the process the kids will go through at the UCSD center.

Teaching Kids Music for the First Time ▸


Here’s where the San Diego Youth Symphony comes in — its Community Opus Project trains hundreds of kids in Chula Vista in after-school string and orchestra programs. The program is modeled after El Sistema in Venezuela, which produced Gustavo Dudamel, the L.A. Philharmonic’s conductor and poster child for the program’s success.

6 VOSD MONTHLY  May 2012

They’ll be studying the same kids over five years to see how the brain changes with continued instruction. The research includes both taking images of the brain to understand how the training affects its physical structure, and testing the participants’ cognitive abilities through simple tests and computerized tasks. Participating families get a color picture of their brains and about $100 compensation.

— Kelly Bennett

Posted March 19, 2012

Number of the Month

1/3 Number of households in City Heights that own a car.


Bob Filner, Comedian WHEN SAN DIEGO’S high-profile candidates for mayor debated nonprofit issues last month, Congressman Bob Filner joined the discussion by phone while his three rivals attended in person. Filner introduced himself over the loudspeakers to hundreds in the audience, and he described why he was in Washington, D.C. and not at the event in San Diego. “Thank you for allowing me to participate by phone,” Filner said. “I was voting today to make sure there

were — to keep tax deductions for charitable organizations.” A few people snickered at first, but then the audience filled with applause and cheers. I wrote the statement down in my notebook for a possible Fact Check. I looked into it. Congress didn’t address any legislation about tax deductions for charitable organizations on March 26, so Filner couldn’t have voted on what he said he did. Congressional records show Filner voted against two bills that day. Both amended Wall Street regulations and had nothing to do with charitable organizations. He acknowledged that in an interview. “There is no bill,” he said. “It was a joke.” Filner said everyone at the event knew what nonprofit-related proposals were before Congress and therefore knew that he was joking. The statement was meant to be more symbolic of his support for nonprofits than a reflection of his actual activities, he said. I surveyed seven people who said they attended the forum. Most work for nonprofits. One thought Filner might’ve been joking but wasn’t sure. Six said they thought Filner was seriously explaining his absence. If it was a joke, it didn’t land.

— Keegan Kyle

Posted April 6, 2012


The Top Five Flips by Mayoral Candidates So Far I’VE SAID IT BEFORE and I’ll say it again: I have no problem with politicians changing their minds. It shows thoughtfulness and often courage to take a radically different position than before. But the key is you have to explain it. You have own it.


practice has the same brain impact? And then they’ll compare to yet another group of kids the same age who aren’t in either program. The work of science demands researchers approach the outcome with open minds. But the team knows that if they discover new evidence that music or martial arts or both have a positive influence on cognitive development, the findings could provide greater negotiating power when schools cut arts teaching. The project takes advantage of the fact that we have so many leading researchers and thinkers living and working in the same county. Three San Diego institutions bring their expertise to the study:


“I ride the center line, just so I don’t take my dog’s face off.” — Marc Lindshield, as he drove the rutted city roads in San Pasqual

So if they do that, no problem. Flips, though, also help us understand the changing political power market. If someone makes a bold proposal and then backs off of it, they’re likely responding to a true exertion of power or persuasion. Here are the top five flips so far in the mayoral contest and what they might mean.


Carl DeMaio Loving Arts Funding

DeMaio’s beloved Roadmap to Recovery says the city must cut the funding it sends to arts organizations by 25 percent. Now, though, he has decided that such a cut is no longer needed. Well, OK then. This would indicate Clockwise from top left: Congressman Bob Filner, City Councilman Carl DeMaio, District that he’s decided that a frontal assault Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. on a funding source prized by local arts organizations and philanthropists isn’t Reform measure, differently than he to oppose it. She felt that public worth it. safety personnel deserved more solid does now. retirement benefits because of the DeMaio used to say that most Bob Filner Thinks risks they take. new employees would get an Marriage Stinks (But Then she switched. The shift reflects unprecedented choice. The city will the popularity of the initiative. But it offer employees 9 percent of their Not the Next One) continues to haunt her. salaries for retirement. DeMaio said This isn’t really a flip. I just found it Her own pension earned after the employees would get to choose hilarious and an interesting indication decades in public service has become whether to take 6 percent of that and of how far our debate about marriage a major liability. It will remain difficult send it to Social Security or invest it equality has come. The news source for her to explain why pensions are themselves. LGBT Weekly asked Congressman Bob unaffordable except hers. But he recently said twice in a Filner why he voted for the Defense of mini-debate that if Proposition B, the Marriage Act in 1996, which defined Nathan Fletcher Not pension reform measure, is passed, marriage as the union between a man new city employees will get Social Being a Republican and a woman. Security — no choice. The guy who only a few weeks ago was He basically said that, in his It would seem that DeMaio has talking about how big of a Republican experience, marriage stinks and he decided that talking about not giving he was suddenly decided he was not couldn’t understand why gays and city employees even Social Security as part of that coalition anymore. lesbians would want to do it. What’s a guaranteed retirement benefit is not We still have to wait to see what odd about that, of course, is that he just a great selling point. Fletcher’s move shows us about the recently decided to get married again. political power market. If he found Bonnie Dumanis Hating a market for his message, wow. If DeMaio Says New City on Pensions Fletcher’s move falls flat, then perhaps Employees Will Get Social not much has changed except his This was the biggest of flips in the race Security Under His Plan future. until last week. The district attorney DeMaio used to sell Proposition B, wrestled with whether to endorse that — Scott Lewis Posted April 4, 2012 the so-called Comprehensive Pension pension reform initiative. She decided







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Our Crumbling Streets How San Diego’s Streets, Storm Drains and Buildings Get Worse This graphic compares how much the city plans to spend on street repairs and other maintenance, and how much the city must spend to maintain current conditions, according to public works officials. The annual figures below show cumulative spending over the period. By 2017, the city would fall about $77 million short of maintaining current conditions. $480 million $319 million $159 million $146 million FY 2013

$643 million

$729 million

$583 million

$437 million

$291 million

FY 2014

Source: City of San Diego


$806 million

E EXAMINED the city’s newest plan to repair roads, storm drains and buildings, and found it doesn’t include enough money to keep up with anticipated demand. Despite spending $729 million in the next five years, public works officials say the city’s infrastructure would continue to get even worse. Just to maintain current conditions, officials estimate the city would need to spend another

FY 2015

FY 2016

FY 2017 Graphic by Keegan Kyle / VOSD

$77 million over the period. The graphic above illustrates how that $77 million deficit would emerge. The city plans to spend $145.8 million annually while officials say maintaining current conditions would require incrementally more money. The gap between available funding and needed funding would widen each year.

— Keegan Kyle



Crawford High School calculus teachers Jonathan Winn and Carl Munn and their team created a grassroots data evaluation system that boosted teachers’ performance. The school district all but ignored their efforts.


10 VOSD MONTHLY  May 2012

Why San Diego Isn’t Joining the

Teacher Evaluation

REVOLUTION School districts around the country are using cutting-edge stats to evaluate teachers. So why isn’t San Diego? BY WILL CARLESS


CHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS across America are talking tough. The time has come, they say, to get rid of failing teachers, or at the very least to identify them so that weaker teachers can get help to become more effective. No longer should students suffer the ignominy of an educator who isn’t interested, willing, or able to make them learn. For decades, schools have relied on a principal passing through a classroom once a year or every few years to eyeball how a teacher is doing. Today districts across the country say there’s another way. They’re using reams of test score data to watch the impact each teacher has on his or her students throughout the year, learning whether students gained or lost ground under each teacher. And they’re adding that measurement to the teacher’s evaluation. They use it to find stars, to get help for struggling teachers and, in some cases, to dispatch failing teachers like they’ve never been able to before. May 2012  VOSD MONTHLY

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Voice of San Diego Monthly  

A preview of the inaugural May 2012 issue. Featuring a month's worth of the best content from San Diego's non-profit investigative news sour...