This week's ruling on redevelopment agencies, plus the top stories of the year in education, public safety and media.
December 30, 2011 1:32 p.m.
Guests: Andrew Donohue, editor, voiceofsandiego.org
J.W. August, managing editor, 10News
Mark Sauer, Senior Editor, KPBS News
ST. JOHN: Politicians of every type are reacting to this week's decision to eliminate redevelopment as we know it. It's the end of a year of uncertainty and change in education and the media. We'll take stock of some of this year's big stories. Is this KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable.
I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Friday, December the†30th. And we have to start with the big news of the week. The decision on redevelopment, which took everyone out of suspense, and put a lot of people into shock. At the Roundtable today, we have JW August, managing editor of channel 10 News. Thanks so much.
AUGUST: Glad to be here, good to see you.
ST. JOHN: And Andrew Donahue, editor of VoiceofSanDiego.org.
DONAHUE: Always good to see you Allison.
ST. JOHN: And our senior editor joins us.
SAUER: Good to be with you.
ST. JOHN: Andrew, let's start with this. Yesterday's California Supreme Court decision, is it a devastating blow or a welcome opportunity for reform?
DONAHUE: Well, I think that all depends on who you're talking to. You've seen redevelopment be a core strategy to fixing up cities all around the state, here and especially in downtown it's credited with a very famous revival of downtown. But over the years it's sort of strayed in many cases very far from what it was supposed to do. Redevelopment was set up to fix downtrodden neighborhoods when no business would go in there, and the only way to do it was government subsidies. You've seen it become in many ways now a way to fund stadiums, a way to spend taxpayer money without having to raise taxes or go to the voters, a way to get subsidies into big developers' hands. That's definitely not all it does, but that's been a trajectory it's taken. I think at this point and the way the state's economy is going, it is a chance to take a step back and hook at what we should be doing with our tax dollars and what we shouldn't be do.
ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 is our number. If you'd like to join us, the editors at the Roundtable here on KPBS. 1-888-895-5727. And we're starting to talk about this decision that came down just yesterday regarding redevelopment. JW, do you see this as being perhaps the end of the for owner the beginning of a new chapter?
AUGUST: Oh, it's definitely -- there's going to be a lot more coming down the road. Lawsuits, for sure legislation. There's -- a lot of stuff is going to evolve off of this, as always happens when you have a major change in the state. And you think about it, we have 16 of 18 cities in San Diego County that had redevelopment agencies. So that's quite a few people, quite a few projects, quite a few issues to be resolved.
ST. JOHN: Is it something that the legislature would have time to do before the govern puts out his budget do you think?
AUGUST: Oh, I don't -- how would they know? I think they got to do a lot of wheeling and dealing and talking behind closed doors and figuring out what's the next step.
ST. JOHN: And mark, what do you think is the biggest problem this creates for local government?
SAUER: You've knot all sorts of things in the pipeline. It caught them in the middle. Will there are some things that can be cleated. UT had a pretty good roundup today of a lot of the projects go on. But you mention mentioned how it had gone far afield. Two comprehends of that, Coronado is considered a blighted area. I don't know if you've been over there lately, but it's one of the loveliest little villages in America.
DONAHUE: I think there's one little alley where somebody's garbage can fell over.
SAUER: But they got their old theatre refurbished with redevelopment funds and the same thing in Grantville where they were going to declare it blighted so they could add to a little trolley expansion downtown was the idea. It got far afield, needed reform, and I think you're going to see negotiations and it rise from the ashes somehow.
ST. JOHN: But Andrew, the point is that a lot of people say this is not just about the stadium, but a lot of the public thinks okay, that's it, the stadium is dead. Is that the case?
DONAHUE: Well, it's not dead because people kind of saw this coming. So they have been preparing something else. The question is that something else going to have life? Even with redevelopment, eve 10†years into the stadium search. And we haven't even had a plan for anybody to sign off on for voters to approve for anybody to look at. So it's not like redevelopment was going to be the savior. What it does mean is we have one fewer option on the table to try to figure out how to fund the stadium.
ST. JOHN: And I mean, affordable house suggest such a huge issue, isn't it? We need affordable housing. This was one of the main sources of revenue. Is there any talk about what could fulfill that need?
AUGUST: For sure. It was the main funding source for affordable housing. The of all the things I'm concerned about, it was the affordable housing element, and what's going to happen next. There's a very good editorial in the UT today about what this means for affordable housing. I tried to find out before we went on the air what percentage of money has been used for affordable housing, but I suspect redevelopment money, I suspect it wasn't that big of a chunk.
DONAHUE: What it is is under law -- what's really interesting is this redevelopment law gradually has evolved and changed over the last 50†years since it went -- or 60†years since it went into effect. Basically, eventual leer the money was being spent in so many different directions that they required that 20% of all redevelopment money go to affordable housing. And that's why you've seen the loudest opponents to this ruling be the people who are in -- either advocates of affordable housing or the developers of affordable housing. Because you do see one of the main sources of their money get cut off. The state and federal government still offer huge tax credits, and that is a huge part of funding affordable housing. But there's no doubt redevelopment is a big part of it want.
ST. JOHN: Now, one of the things that we've heard from all these politicians saying that this is a terrible thing, it is a bit -- another example of the state stealing from the way that local governments fund things. Do you see that the state would have any motivation to give local governments another source of funding?
SAUER: Necessity is always the mother of invention. The creativity here is to find money, and quit cutting education. So they're desperate. These are desperate times. And this was the recommending of all of this change.
ST. JOHN: Andrew?
DONAHUE: And I actually would object to that, the characterization of it being stealing or robbing. That's been something that a lot of city leaders have been doing.
SAUER: The mayor here, certainly.
DONAHUE: This was something that was created by the state to allow local governments to keep more money that used to go to schools, that used to go to counties and use that basically as a luxury to try to redevelopment. We're at a point right now where the state is completely out of money, and the state H has decided to reclaim the money that it's been giving. So to me, it's hardly stealing. To me, it's prioritizing.
AUGUST: And didn't brown make an offer where they would have given them -- taken a chunk of the money for the state, and the locals could keep it this year? And then agreed on a flat amount of money to pay it out? But it never --
DONAHUE: I'm not sure the details you're talking about. But there was a compromised plan that was also struck down.
ST. JOHN: That was also struck down bypass the Courts, which is what everyone was hoping would be the compromise. But ironically, prop 22, they argued that would stifle is down. That leads us into our next segment, which is education. The news on education this year has been pretty much a story of cry wolf. Every time it seems the district can't possibly save itself from insolvency, news comes that hundreds of teacher layoffs have been avoided and the district is bracing for the next threat of major cuts. Andrew, is this decision on redevelopment going to affect schools in any way?
DONAHUE: It definitely does. A lot of people thought it was going to be one of those decisions where they pop champagne and get really excited because this has very much been sold as a way to save education. What this does is basically -- the way 1 of the schools people describe today to me yesterday was this is just a sense of relieve. The government billed the billion dollars into the budget, so if the ruling had gone the other way, they would have been facing another drastic mid-year cut. Basically what we know right now is that the funding they have right now is safe, but that's funding that's dramatically down from what it used to be a few years ago, and that we don't know if that's going to be any future windfall.
ST. JOHN: Why has the city school's budget been on such a roller coaster this year?
DONAHUE: That's a great question. If you talked to a lot of the district leaders the last few months, most of the blame was heaped on the state. The state has cut spending about 15%. But if you take a step back and look at it, that was from a very big peek during a very unprecedented boom. Upon and if you look back over the last 10†years, they're basically getting the same amount of money that they were 10†years ago, including adjusting for inflation.
ST. JOHN: Including more kids?
DONAHUE: Actually, they're getting fewer kids. But you do see that their costs have gone up incredibly. They have fewer special ed students, but they're spending more on that. Upon they have fewer employees but their benefits are costing them more than they used to be. So the school district is getting less money from the state, but it's gotten a lot more expensive on its books.
ST. JOHN: We have JW August, Andrew Donahue, and Mark Sauer. And the thing about schools that we wonder, I think, about the city schools is the politics of it, JW. I wanted to ask you a bit about the School Board, whether you think the that the School Board has been running too close to the edge. It hasn't reacted to the budget problems like, say, LA in a more conservative fashion. How do you think it's handling all this?
AUGUST: And I agree with you. Remember when they had the decision earlier, what were we going to lay off 1,300 teachers or something? And the board said go ahead, we're not going to prepare for that. Let them continue working. And let's hope the state coming up with the money? Well, the state didn't come up with the money. Well, LA prepared itself. That may be the -- it's a teachers' union, and a union backs a number of the board members, and that may be the reason that happened. But the point was, it wasn't very realistic. And if this Godsend hadn't happened with redevelopment, I don't know where the district -- San Diego unified and the other districts would be. I will note something though, I believe Andrew said something interesting, that we actually -- crying wolf was the term. I went back and looked back at stories for four or 5†years, every year like clockwork, it's all over with, the end is coming, the sky is falling and we have to lay off these people, what are we gonna do? Year after year after year.
DONAHUE: And I think that's one of the problems. People have gotten numb to it, right? And people haven't necessarily taken the recent warnings very seriously. But if you do really go in this and look at their finances, there are some serious things waiting for them down the road. Now, perhaps another, you know -- we can get another Christmas schools miracle or something like that. But it's really going to be interesting to see if you can bridge that trust deficit. Because aye talked to a lot of parents who say I want to help out the schools, I'm willing to pay my tax money, but I don't trust, A, what they're going to do with it, or B, what they're saying. And that, I think is one of the key problems that's underlying schools here in San Diego.
SAUER: With everything else that the state does and the public sector does, it comes down to this rotten economy. The economy gets better in 2012, and of course we really dearly hope it does, some of these problems -- not entirely resolve, but get a lot better. With tax revenues. The other thing with school, and you talk about the huge commitment, I believe it's 40% of the state tea budget has to go to schools, and it's a very uneven thing. And we've done a number of stories on that, as well as have a lot of news outlets in San Diego and across the state. The folks who are richer and have a greater tax base, more involved parents, greater means of foundations and local organizations to raise serious money. They're going to benefit in those areas. And it's going to be uneven. And you look at public things that are this to rectify this, some of the title programs, and they haven't been used properly to level that playing field. So the unevenness, even if the economy does get better, probably will continue.
ST. JOHN: Do you worry, mark, that perhaps the focus on budgets, which has been pretty all-encompassing this year, is districting us from the issue of whether education is making progress?
SAUER: That's a very good point. Just in terms of the assignments I make, and the stories we work on in our news room here, it tends to crowd everything else out. I do think people are numb to it. It's very important. It's the elephant in the room. But day after day, it's hard, it crowds other stories out, programs are being done, innovative things that are being done in the classroom.
DONAHUE: I agree, as an editor who does the same thing, it's hard to ignore. If you don't fix those thing, then those programs that everybody loves don't get taken care of. If you don't deal with the financial issues, if you're not honest about them, men maybe that beloved teacher at Central Elementary in City Heights loses their job. It's the same thing when you look at city finances, perhaps some days it can get monotonous, but without that, you're not going to be able to staff a lifeguard station or the parks. Everything we deal with in all those worlds starts and stops with how much money they have.
MAUREEN ST. JOHN: Isn't it interesting? Do you remember when Allen Burson was head of the school district? All the news was about reform. It was about what is happening behind those classroom doors, and teachers were going through training in the summer. And the whole focus was on improving student perform apse. Have you been doing any of those kinds of stories this year at all?
AUGUST: Not really. It's always about the money. Of it's always about the money. Of course that's the reality of the world. I just hope if the money starts coming in again, they look at becoming more efficient, take advantage of the times where you have some breathing room, where you can do some looking at how you do your business.
ST. JOHN: And Andrew, do you know whether there has been any improvement in student test scores? Is that something you've even been paying attention to? Or have the test scores gone down as a result of these cuts?
DONAHUE: I am not a test score expert. Let me add that caveat to it, but I do believe they have slowly gotten better in some key areas. And -- despite all of that.
SAUER: They have at least held their own. That's true.
AUGUST: It's all about testing, you know. Prep them for the test.
SAUER: That's a whole 'nother argument. The testing themselves, how the tests are used, how they're used at the national level, reconciling those with local levels. In California we've seen big discrepancies, in places like Texas, we have. There's been scandals in Atlanta, I believe, where they've actually doctored the scores and some folks have lost their jobs. But how to quantify it?
ST. JOHN: Kyla Calvert's done a bunch of stories also about the achievement gap. And that is not getting any better. Yet the focus seems to be off all of those issues now and on the budget. Although, who knows? Maybe the people who are attempting to rectify that situation might do better without a media focus on them.
DONAHUE: Yeah, the achievement gap has been a big issue. And the San Diego unified School Board has been sort of isolating the school district from a lot of these national forums that have been happening across the country, race to the top, and a lot of the other Obama administration-led reforms that have sparked a lot of conversations about how you do accountability and tests, that they're just not participating in.
ST. JOHN: And we're into an election year here. Will there be School Board elections coming up? And we have Scott Barnett as a sort of minority voice, a conservative voice on the School Board. Do you think things might change?
DONAHUE: We have three seats open. Three of the five. So that's a majority. Sheila Jackson is -- who represents the southeastern neighborhoods is now running for reelection, and there's a bunch of people running. That's going to be an interesting race. Then you have the current president, John Lee Evans and the outgoing president, Richard Barrera, who are both up for reelection, and so far that I know of, they have not been challenged by anybody. So those will be three very important seats to watch.
ST. JOHN: And one last question before we move on. What do you think the chances are of the school district being taken over by the state next year?
DONAHUE: I'm not going to take a crack at that. Am I do think they very clearly have to start making some decisions that they have been putting off. And they're going to probably have to get some sort of concessions from laborer unions as well.
ST. JOHN: Thanks, gentlemen for that.
ST. JOHN: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable am I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. And we have with us here at the Roundtable Mark Sauer, KPBS senior editor. Andrew Donahue, editor of VoiceofSanDiego.org, and JW August, managing editor of ten. Public safety is always the NO.†1 priority for taxpayer dollars. Are we any safer or les safe this year? Let's look at some of the big stories on law enforcement and public safety. JW, let's start with the story that we had out of the police department, which could lead the public to wonder if they really are safe when they encounter an SD PD officer. Tell us about Anthony Arevalos.
AUGUST: He was a bad guy, he did it for a long time, he would pick up ladies and use his authority as a police officer in the Gaslamp. They got him, he's got eight felonies hanging over his head, he's found guilty.
ST. JOHN: And we just heard about Craig pior, who is in jail.
AUGUST: Wonderful man.
ST. JOHN: It's been interesting reflection on at least he was caught.
AUGUST: No doubt it's an ugly case. But police are human. And any time you have humans, you're going to have problems. But I'm not going to be an apologist on this.
SAUER: Getting back to that trial you mentioned with that particular officer, are you surprised they went to trial this? They had almost a movie of the crime. One woman had worked with the officers, had him saying incriminating statements on the phone, then they had the viewpoint.
AUGUST: That's the defense attorney. I didn't understand it.
SAUER: I didn't understand it either. Maybe they offered him absolutely nothing, but to go through that trial, it just surprised me.
ST. JOHN: Mark, do you think that the police chief should have known about this earlier? It seemed like it could be going on for a while.
SAUER: Right, and you get these situations, and when they break, they're going to try say we couldn't have known, who knew about it here? You wonder about the super vision, especially where he was. Apparently it was an open secret among at least some officers and some folks within the police department, and he's in a very hot area of town. Go down there any Friday or Saturday night, the Gaslamp is a hopping area. It's a big police challenge all the time. And to have an officer like that in the midst of that particular area is curious indeed.
AUGUST: If you break down some of the crimes --
ST. JOHN: You want to break them down for us.
AUGUST: For instance there was 1†case on your list of things, I think you said therapy five misconducts outstanding, there's only two that remain. It's a rape and a DUI case. Serious business. But there was a case of an officer assaulting two punks outside his house smoking dope up in Rancho PeÒasquitos. It wasn't the appropriate thing to do. Maybe at another time, nobody would have even noticed it, but it was when the media was watching, we were all very much aware of what was going on. And it got a lot of media coverage. And it just seems to grow as it went on. And in their defense, I got to say that they did react to it in a way they should. Instead of trying to cover up like the LAPD, rampart division did, with the issue with the drug dealing, they were pretty straightforward and said we got a problem here. What are we going to do about it? I can talk about those problems too because I always felt for some time since the current chief took over that a lot of the issues with stress on the officers wasn't emphasized, it wasn't -- they were aware of the concern, but it wasn't really that important. They actually used to have a shrink that worked out of the chief's office years ago.
ST. JOHN: Was it because of budget cuts?
AUGUST: It's justice a different mind set. The chief is a good guy, good cop. But he's kind of like George Patton at the beginning of the movie, by golly! You know, he straps his guns on, goes to bar, and expects his men to be like he is.
ST. JOHN: We're talking about chief Lansdowne.
AUGUST: And he's comfortable as Patton too, I think. But the fact of the matter is, people have problems in their lives, divorces, there still continues to be a big problem with alcoholism in the police department that they need to address. And I think a lot of these problems bubbled up from those problems.
DONAHUE: It raised some interesting questions about the police department. Now, I think most of the cases, it looked like just a bad person who did something bad and got caught, right? Or maybe not even a bad person, but somebody who did something bad. Now the Arevalos case to me does reveal some problems internally at the police department. Here's a guy who was known amongst his colleagues and supervisor are being kind of creepy about the women he pulled over. He sent lewd photos, he would keep photocopies of their driver's license. He was referred to within his own department as the Las Colinas transport unit. And that is to be the guy who drives the women to the woman's prison. He also despite all of that, he had also been accused of sexually assaulting somebody that he had pulled over for a DUI. Police have forwarded those charges to the DA, the DA did not press charges. Even after all that, and all that was known about him, he was put back out on patrol by himself to pullover other women who he later sexually assaulted. And so to me, there's a problem that somebody had this reputation and they had accusations against them. Perhaps it wasn't enough to fire him or bring charges, but he was allowed to be back out on patrol, solely pulling over people for DUIs.
ST. JOHN: A bit of a culture in the police department.
DONAHUE: There were warning signs that were missed.
AUGUST: No doubt. But that's his --
DONAHUE: That allowed him to continue. And he went on to commit sexual assaults against women in our community.
SAUER: A little disingenuous to say, geez, we had no idea.
AUGUST: They did know. I'm quite sure. But that goes to the training of the sergeants and the guys that have immediate control of the guys on the street, and them sending the information up to the lieutenants. I think they had issues of communication, and like you said, they protect each other's backs.
SAUER: The whole thin blue line.
AUGUST: Right. And internal affairs, one of the first things the chief did to his credit was bump up internal affairs, which they needed to do.
ST. JOHN: Have you seen any evidence that really the chief has changed anything to get better communication?
AUGUST: I know the internal affairs guys are very busy. And you hear -- there's more of them. I think they've added three or four more people.
DONAHUE: They have. But previously they actually contracted that.
DONAHUE: So during budget cut, there's an interesting bigger picture here. During budget cut, naturally, the police chief ahead to cut a lot of what you would think of long-term and proactive investigations to be immediately reactive, and that's out in the community and policing that's also internal affairs had been trimmed. And he also hut an investigative unit whose only job was to be creating proactive investigations against officers. So you have seen sort of -- you did see a hollowing out of those things but you now you see them ramping up again.
ST. JOHN: There hasn't been nearly as much talk about budget cuts in law enforcement as there has about budget cuts in schools. Do you think it's affected public safety? Crime does not appear to be on the increase.
AUGUST: Overall, I don't think it has affected public safety. I work with proactive work, because they're not in as many task forces as they were before because they department have the bodies with various law enforcement organizations that do all kinds of proactive work. I am concerned that the proactive very much done by the police department has dropped off because they don't have the bodies.
SAUER: Interesting thing on crime statistics. You could argue that crime is down, statistics are down, and that wasn't expected in economic hard times, just basic theft, you would think would go up because people are desperate. But also who's counting, and what are the agendas of the folks who are compiling the statistics? And these are all legitimate questions.
ST. JOHN: You're questioning whether the statistics, maybe because there's fewer --
SAUER: Right, and if there's fewer police officers, maybe you're just not getting the crime reports and the criminals apprehended because there's not that many cops on the street. We keep coming back to the tough economy. The other instances aside from this obvious string of felonies and this one officer, a lot of these involved just pressures of day to day living, and nay help to be police officers. Caught up with domestic violence and DUIs, and a lot of the problems that all sorts of people are you should money stress from.
DONAHUE: Crime has been going down across the country fair long time. These could be independent trends that are totally disconnected from how we do our budgets here.
SAUER: Aging population.
ST. JOHN: Voice of San Diego has done some stories about the statistics that come every year from the police department don't necessarily seem to reflect very accurately --
DONAHUE: In all fairness, that was in the past. That was 2006, 2007. So I have no reason to doubt them right now.
ST. JOHN: But public safety, it's hard to assess whether the budget is affecting public safety or not. But there is another area where the budget has definitely affected how we deal with public safety, and that's the prison realignment program where oversight of thousands of prisoners is being transferred from the state to the county. So people who would have been the responsibility of the state are now the responsibility of county jails and probation. What is the effect on San Diego County so far, JW?
AUGUST: Well, the Probation Department has hired more officers in preparation for it to come. It's coming this week, I believe. Next week they start heading into our system down here.
ST. JOHN: Some of them are already come to the Probation Department anyway.
AUGUST: And I don't think it's a case of you got to hide the women and children. They seem to have a pretty good grasp on it. The jails are going to get overcrowded. We're lucky in many ways that our jails aren't overcrowded. Other communities already have overcrowded jails, and adding that much more population into the jail is a problem. I don't know what that solves because you're right back where you were when the feds were complaining about how this whole thing started. But adding more probation officers -- sheriff gore, they seem to have a game plan to handle the people. They're talking about more interdiction for them, more programs to help them when they're down here instead of just tossing them into jail, drug court type of things where they have to meet certain things in order to stay free or they have to go for training or additional therapy. That sort of stuff.
SAUER: That could be a really good thing because California at the state level once had a model program for this. And we have had some stories on our air this year about how it's all gone south because of basically budget cuts. Maybe it'll be a silver lining to some of this.
ST. JOHN: Keep some people out of jail.
SAUER: They're not getting these programs and help at all at the state level. Perhaps at the local level they will.
ST. JOHN: The county of San Diego put a very positive spin on this and said we are going to be spending more money on keeping people in their own homes rather than putting them in jails, and helping them to readjust to the community. And the main thing they've said is they're going to cut the recidivism rate for these people so few of them end up going back to jail because they revoked their probation.
SAUER: Patrol violations is a huge -- people don't realize that. It's not committing another crime, missing an appointment, it's failing a dirty drug test. And some of those things, when you mitigate the overcrowding problem California perspectives have, something's got to give. And we're not seeing any tax increases in the legislature certainly on the Republican side. So something has to give. And one dramatic thing they're going to do is shift this to local custody. And in counties like San Diego where we have had some room, perhaps we have creative ways to get these folks some help. Just to lock them away and put them in a criminal situation, especially on a patrol violation, something else has to be tried, and that's what they're tried.
ST. JOHN: At a time when it's hard enough to find a job, even if you don't have a felony on your record, what do you think the chances are that they'll be able to keep people who may be served time out of going right back behind bars?
AUGUST: That's a good question.
DONAHUE: That's a tough one. The county has proven to be very good at dealing with public safety issues. That is where they invest their money. They don't invest it very well in social services. This is --
AUGUST: Where's my food stamps?
DONAHUE: What's interesting is this is kind of in between both. Public safety because you're dealing with how to punish criminals and how to deal with them. But really what you're trying to do is make them a productive, useful member of society.
DONAHUE: Which takes that a little bit to the social service side, so it something interesting.
ST. JOHN: Exactly. I think that's one of the things the state has given the county $25†million for this first period of the transition. And the county has only allocated about half that so far. So I think that's one of the questions. Will they put it into things like drug treatment? Where do you think the money should be invested to make us safer?
SAUER: Treatment, training. Absolutely. It doesn't make any sense to keep this resolving door going. And we can't afford it. The tens of thousands it takes to house one inmate each year, if that money invested in something to turn them around, make them more productive. It is an aging population, so a lot of these folks in the high-crime years, the gang years and all, we are benefiting from demographics on that, if the economy gets a little bit better, perhaps this could be a win-win as we go along.
AUGUST: The geriatric effect is what they call it. The only thing is the geezer bandit now, explain that.
SAUER: It's a young woman, right? She's a mask and it's all makeup, right?
AUGUST: I will say this guy, mark Jenkins who runs the Probation Department. From everything I are had, he's a pretty sharp cookie. And he's going to play a key role in this. I think he got voted law enforcement officer of the year locally. And they have had some real stinkers in the probation office before to run it. I'm not going to name names, but this guy seems like the real comer. And I think we're in pretty good hands.
ST. JOHN: When you compare it with the stories you hear out of Los Angeles where the DA doesn't even speak to the probation officer doesn't speak to the sheriff, it does seem like there's better communication in San Diego County.
AUGUST: Absolutely. Right. It's all under the wing of the sheriff. So I think the chart, the bureaucratic makeup of the system is different.
ST. JOHN: It occurs to me as we're talking that there really isn't a good way to find out if we are safer or not safer.
AUGUST: Crime stats, I guess.
SAUER: That's the only -- it gets back down to student scores. It's very difficult to parcel out of this stuff, it really is am.
ST. JOHN: Good, well, we'll have to -- really next year is the year this big realignment thing is going to hit. So that's something to watch. Thank you gentlemen.
ST. JOHN: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. And we have with us today, Andrew don how, editor of VoiceofSanDiego.org, JW August, managing editor of 10 News, and Mark Sauer, KPBS's senior news editor. How we get our news continues to change. In 2011, newspapers continue to struggle to keep their readers, online news sources continue to proliferate. The media melting pot is bubbling. And there have been lots of changes in San Diego this year. Biggest one is arguably the sale of the San Diego Union Tribune to developer, Doug Manchester. Mark, kick us off on this. Who is Doug Manchester and why are people saying such terrible things about him?
SAUER: I don't know how terrible. If you're going to be in that hot seat, the publisher of a major newspaper, you better be able to face the heat. And he is a longtime developer, very successful philanthropist, a very wealthy man here. Well known. A long time San Diego community booster, as he has noted, which is maybe one of the main things that is raising eyebrows since he took over the paper earlier this month. And that is that he has been quite outspoken, along with John listen, his partner in this endeavor, that they will boost the community, they will support development, positive things in the community. A lot of things that give pause to objective journalists, because newspapers are supposed to call the shots as they see them, they're supposed to look out for taxpayer interests, consumer interests, not necessarily developers and business interests. So that's a notable thing. In the few weeks since he's owned it, I think the one notable and perhaps dramatic change everyone can point to is right there on the front page where the day before Mr. Manchester and lynch took over, it said a million readers served weekly in halftone type just below the name of the newspaper. Now it says world's greatest country, America's finest city in bold, capitalized type. So you see where they're coming from. Along that same line is the Christmas message, which Copley did for many year, I was there 27†years and I remember one every Christmas. And it's to a lot of us kind of cheesy. You don't see the New York Times do that, the Washington post do that. But papers at this level, publisher's prerogative. They throw that out. And this year it's from papa Doug, as he chooses to be called, was one of great boosterism and quite rev rent and religious. These are the sorts of things that not a lot of people -- a lot of people roll their eyes at. You've got a conservative editorial page, and objective newspapers who are doing the stories. And they always did.
ST. JOHN: What is wrong with a bit of boosterism in the local paper?
DONAHUE: Journalists should be pointing out positive things that are happening in their community and should be pointing out solutions and people that are doing good things. And I don't think there's any journalist that denies that. We all understand that we could probably all do that a lot better, rather than just always seeming to harp on the negative. However, what's wrong in this is that it -- I'll use the chargers as an example. When you're doing something like that, it has to be intellectually honest, and it has to come from some sort of study and real good place. What they've already said is we're going to use the sports page as a blunt tool to barb any people who are obstructionists to the chargers stadium. The problem is there's no plan for a chargers stadium. That means that no matter what, no matter how bad of a deal the taxpayers are getting, no matter how hosed we all get, you better support it or you're going to get hit. So there's the problem. There's no intellectual honesty behind that. I think a lot of the things that they've said have scared people. And even taking it back a step, I couldn't imagine anybody else, one other man in San Diego eliciting such a collective gasp from the community as Doug Manchester when he bought that newspaper because people do know how he operates, and they're worried how he operates does not mesh well where the community.
ST. JOHN: When you say how he operates?
DONAHUE: He's known, quite frankly and simply, he's known to be a jerk. He's known to be vindictive, he's known to be --
ST. JOHN: I've heard different descriptions. There could be some disagreement.
DONAHUE: And I never met the guy. I have no idea. That's what his reputation is in the community, of going -- creating enemies of being litigious, and --
ST. JOHN: He certainly sued a couple of cities and agencies for millions of dollars when his projects hadn't worked out.
DONAHUE: And you know what? He won. So he's a good businessman. And the question is, does he have that sort of temperament to be taking over a newspaper?
ST. JOHN: A segue from that, he's a good businessman. And he says he wants to be more pro business.
AUGUST: But you don't use your whole paper as your bully pulpit. You don't do that anymore. The Hearst newspapers and that type of journalist is old school. Get some editors for your editors' section and do commentaries on it. But don't influence the news copy, don't mess with your reporters.
AUGUST: It doesn't take long for people in this city to figure it out. And he needs to understand, when the Copleys owned the paper, the demographics in this city were far different than they are now.
SAUER: Right, right.
DONAHUE: That's a major point.
AUGUST: If they ignore the changing demographics --
ST. JOHN: Isn't that just reflective of the numbers of papers that get sold?
SAUER: Absolutely. And the editorial page is a publish's prerogative. We certainly have all sorts of portals on the web to do the polarized stuff. And newspapers, the audience that's loyal, that's still there, that core, and it's obviously still a business thing. You want to call it a niche business now. But they won't tolerate this. It's in black and white there every day. And I haven't seen evidence of it. It's early yet. But to go back to the chargers analogy, story after story -- or study after study will show these are not good deals, generally, these subsidized public stadium deals. And the NFL owners with their television contracts make a fortunate. They don't have to sell a ticket to make money. It's all about making more money for the families like the Spanos.
ST. JOHN: When you say it's not a good deal, it might be a good deal, but who is it a good deal for?
SAUER: Yeah, it's a good deal for somebody.
ST. JOHN: But is it in the public interest?
AUGUST: It's so important to have a good newspaper here. We were talking with the redevelopment story. If you hook at the UT's coverage of the redevelopment story, all these different reporters reporting from different areas of the county, you're not going to get that on TV, baby. You ought to have a good newspaper. It's even too much for radio.
ST. JOHN: Interesting point. Everybody in town depends on the main paper that has the resources to provide us with the neutral information that can be used, yeah.
AUGUST: It'd be interesting to see this story written a year from now after he's been in control for a year, and see if there would have been a difference.
SAUER: The same editor is there.
DONAHUE: I think that will be an interesting test, to see if Jeff does stay. I've gotten a chance to get to know him, and he is a very solid journalist with very solid ethics and principles, and a very strong viewpoint of what that newspaper should be. And it does seem very different from the original vision that Manchester and lynch laid out. So they have softened it, and do that I work with him, or does it become untenable?
SAUER: Or does it go back to the bad old days of the Copleys? You can go back when Mr. Copley, Jim Copley was in Alive, who died in the early 70s here, and it was a real, real arch conservative paper. This was the biggest bank failure since the great depression in this country. It was the front page story of the New York Times. Look how the UT played it at that time. It was boosterism, boosterism, support Republican causes and candidates, Nixon's campaign, and rise to the national presidency, on and on and on in those days. The old-timers will tell you about olders down, Humphrey in '68 campaign against Nixon. His name and his photo wasn't to appear before Page 8. It would have been "Nixon loses to other guys." This kind of stuff went on for decades.
DONAHUE: This is going to be a really interesting test. You have a newspaper that has declined in influence, and in readership and staff. And there's some tremendous work being done by tremendous people there. Especially under the last owner's platinum equity, they took their hands over the editorial page. It used to be a blunt force that was used to advocate for very specific boosterism and/or Republican causes.
SAUER: Conservative causes.
DONAHUE: And it different -- so they're already talking about doing that again. Does it still have the same influence? Because that influence waned. Does Manchester have the same influence? Most of his big work that everybody knows him for was done in the '80s or early '90s. And what he's done lately hasn't panned out the way his other deals did, and does that sort of style of sort of San Diego politics that mark was talking about, be does that still fly? Because this community has changed a lot over the last several decades.
ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 is our number. And will is on the line from San Carlos. Thanks for joining the Roundtable. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: It's my pleasure. My first concern was raised when I read an editorial, I called and found it was written by William oz born of the UT. It was basically deriding the fact that an ordinance was being generated in an initiative process to try to bring some sanity to the medical marijuana dispensary issue in San Diego. The council failed to enact an ordinance that would work. And there is another ordinance that is being generated by the medical marijuana community, trying to get common sense. And it was just a really smashing, snotty editorial just deriding the fact that this process was going on.
ST. JOHN: And do you think you would not have seen an editorial like that under the previous ownership, will?
NEW SPEAKER: It wasn't snotty. The tone wasn't. I noticed the tone was different. Other issues, I go to church, but I'm not a Christian. I'm strongly supportive of guy rights in San Diego. It puts me squarely on the other side of the table from Manchester. And I think that when you stack up the cards, I think a great majority of San Diegans are going to be in the same place. Personally, I canceled my subscription.
ST. JOHN: You've canceled your subscription. Well, thank you if are your call. If this is going to be a successful business, it's obviously going to maintain its readership. The question is, how many people are there like Will out in the community?
SAUER: He makes a reference there to Manchester -- it's well noted he was a financial backer of the antigay marriage prop eight campaign a few years ago.
ST. JOHN: Okay. Yeah. Sorry, JW? Did you want to make a comment?
AUGUST: Well, yeah, but hey, don't give up on them. We need our newspaper. Take a look at them once in a while, Will, and give it some time. And of course, watch 10 News for all your other needs.
ST. JOHN: Now we have Sony from Mission Hills. Go ahead. Thanks for joining us.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. I just have one comment to make. My concern with Mr. Manchester is that he is -- he will attempt to project San Diego as a Potemkin village, as in there's nothing wrong here. Everything is cool, everything is copacetic. And it's wonderful. And let's promote all the good stuff. There's a lot of sad, unhappy and frightening things going on. And I think it's important to remember that any man who carries the moniker of papa Doug needs to be watched very carefully.
SAUER: Well, you know, that goes back, that's a very good point. It goes back to the whole notion of what is news. We talked about the police in the earlier segment here. Police officers doing his job is not news. A lot of people think, why don't you do positive stories on police officers? Well, they do a lot of wonderful things. That's their job. It's news when they go out and molest women. You have to find -- what the news judgment is, and boosterism generally is really foot news.
DONAHUE: And that's very important. He does have an interest in trying to make San Diego look good, if you're in the tourism industry, which has been sort of a problem here. When we do have very real issues to do with for the real residents that live here. And a newspaper's job is to feel that the community is confident enough that you can hold up a mere tort to it, see its negative issues and then fix them and make them better.
ST. JOHN: Just before the end of the show, there was another change of hands that happened this year. Channel ten. So JW?
ST. JOHN: Since you work there, fill us in. What happened here? The ownership of your station has changed. Has it made any difference?
AUGUST: Not yet. You'll see it when our newscasts ends, I think tomorrow, where you see E. W. Scripps company. We're all excited. They like to do investigative stuff. So I'm stoked to hear these guys are really interest stuff that I care about. And they have a culture of journalism in that they have both broadcast and print properties. And I've already started talking to my brethren across the country about different projects, which is kind of a kick. I've never had that chance before.
SAUER: Been a long time media name in San Diego, Scripps.
AUGUST: Oh, Scripps, yeah. Upon Paul Scripps is -- on their board, they're based in Cincinnati, actually lives here.
ST. JOHN: OKAY, well, we will probably be talking next year about whether the ownership issue will extend to the New York Times. We didn't have time to talk about that today. But there is some news that Doug Manchester might be interested in buying the North County times as well. We have to leave our conversation there. Thank you so much, gentlemen.