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Top Stories Of 2019

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We look back at some of the biggest stories from the past year with our panel of San Diego journalists.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 This week. I look back at the stories and issues that define 2019 including our climate emergency. How do young people move the issue from science to activism? A year of turmoil and politics at the national and local level from president Trump's impeachment to the downfall of a Congressman. I look ahead to what this means for 2020 and how did journalism change in the past year? I look inward at our shifting media landscape. I'm Mark Sauer. The KPBS round table starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:39 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:42 Welcome to our special year end edition of the KPBS Roundtable. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me to discuss the top stories and issues of 2019 are Andrew Bowen, Metro reporter for KPBS news. Lori Hearn, executive director for I knew source, Phil Blauer, a news anchor at Fox five San Diego and Maya Sri Christian and reporter for voice of San Diego. Well, for at least the past three decades, scientists have a warrant of the coming climate crisis in many ways. 2019 seems to be the year the alarm was finally being heard across the globe. It was also a year for huge political scandals, including impeachment and a local Congressmen's downfall and a time when immigration conflicts and horrific shootings, again, sadly dominated headlines. We also saw fine investigative work from new sources independent from traditional news outlets. And Andrew, let's start with what inspired time magazine's person of the year. That's climate change. Who won the award and how did that play into international coverage?

Speaker 3: 01:39 Well, that would be Gretta Toon Berg, the 16 year old Swedish climate activist who started a school strike, uh, at home in Sweden. And that just sort of ballooned into a global movement of youth who are really urging the world's leaders and leaders of government and business to take seriously climate change and start reducing our greenhouse gas emissions globally. Um, I think what we've really seen from them, from, from her perspective and many other youths who support her are that young people really have the most at stake when it comes to climate change. They're going to be living into that era where we're seeing threats to the global food supply to a, you know, increasingly destructive natural disasters that are exacerbated by climate change. And they're also largely left out of the policy discussion. Many of the leaders of those governments and businesses will be dead and gone before we see those things happening at a serious, a large global scale.

Speaker 1: 02:30 And you covered some of the walkouts, a student walkouts in September here in San Diego. How did this shift from a science story and it was one driven by activism as you're saying?

Speaker 3: 02:37 Well, I think it's always been both. It's always been about science and, and at least in the last 10 or 15 years, it's been about activism as well. And I think what we've seen a lot more of particularly this year is, um, more scientists actually engaging in the policy debates around how we need to be reducing our carbon footprint. And many of them I think are realizing that it's not just enough publish a peer reviewed, uh, study in an academic journal about climate change and then leave it up to the governments. The politicians to decide what to do with all of that information. You know, they, they really see it increasingly as their responsibility to engage in those debates. And, uh, and really, you know, trying to urge action

Speaker 1: 03:19 now, uh, you cover of course, local government here for KPBS climates. Increasingly a factor in San Diego where we do have a very, uh, forward-looking and progressive and have had for awhile a time a climate action plan in the city.

Speaker 3: 03:31 Yeah. So, so one of the biggest changes that we saw this year locally was the formation of two community choice energy programs, um, one in North County and then a much larger one, a a coalition of five cities, including the city of San Diego. These cities will soon, uh, be deciding where we get our electricity from, the different, uh, you know, the, the group of power plants. Um, how much of that, um, energy, electricity that powers our homes and businesses, uh, will come from renewable sources. And of course, our climate action plan requires the city of San Diego to, uh, achieve 100% clean energy by 2035.

Speaker 1: 04:09 And the challenges you see going forward into 2020?

Speaker 3: 04:11 Well, certainly I think we're going to see a lot more debates about transportation, which still accounts for the lion's share of glow of local greenhouse gas emissions. Um, the debates at the San Diego association of governments about our longterm transportation future, how much we invest in public transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure versus highways and roads. Um, and I think also about housing. The climate debate is really also about where we're building housing, what types of communities we're planning for and, and whether we can really achieve those dense walkable communities that, um, are, are a much more sustainable for them.

Speaker 1: 04:47 Yeah. It really permeates anything we're going to turn out to immigration presidents. Trump's still trying to get that wall built and the U a U S is further tightened to who's allowed into, to seek asylum. So my others, some crossover as, as Andrew was saying on the, the climate story. How's that a factor in the reasons that people are kind of trying to come from to America, from a nearby countries in Latin America.

Speaker 4: 05:08 So, um, climate issues have had a really big impact on particularly, um, agricultural areas in central America and Honduras and Guatemala. And so one of the things we've been seeing is we've been increasingly seeing people from like the Guatemalan Highlands who are indigenous who don't speak Spanish and many of them are being driven here because of changes in agriculture that are often tied to climate.

Speaker 1: 05:28 They can't grow things on land they've had for, they may be generations and they become climate refugees. Yeah. And a big part of the immigration story this year played out in the courts. Uh, we've seen a shift in president Trump's ability to carry out his agenda

Speaker 4: 05:41 somewhat. Um, you know, there's been some things that the courts have upheld and other things that they've issued stays on. I think what we are seeing is that there's been stays on certain policies, um, like the asylum ban and um, certain parts of various policies. But, uh, the federal government is appealing a lot of the challenges. And so we're going to continue to see these things sort of play out

Speaker 1: 06:03 and the remain in Mexico policy severely restricted who can come across? We've talked about that on the show before. What's the situation now, just on the other side of the board and in Tijuana?

Speaker 4: 06:12 Uh, well it's tough. Um, yeah, it's very confusing and it's very tough. Um, there is still a huge shelter shortage for the number of people who now are waiting in Tijuana and other cities along the border. Um, we recently saw the murder of, um, a hundred father in Tijuana. So, you know, those safety, safety issues are a problem all along the border. So it's something that, um, Mexico is still grappling with and that also, I think a lot of asylum officers and advocates and people in this side of the border are also trying to, um, address

Speaker 1: 06:44 and another big story we'll be continuing to watch into 2020. Now, president Trump visited San Diego this year, partly to view work on the border wall that got a lot of publicity. Anything, uh, to look for in that part of the story going forward?

Speaker 4: 06:57 Um, well I think that in particular there's two things to focus on is whether the wall or the building of the wall actually does quell, um, immigration and the number of people who are crossing. And then the other is there are certain areas where the wall has been proposed and where it is starting to be built, where there were environmental concerns and to watch some of those impacts and effects

Speaker 1: 07:17 in regarding the wall. And I don't know if it's pointed on enough in the, in the, uh, immediate coverage of this, which has been extensive, is a lot of people simply come and overstay visas and they were here. Wall isn't going to do anything about that type of, uh, undocumented immigration.

Speaker 4: 07:33 Yeah. For the past several years, the number of people who've overstayed their visas have been far higher than the people who've crossed, um, illegally through the border.

Speaker 1: 07:40 Yeah. So the percentages are way up there. So as a practical matter, that's always been a confusing part of the story. To me,

Speaker 4: 07:47 it says a lot about who they're trying to stop from coming in

Speaker 1: 07:51 and how they can do it and the visibility. Now. The troops haven't been at the border for a time. They were there and part of 2019 and that's since faded away, right?

Speaker 4: 07:59 Yeah. I mean there's certainly a symbolic thing when it comes to politics of fertilizing like your border and like that.

Speaker 1: 08:06 Oh, plenty more to watch as we move into 2020 well more mass shootings, four or more people shot than days in 2019 a shocking statistic and an April gun violence shattered a synagogue in Poway. The last day of Passover, Phil, we reached a point where these shootings barely go. 24 hour news cycle here and we've, and we seem to have another one. The Poway attack though really struck a chord even with the president in the white house.

Speaker 5: 08:29 Well, market certainly did. A president responded right away to our reporters outside the white house. As soon as he heard about this, expressing his condolences and sympathies. Within a week there were two heroes in this story. You may recall a Jonathan Rallis and Oscar Stewart who actually stopped the shooter in this case along with the synagogues, rabbi Israel Goldstein. They were all at the white house for a national day of prayer event. So it's vice to save it. It really caught the president's attention and he was deeply affected by it.

Speaker 1: 08:55 And the legal case behind this that's going to play out into the next year. Uh, what's still to come for the accused shooter?

Speaker 5: 09:01 Well, the shooter, as John T earner says, we know he's going to be held for trial on June 2nd. Now he's already pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder charges as well as an arson charge. Uh, he set fire, he admitted to a us Senate. Actually a building in Escondido was a church. There was a mosque and that happened of course before the shooting itself. One of the things that I've tried to be very interesting to see is a surveillance video of the actual shooting that's going to get a lot of emotion in the courtroom also. Uh, they did replay the nine one one call that he actually made. It was a 12 minute call that John earnest actually made to, uh, the, uh, emergency people. And he said something to the effect of you just shot up a synagogue and I'm going to quote it here to save white people from Jews. This story certainly being covered all over the world by national media. One interesting point Mark is that the death penalty here is line, uh, by the federal government in this case. It's rare that they actually do this. So that's one thing that we're waiting to see if that's going to happen.

Speaker 1: 09:55 All right. And the rabbi involved in this terrible shooting here, uh, is taking his step back.

Speaker 5: 09:59 Yeah. Uh, Israel Goldstein stepped down from his daily duties there. Uh, there's been several news reports suggesting perhaps he had PTSD from this incident. He did lose a finger, uh, from the shooting. Uh, so what he has done, basically, he has turned over the daily duties to his son, uh, one of his sons, Mendel Goldstein, uh, who now heads up the synagogue there in Poway

Speaker 1: 10:18 and still no sub substantial action on gun control. This was one of many notable shootings this year where, of course, the, the political, uh, entrenchment is, is there, we saw some action in California though

Speaker 5: 10:30 we did. There were a slew of new laws at the beginning of 2019. Uh, there's one that actually prevents anybody from 21 from buying a long guns such as a rifle or a shotgun from a licensed firearms dealer. Uh, for example, another one bands, the manufacturer, uh, these bump stocks that we hear about in these trigger devices on these a semiotic weapons that's a come down the pike. Also, anybody convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence cannot possess a firearm for the rest of their lives. And then finally, a new for 2020, it's just coming up. Anybody hospitalized for more than a year that was diagnosed with a mental health issue cannot own a firearm for the rest of his or her life. So we did see some things, but a lot of people were hoping for much more.

Speaker 1: 11:11 Of course, we'll see a lot of gun violence debate in the coming election here. Well, it started with a story idea. A year later became the focus of a congressional hearing. Questionable research at San Diego's VA led to more envy investigations by new source. And Lori remind us all about the VA story and how it grew this year.

Speaker 6: 11:27 Well, the VA story started as a tip, like a lot of compelling investigations do. Um, this had to do with um, alcoholic veterans who were part of a study, um, and liver biopsies were being taken from these veterans and many of them were not informed about the extent of the biopsies. Um, this led to a number of stories questioning the oversight of clinical trials and research. Um, a lot of, you know, tens of millions of people every year submit to clinical trials for some various reasons and they really trust the government and they trust various organizations and agencies to make sure that they are protected and how these things are, are conducted. And our investigation has unrolled over the past year to find out there are a lot of problems with the oversight, um, here and also raises the specter of problems at other places in the country

Speaker 1: 12:20 and local Congressman Scott Peters made this a focus, a congressional hearing.

Speaker 6: 12:23 He did. There was a congressional hearing. Um, the veterans, a house committee had, uh, addressed basically address these issues that were raised in our story. Um, basically that has been the extent of what the, um, fallout from the congressional hearing is. Ben. It was, it was a chance to air actually the allegations that we brought up in our story and to question the VA's administration nationally about how their, what their oversight is for these kinds of research trials. VA locally has had almost nothing to say. Um, we're still waiting. Um, we did obtain a document that confirmed that these biopsies were taken without the knowledge of the veterans. Um, that was written by the VA. But we confirmed that then, in fact, they had written that memo, but they have said very little to us.

Speaker 1: 13:16 And this was a good example of a story of, of what's branded as risky research. Some of the other stories and the

Speaker 6: 13:21 right, right. A lot of, um, I think people don't really realize, um, what is entailed in conducting clinical research and one story as they so often do led to another to another. And um, we did, we've written a number of stories about specific research trials that have been going on at both the VA and more specifically at UC SD uncovered one particular trial that had gone on involving women who were HIV positive, their data was breached. And um, it wasn't until we asked lots of questions before, um, UC SD actually started to inform the women that their data had been breached. Um, a lot of these people are really vulnerable populations who are submitting to these kinds of research studies and we really feel that it's very, very much our responsibility to be watching out for them and to, to hold those kinds of agencies accountable.

Speaker 1: 14:14 Well, that leads us into a broader discussion here of established media and new media, state of media here. Uh, and we've got a good mix here on our panel. And Lori wanted to start with you. I knew source one of the local platforms that rely on financial support from their audience. What's the demand and the appetite for, uh, outlets like yours? And how do you see your missing mission with newspapers shrinking down this, this void has been there, right?

Speaker 6: 14:37 Well, I think that the demand for digital media is just increasing voice of San Diego is another example of, of one of the nonprofit digital media organizations here. I think there have been some studies that have come out in the last year had been somewhat troubling. I think to me, um, there was one Gallup night poll that came out last month that showed that 86% of people who were, who were polled believe that everyone should have access to news whether they pay for it or not, but only one in five people have actually paid, made a contribution or subscribed to, uh, to news. And I think that is one of the biggest issues that the media at large faces is convincing people that news is actually worth something. I think people have been so used to seeing, you know, Apple news or they just get their news on their, their phone and they don't really think what does it take to produce credible news news. You can really believe there are, there are actual reporters out there who we hope, um, can be housed and fed and, um, trained to do this kind of work. And that's exactly, exactly. And I think, you know, part of the problem is that the media over time had trained people to think that news was free. It used to be you had to buy a newspaper, right. And now you just get it news as ubiquitous. And I think people think that, well, we can just get news. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 15:57 It's constant struggle. KPBS and voice as well. And my, uh, what's been the general feedback from readers on your, your work this year and it's taken you far and wide?

Speaker 4: 16:06 Um, yeah. I mean, we generally have been growing, but we've been making an active effort to kind of grow our members, so people who are individually just giving us like five or $10 a month to kind of pay for news. And I think one of the ways we've been really trying to do that is to connect with them and kind of show them everything that goes into it through events and, um, you know, through member emails and things that kind of let them into the process. And I think it's been working and I think we've kind of seen, you know, other sectors of media have seen like vast layoffs. I think there was recently a report that like more than 3000 people in the news industry have been let off this year are laid off this year. Um, and we have seen certain papers that used to be traditional, like the salt Lake, um, union Tribune I think. Or it felt like Trivian, um, started attributing the newspaper in, uh, in salt Lake city. I actually convert to, to a nonprofit structure. So I think it's a very promising, um, route for journalism. But it does kind of require to that trust building and that communication to help people better understand what goes into news and why it's important.

Speaker 1: 17:05 And of course [inaudible], excuse me, polarization has been a big part of it all this year. Uh, and uh, we've seen it in people going into their bubbles and a lot's been talked about and written about that. And I wanted to, uh, to kind of swing that back to politics here because polarization, as we've seen in our recent impeachment of president Trump, it wouldn't be a complete if we didn't bring up the president of Phil house Democrats few days ago and voted to impeach, how's this likely to play out in the Senate? And we won't know till January. Right.

Speaker 6: 17:34 Well Mark, thanks for giving me this card. A lot of homework because things are changing by the minute as we know. So I'm going to try to sort of stick to my notes a bit until you, the Senate. Now essentially it has to, has set rules that govern this process. So majority leader Mitch McConnell says he'll try to agree on rules with a Senate

Speaker 5: 17:50 minority leader. Chuck Schumer, the constitution also requires the chief justice John Roberts will preside, uh, over a, an impeachment trial, um, McConnell or any Senator, by the way, I don't if, you know, this can actually pose questions about this process and they actually vote themselves on the answers as to what they should be. They could also ask the chief justice to dismiss this case, ending the trial before it even begins. And if he refuses, all it takes is a simple majority vote to overrule him. So there's a lot of moving parts and by the way, the president and his representatives don't necessarily have to show up. So there, I see there are a lot of tentacles to this part of the octopus and the political aspect to every one of these. No, for sure. Definitely.

Speaker 1: 18:30 So, uh, assuming, uh, Trump remains an office here and as a candidate, a big issue next November or is we moving so fast? This'll be way in the rear view mirror.

Speaker 5: 18:39 No, I think it's a, it's a serious constitutional issue. Uh, so, you know, some people, this is a very sobering moment in American history. Uh, people were also looking at this as a, as a political circus. But I think ultimately you say that, you know, the, uh, the house basically impeached him along party lines. It would appear that the Senate will go in the same direction, so he may likely be acquitted here. I think ultimately after a verdict of whatever happens in Congress, it's going to be up to the verdict of the voters. And I think one thing that you're going to have to look out for here is that, uh, whoever the Democrats put up, it's going to be very, very strong, uh, in this case

Speaker 1: 19:11 and a lot of fireworks locally here, Duncan Hunter, the big political story, a Republican Congressman, uh, wound up pleading guilty finally to misusing campaign, uh, uh, money. How big a departure or will it be no longer have a person named Duncan Hunter out there and that, uh,

Speaker 5: 19:27 yeah, East County does, that's a 40 year run, nearly a 40 year run at this political juggernaut named Hunter had just swept through the East County all these years. Now in terms of, uh, uh, what happened, you know, this has been going on since 1980 with the Hunter family. Of course, we know, as you mentioned, what happened just weeks ago. I think you've got to look at what he's doing here. And I think this will probably lead into some of the other questions Mark with, with Duncan Hunter, uh, you know, to avoid a trial. He's basically said, I don't want my kids to go through this. So he's ended up pleading guilty to the count of misusing a campaign funds. His wife had turned on him as a coach. Right, exactly. So this is a tough case, part of the equation. They both face the same penalty essentially up to five years.

Speaker 5: 20:04 So we're waiting to see what happens. He also, you know, waiting for him to formally step down, if you will. Uh, he said after the holidays, that's exactly what he would do. So we're still waiting for that. Obviously there's huge fines here that they face $250,000 each. Uh, so it's gonna be very interesting to see what happens here on the court. Uh, and I know that, uh, you know, we're going to talk more about president Trump here for a second. You have to remember that Duncan Hunter was one of the first two members of Congress to endorse president Trump when he announced for his candidacy back in 12. He says, Trump intervene in this case like you did with the Eddie Gallagher. Well, you know, I think it's entirely possible. Um, I think that a clemency could be on the table here. I mean, Hunter and, and Trump had been very close, especially with the Eddie Gallagher thing.

Speaker 5: 20:43 Duncan Hunter was in his ear all the time. Like, Hey, this is a miss carriage of justice need to fix this. Uh, so there may be some political favors that are paid, uh, back and forth here. We're just going to have to wait and see. Uh, however, I think this, I think if the president did grant Duncan, Hunter clemency, uh, his own party, the GOP, uh, would say maybe then that the president is not going to be hard enough on people who are, they're corrupt or law break. Where I'd political aspects, again to all of this, that seat such a red district, uh, one of the few in California left really as it turned blue this year in face of all this, I, you know, you got to get a candidate. That's right. So, you know right now with Darryl Eissa jumping in the, uh, the fray here, just a couple of public side on the Republican side, right?

Speaker 5: 21:22 And then you have a, the mile, you have, you know, on the democratic side you have a Mar cap in a jar who basically gave Hunter a good run for his money. Very, very close. But I don't think so. I think that because that 40 year domination in the way the East counties voted, I think we'll see Republicans hold that, uh, ice. It just got a huge, uh, endorsement from major, uh, California Congressman. Uh, and so I think that the certainly surprising if that, right, exactly. So I don't know, but I, I kinda think that's what's going to happen. Big topic that goes over. So many things that we talked about and Andrew alluded to it early on in the show was, was, uh, the cost of living in San Diego and one thing to watch Andrew in March, uh, the hotel taxes put before voters. How might that change the dynamic, if at all?

Speaker 3: 22:06 Well, I think we have to acknowledge that this hotel tax measure, really the central issue about it is the expansion of the convention center. That's really what it's about more than anything else. Um, so it's really about building up the local economy, bringing in more visitors and tax revenues so that we'll have the funds to pay for all of the neighborhood services that we all rely on and expect from our local government. But there is a substantial portion of money in this measure that's dedicated to homelessness and affordable housing. And so, um, you know, it's, it'll obviously be up to the voters whether or not, um, it, that's worth it. And, um, we have seen more of a broad coalition get behind this measure than any of the other, um, hotel tax measures that we've seen in the past. So, um, it's certainly something that, uh, mayor Kevin Faulkner is taking a part of his legacy on. And uh, you know, I, I think it'll be one to watch

Speaker 5: 22:58 and remind, uh, viewers and listeners a that's coming right up in our early March primary or is that one issue that's coming up

Speaker 3: 23:05 that that'll be on the March ballot in the city of San Diego. That's right.

Speaker 5: 23:08 For some it's going to be confusing and we'll talk a lot on the round table, but March we got these issues, general election, November other issues.

Speaker 3: 23:14 Yes. And also another, a few measures on the countywide ballot on the March ballot, um, related to housing, um, whether to approve a housing development in North County called Newland Sierra and whether to require public votes on, uh, changes to the county's general plan. So, um, lots of housing certainly on the March valid, even though it is just a primary

Speaker 5: 23:34 and, and my even covering 20, 20 a County supervisors right down in South Bay for the ability, perhaps the top issue County wide as well.

Speaker 4: 23:41 Yeah, I mean I think that everyone up through, you know, even the middle class in San Diego is really struggling with the cost of living. And so I don't think that there is a single person who is running for elected office in the County. You can get away with not talking about housing and what they would do to ease people's housing.

Speaker 1: 23:57 Yeah. And the affordability is just top most in mind in terms of jobs and housing and transportation and everything. And that cuts across right now, Lori, also a public safety issue. I knew source just looked into the issue of fire danger posed by the homeless. Uh, tell us about,

Speaker 6: 24:11 well, San Diego is, is built on canyons. I mean, anybody who looks at the city knows that we are built on a series of, of mesas and canyons. And, and the, the public safety issue here that we looked at was the encampments of the homeless living in urban canyons. You often think of the wildfire danger in San Diego County being, you know, way out in the back country. Um, we have had major fires that have encroached into places like Scripps ranch in Rancho Bernardo. So those are urban areas, but these are, these are really, we really were looking at the urban canyons where people who live on the top of the Mesa's, um, are really concerned about how quickly a fire could go from, from down in a Canyon straight up to their residence. Some of us who have been around for a really long time, remember the normal Heights fire back in the 80s. And that was just incredible to see a community like normal Heights burn, um, and in the middle of the city. And that wasn't caused by the homeless, but it was caused by a fire that started at the bottom of a Canyon and swept right up like a chimney up to the top of the, um, top of the Mesa.

Speaker 1: 25:11 We've got about a minute left here and I wanted to get over to, to fill big story affordability in the County to Fox five. And how do you carve that cover there?

Speaker 5: 25:19 We covered a lot. All the things that you guys had talked about, especially this fire danger. It seems to me like every week we're doing these breaking news stories on homeless encampment fires, and there was one recently in Chula Vista that swept through a river bank for hours and it really put the public at peril here, so we really tried to focus on what can we do to help stop this. We cover all the cleanups of the canyons and we also talk about the shelters for the home.

Speaker 1: 25:39 All right, we were out of time. That does wrap up our edition of the KPBS rando round table or a special edition. I'm going to thank my guest, Andrew Bowen of KPBS news. Lori Hearn of I news source fel Blauer Fox five and Maya Sri Christian, voice of San Diego wild ride in 2019 see in 2020.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.