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What We Learned This Week

The only thing more embarrassing than being home to an outbreak that caused people to literally die in the streets is to look back on such a tragedy and describe it with words like “success.” 

Workers power-wash a sidewalk near the Midway area. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego’s hepatitis A crisis turned a harsh national spotlight onto the city, with good reason.

Headlines wondered “Is San Diego the Next Flint?” The crisis was declared a “manmade disaster” and something “that should not happen outside the Third World.”

After Lisa Halverstadt’s blockbuster story about the county’s foot-dragging in the midst of an urgent public health crisis, officials finally sprung into action. But before they were publicly shamed by the media, the response had been to fumble with permits and to install a smattering of hand-washing stations in hard-to-access places that were far from the crisis.

Yet there are no traces of the tragedy of double-digit deaths and the embarrassment that comes with being made a national mockery in the report the county released this week about how it handled the crisis. Here are some sample lines (emphasis mine):

The County’s response was characterized by a concentrated focus on the challenge at hand, a reliance on extensive public-private partnerships, and innovative approaches tested for the first time. While the response was effective in ending the epidemic, the County’s strategy and the lessons learned are certain to influence future public health responses locally and beyond.

The diverse mix of partners was unique and extensive.

One can look at the response and identify areas of success as well as areas for improvement.

While public sanitation is the mandated responsibility of each local jurisdiction, the County deployed handwashing stations throughout the region and tracked utilization.

That last line is emblematic of the shameful blame-passing that is a hallmark of the report.

Twenty people died, and the county is celebrating its “concentrated focus.” Twenty people died, and the county is trumpeting its “innovative approaches.” Twenty people died, but the county has found “areas of successes.” Twenty people died, and the county wants you to know its partners in the effort were “unique and extensive.”

San Diegans might have plenty of issues on which they disagree, but I don’t know of anyone who thinks 20 deaths from a disease spread through fecal matter is an ideal outcome. That means that plenty went wrong, a fact you’d never surmise from reading the report whose sole purpose was to find out what went wrong. It’s certainly true that the city could have and should have also done more to contain the crisis. But the county’s report wasn’t an undertaking to examine the city’s response, it was an undertaking to examine its own response.

Consider the scathing report that an independent firm released in response to VOSD’s extensive reporting on how SANDAG misled voters on a transportation measure. That report was critical and unflinching, and even uncovered further wrongdoing that had never been reported. Though SANDAG’s actions that spurred the report were serious and consequential, they were not life-and-death issues anywhere near the scale of what the county was examining.

If San Diego fancies itself a world-class region, it must learn how to face its harshest truths. The only thing more embarrassing than being home to an outbreak that caused people to literally die in the streets is to look back on such a tragedy and describe it with words like “success.”

What VOSD Learned This Week

Ashly McGlone has told the individual stories of educators who abused their power at La Jolla High, San Dieguito Academy, Pacific Rim Elementary, La Costa Canyon High, Hilltop High and more.

In an extraordinary piece this week, she took what she learned from those stories and from thousands of pages of documents to spell out some of the systemic issues that allow teachers and other school employees to stay on the job.

Two of the biggest culprits: secrecy and shoddy record-keeping, and exit deals that allow teachers to move to new schools with their reputations intact.

♦♦♦

Former DA Bonnie Dumanis, who’s running for county supervisor, sat down with us for a wide-ranging podcast interview. Yes, we finally got to ask her some of the questions about the campaign finance scandal we’ve had burning for years (she, um, did not enjoy that!), but she also discussed her cancer diagnosis, how she’s studying up on housing issues, her approach to police shootings and more.

In the Politics Report, Scott pointed out a particularly interesting exchange: Dumanis says in the wake of her controversial decision to prosecute a group of young, black men for a crime they weren’t directly connected with, she says she’s watched several documentaries that have awakened her to how black Americans struggle in the justice system.

That more than a decade as district attorney didn’t illuminate that reality for Dumanis is something.

Meanwhile, the race to replace Dumanis as DA is as fiery as ever. Scott broke down Summer Stephan’s two competing arguments against her opponent, Genevieve Jones-Wright.

Elsewhere in the justice system, Maya Srikrishnan spent a day in immigration court and illuminated some very human moments and the large and small ways the system is stacked against immigrants.

♦♦♦

The city is planning – again – to use money pegged for permanent housing solutions on temporary solutions instead.

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Ry Rivard fact-checked Solana Beach’s claim that its new city-run power utility won’t cost taxpayers a dime.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“It’s not some, like, vulgar big bear orgy or something going on,” Barbour said. “I think it was very lighthearted, and people get that for the most part.” — A Spokane businessman, defending his company’s eye-catching billboard “depicting two bears copulating,” according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

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