By Miriam Raftery
December 28, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – Who’s been naughty and who’s been nice among this year’s headline makers? Our editorial staff has been making our list and checking it twice.
Here are our nominees for the naughtiest—and nicest—newsmakers of the year in 2010. Note: We don't include criminals in this list, as major crimes will be included in our "top news stories of 2010" that will be posted in a couple of days.
Do you agree with our choices? Please post comments--and your own nominees--below!
1. SDG&E: The utility paid $14 million to settle claims that its lines caused the Rice and Witch Creek fires, then got regulators to approve a rate hike. SDG&E claimed it couldn’t afford to pay hiked up insurance premiums imposed due to the fires that it caused. Yet SDG&E had ample funds to wine and dine influential individuals at its posh resort in Mexico. The utility also ired many with plans to erect Sunrise Powerlink through scenic and high fire risk areas. Adding insult to injury, SDG&E now wants to shut off power in the backcountry to limit its liability the next time a wildfire seems likely to occur. Definitely NOT nice!
2. Reggie Bush: After revelations that he accepted improper gifts to benefit his family, the Helix High School graduate and USC football star made the record books for a most dubious accomplishment. He became the first player ever to give back a Heisman trophy—an action taken before the governing board could vote to revoke the award.
3. Drivers ignoring flood warnings: It happens every time the San Diego River overflows its banks—but some drivers just don’t seem to get the message. Our emergency personnel had to rescue several drivers who bypassed barricades or tried to cross obviously flooded roadways. Besides endangering their lives and voiding vehicle warranties, these clueless drivers also tie up emergency workers and cost taxpayers money. When in doubt, stay out!
4. Congressman Brian Bilbray: A cloud of controversy surrounded the 50th District Congressional representative who founded the Congressional Cigar Association, a club with three lobbyists on its board. Clearly a front for lobbyists to cozy up to Congressional members, the group landed Bilbray in the hotseat when his opponent sent out a mailer of Bilbray in a smoking jacket, puffing and partying with lobbyists. The hit piece didn’t hurt, however; Bilbray won reelection by a comfy margin in the same district once represented by jailed Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
5. San Diego City Council: Though a Democratic majority, the Council proved it’s not run by bleeding heart liberals. After numerous delays, the Council declared it would open Golden Hall to the homeless as a winter shelter—only to revoke its decision right after the November election. The homeless were out in the cold over Thanksgiving. An alternative shelter wasn’t ready until long after winter weather hit the region—and promptly ran out of beds. Across the County, many homeless people were left with no shelter during December’s storms, even as floodwaters washed out riverbeds where the homeless used to camp.
6. SDSU president Stephen Weber: He was the Grinch who stole a college education for many deserving local students. His “solution” for dealing with state budget cuts? Take away guaranteed admissions for local students who met all California State University requirements—so the campus could rake in money instead on dorm fees from non-local students. It took an act of the Legislature, led by Assemblyman Marty Block, to reverse the Weber doctrine, restoring college access for the best and brightest of our local students..
7. Peter Cuthbert: La Mesa’s long-time resident funded a slate mailer for La Mesa council and mayoral candidates that cost more than is legally allowed under campaign finance laws, even adding ballot initiatives on as a finishing touch. “If I get in trouble for this, I’ll pay the fine,” the curmudgeonly Cuthbert said, showing no remorse. His efforts didn’t pay off, however: Cuthbert’s candidates were defeated at the ballot box.
8. Laura Lothian: Piling up trash on a vacant lot for a photo shoot (as a neighboring busniess owner alleged that she witnessed) backfired for La Mesa Mayoral candidate Laura Lothian, who later tidied up the mess after a property owner complained and multiple media outlets revealed allegations of the stunt. She stated on her website, ""This lot and its trash are what inspired me to run for mayor of La Mesa. "Only ¾ mile from city hall and surrounded by businesses and residences, this prominent eyesore is to me a symbol of local government apathy."
9. Meg Whitman: The Gubernatorial candidate called for tough action against employers who hire illegal immigrants—until media revealed that she hired one herself. She claimed she didn’t know that her maid was undocumented. But letters sent by Social Security warned that the maid’s immigration status was in question, casting doubt on Whitman’s integrity—and quite possibly cost her the Governor’s office in a state with a heavily Hispanic electorate.
10. Padre Dam Municipal Water Board: The circle of rocks should have been a clue. An archaeologist hired by Padre Dam tried to warn Board members that a proposed water project site in Lakeside likely served as an ancient ceremonial and burial site for Native Americans. But when remains were found and the state’s Native American Heritage Commission told Padre to halt construction, Padre kept digging. The Attorney General was not amused--and promptly filed a lawsuit. A judge issued an injunction, halting construction.
11. Supervisor Bill Horn: The County revoked a $20,000 grant that Horn illegally presented to a right-to-life group that provides pro-life literature to schools. In addition, Channel 8 news revealed that Horn failed to pull permits on a room addition--and wasn't paying taxes. Horn has previously paid a settlement for alleged campaign finance violations and been embroiled in other controversies. But voters, unswayed by accusations of hornswaggling taxpayers, reelected Horn.
1. San Diego Sheriff’s Deputies Gary Kneeshaw and Scott Blight risked their lives to save two rock climbers trapped on the face of El Capitan mountain during the Monte Fire in Lakeside. With sparks flying into the cockpit, Deputy Kneeshaw helped a hiker into the helicopter, then leaped onto the skid rails, riding unsecured on the outside of the chopper as it descended through blinding smoke. The Board of Supervisors commended the pair for their daring heroism “above and beyond the call of duty” which “without a doubt, saved the lives” of rock climbers André Doria and Meg Rippy.
1. Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher earns our respect for authoring Chelsea’s Law. Inspired by the tragic deaths of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, the new law aims to keep violent sexual predators behind bars and protect other children from the fate that befell San Diego’s two teen victims.
2. Assemblyman Marty Block has emerged as a champion of college students, carrying legislation to stop SDSU from denying local students admission if they meet CSU requirements. As Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Block has also fought to have a new CSU campus built in his district and authored other measures to benefit college students and their families.
3. Ronnie Hillman led the San Diego State Aztecs to victory in the Poinsettia Bowl for the first time in 41 years, scoring four touch downs and rushing 228 yards in a win that gave local sports fans plenty to cheer about—all in a stadium that was underwater from flooding the day before.
4. Dr. Carrole Jean-Murat led efforts to rebuild an orphanage in Haiti that was flattened during the earthquake that ravaged her homeland. The Mt. Helix physician also secured life-saving supplies of food and water, helping to feed the starving masses during the quake’s aftermath.
5. Darryl Hall of Rescue Task Force, a relief group founded in El Cajon, saved triplets born in the wake of the Haiti earthquake—scouring the ravaged island nation to find formula for the newborn trio.
6. Joseph Ziauddin survived torture in Saddam Hussein’s secret police prison. After fleeing Iraq, he came to America, where he now heads up the East County Refugee Center, helping to meet the needs of East County’s many new refugees.
7. Su Nguyen and Frank Vuong co-founded the Little Saigon Foundation and convened a meeting with Congresswoman Susan Davis. They hope to establish a Little Saigon business district to boost the economy in City Heights, a neighborhood with many immigrants from Vietnam.
8. Lewis Meyer was a prisoner of war for five long years during the Viet Nam War. Thirty-seven years later, he received his long-overdue P.O.W. and purple heart medals. "You don't have to be in the military to serve and defend your country,” the El Cajon resident said. “That s the duty of all of us."
9. Estela de los Rios has endured death threats and a break-in at her office after advocating against hate crimes at the Center for Social Advocacy in El Cajon. This year, she accepted a national leadership award for the organization from the American Psychological Association, which recognized her efforts on behalf of minorities, the poor, and the disabled.
10. Catherine Hand established “Dream Rider” in Alpine, trotting out an equine therapy program to help fellow breast cancer survivors attain rehabilitation after surgery. The facility recently received its non-profit status—just in time for the holidays.
11. Sunshine Horton has been a “Miracle Maker” for Rady Children’s Hospital for 16 years, winning the “Most Creative Miracle Maker Award” in 2010. This year, to celebrate her 65th birthday, she invited the public to a birthday fundraising event—leading a dance-a-thon in downtown El Cajon to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital and commemorate police officer killed by drunk drivers. Sunshine also donated her services to serve as Santa’s elf at East County Magazine’s annual holiday party, making her a very “nice” newsmaker in our book!
12. Sheriff Deputy Mike Cruz was cruising on patrol early Christmas morning when he spotted smoke at a La Presa home. He awakened the household and helped all five family members escape safely, suffering smoke inhalation in the process. Our hats are off to Deputy Cruz for preventing a holiday tragedy.