Voice of OC stands for professional and probing coverage — featuring institutional knowledge and perspective — at the local level that is provided through a cost-effective, nonprofit model deploying investigative reporters across the region on a daily basis with an eye toward exposes on local government and politics.
Voice of OC’s newsroom also now focuses intensively on community arts & culture, covering visual music, visual arts, theater and dance. But not just in a typical way. Voice's arts team also looks behind the curtain to review if management is in line with national diversity trends and the deal-making with arts venues.
And the Opinion page continues to feature a broad array of contributors from all perspectives of the issues who offer their opinions on local issues.
Our founding principle remains true: to offer residents timely & useful information about their local government and community, with the aim of fueling participation and debate.
Whether it’s jockeying over the future of Orange County’s fairgrounds, government outsourcing, public pensions, stadium and convention center expansions, government whistle blowers, arts leadership at the top county institutions, all sides have come to expect impactful coverage from the Voice of OC newsroom.
1st Amendment Defense
THE SB 1421 POLICE MISCONDUCT RECORDS • 2019
If Voice of OC had not acted quickly, Orange County could be the only place in the state where the public could not access the records concerning police use of force, sexual assault on members of the public or incidents of lying while on duty.
When the Deputy Sherrif's Union filed a lawsuit to block access to police misconduct records, Voice of OC jumped on the case.
Overnight, Voice assembled a team of first amendment lawyers, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio to stop the union from sealing past records.
Judge Scott noted the bedrock importance of protecting our right to know, especially over an agency like law enforcement, which carries so much power over people’s lives.
“Openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy,” wrote Scott in his ruling, quoting landmark court decisions. “Implicit in the democratic process is the notion that government should be accountable for its actions. In order to verify accountability, individuals must have access to government files. Such access permits checks against the arbitrary exercise of official power and secrecy in the political process.”
SUPERVISOR RECORDS • 2015-17
Filed and won a lawsuit to gain access to emails between County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and a former county information officer about Spitzer’s handcuffing an evangelist at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant. Voice of OC sought the records through a public records request but was forced to file a lawsuit when the county refused to make them public. After Voice of OC won, the county paid Voice of OC’s legal fees — as under California law, when a court rules that a local government improperly withheld public records, the government agency must pay the legal bills of the person or group that sued.
THE CARLOS BUSTAMANTE RECORDS • 2011
Reported as the wheels came off Orange County government when District Attorney Tony Rackauckas unveiled felony sex crime allegations against Carlos Bustamante, a top executive in the county’s Public Works department and a rising Latino star in the local Republican party.
Bustamante was charged with committing more than a dozen sex crimes against female county employees over eight years while he was a manager in the Public Works department. Questions about how Bustamante, also a Santa Ana City Councilman, could have had so many inappropriate sexual relationships at work for so long led to a mass shakeup of county leadership.
Voice of OC led much of the news coverage of the unfolding mess.
County CEO Tom Mauk resigned in the wake of the scandal while Public Works Director Jess Carbajal was fired and Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis came forward publicly as a whistleblower against county supervisors before ultimately being placed on paid administrative leave.
And when Drakodaidis wrote a letter alleging corruption involving contracts, hiring and promotions within the county Public Works department and possibly elsewhere in the county bureaucracy — that the county tried to keep private — Voice of OC sued and won to make public the explosive allegations.
VETERAN RECOGNITION • 2016
Published a special series in the opinion section on Veterans Day that showcased the heroic actions of Orange County veterans who received the highest honors bestowed upon soldiers who served in combat. These soldiers were memorialized on plaques that, until 2016, were featured along the “Walk of Honor” at the county Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana. In 2015, Orange County’s fair board voted to renovate and install the seriously damaged plaques in front of the county’s new veterans museum. The plaques were unveiled at the fairgrounds location on Veterans Day.
GROWING HOMELESSNESS • 2017
Showed how the county was facing a growing homeless problem with a 54-percent increase in people living on the streets in the past four years, according to the county’s Point in Time count. The region’s shortage of homes, paired with stagnant employee wages, was fueling a housing crisis pushing families into poverty and homelessness. Documented when the supervisors rejected proposals to create an emergency homeless shelter on 108 acres of largely-empty land owned by the county in Irvine next to the Great Park, instead voting to build a large commercial project including a hotel, office space and market-rate housing.
IMMIGRANTS • 2015
Published a series on the culture, traditions, legal status and social isolation that can make domestic violence in immigrant families harder to prevent, and respond to. Examined why Santa Ana has a higher rate of domestic violence calls and how an Anaheim center offers hope to victims.
PARK DISPARITY • 2011
Highlighted the disparities in park space across Orange County. The three-part series was an early centerpiece of a grant Voice of OC received from the California Endowment to produce in-depth public health coverage. Revelations from the series included: how cities in north Orange County have more than three times as many people per park acre than cities in the south, the negative impacts on public health triggered by a lack of access to open green spaces and parks, and discussion of ideas and models could be used to develop more parks in the county.
HOMELESSNESS & THE FEDERAL COURT • 2018
Made public that the Orange County Board of Supervisors quietly deleted the central guide for the county commission tasked with reducing homelessness, which was the byproduct of years of community input and emphasized expanding the affordable housing supply as a “top priority.”
Nick Gerda continued investigating, finding that the supervisors were sitting on more than $230 million tax dollars that could have been used to combat the explosion of homelessness.
Days after the story was published, Judge David O. Carter was pointing to the Voice of OC article from the dais of the federal district court in Santa Ana, asking why the county was stockpiling funds aimed for the streets.
Minutes after Carter’s questioning, County Supervisors’ Chairman Andrew Do publicly admitted that county leaders had failed the public and committed to steering more than $70 million to permanent supportive housing, something his colleagues later endorsed in a formal vote.
Voice of OC’s reporting and the federal court proceedings led to the supervisors’ declaration that the county’s housing shortage is hurting the county’s economic future by “creating a significant negative impact on household budgets and the quality of life of its residents, as well as diminishing our county’s workforce.”
SHELTER MISMANAGEMENT • 2016
Documented mixed reviews of the county’s Courtyard homeless shelter that opened in 2016. On one hand, the shelter provided a safe resting place for hundreds of people each night, with the population on some nights reaching well over 400. The shelter and its staff helped some homeless people reunite with their families, treat drug and alcohol addiction, and obtain housing, according to county officials. But problems also emerged at the shelter, including complaints about how staff from The Midnight Mission, the nonprofit group hired by the county to run the shelter, interacts with the homeless people they serve.
GANG INJUNCTIONS • 2013-15
Chronicled the divisive issue of gang injunctions that the District Attorney’s Office used in Santa Ana. Stories looked at when the attorney’s office said the killing of a 17-year-old provided justification for a gang injunction in Santa Ana’s Townsend Street neighborhood, defense attorneys saying the death was being exploited by prosecutors, a study that found such injunctions do not necessarily reduce serious crime in the long run and further erode residents’ trust of police, and that the number of shootings were essentially unchanged before and after the zone was implemented.
FALL OF SAIGON • 2015
On the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, two Voice of OC writers shared their different and personal perspectives. Senior writer Tracy Wood was among the few female combat correspondents to cover the war. She wrote about the corruption she witnessed in South Vietnam that shaped her worldview and journalism career. Staff writer Thy Vo’s parents were in the second wave of refugees to leave Vietnam after Saigon fell in 1975. She explored her struggle, and that of others in her generation, to fully understand the trauma of their parents’ refugee experience.
FAMILY REUNIFICATION • 2017
A Voice of OC story made it possible for a once-homeless man named Donald Meade to reunite with his family. A previous, 2015 article by Amy DePaul wrote about new approaches to helping the homeless. She featured Meade, a once drug-addicted man who was living on and off the streets who had been placed in a one-bedroom apartment and was being aided through recovery. And in 2017, Meade’s children came across the Voice of OC article. Through the article the family was able to reunite, with Meade meeting his grandchildren for the first time.
HOMELESS TEENS • 2011
Showed the lack of progress by the county’s homelessness task force and the struggles faced by teenagers who, as they turn 18, no longer receive benefits as children, but cannot qualify for help as adults. The stories documented the difficulties in securing employment and accessing health care.
CROWD LIVING • 2012-14
Delved deeply into problematic crowded living conditions, especially in Santa Ana, where 10 times as many people living in crowded conditions as the national average. Included a gripping account of a teenage girl struggling in a crowded apartment and exposed the impacts on health and neighborhoods.
GENTRIFICATION • 2011
Provided in-depth and continued coverage of the gentrification debate that engulfed Santa Ana. On both of these issues, national media followed Voice of OC’s reporting. Our stories showed how residents felt that Downtown Inc.’s services benefited trendy new businesses but did not help small property owners.
COMMUNICATION • 2016
A series looked at family communication weakened by war trauma, language barriers, and cultural rifts, that cause Vietnamese Americans to have a difficult time talking with those closest to them about sex and gender identity issues and that cause many Asian American families to avoid talking about sex.
THE ANAHEIM POLICE SHOOTINGS & PUBLIC RIOTS • 2012
Covered the longstanding tensions between working-class Latinos and City Hall that boiled over into full-blown civil unrest over the summer after separate police shootings killed two Latino men.
Voice of OC documented the outrage over the police shootings in Anaheim’s largely Latino Anna Drive neighborhood that erupted in protests and a riot outside City Hall after demonstrators were denied entry to a City Council meeting.
Following, ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city to push for better minority representation. And the Anaheim City Council considered establishing a citizens review commission that would examine allegations of police misconduct.
Voice of OC also fought and won against an attempt to subpoena unpublished photographs taken by Voice of OC journalists during the riot and its aftermath.
Judge James Rogan denied the subpoena under the California Shield law: “The possibility that a reporter’s work product will be subject to subpoena will curtail courageous investigative reporting since the reporters and their newspaper (or other communications media) will constantly be exposed to the expense and loss of time incurred when required to appear as a witness…This will result in a chilling of the constitutional right of a free press.”
SANTA ANA • 2019
Uncovered how two top Santa Ana officials, including a former police chief, alleged under oath the city’s police union leader engaged in bribery of City Council candidates in 2016, saying Sgt. Gerry Serrano told candidates they had to agree to fire then-Police Chief Carlos Rojas in order to benefit from $400,000 in campaign spending. Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido ran a side business personally renting out city-owned property and interfered with police decisions about which illegal pot shops to raid, according to testimony by current and former city officials in a civil court case filed by the former police chief.
AMBULANCES • 2012-13
Uncovered how the county’s system for regulating ambulances was woefully inadequate, allowing even those with criminal records licenses to provide services. Showed how county officials pushed for greater use of private paramedics and they turned to ambulance firms with years of labor violations and financial difficulties. Reported on how Shoreline Ambulance Co. of Huntington Beach was investigated in Los Angeles, but was fast-tracked in Westminster. Eventually Lynch Ambulance from Anaheim, selected by the county for a pilot program, agreed to pay $3 million to settle $30 million in federal fraud allegations.
SPECIAL EDUCATION • 2012
Exposed the truth in a special series by Rex Dalton on special education funding and how in some cases school districts fight to pay for services. Voice of OC showed how the cost of providing special education services can spiral, with districts spending tens of millions each year. And we showed how school districts are so resistant to fighting to pay for the services that they will spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on attorney fees — amounts that in some cases dwarf the cost of the services sought — to deny or not reimburse families for the educational needs.
THE SAN ONOFRE RADIATION LEAK • 2012-13
Scrutinized the full story around a radiation leak at the San Onofre nuclear power plant.
Began by reporting on federal investigations into what allowed for a key radiation barrier to degrade far more quickly than expected that caused a minor radioactive leak. A small amount of radiation escaped into the atmosphere, but officials said it presented no health risk to workers or the public.
Voice of OC followed up on how operator Southern California Edison did not provide documentation in the time expected on previous design changes at the plant. And Voice also reported on how the rapid wear was the result of design changes at the plant.
Voice of OC also unveiled that the number of substantiated safety allegations at San Onofre in 2011 was more than six times the national average, a significant drop from its peak in 2010 when it was 15 times the average. Our reporting prompted U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer to issue formal requests around the San Onofre design changes.
GREEN DEAL GONE BAD • 2011
Published a series on a deal between the city of Anaheim and green energy startup, iCeL Systems Inc. The story was a cautionary tale about the perils of public-private partnerships, with the former mayor and city officials saying the city was conned by a man who was described in courtrooms as a green energy scam artist. After Voice of OC’s series Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said city officials were “looking into” how the city’s green test project with iCeL Systems went bad and how officials were unaware of the lawsuits against iCeL’s founder.
COLLEGE DISTRICT BENEFITS • 2015
Voice of OC’s Adam Elmahrek wrote a series on the Rancho Santiago Community College District. Showed officials staying at five diamond hotels, eating expensive meals and taking limo services while students had to sell hotdogs to save a math class. Reviewed how Peter Hardash, the district’s vice chancellor of business operations, received thousands of dollars in golf trips from vendors who were given millions in district contracts. Showed how the benefits given to three board trustees at the district are the most generous statewide of those tracked by the state controller’s office.
MAYOR PROPERTY SWAP • 2013
Uncovered that Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido profited $200,000 from a property swap with a city contractor. The story triggered a host of local, state and federal investigations. A report by former Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask, made public only after threat of a lawsuit by Voice of OC, concluded that the 10-term mayor broke the state’s 1974 Political Reform Act on multiple occasions. Trask also said that the property deal would very likely constitute a willful violation of state laws that could earn Pulido prison time and bar him from holding public office.
Your Arts & Culture
DANCE FESTIVAL • 2019
Reported how the Laguna Dance Festival that had been held in Laguna Beach since its first season in 2005 would be heading to Irvine. Voice of OC’s reporting prompted officials in Laguna Beach to discuss possible ways to bring back the dance festival.
SEGERSTROM LEADER • 2019
Led reporting on the sudden departure of Terry Dwyer who was president of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. And continued to push boundaries — asking if the premiere arts center will search for a new leader who will reflect the changing demographics of Orange County.
Your Land & Money
THE ANGEL STADIUM CONTRACT • 2013 & 19
Voice of OC pushed, and continues to push, for the public to be involved in the process of negotiating the future of Angel Stadium.
In 2013, we led reporting on how the Angels could drop “Anaheim” in their name in a proposed lease. We reported when activists criticized a pending agreement to lease 155 acres of land to the team owner for $1 a year. And we showed how the Angels could be in a position to keep a yet-to-be-determined amount of tax revenue from $150 million in stadium renovations. And when the council tried (ultimately without success) to push through a new team-friendly stadium deal over a Labor Day weekend Voice of OC informed the public. The Columbia Journalism Review credited Voice of OC’s enterprising coverage on the stadium negotiations.
And in 2019, Voice of OC stays vigilant as the Angel Stadium contract is renegotiated. As Anaheim has pushed to keep negotiations in private discussions, Voice of OC has called for it to be a public process. And, a recent story showed how experts say the city could get more revenue if it negotiated better with the team.
CONTROVERSIAL WATER DEALS • 2012
Investigated local water districts, a multibillion-dollar industry notorious for backroom deals. Our work looked into a potential conflict of interest as a longtime Metropolitan Water District board member cast votes on contracts for engineering firms that paid his wife as a consultant. Another story showed public officials at several Southern California water districts meeting — and in some cases voting — in secret on a controversial project to extract water from the Mojave Desert. Another story showed how Santa Ana transferred millions of dollars raised from water fees to the general fund to cover public safety costs.
SALES TAXES • 2018
Examined the seven Orange County cities that asked voters to approve tax increases in the election. Officials in those cities said they needed to either raise taxes or make major cuts to city services and public safety. A Voice of OC story showed that the grim budget forecasts were driven in part by the ever-growing cost of public employee pensions. Those costs are only expected to grow in the coming decade, as recent policy changes by CalPERS, the state pension agency, required employers to pay off pension debt more quickly and at higher rates.
TAXPAYER MONEY & REELECTION • 2016
Prompted the state Fair Political Practices Commission to open an inquiry into county-funded mailers sent by First District Supervisor Andrew Do. His $1.2 million mailers to specific voters in his district — which often highlighted his name, later prompted the state Legislature to make it illegal for local governments, such as counties, to send out government-funded mailers featuring elected officials within 60 days of an election. The ethics agency ultimately said it would not pursue enforcement action, saying the mailers mostly did not violate the state’s ethics law at the time.
EXCEEDING CAMPAIGN LIMITS • 2018
County officials released names in response to a Voice of OC Public Records Act request that followed an article the prior day about county officials declining to disclose cases in which candidates corrected actions that may have violated the law, without the county sending them an official letter. Officials released the names of six candidates and 18 donors involved in returned campaign donations that may have exceeded legal limits. County supervisors – who are subject to campaign finance enforcement – structured the law so when violators are caught, they can return the money and the matter can go away quietly.
DARK MONEY & PACs • 2018
Unveiled the $2.6 million from secret donors — known as dark money — that had made its way to the four Orange County races key to the battle for control of Congress. The Voice of OC review of federal data found that that the money had been funneled through at least 14 nonprofits and political action committees, most of which are based out of state. Another story showed how over $2 million from corporate PACs, whose donations were a hot issue in the 2018 election, flowed to all the campaign accounts of candidates from both parties in the four contested OC congressional seats.
THE ATTEMPTED SALE OF THE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS • 2010
Just about every news organization in Orange County reported on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2009 plan to sell off iconic state assets, including the Orange County Fairgrounds.
But no one really dug deep into the issue until Voice of OC came along.
Voice of OC routinely published stories detailing lawsuits about the sale which ran out the clock on the sale and it was off the blocks. And on New Year’s Day when a meeting was suddenly held — Norberto Santana, Jr. informed the public about it on New Year’s Eve. That story proved that real-time journalism makes a difference.
And the line of stories published by Voice of OC was key for activists to be able to tell their story — it enabled the public to make the decision. Through our coverage, the discussions were made public and the community was able to be at the table on what should happen with the land.
PARK DEALS • 2014
Alerted the public to more than a million dollars in questionable no-bid contracts at the county parks department involving friends of top officials. County officials since reviewed the actions of Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny, who headed the parks department at the time, and other officials.
HIGH-SPEED RAIL • 2010
Published the first in-depth look at California’s $43 billion high-speed rail project reviewed by OC officials. Showed mismanagement on several levels, how ridership projections were unreliable, oversight was recommended and questions were raised on Anaheim Mayor and High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Curt Pringle’s possible conflicts of interest.
INVALID BILLING • 2010
Showed that Director Denis Bilodeau, who was also an Orange councilman and chief of staff to Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, billed for meetings that official records show he didn’t attend. Bilodeau blamed Water District staffers for failing to accurately account for meetings he attended and for amounts due.
CAMPAIGN MONEY • 2016
Uncovered that lobbyist and Santa Ana City Council candidate Jose Solorio was using campaign money to pay rent on an apartment he had been living in. He ended up repaying back the money he used and also paid a $3,500 fine that was levied by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
PRIVATE JET TRIP • 2018
Documented how state investigators are reviewing a complaint alleging Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and his chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, illegally failed to disclose private jet travel provided by billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III, who previously was charged with using his plane for drug trafficking.
NAMING BROKER • 2013
Reported on how the Orange County Register’s parent company was ready to become Anaheim’s naming right’s broker on a controversial transit project. Media ethics experts warned the newspaper could be seen as an “agent of government” and criticized the arrangement. The proposal later fell apart.
A PURPLE HEART • 2011
Told the story of Daniel Foster, who returned a hero after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who faced foreclosure because the Department of Veterans Affairs had not approved his application for benefits. Foster, 23, was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his heroic actions.
IMMIGRANT HEALTH PARADOX • 2013
Published a groundbreaking series on what is known as the immigrant health paradox. Even though they most often come from areas of high poverty, first-generation immigrants to the United States are healthier on a variety of levels than the average American. However, by the next generation as families acquire U.S. eating habits, the health advantages fade. Voice of OC’s series explored specific issues in the Latino community, where it is most prevalent — particularly in second generation immigrants, and in the Asian community where gestational diabetes occurs at a higher rate than among other groups.
RISING SUICIDES • 2016
Looked at the causes and possible remedies for the county’s rising suicide rate. Reported on a study that showed how, since the late 1990s, Orange County had the largest suicide-rate increase among the nation’s 20 most-populous counties, according to a Voice of OC analysis of federal suicide data.
RIVERBED CLEAR-OUT • 2018
Showed the realities of how deputies cleared out encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail near Angel Stadium. Deputies told people to leave or that they would be cited or arrested. And Voice of OC reported on activists who protested the evacuation and seizure of property.
HEALTH CARE • 2012-13
Published a string of stories on alleged improprieties at CalOptima, the county’s $1.5 billion health plan for the poor. Documented how hospital lobbyists helped write controversial changes to the health plan, and then fundraised for Supervisor Janet Nguyen. Wrote about allegations of board members using their positions to steer money to a personal foundation. Revealed that Nguyen may have violated state law when she voted for an outside attorney’s CalOptima contract soon after receiving campaign money from him. Also wrote about a scathing Gand Jury report that confirmed years of Tracy Wood’s Voice of OC reporting.
FBI TACKLES CORRUPTION • 2013
Revealed that the FBI was leading a public corruption task force in Orange County. The force was created just after the county grand jury called for an ethics commission and after a state investigation was launched into county leaders over their handling of CalOptima, the county’s health care for the poor and elderly. Most of the investigations followed Voice of OC’s reporting on corruption issues through the county. County supervisors said the task force unfairly painted the county as having a corrupt culture and publicly scolded grand jurors about their report and denied their funding request.
SUPERVISOR REDISTRICTING • 2011
Closely followed the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ redrawing of their district boundaries. The new boundaries were drawn in a way that protected incumbents and which, experts noted, would all but guarantee GOP victories in all five seats. Proposals were floated to try to increase minority representation on the board. And the system the board used to draw its lines pitted Latinos, who tend to vote for Democrats, against Vietnamese, who traditionally support Republicans. Ostensibly, new boundary lines are redone every decade at the county level to ensure residents are getting fair representation.
CAMPAIGN MONEY • 2012
Revealed the truth on spending in the Anaheim council election by the Disneyland Resort and local labor groups. Uncovered the maze of political action committee spending that routed hundreds of thousands of dollars from Disney into the election, raising questions about the company’s influence at city hall.
SWEET DEAL • 2015
Uncovered how Jones & Mayer, of which Richard Jones is the sole owner, collected at least $2 million in billings for city attorney services across several cities. Yet for 21 years, Jones also claimed to be a full-time employee of Westminster taking home a salary, $210,00 in 2014, and allowing for a possibly large pension.
BIG MONEY • 2014
Informed the public on how business and special interests influence elections — including Disney doubling what it spent in previous elections, a myriad of political action committees in the Irvine City Council election and routing of big money to the 34th state Senate and 65th state Assembly races.
INFLUENCE • 2016
Examined the practice of “behested payments” that increasingly became part of the money and influence game played by office holders and their supporters. Under California law, lobbyists and wealthy political contributors can make large cash donations requested, or behested, by the office holders for their favorite charities.
COUNTY PATRONAGE • 2012
Investigated how a tradition of patronage at the county Hall of Administration building saw influential political aides to county supervisors moving back and forth into civilian jobs within the county — many times avoiding competition for jobs and increasingly politicizing agendas.
DOUBLE & TRIPLE DIPPING • 2010
Broke a series of stories on local government officials receiving double or triple government health benefits and perks. Most notably found that Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido was receiving medical benefits from two government agencies and a car allowance, or use of a car, from three agencies.
DOG ATTACK • 2015
Wrote about a pit bull that attacked a Huntington Beach woman in her ninth month of pregnancy had been declared a "vicious dog" earlier in the year, but county officials reversed that declaration, according to documents. The story brought increased scrutiny on top officials at OC Animal Care.
SANTA ANA SPRING • 2012
Reported on the movement among council members to challenge the dominance of Mayor Miguel Pulido in city hall decisions. Activists celebrated the adoption of a sunshine law, a mayoral term limits initiative and changes to the appointment process that collectively decentralized power on the City Council.
NEPOTISM • 2013
Revealed at least eight current and former city employees who are close relatives of high-ranking city officials, which would have been banned by the city’s previous, but repealed policy. Also found the mayor’s son was offered a firefighter job, despite reportedly failing a crucial interview.
SPIT & ACQUIT • 2010
Uncovered how the Orange County District Attorney’s Office was collecting DNA from tens of thousands of people charged with misdemeanor offenses even though the samples can’t be used in state and federal law enforcement databases. Known as “spit and acquit,” the DA’s program was aimed at those who commit relatively low-level crimes like petty theft, drunken driving and some drug possession cases. Suspects get their charges dropped in return for paying $75 and allowing technicians to swab their mouth for a DNA sample. Civil liberties advocates were wary of the program, saying it opened up a new batch of privacy concerns.
JAIL PHONE CALLS • 2018-19
Routinely wrote about illegally recorded telephone calls between jail inmates and their attorneys — including a revelation that more sheriff officials knew in 2016 and 2017 of the recorded phone calls. The disclosures raised questions about what the Sheriff’s Department did or did not tell county supervisors when seeking a renewal of the jail phones contract in October 2017. The Sheriff’s Department said that the recordings officials were aware of in 2015, 2016 and 2017 appear to be separate from the computer glitch in January 2015. That glitch was not brought to the attention of sheriff officials until June 2018, according to the Sheriff’s department.
EDGAR VARGAS • 2014
Documented the story of Edgar Vargas — an undocumented immigrant whose beating by Santa Ana police officers drew national attention and a federal grand jury investigation. A released video showed Vargas being beaten by Santa Ana police officers. And then speculation and suspicion swirled through the immigrant rights community when Vargas was arrested by federal immigration agents on his way to a Superior Court hearing to face charges that he assaulted police officers, among other alleged crimes. Many speculated after the arrest that police agencies conspired to detain him before he could plead his case in court.
THE JAILHOUSE SNITCH SCANDAL • 2014-19
Documented each phase of the Jailhouse Snitch Scandal since February 2014 when the first records were first ordered unsealed by the Orange County Superior Court.
The huge cache of records, backed by some 20,000 pages of records and tape recordings, allege that the Orange County District Attorney’s office and law enforcement agencies utilized a secret and long-running informant program to strategically place inmate informants to gather information, but did not properly disclose such activities to defendants’ attorneys.
In more than 100 stories at Voice of OC on the Jailhouse Snitch Scandal a special two-part series by Thy Vo. She wrote the series just before the decision was expected on if mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai would face the the death penalty in a case that included use of an informant.
Dekraai was blocked from receiving the death penalty, and instead was sentenced to 8 consecutive life terms in state prison.
And most recently, the California Attorney General ended its probe into the snitch scandal in April 2019. And three days later District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who replaced Tony Rackauckas in 2019, announced an internal investigation into the scandal.
ACCOUNTABILITY • 2010
Investigated the story in which motorcyclist Kevin Halliburton alleged he was improperly blamed for an accident he had with an Orange County sheriff’s deputy. Our reporting validated Halliburton’s claims that he was improperly blamed, and also forced the Sheriff’s Department to reconsider the handling of internal investigations.
MEETING TRANSPARENCY • 2012
Pushed through consistent watchdog coverage for more government transparency in Santa Ana — which helped usher in a new sunshine ordinance that, among other things, requires city officials to make their calendars public; requires public hearings on the city’s ongoing strategic plan; and gives residents real-time input on city budgets.
RECORDS DESTRUCTION • 2010
Shined a light on the city of Irvine’s email destruction policy, which mandates all email communications be destroyed after 30 days. We also revealed wide inconsistencies in email policies among other Orange County cities. Irvine since worked with an open-records-advocacy group to reform its policy.
ANAHEIM RECORDS • 2012
Published stories and warned legal action on destruction of records before they are old enough to be legally destroyed. The story - aided by CalAware public records expert Terry Francke, caused officials to adjust their policies. By the spring, officials used exemptions to request $30,000 to produce records.
RECORD TRANSPARENCY • 2012
Addressed the lack of record transparency across the county, especially as an Anaheim city official ordered staff to purge records in the wake of a Voice of OC investigative expose on the city’s ousted City Manager Tom Wood and amidst questions about outsourcing in the city building department.
NONPROFIT NEWS • 2019
Former Riverside Mayor and UC Riverside professor Ron Loveridge invited Norberto Santana, Jr. to speak to the Riverside Chamber of Commerce’s Monday group of business and education leaders. Santana spoke about the emerging power of nonprofit news to monitor government and engage the public.
TRAINING • 2018
Norberto Santana, Jr., guided reporters and editors on using public records at an Investigative Reporters and Editors workshop held for NLGJA, The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. Santana offered strategies for crafting public records requests, tracking them and holding officials’ feet to the fire.
REPORTING • 2018
Voice of OC Community Health Editor Amy DePaul and Reporter Nick Gerda participated in a UC Irvine journalism panel discussion. The panel was presented for journalism students and focused on how reporters find stories, what pathways can lead to journalism careers and how to communicate complex issues to readers.
SYMPOSIUM • 2017
Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda represented the news agency in a symposium on 21st century journalism. The journalism discussion “on the current and future condition of journalism” was organized by the Capistrano Unified School District Foundation on April 25 at Capo Valley High School in Mission Viejo.
LAURA’S LAW • 2014
Voice of OC’s Tracy Wood joined Which Way, L.A. host Warren Olney as he led a discussion of Laura’s Law, which OC became the first large California county to adopt. Laura’s Law allows courts to order a severely mentally ill adult, whose condition is deteriorating, to receive outpatient treatment.
ANAHEIM FORUM • 2012
Norberto Santana, Jr. moderated an Anaheim City Council candidates forum for residents in the neighborhood that saw two officer-involved shootings. Los Amigos of Orange County helped residents organize the forum and neighborhood children circulated petitions urging the city to close streets for the forum.
CNPA • 2013
Voice of OC became the second online-only publication to be accepted into the California Newspaper Publishers Association. The association represents newspaper companies statewide, from small weeklies, high school, community college and university newspapers, to the largest-circulation dailies.
ACCOUNTING • 2016
Coordinated with the county auditor-controller to moderate free training sessions for residents and activists interested in tracking government spending. Residents were able to find out how to follow the money - including tax dollars - in the county, a city, school district and in other public agencies.
ELECTION DEBATES • 2018
During the historic election season, Voice of OC was front and center at a host of election debates and forums all across Orange County. Earlier this month in Santa Ana, Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr. moderated the first debate ever in modern times for candidates vying to become mayor of Santa Ana. Incumbent Mayor Miguel Pulido squared off against challenger, City Councilman Sal Tinajero. Council candidates also debated in a forum sponsored by nonprofits like Resilience OC and Latino Health Access. Santana also moderated debates for elected board seats on the Santa Ana Unified School District.
ELECTION FORUM • 2018
Partnered with the New York Times, KPCC and Chapman University on a pre-election media forum titled “Blue Wave, Red Tide or Purple Haze?” Voice of OC’s Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr., appeared on a panel with the New York Times Los Angeles Bureau Chief and KPCC’s Senior Political Editor to discuss Orange County’s 2018 election races which were at the forefront of national media attention. The public October discussion at Chapman University offered a pro’s analysis of the polling, pundits and politicos before the November election and allowed for audience questions.
PBS SoCaL • 2013
Voice of OC expanded its partnership with PBS SoCaL with Norberto Santana, Jr., appearing weekly on the station’s “Real Orange” program each week, highlighting the top news stories from around Orange County. Santana said it will “give the public a front seat at public policy.”
FORUM • 2010
Norberto Santana, Jr., spoke with Gustavo Arellano, who created OC Weekly’s “Ask a Mexican” column. The event “Is Print Journalism Already Dead,” was sponsored by Dan O’Mahoney, who launched a website dedicated to political activism and discourse.
ELECTION NIGHT • 2010
Teamed up with the county’s public television station, KOCE-TV, for a live election night broadcast event from the plaza of the Artists Village in downtown Santa Ana. The program included on-air commentary by astute political analysts and interviews with candidates.
FEET TO FIRE • 2010-19
Norberto Santana, Jr., participates in numerous Feet to the Fire forums with Daily Pilot Columnist and Voice of OC Board Member Barbara Venezia and Los Angeles Times Executive Editor John Canalis. The group uses the forums to ask candidates tough local policy questions.
PRESS SUMMIT • 2017
The California Newspaper Publisher’s Association hosted a press summit, inviting Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr. to join Christina Shih of Voice of San Diego. On a question about reconciling donor interests with news reporting, Santana said: “Real news reporting must be the umpire between divergent interests, not a cheerleader.”
ENGAGEMENT TRAINING • 2017
Invited active Orange County residents to the Voice of OC newsroom to engage in editorial writing training as part of the Santa Ana Media Summit. Santana also gave the opening keynote address titled, “John the Debate” in which he urged people to engage with local government.
ROSE TINGLE & THE ANIMAL SHELTER • 2013-18
Orange County animal rights activist Rose Tingle created a $35 million regional animal shelter with a string of Op-eds in the Voice of OC that were followed by a stinging series of grand jury investigations, which ultimately convinced Orange County supervisors to break ground on a new facility.
She wrote her first editorial in September 2013, eloquently challenging supervisors to “imagine yourself as one of the many scared and confused animals who enter that shelter every day.”
“It is clear the residents of Orange County, as well as the animals, need and deserve a new shelter or shelters,” Tingle wrote.
And Tingle continued to write. As calls came in asking for the editorials to stop, Tingle presented facts, called the supervisors “stingy” and continued pushing for a new shelter. Her editorials triggered several grand jury probes. Both touched supervisors’ human side and challenged them to do better.
After all that, the supervisors agreed to build a new shelter.
Throughout the process she pushed for a firm construction start date, better transparency and independent oversight. By October 2018, she penned a different editorial on the shelter starting with: “I have exciting and good news to report!”
HOMELESS DEATHS • 2018-19
On Dec. 19 Father Dennis Kriz penned an editorial that listed the names of 244 homeless people who died in 2018, in collaboration with Housing is a Human Right OC and cosponsored by 30 groups and associations. Kriz wrote: “we remember 244 homeless people who died waiting on all of us to figure out an effective public policy approach for the poor, sick and vulnerable.” Each month since, Kriz writes an editorial on the homeless people who died the previous month. His editorials, and public remembrances of the deaths, have gathered politicians’ attention and have been noted in court homelessness hearings.
SHIRLEY GRINDLE & THE ETHICS COMMISSION • 2015-17
Published editorials by Shirley Grindle who pushed for an ethics commission since 1978.
Grindle, with Fred Smoller, wrote in 2015: “Orange County is the only major metropolitan jurisdiction in California that does not have an Ethics Commission. Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, Ventura County, Kern County and San Bernardino County all do. These oversight groups were established because of the need to properly enforce local campaign contribution limits. They also oversee conflicts of interest, lobbyist activities and gifting of public officials.”
In the 1970s, Grindle authored the county’s campaign finance law, Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics (TINCUP). Since that time Grindle used tens of thousands of index cards documenting political contributions to single-handedly enforced the campaign finance law.
Grindle pushed for years for an ethics commission that would continue that work and the Board of Supervisors voted in 2015 to put it on the ballot. In 2016, 70 percent of voters were in favor of the commission.
And Voice of OC continues to document the issue — in 2017, a year after the commission was overwhelmingly approved by voters, supervisors had not yet made progress on appointing people to the commission or in finding an executive director.
Awards & Honors
Voice of OC’s work has been recognized by regional and national journalism organizations. Here is a summary of all the awards, honors and recognitions for work done at Voice of OC.
Society of Professional Journalists
Distinguished Journalist - Norberto Santana, Jr. The Society of Professional Journalists Los Angeles chapter honored Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr., as one of five distinguished journalists at its 42nd annual awards banquet. Santana was one of just five journalists given the “Distinguished Journalist” honor which goes to regional journalists across all forms of media; Santana’s honor is as the digital media professional. SPJ/LA states journalists are honored who “demonstrate good news judgment, a strong sense of ethics and a passion for getting the story right” and who also have achieved a record of career accomplishments.
Freedom of Information Award - Kelly Aviles Kelly Aviles of Californians Aware who is litigator for Voice of OC, was honored with SPJ/LA’s Freedom of Information award. This honor goes to a non-journalist who has helped to promote First Amendment issues.
CALIFORNIA NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION
General Excellence — Voice of OC — 4th
Public Service - 5th - Norberto Santana, Jr., Tracy Wood, Nick Gerda, Spencer Custodio, Thy Vo - "Homelessness in Orange County"
Investigation - 4th - Nick Gerda - "Corporate PAC Money Flows to All Candidates in Contested OC Congressional Races"
Investigation - 5th - Thy Vo - "Sheriff and Phone Company Covered Up Jail Recordings, Attorney Alleges"
Photo Essay - 3rd - Spencer Custodio - "After Not Seeing Children for at Least a Decade, Families Reunite in Santa Ana"
Photo Essay - 4th - Julie Leopo - "Orange County Honors Veterans at Heroes Hall"
Infographic - 1st - Sonya Quick and Nick Gerda - "Millions in Dark Money Flowing to OC Congressional Races" and 5th - Sonya Quick - "Transportation Officials: Gas Tax Repeal Would Cut Bus Service 11 Percent"
Homepage layout and design - 2nd - Sonya Quick
Orange County Business Journal
Orange County’s Most Influential Leaders - Norberto Santana, Jr. Norberto Santana was particularly recognized for his successful lawsuit under the California Public Records Act against the County of Orange and his award by the OC Press Club as best columnist in 2017.
LOS ANGELES PRESS CLUB
Online Journalist of the Year - Norberto Santana, Jr. Journalists honored Santana for his column writing about the year long public records court battle against the County of Orange involving documents related to Supervisor Todd Spitzer and his citizens’ arrest of an evangelical preacher. Judges also highlighted Santana’s writing on homelessness across Orange County – on the need for immediate sheltering responseand long term permanent supportive housing– as well as his work on the Voice of OC nonprofit model. The judges commented, “This was an extremely competitive category ... But Norberto Santana Jr.’s dogged reporting and the results it brought in the community put him at the top. His writing is topnotch and puts a human face on many of the social ills in the area. Excellent work!"
Government/Politics News Writing - 2nd - Nick Gerda - "Sheriff May Change Policy That Led to Threatened Arrest of Reporter" by Nick Gerda
Minority/Immigration Reporting - 3rd - Thy Vo - "Westminster May Create “Mendez Historic Trail” to Honor Landmark School Desegregation Case"
Best News Website Design - 3rd - Sonya Quick
Best News Website - 1st - A panel of national judges applauded the website’s polished design, hard news and strong photography. “Clean yet newsy front page. Plentiful pictures but not so many or so large they distract from the articles. The author profile pages were useful; they contained not just the author’s various stories but multiple ways to contact and follow reporters.”
Soft News - 2nd - Thy Vo - “Viet LGBT Struggle For Understanding"
Best Online Personality Profile/Interview - 1st - David Washburn - "A Fighter Steps Out of the Ring"
Best Online Hard News Feature - 3rd - Tracy Wood -"A War Correspondent Turned Lifelong Corruption Fighter" and Thy Vo - "Struggles of Second Generation Reveal Long Shadow of War"
Cause Journalism - 2nd - Amy DePaul, Nick Gerda, David Washburn and Caitlin Whelan - “The Paradox of Latino Health”
ORANGE COUNTY PRESS CLUB
David McQuay Award for Best Columnist - 1st - Norberto Santana, Jr. Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr., was awarded the David McQuay Award for Best Columnist. He was awarded for this series of columns on Orange County government:
Best Political Columnist - 1st - Norberto Santana, Jr. Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr., was awarded for these columns related to local government:
Best Beat Reporting - 1st - Nick Gerda
Best Environmental News Story - 1st - Amy DePaul - "To Desalinate or Not to Desalinate: UCI Debate Over Controversial Huntington Beach Plant"
Best Investigative Story - 3rd - Nick Gerda - "Hundreds of Dollars in 'Gifts' From Contractors to Supervisor Nelson Raise Legal Questions"
Best News Story - 3rd - Nick Gerda - "Airport Controversy Heats Up as Supervisors Award Contract to Low-Ranked Firm by Nick Gerda"
Best News Photo - 3rd - Jeff Antenore - "Sheriffs patrolling homeless camp"
David McQuay Award for Best Columnist Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr., was awarded the David McQuay Award for Best Columnist. He was awarded for this series of columns on homelessness:
Best Investigative Story - 3rd - Tracy Wood - "‘Behested Payments’ Add Another Layer of Money in Politics"
Best Public Affairs Story - 2nd - Nick Gerda - "O.C.’s Rise in Suicides Largest Among Major U.S. Counties"
Best News Story - 1st - Nick Gerda - “Supervisors Backed Off Criticism of Jail Phones After Contributions From Vendor” and 3rd - Nick Gerda - “Dog Attack on Pregnant Woman Raises More Questions About County Animal Control”
Best News Feature Story - 2nd - Amy DePaul - “Battered Lives: Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Abuse Hard for Immigrant Families” and 3rd - David Washburn - “A Fighter Steps Out of the Ring”
Best News or Political Blog: Voice of OC, Norberto Santana, Jr. for his series of columnson the county’s problems addressing the homeless situation at the Santa Ana Civic Center.
Best Public Affairs Story - 1st - Adam Elmahrek - “Fast Times at Rancho Santiago: District Officials Travel in Luxury on Taxpayer’s Dime” and 2nd - Thy Vo - “Dick Jones’ Sweet Deal in Westminster” and 3rd - Amy DePaul - “Santa Ana’s Ongoing Struggle with Domestic Violence”
Best Feature Story - 3rd - Thy Vo - “Struggles of Second Generation Reveal Long Shadow of War”
Best Investigative Story - 1st - Adam Elmahrek - "Santa Ana Mayor’s Property Swap Raises Questions" and 2nd - Nick Gerda and PBS SoCal's David Nazar - "Campaign Filings Draw Scrutiny to Cypress Trucking Center"
Best News Story - 1st - Adam Elmahrek and Nick Gerda - "OC Register Set to Be Anaheim’s Sponsorship Broker" and 2nd - Adam Elmahrek - "The Story Behind Councilwoman Kring’s Recent Flip-Flops"
Best Public Affairs Story - 3rd - Amy DePaul - "The Paradox of Latino Health"
Best Broadcast - 1st - Norberto Santana, Jr. and PBS SoCal - "City Jobs for Family of Garden Grove Leaders"
Best Investigative Story - Nick Gerda - "Regulators Say They Can't Find Key Record on San Onofre Changes"
Best Public Affairs or Education Story or Series - 3rd - Amy DePaul and Marilyn Montano - "Housing Insecurity" story series:
Best Investigative Story - 1st - Adam Elmahrek - "Anaheim’s Green Deal Gone Bad" and 3rd - Adam Elmahrek - "Anaheim Outsources Work to City Building Official’s Firm"
Best Series - 3rd - Tracy Wood and David Washburn - "No Room To Run"
News Feature - 3rd - Tracy Wood
Best Investigative Story - 1st - Tracy Wood and Adam Elmahrek - "Questions Swirl Around Water District Director’s Expense Reports" and 2nd - Tracy Wood - "Dealing for DNA"
OC LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS
1st Place - Outstanding Env. Journalism
OC COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION FOR RESPONSIBLE DEVELOPMENT
1st Place - Community Leadership