By Barbara Zaragoza
Susan Luzzaro passed away on May 1, 2017, after a year-long battle with brain cancer. She was 68. She was also an extremely important voice in the South Bay. A gifted writer, she taught at Southwestern College and penned many features in the San Diego Reader dating as far back as 1999.
Several tributes have been written about Luzzaro. Her obituary highlights her many contributions. The San Diego Reader gave links to some of her more important works, including an article in which Luzzaro described her parents’ brutal unsolved murder in 1988. Randy Dotinga at the Voice of San Diego also gave a tribute to Luzzaro under the heading RIP, South Bay’s Voice of Outrage.
A lifelong Chula Vista resident, Luzzaro spoke truth to power. She was best known for uncovering corruption in the Sweetwater Union High School District. A true community activist, her writings took tremendous courage. Her bravery was well-known and admired by many reporters.
South Bay Journalism In Crisis
The loss of Luzzaro comes during a time when the entire country faces a crisis in journalism. With the Trump Administration waging a “fake news” war on major news outlets — including the Washington Post, which supports an ever-decreasing number of investigative journalists — the South Bay has also taken several hits.
I can identify only two full-time paid journalists whose focus is exclusively the South Bay (defined as anything South of the I-54 to the border): Robert Moreno, who is the only full-time journalist at the Chula Vista Star News and Allison Sampite-Montecalvo at the San Diego Union Tribune.
Christine Huard, who covered South Bay school districts, was laid off in February.
The Voice of San Diego, the Union Tribune, the Times of San Diego do have journalists who cover the South Bay, but not full-time. Instead, they must also focus on other regions.
What’s more, some of the journalists who have gone out of their way to cover the South Bay in an investigative way recently became targets of a vicious Internet scam, likely meant to discredit them.
Think on that for a moment. One full-time paid journalist (Robert Moreno) is hired to cover all of Chula Vista & National City which make up approximately 250,000 and 60,000 residents respectively. The Chula Vista Elementary School District is the largest elementary school district in the state of California.
Allison Sampite-Montecalvo seems to cover an even larger swath of land for the Union Tribune: the entire South Bay, which is made up of approximately 450,000 residents living in 4 separate cities (which means trying to cover 4 city councils, 4 school districts, a community college, plus events and important happenings). Both Moreno and Sampite-Montecalvo do an exceptional job, by the way, with the small amount of resources they are given.
I have talked to acquaintances who would like to establish publications in the South Bay (they shall remained anonymous). They told me that the advertisers they approached generally said they don’t want to be associated with controversial news articles — they would prefer to advertise in publications that have articles about food, places to visit, people. “Fluff,” basically.
It’s unpleasant to have pesky investigative journalists at a city council or school board meeting. However, their presence alone tends to change behavior: people remain a bit more diligent when they know someone is watching for transparency and truth.
More and more, however, nobody wants to pay for it. People have to find other ways to support themselves while they write news copy on their “free” time. According to this article, the number of journalism jobs continues to shrink; public relations jobs are replacing those positions.
What happens when a populace has no reporters? What does this mean for the South Bay?
It means that checks and balances are gone. There’s no one around to make sure taxpayer money is wisely (and ethically) spent. There’s no one around to see if building contracts with schools and cities are being legally made, that campaigns are being fairly launched, that companies are considering the safety of their consumers not just their bottom-lines and that children are provided a decent education.
If you’re looking around the South Bay and wondering why your property taxes are going up so high, or your kids don’t have paper in schools or your friends are getting laid off, or there’s lead in the water you’re drinking, or there are potholes on your roads — chances are, it’s because there’s nobody around to invest in a cohort of well-trained, full-time journalists.
That said, this week in the news that’s available:
Five of Eleven Chula Vista City Services Out of Compliance
Each year, Chula Vista’s unique Growth Management Oversight Commission issues a report about the state of public facilities, services and infrastructure in Chula Vista. This year was no exception. The Chula Vista City Council and the Planning Commission passed a resolution accepting the report. The report revealed that 5 of 11 city services were out of compliance with specific standards, including libraries, police responses, traffic, fire & emergency medical services as well as parks & recreation.
You can read the report here. The problem? Each year, the Oversight Commission — that has hard working volunteer commissioners — spends many hours researching the state of the city. A report is created and then — nothing ever seems to change anyway. (San Diego Union Tribune)
Lawsuit Filed Against National City Regarding Welcoming Proclamation
Chris Schilling and San Diegans for Open Government filed a lawsuit for alleged Brown Act violations of the National City Council. Although city staff had submitted a Welcoming Community resolution, at the last minute during a February council meeting, Mayor Ron Morrison introduced an amended version that had not been presented to staff or the public. Then, Councilmembers Jerry Cano and Albert Mendivil voted for the mayor’s diluted version, although they had presumably just seen the document at the meeting.
Did the three council members speak beforehand about the substitution resolution? The lawsuit apparently seeks to find out. Schilling is requesting documents — including text messages and emails — which may have mentioned the draft substitute resolution. (San Diego Reader)
Quick News Hits
–The Imperial Beach shoreline closed once again this week as sewage-contaminated runoff from Tijuana entered the our oceans. Rainfall caused the contamination this week. (Imperial Beach Patch) This occurred after a massive sewage spill in January wreaked havoc for the region. There’s been protests. Mayor Serge Dedina and San Diego Councilmember David Alvarez have clamored for more help. Still, this week, same problem, no resolution: sewage continues to contaminate our binational environment.
–Under pressure from local groups, the Chula Vista City Council voted unanimously to increase fines for illegal marijuana dispensaries from $1,000 to $2,500. Marty Graham reports in the San Diego Reader.
—Chula Vista Brewing just opened on Third Avenue. You might want to check out my Beer Rant of several weeks ago.
Anna Daniels says
It is really important to note the passing of journalist and activist Susan Luzzaro. She reflected the essential qualities of both– doggedness and the ability to deftly communicate, particularly to those unfamiliar with the context.
I don’t think it is hyperbolic to say that we need good journalists and good journalism more than ever. The dearth of journalists covering South Bay is particularly sobering.
SDFP editor/writer Barbara Zaragoza’s reporting in the South Bay must be added to those few journalists whom she identifies in her article. Barbara’s outstanding commitment and coverage, on an unpaid basis, deserves recognition.
Susan Luzzaro was the definition of factual reporting. Putting her investigating reporting aside she was a SPECIAL person who loved her husband, her children/grandchildren. Her hard work in exposing truth, both good and bad was a reflection of community service.
SHE WILL BE MISSED!! – she already is………
5 of 11 you say? – Apparently change in our City Hall is needed, perhaps we can begin with Mr. McCann who promised much, and has delivered so little. Case in point the 125 toll – hmmmmmm, thought he was going to do away with the toll?
Mandy Barre says
Thank you for your voice!
bob dorn says
Susan Luzzaro was pure journalism, a throwback to a time when lies could be exposed for what they were. My sympathies are with her husband, Frank, and the rest of her family. You, Barbara, have that same sturdy sensibility and are doing the work that needs doing even if it isn’t often appreciated by a population distracted by two jobs, a recalled car and making the property tax payment on time. All due respect, to you. Keep it up. We’ll read it.
Mitch Thompson says
It was some years ago (2009-2010) that I contacted Susan Lazarro about what I thought might be corruption related to the Southwestern Community College 2008 bond measure and how contracts were being awarded out the Soouthwestern College administrative leadership at that time. Without going into great deatil, Susan Lazarro took what I gave her and began to investigate that matter with such great voracity and purpose!! It is something I will never forget. It was her –more than anyone– who brought the truth forward and made the public aware of how lost the College in that dark era. Because of her reporting, Norma Hernandez and Tim Nader were able to be elected (against well financed opponents) to the board in 2010 which allowed our wonderful Southwestern College to begin to rebuild its credibility and stature, which had been so shaken.
Susan, I will always wear your nickname for me–“deep throat” –a la watergate– with the greatest of pride. So many of us loved you for the leadership and courage you showed at that time when our community truly NEEDED you. You are a true hero!!! You made us proud!! You will posthumously stand tall as you did in life. You lived with purpose. Oh great one, RIP!!!
Maura Larkins says
You might want to share the focus here with citizen journalists in the South Bay.
Erick Garland talked about a similar void in news reporting: “Into this void stepped the so-called citizen journalists. Armed with specialized skills from their careers and alarmed for the future of their country, a new group of voices have emerged…Drawing from their own deep professional experiences, they and others have transcended the bounds of traditional journalism…
“Not everyone has been happy about this…For reasons as paltry as they are irrelevant, several media outlets have run pieces about these new voices that range from the merely bitter to the nearly libelous…these articles have asserted that there is no credibility inherent in any of the work attracting attention for rationales that rarely depart from the ad hominem. Much more scurrilously…”
Ray Beltran says
Mrs Luzzaro, or Sue as she asked to be called, was the reason I became a poet. I was her student at SWC for a couple semesters, where I met friends I still keep in touch with until this day. She created an honest and nurturing place to create literature.
I took a trip with her to Tijuana to have sushi at one our friends’ favorite restaurants, Komasa, and talked politics and writing over dinner and wine at her home once or twice.
We both lost a dear friend and fellow artist, Imelda Jaramillo to leukemia when she was only 31. She was one of the first artists to look into my first born’s eyes at the funeral and say, “he’s an old soul.”
Sue encouraged me to publish throughout our years in contact. I’m sorry to say that life drifted me further and further from my correspondence with her and I found out about her passing at a meditation retreat just a couple weeks ago. My heart sank and I feel nothing but regret for never saying bye and gratitude for having spent time with such a beautiful person and memorable writer and definitely an inspiring teacher.
She will never be forgotten as long as I live. She meant so much to me and always has.