Opinion/Letters to the Editor February, March, April, May 2022

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Feb. 3 issue:

Civil discourse policy should be extended to all communications and interactions

As a 40+ year resident of Del Mar I feel very fortunate and blessed to live here. We have a city with outstanding physical beauty; a collection of bright, invested neighbors; and a Constitution that gives us each the right to free speech.

What hurts my heart is to see the many emails circulating over the past year from anonymous sources that are written with venom and utter disrespect for our fellow citizens, and most often directed at specific Council members seemingly to undermine and discredit them. To the authors, please know I respect your right to say what you wish, however, I don’t have to welcome it or agree with it. The more insulting and offensive your words have become, the less credence I give them.

The Council adopted a Supplemental Policy to the Del Mar Code of Civil Discourse in December 2021. Granted it is intended to apply to City public meetings and workshops. I’d like to suggest that the spirit of this policy be extended to all communications and interactions. For those not familiar with the policy, tenets include:

Be Respectful

Avoid Partiality, Prejudice, Disrespect

Be Fair and Impartial

No Personal Attacks of Any Kind

Address the Issue, Not the Person

To tear others down and work at odds makes no sense to me. In this election year, and always, let’s work together to maintain and enhance our wonderful Del Mar. Given the talent and energy we have in this community there’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we set aside our personal agendas, put our collective minds to the task at hand, and work for the betterment of the entire Del Mar community.

Nancy Stoke

Del Mar

Creating a multi-use bluff

When we bought our home in Del Mar near the bluff in 2014 we thought of bluff access neither as a right nor a trespassing offense – we thought about it as part of the intrinsic value of the property. We understood that we were paying more for this property than we would have for a similar property one half mile east of the bluff. It was/is a value assumption that hundreds of Del Mar homeowners also made and one that many are willing to fight for legally. After all, denying bluff access will collectively cost Del Mar homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars in property values.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The bluffs are a shared resource and should be thought of as such by all the parties involved. The bluff is a transportation corridor and a resident asset. So how do we move from an or discussion to an and discussion? By simply going over the transportation corridor like other California cities have. In our situation it is a rail corridor between residents and the ocean, in Santa Monica’s case it’s a busy road. So let’s give NCTD what they want and let them securely fence the corridor close to the tracks. Then require them to build 2-3 attractive pedestrian walkways over the tracks and down to the bluff paths immediately to the west of the fence. A 6- or 8-foot fence would not even block the view of the ocean for rail passengers due to the raised height of the railway and the rail cars themselves. NCTD may come up with reasons why this won’t work but it’s the best and most equitable solution – so we politely suggest they find a way.

If we don’t think of the bluff as a multi-use asset this is not going to end well for either NCTD or Del Mar residents. Let’s move from an or to an and discussion.

J.B. Wood

Del Mar

Feb. 17 issue:

DMUSD unmasks its true colors

On Feb. 15, the Del Mar Union School District emailed the parents of its students, stating: “We were disappointed to learn the CDPH is not lifting the mask mandate for schools on February 16, 2022.” It elaborated: “The unintended consequences of children being required to wear masks for multiple years should be paramount when making decisions that directly impact children’s learning and mental health.”

Hmm. So requiring students to wear KN95s is a detriment to education, and to mental health, that is no longer necessary to keep students safe?

Good to know!

Because none of the many scientists we’re personally acquainted with believe that. Not one. In fact, all have stated to us that this current downturn in COVID cases shouldn’t cause us to let our guard down, that the virus is not necessarily through being our deadly foe. They have warned us that, with close to 100 percent certainty, other variants are on their way. And whether each new variant will be more or less deadly than its predecessor or, for that matter, than any previous variant, is unknown.

Removing school mask mandates means that whatever new variant happens to be spreading in close quarters inside buildings with poor circulation, the majority of a school’s students will be exposed to it.

And every single COVID infection increases a person’s risk of negative future health outcomes. (As revealed by a massive study of more than 5 million people published in the Feb. 10 “Nature,” even a mild COVID case increases the risk of heart failure, stroke and other cardiovascular problems – even among people with no risk factors.)

Distance learning didn’t work for far too many students. And even those who thrived academically, such as our daughter, were socially stunted by the 18 months out of a physical classroom. So we were totally on board to send our daughter back in a situation she now refers to as “normal with masks.” She’s now a happy kid who does well at school, plays with a large circle of friends every day, and eats with them outside where it’s safe.

But just because distance learning didn’t work, doesn’t mean that mask mandates don’t. KN95s filter out 95 percent of virus-sized particles, hence their name. And they work best when everyone in a classroom wears one, since less COVID gets exhaled.

What’s disappointing to us is not CDPH’s refusal to lift California’s school mask mandate, but to learn for sure that the minute it gets lifted, DMUSD will lift theirs.

May we suggest that the district change what the “S” stands for in “STEAM+”? Because it really should stand for something it believes in.

Corey and Jo Ann Levitan


Del Mar Union School District

Feb. 24 issue:

‘North Coast Singers soldiers on despite challenges’

The article titled “North Coast Singers soldiers on despite challenges” in the Feb. 10, 2022 issue (Lifestyles page) about the tests that COVID has created for our choirs captured many of the issues we have faced. However, the reader may have come away with the misimpression that our choirs will close if more funding was not found.

We have been proactive in seeking other sources of funding for our choirs throughout the pandemic. Fortunately, there have been government programs that have come to rescue arts organizations like ours. We applied for, and received, a federally-backed PPP loan in 2020. This spring we received a State of California grant for the arts. Both infusions of cash have covered our income shortfall. The PPP loan has been released. Over the past 29 years, when we have had more revenue than our operating cost we have banked this money in a “rainy day fund”.

Today we are fiscally just about at the same place we were before the pandemic started. We expect that the 22/23 school year will bring us back to 80% of our former size and by 23/24 we will be at our full pre- pandemic choir size.

We welcome community support and intend to provide singing opportunities for children from grammar school through high school for years to come.

Richard B. Stevens

Board Chairman

March 10 issue:

Our teachers are not the enemy

It’s revealing to observe how leaders behave when a huge problem lands in their lap. Covid qualifies as the challenge of our generation, demanding much from the people representing us, fair or not.

On the local school board level, what the SDUHSD community needed from its board was robust problem-solving. What we were offered, though, was the intellectually simpler approach of scapegoating the teachers, their union, both. Trustee Michael Allman, then brand new to the board, vilified these teachers, accusing them of being lazy and not wanting to teach in person. The chats on his private Facebook group read like a diary stolen from a rival clique. Members gleefully discussed which administrators should be fired, how badly the teachers were doing, etc. I’d never seen so much hostility leveled towards public teachers by anyone, let alone someone serving on a board… of a public school district.

Covid seems to be waning, but our teachers aren’t off the hook yet: Enter the “union map.” New census results obligated the district to “gently change” the trustee electoral areas. Trustees Allman, followed by Trustees Muir and Mossy, voted for a new map that was redrawn beyond recognition, even after a warning that its revision was likely illegal. What was so wrong with the other map, the gently redrawn map that was not illegal? Allman called it a “union map.” Beats me how a map can be for or against teachers, but I do know Michael Allman deflected the real answer to that question with another teacher jab.

I submit that we in this award-winning district deserve more from our leaders. Our kids certainly don’t need more bad behavior modeled for them. They’ve endured the masks, the internet connections, and the isolation with strength and grace. And please ask any teacher how “easy” it was for them to teach online. There were no winners during Covid. How needless, then, to make a difficult situation worse for teachers who literally scrambled multiple times to adapt their craft to the ever-changing situation.

Don’t let this become the norm.

Kate Takahashi, district parent

Carmel Valley

Feb. 3 issue guest commentary:

Traveling by air? Leave your guns at home

By Mara Elliott

More people tried to take firearms onto airplanes last year than ever before, and San Diego was part of that trend.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration knew it had a problem on its hands as early as October, when the number of guns confiscated at airport security checkpoints had already surpassed the previous all-time high and was continuing to climb.

At San Diego International Airport, 13 people were referred to our office after being caught trying to take guns onto planes in 2021, nearly as many as the previous three years combined.

This trend is concerning. People expect air travel to be safe and are alarmed by the increasing number of flights being locked down or diverted because of mask protesters and inebriated passengers. We rely more than ever on the TSA to keep planes weapon-free, but the gun industry works faster, creating new guns and gun parts that are undetectable and untraceable.

When airport police confiscate weapons, the cases are often referred to my office. We can file misdemeanor charges ranging from introducing a weapon into a secure area to carrying a loaded firearm in a public place.

In San Diego, the typical traveler caught by the TSA is a male who has a loaded handgun in his carry-on bag or backpack and no criminal record. About one-quarter of them are current or former law enforcement or military.

Almost always, when caught, the gun owners will say they were in a hurry to get to the airport and forgot the gun was in their bag. Others claim they put the gun in their bag to keep it away from their children, untrustworthy roommates or even thieving family members.

They are usually cooperative and often upset or frightened about how the arrest will affect their careers and futures. Among those stopped in San Diego were a pastor, lifeguard, real estate agent, plastic surgeon, firearm company employee, and at least two who said they needed to carry a gun because they frequently traveled with large amounts of cash.

The penalties generally include forfeiture of the weapon and fines of up to $1,000. The courts often order defendants to take firearms safety courses, perform community service and submit to a Fourth Amendment waiver for a set period of time, which means they and their property are subject to search if law enforcement believes they are committing new crimes. The defendants may receive court-ordered diversion, which keeps them out of jail as long as they remain law-abiding and possess no weapons for a set period, usually six months to a year.

In addition, the TSA may levy hefty fines for these violations. Taking a loaded firearm through airport security can cost as much as $13,910; bringing an unloaded gun on a plane will result in a fine of up to $2,475.

Remember: Travelers are never permitted to take ammunition and loaded or unloaded firearms onto commercial aircraft in the United States. Unloaded firearms and ammunition may be transported in checked luggage if properly stored in a hard-sided locked case and declared to airline personnel upon check-in. Different states, local governments and airlines may have additional restrictions. It is up to the traveler to know and abide by them.

Prosecutors in my office evaluate each case on its facts and file charges only when the elements of a crime are present. Sometimes a person has a reasonable explanation that shows a good-faith attempt to follow the law. Others are not interested in complying with the law — three of the 24 individuals charged by our office in the past four years failed to appear in court and now have warrants out for their arrest.

Restrictions on firearms during air travel exist to keep all of us safe from the threat of potential gun violence, including accidental shootings, in crowded airports and in our skies. Ignorance of the law, being forgetful or being in a hurry is no excuse.

You can save yourself a lot of time, trouble and costly legal consequences by making sure you comply with laws that keep travelers safe.

Mara Elliott is the San Diego city attorney.

April 28 issue:

Police staffing increase needed

Crime in Carmel Valley and surrounding areas has risen in the past several years. The type of crimes include vehicle thefts, vehicle break-ins, home, office and retail burglaries, robberies, DUIs, reckless driving, distracted driving, excessive speeding, vandalism, drug-related offenses and more. The local police from the Northwestern Division are doing the best they can but they are exceedingly understaffed. The problem stems from the fact that as the area grows law enforcement staff is not growing with it.

When new housing is added (Merge56, One Paseo, Pacific Highlands, etc) new schools are built, fire stations add staff and new roads are built (sometimes). But why is nothing done to help the local police? The Northwestern Division is responsible for patrolling 42 square miles. When your burglar alarm goes off and the police don’t respond quickly it could be because they are on the other side of the county. According to San Diego’s General Plan, 1.5 officers are required for every 1,000 residents. This would mean that the Northwestern Division should have at least 63 officers. Currently they have 32 officers.

So why is the General Plan being ignored when it pertains to safety but it gets enforced when it comes to schools? Don’t you want your kids to be safe and educated? When 16-year-olds fly down Del Mar Heights Road at 100 mph wouldn’t it be great if law enforcement wrote them a ticket? When your car gets stolen or vandalized wouldn’t it be great if the police came out to investigate in a timely fashion? When your house gets burglarized wouldn’t you like an officer to take a report regardless of the size of the theft? Why don’t you get the response you deserve? It’s not because the police don’t think these crimes aren’t important, it’s because the city doesn’t enforce their own rules. Increased police staffing doesn’t bring in the funds that increased housing does.

What can be done? I suggest calling the Chief of Police Dave Nisleit, Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilman Joe LaCava. Let them know your concerns and that you don’t want any more development until there is increased police staffing. If they can’t staff then they can’t build. At the very least, the Northwestern Division should be part of the conversation. Presently they aren’t even at the table.

Andrea Mintz

Carmel Valley

May 5 issue:

Recent events should be a wake-up call

The exchange between SDUHSD Superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward, SDUHSD Board Trustee Michael Allman, and SDUHSD Board President Mo Muir revealed just how out of touch leaders at the administrative level are with the Asian community. Even more alarming is the fact that this occurred at a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training with the blind leading the blind.

I believe that the profoundly glib question posed by Mr. Allman and the responses by both Dr. James-Ward and Ms. Muir, each on their own merit demonstrates a serious lack of engagement and a complete disregard for the Asian community. Listening to Muir’s patronizing and condescending portrayal of Asian families made me cringe feeling likened to creatures from The Hobbit. My 11th-grade daughter had a good laugh when Muir stated so self-assuredly, ‘They don’t date.’ I wonder how China’s population is edging toward 1.5 billion people then? And of course, Dr. James-Ward’s “Tall Tales of the Wealthy, Stealthy Asian Invasion.”

With the recent uptick of Asian hate crimes, her statement sharply contrasting Asian families to Latinx ones puts the focus on already vulnerable Asian families in harm’s way of added attacks.

Public demand for Dr. James-Ward’s resignation is a natural knee-jerk reaction in response to hurt and anger. But what happens next? Will these dangerously misguided attitudes remain? How will future DEI training be implemented and by whom? Continuing on the dangerous path of business-as-usual will most likely result in a push for decreased transparency to shield those in high-profile positions.

Instead, we can seize this moment and ride the momentum. This is a rare opportunity to place discussions about understanding race at the forefront, beginning with what we have in common.

Each of us…

1) …are descended from thousands of years of recorded human history and civilization

2) …have an ancestry formed by geography, history, politics, war, and natural disasters

3) …come from a heritage made up of culture and tradition

4) … are shaped by unique life experiences, nearly 8 billion stories untold

5) …need shelter, clean air to breathe, healthy food to eat, clean water to drink

6) …need to feel loved, safe, and accepted

7) …have experienced joy and sorrow; peace and anger; courage and fear

Asians are Americans

To the leaders of SDUHSD: We have put our faith and trust in you to care for our kids, just as a doctor needs to know their patients, you must know your constituents. No one’s child should be dehumanized and dismissed simply as one-dimensional, invisible, faceless human beings; that includes your children and mine. The recent turn of events should be a wake-up call and a chance to focus on deeply embedded issues that affect the Asian community, systemic in nature, that have been neglected for far too long.

Leah Tsao

Carmel Valley

Moving forward with a new SDUHSD superintendent

As a parent residing in Carmel Valley, I’m sharing my views of SDUHSD Superintendent James-Ward’s recent comments about the Asian American community, so that others will know how hurtful and insulting they were – so wrong, so racist, so ignorant.

The superintendent was wrong, both factually and morally. She claimed that Asians do well in school because the district has “an influx of Asians from China, and the people who are able to make that journey are wealthy”.

But my family, like many others in the community, came with little money and without knowledge of the English language. With hard work, we have overcome these economic and social barriers. Many parents who have spoken out had similar experiences. We are proud of our achievements, have taught our children to work hard, value education, and respect family.

Although James-Ward appears sensitive to racism, her presumptions about Asian Americans are a clear expression of racism. Many Asians have encountered discrimination in America, so it is especially hurtful for James-Ward’s comments to be so dismissive of their accomplishments.

If she were thinking as an educator, she’d try to understand what Asian American families are doing right, so that others can maximize their educational opportunities. Instead, she focused on her false and unsupported perspective that Asian’s only succeed because they come from rich China.

James-Ward’s comments were also ignorant. They reveal a profound ignorance of the Asian American community, a constituency which accounts for one-third of the families in Area 5, represented on the board by Julie Bronstein.

The superintendent’s apologies were disingenuous – she didn’t accept responsibility, said her comments were taken out of context, tried to deflect blame, and tried to depict herself as a victim. She claimed that criticisms against her were orchestrated by CFER, failing to recognize that I and many other parents spoke out because of the offensive nature of her remarks.

James-Ward still doesn’t get it. She admitted in a recent interview (KUSI 4/25/2022) that “I kept going back over what I said, I could not find anything wrong with what I said.”

Sadly, James-Ward ignores the voices of those she was hired to serve – the families of SDUHSD. Not only by her original remarks, but subsequent comments demonstrate she is unfit to be superintendent.

This episode demonstrates how harmful it is to divide people into racial and ethnic groups. All Americans should be treated as individuals. It is our Natural Right. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” (Chief Justice Roberts)

We need to learn from this and move forward, with a new superintendent.

Phan Anderson

Carmel Valley

May 12 issue:

Please stop the lunacy

The San Dieguito Union High School District has one of the finest, if not the finest, superintendents in all of San Diego County in Cheryl James-Ward. She comes to the district with the highest of qualifications for the job. But more than that she has a deep passion for education and the welfare of her students.

I stand in a long line with those who are getting real fed up with being “politically correct.” We are turning into a vanilla society, afraid to say anything edgy or confrontational. It is a shame.

Please stop this lunacy and get Cheryl back to work. Losing her would be a big loss to the school district.

Jim Benedict

Del Mar

May 19 issue:

What makes Del Mar unique?

As newcomers to Del Mar, over 50 years ago, we rented a house next door to pioneer climatologist/environmentalist Dave Keeling, who famously accused the Del Mar Hotel with having “bused in dirt from Solana Beach” to raise the hotel’s height! From Dave, we learned the importance of keeping “greenery in the scenery” in our town.

Since that first year, we have lived in another house, nearby. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the ways that the Design Review Board (DRB), created by those inspired by Keeling, has helped to protect our community from overdevelopment and environmental degradation. (As opposed to the unfettered growth in La Jolla.)

The purpose of the Design Review process, per the Design Review Ordinance, is vital to preserving Del Mar’s charm:

“It is the purpose of this Chapter to achieve and protect a residential, seaside community which is both beautiful and pleasant in character, by fostering and encouraging good design which encompasses the use of harmonious materials and colors, compatible proportional relationships and appropriate use of landscaping, and to protect the citizens of the City of Del Mar by providing a design review process as hereinafter described …”

Greener Del Mar is what’s distinctive about us. It’s the reason why our City’s homes are highly valued and sought after. Our unique DRB process is designed to help architects and applicants present projects which will meet with their neighbors’ approval, and be shaped with our Design Review ordinances in mind.

The result, in the best cases, is also harmony in our neighborhoods, both architectural and social.

We saw this process work successfully at the April 2022 DRB meeting, wherein a peaceful and harmonious conclusion was reached on a contentious project on Crest Road which would have obliterated the views and privacy of neighbors. Instead of stubborn insistence, the applicants worked with neighbors and reached a compromise, coming up with a design which was acceptable to all. The project was approved by the DRB, and is now under way.

The best DRB decisions always involve give-and-take. The ideal result is neighborhood harmony, protection of existing neighbor views, preservation of Del Mar’s priceless natural resources, and new housing developments that blend in with the neighborhood and are subservient to the trees and landforms that are uniquely “Del Mar.”

The DRB is always the punching bag for developers who want nothing more than to maximize FAR (floor-area-ratio), and to increase the per-square-foot value of new houses. But, in the process, we all lose, and Del Mar is diminished.

Now it is vital for our community stand up for our values, our Community Plan, and the regulations that protect us all.

Sandra Dijkstra

Del Mar

May 26 issue:

District does not represent the will of this voter

Your article of May 19, 2022 regarding the injunction of the Del Mar Heights school construction quotes the District as follows: “This group of opponents has deployed an ongoing, cynical and seemingly endless litigation effort to thwart the will of the voters and stop the long-planned and much needed rebuild…” This household voted for MM to fund a school remodel. Nowhere was it made clear that in doing so we would be losing the fields, Little League baseball, soccer on the weekends, and the green space we enjoyed every day. The District does not represent the will of this voter, or the many others who felt likewise duped. Rather, they appear allied with the builder and others who seek to gain from the construction that is tearing away at our canyon and our play space.

Mary Dollarhide Lutz

Del Mar

We must find our way back to civility and a willingness to hear all voices

By now, news of the May 19 San Dieguito Union High School District Regular Board Meeting has spread well past San Diego County news coverage, with the Los Angeles Times running a piece about it. Descriptions of the shouting, the shoving, and the selective silencing are being compared to the Jerry Springer Show, infamous for its unruliness.

I attended this meeting for 5-1/2 hours, hoping to address the board during the closed-session public comment period. In the meeting, I learned that Trustee Michael Allman had sent a message to supporters of his efforts to terminate the superintendent, urging them to arrive well before the start of the meeting to sign up to comment. He wrote: “Board President Mo Muir has discretion on how many public comments she will accept, but I doubt it will be like previous meetings where everyone was allowed to speak.”

Forty-five speakers asked to address the board on closed-session items. In a break from custom of the past many meetings, Board President Muir announced only the first 15 would speak. (The first commenter disclosed his one o’clock arrival time, two hours prior to the three o’clock start of the meeting.) Most called for the superintendent’s termination. Between speakers 10 and 11, when a member of the audience rose to ask if alternate viewpoints could be heard, he was shouted down, his chair shoved into him by a previous speaker, and he was asked to “please be respectful” by Board President Muir.

Sadly, beyond how the meeting was misgoverned by Board President Muir, was the way the public conducted itself. Interrupting speakers, shouting, booing, chanting were commonplace during the meeting, which should have been an ordinary part of the democratic process—a value shared by most Americans—in which the public communicates with elected officials in a space sanctioned by the Constitution. People yelled over others trying to speak different perspectives. An attendee posted to the private Facebook Group administered by Trustee Allman’s wife, “It’s crazy town in here. This may make national news.” Maybe national news has been Muir’s and Allman’s goal all along.

Has our district devolved so much that we can’t come together civilly to participate in one of the most important aspects of our democracy? Speaking freely in a public meeting to address elected officials is a cherished and important American birthright. When fellow Americans and elected officials disrupt that process, we lose an essential, everyday part of democracy. What a shame this is happening in San Dieguito, where, as a community, we’ll lose much more if we cannot find our way back to civility, respect, and a willingness to hear all voices.

Jen Charat

Carmel Valley

Parent of 3 SDUHSD students

Passing more laws to make the same thing illegal is wasteful

The Solana Beach City Council has chosen to apply city resources (salary expense certainly) to produce a regulation with no effect given state superseding criminal code law. That is a waste, and affects no criminal activity or reduces a threat to public safety in any measurable way.

Unserialized firearms have been illegal under state law since July 1, 2018 (oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press-docs/consumer-alert.pdf)

An excerpt from above: “Any person intending to manufacture or assemble a firearm after July 1, 2018, must first apply to the DOJ for a unique serial number.”

Serializing firearms is fine by me. Passing more laws to make the same thing illegal is simply wasteful. And that is what Solana Beach and many other entities have done, in spite of state law already prohibiting unserialized firearms.

Bill Stoops

Solana Beach