This story first appeared in inewsource’s weekend newsletter. Sign up for it here.
Say hi to our investigative reporting intern Nicole Tyau!
How did you first get into journalism?
I got into journalism in high school. I was part of the first freshman class at the brand-new Yorba Linda High School in Orange County. We were given a long list of courses we could take, and newspaper production was listed there. I became editor in chief my first year and grew the paper from eight staffers to over 30. Putting that much love and hard work into a project like that sparked a hunger for knowledge that journalism satisfies for me.
When did you start at inewsource and what’s your reporting focus?
I have been an intern at inewsource since January. I don’t really have a beat, but I focus on environmental and public health issues.
You went to Arizona State University for your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism. Do you have a favorite story you reported on in college?
One of my favorite projects I worked on was an in-depth reporting project on the refugee crisis in Europe. During spring break of my junior year, I traveled across Hungary to report how migrants were being arrested and tried under murky Hungarian laws that clashed with European Union law. It was an absolutely humbling experience.
What do you do outside of work?
When I’m not searching for stories in public data or on social media, I volunteer as an adoption coordinator for a cat rescue and go to concerts with my older brother.
Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.
– Shyla Nott, inewsource
Mello-Roos taxes don’t always go to the taxpayer’s district
Eastlake homeowners probably don’t realize at least $46 million of their Mello-Roos property taxes were used to pay for school projects outside their Chula Vista neighborhood. That includes money that went to build Olympian, Otay Ranch and San Ysidro high schools.
That’s 35 percent of all the school tax money – called Mello-Roos – that’s been collected in Eastlake for the past three decades, according to an inewsource analysis of public data.
Some residents are questioning whether the practice is legal. One Eastlake homeowner said officials treat Mello-Roos taxes like a “slush fund” for the rest of the Sweetwater Union High School District.
But Sweetwater’s Mello-Roos expert said pooling money from multiple Mello-Roos districts allows the school district to finance large projects and get them done in a cost-effective way.
Some residents are also questioning the district’s practice of using its Mello-Roos reserves for short-term loans to pay for district operating expenses.
What are Mello-Roos taxes?
They’re additional property taxes intended to pay for specific capital projects, like schools and roads. Some people buy homes in neighborhoods with the Mello-Roos tax, banking on their children getting a quality education.
How much do you pay in Mello-Roos taxes?
If you own a house in a relatively new neighborhood, chances are good you pay Mello-Roos taxes. We created a tool that shows 1) if you’re paying Mello-Roos taxes, 2) how much you’re paying and where the money is going, and 3) how much your neighbors are paying.
Airport authority vs. port district — and a possible open meeting law violation
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority caused a stir when it recently decided to join a lawsuit against the San Diego Unified Port District.
The suit is over a port-imposed rental car fee that is helping to finance a 1,600-space parking garage at the long-anticipated billion-dollar Chula Vista bayfront project. Two rental car companies — and now the airport authority — say the fee is a tax voters should have approved.
The airport board’s action sparked immediate blowback from port and South Bay leaders because it could endanger the bayfront development.
Now, inewsource has learned the airport authority board also may have violated California’s open meeting law by never officially voting to join the lawsuit and never formally announcing the decision to the public after it was made.
City business transparency measure headed for November vote
San Diego has a transparency law called Section 225 requiring anyone doing business with the city to disclose their identities. It sounds simple enough, except the rule is vaguely worded and, well, the city has rarely enforced it. As a result, there’s very little information about the people behind billions of dollars in city business deals.
That could change.
The City Council voted to put an amendment before San Diego voters in November that, if approved, would require even the most opaque corporations to disclose their ownership when doing business with the city.
inewsource‘s Brad Racino first looked into the law back in 2016 when he requested the disclosures behind 38 contractors that account for more than half a billion dollars in city business.
The most underreported issues in San Diego (according to you)
Last month we launched The Weekly Ask – one short video each week that poses questions to you, our readers. This week’s question was:
What is the most underreported issue in San Diego today?
We received great responses via social media and email, and our team has taken them all into consideration for future stories. To see the next question in our series, go here.
Here’s what some of you had to say this week:
Two readers said unaffordable housing and homelessness are underreported. Another reader wanted news coverage on San Diego County’s tax revenues.
Several suggestions dealt with San Diego infrastructure woes – bridges, water mains and the like. One reader asked, “Why’s it taking so long to get the Georgia St. bridge done?”
Covering that topic – infrastructure – is at the top of our fundraising priority list because it takes money to hire a top-notch investigative reporter to unearth the issues like those pointed out. If you’d like to contribute to funding the position, you can do that at inewsource.org/donate. It takes a village.
This week’s question is:
What do you want to know about one of our stories or investigations?
We'll let you know when big things happen.