San Diego: Best and worst of the decade
A look back at the past 10 years and the noteworthy events that shaped San Diego
I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time reading Best Of Decade lists this year, at least when it comes to pop culture topics. Maybe I’m just older and don’t have the same feverish drive to stay culturally relevant as I did in 2009, or maybe it’s just that this decade has mentally and emotionally worn me down so much that caring about the best movie (Mad Max: Fury Road) or album (Deafheaven’s Sunbather) just seems trivial.
But I will say this: I think the 2010s exposed our humanity better than any other decade in my lifetime. The years have been like an exfoliating brick, rubbing us raw, revealing our true selves. There’s been a lot of ugliness and beauty in equal measure, and bouncing between those extremes is exhausting, and we’re now too tired to hide what we are.
San Diego is no different. I arrived here in October 2009 and had the honor of spending the majority of the decade in a newsroom. I had the privilege of watching and discussing noteworthy San Diego events with some of the brightest minds in the city. I’ve been witness to the events that have changed us, divided us, and brought us together. It’s been fascinating to see all the ways in which San Diego has exposed its true self.
Here we go. In order of worst to best, here are the events of the past decade that defined us.
Hep A outbreak among San Diego’s homeless population (2017)
San Diego’s mistreatment of people experiencing homelessness is the ultimate shame of the decade. There have been no shortage of injustice levied against this population over the past 10 years—from banning people from sleeping in cars to the city literally throwing the homeless into garbage trucks—but it all came to a head in 2017 when a very preventable disease broke out among the homeless population, which killed 20 people, sickened 600 more, and cost the city over $12 million on containment, hospitalizations, bleaching the streets, etc. The outbreak is awful on its own accord, but it also brought to light our casual cruelty, skewed priorities, and the blinders we wear whenever something unsavory threatens the image of the paradise in which we live. We should all be ashamed.
Chabad of Poway shooting (2019)
When I asked former colleagues for ideas on the major events that affected San Diego, former CityBeat staff writer Dave Maass responded “mass shooting,” and—because we currently live in a hellworld dominated by gun nuts—I had to ask myself: which one? And even though there are so many that they hardly become trending topics anymore, the Chabad of Poway shooting earlier this year still managed to shock and devastate our city. Lori Gilbert-Kaye died and several others were injured at the hands of an angry, young white man who’d been feasting on the racism and anti-Semitism that no longer has to hide thanks to our current president. Fuck everything about this, but especially Trump and guns.
Daniel Chong left in DEA holding cell (2012)
Dave Maass also reminded me of the account of Daniel Chong, a UCSD student who was smoking weed with friends at an apartment when the DEA raided. Daniel Chong was taken into a 5” x 10” holding cell... and then the agents forgot about him. He was in the cell for five days. He had no food and no water. He could hear people outside while he screamed for help. He drank his own urine to stay hydrated. He broke his glasses and carved “sorry mom” into his arm and then ate the glass. When Chong was finally rescued, he was incoherent and hallucinating. He eventually returned to UCSD and was awarded $4 million in a lawsuit against the DEA, but, Jesus Christ, I hardly think that can undo the trauma he’ll live with for the rest of his life. I can’t think of a worse nightmare.
Death of Rebecca Mawii Zahau (2011)
I’d only lived in San Diego a brief time when Rebecca Zahau was discovered bound, naked and hanging from a balcony in Coronado, and it kind of turned my whole perception of San Diego upside down. Not trying to sound flippant about such a grisly case, but it has the ingredients of a true crime serial: Millionaire/pharmaceutical tycoon Jonah Shacknai’s 6-year-old son Max died by falling off a second story banister while in the care of Rebecca Zahau—Jonah’s girlfriend. Two days later, Zahau and Jonah’s brother Adam returned to the Coronado house where Max died, and then the next morning, Zahau’s body was found. Sheriff Bill Gore determined Zahau’s death to be a suicide, which...um, okay. The trauma doctor who performed the autopsy also expressed a belief that Max’s death was not caused by the fall, but that he may have been suffocated prior. We may never know what actually happened, but this was the first time I was exposed to the dark undercurrent that creeps beneath San Diego’s sunny exterior.
Junior Seau's suicide (2012)
There are few things I hate more than the NFL. Setting aside the fact that football is an incredibly stupid and boring sport, I can’t understand how any compassionate person can support an industry that shamelessly profits off brain damage like the NFL. This was made all too clear when San Diego Chargers hall of famer Junior Seau ended his life by shooting himself in the chest in 2012. It was determined that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease shared by a number of dead NFL players. I remember on the day it happened, I was in a small exercise class and our instructor just said, “I guess you guys heard what happened,” and we all nodded solemnly, but no one said anything more. What can you say about such a sad and tragic end? Then they took out the Seau’s sports bar at the Mission Valley Mall because I guess football fans don’t want that kind of buzzkill.
“Papa” Doug Manchester’s reign at the Union-Tribune (2011-2015)
The four years that Doug “PaRappa the Rapper I mean Papa Doug” Manchester owned the San Diego Union-Tribune (which he briefly, officially rebranded as “The U-T” [I know people still call it the U-T, but Papa D printed it on the front page]) was truly a dark period in local journalism. The hotel tycoon went full Citizen Kane, treating the publication as his own personal megaphone, which he used to lobby hard for a new Chargers stadium. He favored boosterism over news, built a useless TV studio that produced shows no one watched, and turned the Union-Tribune’s lobby into a car museum. I hate to give Trump any credit, but perhaps the only good thing he’s ever done is introduce Papa Doug at a rally as “Papa John.” Even if it was accidental, that’s still the level of respect that Doug Manchester deserves.
Surveillance cameras on street lights (2019)
It’s naive for anyone with a smartphone to get all up in arms over surveillance, but still, this year’s realization that nearly every streetlight in San Diego is equipped with surveillance cameras was unsettling to say the least. Proposed to the city back in 2016 as a way to mitigate traffic and save energy, police saw the potential in the surveillance cams to catch criminals. Without any oversight, cops have free rein to basically watch San Diego like their own private reality show. I’m not smart enough to know how many constitutional rights this violates, but I do know that living in a surveillance state is creepy as shit. PS: There are still no surveillance cams out on Fiesta Island, so I recommend doing crimes out there.
Craft beer wars (ongoing)
Any industry that had as big of an explosion as craft beer is going to be fraught with missteps (sexism in brewing and marketing, and Constellation slurping up a large portion of Mexico’s drinkable water are certainly egregious concerns), but local brewers lost their minds when Anheuser-Busch opened a 10 Barrel Brew Pub in East Village, and they raised $5,000 to fly a “10 Barrel is not craft beer” banner above the brewpub during its opening. I don’t want to come off looking like I support big business, but uh... who gives a shit? Good use of money, bros. This little stunt just felt like a desperate grab in order to regain control of the narrative, and certainly didn’t win anybody any fans outside of the beer scene. Regardless of 10 Barrel’s presence, there are still plenty of opportunities to drink craft hazys or whatever from thriving independent breweries.
Balboa Park water fight (2012)
Photo by Justin Hudnall
A flash mob turned real stupid when thrill-seekers congregated around the Balboa Park Lily Pond for a midnight water fight. The event—which attracted 1,500 or so people—ended up costing the city $10,000 in damages after participants jumped in the pond water when ammo ran low. All the lily pads were destroyed, a few koi died, and participants broke a drainage pipe—all in the name of entitled fun. I’m sure no one who participated set out to destroy a historic landmark, and the selective fury over dead lily pads that ensued afterwards was bit confusing (who among us really cared about lily pads until a bunch of kids destroyed them whilst having fun?), but this all just smacked of mob mentality, a gross lack of foresight, and a reminder why we can’t have nice things.
Susumo Azano (2012-2014)
A foreign agent exerting influence in one of our elections?? Crazy talk! The funny (read: depressing) thing about a lot of items on this list is that they serve as precursors to events that entered the national stage later on. Take Susumo Azano, for example. The Mexican business tycoon was found guilty of funnelling campaign money to San Diego politicians in 2012, namely mayoral candidates Bonnie Dumanis, Bob Filner and Congressman Juan Vargas. Azano’s actions aren’t quite on the scale as Russia’s 2016 presidential election meddling, or the impeachment-worthy Ukraine stuff, but it was still an awful reminder of how broken our political system is. In fact, Azano’s actions were only illegal because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Otherwise, his super-PACs would’ve been A-OK. Just goes to show that anyone can buy an election if they have the means.
Duncan Hunter vapes (2016)
Before Dunc proved himself to be a Trump-parrottoing, sociopathic criminal who illegally used campaign funds to buy video games systems, pay for extramarital affairs and, uh, transport a bunny, he made headlines as a silly doofus who vaped on the floor of Congress, and there was nothing to do but shake our heads, shrug and say “that’s our Dunc.” As stupid as it was, it was a begrudgingly accurate portrayal of our city, because there are few things more San Diegan than a bro mansplaining vapes to a room of well-dressed people.
Gentrification of North Park (2009-2019)
I know there’s nothing more insufferable than a white guy complaining about gentrification, and let’s face it: North Park was already on its way to becoming a hipster haven before I moved here in 2009 (I never got to experience the renowned punk dive Scolari’s Office, for example). I’m not saying that what North Park is now is altogether bad and some of my favorite places in the city are there: Verbatim/Burn All Books, Dark Horse Coffee, Rancho’s, Bar Pink, San Diego CityBeat (RIP) offices and Saguaro’s have all made the neighborhood one-of-a-kind and worthy of two decade-bookending profiles in the New York Times. That said, it’s nearly impossible to find lunch there for under $10, and now we have shit like the offensively-named waffle place, BBW, and Holy Matcha, which doesn’t accept cash (a practice that should be illegal). This is all to say: please support Saguaro’s so it doesn’t turn into a flip-your-own-pancake bar or something.
Big Bay Boom bungled! (2012)
There has been nothing more punk rock than the 2012 Big Bay Boom, when all the fireworks went off at once. I’ve always complained that firework shows are too formulaic, and dreamed of seeing them all go off at once. And then we did. And it was awesome.
Carl DeMaio's failed political campaigns (2012-2018)
Ahhh... the failed efforts of political hack/boiled rat Carl DeMaio have brought me nothing but joy during the past decade, and given that he has the tenacity of a sad punching clown, I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities to see him fail. His awfulness stems not just from telling any lie that will forward his agenda—he’s a politician, after all—but appealing to the basest desires of rich America to get his way. Isn’t public transportation awful? Labor unions are evil! Gas is too expensive! Who’s going to fix the potholes? No one epitomizes the “old man yells at cloud” meme better than DeMaio. Here’s a quick run down of his failures:
Mayoral run (2012): Failed!
Congress (2014): Failed!
Gas Tax (2018): Failed!
Congress (2020): ???
2020 could turn out in DeMaio’s favor, but only because he’s running against fellow swamp goblins Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa, which may go down in history as the worst congressional election of all time. Goes to show that only in a kingdom of shit could Carl win.
This clip (2011)
SeaWorld stops orca shows (2016)
The only thing dispiriting about SeaWorld cancelling its orca shows is that it took so long to do it. I mean, did we really need an incendiary documentary like Blackfish to convince us that making animals perform for our amusement is bad for them? But logic and compassion eventually won out, and in 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Orca Protection and Safety Act, which banned the breeding of orcas, and prohibited circus-like entertainment shows. Thus far, SeaWorld seems to be doing just fine, and maybe exploitation isn’t the best business model after all?
San Diego kicking Chargers to the curb (2016)
Again, I have no love for the NFL, but San Diego’s refusal to fund a new stadium was much bigger than the joy it instilled in me and the 20-or-so other football haters who live in this city. The decision showed that San Diegans have the integrity to stand up to a sports franchise and say, “Your deal isn’t good.” It showed a city that refused to be held hostage by Dean Spanos. I know there are many people that are still very sad and angry about losing their team, but it’s rad to know that San Diegans have it in them to make the right decision, even if it’s difficult.
Bob Filner resigns (2013)
There was so much to love about Mayor Bob Filner. In a city that generally favors milquetoast politicians, Filner was a shot in the arm. He got things done quickly and effectively. he got the cars out of Plaza de Panama and removed the red light cameras from intersections. The dude was a Freedom Rider for chrissake. Yes, he was a little rough around the edges, but he was getting things done... right?
But turns out, even the most progressive ideals turn out to be pointless when you’re a monster.
Less than a year after his election, a number of women came forward with sickening stories about how Filner had violated them. He was a “hugger.” He forced his tongue down a volunteer’s throat. He grabbed his staffers. He put women in headlocks. Former City Councilmember Donna Frye said that Filner was not to be trusted when alone with women. Facing criminal charges and public and media scrutiny (CityBeat’s editor Dave Rolland was the first local journalist to call for Filner’s resignation, btw), Bob Filner resigned as mayor on August 23, 2013 and a great number of us rejoiced. Bye, Felicia.
In retrospect, the whole affair seemed like a prelude to the the #MeToo movement, and I think it’s something that we, as a city, can be incredibly proud of. We believed these women’s’ stories, and took their word against a powerful, respected, and progressive man. It wasn’t easy to get a force like Filner to resign—he was hard-headed and steadfast. And given the fact that politicians like Trump and Duncan Hunter have just started ignoring the basic tenets of personal responsibility, maybe Filner wouldn’t have resigned if it happened now. Now, that’s a chilling thought.
Bob Filner should also serve as a cautionary tale, and a reminder that if things seem too good to be true, then they probably are. We should always be skeptical of the men that we elect to power. I know there are a certain contingency of “bros” that will follow their candidate to the ends of the earth (I can’t tell you how many butthurt emails we got from disgruntled Filner bros after we called for his resignation), but if you remove the political alignment with a lot of these guys, all you have left is a power-hungry, sociopathic narcissist.
Good work on this one, San Diego. Here’s to another 10 years of being a strange and beautiful city. Love you.
THE ONLY CONCERT CALENDAR THAT MATTERS™
Wednesday, Nov. 27
OPTION 1: Jim Breuer @ The Observatory. I always wondered why Jim Breuer is never mentioned in the same breath as Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Will Farrell and other ‘90s SNL alumni. His Joe Pesci impressions were solid, and he pretty much defined stoner culture (or at least my pre-teen perception of it) with his starring role in Half Baked. Can’t say his Goat Boy impression has held up, but the ‘90s were a strange time and we laughed at a lot of stupid things back then.
OPTION 2: Booty Bassment @ The Whistle Stop. The family’s in town and no one has to go to work tomorrow. Go grind on someone (with their consent, of course) at San Diego’s most popular club nights outside of downtown. I have no doubt that this will get really sweaty.
Thursday, Nov. 28
ONLY OPTION: It’s Thanksgiving, you turkeys. Spend it with your family. Try to explain post-punk to them and report back to me.
Friday, Nov. 29
Morbid Angel, Watain, and Incantation @ Brick By Brick. Remember when Beavis and Butthead watched a Morbid Angel video and when the vocals came in, Butt-Head was like, “Whoa, is that a bear?” Now, it’s impossible to listen to any of the legendary death metal band’s songs and not picture a bear singing them.
Third Eye Blind, Smallpools @ Pechanga Resort (Temecula). I’ve been a long time Third Eye Blind apologist, and I think their debut album is solid from start to finish. But after their most recent tour with Jimmy Eat World, Jimmy’s drummer tweeted out “Stephan Jenkins is such a fucking creepy douchebag. (I feel so much better now).” I don’t know what he meant by that, but I stan Jimmy Eat World more than I do Third Eye Blind, so I was disappointed. Still, I’d go to this concert just to see them perform “God of Wine.”
Saturday, Nov. 30
Ten Bulls, Drug Hunt, Downers @ Soda Bar. Ten Bulls is an exciting new San Diego band that reminds me of The 1975 and Air, but darker and with a little more Radiohead-esque experimentalism thrown in. This is their album release show, and I can confirm that it’s great and chock-full of chill bangers.
Club Sabbat @ The Casbah. San Diego’s premiere goth dance night is always a great time. If you’ve ever watched goth rave scenes in ‘90s movies (Blade, The Matrix, etc) and thought “those don’t really exist,” well, they do and it’s Club Sabbat.
Sunday, Dec. 1
OPTION 1: Mikal Cronin, Shannon Lay @ The Casbah. Mikal Cronin has been making some of my favorite music over the past decade. His garage rock trades brashness for introspection, and his songs are a little more experimental than other lo-fi punkers, but what really sells me on Cronin is the bright-eyed earnestness he infuses into each of his songs. He just seems like a genuine dude, and I feel so much better after listening to him.
OPTION 2: The Skatalites, Unsteady @ Soda Bar. Only vocalist Doreen Shaffer remains of the legendary Jamaican ska band’s original lineup, but his presence alone should be enough to make all the rude boys and girls skank with happiness.
Monday, Dec. 2
OPTION 1: King Diamond, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Idle Hands @ The Magnolia (El Cajon). Shit. I had no idea that black metal godfather/Satanist extraordinaire King Diamond was coming to El Cajon until I sat down to write this. There may still be a few tickets, but it’ll likely sell out. If only there was a local media outlet that covered interesting music, then maybe we all would’ve known sooner.
OPTION 2: X, Los Straitjackets. X seems to play in San Diego at least once a year, but that’s not an excuse to skip out on these LA punk pioneers (even though Exene is now a Trumpian, conspiracy-theorist nutbag).
Tuesday, Dec. 3
ONLY OPTION: Angel Olsen, Vagabon @ The Observatory. Gahhh. Angel Olsen is awe inspiring—a rare artist who challenges herself with each new release. On this year’s All Mirrors, Olsen incorporated a string section on her songs, and the result is goddamn gorgeous. No need to see any other shows tonight.
Sometimes I’ll review albums, movies, or books in this newsletter because listen assholes I am a SERIOUS JOURNALIST lest you forget, and I am about to dose out seriousness and journalistness, and you're going to like it.
Deep Sea Thunder Beast, Scales
There’s a quote from the famous, reclusive horror author Thomas Ligotti I like to bring up when people ask me why I like horror:
Clearly we… want to know the worst, both about ourselves and the world. The oldest, possibly the only theme is that of forbidden knowledge. And no forbidden knowledge ever consoled its possessor… It is particularly forbidden because the mere possibility of such knowledge introduces a monstrous and perverse temptation to trade the quiet pleasures of mundane existence for the bright lights of alienage, doom, and, in some rare cases, eternal damnation.
Even though Ligotti was talking about horror literature, he might as well be talking about the music of San Diego’s Deep Sea Thunder Beast. It’s scary, to say the least, but not in the same way as the theatrical horror of most metal bands. They write the kind of music that feels ancient and forbidden, like some eldritch horror somehow got control of a recording studio, and this is what it produced.
Deep Sea Thunder Beast’s new album Scales is a gut punch, figuratively and literally. The sludge metal trio’s low-end chugs along so brutally that it’s hard not to feel a little unsettled, physically, while listening to it. Songs like the album’s closer “Uncreator” (such a good song title)—with it’s monstrous toms and galloping guitar—have the same effect as the first drop of a roller coaster. “Deserve Nothing” is so heavy and delightfully punishing that it veers into doom territory.
But as scary, primal and loud as Deep Sea Thunder Beast gets, Scales never loses—and this will sound super unmetal of me—its groove. Stripped of their heaviness, these are classic rock ‘n’ roll songs at heart. Even the song “Tedious and Brief” even has a slight blues edge to it.
Not sure if Ligotti is into metal, but I’m pretty sure Deep Sea Thunder Beast possess the “bright lights of eternal damnation” that he’s looking for.