Writer’s Rant: ‘Beacon’ Article on Peninsula Planners Does a Disservice to Readers

by on December 10, 2018 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

There are many, many ways to get the news today.  There was a time when there were only a few: basicically three network TV news programs, radio where the news was a part of music programming, and print, mainly newspapers.  And, people had faith in the news, misplaced perhaps at times but not always.  Now, the news comes at us from everywhere and we don’t know what to trust.  But the importance of small, local news disseminators like the OB Rag and the Peninsula Beacon has never changed.  We want to know about the world but, really, our own world around us matters most.

Local papers like the Beacon and The Rag focus just on our world within OB and Point Loma and provide information we need for our day to day world.  One would hope that these small news organizations would bring us the basic information, the who, what, when, where, and how of journalism, without an agenda.  But, sadly, that is not always the case.

As some of you may be aware, the OB Rag carries a story each month on the Peninsula, Ocean Beach, and Midway-Pacific Community Planning Board meetings.  Editordude wanted this coverage to keep folks informed about these organizations that not many people know about – but should.  This reporter covers the PCPB and the Midway-Pacific meetings.  A certain reporter from the Beacon attends these same meetings and writes stories for the Beacon.  The difference in the coverage was so extreme in the last two months that it seemed important to note because people who only read the Beacon are not being well served.

The Rag has a point of view, no argument there, and so does this reporter.  This reporter also has a journalism degree that was never used as a professional journalist, but the lessons did sink in.  The Rag stories may have opinions or commentary in them, but the planning board stories also attempt to accurately tell the story of the meeting, providing the five points of a good story, who, what, when, where, and why.  If you provide that, you are providing a service, you are showing people who did not attend the meeting what happened as accurately as possible. The Beacon stories about these meetings are not providing that service, they are being manipulative.

The Beacon story about the PCPB’s October meeting was headlined “Peninsula planners discuss future of North Chapel.”  This title caught the eye immediately because the North Chapel issue was not on the PCPB agenda and was only briefly mentioned at the meeting.  A man got up during non-agenda public comment, with two minutes to speak, and updated people on the effort to preserve the chapel. There was a very brief discussion and the meeting moved on for another hour and a half.  Putting such a briefly discussed item into the story title did not make sense until one read the article and saw that 75% of the Beacon article was about the chapel.

The main issue on the agenda at the October meeting was the controversy over the open piece of land on Famosa across from Cleator Park. Only 12% of this story was about that issue, one that arguably affects far more people than does the chapel. A comment was made to this effect in the comment section of the on-line Beacon, asking why the story focused so heavily on the North Chapel.  No response was ever provided.

The Beacon reporter attended the PCPB’s November meeting.  A review of the Beacon stories found only one story, dated November 23, titled “Peninsula Community Planning Board member resigns, files complaint.”  At first, this appeared to be another badly titled article.  Near the end of the November meeting, Robert Goldyn, the PCPB chair, gave his report and in that report, he simply stated that board member Margaret Virissimo resigned.  The board then discussed how the vacant seat would be filled.  Since the yearly elections are in March, the PCPB decided to wait until then to elect a person to fill out Virissimo’s term. That was all of the time that was devoted to the resignation.

The Beacon story was only about the resignation and it provided no other information about what happened at the meeting.  The article was a completely one-sided presentation of the member’s resignation that left one with the impression that Virissimo was unfairly treated.  The writer did not provide a single quotation from the board about the resignation other than to explain how they intend to fill the seat. The quotations provided did not come from any documentation that was presented at the meeting.

Because Virissimo chose to resign, there was no need for a public discussion or to make the complaint documents, or her response, public. Yet the Beacon story contained this:

“I am being forced to resign my position as a 2018 PCPB board member effective immediately,” said Margaret Virissimo in a recent letter to the board.

“This voluntary resignation is the result of repetitive harassment from a few volatile community members, and a few board members including the chair.”

“I am now receiving concerning slandering messages and petty accusations that make me feel unsafe on this board,” she added.

In her letter, Virissimo said she has filed a complaint with the City against this board “for not respecting my privacy rights as a citizen,” and against chair Goldyn alleging “his agenda to expel me from this board.”

There is not one bit of truth in these quotations, yet the Beacon published them without question. The only way the Beacon writer could have obtained the letter was to have gotten it from Virissimo.  There is nothing in the article to show that the Beacon gave the board a chance to explain what happened or respond to Virissimo’s accusations.  As if that was not enough, the writer went on to explain that Virissimo lobbied against the Prince Recycling Center next to Stumps and that she and others were leading an effort to oppose the proposed housing at the open space on Famosa across from Cleator Park.

By the time a reader is finished, it looks like a wonderful community leader was run off the planning board by a bunch of conspirators.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Two community members – not board members –  filed a lengthy complaint against Virissimo because she had exhibited public behavior that was abusive to them and others. The complaint and the response had not been made public, as a courtesy, but Virissimo’s attacks on the PCPB in public media, as seen in this article, resulted in a release of the documents.

The complaint included a charge that Virissimo had lied on her election application to the planning board by stating she had a bachelor’s degree in Radio Communications with a minor in journalism from San Diego State.  SDSU does not have a degree in radio communications.  Her application also stated “continued Finance Courses.”  There is no record of her ever attending SDSU.

Her response, when she had a chance to answer the charge at a meeting with the PCPB, was “Due to personal reasons, MV had previously made her records private. This is likely why the complainant was unable to locate or uncover evidence of her degree. MV stated she does have a degree and can provide evidence of such if needed.”  Virissimo did not bring proof of the degree or anything to document making her records private to the meeting to substantiate her claim of having a degree.

Virissimo also put on her application that she had a charity that later proved to be a Facebook page with no action for several years and her “charity” was not a registered non-profit with the state.  Her response to this was: “San Diego Charity Visionaries is not a formal non-profit; it does not have a 501c3 designation. This is a charity / volunteer organization created by MV and all profits are donated.” In other words, it did not exist.

This reporter filed a formal complaint against Virissimo for her actions during the 2018 March PCPB election.  At that time, she sent out an email to the public telling them not to vote for three current board members running for re-election along with this reporter claiming all four were opposed to moving the Prince Recycling Center.  That was a lie, none of the four had taken that position.  Virissimo signed the email as the PCPB Board Secretary, making it look like it came from the board.  She offered four other candidates for people to vote for instead.

The PCPB by-laws specifically prohibit promoting slates of candidates for the elections.  Virissimo knew this because she was informed about it during the March 2017 election she was running in when she posted a slate on public media.  She removed that post when so informed.

During the PCPB’s March 2018 Candidate Forum, the PCPB election committee chairman reiterated that slates were not allowed.  Virissimo was sitting only a few feet away yet she went ahead and wrote her email a few days later despite hearing that what she did was prohibited, twice.

Virissimo’s accusation that she was forced to resign is not true.  She resigned because she knew she could not defend herself against the charges in the complaint and she did not want any of it to be brought out for public discussion. Her claim that she was receiving slandering messages and felt unsafe is not true.  She provided nothing to substantiate the “slandering messages” and her claim that she felt “unsafe” was pure fiction.

Virissimo’s accusation that she was being harassed by members of the public and the board is not true.  She has never provided anything to substantiate that claim.  In fact, the PCPB bent over backward to handle the complaint in a professional manner consulting with the city every step of the way and giving Virissimo every opportunity to defend herself.

Her accusation that her privacy rights were violated is not true and she has nothing to back that up.  Her claim that the PCPB chair had an agenda to expel her is also not true.  Had that been true, they would have acted on this reporter’s complaint about the election that they decided not to pursue.  It was pointed out that not pursuing it would simply embolden Virissimo into thinking she could do whatever she wanted to do, which resulted in the complaint filed by the two community members many months later.

So, the Beacon’s article was a disservice to the community for two reasons.

First, it provided a biased, one-sided picture of the Virissimo resignation letting her air more of her unsubstantiated accusations without challenge.

Second, it provided the readers no information about what happened at the meeting.  If you read The Rag story about this meeting, you will get an accurate picture of what occurred.  The issue that The Rag article focused on, the proliferation of granny flats, was something that affects far more people than does the resignation of one member who self-imploded. It is obvious now that in order to get accurate news, at least about the planning board meetings, The OB Rag is the place to go.  And, articles in the Beacon should be read with this in mind.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie December 11, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Did you know the “Beacon” was originally an OB newspaper? It was published by a couple of guys who worked on it out of the back of OB’s used-book store on Cable, near Newport Ave. Eventually, the surviving partner of the business sold it.


OBBob December 14, 2018 at 8:44 am

It’s unfortunate that this happens, but it is something that the rag is oh so guilty of. Well right is right, and wrong is wrong. Maybe the rag should start reporting both sides of the story? Wouldn’t that be the correct and fair thing to do? You can’t have your cake and eat it too…


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