Stories That Made a Difference

And some we regret

Through it all, Broadwater refused to answer our phone calls but routinely referred to the Weekly as a "sex paper." In May 2003, 700 residents showed up at a City Council meeting to denounce his plan. On July 2 of that year, the council unanimously voted it down. Later that year, Broadwater was re-elected mayor but last year lost his race to join the Orange County Board of Supervisors. He's retired from politics.

KALI P. CHAUDHURI
"Dire Prognosis" by John Underwood, Dec. 3, 2004
When this article appeared, Dr. Kali P. Chaudhuri, a Bombay-raised physician cum hostile hospital-takeover artist, stood ready to purchase four Orange County hospitals. The sale had local doctors frantic: Chaudhuri had a well-known record of buying Southland clinics and then shuttering them—to increase his corporate earnings, critics said. Thanks to this article, state Senator Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove) held hearings to examine Chaudhuri's business practices. Those hearings forced Chaudhuri to back out of Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc. (IHHI), the company set to purchase the hospitals. Although he retains the right to repurchase more than 70 million shares (about 20 percent) of the company's stock, Chaudhuri says he wasn't involved in the company's recent lawsuit against Dr. Michael Fitzgibbons, one of the doctors who criticized Chaudhuri during the Dunn hearings. Fitzgibbons' attorney says the lawsuit is retaliation. Stay tuned.

EL TORO AIRPORT
"Kill An Airport, Save Some Cash" by Anthony Pignataro, Jan. 24, 1997

Photo by Myles Robinson
"Residents of Yorba Linda, Orange, Santa Ana, Lemon Heights, Tustin, Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo fear the proposed El Toro International Airport with good reason: community property values around LAX crashed faster in the mid-1950s than Valujet."

So began reporter Anthony Pignataro's "El Toro Airport Watch," the first in a series of 164, not including several cover stories and longer news features. The first column provided readers with the address of the county tax assessor and instructions on how they could lower their taxes because of the county's plan to soar commercial aircraft over their back yards. The first 50 columns were compiled in a booklet that was used as a premium for members of Project 99, the most important grassroots organization in the anti-airport movement. According to Irvine Mayor Larry Agran's foreword to that book, Pignataro's articles "provided the best, most incisive and uncompromising coverage of the airport issue."

It wouldn't be a stretch to say they played a major role in steering county voters to overwhelmingly pass Measure W and kill the airport on March 2, 2002. If Pignataro hadn't fled to Hawaii to edit Maui Time Weekly the following year, by now he might also have killed the Great Park—Agran's Orwellian replacement for El Toro.

POOP PIPE
"Poop Chute" by Dave Wielenga, March 16, 2001

This story was the first nugget in what became a steady flow of fecally focused coverage of the Orange County Sanitation District's efforts to dump shit in local surf spots. The district (OCSD for short) had operated under a federal waiver allowing it to pump 240 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the ocean each day. Wielenga's coverage inspired Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove) to propose legislation that forced OCSD to abandon the waiver. In one particularly testy exchange with activists at the district's headquarters, district chief Blake Anderson told Wielenga that the Weekly was responsible for what was sure to come: a massive rate hike. Later, OCSD claimed the cost of treating the wastewater justified increasing the rates paid by local residents. Wielenga revealed the rate increase was actually slated to pay for OCSD infrastructure, not sewage treatment.

CHURCH NAZI
"Hour of White Power" by Stan Brin, Feb. 15, 2002

Photo by Jack Gould
Brin revealed that Bob Baker, a three-time guest lecturer at Rev. Robert Schuller's pastor's conference and head of Christians and Muslims for Peace (CAMP), also had strong ties to the neo-Nazi Populist Party. Actually, "strong ties" would be an understatement: Baker had been the party's national chairman. The Populist Party, Brin wrote, was founded by Willis Carto, "dean of American neo-Nazi politics." Among other things, the group's platform called for the repeal of U.S. civil-rights laws. Three months after the Weekly published Brin's story, Schuller's people fired Baker, who called Brin's coverage "insulting and outrageous lies." To this day, Baker continues to boast of his Nobel Peace Prize nomination but doesn't tend to mention that anybody can nominate himself for a Nobel Peace Prize, that even Henry Kissinger can win one.

SHANTAE MOLINA
"I . . . Shot My Son" by R. Scott Moxley, July 14, 2000

Photo by Jack Gould
Police arrested Shantae Molina, a 20-year-old Laguna Niguel mother, for the gruesome murder of her 8-month-old son. Mainstream media coverage of the case—already intense—peaked when Orange County Sheriff's Deputy David Guest claimed under oath at a preliminary hearing that Molina had fired a point-blank shot into the child's head. The mother said she fired the gun accidentally after she had been spooked by a noise outside a window in her house, which sits in a neighborhood that had been recently victimized by a series of burglaries. Prosecutors didn't buy it. They declared she'd "executed" her son, announced they'd seek the death penalty and began a massive publicity campaign around the case.

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