Our top news picks of the year

January 1, 2012

Picking the top CalCoastNews stories of 2011 is no easy chore, but fortunately we have our readers to help with the selections. And while the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, it helps to know which stories have been most visited by our ever-growing audience.

Here, then, are the editors’ picks of the most important, most interesting, and most read articles among CalCoastNews’ daily offering of unique news — the kind of reporting you won’t find anywhere else.

John Ryan Mason

SLO firefighter brawl sparked by affair allegations

When a local firefighter beat a man unconscious in a bathroom at Pappy McGregor’s in San Luis Obispo, it marked a conclusion, of sorts, to an eight-month rift stemming from claims the firefighter was having an affair with another city employee’s wife. And when SLO cops waited five days to arrest the suspect, John Ryan Mason, community members suspected a cover-up.

Sex and the Los Osos sewer

News of an ongoing affair between Paavo Ogren, San Luis Obispo County Public Works Director, and Maria Kelly, vice president of the Los Osos Community Services District, created a buzz that the pair had been conspiring to help push through a $200 million sewer project and to keep Ogren out of trouble for prior acts.

Hurst Financial president charged with defrauding investors

James Hurst Miller, the hard money lender who staked Kelly Gearhart to many of the controversial developer’s more questionable endeavors was targeted by federal authorities for fraud and money laundering. He awaits sentencing as investigators probe his  business dealings. A 2008 CalCoastNews’ investigation revealed Miller and Gearhart swindled some 1,200 investors out of more than $100 million.

CalCoastNews editor George Ramos dies at 63

George Ramos

Veteran journalist George Ramos, 63, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times journalist, Cal Poly journalism department chair and CalCoastNews editor, was found dead in his home July 23.  Police officers found Ramos’ body in a hallway of his Morro Bay home Saturday after CalCoastNews investigative reporter Karen Velie insisted they break into the home and check on his well-being.

No such thing as a free lunch?

After the children of Chris Adams, a well-paid San Luis Obispo County school district superintendent, were signed up for a federal free lunch program, details emerged of a widespread scheme by many school officials to increase federal funding by inflating estimates of poverty-level student numbers on program applications. County Superintendent of Schools Julian Crocker suggested a “proxy” search for impoverished students is the reason Adams’ wife would fill out a lunch form.

Attorney General asked to weigh in on judges’ $235,000 benefits

San Luis Obispo County judges give themselves perks that total more than $235,000 a the year, to go with individual average salaries of $178,789. After getting control of the local state court budget, judges in San Luis Obispo County began voting themselves perks without complying with existing laws and regulations. Their perks are among the most generous in the state.

Cal Poly administrators working to divorce the state

Cal Poly Provost Robert Koob said university officials are discussing a change to its affiliation with the CSU system. Koob made his privatizationcomments at a Retired Faculty Association luncheon, and the university almost immediately issued a denial. The proposal, Cal Poly’s response to cuts in state funding, coincides with statements made by President Jeffrey Armstrong that the university needs to look to new models to raise money for its operations.

Jeff Lind

SLO ad exec arrested for threatening an officer

A prominent ad executive from San Luis Obispo, Jeffery Lind, was charged in a flurry of felony charges allegedly threatening a police officer, a charge eventually debunked by video tape of the incident. Lind and Tom Murphy, of Nipomo, still face charges in Santa Barbara courts for allegedly filing false documents with the court.

Aggressive marijuana busts prompt protests

As federal drug enforcement authorities step up their local pursuit of medical cannabis patients,marijuana advocates protected the “aggressive and uncalled for raids” on local cannabis delivery services. At least six agencies and 50 agents participated in the investigation and arrests of 15 people in late 2010. That raid appeared to be based on an interpretation of state law – specifically that everyone in a collective must be actively participating in the cultivation of the plants.

The year’s top opinion piece

An Open Letter to the SLO City Council and the Citizens For SLO By ROB FARINO

And in second place…

Angry white people By STACEY WARDE

Top photo gallery

Paso Robles Wine festival, event photos

The next best…

Fall Frenzy at the Pozo Saloon, event photos

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I’ve been auto-paying via PayPal $10 a month for some time now, and I will continue to do so throughout 2012. This is the most I’ve paid for news, and is by far the best value I’ve ever had. Thank you CCN for providing NEWS: good, bad or ugly – just keep digging for the truth. It’s better than fiction.

Keep up the good work Karen. Your stories are getting alot of exposure. And you are certainly THE VOICE for the central valley. Shame on the other news reporters with other papers and news stations who DON”T print what you print because they are afraid of a backlash or have personal and political reasons for “staying away from certain stories” Kudos to you!

I like to think of top stories as those with legs, one which potentially have far-reaching consequences, a nexus with regional, state, national or international issues, the potential to shake up the status quo, the potential to stimulate positive political or social change.

I can see a little of that in most of the above stories, but I suspect a few have generated more prurient than intellectual interest. Such as the Mason story, which is tragic and stupid above all else, and perhaps more than anything its timing contributed to the defeat of binding arbitration at the polls (not that the ballot issue needed any more contributions. . .)

Wait a minute! Where is the heading of top news reporter of the year???!!!

“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Karen Velie!”

We can only assume that the County Court House employees shudder as she walks into the record’s department, all the while knowing that Karen is there for yet another ground-breaking article for CCN. Is it about someone they know, they ponder, or is it about a rumor that they’ve heard? Nonetheless, we can be assured that what she reports is based upon actual FACTS!

Ah, but Karen’s skills and her modus operandi in investigative reporting takes no prisoners, and sometimes where assertions and hearsay are good enough for her cohort reporting alumni, it’s NOT good of enough for our rendition of “Wonderwoman”, aka, Miss Karen Velie!

Is the Tribune or New Times still reporting?

It would be nice if the CURRENT status of the above stories was known .

For all those people who find it more convenient to bother you with their question rather than google it for themselves. lmgtfy

Hey, that’s a handy link! Do you have one to look up Justin Beiber?

(lol, just kidding–I have that bookmarked)

I GOOGLED the Mason story and could not find a trial date.

Or much other follow up on the above stories.

My concern is that they get UNCOVERED on CalCoastNews and NOTHING happens from there.

And BTW the zaphod’s screen name/link shows a couple of the most exquisite beautiful felines!

Ted, I implore you: DO NOT GOOGLE “Santorum” !

Your Bible just might burst into flames while held in your hands !

Perhaps there hasn’t been any change in the above stories, so there is nothing “new” to report?

I think it is more of a case from becoming “UNCOVERED” to “COVERED UP”…. again!

Our top news reporter pick of the year,

Karen Velie….!!!!!

Why do some many readers dislike Karen. Like it or not she exposes many of the wrong doings in this county. She is doing more public good than all of the so called checks and balances that are supposed to prevent the many scandals that are exposed by Cal Coast News.

Makes me wonder if the corrupt people in this county are regularly checking Cal Coast News to see if they have been exposed yet. Either that or some yahoo is gaming the count.

Keep of the good work Karen, I am pleased to know that the Cal Coast News team is not afraid of taking on the power few. Cal Coast News would not exists if the “Established Media” did their jobs with integrity and the value of the “Free Press” that they have sacrificed in the pursuit of corporate greed, cowardliness and the almighty advertising dollar!

Is John Ryan Mason ever going to be prosecuted?

I sure hope that John Ryan Mason’s VICTIM has hired the James McKiernan Law Firm! He’ll get justice for the victim.

Say, are you sleeping with McKiernan or what? To my recollection, you promote him quite a bit.

Why don’t you GOOGLE it like I was told to do.