My investigations focus on major public policy issues to help people and create change.

Affordable housing can cost $1 million per apartment to build in California

Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2020

California has a deep shortage of available housing, particularly for low-income families. One major challenge to fixing the problem is that it’s more expensive to build affordable housing than anywhere else in the country.

We found one project that cost more than $1 million per apartment to build and showed that decisions made by the state government and cities were the key drivers of why it’s more costly in California than elsewhere.

The story:

California homeowners get to pass low property taxes to their kids. It’s proved highly profitable to an elite group

Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2018

Every year, tens of thousands of heirs across California not only inherit their parents’ homes, but also their parents’ low property tax bills.

This system, unique to California, has given substantial financial advantages to some of the state’s most prominent families at a cost of billions of dollars in revenue to cities, counties and schools. This investigation was the first detailed journalistic examination of this decades-old inheritance tax break and it found that inheritors don’t need to live in their parents’ homes to receive the benefits — or even in California. We found that in Los Angeles and a dozen other coastal counties, adult children were predominantly using their parents’ properties as rentals or second homes.

The story:

California lawmakers have tried for 50 years to fix the state’s housing crisis. Here’s why they’ve failed

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2017

California has some of the least affordable housing in the country — a problem driven by an extreme housing shortage. For decades, a state law aimed at increasing the housing supply has failed because it requires cities and counties to plan for homebuilding without any accountability for actual production. This story was the first comprehensive look at California’s housing supply law. It revealed local governments’ hatred toward the law — they’ve asked state legislators to count prison beds as low-income housing. It also showed how state lawmakers ignored the law’s weak accountability provisions, instead forcing more onerous and ineffective planning rules onto cities. Later in the year, the governor signed legislation that for the first time forced all cities to provide homebuilding data to the state and implemented penalties for cities where construction lagged growth targets — addressing two key problems that my story highlighted.

The story:

A Cross-Border Clash of the Titans

Voice of San Diego, February 10, 2015

This multi-part series focuses on José Susumo Azano Matsura, a wealthy and connected Mexican surveillance dealer accused of illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into San Diego campaigns and his seven-year fight with Fortune 500 company Sempra Energy. The dispute between Azano and Sempra resulted in numerous criminal investigations on both sides of the border into drug trafficking, bribery and extortion and reached the highest levels of the U.S. and Mexican governments. The series shows how pressure from federal law enforcement, spurred by Sempra, led to Azano’s downfall and raises significant questions about the company’s own activities in Mexico.

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Ave Maria: A Town Without a Vote

Naples Daily News, May 10-12, 2009

This three-part investigative series examined the town government of Ave Maria. The series revealed that Ave Maria’s developers, including the founder of Domino’s Pizza, wrote and lobbied for a state law that allowed them to control the government forever. The developers’ power, which had never been reported previously, so departed from prior Florida development law that it might be unconstitutional. The series took more than a year to report and write and included five substantial stories and numerous sidebars, graphics and videos. The series won first place in the 2009 Florida Press Club awards in government reporting and second place in in-depth reporting, first place in the 2010 Florida State News Editors awards in multimedia reporting and was a finalist for Governing magazine’s 2010 annual award for outstanding journalistic coverage of state and local government.

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