Local gossip site CalCoastNews attempted to make the case that their publisher Karen Velie was once again the victim of a conspiracy spearheaded by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo. Like most of their “Uncovered SLO” reporting, CalCoastNews offered no evidence to substantiate their claims, but the details they did provide were sordid. According to authors Josh Friedman and co-publisher Dan Blackburn, Velie’s grandchildren were forced to spend Thanksgiving in foster homes after they were removed by child protective services.
The mother of those children, Velie’s daughter Cristen Powers, claimed that the children were taken into custody after police arrived at her residence on July 18. Powers claimed she returned home to find her roommates having an argument. Even though the police were called and no report was filed, the article states that police were called. Though no report was filed because no crime was committed, San Luis Obispo County Child Welfare Services removed the three grandchildren from the residence because the house was allegedly “dirty.” According to CalCoastNews, Powers was unable to get her children returned to her because CAPSLO allegedly diagnosed her as “bipolar” and expressed concerns that she was “depressed.” Velie was unable to gain custody of the children allegedly because of her August 31 arrest and her occupation as a journalist. Velie was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. At the time, CalCoastNews blamed County officials for orchestrating her arrest.
In observing confidentiality, San Luis Obispo County Child Welfare Services has declined to comment.
CalCoastNews spoke to former CAPSLO employee Estella Bonds, who stated that the agency’s homeless services director, Dee Torres, “often contacted Child Welfare to report child abuse, sometimes doing so in a retaliatory manner. Some of those contacts resulted in permanent separations of families and eventual adoptions.”However, CalCoastNews has not offered any evidence to indicate that Torres was involved in Velie’s grandchildren being taken into custody. CalCoastNews stated that they were investigating alleged misconduct by Child Welfare workers who worked on behalf of CAPSLO; they strongly implied that Velie’s grandchildren were victims of a retaliatory effort by CAPSLO for their investigation. Then they mentioned District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill, strongly insinuating that he was complicit in the domestic case involving Velie’s grandchildren. However, none of the assertions could be independently verified and CalCoastNews has repeatedly refused to provide evidence for independent review.
CalCoastNews has repeatedly glorified their troubles involving CAPSLO as part of their “Keeping Them Homeless” series and sought donations for their reporting. The website has struggled for credibility and readership after The ROCK and New Times uncovered irregularities, exaggerations and falsehoods in their reporting. CalCoastNews has been the subject of a handful of defamation lawsuits by subjects of their investigations. Despite growing criticism from the community, KVEC 92.0 radio host and former CalCoastNews Contributing Editor Dave Congalton has promoted the site extensively. Callers, who are critical of CalCoastNews’ reporting, have been screened and disconnected from his show. Likewise, CalCoastNews has repeatedly eliminated sharply worded and thorough dissent from their website. Despite their repeated claim that the media has refused to cover their exclusives, CalCoastNews’ reporters have consistently refused to cooperate with local media sources and offer more details into their bombshell claims. CalCoastNews was supplied corrections and demands for retractions, but they refused to update and modify their stories for accuracy and clarity.
CalCoastNews is no stranger to using children as a conduit for their reporting. Earlier this year, CalCoastNews and Velie revealed the names of Torres’ children as it pertained to their reporting of a domestic violence dispute between Torres and her ex-partner Ralph Almirol. At the time initial reports of the domestic despite between Torres and Almirol were published, CalCoastNews’ Editor Bill Loving told Congalton that he would depose Torres’ children to testify should there be a criminal investigation into Torres allegedly stealing gift cards that were donated to homeless services. The ROCK learned that Almirol, who was previously arrested for assaulting Torres, was using CalCoastNews as a way to regain custody of the daughter he had with her, and that CalCoastNews was aware of that tactic. CalCoastNews initially refused to disclose Almirol’s criminal background.
CalCoastNews was also involved in dispute between former Los Osos Community Services Director Maria Kelly and her ex-husband Shaun Kelly. Mr. Kelly approached CalCoastNews with allegations involving his children’s alleged drug use in hopes that he would gain full custody of his children. CalCoastNews published the accusations that portrayed the children as drug users; that their drug usage was enabled by Kelly’s boyfriend, SLO County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren. Though they vowed to continue their investigation into the accusations, CalCoastNews never revisited them.
Throughout their investigations, CalCoastNews has been largely unsuccessful in verifying their accusations, even though they claim independent investigations by state and federal agencies were launched because of their reporting. Despite their shortfalls, CalCoastNews continues to rally their anonymous, bombastic fanbase and launch repeated attempts to elevate themselves in the minds of socially and politically minded residents.
CalCoastNews e-mails their articles to thousands of local readers. Readers regularly comment on CalCoastNews, issuing anonymously penned threats against the targets. As a result of their reporting, CalCoastNews has incited threats of violence and intimidation against critics and targets alike. The site has created a factional environment in San Luis Obispo County, dividing residents between the libertarian-minded, anti-corruption crusaders and weary local officials whose lives and reputations are turned upside down.