Eco Solutions Defeats CalCoastNews’ Anti-SLAPP Motion

Judge rules there’s sufficient evidence to support a “favorable judgment” against CCN

Judge rules there’s sufficient evidence to support a “favorable judgment” against CCN

San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman cleared the way on December 11 for Charles Tenborg, a respected member of California’s waste management community, to pursue his libel case against CalCoastNews and reporters, Karen Velie and Daniel Blackburn, according to a press release from Mr. Tenborg’s San Luis Obispo-based attorneys, Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP.

Judge Tangeman rejected in full the defendants’ motion to strike the complaint, determining that Mr. Tenborg had shown a “probability of prevailing” on his libel claims.

Mr. Tenborg, an environmental scientist, is the president and CEO of Eco Solutions, which provides waste management services for private and public sector clients, including the City of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County’s Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA). In November 2012, Mr. Tenborg’s attorneys stated that that the defendants published false and highly damaging statements about him and his company.

Although Mr. Tenborg and William Worrell, Manager of the IWMA and author of a college textbook on solid waste management, had spoken with CalCoastNews reporter Ms. Velie at length about the complex state and federal regulatory schemes governing the transport and disposal of hazardous waste, she nonetheless got numerous facts “flat-out wrong,” Mr. Tenborg said, and simply fabricated other statements, publishing them as if they were proven truths.

When Mr. Tenborg pointed out these errors in a December 2012 letter, Ms. Velie and her colleagues refused to publish a retraction. Making matters worse, according to Mr. Tenborg’s attorneys, after its publication, the CalCoastNews story was broadcast in full in a list-serv run by California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. This republication, the attorneys contend, made the false and defamatory content available to all state and local government employees who deal with hazardous waste, unfairly tarnishing Mr. Tenborg’s reputation before a substantial number of his colleagues and clients.

Mr. Tenborg felt forced to sue. “I could not sit idly by and watch my hard-earned reputation be destroyed by these falsehoods,” he said.

In response, CalCoastNews, Ms. Velie and Mr. Blackburn attempted to use California’s anti-SLAPP law to have the case thrown out of court. On December 11, 2013, the San Luis Obispo Superior Court squarely rejected this effort, ruling that Mr. Tenborg ”establish[ed] that his libel claim [was] legally sufficient and supported by sufficient admissible evidence to support judgment in his favor.”

In court filings, the defendants argued that even if the statements in their article were false, CalCoastNews was nevertheless allowed to report them because they “accurately” reflected statements government officials made at a public meeting more than three years earlier. In making this argument, defendants revealed for the first time that the source for some of the most damaging statements was former City employee Douglas Dowden, who claimed he overheard some of these alleged “facts” from others at a January 2010 meeting.

But sworn testimony provided to the court demonstrated that Mr. Dowden’s (and the defendants’) version of the facts was simply wrong. Others who attended the same meeting declared under oath in court filings that “no one remembered” these statements being made at the meeting and “nobody knew what to make of it.” The person to whom Mr. Dowden specifically attributed the allegations, testified: “I did not make these statements at the January … meeting, or anywhere else, ever.”

In a decisive seven-page ruling, Judge Tangeman wrote the “purpose of the fair reporting privilege is to protect free … expression related to the reporting of public proceedings.” Rejecting the defendants’ claims to the contrary, he noted the privilege only applies when the media fulfills its responsibility to ensure that what happened at a public meeting—“its very substance—is accurately conveyed.”

A licensed hazardous waste hauler, Eco Solutions has operated lawfully within California for many years. The IWMA, which contracts with Eco Solutions to provide related services, has received numerous awards for innovation in hazardous waste management, including Program Excellence Awards in 2011 from both the California EPA and the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association.

An Open Letter to Karen Velie

Smearing your enemies (without substantiation) amid this personal debacle serves only your historic agenda, and tells the world that you have priority issues while these three children go dirty and disheveled to school.

childBy PAUL EMBRY, Atascadero

I ask you to remember the story of Solomon and the two women who claimed to be the mother of one baby. Solomon suggested that they cut the baby in half, so that the women could split the benefit the baby brought. Only one of the women was satisfied with this arrangement and she, of course, was plainly not the actual mother because she thought of her own well-being before that of the child.

You must look to the children here, and only to the children.

It is they who are being harmed by the separation from their family, whether the removal was justified or not. The usurpation of the situation for leverage in your County /CAPSLO mud-feud is just another slimy stone on the sickening road you and your enemies have built. You are all responsible for the condition of the children at the moment, and instead of thinking of them you and your selfish, self-absorbed group have elected to take your troubles to the streets. Those of us who are not committed to either side ache only for these kids. Those of us who are familiar with CWS are astounded with your hubris, and wonder why, when the CWS nosed into OUR lives – justly or otherwise – it wasn’t news. No amount of bully pulpit invective, whether published on a blog masquerading as a newspaper or broadcast countywide on the local Winchell’s AM Radio segment, is going to help the kids. Claims of conspiracy or collusion will keep your name on people’s lips even as depression and lactose ruin the kids. Smearing your enemies (without substantiation) amid this personal debacle serves only your historic agenda, and tells the world that you have priority issues while these three children go dirty and disheveled to school and reap derision and bullying from their classmates.

Bringing this mess before the general public creates sympathy for you and the kids, yes, but the least amount of forethought from the viewpoint of the children would’ve made you consider that you’ve just given motivation and ammunition to those schoolmates who are teasing and bullying them. Your self-serving nature has outed you and you should be ashamed.

For the sake of your grandchildren I will offer you some advice, but first I will tell you why I think I’m qualified to do so.

The existence of my daughter was announced to me by a CWS social worker, who also informed me that they had taken the child from her mother at birth. For the better part of a year I lived the action plans, classes, unwarranted drug testing, surprise inspections of my home, and all manner of inconvenience and indignity – all because I had committed, in the legalese of the machine, a “failure to protect” the child from the abuses of the mother. Never mind that Roe v. Wade says that what someone does with the baby inside them is nobody’s business; never mind that I had no documented drug or alcohol problem; never mind the lies lawyers and social workers told me. Never mind anything.

They had my child and they had all the power in the world.

I had no news outlet from which to raise the hue and cry; Dave Congalton did not postpone his gallstone surgery to lend me an hour and a half of his soapbox time. Additionally, I worked nights in a bar and lived in a rented room. My life was not adapted to the addition of a baby, and it was all common knowledge to the people at Social Services.

Eight months later, I was given a knowing nod from the judge who had just ordered my child into my custody and CWS out of my life. That nod said to me that she respected my handling of a terrible, terrible situation. I made sure that everyone in the courtroom heard me tell my one-year-old daughter that I don’t intend to buy her another “courtroom dress” until after she has passed the bar. I’m also certain that I’m a better father because of the things I learned complying with my action plan than I would’ve been without having done so.

I’m not saying this to aggrandize myself. I’m telling you why you should listen to me. Further, I have no love of CWS, CAPSLO, lawyers in general, or politicians in totality. If I have a bias in this whatsoever, it is the disdain I have for the blank spot where your blog’s ethics should be, and the fact that I think you must have been sick the day they taught journalism at journalism school.

To begin: I am personally acquainted with a grandmother who just last year was deemed unfit for placement on the grounds of a DUI conviction that had been adjudicated over a decade ago. So it is something that is done. It may or may not be a matter of policy, but it is certainly a matter which enjoys precedent, and thereby cannot be something “cooked-up” to be used solely against you. To claim otherwise is to convolute the process and harm the children.

You may truly believe that they are holding your job against you, but I suggest it is the way in which you do your job that rankles. Perhaps not the crusade itself, precisely, but possibly the fact that you’ve gone crazy, shining the light of the free press on all of the few detractors and left in darkness any who honestly praise and thank CAPSLO. It makes you look self-serving and – if not dishonest – ignorant of the tenets of your profession.

You may truly believe that the mention of the word “attorney” to your grandchild is the reason that your personal contact with them has been suspended, but I suggest it is the introduction of complex concepts and mature matters to young minds that are already distressed.

Confusion is not going to calm anyone, nor is confrontationalism. You should have been explaining to the kids that everything was going to be okay; that they should make the best of a bad situation in the knowledge that the situation won’t last forever. I’m betting that keeping your children up to speed on the hiring or firing of legal staff is not a policy invented just for you. Perhaps it promotes an adversarial feeling between the children and the temporary caregivers. Fool.

When you take to the airwaves and say “I just want to know how they can do this,” you’re not serving anyone’s needs. The switchboard will light up, and the craziness begins. Anyone at social services who might have been moved by sympathy for your kids will be too busy manning the siege engines to do anything else. A real reporter who had a similar question might check the Welfare and Institutions laws that regulate such bodies, as well as the civil, criminal and family codes which pertain to the removal of children and the processes thereafter. Such research, done in time, would’ve enabled your daughter to get her story before the judge in counterpoint to the claims against her; clued you all in to the subtleties of language used by social workers and lawyers and entitled you to any advantage such understanding may provide; removed the mystery surrounding the machinations and protocols of the CWS/Court experience; and provided insight into the rules and guidelines which apply to CWS caseworkers and foster-parents.

This way you could’ve fought wisely. Crowing willy-nilly about perfectly legal “injustices” you’ve suffered doesn’t help you reunite with the children; it merely illustrates that you neglected to fact check before speaking publicly.

You must realize that the Social Worker assigned to your case has great leeway in what she may permit or deny, and that it is his or her recommendations that carry the most weight with the judge. That is because the caseworker is employed to see beyond lie and performance in order to require (by way of the action plan) those things that are genuinely needed by the family – not only for reunification, but also for permanent resolution. It is their job to detect and ignore nonsense; they are the judge’s eyes and ears in your world. Everything they permit or deny must be justifiable and defensible, and if they have a reason to dislike you it’s because you gave them one.

Remember that this agency exists to deal primarily with the worst kind of people, people who will go to great lengths to conceal truths about themselves and their living situations. The caseworker who is not skeptical of everything is either new or not a very good one. If you’re going to allow your cronies to spill her name to the public and make all kinds of specious and scurrilous accusations against her, don’t be surprised when she tells the judge that you seem to be more willing to fight the process than to take the necessary steps for reunification. Don’t be surprised when the judge believes her, especially if she heard it with her own ears along with the rest of us.

You may also believe that your daughter failed her action plan because she couldn’t leave work for a doctor’s appointment, and that could indeed bear some part in it. It’s entirely more likely that some conversation surrounding the missed appointment reflected a continuing oppositional attitude toward the process. Nobody at CWS is going to tell the judge that the circumstances, which led the children into state custody, are changing (or are likely to change) when the principals are participating only grudgingly and seem still inclined to resistance.

These people have already determined that change is necessary in the home. The best thing you can do is maintain an earnest demeanor and ardently comply with their requirements. The caseworker is required to help in any number of ways once you turn the corner and embrace the reunification plan, but most people never figure that out. They, like you, would rather fight the system, inflate themselves, and leave the kids twisting in the wind.

Get a clue, lady, and help your daughter get her kids back. Foster care that is good is very good, and foster care that is bad is often incurable. I encourage you to forget all the craziness you’ve filled your life with and dedicate your time and intentions to your daughter and her re-unification plan. If you’ve a shred of humanity, you should already loathe yourself for the ways you’ve both marginalized and exacerbated the plight of your grandkids and hijacked sympathies intended for them to feed your own demons. Atone.

And the guy on the radio who offered the gift cards who you blew off? He was trying to eliminate any excuse a foster may have for forcing cow’s milk on the child. If the alternative to milk were free, what objection could be raised? He could drop those gift cards off at any social services office with the name of the child and a bit of written explanation and the issue of lactose intolerance would be solved. That this escaped you is representative of the situation as a whole.

Selfish, selfish woman.

Get off your high-horse and urge your daughter to comply. Gleefully. While she’s at it, she could try to get something out of the classes and counseling and therapy. It wouldn’t be such a crime to bring the kids back into a better home than the one they left, would it?

CalCoastNews Misfires Against Torres, Again

EDIT (4/20): An astute reader added that the CAPSLO budget for homeless services is estimated at $2-3 million, not $60 million as CalCoastNews claimed. Here is their 2012 audit.

CalCoastNews published a new article on Friday, April 19 titled, “San Luis Obispo’s homeless barred from services.” The article reignites the claim that some of the homeless are prohibited from utilizing Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO)’s services. Like the article they published nearly a year ago, which included similar accusations that were made by a non-credible source, CalCoastNews published a misleading article. Here are the claims CCN has made (in bold) with our corrections.

The homeless are required to follow a set of rules imposed under the tenure of Dee Torres, homeless services coordinator. If the homeless don’t follow the rules, they are suspended or barred from receiving help.

Torres is not solely responsible for managing and enforcing rules. The Prado Day Center is managed by Shawn Ison and the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter is managed by Della Wagner. Torres works with Ison and Wagner and collaborate on decisions regarding clients of CAPSLO’s homeless services.

Peggy Fowler, a former 20-year employee CAPSO’s homeless services, says the refusal to provide food to homeless barred from services is not only cruel, but also increases the likelihood someone will resort to stealing in order to eat. “Suspensions from homeless services are for violation of the rules which include throwing a cigarette butt on the ground or arriving five minutes early,” Fowler said. “I felt that making someone sleep in the dirt for failing to do a chore is wrong.”

The ROCK cannot independently verify Fowler’s subjective statements. As we reported previously, we looked into the nature of these allegations. “Throwing a cigarette butt on the ground” or “arriving five minutes early” are not grounds for suspension or banishment from homeless services, according to CAPSLO policies. Disciplinary action such as suspension and banishment require repeated and severe offenses, which we address below.

Taking food to homeless outside the Prado Day Center is prohibited because that circumvents the incentive for the homeless to enter case management. CalCoastNews didn’t cite the primary motivation behind these rules, which directly coincide with case management. Their goal is not, as CCN says, to “keep people homeless.” It’s the opposite. The goal is to encourage service recipients to be independent and not rely on services for an indeterminable amount of time. CAPSLO’s policies, which strongly push for client responsibility and independence, are commonplace among homeless shelters across the country.

The rules include a ban on giving food to homeless persons who have been suspended from the program, entering the Prado Day Center through the driveway on foot and failing to control the physical tics and other behaviors resulting from medical conditions or mental illnesses.

CalCoastNews omitted substance abuse as a reason clients are barred from homeless services. According to officials, Prado Day Center has a limited number of volunteers that assist in the shelter’s day-to-day operations, and they’re not trained to handle people with severe mental illness — those who exhibit a strong tendency to behave violently, thus posing a threat to other clients — and substance abusers. According to CAPSLO’s policies, clients who want to take advantage of CAPSLO’s homeless services must enroll in case management; clients going through case management must also be alcohol and drug-free. “Physical tics and other behaviors” do not accurately describe how one is disqualified from partaking in homeless services.

On 920 KVEC’s “Hometown Radio” with Dave Congalton, CalCoastNews’ writers have complained about how much funding CAPSLO receives compared to other homeless shelters and services. However, officials have repeatedly gone on the record to push for detox and mental health services, services that could help rehabilitate those who suffer from problematic mental and substance issues. These vital services require funding. Yet CalCoastNews has explicitly communicated their intent to deprive CAPSLO of funding — some of that would go toward helping those who would otherwise be barred from services.

If a homeless person fails to follow Torres’ rules, she bars them from receiving meals and a place to sleep and shower, according to the program’s rules and dozens of citations CCN staff have viewed. Many of those barred are refused services for months or years because they are unable to make it through a laborious readmission process Torres has put into place, Fowler said.

To date, CalCoastNews has not shown any of the “dozens” of citations from people barred from CAPSLO services. CalCoastNews doesn’t explain the “laborious readmission process” to readers, but states that Torres is the primary enforcer, which is inaccurate. The readmission process involves a drug test to show that the person seeking readmission is sober. Medical records and documentation must show that the person seeking readmission is no longer a danger to anyone else. Without evidence to substantiate her claims, Fowler’s statements are purely subjective and incendiary.

CalCoastNews have spoken to several ex-employees who The ROCK has verified were terminated from their positions at CAPSLO. CAPSLO policy prohibits disclosure of employment records, so the specific causes for their termination is not public knowledge. CalCoastNews has repeatedly declined to disclose their sources’ termination, which would provide objectivity and allow readers to question their sources. Similarly, CalCoastNews originally did not disclose that one of their sources, Ralph Almirol, physically abused Torres and had a criminal record that spanned nearly 20 years. The website has a long history with lack of transparency, non-disclosure and willful deprivation of context.

One rule strictly enforced by CAPSLO prohibits the homeless from coming within an eighth of a mile, or 660 feet, of the Prado Day Center between 4 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. and within an eighth of a mile of the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter between 7:00 a.m. and 5 p.m. Torres enforces the policy because her employees are afraid of the homeless, so she wants the homeless out of the area when employees are coming and going, [former employee Estella Bonds] said.

As we reported on February 18, CalCoastNews does not mention hours of operation for Prado Day Center, which would easily explain why CAPSLO prohibits homeless from entering the facility or loitering in the area. Prado Day Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. After the center closes, clients who need overnight shelter are sent by bus to the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter. The Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter operates exclusively during the evening hours and clients must vacate the premises by 7:30 a.m. The hours are readily available on the Friends of Prado Day Center and Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter websites. The claim made by Bonds is contrary to common sense.

The ROCK can confirm that corrections were e-mailed to CalCoastNews writers when they published these details previously, but they continue to publish misinformation.

In 2008, Torres’ boyfriend San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill became the founding chair of the Homeless Services Oversight Council, a group with a plan to end homelessness in 10 years by promoting a 200-bed shelter to be managed by Torres. Those staying at the shelter are to be required to give 50 to 70 percent of their income to case management allegedly to be used to get them into housing.

The comment is wildly misleading. Sources familiar with Homeless Services Oversight Council activities reported that Hill, who started dating Torres in mid-2011 (not 2008, as CCN suggested), has recused himself from CAPSLO-related agenda items. This is confirmed in board minutes, which are public record and readily available by request. The website claimed that Hill voted to “provide government funding to CAPSLO,” but public records show otherwise.

The proposed homeless shelter, which was originally slated to be built on South Higuera St., has hit a series of community and bureaucratic roadblocks. At this stage, there has been little discussion on who would be managing the shelter, assuming the shelter will be constructed. There is no documentation indicating that Torres would be managing the shelter.

Several law enforcement agencies are looking into allegations that those managing the required savings accounts have been misappropriating the funds.

Law enforcement officials deny that they are looking into allegations of misappropriation — allegations which originated from CalCoastNews, not the site’s sources. In mid-February, CalCoastNews co-founder Dan Blackburn called into Congalton’s show and announced that he notified the Office of the Attorney General of the allegations and would be receiving a statement from them in a matter of days. No statement by their office was made. The ROCK contacted the Office of the Attorney General for comment. Were were told by staffers that they received no communication from Blackburn or any other writers working for CalCoastNews.

Officials told The ROCK that CalCoastNews has not come forward with evidence to substantiate the misappropriation allegations, even though the site recently started to solicit donations under the guise that the allegations were already proven to be true.

CAPSLO's Dee Torres Sues Investigator, Others for Defamation

Dee Torres, Director of Homeless Services for the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), filed suit on March 21 against Atascadero-based private investigator Michael Brennler and as-yet-unnamed others for defamation.

Torres’ suit claims that in March Brennler “stated in a telephone conversation with [Torres’ former husband] Charles Barber that Plaintiff (Torres) has been stealing money from homeless clients at the homeless shelter and that the Plaintiff has stolen money from a homeless man named Cliff Anderson. These statements are and were false.”

The suit, filed by Torres’ attorney, Roy Ogden of San Luis Obispo, seeks damages exceeding $50,000 as well as punitive damages.

In addition to naming Brennler, a former mayor of Atascadero, the filing leaves open the later inclusion of additional still-unidentified defendants referred to as “Does 1 through 100.” Included in the “Does,” according to the complaint, are “radio broadcasting stations and individuals associated with those stations” as well as “an online news agencies and the individuals associated with those agencies” located in SLO County. Sources confirm that these unnamed radio station and online entities include KVEC and KVEC talk-radio host Dave Congalton, CalCoastNews and its primary owners Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn.

In seeking damages, the suit claims Torres “has been injured in her business (and) suffered injury to her reputation,” and that the defamation was “published by Defendants with malice, oppression and fraud.”

Defendants have 30 days from March 21 to respond to the complaint.

Judge Charles Crandall has ordered the first Case Management Conference for July 24 in SLO County Court.

The ROCK has learned that Brennler, who — we can confirm — was retained by CalCoastNews for his services. In their “Keeping Them Homeless” article series, CalCoastNews declined to mention the former mayor of Atascadero’s involvement with their publication. Private investigators are licensed by the state and registered in the California Department of Consumer Affairs database. Brennler is licensed (#23904) in the state database with the status “CLEAR,” meaning his license is valid. Though he has a valid license, sources close to Brennler were concerned with the ethics surrounding a private investigator being hired by a news site — especially involving a private investigator with a checkered past.

Mike Brennler
Mike Brennler

Brennler, a former San Luis Obispo police officer, also has a contentious past with law enforcement. Sources in local law enforcement mentioned that he was given the nickname “5150,” which is a reference to Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code. The section allows an officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person that is legally deemed to suffer from a mental disorder that makes them a danger to him or herself. The sources explained that Brennler, who exhibited an explosive temper in the office and often verbally assaulted department heads, was disciplined repeatedly by officials after they received several citizen complaints. The specifics of these complaints are sealed.

In a separate legal action, on March 27 Fresno-based attorney Gary Bethel of Littler Mendelson served a letter to several “former employees and possibly others making untrue and defamatory statements about CAPSLO and its employees” demanding retraction or revision of their previous statements. “What happens next,” the letter explains to recipients, “is to some extent up to those who are making these defamatory statements. If the persons making these statements seek to correct their previous erroneous statements, CAPSLO may choose not to seek to enforce its legal rights against them. If this unlawful crusade of defamatory statements and publications continues those involved will be held legally responsible to the full extent of the law.”

CalCoastNews subsequently posted the letter on their website. Velie stated on Congalton’s April 1 show that all the recipients are standing by the statements they made to the publication and told Congalton on April 1 that more people have come forward because of the letter by Bethel.

CalCoastNews Editor/Cal Poly Journalism professor Bill Loving and Publisher Velie appeared on KVEC’s Dave Congalton Show to discuss the lawsuit filed by Torres and the threats of legal action by CAPSLO’s legal representative. Loving defended CalCoastNews only by saying his “curiosity was satisfied” regarding the alleged multiple sources that Velie has accumulated throughout her investigation into homeless services. Loving — who Congalton referred to as an attorney — appeared fixated on the lawsuit’s discovery process. He reminded Congalton that discovery is a pre-trial phase which allows both parties to obtain evidence that is held by the opposing party.

Despite his claim that he graduated with a law degree from Texas, Loving is neither listed in the State Bar of Texas nor the State Bar of California databases. According to his bio on CalCoastNews, Loving graduated with a law degree at Southern Methodist University in 1991. It is illegal to impersonate an attorney if the impersonator does not carry a state bar license.

At one point, Loving told the former contributing editor to CalCoastNews that Torres’ children can be subpoenaed to testify since there were accusations that they used gift cards donated to CAPSLO. Loving also suggested filing a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit against CAPSLO and Torres. Loving was referring to a specific part of the RICO laws that help curb alleged abuses of the legal system by parties who utilize the courts as a weapon to retaliate against whistleblowers and victims. Loving did not mention that the parties involved in silencing the opinions of others must be tried and convicted for racketeering (18 U.S.C. § 1961). CalCoastNews has stated unequivocally that CAPSLO has misappropriated funds and Torres stole gift cards, but they have not publicly offered physical evidence other than hearsay and scans of documents from the Social Security Administration explaining the state of homeless man Cliff Anderson‘s account, which did not indicate misappropriation or theft by Torres or CAPSLO.

Velie revealed that there were e-mails, text messages made by people using the same Internet Protocol (IP) address but different names, aggressively communicating to CalCoastNews advertisers that their services and products would no longer be supported if they continued to support the website and their reporting on homeless services. Velie announced that CalCoastNews was going to file a lawsuit to obtain the IP addresses of those who complained to their advertisers. Previously, Velie — who The ROCK investigated for exaggerating and fabricating several articles on CalCoastNews — has claimed that District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill has bullied and threatened advertisers. The ROCK received e-mails from site advertisers, which showed Hill expressing his displeasure with CalCoastNews coverage, but there were no signs of threats and intimidation.

The Wild Imagination of Karen Velie

Karen Velie

Karen Velie is more than a reporter at CalCoastNews, the controversial local news site with a heavy emphasis on investigative reporting. She is the one who, in late 2007, took Senior Correspondent Dan Blackburn’s Uncovered SLO and turned it into a shining beacon of scandal. She’s uncovered exclusive after exclusive, which crowds the already packed site and generates a strong buzz of activity among those who feel disenfranchised by the “nanny state” government and public officials. Velie often positions herself as the boisterous, hard-nosed watchdog, unmoved by the frustrations of her adversaries.

On CalCoastNews, Velie describes herself in her bio as a “a professional journalist who has interviewed national figures such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett,” though ProQuest and Newsbank database search results indicate she’s never interviewed them. When she’s not writing stories on CalCoastNews, Velie operates and manages Ballot Press, an eBook publisher and distributor. Little is known about Velie’s professional background other than she was once a staff writer for New Times. During her tenure at New Times, Velie wrote traditional news articles, but clearly demonstrated a penchant for pomp and suspense. She wrote articles about local businesses for their “Strokes & Plugs,” specifically under the “Fast Facts” subhead.

But it was Velie’s articles on government corruption, incompetence and dystrophy that allowed readers to thoroughly empathize with the plight of affected individuals and groups. Her most ambitious article, “Atascadero Leaders Have Something to Hide,” from July 13, 2006, focused on allegations that Atascadero city officials forced residents Pat and Sue Gaughan to sell their property on El Camino Real — which was across the street from the Carlton Hotel — at a below-market price. This was the first time Velie wrote about North County developer Kelly Gearhart, who later became the subject of a four-part series on CalCoastNews in late 2010.

Readers submitted letters to the editor, complaining about Velie’s inaccuracies. San Luis Obispo resident Geraldine Jones wrote in her September 28, 2006 letter to New Times criticizing their “irresponsible journalistic disgrace” for publishing Velie’s September 21 cover story about Measure J. Jones was an opponent of Measure J. She accused Velie of “distorting, ignoring, concealing or dismissing concerns of Measure J opponents.” Jones speculated over Velie’s intentions, saying that Velie may “need to be enlightened because all she wanted to do was abuse her public trust as a ‘news’ reporter to transmit her own bias to the public as fact.” This pointed criticism would later haunt her tenure at CalCoastNews.

Later that year, Andrew Christie of the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter criticized Velie. In his November 2, 2006 letter to the editor in New Times, Christie ostracized Velie for alleging that Measure J opponents used “shifty” tactics and “shenanigans” of “dirty campaigns” that are “designed to misrepresent and misguide voters.” He told Velie, “It might be helpful if at some point in the story you mention what the alleged tactic actually was. This is a journalistic device that allows readers to judge for themselves.” At CalCoastNews, Velie’s articles often hinge on all shades of allegations. The evidence to substantiate the allegations is withheld, which deprives readers of additional context and specificity.

Eventually, there was acrimony between Velie and her employer.

It was December 2006. Velie sent a draft to Executive Editor Ryan Miller, which dug deeper into the miscellaneous scandals surrounding the Atascadero City Council. Sources close to Velie claimed Miller refused to let the article go to print because there were “numerous factual inaccuracies.” Miller opted to run a Christmas story instead (“Jesus: Then and Now,” December 21, 2006). Velie quit New Times shortly after Miller’s story was printed. She subsequently complained to close friend Dave Congalton about New Times’ gradual shift away from investigative journalism. Appearing unfazed, Miller later wrote on Congalton’s blog, “New Times is doing what it’s always done: covering stories that go uncovered in the mainstream media, and, yes, doing hard-hitting investigative and enterprise reporting.”

Recognizing that Velie was an unarguably galvanizing figure at New Times, Publisher Bob Rucker spoke to Velie and convinced her to stay. But when he found that Velie aired her grievances to Congalton — who, in turn, wrote a blog complaining about New Times — Rucker fired her. Since her departure from New Times, Velie has appeared regularly on “The Dave Congalton Show” on 92.0 KVEC since January 14, 2008.

After Velie left New Times to join Dan Blackburn, also a former NT staffer, at CalCoastNews, NT Shredder  openly expressed concern about her in a May 13, 2009 op-ed about allegations swirling around the relationship between former SLO County Administrative Officer David Edge and Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox. Calling Velie a “no-holds-barred, no-corrections-issued” reporter, Shredder was skeptical over CalCoastNews’ “publish-first, brag-later approach,” warning that such an approach “could get [them] sued, but that’s [Velie’s] risk to take.”

One year later, former Cal Poly dean of the College of Engineering Mohammad Noori attempted to sue Velie for defamation after she wrote an article about his dismissal from Cal Poly. She reported that Noori was “increasingly unpopular” on campus with a history of incompetence, which stemmed from his employment at North Carolina State University from 1999 to 2004. On December 20, then CalCoast Contributing Editor Dave Congalton hastily published a plea for donations to support her. He wrote, “A process server is on a countywide hunt for Karen [Velie] to serve her with the official papers.” He asked for people to contribute to what he called the “Karen Velie Legal Defense Fund.” Instead of finances being diverted to Velie directly, all donations were sent to CalCoastNews’ PayPal account. It was revealed later, in a May 21, 2011 article by Lisa Rizzo, that Velie was not served with the lawsuit “although she has received letters from Noori’s San Marino based legal team.” CCN didn’t mention any reimbursement for their donations.

The relationship between Velie and the seemingly prophetic New Times took a nosedive in May 2010 when Congalton published a fiery op-ed, which ostracized Velie’s former employer for retaliating against her. New Times co-publisher Alex Zuniga reportedly sent an e-mail to CalCoastNews, requesting that they remove a copyrighted photo of Arroyo Grande High School, which was taken by a New Times photographer. CalCoastNews eventually removed the photo after trying to justify their use of the photo as being legal. Congalton shot back at New Times after the incident in his op-ed, claiming that “there has been a flurry of nasty emails coming our way from certain writers and editors at New Times” and Velie was fired from her previous publication because she is a woman. Congalton’s accusations against New Times were never documented.

Aside from the occasional spats with other media sources, Velie was riding on the success of her extensive coverage of Kelly Gearhart’s exploits, which ultimately became her first major exclusive for CalCoastNews. The articles mirrored Velie’s writing style from New Times, but the details were more specific. Still, there was scant evidence to back up claims made by Gearhart’s common-law stepmother Marion Warner, whose personal account of the legally beleaguered developer was prevalent in the first part of Velie’s investigation. The series of articles portrayed Gearhart as a long-time criminal who took money from investors who invested in local real estate projects, and personally enriched himself.

The second part mostly abandoned citing any references to Velie’s allegations. The third article pieced together a timeline of Gearhart’s involvement with the Salinan Indian Tribal Council, but no documents were made available by Velie for readers to track Gearhart. The fourth and final part focused heavily on the Gearhart family, their personal tragedies and shortcomings, and how Kelly Gearhart’s past misfortune influenced him in the present.

Since the story broke, many of Gearhart’s victims emerged to praise Velie for her story — and federal officials took notice. On August 13, 2012, Gearhart pleaded not guilty to 16 charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Gearhart and the former president of Hurst Financial James Miller are accused of defrauding more than 1,200 investors of more than $100 million as part of an alleged ponzi scheme. Gearhart has denied all of Velie’s allegations, but court records show that the federal investigation on Gearhart includes content first uncovered by Velie. But court records show that sources, who contributed to Velie’s feature on Gearhart, had more of an effect on the federal investigation than her actual reporting.

When her reporting is questioned, Velie repeatedly touts her success with the Gearhart coverage as a way to further establish her personal credibility.

Since the Gearhart stories were published, Velie’s journalism methodology changed. Instead of referring and linking to source documentation, Velie started relying heavily on hearsay and allegations made by anonymous sources. The more she relied on anonymous sources and tips, the more salacious the accusations became. Velie often pursued her targets with leading questions that assumed accusations made about them were factual. Because the questions included a preconstructed narrative, people who were e-mailed often declined to comment — but their decline to comment was perceived by Velie as a sign of guilt or willful ignorance.

Appearing sometimes robotic and unusually vitriolic when defending herself, Velie has harassed and berated people she has targeted in her articles. A Pismo Beach resident wrote to Velie in mid-2012 pleading with her to stop levying accusations about her on local blogs and Facebook. According to the resident, Velie’s accusations resulted in her family being stalked and her name being broadcasted around the local blogs. Velie dismissed the resident’s e-mails as “paranoia” and denied making any accusations about the resident.

She’s made calls to her targets — namely public officials — and threatened them with a “good article” if they did not answer her questions.

Bias was not as evident when Velie looked into District Administrator and engineer of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District John Wallace’s potential conflict of interest.

Velie has been mired with criticism of her braggadocio, which has become one of her trademarks. Since joining CalCoastNews, Velie became more defiant as she published articles with more anonymous sources. On Congalton’s radio show, Velie often refers to speaking to “many” or “numerous” people who support her accusations and “facts,” but often never says who those people are. On Congalton, Velie abandons journalistic safeguards such as the words “allegedly,” “supposedly” and “reportedly” to describe the accusations, which suddenly transform into unquestionable matters of fact. Velie often has trouble distinguishing between objective journalism and subjective persecution. She demonstrates this when she appears on Congalton’s show.

Investing in corruption, especially sex scandals involving public officials, has netted sharp increases in donations, say sources close to Velie. Though she focuses on credible information that objectively draws pause from readers, Velie has exaggerated or fabricated critical details to squeeze more outrage from her most ardent supporters and potential donors.

Velie accused South County Sanitation Distrist administrator and engineer John Wallace of conflict of interest. She claims that her coverage was validated by a 46-page San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury report that confirmed Wallace was in conflict of interest. The June 2, 2011 report stated, “The Grand Jury finds the district in a state of denial regarding the conflict of interest and, as a result, the district has taken no effective steps to mitigate the conflict […] The Grand Jury concludes that, as a result, the board and the district are exposed to a number of financial, legal and public trust issues.” District attorney Michael Seitz dismissed the report, saying that the Grand Jury didn’t understand how the district did their business.

The report was challenged by district board members, including Arroyo Grande mayor Tony Ferrara, who Velie has repeatedly called one of Wallace’s “staunch supporters.” Velie appeared on Congalton several times to accuse Ferrara of benefiting financially from Wallace’s alleged misdeeds. Velie has offered no documentation to substantiate her claims. Ferrera is not part of any current investigation. Later, County Auditor-Controller Gere Sibbach wrote in his October 21, 2011 that there were “reasonable controls” in place to prevent conflict of interest. Sibbach offered suggestions for improvement.

Shortly after Sibbach’s report was released, Velie moved onto another big story. “Sex and the Los Osos Sewer” focused on the relationship between Public Works Director Paavo Ogren and former Los Osos Community Services District board member Maria Kelly. Velie used the car accident involving Ogren and Kelly’s children as a trigger to investigate “allegations of a possible conflict of interest.” The source of the allegations was not disclosed. At this point, Velie started relying heavily on anonymous sources. One of those anonymous sources was Shaun Kelly, Maria Kelly’s ex-husband who contacted The ROCK only a few months before. Velie did not disclose that the couple were, at the time, engaged in a bitter divorce. Velie did not reach out to Kelly for the story. Once Maria Kelly divulged that information on a local blog one day later, Velie started to publicly berate and harass her.

Velie made several critical errors. Contrary to her claims, Maria Kelly was actively residing in the home she was attempting to sell in Los Osos. Since 2005, Kelly’s children were enrolled in San Luis Obispo schools as part of a duel immersion program, which is part of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD). Velie gratuitously mentioned that Kelly and Ogren’s children “allegedly” smoke and drank at the County Public Works Director’s “party house.” The allegations, which originated from Kelly’s ex-husband, were never proven or vetted.

By July 2011, Velie doubled down on the drug accusations by unveiling divorce records, which showed only Mr. Kelly’s accusations. Velie did not publish any drug or alcohol test results and did not investigate any further to verify the accusations made by Kelly’s ex-husband. After the County Administrator investigated and cleared Ogren of conflict of interest in October 4, 2011, Velie abruptly abandoned any follow-up of Mr. Kelly’s allegations and focused instead on Mrs. Kelly’s voting record when she served on the CSD. Velie looked at votes Mrs. Kelly made which, she claimed, benefited Mr. Ogren while they were in a relationship. Shortly after Velie published her musings, the LOCSD declined to conduct an investigation into Mrs. Kelly’s alleged conflict of interest, stating that the allegations had no merit.

Velie reopened her “extensive investigation” on March 19, 2012 when she reported on a lawsuit filed by an attorney representing a minor who was injured in the June 16, 2011 car accident. According to Velie, the lawsuit against Mr. Ogren claimed that the Public Works Director “lent his teenage son his SUV to chauffeur underage friends, knowing his son regularly drank alcohol and did drugs.” Again, Velie did not look into the validity of the allegations made and simply ran the claims, which remain untested to this day. As of February, The ROCK could not find any active lawsuit filed against Mr. Ogren.

CalCoastNews later, on January 12, revealed that Mr. Kelly was the source of the allegations when they published news of his May 27, 2012 arrest for indecent exposure at the Cal Poly campus library. A relative of Kelly’s, who posted a comment under CalCoastNews’ article, strongly implied that Mr. Kelly suffers from mental illness. Sources close to Kelly told The ROCK that Ogren and Kelly’s children have suffered “severe emotional distress” as a result of the unfounded allegations, which Velie never retracted — given that the allegations were made by someone with a clear motive to disparage Mrs. Kelly and with possible mental capacity issues.

Former Paso Robles police chief Lisa Solomon was the subject of Velie’s next scandal. “Police chief accused of sexually assaulting her officers” was published January 26, 2012. The article published a series of allegations reportedly by police department personnel who feared retaliation. The article went viral and received coverage on KSBY the same day the article was published. The article helped resurrect Velie’s credibility, which was tattered by her coverage of the Ogren-Kelly scandal. Multiple police officers came forward with allegations that rocked the city of Paso Robles. Pressure from city officials and the public forced Solomon to resign on March 20, 2012. Solomon settled with the city for $250,000. Paso Robles city officials spent at least $330,000 for their investigation into Solomon’s alleged misconduct. Formed by citizens that were angered by the Solomon scandal and growing taxpayer costs, the grassroots organization Change Paso Robles Now was formed.

Like the Gearhart scandal, Velie was contacted by several sources who were credible and were able to provide documentation when she didn’t; she opted instead to construct a narrative woven together by unverified anecdotes.

It was clear that her North County coverage was stronger than her coverage in other areas. Sources close to Velie say that CalCoastNews has a “large support network” that assists Velie in her North Count reporting.

Over the past two years, Velie has covered homelessness in San Luis Obispo County, a hotly debated issue locally. Velie has aggressively targeted the City of San Luis Obispo and Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) for policies she personally feels are adversely impacting the homeless community. Velie took on the cause after recruiting Lisa Rizzo to CalCoastNews staff. Rizzo is the wife of attorney Saro Rizzo, one of two attorneys representing homeless plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit filed against the city. Velie has not disclosed her reporter’s relationship with one of the lead attorneys in the case.

Velie struck a chord with homeless advocates with her coverage, but that came to a screeching halt on June 12, 2012 when she published an article about a homeless man named Randall Reed who claimed that he was “barred” from taking part of homeless services at Prado Day Center after a 4 pm “curfew.” Velie did not mention that Prado Day Center operates during day hours from 8:30 am-4:30 pm for all the homeless who reside there. Those receiving services are then sent to Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter, which operates exclusively in the evenings. According to CAPSLO officials, homeless who are fully “barred” from services are those who are not sober or have violent tendencies. Sources with ties to CAPSLO’s  claimed that Reed was a substance abuser. Velie did not disclose that information. Velie did not mention that a curfew only exists to encourage homeless to visit Maxine Lewis, which offers 50 beds, free meals, showers, phone and message services, and access to case management. Velie continues to discuss and write about the curfew without disclosing Prado Day Center’s hours. CAPSLO adamantly denies barring any qualified individuals from partaking in services for political or personal reasons.

The misinformation was presented by Reed, who claimed in the article that he had he joined the Navy Seals in 1980 for eight years and earned several medals, such as the Navy Cross and Purple Heart. Velie “paraphrased” his claims as fact — and later discussed it on Congalton’s radio show — without thoroughly vetting his supposed military background. The ROCK learned that several veterans and concerned readers contacted Velie, stating that Reed falsified his records. At the time, we checked with several veteran databases and centers and independently confirmed that Reed never served in the military. Knowing that she was presenting false information, Velie left the story untouched for a week before issuing a rare correction about Reed. Every mention of Reed’s medals was scrubbed from the article on June 19.

District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill, who served as the founding chair of the Homeless Services Oversight Council and the chair of the capital campaign for the new homeless services center on Higuera Street, took exception to Velie’s article on Reed. According to CalCoastNews’ article on July 16, 2012, the news site claimed Hill “has been using his elected position to bully advertisers and supporters in a campaign to cripple the website.” Without unveiling any of the e-mails that were allegedly sent by Hill, CalCoastNews accused Hill of threatening “persons who are affiliated with the news site, warning them that if they continued to promote or contribute content to the site, they would lose jobs and reputations.” Velie claimed as recently as February 7 on Congalton’s show that Hill personally threatened “to go after” her if she didn’t stop writing about homeless issues. Hill has vehemently denied the accusations.

The ROCK contacted several of CalCoastNews’ former and current advertisers who told us that they were never personally bullied or threatened by the supervisor. With respect to their business, we decided to not identify them. Some of them were even surprised that Velie would publish the article on Hill, given that they terminated their agreements with the news site over their tendency to exaggerate and sometimes falsify information — and that was before Hill contacted them. Some rejected the notion that they were bullied or threatened by Hill. E-mail exchanges between Hill and advertisers included strongly worded condemnations of CalCoastNews’ reporting, but were not intimidating or threatening, as Velie has repeatedly claimed.

Since the article on Hill was published in July 2012, Velie has written several articles on Hill, which are layered with accusations that could not be independently verified. In an article written on January 4, CalCoastNews accused Hill of “spreading claims on Topix, vocally and through reports to agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), that CalCoastNews reporters were fabricating stories while asking over the radio airways for money to write false stories.” The ROCK analyzed comments made by anonymous posters on Topix, but none of the commenters identified themselves as Adam Hill. Another article, which was published on January 16, speculated incorrectly that Hill referred to the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) as the “local fringe.” CalCoastNews referred to when Hill and COLAB were publicly feuding in 2011. Hill apologized for his 2011 comments. Both articles were speculative and contained no objective reporting.

Velie’s articles are reminiscent of Stephen Glass, a former journalist at The New Republic, who fabricated several articles for the publication in 1998. From 1995 to 1998, Glass repeatedly fabricated quotations, sources and events under the guise of news. Like Velie, Glass was the subject of scathing rebuttals from his subjects for publishing falsehoods and inaccuracies. Like Velie, Glass wrote material that was considered generally accurate, but there was no way of verifying information because he cited anonymous sources. CalCoastNews operates primarily on an anonymous tip-based system, which Velie often uses as a way to invoke reporters’ privilege. Reporters’ privilege is “protection under constitutional or statutory law, from being compelled to testify about confidential information or sources” (Black Law’s Dictionary, Ninth Ed. 2004). This has been Velie’s well-worn escape hatch from accountability.

In their Code of Ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) states several relevant guidelines: (1) “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible; (2) Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing; (3) Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability; (4) Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.” These are standards that professional journalists strive to achieve, but there is ample evidence to show that Velie falls well below those standards. Uncovering corruption cannot be achieved by corrupting journalism in the name of truth. 

CalCoastNews and The ROCK: A Brief History

We’ve examined CalCoastNews closely over the years before we were subjected to their scrutiny. And after. This is not our first encounter with CalCoast and not our first articles about them.

On October 15, 2010, Dave Congalton, host of an AM radio show on KVEC and then a CalCoast Contributing Editor, anonymously published an article about The ROCK’s Managing Editor Aaron Ochs titled, “County demands blogger remove personal information.” At the time, Ochs disclosed three addresses of top-level County officials who he identified as failing to be transparent with providing information and records to Los Osos residents regarding the County-led wastewater project. The disclosure was part of an article published on Razor Online on October 13.

CalCoastNews has expressed contempt for government officials who have failed to be transparent and adhere to the California Public Records Act. Ochs related to the frustration, but added an extra layer of urgency, given that residents were looking at paying for a sewer that cost $200 million and they were entitled to having any reasonable requests fulfilled by District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson and Public Works staff. To make his point, Ochs encouraged concerned residents to civilly “go ahead, ring their doorbells. Knock on their doors. Give them a call. Let them know you want a conversation. Let them know you want your questions answered,” since some County officials made it virtually impossible for residents to have an open dialogue by phone and e-mail.

Ochs clearly recognized the controversy of his decision and was ready to remove the personal information as soon as the County perceived it to be an issue for them. County Counsel Warren Jensen issued a notice to Ochs to have the personal information removed as soon as possible pursuant to California Government Code 6254.21(c)(3). Under the law, public officials have the right to ask to have their personal information removed from a specified source. Ochs received the notice on the date the article was published and subsequently removed all sensitive information.

However, Jensen sent the notice to Congalton with the vague hope that the radio host — who happened to be in communication with Ochs at that time on another matter — would forward it along. The e-mail exchange took place the day before the article was published. Congalton declined to forward the e-mail to Ochs from Counsel Jensen and withheld the notice with the intent to publish it. He wrote to Jensen, “I don’t know this guy. I don’t wish to know this guy.” On the same day, Ochs wrote to Congalton after he received an e-mail from someone who discussed the “Ring Paavo’s Doorbell” article. Congalton threatened “calling [Ochs] on it” prior to hosting a discussion on his radio show with Los Osos activist Piper Reilly. The article was not discussed once on the show.

Congalton violated County Counsel’s confidentiality clause by publishing the notice in advance of Ochs receiving a copy. The article on CalCoastNews was published around one in the morning on Friday, October 15, several hours before Ochs received the notice from Jensen. Neither Congalton nor CalCoastNews asked Ochs for comment.

Ochs e-mailed and called Karen Velie to have the article removed. She declined, insisting the article was accurate.

So we’ve experienced CalCoastNews’ attack journalism before.

Despite the animosity between The ROCK and CalCoastNews, we expressed interest in potentially joining the news site as part of an aggregate site. The proposal, which was hatched by Dan Blackburn in mid-2011, included several sites joining the aggregate including The ROCK, Calhoun’s Cannon, SLO Coast Journal and Rogue Voice. The site was tentatively titled “The News Buoy,” copyrighted by Blackburn. ROCK editor Ed Ochs and Managing Editor Aaron Ochs met with Blackburn, Velie and other interested parties to discuss the details. Despite being ambushed by Congalton and Velie, we were interested in the aggregate, which would focus primarily on investigative journalism — something we all agreed was an endangered entity in San Luis Obispo County.

During negotiations, CalCoastNews unveiled a new exposé into the Los Osos sewer. “Sex and the Los Osos Sewer” was published on June 17, 2011. The article focused on a potential conflict of interest between Public Works Director Paavo Ogren — who was the subject of Ochs’ “Ring Paavo’s Doorbell” — and then Los Osos Community Services Director Maria Kelly. The article used the car accident involving Ogren and Kelly’s children as a way to solidify suspicions in Los Osos that the two were in a relationship. The series of articles about Kelly and Ogren’s relationship turned into unsubstantiated allegations about their children’s alcohol and drug use. Ogren and Kelly were eventually cleared of any conflict of interest and CCN declined to follow up on their investigation into their allegations about the children’s drug use.

The ROCK strongly opposed the contents of the article since it contained wild and harmful speculation about the couple’s personal lives and their children. Ironically, in light of his castigation of Aaron Ochs for “Ring Paavo’s Doorbell,” Congalton offered to broadcast his show from her supposedly vacant Los Osos home and subsequently posted her home address, which was quietly removed by moderators a short time later. We politely withdrew from the aggregate partnership because we had concerns about Velie’s journalism and the liabilities that come with it. Blackburn tried persuading us to rejoin the partnership after we declined several times, and it came to a permanent and discordant conclusion. To further illustrate our discontent, Aaron Ochs published an article on The ROCK’s opinion blog Razor Online. “CalCoastNews’ Teenage Hostages” was published June 20, just three days after Velie’s “Sex and the Los Osos Sewer” was published. Ochs took aim at CalCoast, writing, “It is beneath ourselves — as human beings — to condone an article that holds two teenagers hostage for the political sins, transgressions and shortcomings of their parents.”

Blackburn responded angrily to the article and announced to other potential partners that The ROCK withdrew from the aggregate partnership.

A previous history between The ROCK, Congalton and CalCoastNews exists, and we felt it was best to fully disclose it here now. Our interest in writing about CalCoast is to document how important it is to get the facts right and  get the whole story, and not create the story to fit a narrative held together by accusations. We believe it’s important to illustrate what happens when things go haywire and the shield of journalism is hijacked by rogue operators to libel, harass and intimidate those who resist, and, ultimately, to make a buck. That said, we’ve had long-standing concerns with CalCoastNews and how their stories are conceived, assembled and presented — and why.

— The Editors

V is for Vendetta: Inside the CalCoastNews, Congalton Chaos Machine

ccnCalCoastNews, the North County website known for its full-tilt hit pieces on anyone caught in their digital web, recently took a turn for the worse in their desperate attempts to flame favorite targets County Supervisor Adam Hill, CAPSLO Homeless Services Director Dee Torres, and CAPSLO, the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, which operates the city’s homeless shelters, Prado and Maxine Lewis.

In three of their most recent bizarre concoctions, the Feb. 4 “Alleged homeless advocates accused of stealing from the poor,” Feb. 7 “CAPSLO soaking up nonprofit fund pool” and Feb 13 “Homeless money guardian unlicensed,” authors Karen Velie, Dan Blackburn and co-writer Josh Friedman accuse CAPSLO of social security fraud and, through unnamed sources, embezzlement, among a smorgasbord of claims. They fail to offer any proof of any their charges, which is nothing new for CalCoast, and they stand by their loose cannons, even though they offer no smoking gun, not even a leaky water pistol.

In the total of the three disjointed pieces only three people are actually quoted — and only with bare one-line quotes. One of those lines is from CAPSLO Chief Operating Officer Jim Famalette responding for CAPSLO CEO Biz Steinberg to questions from Karen Velie, that her accusations against Homeless Services Director Torres were “baseless innuendo not worthy of a response.” (CalCoast wrote that his comment was in response to “allegations against a CAPSLO manager.”) Famalette’s five words were pulled from a more lengthy, severely critical Feb. 1 letter from Famalette to Velie, from which she didn’t quote more or link with the story.

No wonder. At the close of Famalette’s letter to Velie he writes: “I hope you put your effort and energy into trying to champion more public support for the homeless cause in our community and really accomplish something positive!”

Minus the woefully few fragmented quotes, the stories are wholly the fabrication of the authors based on their clearly limited comprehension of how CAPSLO works. CalCoast stories, which seem to appear whenever Velie believes she has discovered a new piece to her broken puzzle, serve mainly as fishing expeditions for seriously credible information obviously lacking in her stories that would make them more than uncorrected high-school homework mixed with generous chunks of guesswork, in a weak sauce of pure venom.

Torres responded with a full, reasoned denial of Velie’s charges under the “Alleged homeless advocates” story on CalCoast’s blog (See TORRES RESPONDS ON CALCOAST below). If her direct responses modified their attack in their subsequent stories it wasn’t obvious. The authors chose to ignore it, and it was quickly buried under a torrent of negative blogs. Something plausible and rational didn’t fit their false narrative and so they blocked it out, while Torres was demeaned by CalCoast’s regular pack of anonymous bloggers for being foolish enough to appear on their blog and stand up for herself, her staff and clients.

Torres wrote, in part: “CAPSLO will thoroughly investigate any specific claim brought to their attention! To date no one, including the “reporters” listed in this story have done this. I and my organization work transparently and if anyone has specific questions, etc. – feel free to contact me directly at dtorres@capslo org. I am proud of my staff, programs, and clients and will always be happy to stand up for all of them!

“There is absolutely nothing true to this story. Poor (homeless)( Cliff (Anderson) has been victimized by this site as countless others have been. …  Once again a shred of evidence has not been provided, just fake (bloggers’) names with fake claims. … I and my staff have nothing to hide. My staff and I do not take money from our clients. Our services are FREE to them. Any money they save is ALWAYS for them, to better their lives. These are the facts.”

Facts are plainly annoying and dispensable to Velie, and collateral damage is acceptable to her hardcore fans who believe that anyone on CalCoast’s enemies list earned their way, and the means justifies the end because there’s no other way to get at corrupt public officials. Many of those trampled by Velie and CalCoast in their frantic binges share the same litany of complaints about the methods and motives that fuel their extreme “gotcha!” journalism:

  • They substitute accusations for facts and allegations for evidence
  • Grind axes and settle scores for unnamed sources who won’t go on the record
  • Smear with broad and unsubstantiated claims and anonymous-sourced allegations of felonies
  • Offer a hodgepodge of half-digested, distorted facts and false analysis to support their skewed storyline
  • Resort to hearsay, innuendo, insult, gossip, spin and distortion to stitch together a dishonest account, pretending to report without ever reporting
  • Cherry-pick information from documents without making those documents available on their site
  • Provide little or no context and a heavily slanted narrative that never changes even in the face of being clearly debunked
  • Refuse to admit serious mistakes, retract or correct false stories in order to perpetuate a myth of credibility
  • Refuse to act transparently and disclose their connections to attorneys and sources with a financial interest in their stories
  • Refuse to explain unethical and potentially illegal conduct in knowingly creating and publishing false information
  • Harass and intimidate those who do not respond to their demands for information

Standing up to Velie, Blackburn and Congalton can be costly, as some have found out the hard way. They believe that damaged lives are a fair price for others to pay for Velie’s wrong-headed wild goose chases, to which she feels curiously entitled. Apologies for character assassination are not offered to victims, their families or employers. Guessing wrong is not a crime. Public officials who don’t respond to accusatory questions face sloppily contrived attacks to coerce them to produce nonexistent proof of accusations in order to make them true. Anyone who doesn’t comply is guilty of something. And anyone who criticizes CalCoast becomes a potential target in what appears to be an endless, vicious cycle of vengeance and retaliation.

Public officials understand the scrutiny of legitimate news sources and the role of government “watchdogs,” although they don’t always appreciate it, but they are dismayed by attacks from a website with a track record of publishing anything and everything, in any form, seemingly unchecked by anyone above them and unvetted for truth and accuracy. CalCoast makes so many false allegations and unsubstantiated accusations it’s hard to take them seriously, but those public officials and public/private agencies that don’t take them seriously are basically crucified for not doing so. Now, present and former public officials are fighting back against Velie, in particular, for publishing false and defamatory material. (See VICTIMS DECRY below).

Velie has also claimed she doesn’t go after people, only what they do. Her rationale: It isn’t personal; she is just doing her job as an investigative reporter, which she claims to be because she says so, and no license is required to do the probing that investigative journalists do for a living, to say it isn’t so. Yet there is more than sufficient evidence to support the claims against her by those that have been targeted, not because they committed any provable wrongdoing, but because they got in her way. There is also plenty of evidence to support the widely held contention that CalCoast dishonestly stitches together fractured fact, rant, innuendo and accusation to spin a story that should never have been published. No one would before they started their own website.

Why does CalCoast operate this way? Because taking the shortcut is easier than the long, honest, boring, responsible way, and stirring up outrage in SLO County isn’t all that difficult. Scaring up advertising and donations from information-challenged, anti-government conspiracy theorists is how they hope to make it all pay in the end. The pressure they feel to make CalCoast work as a business, rather than as the public service they pretend it is, can be found in one of Velie’s pet gripes about Adam Hill: he contacted some of their advertisers. At the end of “Homeless money guardian unlicensed” the authors offer this commercial message:

“In a related situation, Torres’ boyfriend, Supervisor Adam Hill, has been using his elected position to bully advertisers and supporters of CalCoastNews in a campaign to cripple the website. Hill’s war against CCN began several years ago after he learned CCN was investigating allegations of misdeeds by CAPSLO’s homeless services, administered by his girlfriend. In several instances, Hill’s own emails obtained by CCN have led to cancellations of contracts with businesses advertising on the news website. Hill sent emails to advertisers claiming that CCN reporters have committed crimes. That was followed by a flurry of emails from Hill to county residents asking that they not support CCN advertisers.”

Again, CalCoast offers no evidence to support that Hill went to the lengths they describe to point out CalCoast’s deficiencies to advertisers — there is evidence that Hill is on good terms with CalCoast advertisers — but the point is that CalCoast is running a business built on rage, not reason, and burning people and trying to make a living from it is a simply a terrible business model. But it’s all about monetizing what they do, and they don’t like it one bit when the glare of scandal shines on them, their methods and motives, or when the tables are turned and now it’s their income that’s threatened. What threatens their income has nothing to do with Adam Hill, Dee Torres or CAPSLO. CalCoast’s biggest threat comes from within, from their own bad idea and trying to force it to work.

San Luis Obispo County was once called the most corrupt county in the State, and based on the scandals that keep popping up in county and city governments with unnerving frequency, with public trust in government at an all-time low, some residents believe “the most corrupt” moniker still rings true today. And perhaps it does. How will we ever know?

Along with the vanishing newspaper has come the grim reality of the one newspaper town, the one TV station town, where local media remains the only way to keep politicians honest and public officials responsive to the community. Where media fails to hold politicians to their promises and keep public officials honest — or worse, works at their beck and call – corruption is inevitable: when no one’s watching, dishonest politicians and public officials tend to get too comfortable.

When the limited local media is tethered to the county, when real, independent, in-depth reporting has been all but abandoned, without the checks and balances provided by a responsible media, abuse of power becomes easier and more likely. It is into just such a vacuum, during the historic decline of print publications everywhere and the rise of blogs, in the void left by those who quit doing their job for one reason or another, that CalCoastNews surfaced online in 2008.

Because the Tribune and New Times dropped an important part of their mission — investigative journalism, hard political analysis — CalCoast and Congalton have been able to run their attacks under that fallen banner, and some people respond to it. After all, the county needs real investigative journalism and political analysis, and CalCoast offered a glimmer of that hope in the beginning. Since their heyday of the Karen Guth, Kelly Gearheart and Wilcox/Edge scandals, that hope has vanished. Even if they haven’t already arrived at the bottom of their lows yet, and there are still more false bottoms yet for them to fall through, even if they keep pretending to play out the game, the bottom is clearly in sight. It is the best kept open secret in town that CalCoast is the North Korea of local media wannabes, and they have already established that they will not change course or go quietly. They can’t be wrong.

CalCoast’s chest-pounding wouldn’t be so troublesome if it was just on a website, but they found an eager partner in longtime KVEC talk-radio host Dave Congalton, a SLO fixture who regularly showcases Velie whenever a “hot” new story is posted online. Congalton was formerly a CalCoast Contributing Editor. He is no longer listed on their masthead, but his close connection to Velie obviously remains very much intact. When she is challenged on the air he is quick to defend and protect her against all callers, making a mockery of his advertised slogan of fair play and equal time for different sides. While providing the hyperbolic Velie a platform helps spread Cal Coast’s feverish message through the county and draws the kind of attention Congalton covets, her baggage has also brought unwanted scrutiny to how he uses his show to wield his petty wrath and rattle his cage for attention, and to the sometimes disdainful way he treats callers who disagree with him or Velie. Along the way, thanks to his association with CalCoast, Congalton has made a few new listeners; at the same time, thanks to his association with CalCoast he has lost many more by defending open-ended accusations and allegations without proof, kicking ethics to the curb, settling scores on the air and burning bridges for so little in return.

So now SLO has a double problem. The cracked investigative team of Velie and Blackburn, who claim to be in the business of busting crime and corruption, aided and abetted by Congalton, have attempted to fill the vacuum with their hard-punching yarns. But they need their yarns to sell, to pay off like slot machines, in order for them to succeed in their chosen business, which is to keep doing what they’re doing do — and that’s where they went terribly wrong. That makes them pump up the sex and scandal in every story, plump them up with steroids to make them more appealing for market, for the fatter the bird, the more money it will bring. These tabloid tattlers have to sell or they fail completely, and they have to sell fast because it’s that new brand of fresh out-of-the-oven disposable “hot” journalism and it only lasts a little while, becoming less and less true over time. That’s not the product real journalism produces and not how real journalism pays, by the yarn. The second part of the problem is that the county is still searching for the real investigative journalism it so badly needs. The missing media still hasn’t been found.

Victims of False Reporting Decry CalCoastNews, Congalton Abuses

Exposing corruption in government is a good idea – where it actually exists, but using the tools of corruption to expose corruption where it doesn’t exist has thrown a spotlight on the mounting innocent casualties caught up in the desperate scorched-earth campaign waged by Karen Velie, Dan Blackburn and Dave Congalton.

Since the launch of CalCoast’s website in 2007, Velie and Blackburn have had their hits and misses in their well-known attack campaigns against public figures and public officials marked for wrongdoing. Though they don’t publicly admit to their mistakes – Velie admits to having been sued for libel several times – or they blame the source when they do lay a giant rotten egg, CalCoast’s misses far out-number and outweigh their hits, and when they do miss they leave a lengthy digital trail of false allegations, unsubstantiated accusations and damaged reputations. The glue that seems to hold all their stories together: vengeance. Those questioned who conform to their slanted narrative and those who refuse to respond to their demands both become potential targets.

In their reckless pursuit of public officials to expose, without weighing the consequences to reputations ruined when they’re wrong, CalCoast has exposed itself as a vendetta factory, cranking out frontier justice as self-appointed judge, jury and executioner without offering any hard evidence or even a belated get-well-soon card for guessing wrong.

Now local public officials, some who have been or still are targets of the wrath of Velie and Congalton and have the scars to prove it, are fed up with CalCoast’s false reporting. Despite the threat of retaliation that keeps people from speaking out publicly, some are willing to come forward because they believe the rest of the story, the truth, needs to be told. And they are almost as critical of radio talk-show host Dave Congalton, former Cal CoastNews Contributing Editor, who promotes Velie for any ratings bump that controversy stirs while using the bully pulpit of his show to mistreat guests and callers, and lash out and denigrate those who challenge Velie or provoke his ire.

Here are some unedited comments made to The ROCK:

“On January 30th, Biz [Steinberg], our CEO, received an e-mail listing allegations and questions from a reporter at Cal Coast. For the sake of openness, I am attaching a copy of that e-mail. Biz was participating in a National Conference on Head Start in San Diego at the time and requested that I handle the response. She notified the reporter that I would be getting back to her.

“I reviewed the questions and responded to the reporter on February 1st;.. My response is also attached for your view. I understand we have been a frequent target of Cal Coast over the years and there has never been a claim substantiated. I should note my tenure with the agency is about 15 months. Please note in my letter, I specifically offered to investigate any claim they presented to us. Instead of course, they chose to run their blog article on Monday, February 4th, without attempting to seek any facts.

“Unfortunately, some of this material started to be presented to City, County and State officials. We understand in some cases, by Cal Coast themselves. At that point, Ms. Steinberg crafted a statement which was sent to all of those public entities. I have also attached that statement as well. As you know, the City Council denounced their charges and asked for specific facts again. The blog has shown itself not to be very objective, and in fact, it would appear has some personal reasons to continue to disparage Ms. Torres, our homeless director.

“We understand that the blog is possibly influenced by a former employee, who has been out of our agency for several years. We are also aware, that the blog has in the past, represented comments from another homeless advocate, who is seeking to try and receive public funds.

“The actual information presented on the homeless clients is very selective and not truly focused on the “whole story”. We are careful not to discuss these clients personal information in the public, because quite frankly, it is unethical. I can assure you we keep accurate case management files and remain open to investigate any specific claims which are presented to us.

“Earlier this year, the Cal Coast News tried to challenge our policies, procedures and rules for operating the Maxine Lewis Shelter and Prado Day Center. We provided information to both City and County staff who concurred with our handling of the operations.

“In our opinion further public debate is not necessary, in fact, it just makes the blog known to more than the few people who follow it.

“It is extremely frustrating for a dedicated group of people who spend their days working to help the less fortunate in our community, to have to waste our time and effort defending ourselves from those who ultimately have their own interests at heart.”

“Cal Coast News continues to report unsubstantiated allegations regarding CAPSLO and the misuse of client funds. If anyone has factual information regarding misappropriated funds I would encourage them to contact myself and/or the proper authorities immediately. Until then, I would urge this online media source to refrain from reporting accusations about an organization that provides many valuable services to our homeless population.”

“I’ve participated in Dave Congalton’s show many times over the years as both a guest and a caller. It’s Dave’s show and he gets to make the rules including when to be dismissive and end the calls with his listeners. I’m well aware of that when I participate. It was most frustrating not being able to finish my comments directed at Ms. Viele (Cal Coast News) as it would have provided the listeners with a better understanding of my overall concerns with the situation. The overwhelming response from the community has been dismay with the lack of respect afforded me as a caller. Dave has since invited me to come on the show to present my point of view which I’ve respectfully declined. Based on his actions, it remains questionable whether I’ll participate as a guest or caller again in the future.

“There were a couple of points that I would have made on the Congalton show had I not been cut off.  I think they are relevant and had they been exposed, it might have explained my position better:

“It’s important to recognize that CAPSLO in independently audited twice every year. Those audits are made available to the City Council and general public. How many audits do the naysayers want? 3? 4? 5?, and at who’s expense? I was and continue to be satisfied with the validity of what is presented in these audits. Also, Ms. Viele (Cal Coast News) has launched unsubstantiated allegations at the City of SLO and its supporting organizations for many years now. How long does she get to cry wolf?”

“I’ve known Dave Congalton for many years. He established himself as a promoter of local organizations, charities, and community events, through interactive radio. His show has helped many in the community raise funds and become more visible. Today, however, his show has verged well beyond the boundaries of “hometown radio.” His affiliation with Karen Velie and Cal Coast News is the root cause of this. Dave says “it is important to shine the light on local government.” I agree! But that is not what Velie does. As a guest on Dave’s show, Velie doesn’t hesitate to spew forth venomous criticism of every organization and person she’s comes in contact with. In most instances, she doesn’t verify the credibility of her sources and relies on incomplete or inaccurate information to bend her story in the direction she wants it go. I have personally observed her do this on several occasions, as have many others who have been victimized by her false reporting. CCN could emerge as a more credible website without people like Velie who feel compelled to spin gossip instead of accurately reporting news. As for Dave, he knows how I feel about this. I still believe he can recover from the barrage of criticism he’s receiving for legitimizing Karen Velie and Cal Coast News. He can accomplish this by holding her accountable for her gross inaccuracies, and for the damage she has done to the reputations and character of the people she’s falsely accused. If Dave wants to examine local government, then he should do it directly with the agencies and people involved in the issues of the day. Let them come on the show and answer questions. Karen Velie is and will continue to be looked upon as someone who places the credibility of Dave’s show and KVEC Afternoon Radio in jeopardy.”

SLO City Councilman Dan Carpenter Learns How Not to Call Into “The Dave Congalton Show”

When SLO City Councilman Dan Carpenter called in to the show on Feb. 7 to refute Karen Velie’s account of a conversation they had regarding her loose allegations against CAPSLO, Velie interrupted him to argue her version and Congalton rudely piled on. Here are excerpts from that debate. So much for fair play and equal time:

Velie: “You said it (action on the CAPSLO allegations) had to come from law enforcement, and you also told me in that same conversation, you said that stuff on the (sewer) spill, even though there were emails and pictures to prove that spill, it didn’t matter because no one had been arrested yet and you didn’t think they were going to be, and you didn’t think this (CalCoast story about CAPSLO) was going to go anywhere.”

“Karen, that’s an absolute lie. That is not what I said,” Carpenter responded on the air. “I told you, when you have enough evidence and you give it to me, I will follow through with it, but I’m not going to sit by and let allegations and accusations go by without any proof. I cannot do anything with it. It’s possible what you’re saying is true, but I cannot do anything without any proof…

Congalton: “Well let me ask…”

Carpenter: “Let me finish…”

Congalton: “Okay… all right.”

Carpenter: “I talk to many homeless people on the street. I work very closely with the overflow shelter and many of them are in case management. I have their confidence that if they had something that was not right in their case management program they would bring it to me knowing I would do something about it. That’s how close a relationship I have with many of them. But Karen, that’s an absolute lie. I had told you on the phone, any evidence you have I would be happy to take it to the authorities…”

After further verbal ping-pong with Velie and Congalton, Carpenter tried to explain why it was necessary for the city to provide annual funding on time: “We cannot simply hold up funding for an organization that provides many services to our homeless individuals just because there’s allegations out there. It’s not fair to them. What is going to happen to our homeless individuals if we cut off the funding? It’s just not fair when you only have accusations. I need more proof.”

Velie pressed Carpenter to call Social Security and ask them to determine if it was fraud or not, and he replied: “I’m not making allegations. I’m not asking on hearsay… Karen, you’re making the accusations, you make the phone call. I’m not going to follow up on all accusations… I can get accusations from anybody… You follow up, provide the evidence, and I will take actions.”

Congalton: “OK, Dan, I going to do you the biggest favor of your political career, I’m going to stop you right now and thank you for calling in. Thank you.”

Congalton to Velie: “I did him a big favor by hanging up on him. I saved his political career…” He chimed in again moments later: “To be diplomatic, I think that… no, I’m not going to say anything. No, no. Just, I thought it was an unfortunate response by Dan Carpenter. He probably would have been better off not calling in.”

“Yes,” agreed Velie. “Yes.”

Congalton later invited Carpenter back to the show to air his point of view, but Carpenter declined. Congalton then tweeted: “Dan Carpenter calling in about Karen’s allegations about CAPSLO: “Show me the proof and I’ll start an investigation.” WHAT?!!!!”

Congalton is the author of the self-published book “The Talk Radio Guest Book: How to Be the Perfect Talk Radio Guest.” Written by the perfect talk-radio host.

CAPSLO’S Dee Torres Responds to CalCoast’s Accusations… on CalCoast’s Blog

On February 5 CAPSLO Homeless Services Director Dee Torres blogged under CalCoast’s story “Alleged homeless advocates accused of stealing” to respond directly and openly to the website’s charges. Her comments, which thoroughly debunked the false story and were ignored by its authors, have long since been buried under bloggers comments. We republish them here in the interest of truth and accuracy:

02/05/2013 at 9:47 pm
I’ll begin by saying that I started to respond to each and every false accusation in this story but there are so many I will sum up my comments as follows:

FACT – Cliff Anderson has not been consistently in CAPSLO services for four years. He has been in and out of our services for many years.

FACT – In 2010 Cliff Anderson was housed in one of our permanent housing units for a little over 7 months. This was the only time any CAPSLO staff person collected any money from Mr. Anderson.  Our housing units are operated under strict guidelines and oversight which is funded mainly by HUD.  All clients who live in the permanent housing units are required to pay 30% of their income towards rent, which is in turn forwarded to the master landlord. The other portion of their rent is paid from the federal HUD grants.  Often times we are forced to turn to fundraising dollars which come from our community to cover differences between combined contributions from the government and client.  The case management services which are provided to these clients are always free of charge to them, as well as all of our other services.

FACT – Mr. Anderson has never paid anything to CAPSLO case managers for any of the services he has received (except for those months that he paid rent for the apartment he was living in).  All of the services provided to our clients are free of charge to them, unless their living in one of the apartment units and paying 30% of their income towards their rent.

FACT – CAPSLO is not Cliff’s payee. Family Ties receives his checks directly from the Social Security Administration and disperses money to him each week.  The money he receives is his to do with as he pleases. Again CAPSLO staff does not receive one single cent of his or any other homeless clients’ money.

FACT – CAPSLO program staff is not now and never have been a representative payee for any homeless client in any of our services. In regards to Mr. Anderson, Family Ties is his representative payee and as such it receives his money directly from Social Security and in turn issues him checks.  Lisa was misquoted in the article and stated to me that her answers were taken out of context.  Family Ties is the payee for Cliff Anderson- there’s no disputing this. In fact the article itself states it, “SSI records for Anderson list Family Ties as the recipient for his money.”

FACT- Case Management never retains any portion of a client’s money.  In fact, many case managed clients do not participate in any structured savings plan at all. While we do our best to provide clients with all of the core services possible in order for them to set aside as much of their income toward housing, many don’t.  We require clients to save a portion of their income if they are asking to be placed on a priority bed status at the MLM Shelter.  Priority bed status means that a client is guaranteed a bed each night until he/she is housed.  We require that a client aside a portion of his/her monthly income so that when housing is located there is money for rent and required deposits. Our goal is to enable clients to eventually be able to find and afford housing.

FACT – CAPSLO clients who have chosen to participate in our case management program and as such be placed on a priority bed status, have been depositing a portion of their income with Family Ties since January 1997 and to date no client has ever brought an accusation of mismanaging of funds to either entity.  To date there have been no complaints filed with either CAPSLO or Family Ties.  Both agencies are audited routinely and many systems are in place to ensure funds are saved and allocated appropriately.

FACT- CAPSLO will thoroughly investigate any specific claim brought to its attention!

FACT – CAPSLO will thoroughly investigate any specific claim brought to their attention! To date no one, including the “reporters” listed in this story have done this. I and my organization work transparently and if anyone has specific questions, etc. – feel free to contact me directly at I am proud of my staff, programs, and clients and will always be happy to stand up for all of them!

Dee Torres says:
02/05/2013 at 10:29 pm
Absolutely not “gardenslo” I invite you to use a real name and contact me as there is absolutely nothing true to this story. Poor Cliff has been victimized by this site as countless others have been… Once again a shred of evidence has not been provided, just fake names with fake claims. – goodnight.

02/05/2013 at 10:20 pm
As stated above I and my staff have nothing to hide. I will provide all facts to Dave (Congalton) and look forward to being invited on his show.

Dee Torres says:
02/06/2013 at 6:52 am
Thanks for the advice “south”, I have nothing to hide. I’m not saying I’m perfect, none of us are but my staff and I do not take money from our clients. Our services are FREE to them. Any money they save is ALWAYS for them, to better their lives. These are the facts.

02/06/2013 at 7:55 am
Cindy, I appreciate honest questions and will do my best to answer. We began using Family Ties 16 years ago. Often times homeless people can’t open bank accounts of their own or they’re too costly, because of past issues, lack of adequate ID, etc… Family Ties helps people who can’t open their own account and want to save money. As we know it’s not safe to carry all the cash you own on you know matter what your situation, the homeless are particularly vulnerable. My staff are not payees or money managers, we are fortunate to have an organization like Family Ties to help people in this situation and they do a stellar job. During this 16 year partnership not one credible claim has ever been made against either organization. Receipts are given for each and every transaction. These are the facts.
As for the “fake names” I was referring to the posters not the homeless who are quoted in the story.

Regarding TV, a movie is played every evening. We do not have cable but every evening clients discuss and agree on a movie which is played in the main room. I will say that balancing the individual preferences of 50 people each day is challenging, many people hate the noise and wish we’d never turn it on.

As for the air conditioning at Prado, we were very fortunate to receive a grant from PG&E, to use on structural things to make the site more energy efficient. Linking this very specific grant to the warming station shows again that no credible reporting was done. We could not use that money for the warming station or any other program, if we wanted to.

The cost of the air conditioning system I believe was actually more than $25,000, why these things are so expensive are not for me to comment on, as this is not my area of expertise. I can say that the system is set up to cool the entire site, not just the offices, and it’s important. Luckily our weather is generally nice but on those few days every year when the heat is extreme, having 100 or so bodies trying to function in a cramped setting with no air conditioning, becomes dangerous at worst and extremely uncomfortable at best.
Why don’t we open our warming station more? The warming station activates during “extreme weather”, severe rain storms which are predicted to last 2 or more days and/or extreme cold 32 degrees or below. The other component is having available staff and volunteers.

Lastly, as I said I appreciate honest questions and will always try my best to answer swiftly and honestly. If you or anyone else would like a tour of either or both sites feel free to contact me directly, Taking a tour or volunteering at one of our sites are the best ways to actually learn about our programs, as you are not getting accurate information on this site.

02/06/2013 at 9:02 am
Hey Scarlet,
I can’t begin to speak about corruption or misdeeds done by others in our county or anywhere else for that matter. All media outlets report on these things. I can only speak for myself and my programs. There is no stealing, all of our programs are free to our clients, etc… I honestly have said all I can and CCN has provided no evidence of stealing because there is none. End of story. I understand that this posting can go on endlessly but I’ve got to get to work and can’t continue repeating myself. Again, anyone interested in learning actual facts about my transparent programs has a standing invitation for a tour or I can be contacted at

Booty Ju Ju says
02/06/2013 at 9:17 am
Jeebus. If people have been defrauded and money stolen – file a criminal complaint. How complicated is that?

Dee Torres replies:
02/06/2013 at 9:32 am