Requiem for a heavyweight

Rod Serling, Army veteran of numerous pitched battles during WW II in the South Pacific, earned his overdue recognition as a thoughtful writer with the timeless drama of an aging heavyweight fighter facing the end of his career.

It must be the same for the team of the San Diego Daily Transcript, who, for more than a century, prepared and published its daily editions for San Diego's elite leadership.

The owners and publisher of The Daily Transcript and San Diego Source, contrary to the skimpy space provided by other papers, continuously featured and promoted a stable of amateur writers who occupied a range of political views from lefties like George Mitrovich all the way to the informed, thoughtful, downright elegiac writers of the rational center like myself.

And while one may conclude that the management got a good deal from a lot of free content, the amount of editorial heartburn expended on columnists' concerning content and the need to comply with the AP Stylebook meant our columns were far from free.

However, before an encomium such as this can be deemed credible, we need to ask: Did the spattering of all that Daily Transcript "ink bought by the barrel" do any good?

The answer is a resounding yes.

For example, former Daily Transcript reporter Elizabeth Malloy once discovered the fact that actuaries for the city retirement system (SDCERS) had concocted a "smoothing" formula that understated the current market value of the fund by a whopping billion dollars.

This "smoothing error" was of consequence because that "smoothed" total is the base for projecting the annual contributions demanded from the city as employer and the employees themselves.

But by substituting the false "actuarial value" for the value of the true value of the fund, the actuaries cleverly cadged vast overpayments and then hid them in the "smoothing" game.

I followed up Malloy's blockbuster story pointing out that that she was entirely correct and that the actuaries knew what they were doing by misleading everyone about the funds' current market value

Belatedly, there appeared a footnote in the reports of the SDCERS system that: "A one-time accounting adjustment" resulted in the actuarial value of the fund rising by a cool BILLION dollars.

No one in city management or the auditor's office spotted the billion-dollar error and in so doing, the Transcript provided a mighty public service effectively creating a billion-dollar windfall for the city out of sheer journalistic professionalism.

On another issue, a few years back, we San Diegans learned to our horror that 13 of our fellow citizens had been immolated during a forest fire in an East County canyon.

Firefighters had been going door to door to warn residents but were forced to leave, thereby abandoning the unlucky 13.

When I heard the report, I wondered why someone had not simply called the victims since they were all at home and all likely had telephones.

I followed up with a search of the Internet for a "robocall" company to interview about the feasibility of such a system.

Instead, within moments, I turned up a company called "Reverse 9-1-1" the purpose of which was obvious by the name of the company.

Why San Diego, the leader in creating the first 9-1-1 system, was a Johnny-come-lately on the reverse is a travesty.

I wrote a column for The Daily Transcript and San Diego Source praising the notion of "Reverse 9-1-1" (a trademarked name) to educate the public as to the problem and the solution.

Eventually, the county board of supervisors woke up and installed the system just in time for worst wildfire in San Diego history.

This time, there followed the largest and most orderly evacuation in the history of the country. And it took place without the loss of any life that I am aware of.

I don't doubt that the circulation of the idea among The Daily Transcript's elite, leadership subscribers resulted in the board’s (albeit belated) action.

A third, but by no means last, example of a major contribution by The Daily Transcript and San Diego Source resulted from Linda and I moving into a downtown high-rise to eliminate the daily freeway commute to and from work.

The first night was nearly enough for me to demand that we breach the lease and move back to the suburbs.

The ridiculous policy of the railroad of blowing its whistle at every street crossing in downtown San Diego all night long supplemented by the squawk, squawk of the trolley horn made sleeping impossible.

I contacted City Hall and got shrugged shoulders and the indifferent sang froid of a French guillotine operator as if to say what business was it of theirs that the center city was unlivable?

So I researched it myself. Though there was an applicable state law, the federal government had tumbled to the demands of railroad operators by enacting a federal rule that nearly eliminated liability for any accident, so long as they blew their horn.

But I learned that there was, in that same rule, a theretofore unknown provision for the creation of "quiet zones."

By meeting specified conditions, the horns could be silenced in qualifying zones.

I wrote the column outlining the problem and the solution of quiet zones and received immediate feedback from up and down the coast.

Along with other communities, San Diego City Hall got busy and ultimately achieved enough compliance that the trains could no longer honk their horns, destroying the sleep of thousands of downtown residents.

Once again, without the attention of the Transcript's powerful subscriber audience, City Hall would not have listened.

I know every contributor to the Transcript has their own examples of how the venerable heavyweight champion Daily Transcript improved the lives of their readers.

This is one “Requiem for a Heavyweight” I wish that I never had the need to write.

On behalf of all San Diegans, I thank the ownership, along with Bob Loomis and the entire Transcript team for a great run.

"Well done, good and faithful servants" of a free press.

Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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