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

Freeways force out residents in communities of color — again

Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2021

In addition to one of the country’s greatest feats of public works, the construction of the U.S. Interstate Highway System was the largest cause of urban displacement in American history. But freeways forcing families from their homes is not just a relic of the past.

In a first of its kind analysis, our investigation showed that the past three decades of highway building, widening and expansion, has displaced more than 200,000 people across the country. And, like in the heyday of interstate construction a half-century ago, we found that some of the largest modern freeway projects disproportionately displaced residents living in Black and now Latino communities as well.

Our nationwide investigation showed that highway planners’ decisions in recent decades to widen interstates in cities — from Los Angeles, to Houston, to Tampa — drove the racial inequities in displacements. In essence, the choice to expand on the racist highway architecture of the past has led to continued racially disparate outcomes. In one case, we found a family that was displaced by the original construction of Interstate 275 in Tampa was then forced from their new home when I-275 was expanded 40 years later.

Our highway displacement coverage also included a brief history of how the nation’s freeway network divided Black communities and an explanation of how we did our reporting.

The investigation prompted new California state legislation that would block highway expansions in underserved communities. Additionally, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called our reporting “very concerning” and has promised to increase oversight of federal highway funding to ensure projects do not violate civil rights laws.

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Black and Latino renters face eviction, exclusion amid police crackdowns in California

Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2020

Nearly 2,000 cities across the United States and elsewhere have approved a collection of policies that have expanded the power of the police to decide who can and can’t live in their communities.

The municipal programs, called “crime-free housing,” empower landlords to evict or exclude tenants from their apartments based on prior convictions or new arrests.

We completed the first comprehensive examination of these policies in California and found that at least 147 cities and counties — more than a quarter of local governments in the state — have approved a crime-free housing program.

We also found that crime-free housing efforts in the state have disproportionately affected Black and Latino renters. Most of the cities with growing Black and Latino populations have adopted them and tenants of color are more likely to be evicted.

The story:

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

Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2018

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

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

Two years after this investigation published, California voters approved a state ballot measure that eliminated the benefit for heirs who planned to rent out their parents’ homes.

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

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2017

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

The story:

Ave Maria: A Town Without a Vote

Naples Daily News, May 10-12, 2009

This three-part investigative series examined the town government of Ave Maria. The series revealed that Ave Maria’s developers, including the founder of Domino’s Pizza, wrote and lobbied for a state law that allowed them to control the government forever. The developers’ power, which had never been reported previously, so departed from prior Florida development law that it might be unconstitutional.

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