COAST CITIES — Say it izzn’t so. Beginning with the next issue of this newspaper, Bill Arballo will no longer be keeping an “Eye on the Coast.”
After 10 years and more than 500 columns, the veteran reporter is retiring, but “not by choice,” he said. At 86, health issues have made work increasingly difficult.
“I’ll miss the people and writing about them,” he said. “I love people.”
Arballo’s tenure with The Coast News culminates an impressive career that spanned the Pacific Ocean and includes one year as mayor of Del Mar. But he devoted most of his professional life to North County news, people and events.
Arballo began his journalism career as a student, writing for the Oceanside High School newspaper. He received his first “paycheck” as a reporter in 1940 after heavy rains caused a bluff to collapse on a freight train near his Del Mar home.
Hearing the crash, he went to investigate and immediately called the local paper.
Told to call back in the morning, Arballo instead contacted the Los Angeles Times, which verified the fatal wreck, ran the story and sent him a check for $25.
Following graduation in 1942, he served three years in the Army before returning to San Diego, where he became a general assignment reporter for the San Dieguito Citizen.
Arballo went on to work in media relations throughout the county, including a stint for the 22nd District Agricultural Association, before a move to the Big Island of Hawaii landed him a job with United Press International and a local radio station.
After eight years in Hawaii, he once again returned to North County, where he became managing editor for the San Dieguito Citizen. But he and the publisher disagreed on coverage areas.
“He wanted to cover Encinitas, but there was nothing going on there,” said Arballo, who felt all the news was happening south. So he left to start The Del Mar News Press, which he sold after one year to Jack Ford, son of President Gerald Ford.
Throughout his career Arballo has met nearly a half dozen presidents, including Ford, Richard Nixon and both George Bushes. In his home office and garage are file cabinets full of clippings from local cities, the county and the state that Arballo said he collected out of necessity over the years.
“I had to keep them,” he said. “Back then there was no Yahoo and I couldn’t call the papers for information because they usually called me.”
After selling The Del Mar News Press, Arballo returned to public relations until coming to The Coast News.
In 1998, he walked into that office to drop off an obituary he had written about Paul Mannen, one-time manager of the Del Mar Fair, as it was known at the time.
Arballo said Publisher Jim Kydd asked him who wrote the piece. “I told him I did,” Arballo said. “I asked if there was something wrong with it.
“He said, ‘No, we don’t usually get stuff with proper grammar and spelling.’ He asked if I wanted to write for him,” Arballo said.
In early 2000 Arballo was hired to cover city council meetings for Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas. Not long after, he began writing “Eye on the Coast” as an occasional column. It eventually evolved into a monthly feature and was running weekly by the end of the year.
Since then Arballo has kept The Coast News readers informed with his Page 5 column, providing a snapshot of mostly local news in short paragraphs and one-liners.
Although hired for his impeccable writing skills, Arballo was occasionally criticized for his purposefully misspelled words, such as sez, becuz and hizzoner, and incorrect grammar.
Arballo said he adopted the style from New York columnist Walter Winchell, inventor of the gossip column, “who used to mangle everything,” he said.
“That’s where I picked it up,” Arballo said. “Some people asked why I didn’t go to school and learn grammar and how to spell.”
He collected information from other newspapers, the Internet and a daily trip to the Del Mar post office. “People talk to me and don’t realize they’re giving me information for my column,” he said.
To say he will be missed is an understatement.
“Even after being a journalist for 25 years, I learned by just listening to and reading Bill,” longtime The Coast News columnist Jean Gillette said. “He is a master storyteller and a born reporter with an uncanny news sense, and yet he has always remained a perfect gentleman.
“Knowing him and working with him has been a privilege and a joy and I will never tire of his tales of life as a UPI reporter and of growing up in North County,” she said.
“Bill is just a fantastic human being,” Publisher Jim Kydd said. “Words like, ‘They don’t make them like they used to,’ come to mind when thinking of Bill.”
“I remember when he had a complicated heart surgery many years ago. He never missed having something in the paper,” Kydd said. “He respected deadlines — a definite plus in our business.”
“Bill Arballo is the quintessential newsman,” Editor Laurie Sutton said. “Not only can he be counted on to know the who, what, where, when and why of just about anything going down in North County, but he is always quick to offer a bit of advice or a kind word to his younger colleagues. His presence in the paper and in our office will be missed.”
Each week, Arballo ended his column with a phrase made famous by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who coincidentally will also soon be retiring not by choice. But it’s hard to believe we’ve seen the last of either of them.
So as both icons, each a giant in his own way, have been known to say, hasta la vista.