Sandhya Dirks


Sandhya got her start as a reporting fellow at KALW, working on award winning radio documentaries about crime and justice and education in Oakland. She reported on the 2012 presidential election in Iowa, for Iowa Public Radio, where she also covered diversity and mental health issues.

As a politics reporter in San Diego at KPBS, she helped lead an investigation into sexual harassment charges against the mayor that resulted in his resignation. For that reporting she was named, along with her team, San Diego's Journalist of the Year by the local Society of Professional Journalists. Sandhya also reports for NPR, Latino USA, and PRI's The World. 

She returned to KALW to continue her work on criminal justice, poverty, and the changing community of the Bay Area. 

Sandhya studied at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, where her masters project, an investigative documentary film about international adoption, received the Pasty Pulitzer Fellowship. 

She lives in Oakland with her two cats. 

Sandhya Dirks

All week long, we've been playing this sound, and asking you to guess what exactly it is and where exactly in the Bay Area we recorded it.

Journalist Cyrus Farivar knows a thing or two about surveillance. While reporting for Ars Technica, Farivar got the entire license plate reader dataset from the Oakland Police Department -- that’s all of the license plate scans they recorded and saved -- from December 2010 to May 2014. He says Oakland has no official policy for how long they keep all of that information. And, he says, it’s not the only problematic surveillance technique being used in the city, or across the state. Farivar came into our studios to talk about his reporting with KALW’s Sandhya Dirks. 


California has long been a land of possibility. From the Gold Rush to the promise of fertile farmland, people from all over the world have flocked here for the chance at a new life.

flickr user Florida International University

In the auditorium of Willard Middle School, about 300 people have gathered, many of them sitting on those rickety school bucket chairs, the ones that make most adults hunch over awkwardly. Sitting on stage in front of a tattered green velvet curtain is an eight member panel; a combination of husbands and wives, comedians and scholars, teachers and students.

Michael Lionstar

Awards season is behind us, with top honors for acting handed out at the Golden Globes and Oscars. But after all the pomp and circumstance is over and the red carpet is rolled backed up, have you ever wondered -- what does it all mean? That’s the subject of Why Acting Matters, a new book by acclaimed film critic -- and San Francisco local -- David Thomson.

Berkeley South Asian Radical Walking Tour

There are a thousand hidden histories in the Bay Area – stories in the cement, just beneath the surface of our routes to work or school or play. There are also a handful of guided walking tours that aim to pull these stories from the pavement: Architecture tours, neighborhood tours, literary tours. And then, there is the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour. In 2012, Barnali Ghosh began the tour with her husband, Anirvan Chatterjee.

East Bay Express

The current unrest after police shootings of unarmed black men means the battle for racial justice is far from over. Jeff Chang is a journalist, cultural critic, and the head of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford. In his new book, Who We Be: The Colorization of America, he argues that the myth of multiculturalism has in some ways silenced a real conversation about racial disparity in America. KALW’s Sandhya Dirks sat down with Chang to talk about his new book, current protests over police shootings, and how to begin a conversation about race in America today.

Flickr user Jill Karjian


Mayor Jean Quan is the incumbent in the race, and she's been making the case for Oakland to give her a second term. But in the past four years, her leadership of the city has received mixed reviews. She has been criticized for her crackdown of the Occupy encampment. She has also been taken to task for troubles in the controversial Oakland Police Department, which has had a federal monitor and rapid turn-over at the top. But Quan says the city is better off than it was four years ago. She says violent crime is down and the city is finally on the right track.

Sandhya Dirks

The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has become something of a superstar in America. He is known for his provocative artwork, his outspoken critique of Chinese policy, and for his imprisonment by the Chinese government.

Ai has been under house arrest in Beijing since 2011, but that has not stopped him from making work internationally. He just opened a massive and unprecedented installation, @Large, on the former prison island of Alcatraz.

Sandhya Dirks

The importance of what actually transpires at a city council meeting can get hidden behind seemingly boring procedure – the shuffling of papers and the issuing of proclamations. But behind the bureaucracy there are real people fighting small but important battles; battles like what to do with six inches of sidewalk, or how to raise the minimum wage. At city council meetings everyone gets a chance to speak. During public comment, the working mother and the downtown developer have the same amount of time to make their point of view known.

Sandhya Dirks

For the past eight years, one weekend in late summer brings first responders from across the country and around the world -- firemen, medics, SWAT teams and police officers --  to Alameda County for Urban Shield, one of the largest law enforcement training exercises in the country.

Sandhya Dirks

From the outside, Richardson Bay in tony Sausalito looks like a manicured sea of floating million dollar homes, bobbing up and down in orderly rows. But nestled in the middle of all that one dock stands apart: A squatter community of houseboats, inhabited by artists, hippies, and self-proclaimed pirates who for years have lived off the grid.

Flickr user enerva

Current Pope Francis has famously said about homosexuality, “who am I to Judge?” But despite his progressive words, the Roman Catholic church does not exactly embrace the cause of same sex marriage.

John Lewis is the only person to have spoken at the 1963 March on Washington who is still alive. He was just 23 years old when he addressed the crowd of more than 200,000 at the Lincoln Memorial 50 years ago.

Lewis is a pillar of the civil rights movement. The son of sharecroppers in rural Alabama, he went on to become the president of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and then eventually, a U.S. Congressman from Georgia.

On Friday, the embattled mayor of San Diego officially steps down. Allegations of sexual harassment against Bob Filner have rocked the eighth-largest American city, which now has to pick up the pieces and elect a new mayor.

The announcement last week that Filner would leave office was greeted with cheers, boos and a flurry of activity from the press — but it all went quiet when the soon-to-be ex-mayor emerged from a swell of bodyguards to speak at the podium.

With immigration a hot-button issue in Washington, some version of immigration reform is likely this year. Even so, immigrant activist Sandra Sanchez concedes that the country might not be ready for an overhaul of its immigration laws.

Sanchez, director of the American Friends Service Committee Iowa's Immigrants Voice Program, doesn't mean that in political terms, but in practical ones. "We need to be prepared for the wave of millions of potential applicants that will be needing ... legal services," she says. "And we will not have enough resources to serve them."

Both campaigns want to claim momentum heading into the final days of the campaign. This is especially true in battleground states like Iowa, where enthusiasm and voter turnout can make all the difference.

It's a common political metaphor — momentum — but is it a good one?

In a number of swing states, early voting means many people are already casting their ballots. Typically, that entails voting by mail or visiting a county elections office.

But in Iowa, satellite voting — where "pop-up" polling stations allow people to vote at convenient times and nontraditional locations — is growing in popularity.

The Midwest is known for its roadside attractions — world's largest ear of corn, heaviest ball of twine, biggest truck stop.

But it's also home to one of the largest collections of grottoes in the world. Most of these man-made caves were created by immigrant priests at the beginning of the 20th century. And the mother of them all — encrusted in $6 million worth of semiprecious stones — is in West Bend, Iowa.

This weekend, the Grotto of the Redemption turns 100.

Oakland City Hall. Flickr photo by mcjohnnyz.

In the last week of 2011, a man named Sanjiv Handa passed away. KALW’s Rina Palta tweeted, “Oakland City Council meetings will be a lot less interesting.” It was a sentiment shared by many people. Handa, who was 55, spoke at nearly every meeting of the Oakland city council for two decades. He went to subcommittee meetings, and commission meetings. He researched legislation, and he dogged city officials over every rule violation.