Menaka Wilhelm

KCBX News contributor

Menaka Wilhelm is a contributing producer and reporter in the KCBX newsroom. Besides helping out with the daily newscast and putting pieces together for KCBX’s news magazine, Issues and Ideas, she’s often working on our Central Coast Curious series.

She’s in her element tackling listener questions for Central Coast Curious thanks to a background in science and engineering. Her journalism training comes from reporting stints at National Public Radio, WIRED, and The Santa Barbara Independent.

Born in San Francisco, Menaka grew up enjoying the barbecue and humidity of Charlotte, North Carolina. She returned to California to study at UC Berkeley.

When she’s not looking at words or waveforms on a screen, she likes making things with her hands (perhaps a faux-suede jacket, or a ginger shrub) and looking at the world from hilltops.

You can reach Menaka at, or on twitter: @menakawilhelm.

Courtesy of the Poetic Justice Project

At the end of a prison sentence, there’s a lot to do—get a driver’s license, reunite with family, find a job. Acting in a play isn’t usually on that list. But not for formerly incarcerated people involved with a program called the Poetic Justice Project. Now in its ninth year, the Poetic Justice Project casts former prisoners in plays for community audiences.

Menaka Wilhelm/KCBX

In the earliest days of cartoon movies, hopeful artists had to make their way to Los Angeles studios to learn animation. Now, digital tools let students learn the basics in far more places—including Allan Hancock community college in Santa Maria, which offers an associate degree in the field.

Courtesy of the Natural Healing Center

Here's another segment from KCBX News’ Central Coast Curious project; we take listener questions  submitted at our website,, and send our reporters out to find answers. This time, our question focuses on cannabis. Listener Charlie Blair wondered how commercial, recreational cannabis has impacted the Central Coast economy so far. Contributor Menaka Wilhelm took a look at the industry in San Luis Obispo County.

Menaka Wilhelm/KCBX

As of the latest unofficial election results published early Wednesday morning, Heidi Harmon is on her way to winning another two-year term as mayor of San Luis Obispo.

Greta Mart/KCBX

Regardless of which candidates and ballot measures voters choose this November, San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said this year’s general election is remarkable. San Luis Obispo County has seen a surge in the number of registered voters.

“We shattered our voter count record,” Gong said. “And we sent out 130,000 vote-by-mail ballots—10,000 more vote-by-mail ballots than 2016’s presidential election.”

In terms of voter registration, Gong said, it feels a bit more like a presidential election year than a midterm cycle.

In the city of San Luis Obispo, three candidates appear on the ballot for mayor: Heidi Harmon, Keith Gurnee, and Donald Hedrick.

Harold Litwiler

Time for another installment of Central Coast Curious. That’s our new reporting projecting where listeners ask questions and KCBX News investigates and reports back to you.

Every spring, a nearly-neon yellow flower blooms over the Central Coast’s hillsides: mustard. But as listener Leslie Thompson points out in her Central Coast Curious question, mustard hasn’t always been here — it may be pretty, but it’s an invasive plant. Thompson asks, “how did mustard come to “invade” the Central Coast?

Creative commons

Sea otters spend much of their day devouring whatever ocean snacks they can hunt down. They rely on their digestion to keep warm in the chilly Pacific Ocean, so they need to get their paws on at least ten pounds of food each day.

In California, it is a persistent challenge making water supply and water demand match up. A report being released Wednesday outlines how much water California’s coastal wastewater treatment plants dump into the ocean, and how much of that could be saved through better water management.