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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | By NEIL MORGAN

But I’ve been making excuses like this for San Diego city government since I first walked this beat half a century ago. I love the kid. But instead of joining us at the grown-up table, he grows stupid and selfish and brazen. He is not behaving like a kid I’d take to grandmother’s house. His parents haven’t brought him up right. He’s irresponsible and can’t be trusted with money. He runs with a bad crowd. He dumps on his best pals. He’s in trouble with the law. I don’t know how long we should go on bailing him out.

Harley Knox was the first distinguished mayor of my half century, and Pete Wilson was the other. Tom Fletcher was the brave and bold city manager. Scores of honest, earnest men and women have been elected to serve in city government, but few have risked their voter base or their salaried offices to lead unpopular or expensive visions that are vital to the evolution of San Diego into adulthood. Many of those whom we elect to City Hall have been drawn like moths to public issues that involve big money. They open their office doors to land developers until there is little land left to develop. Then they open their doors to stadium builders. All the while, the city rots.

And here we are again, wondering how a nice man like Dick Murphy could have gone so bad. And how those nice young city councilmen could be corrupt. 

For most of us, the answers to such questions seem unacceptable in a nice, clean, carefree city like San Diego, and we would rather not think about them at all. We’d rather think we’re here on vacation.

But let’s think for just a minute or two, of the actual good old days. Knox was a dairyman, a plain Midwesterner who wanted to repay San Diego for its welcome to him, his family and his business. His daughter, Donna Sefton, is still around to show you the family scrapbooks. Knox gave his all, until he was struck down with heart attacks in his second term. Professional pols seemed almost embarrassed by his earnestness. But they found his sincerity and honesty, made him impervious to their enticements. Harley plowed along, following his insistent initiatives to bring San Diego a second water aqueduct that saved the city, to pave a thousand streets and to chase prostitutes back to Los Angeles where they belonged.

Fletcher was a towering, fearless manager who spoke out boldly for innovative public projects and risked getting fired at every council conference. It’s hard, out there in public at those weekly council meetings, even for a cynical politician to decide it’s worth the risk of firing a man like that. Fletcher grew rabid as he talked of politicians whose vision did not reach beyond their terms of office. That’s how he decided to take the lead in the vision of a larger, smarter San Diego. His double whammy came when the revered Charlie Schroeder, director of the zoo, returned from a trip to Kenya and announced that the hillsides of San Pasqual Valley would make a perfect wild animal park. Fletcher had already been lusting over the aquifer that runs beneath the valley below. That’s when San Diego voters managed to annex San Pasqual into the city. Charlie got his wild animal park and Tom Fletcher pumped water for a thirsty city.

Where, and how, can we recapture such energy and vision for this city? 

Voice of San Diego has no enemies to punish, no advertisers to reward, no vested interests to fear. We found this Web site first, and we get to keep it. We’ll stay right here and try to encourage courage in San Diego. There is a great wave of San Diegans who share this concern, and wonder what they can do. There are San Diego organizations now that begin to address these issues, in seminars, in letters, over the air and on the screen.

Voice of San Diego could serve as a clearinghouse for all, a clear channel for back-and-forth discussion. There are no time constraints on this space, no charges, no penalties. We are discovering the sense of infinity in the Internet, and are anxious for you to consider it your own. If you would like to put in a word, to help rediscover San Diego in any way, to express your concerns and your hopes, just e-mail us. It’s too late to be subtle about bucking up the San Diego we imagine.

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