People love the idea of politicians who “make tough choices” until they actually make them and leave someone in the cold.

Earlier this week, a two-year-old boy choked to death in Mira Mesa. We may never know if a faster response by the fire department would have saved his life. But it does seem clear that a fire station “brownout” — the result of budget cuts — kept help from arriving quickly.

This is an opportunity for San Diego’s elected leaders to show leadership, a trait their critics say has long been in short supply.

What are the options? City officials could force citizens to accept service cutbacks in order to restore those idle fire trucks. Or they could convince city workers to take less pay in order to protect the public. (Call these options “sacrifice.”)

They could say the reduced services are the price the city must pay for its financial sins. (Call this “no way out.”)

They could convince voters to open their wallets. (Call this “pay up.”)

Or they could go for none of the above.

We’ve already got indications about what a couple of City Council members are thinking.

Councilman Tony Young declared yesterday that the city should end the brownout immediately, make cuts elsewhere and dip into reserve funds, those set aside for rainy days. He wants the city to raise fees if a sales tax increase doesn’t come to pass.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Marti Emerald said she wants the mayor to dip into those reserve funds and restore some of the idled fire engines.

The problem with dipping into reserve funds is that they’re supposed to be for one-time emergencies, not to plug holes in budgets.

Also: we have more details and a map that shows where fire engines were when two-year-old Bentley Do died.

In other news:

• Sales tax, sales tax, sales tax! That’s been the mantra over the past few weeks at City Hall, where there’s plenty of talk about boosting the sales tax that we all pay when we buy certain things. The state sets the base tax, but cities can add to it to raise money.

But wait. Wasn’t there talk in the past about raising fees on trash collection and processing of storm water? What happened to all that? We’ve got the answer.

• Last month, an embarrassing failure to submit enough petition signatures killed a proposed city initiative in favor of outsourcing. But a ballot box showdown is still on the horizon. The “reform before revenue” crowd — they oppose labor unions and hate new taxes — are looking forward to the elections in 2012 and may bring forth an initiative to overhaul the employee pension program.

• The San Diego school district spends 90 percent of its day-to-day budget on teachers and other workers and the number is expected to rise.

The problem is that there isn’t much left over for all the other expenses. There’s less to cut without directly impacting staff — the people who teach and keep the campuses running in other ways. And cutting jobs isn’t easy or desirable.

• Also in education, the coalition that wants to reform San Diego schools took its road show to Tierrasanta the other night, but their presentation wasn’t a smashing success. “We have no idea where you’re coming from,” said a community leader.

• The public face of the Chargers has declared that San Diego State would lose its Division I-A sports status if the football stadium was torn down. Yikes. That would be a big deal. Is it true? We’ve run a Fact Check and issued a verdict that doesn’t include the word “true” in it.

• Last week, we introduced you to Rae Armantrout, the UCSD professor who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for her poetry.

She had more to say: In a follow-up we hear from her about growing up in San Diego (home to “middle America pathology”), creating a new type of poetry and finding inspiration in the irony of our lives here.

• In yesterday’s Morning Report, we linked to a Fact Check story confirming the earthy origins of the name of the Wild Animal Park’s now-defunct monorail.

I asked readers to send me scanned photos of themselves as kids on the monorail. Today we’re sweetening the pot and expanding our request.

The next person to email me a photo of yourself as a kid — or of your own kid(s) — on the Wgasa Bush Line monorail will win a pair of tickets for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Chula Vista Nature Center.

Elsewhere:

• The U-T reports that there’s talk of a major overhaul of a one-mile stretch of University Avenue in the North Park area. The idea is to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, but residents worry that traffic will head to side streets.

• Finally, the NYT takes a first-person look at fishing off the San Diego coast. Fly-fishing for mako shark, that is.

The sharks weigh up to 300 pounds as juveniles (talk about a childhood obesity epidemic) and come as close as a quarter mile of the La Jolla shoreline. In the article, the writer hooks a mako shark but lets it go, following common practice.

The writer was exhilarated. As for the shark, well, it’s surely wishing it could turn its tormenter into an appetizer.

— RANDY DOTINGA

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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