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There’s been a lot of talk about asking voters to boost the sales tax in San Diego by a half cent to pay for “essential services.” This suggests that the extra money would go to things like police and fire and not, say, fancier toilet paper at City Hall.

But here’s the truth: the revenue — estimated at $103 million a year — could be spent on lots of things.

Under state law, a city can’t ask voters to approve a sales tax hike and then spend the money on specific things like police cars or fire engines. The money has to go into the general fund, a pot that pays for a huge variety of services and expenses.

There is an exception: the city could devote the money to a specific purpose, but only if two-thirds of voters approve. No one’s proposing a measure like that because a two-thirds vote sounds impossible to get.

One more thing: Are there enough votes on the City Council to put a half-cent sales tax hike on the ballot in November? It may all come down to one person.

In other news:

• The fire department’s brownouts have increased response times by two and 35 seconds in affected neighborhoods, a new report says.

The death of a toddler this week gave new urgency to the debate over brownouts. Look below for more on this ongoing story, and check our new post that explains the timeline of events Tuesday night that kept fire trucks from quickly getting to two-year-old Bentley Do.

• On weekdays, she’s a county prosecutor. On Sundays, she holds Roman Catholic services at a church in Serra Mesa. She offers communion and takes confession like any other priest, and says she’s one herself.

The Vatican would rather Jane Via not do that. In fact, it’s excommunicated her. But she continues to minister to a flock of about 150 Roman Catholic dissidents.

In this weekend’s Q&A feature, we talk to Via about her mission to overcome the men who rule her faith.

• A new report from a nonpartisan group says purified sewage would be a “strong, viable” additional source of water in our region.

• The San Diego People Project checks in with a local goldsmith who’s connected (as is always the case with our People Project) to the subject of last week’s profile. He talks about making jewelry, sharing a name with a famous murderer who ended up before a firing squad, and finding a bunch of cops laughing it up in his shop.

Elsewhere:

• The route has been set for an extension of the trolley from Old Town to UCSD and the UTC mall. (U-T)

• The U-T reports that a man died yesterday after jumping from Balboa Park’s Cabrillo Bridge over Highway 163. The bridge has high fencing that deters jumpers, making this case fairly unusual.

As we reported in a series of stories about Coronado Bridge suicides in 2008, the city erected the fencing in the 1950s after a spate of suicides, including some that threatened people and cars below. There was even talk of installing a net below the bridge. There is still no barrier at the Coronado Bridge, where more than 250 people have jumped to their deaths over the past 41 years.

• Wanna buy a white tuxedo shirt that Frank Sinatra wore during a 1988 San Diego concert with Liza Minnelli?

A Newport Beach man is trying to sell the French cuffed shirt, which he bought for $5 in his neighbor’s garage.

How much is it worth? “Consider that in the last few years, a William Shatner kidney stone sold for $25,000,” the Orange County Register reports. “A Marilyn Monroe X-ray sold for $45,000. And an Elvis Presley belt sold for $66,000.”

I plan to be famous any day now, by the way. Stock up early and avoid the rush: I’d be happy to give you an autographed sock for just $9.99.

•••

What We Learned This Week: The news focused on the city’s spending and the high price a family may have paid

A Boy’s Death Focuses Debate A toddler died in Mira Mesa after choking on a gumball. The fire department’s response was delayed by brownouts spawned by budget cuts, although it’s not clear what would have happened if crews got there earlier. We examined the fallout and created a map explaining what happened.

Someone’s Gotta Pay for This The City Council agreed to ask voters in November to approve a new City Hall at a cost of $294 million. Now, the big question is this: who’s going to fund an advertising campaign to convince voters to pay for it? The likely suspects, downtown’s big shots, aren’t thrilled that the council shifted the decision to voters.

•••

Fact Check-o-Rama:

• We examined a whole bunch of claims this week. Will SDSU lose its college sports status if it can’t play football at that stadium in Mission Valley? Do 600 people really get arrested for DUI each year in the Pacific Beach neighborhood alone? And was the Wild Animal Park’s monorail line named after an acronym for a phrase with a dirty word in it?

•••

The Coffee Collection (engaging stories to enjoy over a cup of green tea):

Conserve, Dang It! But Not Like Me: Several local water officials have actually boosted their water use in recent years instead of conserving. Naughty, naughty!

Future Shock in Little Saigon: San Diego’s Vietnamese enclave on El Cajon Boulevard is divided between new and old generations who disagree on how to promote its shops and restaurants.

•••

Number of the Week: 90 percent. That’s how much of the San Diego school district’s budget is devoted to staff costs, a number that raises questions about how much there is left to cut outside of salaries and benefits. (We’ve just added a graphic showing how local districts stack up when it comes to this measure.)

•••

Bonus Number of the Week: Three. The number of large rolls of cash that authorities found in the pockets of the man accused of being the mastermind behind an epic local real-estate scam.

•••

Quote of the Week: “An example of the pathology of ‘Middle-America’ at mid-century” — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and UCSD professor Rae Armantrout on what her early life was like growing up in San Diego’s Allied Gardens neighborhood.

— 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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