Amid a week of whirlwind of intrigue and strategizing at City Hall, 10 words cut through the chaos: “You didn’t do your job, and a kid is dead.”

They came from the mouths of a town council president whose neighborhood is among those most affected by fire department cutbacks that have been linked to the death of a two-year-old boy last week.

A City Council committee listened yesterday as residents complained about “brownouts” — idled fire engines. But the mayor’s office rebuffed two councilmembers and said the city won’t dip into reserve funds to restore the fire services.

“Obviously, the incident with the child is very unfortunate,” a mayor’s official said. But “even without the brownouts, we have unfortunate incidents that occur.”

That was that, at least for now. The council has other things to think about: it’s scrambling like mad to figure out how to still put a sales-tax-hike measure on the November ballot. Time is running out — the deadline is Aug. 6 — and the city attorney says councilmembers need to get cracking pronto, as in this week and maybe this weekend too. No way, said a council president spokeswoman, so it looks like the crunch may start next week.

Part of the problem is that one proposal on the table is more than a little complicated and may be legally dicey. It would require the city to reform the way it pays employees, among other things, or else the tax hike would expire in two years.

Meanwhile, a new proposal popped up, courtesy of two Republican councilmembers, one of whom said a tax hike measure is “reckless.” (So much for a united front.)

Folks are wondering when the mayor is going to get around to jumping in with an opinion. After all, he could try to veto whatever the council comes up with.

So what’s next? We’ve got a timeline of what has to happen by a week from tomorrow in order for the council to put a measure on the November ballot.

Hold tight. The next few days are going to be a humdinger.

In other news:

• You can tell it’s a busy day at City Hall when this story is an afterthought in the big scheme of things: A collection of current and previous city leaders stood on a patch of downtown dirt yesterday and shoved shovels into the ground. Construction on San Diego’s $185 million library/school is ready to begin.

There are plenty of doubts among the naysayers: about money (will donors raise enough funds?), about staffing (will it barely be open like the current downtown library?) and its use (will digital materials make a library irrelevant?).

For the moment, though, the emphasis was on celebration and on a project that’s … um … OK, I’ll say it. Long overdue.

• In the shadow of an I-5 off-ramp at a place called Chicano Park, men (and a solo woman) gather to play handball in the afternoon. We went there to watch and listen. Grab a cup of coffee and check out what we discovered.

• A coalition of philanthropists, businesspeople and other folks is trying to reform San Diego schools, and it’s holding community meetings to share its findings.

The school district said it would like a schedule of the meetings so its people could show up and respond. (In a related story, I’d like a puppy and a BMW and a brand new house.) That didn’t go over well.

• Also in education: “If California wins in the second round of Race to the Top, a competition between states for more school stimulus money, only a handful of school districts in San Diego County would get a share.” And: San Diego schools are “seeking to borrow more money for school renovation and pay it off over a longer period of time.”

• Here’s a mystery to figure out: the economy still stinks, lots of people don’t have jobs, and crime is … down, once again. New countywide numbers say both property and violent crime from January-June fell compared to both 2009 and 2008. Go figure. Or go celebrate: this is some rare good news.

• Our real-estate columnist (no, not “real estate novelist,” but nice try, Billy Joel) takes a close look at the new Case-Schiller data. Translation: He’s mulling statistics about housing prices. Our number cruncher also beats his previous record for his column’s highest chart-to-word ratio.

• We’ve hired a new arts editor. Her name will be familiar to readers and you may have seen her in her weekly segments on local TV news: she’s Kelly Bennett, who’s been covering real estate, the economy and social services.

The arts editor job is a new one for us: As the post about Bennett’s promotion puts it, “our vision is to cover the personalities, the institutions and the region’s pursuit of the new and the bold in visual, musical and theatrical efforts.”

She’s going to be really busy, so don’t go thinking she’ll have time to drop by and look at your etchings. (And she’s heard that line before.)


• In CityBeat: In three years, County Supervisor Bill Horn “has steered $80,000 in public money to a Christian organization that provides pro-life educational materials to K-12 schools.”

Horn didn’t comment. The expenditures — from the “slush funds” provided to all five supervisors — could run afoul of laws that prevent government spending on religious-based causes.

• CityBeat captured a shot of a surprisingly trim (wow) David Copley at the library groundbreaking. (He’s the much-speculated-about former publisher of the U-T.)

• The Beach & Bay Press looks at a state law that forbids cars from parking in the same place on city streets for more than 72 hours. Authorities enforce the law on a regular basis, impounding a whopping 10,165 cars for breaking the law in 2009.

This got me a bit worried. But I checked: spending more than 72 hours on your couch is still legal in this state.


Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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