It seems like you should just need two things to start a community garden: a community and a garden. But it’s not so simple in San Diego, where zoning laws and permit fees limit the dreams of would-be urban farmers.

Non-profit groups are hoping to plant a new way of thinking at City Hall. They’re pushing to make zoning laws more flexible so more gardens can grow. But there are some hitches.

“There’s been resistance among community planning groups to approving anything that would potentially evade review by the community planning groups,” says a local activist. “They like the idea of community gardens, they just want to know what’s going in. Who’s going to be there? What will the hours be? Will there be neighborhood disturbances?”

Depends on what they grow. Hopefully they won’t sow discord.

Up in Smoke:

Authorities burned down the now-famous “bomb factory” house in Escondido yesterday morning, and everything seemed to go perfectly. Well, as perfectly as they can go when a big chunk of a city is evacuated and a major freeway shut down so a house thought to be full of explosives can burn to the ground.

Fie on Fees:

There’s been a big fuss locally and statewide over fees that public schools — which provide free education, at least in theory — charge for activities like sports and arts. Now, a proposed law would make it easier for parents and students to challenge fees and get their money back.

“Are You a Registered Voter in San Diego?”

The election season just ended, and now it’s beginning again: it’s getting so you can’t go to the supermarket without being approached by petition gatherers for two ballot measure petition drives. We’ve got insight into both.

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On the education front, our guest blogger is Scott Himelstein, the organizer of San Diegans 4 Great Schools, which is promoting a measure to change how San Diego schools are run by expanding the school board’s size and limiting the power of voters. He’s taking your questions.

There’s another ballot measure seeking support: it would revoke the newly passed city rules that make it very difficult for super-sized big-box stores — like Walmarts — to open in the city. KUSI says a special election would cost millions. That claim is true, says San Diego Fact Check.

A Place to Promenade:

Now, it’s basically a parking lot that seems to be forever full, at least during the day. But the Plaza de Panama — the space in front of the museum of art heading toward the organ pavilion in Balboa Park — has a storied past.

It may not have been a totally pristine pedestrian paradise. Even so, people went there to see and be seen, as the latest dispatch from History Man explains. Locals and out-of-towners strolled amid peacocks and pigeons and watched celebrities speak and perform, including a risqué fan dancer who ruffled some feathers by ruffling some feathers.

The plaza’s past may return in the future: There’s talk of evicting the cars and restoring it to its former glory. One more thing: make sure to catch the image of the “electriquette,” a kind of motorized love seat. Or as one of my colleagues put it, a “wicker Segway.”

Remembering Two Local Icons:

• Michael Portantino has long been a lightning rod in San Diego’s gay community: as publisher of the weekly Gay & Lesbian Times, he made waves by taking political stands and sometimes favoring Republicans.

After about a quarter century in business, the Gay & Lesbian Times collapsed earlier this year amid accusations of mismanagement. Authorities report that Portantino killed himself on Wednesday evening by jumping from Hillcrest’s historic Park Manor Hotel, a popular mingling spot for the gay community and visitors to town.

Earlier this year, the Gay & Lesbian Times — reflecting a greater divide in the gay community — endorsed County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who’s straight, and bashed his Democratic opponent, Stephen Whitburn, who is gay. Roberts won.

Two new gay-focused newspapers have sprung up and are aiming for the readers of the Times.

• In arts, blogger Jenni Prisk remembers her friend and castmate, actress Sandra Ellis-Troy, who died on Dec. 4. “She played society gals, divas, red-hot mamas, sensitive and gentle mothers, elderly women suffering from dementia, even Petruchio, the male lead in The Taming of the Shrew…,” Prisk writes. “Working with Sandy was a breathless joyride.”

Zoned-Out Coffeehouse Perks Up:

A coffeehouse in the Sherman Heights neighborhood that became a community gathering spot is back in business — kind of — after it closed its doors due to a zoning dispute with the city. As neighborhoods reporter Adrian Florido reports, “they hope to recapture at least some of the neighborhood vibe that made Latte Mi Corazon a popular gathering spot in the largely Latino, working-class neighborhood.”

Munchkin Redux:

Last week, we debunked an urban legend and declared that no one built little houses on La Jolla’s Mt. Soledad for the little people who played the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

However, two people have emailed me saying there were several small houses on the hill, and they saw them decades ago. They were supposedly built on Hillside Drive but later demolished. Does anybody out there know an architecture specialist who can help me confirm this and figure out if the homes were unusually teeny?

Snarky? Moi?

• Technology is an amazing thing: it allows a city-defending wonk (or wonks) to create a clever animated mini-play that downplays San Diego’s pension pickle and bashes the media. It also says we’re snarky here at Heaven forbid! Speaking for myself, I only engage in reality-based commentary.

San Diego’s Rank:

• Sometimes it seems like just about everybody in town works in the tech industry. (Either that, or I need to get out more.) Turns out there are numbers to back me up: 110,000 people work in tech in the San Diego area, a new Cybercities report says. San Diego and Denver were the only big cities to add tech jobs in 2009; San Diego’s tech salaries are more than double the average in the private sector.

• Finally, a new survey says about three-quarters of San Diegans aged 40-75 feel optimistic about their retirement prospects, a high number. (No, they didn’t just poll pension-blessed city employees or their online-video-making allies.) And 64 percent plan to stay here.

That’s a lot of retirees not moving to Arizona. Will Starbucks be replaced by Ensure dispensaries? Will a new Cialis Stadium open downtown? Maybe lawn bowling will replace volleyball as Balboa Park’s top sport along Sixth Avenue.

The Morning Report’s mind reels. Or at least it will after it hides from miffed seniors who are reading this. (“Mom! I told you never to call me here! Yes, I know it’s my home number.”)

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Randy Dotinga

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

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