Arsonists and others set about 350 uncontrolled fires in San Diego annually, and those are just the ones that authorities know about. Fire Captain Fred Herrera investigates a bunch of them each year, figuring out how they started by poring through burnt bits of roofs, ceilings, couches and clothing in search of telltale evidence.
Herrera took a break from the ashes to tell us about his job and the evolution of arson investigations in this week’s Q&A feature.
Some clues are fairly new, like the DNA that might be found on a cigarette butt or fire-starting device. Others have only recently been properly understood, like the patterns that fire leaves in its path and the way it affects concrete and wood.
He also delves into the minds of those who set fires for a thrill (you might be surprised by one of their common motivations) and debunks a few myths about how fire works.
Downtown Library’s Not-So-Transient Homeless Problem
Not everyone who visits the downtown library is in search of material to read, watch or listen to. Many are homeless people seeking heat or air conditioning, a place to sit and a restroom. The new downtown library, now under construction, might serve the same purpose for transients, making it unpleasant for some visitors who prefer to not wash their hands in a restroom sink next to a shirtless homeless man taking a spit bath.
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Not to worry, the library’s architect tells San Diego Magazine. “There are homeless people in other libraries, but they’re not as disturbing,” he said. “These new libraries are so attractive that massive numbers of citizens go there. So instead of being one homeless person for every 10 patrons, it’s one homeless person for every 1,000.“
It’s unclear, though, why homeless people wouldn’t also be attracted to the library in greater numbers.
The architect says specially designed sinks that don’t allow bathing will appear on the ground floor, he said. But the city didn’t want to pay for them for upper floors.
• This article is also recommended in Grant Barrett’s weekend reading list, which includes articles about the hotel industry, building stadiums, California’s innovative online media, the state’s 2012 electoral votes and more.
Starlight Theatre Files for Bankruptcy
Balboa Park’s Starlight Musical Theatre has a storied history and an unusual habit: its performers stop what they’re doing and freeze when noise-making airplanes fly overhead. Now, the theater itself wants a freeze on the financial front. It’s filed for bankruptcy but hopes to reorganize, the U-T reports.
The theater said in a statement that “poor economic conditions have crippled the organization’s financial resources and hampered its ability to attract sponsors and grants.” It also had financial problems in the 1990s and had to cancel two summer seasons.
Our Editor’s ‘Overwhelming Perplexity’
Here’s a challenge for you to consider. How do you run a website that focuses on watchdog journalism — which often takes a long time to produce — while still churning out news stories every day to stay fresh, relevant and worthy of frequent visits? Our editor, Andrew Donohue, tells a Chicago alternative newspaper that the balancing act has been “chewing away at my brain the last nine months.” (We’d been wondering where his brain went.)
“We believe in order to have an engaged internet audience we have to be in front of them every day; the conversation has to come to the site,” Donohue told the paper, which refers to his “overwhelming perplexity.” “But our mission is to do impactful, meaningful reporting that can take months at a time. It’s a constant balancing act to find a way to do both. There’s no formula whatsoever.”
He adds that voiceofsandiego.org recently realized that “we’re not really having the impact we wanted to be having. So we’ve really taken the foot off the gas over the last month or so and put out a couple of big-project pieces.” One of those was the investigation of San Diego’s tremendously expensive affordable housing projects.
Your Helpful Tip of the Day
You might be annoyed by having to cough up a discount/reward card every time you visit a supermarket or drugstore. It always takes a bit of fumbling and even some confusion. Is the Ralphs one red? Or is that Vons?
There’s one possible solution, as Lifehacker.com notes: just enter a phone number that’s not yours and take advantage of someone who registered a fake number. Try the one from the ’80s song: “Since 867-5309 is one of the most commonly remembered phone numbers, it’s almost always in the system.”
I’ve tried this at the grocery store and a pet store, and it’s worked both times. Although it was a little weird to hear a clerk bid me farewell with “Thank you, um, Florencia.” You’re, um, welcome!
What We Learned This Week:
• Backcountry Blueprint Is a Done Deal: County leaders finally approved a blueprint for the unincorporated regions of the county, including many rural areas. The idea is to focus development around existing towns like Fallbrook and Ramona while protecting some open spaces. (NCT)
• County Board May Do a Presto-Change-o: Under pressure to open the door for minorities to join a panel that’s been all-white and all-Republican since 1995, the county board of supervisors is sending its boundary-redrawing project back to the drawing board. (NCT)
• A Complication in the Jackson Saga: The San Diego school board won’t look into whether board member Shelia Jackson doesn’t live in her district. Nor will it investigate whether she’s inappropriately accepting free rent from a district employee. And not just any employee: this one was at the center of a bizarre battle at a K-8 school.
• The Cross Walk with No Crosswalk: Yes, you can walk across Sixth Avenue along Balboa Park at intersections even if there’s no stoplight. Now there are even new improved curb ramps for disabled people. But if you’d like an actual crosswalk with white lines and all that jazz, you’re out of luck: the city thinks they’ll encourage pedestrians to be careless and not look out for traffic.
• Public Relations Prices: In response to a U-T article about the county pension board spending $76,000 on public relations, including “$2,512.50 to prepare for a May 6 meeting with U-T Editor Jeff Light” (and an unknown amount to respond to voiceofsandiego.org), Light remarked on Facebook, “Those of you who need to prepare for future meetings with me can save the $2,512.50. Just call (619) 293-1201, make an appointment, and come on in. No talking points needed.”
Quote of the Week: “Honestly, I hear La Mesa is part of San Diego. Not many people know La Mesa is [within] San Diego city.” — a man in La Mesa who was gathering signatures to force a petition reform initiative onto the ballot in the city of San Diego, according to patch.com. Any signatures from voters from outside the city — like, say, La Mesans — won’t count.