In dozens of neighborhoods, residents pick up the slack in the city’s services by paying special taxes for things like tree-trimming and graffiti removal. But now, a court has thrown a wrench into the city’s financial gears.

Last week, a state appeals court sided with Golden Hill-South Park residents who argued the taxes let the city off the hook from its basic responsibilities.

“The ruling made it clear that San Diego must walk a fine line as it copes with budget deficits and tries to find new ways to pay for old services,” Adrian Florido writes.

Some areas, though, enjoy the extra taxes. “In places like Little Italy, they’ve been used to turn previously lackluster areas into bustling neighborhood centers,” Florido reports. “In many neighborhoods, residents see them as unfortunate but necessary funding tools for neighborhood upkeep, given the city’s dire financial picture.”

Council Agenda: SPDP Crisis Delay, Hotel Tax OK and Outsourcing Melee

• It’s been months since the San Diego Police Department’s officer-behavior scandal hit its zenith, but the City Council still hasn’t held a public hearing to question the chief about the allegations or the department’s response despite pledges to do so.

• The city attorney says a plan to extend a 2 percent charge on most hotel guests is still legally kosher. The City Council considers it again today after the hotel workers union, among others, questioned whether hoteliers — who control the money and use it for promotion — could unilaterally hike the charge without a vote of the people. The boost is expected to bring in more than $1 billion over its 40-year lifespan.

• The City Council agreed yesterday to move forward with plans to privatize the Miramar Landfill, shrugging off opposition from environmentalists and unions.

Opponents, including the Sierra Club, say “the city should keep running the 1,400-acre landfill because a private firm may not maintain the same environmental standards and the city would be on the hook to pay for any of that firm’s mistakes,” the Union-Tribune reports. But supporters, including the mayor, say the city needs to shed expenses.

Lessons from 2007 Wildfires for Texas

“Here, we rescued an old couple from their bathtub while the back of their house was on fire. All we did was knock on people’s doors and tell them to run.” Those are the words of Lakeside’s fire chief, telling a reporter from wildfire-devastated Texas about the deadly wildfires in 2003 and 2007.

The reporter, from the Austin paper, was in town to seek lessons about fighting and preventing wildfires: “Not far below the surface, changes forged in the embers of the historic fire have been grafted onto everyday life in San Diego and California. Whether residents know it or not, the 2003 blaze continues to touch nearly everyone in the region.”

Only about two-thirds of homeowners rebuilt after 2003, and only about half of those affected by the 2007 fires, says the story. It examines what the wildfire spawned, such as reverse 911, lengthy recovery efforts and personal struggles. A consultant recalled interviewing residents at their homes: “At one, everyone had guns. And they were pissed. Some people were drunk — they couldn’t cope.” But some did cope and rebuild.

Still in the Dark over Water Deal

The general manager of the Otay Water District, which serves much of South Bay, recently promised a radio host that she’d promptly get important details in the secrecy-shrouded negotiations over a Mexico desalination plant. The host has heard nothing, and neither have we.

A False Claim about Redevelopment

“The city is suing the state to retain those (redevelopment) funds,” said City Councilman Todd Gloria on the local news the other day. San Diego Fact Check finds that his claim is false. The city isn’t a party to a big lawsuit against the state.

San Diego Fact Check TV, our TV segment in conjunction with NBC 7 San Diego, takes a look at a claim about San Diego pension payments that appeared in the New Yorker magazine (it’s false) and a false claim about San Diego school district labor negotiations.

A Weekend of Wonders

Check our roundup of the past weekend’s top arts events and add thoughts about your favorites. And we’ve posted the latest edition of Behind the Scene TV, which drops in on a Balboa Park basement rehearsal of the Old Globe’s community-oriented production of “Odyssey.”

Obama’s Visit a First for this President

President Obama landed at Miramar yesterday and headed via motorcade to La Jolla, making a brief visit to town for a $5,000-per-person fundraiser, the U-T reports. He’s now the 13th president in a row (and 15th overall, going back to Benjamin Harrison in 1891) to visit San Diego while in office.

The City’s Leaky Lawsuits

San Diego paid $25.5 million on claims and lawsuits in 2009 and $13.2 million in 2010, reports Investigative Newsource, the news outfit formerly known as the Watchdog Institute.

The city is on track to spend more this year than last year: as of July 12, it had spent $13.1 million, including almost $2 million to settle a lawsuit by a company that the city had fired in a flap over installation of computer software.

A Chip off the Old Chip

• The man who created Doritos has died, five decades after he was inspired to invent the snack chip during a vacation trip to the San Diego area. Here, “he found a snack shack selling fried tortilla chips,” the AP reports. Arch West’s daughter “says her father got a tepid corporate response to the tortilla chip idea but conducted marketing research that led to the Doritos rollout.”

At a graveside service, the family plans on “tossing Doritos chips in before they put the dirt over the urn.” (No, I’m not making that up. And yes, I do have a case of the munchies right now.)

• San Diego’s ATM fees, at an average of $2.70, are the second highest in the country, the NC Times reports. Only Denver’s are higher.

• A new ranking of the nation’s “Best Cities,” based on a long list of factors like recreation, education, poverty and sports, puts San Diego (“Essentially, it’s always sunny”) in seventh place. Raleigh, N.C., tops the list, while Orange County’s Irvine “sets the standard on many levels” and is above us in fifth place.

Irvine has a better ranking than San Diego?! Now that’s insulting. I have half a mind to drive up there and give that suburban master-planned community a piece of my mind. I’m assuming there’s a citywide security gate. Does anyone know the code?

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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