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This is the second day of our year-end campaign. A generous donor has offered a $15,000 match to get us started toward that ambitious $80,000 goal for the month. But she’s only given us a week to make it happen. Yesterday, we received 41 donations and we’re halfway to the $15,000. But we can’t afford to leave anything on the table.

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In the past, local poor people couldn’t get non-urgent medical coverage from Medi-Cal unless they were disabled or had kids. Now, $50 million in federal money is on its way to help these people pay for things like checkups and preventive care.

The story shows how the county has evolved — sort of — from its long-criticized reluctance to provide medical care on its own dime. “Courts have repeatedly had to order the county to do more…,” Adrian Florido reports. “But it has jumped at this opportunity because it will save money and eventually shift the full cost of paying for low-income healthcare onto the federal government.”

Still, there’s a catch. “Unlike some major California counties, it also rejected millions more it could have used to improve care for people with higher incomes who still can’t afford medical care.”

Check “Out of Reach,” our 2010 investigative series, for details about the gaps in the county’s safety net for the poor.

Behind Today’s Big City Council Vote

Today, the City Council will decide whether to pave the way toward higher taxes on visitors who stay at local hotel rooms. The idea is to help pay for a $520 million expansion of the Convention Center.

Earlier this week, we looked at how the expansion is expected to benefit three local hotels. But those numbers are based on rosy projections about the future of the local economy. Meanwhile, as our Liam Dillon notes in a follow-up story today, “the city’s contribution from its day-to-day operating budget not only continues to grow, but remains open-ended. This same pot of money pays for police, fire, street repair and other general city services.”  

This means the taxpayers will be on the hook if things go south. But, as Dillon notes, that’s not the same for hotel visitors. They won’t have to cough up more money to pay for the expansion if it ends up being a giant financial bust.

• One hotel owner wrote in to plead with his counterparts to drop their petty disputes and unite behind the plan.

• In a divided vote, the council shepherded the pension reform initiative toward the ballot next June, not in November, amid debate over whether a delay would save money or cost the city. Here’s our reader’s guide on the measure.

Schools on the Brink

Our first segment — “What’s at Stake” — in the weeklong video and discussion series about San Diego Unified’s financial problems ended up running on NBC 7 San Diego last night at 11 p.m., not 6 p.m. due to technical problems. Check the site later as we’ll have the video from it posted today along with background links.

Also, sixth-grade teacher Dennis Schamp, a regular commenter and frequent recipient of the school district’s pink slips will be replacing Jim Groth on the big Thursday evening discussion on possible solutions.

You’ve already sent in tons of commentary on your own proposed solutions. Here’s Schamp’s take. Here’s a group of three very different takes. We’ll have more posted today. What’s your view?

We’re also taking questiosn for the Thursday discussion. Remember, it’s at 7 p.m. at McMillin Events Center in Liberty Station.

Assemblyman Fletcher Leaves Facts at Altar

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher says he’s no fan of red tape, and he thinks San Diego has too much of it. Case in point, he declared the other day: “If you want to get married in a city park, depending on the size of the wedding, you could be looking at nine different permits.”

Is the mayoral candidate right? Could planning a wedding at a city park be enough of a cotton-pickin’ hassle to turn an unassuming wife-to-be into Bridezilla? It’s enough to make you want to elope!

Don’t throw out your cummerbund just yet. San Diego Fact Check finds that Fletcher’s claim is misleading: “Though a nine-permit wedding is possible, the extremity of Fletcher’s scenario exaggerates how many permits are needed for a wedding in a city park. He even extended the festivities to another location so the number of permits would increase from seven to nine.”

Read the details of exactly how extravagant this matrimonial shindig would have to be to merit nine permits. You’d have to charge admission, for one.

Fletcher’s office was willing to divorce itself from the nine number and is even ready to see other numbers. (So soon? Scandalous!) But…

VOSD in the News

Little ol’ VOSD and NBC 7 San Diego again made it into the Los Angeles Times and New York Times as other outlets around the country give the same kind of collaboration we embrace a try.

UCSD Students Break into Library to Study

Cops didn’t take action yesterday as UCSD students broke into a campus library that had been closed for good earlier. The students wanted a place to study during finals week, and campus administrators decided to avoid a confrontation and allow the library to be occupied, the U-T reports.

In the past, the library had been open 24 hours a day during finals, but it and another campus library were shut after the spring quarter, eliminating 800 spaces for studying students. UCSD has been on a library-closing binge lately.

Fact-Checking Spanos Wealth and School Doomsdays

San Diego Fact Check TV finds that a claim about the wealth of Chargers owner Alex Spanos is mostly true — his fortune is estimated at more than $1 billion — but the county schools chief only gets a “barely true” for his claim about how many local schools are in danger of going insolvent.  

Midway Postal Station Could Shut Down

The United States Postal Service seems to be engaged in a mammoth game of chicken with Congress. It’s threatening to avoid bankruptcy by closing hundreds of mail-processing centers around the country and mostly eliminating the expectation that first-class mail will get where it’s going locally within a day.

In other words: Your check to your landlord or your letter to your friend in San Marcos might not get there tomorrow. Your magazines would arrive later, along with Netflix DVDs and everything else that ends up in our mailboxes.

The plan has the potential to hurt businesses that rely on prompt delivery, like pharmaceutical suppliers, mail order companies and eBay sellers.

Now, the U-T reports that the Midway processing facility — part of that concrete mail monolith in Point Loma — is on the closure list. A mail processing center in Carmel Mountain Ranch is slated to take up the slack.

“Proposed legislation in the House and the Senate would ease the crunch but also would restrict the service’s ability to take cost-cutting steps, such as eliminating Saturday delivery, a measure that service officials have floated in the past,” the LA Times reports.

Even if next-day delivery is saved, it looks like lots of post offices will close.

Of course, post office critics will say regular ol’ mail is outdated in these days of the Internet and overnight delivery services.

Perhaps someone could tell the folks who make up those big lines whenever I go to the post office. Hey! You’re all a bunch of dinosaurs. Outta my way, fossils, I’ve got a package to mail!  

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

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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