The time is ticking toward the 100th anniversary of when Balboa Park became a jewel. We need to move quickly if we want to make the park look more like it did when it first sparkled in front of a worldwide audience in 1915.

There seems to be a general consensus that the park could use some work. But an embittered battle has erupted over exactly what needs to be nipped, tucked and relocated.

Our Scott Lewis ponders the debate over the park’s future in the latest of his look at stories to watch in 2012.

He notes that the group planning for a big 2015 celebration has hired a new CEO and says the City Council could decide as soon as June whether to remove cars from the Plaza de Panama (the section of the park between the art museum and the organ pavilion). Preservationist leaders have lined up against the plan.

Lewis says it helps to think of it as the same type of argument that may precede major elective surgery. Find out how.

• This is part of a series of 12 stories Lewis thinks should pay attention to for the next year. Here was No. 12: the Chargers; No. 11: the Convention Center; No. 10: The city of San Diego’s financial problems; No. 9: the San Diego Police Department; and No. 8: affordable housing.

In Escondido, a Donor Keeps Streets Smooth

For years, we’ve been following what we call “the dissolving city” as San Diego has increasingly left it to residents to take care of things like building maintenance and school expenses. Scott Lewis explained the concept here for the city and here for the schools.

When the mayor admitted the city would never have the funds to take care of Balboa Park while introducing the conservancy, that was part of the trend.

But parks have always attracted donor support. In Escondido, a local contractor has taken things to an extreme: He’s donated as much as $100,000 a year to help the city fill hundreds of potholes.

The contractor’s crew boosted the city’s pothole-filling services by about a third, the NC Times reports.

• Related, in New York City, the City Council will begin identifying city needs and helping businesses and civic groups use the crowdfunding service Kickstarter to fund them. On Kickstarter, you pitch an idea for a effort that needs donations and people can pledge support. If you meet your goal, then the project is kickstarted.

Last Day to Decry Football Blackouts

Many San Diegans are horrified when home Chargers games get blacked out because too few people buy tickets. Some fans feel obliged to go outside, where there’s a disturbing shortage of couches, beer commercials and TV screens. Shudder.

Well, you can try do something about the blackouts, but you better hurry. The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing the rules and accepting public comment, but only until today. “Aggrieved fans in Cincinnati, Tampa, Oakland, San Diego, Buffalo, Jacksonville — you have the floor,” says A website says it will accept your comments and ideas online and deliver them to the FCC.  

Beep No More

If you’re like me — and please see a doctor if that lasts more than four hours — you’re always setting off security gate alarms even though you’re not a shoplifter. Those flapping security gate things at libraries are a special problem for me, perhaps due to my electric personality.

Well, now I’m in luck and you may be too: the city’s libraries have quietly stopped turning on their security gate systems, and the county library system has dumped the gates entirely, the U-T reports.

Numbers from the city library system suggest that thefts may be on the rise, big-time, but the meaning of the statistics is fuzzy. 

“Long story short: People steal from libraries. U-T wants to blame the libraries, but can’t figure out how,” wrote the mayor’s special projects man Gerry Braun, a former U-T columnist, on Twitter.

In Focus at UCSD: Occupiers, Dead Bees, Stem Cells

The folks at UCSD’s media relations department may deserve a raise. The university’s faculty has gotten plenty of press lately:

• A stem cell scientist explains in a Sacramento Bee commentary why the public has to support the kind of research he does because venture capitalists aren’t cough up money as much as before.

• USA Today says a professor’s new course on social movements is focusing on the Occupy Wall Street protesters

• A biology professor tells that “pesticides, disease, parasites, and human mismanagement” are responsible for the big bee die-off.

Check our earlier stories for details about UCSD’s research into why so many bees have gone to that big hive in the sky.

A Kiss Before Leaving

“Unconditional Surrender,” the hulking statue honoring the famous kissing sailor-nurse couple from V-J day, drives some naysayers around the bend. Former U-T art critic Robert Pincus was forced to turn to the words of noted philosopher Woody Allen to find the perfect way to describe his disgust: “It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”  

But tourists love it. Just check out all the photos of it online. (Not all are from here, though, since the statue has many twins).

Now, the 6,000-pound statue — a “foam-urethane object,” as the U-T not-so-smoothly describes it — is scheduled to move on and torture art critics somewhere else. But there’s a catch, and no, it’s not the unwillingness of anyone else to take the thing.

A local architect wants to raise almost $1 million to keep the statue here in town permanently, the U-T reports. The port’s public art committee rejected the proposal in December, although it was divided.

If the “foam-urethane object” does stick around, here’s hoping the port makes triple-sure that it’s earthquake-safe. Otherwise, some unsuspecting bystander — like, say, me — may give a new meaning to the statue’s name the next time the ground shakes.

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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