City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner is the firewall for Democrats this fall. If she loses in a run-off election, Republicans will take over the council. But she’s in a tight spot because she doesn’t always fall in line with a left-leaning game plan, and some progressives are unimpressed by her independent streak. Now, her rival, Republican Ray Ellis, is taking her down a peg by saying she’s “the first incumbent to be sent into a runoff election in second place.”

True? No. San Diego Fact Check finds two incumbents did just what Ellis says no one has previously done. In our view, the claim is false. It is clear, though, that Lightner is in dangerous territory.

The other two incumbents forced to runoffs in second place both eventually lost.

Chatting with the Non-Potted Plant

A lawyer’s snippy response during a Iran-Contra Scandal congressional hearing in the 1980s made history: “I’m not a potted plant. I’m here as the lawyer. That’s my job.”

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith knows the feeling. His election to a second term gained barely a molecule of press coverage because he had no opposition, and sometimes it seems like the Mayor’s Office prefers to pretend he doesn’t exist. (City attorney? What city attorney?)

Never fear, he’s still here. We’ll be interviewing him this week. Let us know about any questions to ask, preferably not about indoor ficus care.

Arts Report: Hedging, Frye Art and SD’s Arts Impact

The Arts Report, our weekly look at all things cultural other than yogurt, notes stories in the local media about artistic hedges and a forgotten sculpture at the new downtown courthouse, former councilwoman Donna Frye’s political art, San Diego’s arts impact and more.    

Letters: Arts Center, Balboa Park Future, Tea Leaves Fail

• The arts center in Escondido has off-and-on been a giant money pit for the North County city for some two decades. Recently news came via the North County Times that a former finance director says she was sacked for refusing to cover up “gross financial mismanagement.” (The arts center’s leadership denies the charge.)

The arts center’s board chair responds in a letter lauding its current direction, saying “it is a new day for the organization.”

Among other things, she writes, the center has cut jobs, focused on “market-driven entertainment” — one of the long-standing questions surrounding the center is whether its offerings are too high-brow for the region — and launched an audit.

“Along the way what we can promise is that our commitment to our vision, to extraordinary programs run by an extraordinary organization, is unending,” she writes.

• Richard W. Amero, a leading local historian who lives in Chula Vista, lauds Irwin Jacobs’ plan to remake Balboa Park and points to several other beloved parks that have underground garages; the proposal envisions one that would require paid parking.

But Ronald V. May of La Jolla writes that “I do not believe for a minute this is a ‘gift’ that the city of San Diego can afford, especially during a recession.”

• Keith Wohlfarth, a San Diego teacher, is furious about the proposed deal to prevent teacher layoffs by giving up across-the-board raises. (Many teachers will still get raises as their experience and education increase.) The teachers union “has singlehandedly shown the world how ineffective and useless a union can be,” he writes. “It’s no wonder that many people believe that unions should be eliminated.”

Vlad the Explainer

Vlad Kogan, our onetime intern who’s now preparing for a political science professor job at Ohio State University, says the U-T blew its analysis of the mayor’s race. He says Rep. Bob Filner, who nearly came out on top of Councilman Carl DeMaio in the primary race, doesn’t actually have what the U-T called “great potential to expand his support base” in November.

One of the authors of the U-T analysis responded with a comment: “On the contrary, I think you’ve confirmed our conclusion that Filner has great potential in the upcoming election and DeMaio’s get-out-the-vote effort was more successful. The reason for this is that the margin between Democrats and Republicans in the recent election was larger than all three of the elections you refer to.”

Goodbye, Redevelopment. Hello, Civic San Diego

The state killed off urban redevelopment agencies that take advantage of the law to use taxpayer money to rebuild neighborhoods that are said to be blighted. Like, you know, Coronado, which had a redevelopment program. Or, more believably, places like southeastern San Diego.

So what happens to all the agencies that no longer exist? They haven’t dried up, at least not yet. Redevelopment areas in downtown and southeastern San Diego are now under the umbrella of a nonprofit corporation called Civic San Diego, the U-T reports. Its total budget and staff will be a bit more than half of what the two previous agencies had put together.  

In a letter to the editor, Murtaza Baxamusa, director of planning and development for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation, says the new agency “is being created without the standards on economic development, affordable housing and community engagement that state law provided… It does not make sense to create Redevelopment 2.0 without any standards to ensure good quality jobs, affordable housing and community engagement. It needs to work for everybody.”

Government Spends Money to Help You Fight Government

Don’t like the county’s new blueprint for its backcountry areas? Well, you can ask for the county to make an exception just for you. The good news: The county may pay for your appeal out of a $1.5 million pot.

Wow, talk about service! It’s kind of like fighting City Hall and getting paid for it to boot.

The county Board of Supervisors looked likely to approve spending the money so its own plan could be appealed, KPBS reports. An environmental advocate isn’t thrilled about the potential use of public money: “If there were some errors that had been made, that would be a good reason to go back at taxpayer expense. But staff has said there were no errors.”

In a letter to the editor, representatives of the the League of Women Voters of San Diego County criticize the pot of money and write that “landowners need to pay for their own General Plan amendments and follow the regulations.”

U-T: Run, Condoleezza! Nope, Says Rice

The U-T covered half of its front page on Sunday with a “wraparound” page featuring an editorial urging Mitt Romney to choose one of two people to be his running mate. One of them, Condoleezza Rice, says nope, the AP reports: “I didn’t run for student council president. I don’t see myself in any way in elective office.”

Utility Watchdog Makes New Home

Michael Shames, the former leader of the beleaguered Utility Consumers’ Action Network, was let go by the organization last week. Now, he says he’s ready to continue fighting SDG&E, the North County Times reports, with what Shames calls the San Diego Consumers Action Network.

Surfer Girl Gets Relocated

The Surfing Madonna has a new home. The renegade stained-glass mosaic that tied Encinitas officials in knots can now be found on North Coast Highway in Leucadia, the U-T reports. It’s been installed on a wall between a coffee joint and a surf shop.

It may be a permanent home for the mosaic, which appeared out of nowhere back in the spring of 2011 underneath a train bridge and spawned a debate over public art that’s beautiful but doesn’t follow the rules. The city — which, by the way, thought a widely mocked surfer statue was a good idea — deemed it to be graffiti.

The mosaic, which depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe catching a wave, couldn’t find a new home on public property because legal beagles said she’d represent a government endorsement of religion.

Someone should have pointed out that she would’ve represented a government endorsement of awesome.

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

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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