“San Diego is expected to resume one of its favorite indoor sports — squabbling about the development of Balboa Park,” wrote a newspaper journalist. No, he didn’t write it just the other day. These words appeared in The San Diego Union back in 1953.

As our Kelly Bennett reports, the park has been sparking political battles for a very long time.

Bennett will be exploring the park’s history in our pages with an eye toward using the past to provide perspective on the present.

For a fun look at Balboa Park’s history, check the history flashbacks we published in 2010. You can see silent films about the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. One features two major movie stars, and the other shows some adorable children.

And we’ve got details on the park’s many visitors, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, a scandalous “fan dancer,” electriquettes (they’re a kind of motorized wicker chair), and countless pigeons.

Balboa Park has a dark side too. It has been the site of suicides, a devastating 1978 arson series, a hustler trade that Bruce Springsteen memorialized in song and a series of high-profile murders in the late 1980s and early 1990s (a 1985 story about an Old Globe actor’s mysterious killing quotes a friend who’d become a star of comedy movies — Paul Rudd).  

The good news: Balboa Park rebuilt after the fires, and serious crimes have become rare. Improvements, meanwhile, have added to its appeal, from a fantastic dog park that’s been used since 1996 (and is still being improved and needs donations) to the grand expansion of the natural history museum and more.    

Reader’s Guide to the SeaWorld Debate

Last week brought a double dose of bad news to the SeaWorld theme parks. First, a federal panel refused SeaWorld’s bid to return to old-style Shamu shows that featured spectacular interaction between killer whales and humans. Then came the release of “Death at SeaWorld,” a high-profile new book that probes controversial captivity of killer whales and the toll they’ve taken on humans, including a trainer killed in Orlando in 2010.  

I interviewed the author of “Death at SeaWorld” earlier this month. Now, we’ve put together a Reader’s Guide to the SeaWorld debate, which revolves around two issues: Do killer whales belong in captivity? If so, how do we protect the people who work with them?

Updates on SD-Raised Aurora Suspect

Over the weekend, journalists continued to stake out the Rancho Peñasquitos home of the parents of the alleged killer in Aurora, and they sought insight by interviewing anyone who knew him even slightly.

The early picture painted by the interviews may be utterly wrong. So says Dave Cullen, a journalist whose definitive book about Columbine debunks the media myths that appeared immediately after the shootings there. He cautions in the NY Times that “you will be hit with all sorts of evidence fragments suggesting one motive or another. Don’t believe any one detail… Resist the temptation to extrapolate details prematurely into a whole.”

Here are some new details:

• One of the victims, a former Navy sailor named Jon Blunk, served on the San Diego-based USS Nimitz.

• ABC News found a video of the suspect giving a presentation in 2006 at a science camp at San Diego’s Miramar College.  

• The media has paid much attention to the words of the suspect’s mother, who apparently only heard about her son’s alleged involvement in the shooting on Friday morning when someone from ABC News told her about it. His mother reportedly said “You have the right person.”

The words — along with the network’s description of her as “apparently speaking on gut instinct” — make it sound like she wasn’t surprised by the crime. But it’s also possible that the ABC News journalist told her about the crime, described the suspect and then asked if she is his mother.

If so, her answer would be a simple confirmation, not the kind of wrenching admission it seems to be.  

• Much of the media has incorrectly described the suspect as growing up in the Torrey Highlands section of Rancho Peñasquitos. In fact, his parents’ home is in a different section of RP to the east, somewhat between Westview High and Mt. Carmel High.   

So what’s it like there? Media cliches have piled up over the past few days: Rancho Peñasquitos is “quiet and unassuming” (is a neighborhood ever “loud and brash”?), according to the U-T, and  “normally quiet” (Contra Costa Times).

Might it be “tight-knit” too? Yes, it sure is, a former classmate of the suspect tells the LA Times.

Gay Pride

San Diego’s gay pride weekend comes toward the end of the pride season, so it usually doesn’t get much national attention. But the weekend’s parade was an exception: it made the news around the world because members of the U.S. military received permission to march in uniform for the first time at a gay pride parade anywhere.

The LA Times, AP, CNN, and NBC San Diego have coverage.

The U-T covers wrote that Councilman Carl DeMaio received a “lukewarm reception.” He could become only the second openly gay elected mayor of any of the 28 most populous U.S. cities. (Houston is the first.) As a Republican who’s conservative on many issues and not a major activist on gay causes, he’s had a rocky relationship with the gay community.

Quick News Hits

• San Diego is “a place that increasingly produces more Olympic athletes in more sports on a more regular basis per capita than anywhere else maybe on the planet,” the U-T reports.

• The U-T declared Barack Obama to be the worst president of all time.

Yes, more terrible than James Buchanan, whose inept leadership set the stage for the Civil War and landed him on the bottom of many historians’ worst-ever lists. And worse than Richard Nixon, who disgraced the office and destroyed a generation’s faith in its leaders.

In fact, the U-T thinks Nixon’s only the fourth most terrible president of all. Wow. Guess we’re still his “Lucky City.

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

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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