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Time will tell if future San Diegans will look kindly on the newly approved plan to give Balboa Park an extreme makeover. As our series of history flashbacks has shown, big changes at the park have always been divisive. A few, like the Cabrillo Bridge and the closure of the east part of El Prado to traffic, became universally beloved. (Can you imagine the park without the wonderful fountain near the space theater?) Others, like the modernist Timken Museum building, still drive some critics bananas.

But what about one of the biggest changes of all — a highway that runs smack through the park? It turns out that what is now Highway 163 was indeed controversial, with opponents in the 1960s issuing a report titled “Highwayman Stop! This Is City Park” and gathering petition signatures to keep an eight-lane road at bay.

The activists managed to stop the highway’s widening. Our Kelly Bennett has the story, plus links to our previous dispatches about a supposed presidential seal of approval regarding the freeway’s beauty and the planned — yes, planned — weedy look in the median through Balboa Park.   

A Bonus Behind Closed Doors

Under California law, public agencies can only approve pay — including bonuses — for employees in open session where the public can watch and listen. They can discuss pay in private, but only when an employee’s position is disclosed publicly.

The board of Discover Pacific Beach, a business district, has had trouble following open-meeting law before, and the city auditor rapped it before the city got involved in an attempt to promote more transparency. The district’s staff even attended workshops on open-meeting law.

That doesn’t seem to have done the trick. As our reporting finds, the board gave a $4,000 bonus to the district’s executive director without  announcing the discussion. The board later discussed the bonus again and approved it once more, this time legally.

Map It, Baby

Looking for something to keep your attention in these dog days now that Shark Week is over? Never fear. In honor of all you geography geeks, it’s Map Week: Each day, I’ll highlight maps on the Internet that provide some insight into San Diego, past and present.

First up: An animated map that spotlights the 10 largest cities in the United States each decade from 1790 to 2010.

Before you look at it, try to guess which California city first appeared on the list in 2010. Then watch for a slew of Sun Belt cities — including San Diego — to appear on the list late in the 20th century and for San Francisco to appear then vanish a while back, a victim of its population-limiting boundaries.

Also of note: at its present population, San Diego would have been the nation’s biggest city in 1880. (Keep in mind, though, that NYC didn’t include Brooklyn back then.)

Another map for your perusal: a federal government map that tracks wildfire hotspots in California via satellite. Click on the map to enlarge it, and monitor where fire has been detected within the last few hours.

Quick News Hits

• The U-T examines the iffy world of pension investment proceeds and how they affect city services. The city’s pension fund recently made an impressive 24 percent return, allowing the city to get financial “breathing room,” but the latest annual figures reveal a return that’s barely above zero.

Earlier this month, our Liam Dillon wrote about how this might affect the city’s budget.

“The nation’s burgeoning pension crisis and sputtering economy has led some financial experts to call on public agencies to toss out their rosy projections for investment returns — typically 7 to 8 percent annually — for more conservative and attainable goals,” the U-T says.

Another U-T story also examines the reliability of pension investment projections.  

• For a while now, the “shadow inventory” has been the monster lurking around the bend for the local housing market: the fear was that a bunch of foreclosed-upon homes would flood the market and send prices into the tank. That would be great for buyers but terrible for sellers and potential trouble for the San Diego economy.

An NC Times analysis, however, says the monster has been kept at bay as “the number of homes in default has been steadily declining in the region.”

• “UC San Diego is winding down an agreement that guarantees transfers to community college students who meet set requirements,” the NC Times reports. Due to funding shortfalls and more students vying for spots, students who have a 3.5 GPA and meet other requires will no longer have guaranteed spots.

• If you work in broadcasting in San Diego, there’s a very good chance that you’re familiar with a San Pasqual man named Chris Carmichael, the top chronicler of the local radio. He’s run sdradio.net on a mostly unpaid basis for 12 years, tracking the many comings and goings on the dial. Now, San Diego’s ultimate radio fan boy is hanging it up. In an interview with me for the North County Times, he explains why and ponders the damaging trends in the radio world.  

• I seem to have become a kind of skunk guru after writing about my own experiences with the critters in my skunk-prone Normal Heights neighborhood (pro tip: don’t scream when you see one) and exploring their world in a 2011 VOSD story titled “When Skunks Run Amok.” (Check the accompanying photo of a baby skunk, which is awww-inspiring.)

Now, a reader named Lee Kelley has alerted me to a stinky problem in Del Mar: a skunk under the car in the garage. “I was lucky he didn’t spray me as he was cornered when I saw him and screamed before leaving quickly and opening the roll top garage door… but he’s still there,” Kelley wrote. “Help!”  

Kelley, who doesn’t mind being quoted, wrote back to say that the skunk had departed. Good news, since my advice — OMG, Lee, you’re going to have to move! — might not have been very practical.

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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