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Balboa Park wasn’t always the crown jewel of San Diego as it is today. In the 1970s, its buildings were in terrible shape, and the fire marshal was kicking tenants out of structures with no sprinklers. But that didn’t stop some visionaries-of-yore from drawing up a big plan for the park, reports our Kelly Bennett.

They even raised money to fund it, through an increased hotel-room tax. What happened to that money? The city got distracted.

In our “Balboa Park Changes” series, we’ve been cataloguing the stories of the park’s past controversies and major changes. Now we look into the master plan for the park and how questions posed in the 1980s, like whether foot traffic should be prioritized over car traffic, are still unanswered today.

“Is the park the Smithsonian or the neighborhood gathering spot?” writes Bennett.

San Onofre’s Problems: San Diego Explained

We went to the whiteboard and on-camera at NBC 7 San Diego to explain what went wrong at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. It’s been months since the nuclear power plant at San Onofre has been fully operational, and the downtime has cost southern Californians dearly.

“The problem was traced to faulty equipment in the plant’s steam generators, its single largest components,” reports our Rob Davis. “They’d just been replaced, at a cost of $671 million — a pricetag that California electricity customers will pay.”

If you prefer more depth, here’s Davis’ longer piece explaining exactly what went wrong and operators need to decide now.

Poway’s Billion-Dollar Bond Plot Thickens

Weeks ago we reported that Poway Unified School District had made a bond deal which would give the district $105 million now in return for a nearly $1 billion bill that will come due in later years.

Now U-T San Diego reports that previously un-reported gifts to the district’s officials are raising eyebrows. “The underwriter of Poway Unified’s controversial $105 million bond deal hosted $2,200 in dinners for the school district’s officials in recent years — most of which they accepted and initially failed to report on state-mandated disclosure forms.”

Officials interviewed go on to deny that the gifts they received made any difference in how they chose to vote on the bond offering, but say they are reporting more vigoursly since officials in the Sweetwater Unified School District are being prosecuted for failing to report meals. In those cases, prosecutors are also alleging a quid-pro-quo, and the officials have pleaded not guilty. U-T San Diego also published a timeline of when the gifts were received in relation to when the school board was taking action on the bond measure.

Mayoral Candidates Respond to Plunging Retirement Benefits

On Wednesday, U-T San Diego’s “Watchdog” reported that many former city workers will have their pension benefits substantially cut next year due to the end of a discretionary city program that is out of money. But these aren’t the “Cadillac pensions” that you may have heard of.

“The 2011 recipients received an average pension of $14,244, with $3,792 of that coming from the supplemental benefit that will cease,” the Watchdog reported.

Both candidates running for mayor of San Diego in November’s election expressed concern yesterday over the loss of benefits and promised to find a solution to the plight of the affected retirees.

“Instead of saying we are going to restore the program 100 percent, I can say it’s something I’m certainly going to look at,” said Carl DeMaio.

“A small part of the cost savings from my proposal to end six-figure pensions and from enacting a five-year pay freeze on current employees can fund this necessary commitment,” said Bob Filner.

“Undue Influence” Charge Dismissed

In May, we reported on an ongoing “Tri-City Hospital Mess“, in which a hospital board member was barred from the Oceanside hospital property after a “galaxy of troubles” relating to being censured and being charged with soliciting a bribe and wrongful influence.

Since then the accused board member, Kathleen Sterling, has seen the bribery charge dismissed by a federal court, and she has said she will decline to run for re-election to the board.

Yesterday, reports North County Times, the San Diego County district attorney’s office announced they will drop the remaining misdemeanor charge of undue influence, “in the interest of justice,” finally bringing an end to the bizarre series of events surrounding Sterling’s board membership. Or at least we hope so.

Wastewater to Drinking Water, PR Success

National Geographic picked up on a tweet from our Rob Davis highlighting a new report out from the San Diego County Water Authority with some baffling statistics.

“Today, 73 percent of the residents of San Diego favor purifying wastewater and adding the cleaned water back into the potable water supply. That’s an astonishing leap from 2005, when only 28 percent favored re-using water to extend the drinking water supply,” wrote National Geographic.

Another take-away from the story: 95% of San Diegans say it is a “civic duty” to user water efficiently, but only 25% say they’ve used less water in the last year.

News Nibbles

• Proposition Z will be on the ballot in November, and NBC 7 San Diego has published a “Guide to Decide” on the measure known as the “San Diego Neighborhood Schools Classroom Safety and Repair Measure of 2012”. The measure will ask voters to approve $2.8 billion in bond sales to be used to improve San Diego Unified School District’s languishing facilities.

We recently did a San Diego Explained, with NBC, on the initiative. Watch that here.

• KPBS published an interactive map showing where campaign contributions to San Diego’s mayoral candidates have originated from, much of them from outside San Diego.

• The defunct South Bay Power Plant will be blown up (or blown down, I suppose) in one implosion instead of two, reports NBC San Diego. That’s half the time for twice the destruction, say the contractors.

• U-T San Diego posted enthusiastic coverage of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention. What’s strange is that they posted it several hours before the speech had been given.

Striking Lightning Photos

Also from the department of future news, U-T San Diego posted pictures of “lightning that arced through the sky Thursday night,” as rough weather made its way through east San Diego county. The amazing part is how the published story with the photos appeared on Thursday morning. So if you like lightning, make sure you check out future lightning! It’s shocking, and likely to spark debate.

 Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can reach him at voice@s3th.com or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

Seth Hall

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can reach him at voice@s3th.com or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

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