City government is not exactly known for its ability to turn on a dime. But when it came to approving a quirky lease for the well-known Bahia Resort Hotel, it virtually worked at the speed of light, rushing a deal that would get done right before a new mayor took office. It’s still not clear why, but there’s one thing we know: A big shot was a crucial player.

His name is Bill Evans, as big of a mover-and-shaker as we have in these parts. As our Andrew Keatts reports in a quick profile of Evans, he’s a major hotel magnate and “he’s also sat on major regional boards, is a prolific political contributor and was recently considered for a board appointment at the Unified Port of San Diego.”

The City Council unanimously approved the deal, but Councilwoman Marti Emerald wondered about the rush: “I just don’t understand where’s the fire, where’s the urgency to get this done now when next week we have a new council coming in, a new mayor?”

One Woman’s Story of Homelessness

Liz Hirsch, 58, is newly homeless and got in touch with us as we launch a reporting project to study the issue of homelessness here.

In a series of emails, she tells us her story: how she ended up on the street, where she goes to find warmth, and what it’s like to sleep with homeless people, including children and two pregnant women.

She spends much of her time in coffeehouses in Normal Heights, using the free wi-fi and feeling like a human being. “She said she’s had a sense that as long as she can go to Starbucks, ‘I’m not totally done,’” our Kelly Bennett reports.

In Big Oops, School District Bungles Land Sale

Last June, San Diego school district decided to sell some land to pay its bills. This plan wasn’t universally beloved: one school board member said it’s “like selling your grandma’s jewelry to pay the rent.” But away the jewels went.

One big chunk of undeveloped land out by Tierrasanta, on part of what used to be Camp Elliott, attracted a top bid of $4 million, far more than the district anticipated.

Great news, right?

But, as our Scott Lewis reports, the school board waffled, scuttled the deal and decided to start all over again.

Lewis writes it’s “a perfect end to a tale about a still crippled district, dysfunctional in its communications and unclear on its priorities,” he writes.

What’s with Those Empty Desks?

City Hall has vacant space filled with empty cubicles, and Mayor Bob Filner says this is a sign of bad planning regarding — wait for it — the Planning Department. He thinks the city has largely abandoned its responsibility to plan and update existing plans.

We break down the confusing story of what exactly has been going on: “To start, the city hasn’t lost its Planning Department, just a standalone Planning Department.”

• There’s big trouble ahead on the city budget front, Filner said yesterday: he warned of a budget shortfall of up to $37 million next year, well beyond a rosier scenario of about $5 million. “There are problems in our budget I want to make clear to the citizens of San Diego,” he said.

Our story has more, including takeaways from his press conference. 

State Cuts Urban Renewal Funds for San Diego

The state approved $30.9 million of $76.6 million requested for redevelopment projects “but it also declared as unenforceable $4.8 billion in projects covered by a cooperation agreement between the city and its former redevelopment agency,” the U-T reports.

Remembering the Newtown Victims

A vigil to remember the victims in Newtown will be held today in Balboa Park, the U-T reports, and other memorial events are scheduled in San Diego and Escondido.

San Diego, of course, is no stranger to mass killings. Most horrifically, a gunman killed 21 people, including many children, at a San Ysidro McDonald’s in 1984. I remember watching TV coverage that afternoon, petrified with worry that my mother, who was out, was there. (She wasn’t.)

The U-T has compiled several stories about the massacre and its aftermath. It’s not all grim. One 2004 story tells of how a survivor, a teenage cook, recovered from severe injuries and became a San Diego police officer, moving up to the rank of sergeant.

• The Newtown massacre will affect that community for decades, just like another tragedy did in a small Michigan town called Bath. Earlier this year, I interviewed the author of a book about what remains the deadliest American school massacre of all time, a bombing in 1927.

Some of the survivors are still with us. “It’s been 80 years, but it’s still fresh in mind. It’s yesterday. But out of this came good and decency – people caring for strangers and looking out for one another,” the author told me. (Read the interview here.)

My interview, for The Christian Science Monitor, drew thousands of readers over the last few days in the wake of Newtown. For more about how this kind of violence affects a community, check my interview with the author of the definitive book on the Columbine High killings.    

A Deadly Attraction for Scuba Divers

A sunken Canadian naval ship off the coast serves as a wonderland for scuba divers, but the Reader reports that five people have died while exploring the Yukon. The latest death, of a 26-year-old woman, came earlier this month.

“It has become a death trap for those who thought they knew what they were doing… a diver who enters the Yukon can easily become disoriented and not be able to find a way out,” the Reader says.

Quarterback in the Making?

The San Diego Zoo’s baby panda, Xiao Liwu, has a new friend: a plastic ball that keeps him occupied during weekly checkups.  

“He was really enjoying hugging it and rolling on it and doing those kind of rolly, tumbling things that panda cubs are so notoriously cute for doing,” a zoo veterinarian said in a statement.

That’s good news. But can he throw the ball to where it’s supposed to go?

If so, the Chargers may have an opening.

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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