Scripps Health in San Diego is at the center of a cultural transformation aimed at saving hundreds of millions of dollars a year thanks to Chris Van Gorder, an ex-cop turned hospital executive. How will he do it? By rooting out what he calls “unnecessary variation” at each of Scripps’ four hospitals in five locations and 23 clinics in Southern California, reported Russ Mitchell, in a Voice of San Diego partnership with Kaiser Health News.

By looking at why, for example, a routine joint replacement costs $15,000 in one hospital and $130,000 in another, Van Gorder hopes to rescue the healthcare industry. “Hospitals that can’t find a way to deliver their product less expensively and with better quality are going to go out of business,” Van Gorder says. “It’s as simple as that.”

Our Scott Lewis talked to Van Gorder in July about the sometimes never-ending costs and poor care that comes from the guarantee every person has that if they enter a hospital emergency room, they’ll get care. And here was the video explainer of the law, known as EMTALA, and the cost we all bear to care for the uninsured.

A Day in Homeless Court

The homeless often get caught in a downward spiral of trouble with the law. Fines go unpaid and increase exponentially, court dates are missed and result in warrants, problems pile on top of problems. Our Kelly Bennett spent a day in homeless court, “an unconventional program begun here nearly 25 years ago and now replicated across California and the nation,” she wrote.

“These defendants arrive at their hearings by undergoing work that’s often harder than picking up trash on the freeway or paying a couple hundred dollars’ fine: They confront the causes of their homelessness,” Bennett reported.

In Barrio Logan, Slow Change

Some changes come very fast. Think: falling in love or the weight one gains by eating chocolate gifts from well-meaning valentines. Other changes come only at glacial speeds. The latter is the case for Barrio Logan’s community development plans, our Andrew Keatts reported. Barrio Logan is home to a strange mish-mash of land uses, where welding facilities and warehouses butt up against homes that line streets used by eighteen-wheelers travelling to the banana-laden cargo ships unloading nearby.

Two competing maps both imagine a future where Barrio Logan residents are separated from industrial properties, the reality is that the status will be quo for the foreseeable future, says Keatts.

Under the San Diego municipal code, a property maintains its land use designation after a change in zoning as long as the use doesn’t lapse for two straight years, even if ownership changes.

Former Mayor Stole $2 Million from Nonprofit for Gambling

The details of former Mayor Maureen O’Connor’s legal troubles are becoming clear. U-T San Diego reported yesterday that “O’Connor took $2 million from a nonprofit foundation to feed a gambling addiction in which she lost more than $1 billion over a nine-year period,” mostly by playing video poker.

She pleaded not guilty to a laundering charge as part of a deferred prosecution, a deal that gives her two years to repay the $2 million that she says she “borrowed” from the foundation. “I always intended to pay it back,” O’Connor said. “And I still intend to pay it back.”

The news made national media. Here’s The New York Times and the LA Times‘ takes.

Tourism Money Standoff Grows More Tense

San Diego recently extended a 2 percent hotel-room “surcharge” to finance the city’s Tourism Marketing District, half of whose funds go to the Tourism Authority, once known as ConVis.

The city collects this fee on behalf of hotels and typically releases the funds to the Tourism Authority, but hasn’t done so since Mayor Filner took office. That’s because Filner won’t sign off on the release of the funds. Nor will he, unless forced by a judge, 10 News reported.

Kevin Faulconer, the City Council member, wants to take the dispute to a city hearing and Filner ducked out of two public appearances in front of tourism industry groups, the U-T reported.

There are two lawsuits against the program. They claim it’s illegal to raise taxes on consumers without a vote.

Here’s our San Diego Explained on what this special hotel room tax is and how it happened.

“I’m not going to give private hotel owners $30 million to advertise their private hotels; that should be a public decision not a private decision,” said Filner.

On the campaign trail, Filner made a point of opposing what he saw as a 2 percent tax that he believed should require a public vote. Our Reader’s Guide to Bob Filner and later stories highlighted how Filner has other ideas for how to use tourism dollars.

San Onofre Round-up

This week saw several twists in the continuing saga of the nuclear power plant at San Onofre. Earlier in the week, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said his agency is considering changing the rules that specify the required steps that Southern California Edison must take before restarting the reactor, Mercury News reported.

Then, the LA Times reported that a new complaint alleges “that Southern California Edison manipulated inflation calculations to recover more money from ratepayers for defective replacement steam generators.”

Finally, the LA Times also reported yesterday that a sought after redacted report would be released to the public. The original report was leaked to California Senator Barbara Boxer, who then wrote that the report “indicates that SCE and Mitsubishi were aware of serious problems” with the steam generators before they were installed.

News Nibbles

• A proposal to attach an elaborate pedestrian tube to the underside of Coronado bridge has been getting some play recently, with County Supervisor Greg Cox even mentioning it in his “State of the County” address on Wednesday. (10 News)

• After a months-long review of how Auntie Helen’s Fluff ‘n’ Fold spent a $10,000 San Diego County grant, the North Park charity is being asked to return more than $6,000,” the U-T reported.

• A new comparison by the San Diego County Taxpayer Association finds that most cities partaking in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System will see their pension costs go up in 2014. San Diego is not among them, reported KPBS.

Dr. Seuss’ hats are coming back to La Jolla. (La Jolla Patch)

Lucky Dog

Another Valentine’s Day has passed, and if you’re among the lucky who spent the evening with a partner, congratulations. For the rest of us tasked with working (or, say, writing the Morning Report), whose hearts may be feeling a little icy today, allow me to apply a warm touch to your cockles.

Yesterday, a tiny little Chihuahua named Clifford who survived an 80-foot fall over an Ocean Beach cliff found his permanent valentine. Gunnery Sgt. John Szczepanowski, who works with wounded veterans, said he plans for Clifford to become a working dog. “He’s going to become a therapy dog and he’s going to do a lot of work with me in the local VA’s and vets centers here in San Diego and Southern California as we try and help these Marines and corpsmen in their transition in life,” he said.

I hope that thaws the heart-frost right off, San Diego. Now, if I could pass you all a heart-shaped noted, I would write in my best crayon: “I like you. Do you like me? Yes [ ] No [ ]”

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. Please request permission to republish. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

Seth Hall is co-founder of the community group San Diego Privacy, which is a member of the TRUST SD Coalition.

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