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Twenty courtrooms scheduled to be closed. Employee furloughs equal to more than four weeks a year. Job cuts.

Times are tough for the San Diego County civil court system, a new report says, and everyone from businesses to divorcing couples are facing major delays.

Our new story examines the problems and notes that they boost the world of arbitration, a controversial system that we examined in depth last month.

Idea Tournament Deadline Approacheth

Do you work with a community group or nonprofit that has an idea for the neighborhood? You’ve got only a few days left to sign up for the Politifest 2013 Idea Tournament and a chance to win $5,000 to support your work.

Managed Competition Importantly Is Not Mandated

Yesterday, the City Council voted in a super-majority to reaffirm its support of managed competition. That’s the process to put certain services up to bid and let city employees compete with private companies. Employees have won all the competitions so far but they’ve had to streamline and cut jobs.

Supporters often talk about how the city was mandated by voters to engage in managed competition but City Councilman Kevin Faulconer made sure to point out that this wasn’t the case. It’s still optional and the Council needed to keep the pressure on for it to proceed.

In a new post with images to illustrate what’s going on, Lisa Halverstadt explains that point.

Breweries May Get a Break in Downtown

Planners are exploring a way to make downtown friendlier to small business owners like breweries that get tangled in red tape. We have the details in a follow-up to our previous coverage about how limits convinced one brewery to plan a restaurant instead of a tasting room. That may sound great for the local economy and jobs, but it’s not what the brewery had in mind, at least not yet.

Look Who’s Not Talking

Republicans around the country are very excited about former Councilman Carl DeMaio, who’s running for Congress against incumbent Scott Peters. In some analyses, it’s the best chance Republicans have to pick up a seat. Many also think this pro-choice gay man could be a symbol of the new kind of social liberal, fiscal conservative that might revamp the GOP brand.

Funny thing about that. As VOSD editor Sara Libby notes in a new commentary, DeMaio is mum about social issues. As a mayoral candidate, he tried to stay away from them because he thought City Hall types should focus on other things. Now, though, the pressure will be on because members of Congress most definitely do focus on these hot topics.

Judge Forbids Free Speech Defense in Chalk Case

The city is prosecuting a protester for writing anti-bank slogans on a public sidewalk in water-soluble chalk, and a Superior Court judge says he won’t be able to use free speech as a defense. He faces up to 13 years in prison.

“The state’s vandalism statute does not mention First Amendment rights,” declared the judge as the man’s trial began yesterday, the Reader reports.

Four city attorney representatives attended the hearing.

• Prosecutions over chalk “vandalism” aren’t unusual, the magazine Mother Jones reported last year. Even children have been cited, and a mother was convicted in Virginia after her 4 year old drew on rocks.

“Chalk. The gateway art supply…” the magazine jibed. “Over the past five years, at least 50 people in 17 American cities have run afoul of authorities for coloring things with chalk. The vast majority were arrested in connection with drawing designs or messages on public streets or sidewalks.”

The Day in Filner

• With support from Mayor Filner, the United States Conference of Mayors is urging the president to stop cracking down on marijuana. CityBeat and the Atlantic Cities blog have details.

Check our April story for background on the confusing medical marijuana situation in San Diego. Last week, Filner spoke at a local panel, as the U-T reports, and said he wants to rebrand the effort to reform drug policy from “decriminalization” to treatment — perhaps calling it the “clinicization of drugs.”

• The mayor thinks the 2015 centennial celebration in Balboa Park “could cost $30 million to get it off the ground, $50 million to make it good or $100 million to be spectacular,” the Daily Transcript reports.

This is just one of the stories compiled in the Culture Report, our weekly look at all things artistic and cultural. We link to other articles, including looks at public art cutbacks at the port (one jilted artist found out from a reporter), photos of historic sculptures and a playhouse project that focuses on ordinary people.

City News Roundup

• The Stumblr visits University Heights.

• It’s official: what the city pays for ambulance services is going up in the city, the U-T reports. It all has to do with the city being stuck with an extension of its existing ambulance contract.

• Here’s some news to burst your bubble: Forbes says San Diego among nation’s most overvalued home markets. Our Rich Toscano looked at the data recently to see if it showed a bubble. It did not, yet.

Nightmare on 33rd Street

It was the Street Project from Hell. For months and months, my section of the Normal Heights neighborhood endured an endlessly botched sewer repair project on several local streets.

Construction workers accidentally cut off the water to hundreds. They accidentally cut off the electricity too, leaving 1,300 in the dark. They left streets in disrepair for weeks and even caused a stoplight to blink red for weeks until it suddenly began working again. At least one driver, by then used to treating the intersection as a four-way stop each day, almost slammed into another car. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Now, the city — which acknowledged “an unusual number of problems” — is holding a community meeting tonight to respond to “remaining questions and concerns from miffed residents.” The city also wants to “recap some lessons.”

Good, let’s just hope it doesn’t break anything else in the process.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and vice president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

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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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