Three years ago, San Diego’s Housing Commission rejected private proposals to spend $20 million remodeling downtown’s historic Hotel Churchill to provide 90 small apartments for low-income residents. That was too much money to spend for too little reward, commission officials said.

Eight months later, they decided to remodel the Churchill after all, and they’re now set to spend $20 million to do it. But they are going to provide 20 fewer apartments for low-income residents.

VOSD’s Andrew Keats and Ry Rivard uncovered the story, and learned the commission changed its tune on the wisdom of spending $20 million on a few dozen low-income apartments when it realized it was going to lose federal tax money it had socked away if it didn’t spend it, quickly.

Now, the commission is set to spend $282,000 per small room after initially balking at the idea of letting private developers do it for $213,000 per room. The commission also got to let its own, nonprofit development arm handle the project, instead of having to let private developers do it instead.

Big Victory for Water Agency

“A Superior Court judge today issued a tentative decision that the San Diego County Water Authority is owed $188.3 million in damages (plus interest) by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for illegal rates the Los Angeles-based agency charged from 2011 to 2014,” that’s how a late afternoon press release from the Water Authority reads. Recall our simple explainer of  what the beef is about.

Here’s Ry Rivard’s video explainer with Catherine Garcia from NBC 7 San Diego.

The ruling will likely be appealed, Rivard says.

Schools Set New Concussion Policies

In the wake of VOSD’s coverage of the issue, San Diego Unified schools will now do more to protect student athletes from concussions.

One big focus: tracking injured students beyond the field. “Even though the law encourages early concussion detection in athletics, that’s really not spilling over into what happens in the classroom,” said a UC San Diego pediatrician who helped write the new rules. “Head injuries should really all be managed in the same way. A concussion is a concussion.”

He added that media coverage helped focus his efforts: “A couple of things came together at the same time, and media helped me recognize how disjointed the system was and really motivated me to take the reins on this.”

He was on a panel we hosted about the issue and the future of football.

• In other government news, El Cajon is moving to district elections for its City Council, potentially boosting the ability of minority groups to gain influence through the ballot box. (Union-Tribune)

Sorry, Chargers Don’t Power Economy

According to one source, you can’t get 85 percent of economists to agree on anything, even the idea that federal deficits are bad. But 85 percent of those surveyed, at least of several years ago, did think that cities and states should stop subsidizing sports franchises.

Other research pretty firmly says stadiums don’t boost local economies. But, as VOSD’s Liam Dillon notes, we keep hearing the same old creaky song that a councilwoman sang this week about prospects for a new Chargers stadium: “There’s a huge economic impact here.”

• “If the Chargers are going to go to their partners and say, ‘Hey we need to move to Los Angeles because it’s not doable in San Diego,’ their worst nightmare is that we’re actually doing it,“ City Attorney Jan Goldsmith let loose Wednesday on TV and on the radio. Here’s a full transcript of his radio appearance that he helpfully put out. (Fact Check: Their worst nightmare, in fact, is putting me in as defensive lineman.)

• As the thinking goes, sports teams and stadiums are supposed to spread a positive image of cities to the world. And then this happens: An image of Boltman at the City Council meeting went viral as websites around the country mocked San Diego. Boltman told sports radio Tony Manolatos, the spokesman of the mayor’s task force on the stadium issue, encouraged him to come out in full Boltman to the Council meeting. Manolatos denied that. He said he did encourage many fans to show up, including Boltman.

• It may make more sense to build a ballpark rather than a football stadium since baseball teams play many more home games and presumably do more for the economy even if they’re money losers over all. But what if the team stinks? Um, asking for a friend. In a related story, the sports site Grantland explains “How general manager A.J. Preller destroyed the San Diego Padres in a matter of months.” The headline: “Teardown Artist.”

Ethics Commission Director Threatens to Leave

Attorney Robert Ottilie has been nominated for a seat on the city of San Diego’s Ethics Commission. Executive Director Stacey Fulhorst said she’ll resign if Ottilie is selected. Fulhorst is well respected and was its first investigator after it was formed in 2002.

Ottilie is probably the commission’s most public critic. Here’s some background from a 2010 KPBS piece.

The Day in Lorena: Cheerleaders Rejoice

Local legislator Lorena Gonzalez, the state Assembly wunderkind, is on a roll again: The governor signed her legislation that requires NFL cheerleaders to be treated like employees, not independent contractors. The NFL has faced bad press over treatment of cheerleaders. Gonzalez, a former cheerleader herself, also continues to push for cheerleading to be treated as a sport in public schools. Meanwhile, her bill to trim the wings of Civic San Diego is moving forward.

• We now have a state lichen, everybody! You can insert your own “…and people say government is dysfunctional” rude remark here.

The Think Piece to Rule Them All

New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott comes to town for the Comic-Con and writes an epic think piece: while you can bash the event like an “old-timer,” “it’s also possible to marvel, so to speak, at how quickly and completely what were once subcultural pursuits have conquered the mainstream, and to appreciate the bottom-up, populist aspects of that conquest.”

He also notes one part of the Comic-Con that often gets ignored: the wonky panel discussions upstairs. He hints at them here: “Comic-Con is a trade show and a bazaar, an academic conference tucked into a pop-up theme park, a wholesome family outing and a bonanza for every bar nearby.”

Power to the Solar

The Union-Tribune reports that local schools may win their battle with SDG&E over solar power and electricity rates.

Uber and Out?

Uber continues to be in hot water with state regulators: An administrative judge wants to suspend the service and make it pay a big fine.

But this isn’t about labor law and whether Uber drivers are employees or freelancers. Instead, the ruling “contended that Uber has not complied with state laws designed to ensure that drivers are doling out rides fairly to all passengers, regardless of where they live or who they are. The agency said Uber’s months-long refusal to provide such data is in violation of the 2013 law that legalized ride-hailing firms.” Uber plans to appeal. (L.A. Times)

• A project to protect student safety by giving them free bus passes has fallen apart. (Reader)

Who Killed Pluto? Look North

Pluto is getting tons of attention this week, plus the mandatory remarks about a certain goofy (but not Goofy) Disney pooch. Largely forgotten in all the Plutonian hoopla: The fact that Pluto got demoted as a planet, and our very own Palomar Observatory was a co-conspirator in its demise.

We got the story a few years ago from astronomer Mike Brown, author of “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming” and a man whose name is mud among countless schoolchildren. Among other things, I asked: “What did Pluto ever do to you?”

He told me that Pluto wouldn’t get so much attention if it didn’t share its name with you-know-who: “If it had been named the planet Fred, people would say, ‘I never liked Fred. I’m glad he’s gone.’”

Fred’s still better than Boltman.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and national president of the 1,200-member American Society of Journalists and Authors ( Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at

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