In San Diego, 911 dispatchers can’t keep up with the load of phone calls, which include a lot of non-emergency requests with all the urgency of a pizza order. There are better ways to report vandalism, crumbling infrastructure or a stray dog. But it’s not always clear who to call. People are deferring to 911 when something is wrong.

Several big cities have had success resolving this problem by creating 311 call centers to centralize customer service issues for the cities that have them. Some are connected to apps and websites that residents can use instead of calling.

Despite committing to follow the recommendations of an audit that showed how much it would relieve the city’s 911 pressures, San Diego is only doing the internet side of 311 for now — not the 311 call center. As our Andrew Keatts reports, “the city may not be fully implementing the entire reporting system it committed to following [an] audit.” His story explains why.

• From the department of It Could Be Worse: In Baltimore, the 911 service went down completely Tuesday and city officials had to rely on, drumroll, 311.

Balboa Park Gets a Budget Boost

Our Lisa Halverstadt has spent considerable time over the last several months explaining just what is falling apart in Balboa Park. Now, that focus appears to be having some impact.

The park needs an estimated $300 million in repairs. So how much is the newly approved city budget sending the park’s way? Halverstadt reports, it’s getting about $3 million plus a penciled-in $1.35 million from a loan. That’s more than it’s gotten in the past, and park boosters are pleased.

Risky School District Loans Are Back

The Poway Unified district is still trying to recover from the avalanche of bad press after the media (led by VOSD) uncovered how it embraced a $105 million loan for construction that that will saddle some future residents with almost $1 billion in extra property taxes. The state responded by limiting the use of these “capital appreciation” bonds.

But, inewsource reports, “California school districts are back to issuing once notorious capital appreciation bonds after a short-lived decline. Districts also are changing the way they use more traditional bonds, which could foreshadow more trouble for schools’ finances.”

Politics Roundup: City Bans ‘Spice’ Drugs

The county is now hearing from nonprofit groups that want a piece of the action — $3.3 million in grant funds to support tourism, economic development, museums and similar programs and projects, City News Service reports.

The program is separate from the county’s much-criticized Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, which allows county supervisors to direct taxpayer-funded grants toward their favorite charities. But as inewsource reported in 2014, this program has also gotten criticism, including a slam by the county grand jury, which questioned the program because it’s hard to figure out whether the grants actually pay off in terms of results.

• “The linchpin of California’s climate change agenda, a program known as cap and trade, has become mired in legal, financial and political troubles that threaten to derail the state’s plans to curb greenhouse gas emission,” the L.A. Times reports.

• About 34,000 local property owners only have a couple weeks to pay a property tax bill installment and avoid a second round of penalties. (U-T)

VOSD’s Big Winner on His Surprising Path

If you aren’t familiar with the past of VOSD reporter Mario Koran, then the headline on a Times of S.D. profile will be a bit of a head-snapper: “San Diego Journalist of the Year and Ex-Con.”

Yes, Koran has a story to tell. But we’re more interested at the moment in the articles he’s been producing over the last year. He won the Journalist of the Year award from the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists because his investigative work uncovered misconduct by Marne Foster, the president of the San Diego Unified school board. She resigned earlier this year.

The profile features praise for Koran from colleagues and an interview with him about his life (yes, he served time behind bars) and his career. “Being a reporter doesn’t always feel good. A lot of the work is dull and unsexy. Folks question your facts and motivation. They tell you you’re flat-out wrong. Often, the closer you get to finding answers, the more intense and personal that pushback becomes,” he says. “That’s all part of the deal, I suppose. So in some ways an award like this comes down to a group of journalists telling another journalist: ‘Good job. You hung in there and until you found something.’ And I really appreciate that compliment.”

• The Society of Professional Journalists also weighed in on the school district spokesman who make a joke — twice — we couldn’t laugh off. “There is no circumstance in which joking about a journalist’s death should ever be tolerated.”

Culture Report: The Wire

Our weekly Culture Report leads off with news of a public art project that’s scaling the heights of, well, City Heights. Wire sculptures — yes, there are such things — are now installed on light poles and traffic signals. “In the past,” says the artist, “they seem to make people happy by looking up and seeing a surprise in the sky that they haven’t seen before.” In the photo accompanying the Culture Report, one sculpture looks a bit like Lenin, a notorious cut-up. (OK, not really. It does look like him, though.)

Also in the Culture Report: It’s time for another one of the treasured James Hubbell art tours out in the boonies, an artist in trouble for defacing the wilderness, and nominations are being gathered for the always-nifty architectural Orchid and Onion awards. At least one critic simply can’t stand the retail space formerly known as Uptown Shopping Center in Hillcrest, especially a sculpture and a strange mural (around here, that’s almost redundant). The shopping center is now called The HUB for some reason, even though that makes it sound like it’s a bicycle shop.

Quick News Hits: ‘Hairy Houdini’

• The sports podcast The Kept Faith is now part of our podcast network. More on that as things get official soon. Check out this week’s episode, which features our Scott Lewis. They talk about how Mayor Faulconer’s big win will inform his next move, the Chargers’ path to moving downtown, the #FireMikeDee blogger movement and the recent MLB draft. Follow the show on Twitter @thekeptfaith and online

Uber is now delivering food to local residents, but you have to live west of I-805 between La Jolla and downtown, so neighborhoods like Normal Heights and Kensington are out of luck. (U-T)

• The CDC has put out a new map about potential hot zones for the Zika virus, and San Diego County is on it. The reason: Ae. aegypti mosquitos, which transmit the virus, have been found here in two of the last 21 years. Much of the rest of Southern California (including Orange, Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties) only saw reported sightings of the mosquito during one year over that period.

• 10news investigates operations on youth baseball players: “Surgeries which have previously been considered rare procedures performed on a few professional players are now being performed on kids regularly in San Diego.”

• Have you ever heard a plaintive wail? I wasn’t sure I had until yesterday when VOSD’s fearless leader Scott Lewis tweeted this: “oh what have you done?” It was in response to a request from reader Dave Gatzke that I follow up on yesterday’s mention in the Morning Report of my high school prom, which was held at (of all places) SeaWorld.

Gatzke was disappointed that I didn’t include my prom picture. So here it is.

• When I offered to buy him a magazine subscription a while back, my brother asked me how often Newsweek comes out. But I digress. Newsweek is still around, it seems. And this week, it gave readers a San Diego history lesson about an “escape artist” named Ken Allen.

Ken Allen, the 250-pound orangutan, that is. (It’s like I have a twin!) In 1985, he escaped his pen at the San Diego Zoo and went for a stroll: “He walked down a public path toward crowds of weekday tourists, stopping to look at the other animals as if he were a visitor before being led back to his cage.”

The zoo extended his pen’s retaining wall. But Ken Allen escaped again with the help of an another orangutan accomplice named Vicki. And then… Well, Newsweek can tell you the rest. Let’s just say this story is epic.

Living the dream, Ken Allen. Living the dream.

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 is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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