A San Diego Fire Department helicopter drops water to contain the Lilac Fire near the Rancho Monserate Country Club. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The Lilac Fire surrounded skateboarder Tony Hawk’s former hillside property on all four sides, burned a tree in the driveway, singed a potted plant by the backdoor, but spared the house and outbuildings.

“It’s unbelievable, it really is a miracle,” said Angela Murphy, who now lives in house along Highway 76 with her husband, Sean.

But two houses just up the hill and another house below burned to the ground.

Such was the terrible and terribly random nature of the Lilac Fire, which began Thursday morning in Bonsall, burned 4,100 acres and 85 structures, and injured six people, including two firefighters.

By Friday morning, firefighters from across the state – aided by a jet airplane dropping fire retardant and a swarm of helicopters dropping water – had halted the fire’s spread. By Friday evening, Cal Fire began lifting the evacuation orders that had displaced thousands in North County.

During the day, firefighters roamed Highway 76, putting out hot spots along the road and marching up hills to create firebreaks.

Amateur firefighters did their part, too.

One of them was Barry Farley, who worked to protect the home of his friend, artist Judy Dy’ans. Her house, just down the hill from the Murphys, was also spared, though the fire burned some of the steps on her walkway. But a home next door burned to the ground.

With smoke everywhere and small bits of flame occasionally shooting up from the ground, Farley shoveled dirt to smother the fire. Because the power was out, the pump to get water from a well didn’t work, so he also poured water from a jug onto the ground, before he got a bucket he could refill in the Murphys’ pool. Then a fire crew showed up to help.

“It’s like everybody has to work together to make this fire protection a reality,” Farley said. “Because these are just about some of the worst fire conditions.”

Ry Rivard

The Onetime SoccerCity Loophole

SANDAG released a controversial traffic forecast for the SoccerCity project but it won’t necessarily do the same for the competing SDSU West project – at least for now.

It turns out the agency’s decision to pursue that analysis followed a move to work around its own policy saying SANDAG shouldn’t review projects that will appear on the ballot.

The review of the project, which would top the former Chargers stadium site with homes, retail and a pro soccer stadium, concluded SoccerCity would draw more traffic than developers promised.

Now, Andrew Keatts reports, the planning agency has changed its policies, and that could mean SDSU West’s essentially westward expansion of the university, won’t get the same vetting from SANDAG unless the San Diego City Council or another local government agency asks for it.

Another unusual aspect of SANDAG’s analysis: It took it on at the request of the project’s opponents.

In a new op-ed, SDSU West supporter Gina Champion-Cain argues that the plan will give the region the greatest bang for its buck on the Mission Valley property long anchored by the Chargers.

Cole Delivers for Dem Colleagues

Friday, Myrtle Cole delivered for her Democratic colleagues and the labor unions that decided to support her re-election as Council president.

Earlier this week, Andrew Keatts tracked the behind-the-scenes intrigue about pressure Cole was facing. Last year, she won the position after her four Republican colleagues lined up to support her. They got important leadership positions on City Council committees.

Labor leaders pushed her to not go that route again. And she didn’t. Democrats supported her, and she won re-election as Council prez.

Friday, she released new committee assignments and Democrats did well. Most notable: Republican Councilman Scott Sherman was removed as chair of the committee for smart growth and land use and replaced by Democratic Councilwoman Georgette Gomez. Cole also made Democrat Barbara Bry Council president pro tem, the No. 2 post. Councilman Mark Kersey, a Republican, has had that position for the last year.

“It’s a new day San Diego, Just say’n,” tweeted Tom Lemmon, the leader of the Building Trades Council.

Sacramento Report: Atkins Taking the Lead

San Diego Sen. Toni Atkins is poised to become the state Senate’s next president pro tem.

The news would mean both parties in the state Senate would be led by women from San Diego. Republican Sen. Pat Bates is the Senate GOP leader.

The Atkins news leads this week’s Sacramento Report, which also includes an update on Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s attempts to increase transparency on school district spending of state dollars meant to support vulnerable students.

Weber’s now calling on Gov. Jerry Brown, to push legislation or other solutions to bring more accountability to how the funds are spent.

Also in the Sacramento Report: Early predictions about the likelihood of success in bringing single-payer health care to California and other news from the state Capitol.

VOSD Podcast: Vacation Rental

Next week could be a major turning point in San Diego’s years-long fight over how to regulate vacation rentals. The City Council is set to consider two options: one plan from City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, and another by a group of four city councilmen.

This week, the Voice of San Diego podcast crew invited four folks who’ve been at the front lines of that fight to debate the issues.

Host Scott Lewis led a discussion with John Anderson and Belinda Smith of the pro-rental group Short Term Rental Alliance, Tom Coat, who’s pushed for clearer regulations, and Sue Hopkins of Save San Diego Neighborhoods, a group that’s raised major flags over those rentals.

What they all agree on: San Diego leaders could have better handled the divisive debate.

Podcast co-hosts Libby and Andrew Keatts also talked about the City Council’s vote to retain City Council President Myrtle Cole as Council president, and national coverage of the city’s homelessness and hepatitis A crises.

 Despite years of tussling over rental rules, the city’s offered up almost no data on just how many vacation rentals there are in San Diego. I shed more light on the city’s more than 11,000 rentals with the help of a San Francisco-based company earlier this week. Interested in even more data? Here’s a full report from Host Compliance, which includes neighborhood-level data on rentals.

Quick News Hits

  • Dozens of homeless San Diegans who had been living at a city-sanctioned camp at 20th and B streets in Golden Hill have been moving out and into the nonprofit Alpha Project’s tent in Barrio Logan. A handful of families will remain for at least a few more days while they wait to move into permanent homes. Nonprofit Alpha Project said all have secured homes and are just waiting to move in. (Twitter)
  • There’s much debate about a city proposal to redevelop a portion of Mission Bay Park. (Union-Tribune)
  • The Escondido City Council voted this week to give itself a pay raise. (Note: City Councilwoman Olga Diaz is a VOSD board member.) (Union-Tribune)
  • San Diego Comic-Con won its multi-million dollar trademark suit against Salt Lake Comic-Con on Friday but it won’t be walking away with millions. (Forbes)

Top Stories of the Week

These were the five most popular Voice of San Diego stories for the week of Dec. 1-8. Check out the full top 10 list here.

  • The Four Big Differences Between SoccerCity and SDSU West
  • The two initiatives are very similar. But they differ in size, the promises of a park along the San Diego River and how much they pledge (or don’t) to pay for the stadium property in Mission Valley. (Scott Lewis)
  • What it Took to Clear 17th Street
  • More than two months after a dramatic police crackdown on 17th Street, the impact is beginning to come into focus: Court records show many of the 75 who were arrested were jailed for days while they awaited arraignments. More than a quarter have yet to be charged despite being held in jail. Some homeless residents who’d stayed there for months or years moved to other neighborhoods; others have settled nearby. (Lisa Halverstadt)
  • 11th Hour Maneuvering Could Threaten Council President’s Re-Election
  • San Diego’s City Council is set to choose the Council president for the next year, and people on the right and left of City Hall’s 10th floor are jockeying in a way that could mean the end of Myrtle Cole’s short time in the seat. (Andrew Keatts)
  • Tijuana Has the Ingredients for a Booming Startup Scene But Not a Lot to Show for it
  • With an affordable but skilled workforce, proximity to the border and an extremely low cost of living, Tijuana has a lot of strengths that could help it achieve that elusive goal of modern cities: becoming a hub for tech startups. But the border’s tech startup scene is still stuck in its infancy. (Kinsee Morlan)
  • Environment Report: The Plan to Build a Giant Water Battery in San Diego County
  • The battle over who should pay for the 2007 wildfires likely isn’t over yet, the Water Authority will decide whether to extend a major water deal and why San Diego urine samples were in the news in Germany last week. (Ry Rivard)

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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