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— The taxpayer-funded San Diego Association of Governments is spending $60,000 on a consultant who will arrange focus groups and conduct a poll regarding extension of the so-called "Transnet" sales tax. The half-percent sales-tax addition, earmarked to fund building of new trolleys and roads, was approved by county voters in 1987 and expires in 2008 unless otherwise extended by voter approval. Last summer the SANDAG board voted to kill a proposal by then-mayor Susan Golding to put a $7 billion, 30-year extension of the tax on the November ballot. Golding's measure would have broadened the use of the tax money to include her Multiple Species Conservation program. At the time of the SANDAG rejection, La Mesa mayor Art Madrid said that Golding's proposal had been "absolutely crafted behind the scenes." Officials now vow to bring the matter back to the ballot within a year ... County supervisor Bill Horn, who lost his Republican primary bid for U.S. Senate last March, is already running for reelection. In a letter announcing a February 22 fundraising breakfast at the Bahia Hotel on Mission Bay, Horn says "numerous challenges" face his North County district, including "conflict between environmental extremists who want to confiscate nearly every undeveloped acre in our region and property owners who want to retain some reasonable economic use."

Charter schools San Diego Unified School District superintendent Alan Bersin is planning to join the board of "EdVoice," a new lobbying group describing itself as "a bipartisan, political-advocacy network" that favors charter schools and other "successful models of public school choice." EdVoice promises to "get successful charter schools to expand into failing school districts." Other boardmembers, according to an internal school-district document, would "likely" include wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur and charter-school champion Reed Hastings, ex-Democratic assemblyman Ted Lempert, venture capitalist John Doerr, L.A. mayor Richard Riordan, and Steve Merksamer, a Sacramento lawyer, deal maker, and ex-chief of staff to former governor George Deukmejian. "Like AARP on senior issues, NRA on gun issues, or AIPAC on Middle East issues, EdVoice will be a powerful force for education reform in California," the document says. Insiders say the timing of Bersin's public announcement may depend on the outcome of the bitter fight over whether La Jolla High School can turn charter, a move opposed by Bersin.

Hacked Ramen A computer hacker with a fondness for noodles has attacked the servers of Nextwerk, a San Diego firm that operates websites for the Lake County, Indiana, Convention and Visitors Bureau. When visitors logged onto the site last week, they were greeted by a screen that said, "Ramen Crew. Hackers love noodles." The site was one of 13 affected regional Web operations run by the Times of Western Indiana, which contracts with Nextwerk for Web hosting. Nextwerk president Mubashir Mian says the hacker discovered a vulnerability in the Red Hat Linux operating system that was running the Web server, but the problem has since been fixed. Hacking, warns Mian, "is a very large problem. There are many hackers in Europe and Russia, who are working while we sleep."... Cast members from the smash Mexican TV comedy Cero en Conducta ("Zero for Behavior") are bringing their live road show to San Diego in June, reports Daily Variety.

Close call Flight controllers at San Diego's Naval Fleet Air Control and Surveillance Facility are to blame for a near head-on collision last month between an Air New Zealand Boeing 747 carrying 397 people and a Boeing 737 on a test flight off the coast here, says the Wellington Dominion. According to the report, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that the December 1 incident happened because the Navy controllers failed to properly hand off the 737, which had been traveling in Navy air space, to civilian controllers at Oakland Oceanic Control. Both planes were at 37,000 feet, about 600 miles southwest of Los Angeles, and flying directly toward each other when pilots were warned by cockpit devices of the impending collision and took evasive action.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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