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— The federal government has kicked out all the tenants and boarded up the old Hotel San Diego, which now looms over lower Broadway like a ghost ship. It's supposed to be the site of a new federal courthouse, but that, according to a recent news release from the General Services Administration, isn't happening soon. "Funding for construction is expected to be approved by Congress in Fiscal Year 2005. The building is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2009." In the meantime, the crumbling sidewalks around the hotel are said by signs posted by the government to be in danger of potential collapse, and crews continue to add various "temporary" wooden and razor-wire security barriers to keep transients from climbing through the windows and into the hallways for a brief winter respite. When the new courthouse finally gets off the ground, it's set to be designed by Michael Palladino, who heads the West Coast office of Richard Meier and Partners. Meier is a trendy New York architect whose firm designed the Museum of Radio and Television in Beverly Hills; he was an unsuccessful contender in the Ground Zero design contest for a concept to replace the World Trade Center. The firm also furnished the design for the $10 million Ara Pacis museum and the $25 million Church of the Millennium in Rome, along with a new city hall in San Jose. Meier's group has done at least two federal courthouses, one in Phoenix and the other in Central Islip, Long Island. That one recently won Meier a 2003 "Honor Award" from the American Institute of Architects, which is set to award it to him at a ceremony during the group's national convention here in May. But the story takes an unexpected turn. An investigation by the Arizona Republic last December revealed that both the Phoenix and Islip projects went way over budget and are now being audited. "Changes ordered by the government in the midst of construction accounted for many of the extra costs," the paper reported, "but whether any of the overruns stemmed from deficiencies in design or engineering is another question inspectors hope to answer." The Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse in Phoenix, completed 17 months late, exceeded its $111.1 million budget by $16 million. A basement firing range for U.S. marshals was built too short for target practice and remains to be modified at a cost of more than $200,000. In Long Island the damage was a bit greater: The original bid of $190 million was exceeded by $86 million. And federal employees in Phoenix, the paper reports, still complain about that building's giant atrium, similar to the one Meier designed for Islip. "The towering atrium at the New York building is conventionally air-conditioned, rather than cooled by a giant misting system like the one that has caused much controversy in Phoenix," according to the Republic. "Despite the addition of air-conditioning at security stations, guards still contend with summer heat and winter cold as outdoor air sweeps through the largely uninsulated glass atrium."

Politics, politics Yet another of San Diego city attorney Casey Gwinn's deputies has established a fundraising committee for a campaign to succeed her boss, setting up the first actual electoral contest for the seat in almost two decades. Deborah Berger, as deputy city attorney, has championed such legal issues as a $194 million taxpayer subsidy for the convention center. She joins colleague Leslie Devaney, Gwinn's "Executive Assistant City Attorney," in vying for the office. Gwinn, who was elected twice without ever having to face a ballot opponent, is termed out ... KPBS, the broadcast outlet owned and operated by SDSU, is running an hourlong infomercial featuring a celebrity skin doctor, recently critiqued by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Peter Dobrin: "PBS, which was supposed to be inured to ratings and still sometimes aims high, has discovered a 'cure' -- for wrinkles. No kidding. One of PBS's big hits is an infomercial hosted by a dermatologist. A PBS news release on The Wrinkle Cure with Dr. Nicholas Perricone requires no satire: 'Dr. Perricone's revolutionary discoveries have helped thousands, including top Hollywood stars, media personalities, supermodels, and recording artists. His breakthroughs show viewers that they, too, can turn back the clock.' Yes, PBS."

Traveling man San Diego schools' "Chancellor of Instruction" Tony Alvarado, recently relieved of command, is already on the road, pitching his version of educational reform. Latest stop: an Urban Superintendents' Academy, held last Friday at the Minneapolis Embassy Suites Airport Hotel, sponsored by Eli Broad, the wealthy L.A. developer who backs San Diego superintendent Alan Bersin. Alvarado's topics: "What is good teaching and learning?" and "Theory of Action -- What it means to say that instruction drives a system."

Contributor: Matt Potter

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