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Weekend trashing of Balboa Park’s lily pond turns political

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It may take at least another week before Balboa Park’s century-old lily pond is back to normal after it and its surrounding gardens were left littered and trampled over the weekend.

The damage was the result of a social-media-driven, out-of-control water gun fight scheduled to begin at midnight Sunday morning. No permit was issued to the event’s organizers from the city’s Park and Recreation Department, which requires use permits for any planned gathering of more than 50 people.

Park and Recreation Department Director Stacey LoMedico said Monday she’s heard a wide range of estimates as to how many people showed for the water gun fight. But some estimates put attendance around as many as 1,000 people.

That was Sunday. By Monday, the vandalism had entered San Diego politics.

While Balboa Park is on damage control following the incident, so was San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio, who has been called upon to condemn the event, which was promoted in an online story from a publication run by DeMaio’s life partner, Johnathan Hale.

A short Aug. 9 story in San Diego Gay and Lesbian News promoted the water gun fight, going so far as to say that organizers were hoping for potentially more than 1,000 attendees.

Ken St. Pierre, the former director of sales and business development at the site’s publishing company, Hale Media Inc., was named in the story as one of the event organizers, along with “others.”

Hale was not referenced as an organizer, but the connection appeared close enough for Rep. Bob Filner, DeMaio’s challenger in this November’s mayoral runoff, to jump on the information. Filner sent out a press release Monday, calling on DeMaio to publicly condemn Hale’s involvement.

"This is felony vandalism of the Crown Jewel of San Diego,” Filner said. “Carl DeMaio's partner reportedly helped to organize it. I call on Carl to condemn Johnathan Hale's criminal actions.

“I think voters should be concerned about someone like this playing a significant role in the next mayoral administration."

Within a couple of hours, the DeMaio camp organized a press conference, showing cached Internet screen shots it said showed the event’s nine organizers: St. Pierre, Travis Meyer, Iriz Stone, Jennine Estes, Christopher Walden, Jim Honeycutt, Matthew Hardick, Kevin VanWanseele and Corinna Lewis.

St. Pierre, DeMaio said, has no ties whatsoever to the DeMaio campaign and has never been a campaign volunteer, though DeMaio did say St. Pierre had donated money to the campaign about 14 months ago. He did not say how much.

“Today, Bob Filner gave an alarming preview of what it would be like if he were our mayor,” DeMaio said.

Rejecting all implications that Hale was involved in the organization of the water gun fight, DeMaio said that Hale was unequivocally not anywhere near the event. Rather, Hale was in Rancho Bernardo, with DeMaio, he said, adding that he was “personally outraged” by Filner’s “attack.”

"Bob Filner is now resorting to personal attacks against my family,” DeMaio added.

He continued to say that the Filner statement shows Filner to be unfit to run the city, and that Filner “might be used to this divisive and mean-spirited behavior in Congress,” but that, “in San Diego, we reject this partisanship."

Park and Recreation Director LoMedico said damage estimates are in the thousands of dollars, and that some estimates upward of $10,000, while not official, might not be far off when all is said and done. That will include calculating the overtime costs involved in performing initial repairs, she said.

Those initial repairs included work aimed at saving the lives of not only the Victorian Lilies the pond is so well-known for, but the koi and turtles that call the pond home as well.

The raucous crowd broke a pipe that works as part of the pond’s depth regulation system. When the pipe is broken, the regulator drains the pond by design, to prevent overflowing, LoMedico said. Temporary repairs to the pipe, which appears to be holding water just fine now, were completed and the park is determining if and when a more extensive repair will be done.

“Right now, it appears to be very small,” LoMedico said. “Therefore, it might be worth it just to leave it the way it is.”

Adding to the cost, many of the lily planter boxes, typically hidden from view under the water line, were broken, and will need to be fixed or replaced. While the lilies are bouncing back to life faster than expected, some heavily trampled vegetation around the pond will take more time to recover.

Sunday’s early morning park staff reported somewhere between 3 and 7 inches of water left in the pond — barely enough for the fish to survive for any length of time in.

Contrary to some reports, LoMedico said, none of the koi living in the pond died as a result of the incident.

“The koi are good,” she said. “No issues with koi, no issues with turtles. We have asked the staff who were there first thing in the morning on Sunday, and so far, we have not had anybody of our staff who’s witnessed dead fish or turtles.

“But we’re still evaluating it, because clearly, they were stressed.”

The investigation is ongoing in the San Diego Police Department. Detective Gary Hassen said it's possible that a second detective has been assigned to the case, but could not confirm that or provide any further details.

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