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Squirt-gun fight becomes a heated issue in S.D. mayor's race

August 14, 2012 | 11:04 am

Lily pond at Balboa Park in San Diego
The damage done to San Diego's famed Balboa Park during a squirt-gun fight gone wild has become an issue in the increasingly nasty mayoral race between Rep. Bob Filner and Councilman Carl DeMaio.

Filner on Monday issued a statement to reporters alleging DeMaio's partner helped to organize the squirt-gun fight:

"This is felony vandalism of the crown jewel of San Diego.... 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 hours, DeMaio called a press conference to say that Filner had "sunk to a new low in politics [by] condemning an innocent man with a vicious personal attack on an opponent's loved ones." He said Hale had no role in organizing the event.

Hale is the publisher of the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News website, which published a column that listed the "second annual squirt-gun fight" as one of the activities during a weeklong gay-themed festival in Hillcrest, the city's heavily gay neighborhood. The event was also listed on other websites.

The two candidates repeated their dueling charges before, during and after a debate Tuesday morning sponsored by the San Diego Building Owners and Managers Assn.

At midnight Saturday, hundreds of people massed at a fountain outside the park's Natural History Museum. But when they found that the fountain was drained of water due to a repair project, they surged down to the lily pond in front of the Botanical Building.

The pond, 195 feet long by 43 feet wide, is one of the original features of the park, built for a 1915 exposition that served as San Diego's entry onto the national stage. 

In a melee that lasted into early Sunday morning, vegetation was trampled, koi and turtles were disturbed, a drainage pipe was broken and water was splashed from the pond. Damage has been estimated to cost several thousand dollars.

Spurred by public outrage over the incident, the city's parks and recreation director has promised to have the iconic area repaired by next week.

Mayor Jerry Sanders has called the squirt-gun crowd "delinquents" and called for restitution and possible criminal charges.


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Photo: Damage done to the vegetation at the lily pond. Credit: John Gibbins / UT-San Diego