BACKTALK: Ah, June. The time of year when San Diego Magazine readers’ thoughts turn to, well, San Diego—and what’s so good about it. Lots to ponder there. As we’ve noted more than once, the expression "best of San Diego" is dangerously close to redundant. But we do have our faults.

And that bothers some folks.

Last month, in a letter to the editor, one reader took us to task for "focusing on and publishing opinions of negativity" in our annual readers’ poll. "Cruel, irresponsible and unnecessary," she wrote, to include such ballot categories as "least-admired San Diegan," "most-disappointing San Diego athlete" and "worst local radio personality." She may have a point.

On the other hand, these categories turn out to be immensely popular with our readers. Maybe that’s because most folks are given precious few opportunities to just sound off. There are certainly ample opportunities to fill out "best of" polls these days. City magazines used to have the franchise on these lists. And San Diego Magazine was a pioneer in the field. For close to three decades here, we had the field to ourselves. But we’ve spawned local imitators.

Lately, just about everybody in possession of a ream of paper and a bottle of ink has joined the game. And most have tried to make up in quantity what they lack in quality. In these saturation polls, scores of national chain operations turn up under the heading "Best of San Diego." Tsk, tsk. When the majority of participants in a newspaper’s poll can’t do any better than Outback for best "local" steakhouse, you know you’ve got trouble.

We respect our readers’ opinions, and we love to hear from you. But we also view it as our duty to let you hear from us—to give you the benefit of our research and provide you with tips on what’s best about our city. That’s our job. Hello; we’re the city magazine.

Our readers’ poll provides space for comments. Lots of you use it to vent. A few of you see trouble in paradise. "I love San Diego, with all its faults and glories," writes Robbie Langdon.

But then comes Jacqueline Bethune of Solana Beach: "San Diego better get a grip on the cost of living, traffic and crime, or I’ll leave ‘paradise’ and go home!" Surprising how many San Diegan still refer to someplace else as "home."

Fallbrook’s Kathleen Dunning-Torbett has a suggestion for some of you. "We need for all the people who haven’t lived here 10 or more years to go back where they came from," she writes. "And quit bad-mouthing the area; if it’s as bad as you claim, leave."

SNOOP DU JOUR: In the days just before his arrest, accused wife-killer Scott Peterson wasn’t the only one doing a little cover job. While the suspect in the murder of wife Laci and their unborn son was busy performing that bizarre dye job on his hair and beard, his father was doing a fancy comb-over on a network camera crew outside his Solana Beach home. With Scott still at large, papa Lee Peterson told the crew his son was in Modesto. But subsequent news reports said he was hiding out in San Diego. Later, Pops scolded the crew for "lurking" outside his home, which, he told them, could aggravate his wife’s delicate medical condition and end up killing her. After successfully running that network crew off the property, Peterson and his wife soon turned up on two other networks—delicate medical condition and all.

WINNERS: To no one’s surprise, San Diego’s Jack O’Brien has garnered a Tony Award nomination for his directing of Broadway’s smash hit Hairspray. After O’Brien’s four previous nominations (The Full Monty, The Invention of Love, Two Shakespearean Actors and Porgy and Bess) with no wins, oddsmakers are solidly in his corner for 2003. Meanwhile, the Old Globe artistic director is on the other side of the Atlantic, directing a new production of His Girl Friday at London’s Royal National Theatre. Then it’s back to New York’s Lincoln Center to direct Henry IV, starring Kevin Kline and Billy Crudup ... Former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Mark Sullivan’s sixth novel, The Serpent’s Kiss (Atria Books), is due in bookstores next month. The hero: an SDPD detective who must solve a series of brutal murders. The murder weapon: a snake. Key consultants: the reptile experts at the San Diego Zoo ... Best-selling author Joseph Wambaugh was due in New York City last month to collect the Mystery Writers of America’s prestigious Edgar Award from Law & Order’s Jerry Orbach for Wambaugh’s fact-based crime yarn Fire Lover. Wambaugh never made it. After three delays totaling four hours, his American Airlines flight never left San Diego—the night crew, passengers were told, failed to show up to service the plane for its 7:30 a.m. flight. "And so," he says, "I slunk back to my house in Point Loma with my tail between my legs." The moral of the story, says Wambaugh: "Maybe American Airlines deserves to go bankrupt?"

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