Opioids and Oligarchy

 

“Oligarchy…1 : government by the few. 2: a government in which a small group exercises control…” So, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary we are rapidly becoming an oligarchy in the USA. Some would reasonably say we are already there, an arrival greatly aided by the 2018 “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision.   https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/sep/26/america-oligarchy-dominated-billionaires-big-money-series

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the fact the rich have become richer and the poor poorer over the last three or four decades in the USA, is undeniable. It is also undeniable corporations are responsible for many of the obstacles we all encounter.

I encountered one such obstacle last week.

In my last blog I spoke about my cancer. The good news is that the latest scans show no new cancer progression. The bad news is that two of the three vertebrae that were radiated for cancer, developed compression fractures. This was as painful as what I had suffered with the cancer in my ninth thoracic vertebra (T9).  To remedy this pain, kyphoplasty for all three vertebra that had cancer lesions was performed. Kyphoplasty is a process in which a surgeon, using tiny tubes removes the cancerous tissue from inside the vertebral body, and then fills it with a sort of cement, and expands the vertebral body to its size before the fractures. This worked very well (I think) on my T8 and T9 vertebrae. It did not work for the T12, and the pain was as bad as before. So, I went to palliative care, (which is not hospice) to cope with the pain. They adjusted my pain medication, adding Methadone to the Oxycodone I was taking. So, now I am relatively pain free, albeit a bit dopey, and unable to drive. The surgeon who performed the Kyphoplasty has ordered an MRI, which may show another way to remedy the situation.

It was the adjustment to my medication that became an obstacle. The opioid epidemic has made getting drugs like Oxycodone much harder. That is understandable considering the addiction costs to society. However, it also means that people who are in severe pain have to also jump through the new hoops to get their medication. The palliative care doctor had called in her prescription to my pharmacy while I was still in the clinic in Torrey Pines. Roger and I stopped for lunch in Rancho Bernardo, and I called the pharmacy to see if the prescription would be ready. The pharmacist I spoke with said no, because they needed a lot more information about my condition, which the palliative care doctor had not provided.  I was in a lot of pain at the time, and I’m afraid I might have raised my voice at this delay in getting better pain relief. So Roger drove me home, where I was able to get the weight off my back, and heat on it.

In a calmer frame of mind, I was able to analyze the situation, and realize, that because it was a different doctor than my oncologist who wrote the prescription, the pharmacy probably had to make sure I wasn’t shopping doctors. I called the pharmacy again, and explained my condition, noting that all the previous Rx’s had come from my Scripps oncologist, and the new one from the Scripps palliative care at the Scripps M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and assured him I was not doctor shopping. He agreed to go ahead and release the medications, and poor Roger went back into town to pick them up for me.

So, if you’re still reading this, you’re probably asking “what the hell does this have to do with oligarchies?” Well, who is responsible for the opioid crisis? As the Los Angeles Times has so well pointed out, big pharma is the culprit. https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-09-17/opioid-lawsuit-who-is-to-blame  This has been widely demonstrated on news programs such as “60 Minutes” and in the press. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/one-small-town-two-drug-companies-and-123-million-doses-of-opioids/2018/02/15/6436fe16-11a0-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html When a large pharmaceutical sends 5.8 million pills to one pharmacy in a town of 1,779 people, without any hesitation or fear of being fined due to lack of governmental regulatory oversight, the power and influence of “the few” to have government act in their interest over the interests of regular citizens is as evident as the nose on my face. (Yes, I have a beautiful Roman nose, not exactly something to be ignored.)

Belatedly, long after the unlimited opioid availability, there has been some effort to regulate the distribution of opioids, and to punish the unconscionable actions of Big Pharma. A county district judge in Oklahoma ordered Johnson and Johnson to pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million in reparation for the damages done to the state. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/johnson-and-johnson-is-responsible-for-fueling-oklahomas-opioid-crisis-judge-rules-in-landmark-case/2019/08/26/ed7bc6dc-c7fe-11e9-a4f3-c081a126de70_story.html Interestingly, Johnson and Johnson’s stock rose after the judgement. Oklahoma had asked for $17.5 billion in damages, to be paid over 30 years; that $17.5 billion being what the state calculated its costs would be to pay for the damages caused by opioids. Some might say this was just a slap on the wrist.

I’m not ready to say we have an absolute oligarchy, but we’re well on the way. Consider this.  If a doctor prescribes an opioid, she must also prescribe the drug for an overdose of an opioid, Narcan. Is this something the drug companies must do to pay for their crimes? No. This is something that opioid users must pay for unless, as did I, they understand that this is a drug only to use after overdose, because there is no law that the receiver of opioids must buy this drug. However, when my new palliative care doctor prescribed opioids, she also had to prescribe the overdose drug, Narcan. So, Roger, not aware of this, when told I had three prescriptions (not only the Oxycodone, but also the Methadone and the Narcan) he assumed that they were all drugs that would relieve my pain. Narcon without insurance can cost $140. It cost me, with Medicare, less than $5. I’m not sure how much it cost my insurer, and you the taxpayer.

It is clear to me that the interests and comfort of the majority of citizens take a back seat to the interests of corporations and the top .01 percent in wealth. I truly believe we can change this trend, but only if people vote against the servants of the ultra-wealthy.

 

 

Napili Bay, Maui July 18, 2019

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This is the view from the tiny balcony of our tiny studio apartment. That’s Lanai in the background. It’s a great view, but what I really love is the sound of the surf, which breaks about 25 feet from the balcony. The great variety of surf music is so calming, from the waterfall roar of large breakers, to the soft whoosh of the smallest waves. A watery lullaby better than any sleeping pill.

It has been a bit of a rough year for me, healthwise, and my request to come here, mainly to veg-out was agreed to by Roger, who has had to put up with a lot this year. I had intended to swim in the ocean every day, but they had something called a southern swell, and the surf was just too rough for me. We were able to go Tuesday and Wednesday, and will today, but on Sunday and Monday, when I tried, it was just too rough, mainly because of the medication, Afinitor, to fight my cancer, has side effects of extreme fatigue and muscle weakness.

Yes, once again I am contributing to the delinquency of pharmaceutical companies. The Afinitor costs about $12K a month. It will cost me about $11K this year. Yes, you read that correctly—you the taxpayers through my Medicare are paying at least $10K an (almost) month for my 28 pills of Afinitor. It is an obscene price, and the drug companies have no price regulation, thanks to their prostitutes in Congress. It has caused me to wonder what possible motivation these companies would have for finding a cure for cancer when they can make so much money selling these palliative drugs. After all, if you cure someone, they won’t be buying the palliatives.

It’s been two months and counting since I last attempted to write anything. Why? Not because there’s nothing to write about. No. I’ve not written because I’ve had little energy, drive or ambition.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have metastatic breast cancer. I was diagnosed shortly after the 2016 election, and was much more upset by the election of the orange menace than the news my cancer was back.

Since, for the past two months, my cancer has been the major focus of my life, I have decided to write about it—so if this is not your cup of tea, this would be a good place to stop reading.

My doctors were very optimistic, saying that there were many treatments available, and at this point I think I’ve been through at least half of the repertoire.

My first bout with breast cancer was in 2005. I had a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. It came back in 2014, under my arm. I was one of the 5% who had a false negative sentinel lymph node biopsy in 2005. This time I had a complete lymph node dissection, radiation treatment, and chemo. I knew that once cancer gets in the lymphatic system there’s a good possibility it will come back, and it did.

My 2016 diagnoses indicated I had two very small lesions, one in my liver and one in my T8 (eighth thoracic vertebral disk.) As I said, I was much more upset about having an ex- reality TV star, who was obviously racist, sexist, ignorant and incompetent as president.

Always before when I was diagnosed, I did as much research as possible about the stage, type, treatments available for my cancer. This time I did not. I pretty much just followed whatever instructions I was given. My old oncologist retired in December, but both she and my new oncologist recommended treatment with Tamoxifen and a new drug called Ibrance.

That was the first time I contributed to the delinquency of the drug companies. Ibrance costs about $12K for 21 tablets. (After taking the 21 pills, you take a week off.) My share after going through the $4K (approximately) donut hole was about $670 per month. Ibrance brags that it will, on average, prolong the period of disease progression free periods by two years and actually shrink tumors. And my PET scan in March of 2017 showed no evidence of the liver lesion. And all was well until my December scans. That showed a new, very small lesion, in my liver, as well as more activity in my T8, as well as some activity in my T12. The radiologist who had analyzed the scan referred to my cancer as indolent. Probably a good thing for a cancer to be. My oncologist recommended that I stop taking Ibrance and begin a new hormone blocker called Faslodex, which is given by injection. I was just fine with that, since the Ibrance side effects included extreme fatigue I was glad to give up.

This change in my diagnosis caused me to do what I usually do at the beginning of any new health problem, research. I read a lot of journal articles, and discovered that people like me, with less than five lesions in fewer than three areas of the body were considered to be oligometastatic,  and the best treatment was to aggressively go after the lesions as they show up in conjunction with the hormone blocking therapy. I shared my information with my oncologist, and asked her how the lesions could be so treated. Radiation was her answer. So soon, I had stereotactic radiation therapy for my lesions, as well as taking the Faslodex. 2018 was a pretty good year.

Then in December, a new lesion was found under my arm. My radiologist felt the best way to treat it was by surgery, which I had in January. Leaving time to heal for our wonderful trip through the Panama Canal and Costa Rica’s National Parks in February. When I returned, my oncologist recommended a new treatment, Afinitor, which I began, along with another hormone blocker.

Then, about the second week of April, I began to have severe back and ribcage pain. It got worse and worse, finally leading to a visit to the Scripps Torrey Pines Emergency Center. The scan they did only showed the possibility that the scar tissue on my T12 might be pinching the nerves. I was sent home with pain killers.

Calls to doctors, suggestion of a pain specialist, pain specialist insisting on a MRI before looking at me, doing it all through a haze of taking 10 mg of Vicodin every six hours. Doing crosswords, trying to exercise at least half an hour every day, being driven to everything by Roger, it was a very hazy, time. I believe the one thing that kept me from becoming a basket case was the discovery of two, very difficult jigsaw puzzles in our wall unit. It was a completely different challenge than my usual crossword, and the challenge kept me focused on something outside of myself.

Finally, had another PET scan and an MRI. On the PET scan my T9 showed up as having a little activity—barely discernable. On the MRI my T9 showed up being completely enveloped by cancer. My “indolent” slow-growing cancer may have been advancing in the T9 for years. Or?

Once again stereotactic radiation therapy saved the day. My pain diminished almost immediately—it had already been eased by a steroid course. Now my only symptoms are from the Afinitor. I will have a series of scans in August, including MRIs. Until then, I will be optimistic as possible, listen to the surf while I can, and go swimming.

 

 

 

A correction.

In my last blog I noted that Jaqueline Arsivaud-Benjamin was Chair of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council, and that J.P. Theberge was Vice-Chair. That was incorrect. Arsivaud stepped down in June, although, obviously still very active, and Theberge is now Chair.

Lawsuits, Sewage, and Valiano

The council chambers were full at last Wednesday’s city council meeting. This was due to the attendance of the winners and their families of the city’s Earth Day Poster contest. The contest is really a great way to get kids involved with saving the environment—all the posters are made with recycled materials. Great idea, great contest. You can watch the presentation of the awards to the winners on the city’s meeting video https://escondido.12milesout.com/video/meeting/577beb1a-b33e-4ded-bd45-cdb9e09b5cb1 .

I have noticed before that the majority of the posters come from private and charter schools. This year there were no winners from the regular public schools in Escondido. I know that public school teachers have incredibly difficult jobs, and art education has been given a low priority. But, I think that the mother of one of the winners, sitting next to me, was wrong when she told her son that there were no contestants from the public schools, because all the teachers did there, was babysit. I have a feeling that the look on my face when I heard her say this revealed my distress at such a notion, because she quickly looked away and changed the subject.

The most interesting topic of discussion was on the consent calendar, Item 6: Valiano Project Sewer Flow Agreement. I’ve written extensively about the history of development in the Eden Valley/Harmony Grove/Elfin Forrest area. But, to summarize, Valiano is a proposed 326 plus home development north of the new Harmony Grove Village development. I say new development, but the “Village” has been in the works, causing disharmony in Harmony Grove since the beginning of this century. See: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/03/31/eden-no-more/ and https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/03/31/eden-no-more/ for that history.

Item 6 was on the Consent Calendar, I guess, because it was continuing a process that had begun at a meeting on December 9, 2015 with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and the developer of the Valiano Project. I had attended and written about this meeting: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2016/01/11/sewage-service-other-unsavory-deals/  It had been approved by the Council at the time: Mayor Sam Abed, Councilmembers Mike Morasco, John Masson, and Ed Gallo. Councilwoman Olga Diaz was absent at the meeting.

As I had pointed out, the Valiano MOU:

if approved, will break the promises made by the County to residents in the area. The City will provide sewer service to the project for approximately $1.7 million. The developers of Valiano, Integral Communities, will also reconstruct the Sewer Pump Station No. 12, and the new pipes it will require. The reason for this is that the “Developer wishes to avoid constructing an onsite wastewater treatment plant and disposal facilities in conjunction with the Project.” The developer has also agreed to provide a 5.5 million gallon wet weather storage facility. This, theoretically, would avoid the occasional overflow of the secondarily treated sewage into the Escondido Creek. Such overflows have occurred before, incurring major fines to the City. This facility will be on the site of the development. It is treated sewage, but not sure that fact will make it more appealing to the current residents. They’re not particularly enthusiastic about the project. See: http://www.friendsofedenvalley.com/about.html .

The developer also agreed to make improvements to Country Club Drive and contribute $250,000 to the “eventual completion of Citracado Parkway.”

There is an escape clause: “If the County does not approve the Project Entitlements, or the City is not able to enter into a sewer service agreement with the County on terms acceptable to the City, then the Parties agree that neither Party is bound by this MOU.” We can only hope that will be the case.

Well, the Escondido City Staff seems to feel everything is hunky dory for continuing. The General Manager of Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District, Greg Thomas disagrees. It turns out that the County of San Diego has negotiated an agreement with Rincon wherein Rincon is now in charge of the Harmony Grove Village water treatment plant. Now the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council had through various legal battles with San Diego County made it a requirement that the Harmony Grove Village treatment plant service Harmony Grove Village and only Harmony Grove Village, not the proposed Harmony Grove Village South or the Valiano project. Rincon has now begun a study to determine the feasibility of adding sewage service to Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano to the Harmony Grove Village plant, a study paid for by the developers of Harmony Grove Village South.

Thomas argued that the Escondido Council should delay any decision about the agreement until the study was completed. He noted that the two proposed projects, Valiano and Harmony Grove Village South had basically three possible options for sewage treatment. First, they could build their own, on-site facilities, second, hook up to Escondido’s plant, and third, connect to the Harmony Grove Village Plant (Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council be damned.) Thomas noted that the Escondido’s agreement would make it imperative for Valiano to only hook up to Escondido’s plant. Thomas said that the council’s approval of this agreement at this time would be “putting the cart before the horse.” He recommended that the council take no action.

Jacqueline Arsivaud-Benjamin, of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council also recommended no action. She noted that this agreement would be the beginning of annexation of the proposed development into the City of Escondido. (Escondido can only provide sewage service to properties within its boundaries.) The Valiano project is not contiguous with Escondido’s city boundary, and the annexation of Valiano would require the annexation of many of the single family homes now within the county.) Arsivaud noted that approval by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) would be required, and that the recent approval of Valiano by the San Diego Board of Supervisors was being challenged by strong lawsuits.

Douglas Dill of the San Dieguito Planning Group pointed out that at the planning group’s February 8, 2018, meeting, where the two projects, Valiano and Harmony Grove Village South were considered by the group, of the 75 residents that attended, all were against the developments.

Mid Hoppenrath, former Chair of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council also referred to the current litigation against the developments, adding that they posed a fire risk to all the current residents. She pointed out that part of the Valiano project was out of Escondido’s Sphere of Influence (SOI). Hoppenrath had been one of the prime activists behind the Harmony Grove movement to remove itself from Escondido’s SOI years ago.

An Eden Valley resident, and owner of horses, noted that the meeting was occurring during what was horse feeding time for many of the area residents, and made attendance difficult. She also hoped the council would take no action.

Representatives of the developer of Valiano downplayed the threat of lawsuits, emphasizing the approval of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) in July. It was logical to use the Hale Avenue Resource Recovery Facility (HARRF), there was synergy, Escondido will gain wet water storage, a new pump, as well of lots of new customers. The environmental impact report produced for the project had been exhaustive. It would be a win for the city and the developer. The number of homes to be built by their Specific Plan Area, the BOS had approved wasn’t many more than would have been allowed under Escondido’s General Plan (GP). (Actually it is a lot more homes. Escondido’s GP designates the area as Estate I—one home per 1 to 4 acres. Steep slopes in the area would make it very difficult to build more than 50 homes under that Estate designation. Far less than the 380 total dwelling units proposed.)

The last public speaker was J.P. Theberge, Chair of the Town Council. He, like all the other public speakers (other than the developer reps) complained about the lack of notice of this meeting. They had only found out the item was on the agenda on the Monday before the meeting. The Town Council was suing the county over approval of Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano, as was the Sierra Club. The fire evacuation proposed was severely inadequate—it was already insufficient and thousands more cars would make the situation intolerable as there had been no traffic capacity added since the 1960’s. If the council approved this agreement it would be the first step for annexation of Valiano to Escondido, and part of Valiano was in the Harmony Grove area that had fought to remove itself from Escondido. He too asked the council to make no decision that night.

Escondido Director of Utilities, Chris McKinney, was then on the spot to try and save the agreement. He agreed that Valiano was within the Rincon District, but not within Rincon’s wastewater service area. There would be a large benefit to the city, and connecting to the HARRF was the most cost effective way to provide sewer service. The impending litigation was not a reason to forestall, because if the litigation was successful the agreement would be nullified. He reiterated the benefits to the city, and avowed the city would save millions if the agreement went forward.

Morasco said that the agreement would be a placeholder for the city. If the litigation was successful, or if LAFCO refused the annexation, the agreement would be negated, otherwise the developer would be bound to only work with Escondido.

Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez was concerned about the lack of notice that the speakers had mentioned. McKinney said that the agreement would not make annexations necessary, but just preserve Escondido’s right to annex. (Huh?)  Martinez asked if the city had contacted Rincon, McKinney said yes, a few weeks ago.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz objected to the lack of a map in the staff’s report. She had been given parcel numbers only. She questions what the county’s general plan would have allowed before the Specific Plan Area for Valiano had been approved. She wondered why this wasn’t a violation of Prop. S.  Escondido had not been involved in approving the EIR for the project, and the council had not been made familiar with the EIR. She remembered being warned, years ago, that the HARRF would reach capacity.

McKinney assured her that the drought had changed the city’s residents use of water, the focus on water conservation had eased the urgency of the issue from what it had been ten years ago. The addition of the development would not significantly add to the HARRF’s burden.

Diaz asked who was responsible for notifying residents about the item. City Manager Jeff Epp tried to assure her that no noticing was required other than the Brown Act, and that the posting of the meeting’s agenda on the city’s website was all that was necessary. Epp loudly repeated that no noticing was required! Diaz responded that if only as a matter of etiquette, people living near the project should have been notified, especially if their homes might be annexed into the city. She would not vote for this agreement, she felt the council should hold off on any action.

Below is a map of the project—that might have been useful to Diaz. The area labeled “Southern portion of the Specific Plan Area” is not within Escondido’s SOI. Note all the “Single-family Homes” within the county between the Specific Plan Area (Valiano) and the City of Escondido’s border. In order to be annexed, many of those homes would also have to be annexed in order to meet LAFCO’s rules about annexation.Valiano

Mayor Paul McNamara seemed to be going through a check list with his questions to McKinney. The county had approved the project? Check. Litigation could stop the project, and would automatically stop the agreement? Check. The project would not overburden the HARRF? Check. The City would gain a pumping station, emergency storage? Check. This would only happen if LAFCO says yes? Check. If we say no, the developer will have to find another option? Check.

Martinez said she felt there were too many unanswered questions to proceed.

Then Epp seemed to forget that he worked for the council, not the other way around. He schooled the council members that it was their obligation to only do what was best for the residents of Escondido, not residents of surrounding communities. He informed them that they needed to take the very knowledgeable advice of the staff, implying that they (the council members) obviously did not have the wisdom that the staff had.

The measure failed with Morasco and McNamara voting yes, Diaz and Martinez no.

 

 

A Little Action on a New Action Plan, More to Come.

I arrived, promptly, at 11:50 am, last Wednesday, for the Escondido City Council Planning Workshop, that had been scheduled to begin at noon, according to the city’s calendar of events. Well, actually what started at noon was the lunch for the council and staff. So several of us sat around chatting and watching people eat. The group in the audience were great company, so I really had a pretty good time, and can’t complain too much.

The workshop was an entirely different affair from the last workshop I had attended. Then the mayor and council were all seated at one table. At this workshop, the four members present, Mayor Paul McNamara, Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez, and Council Members Olga Diaz and Mike Morasco were all seated at different tables, and each council member was surrounded by the city staff heads of various departments. Councilman John Masson had recently undergone surgery and was unable to attend.  The agenda for the workshop was:

  1. Welcome and Introductions
    • Mayor
    • City Manager
    • Workshop Facilitator
  2. City Manager’s Comments
  3. Review Workshop Objectives
  4. Highlights of City Accomplishments
  5. Councilmembers’ Visions of the Future
  6. City Council Priorities
  7. Moving Forward
    • Next Steps for Staff
  8. Close

I think McNamara put his finger on the usefulness of the day, with his comments near the end of the meeting, when he said he would have preferred to do without the second, third and fourth items, and concentrated on what the councilmembers wanted as priorities, and how the staff would judge the feasibility of each of their priorities. It was clear the council members did not have enough time to evaluate their long list of priorities and vote on them accordingly. They did vote, using a “dot” method to indicate what their favorite, and their next favorite, and the priorities that could be put aside, (think that had each had five colored paper sticker “dots” for each category, but not sure.)  I couldn’t begin to tell you what was decided by that vote, since it wasn’t tallied.

In his remarks, City Manager Jeff Epp noted the history of the workshops, the first had been done without a mediator (workshop facilitator) and little had been accomplished due to political sparring. The use of the facilitator had eliminated that problem, and in ensuing workshops the council had been able to reach a consensus on their goals and priorities for the city.

The workshop followed a typical procedure wherein the facilitator, Dan Singer of Management Partners, would ask a question, then each group at the four tables, would reach a consensus on what their answer(s) would be. The first question was what factors help, and what factors hinder the successful running of the city. Not surprisingly all the tables came to the conclusion that clear communication between all parties involved was key, and the lack of that the greatest obstacle, and that there had to be cooperation, trust, and candor. It was clear that all these professionals were on the same page about everyone needing to be on the same page.

The next question called for each group to state their vision of an Escondido twenty years in the future. Martinez’ table was first to answer, envisioning a city that was welcoming of all cultures, treated people with dignity, economically robust, with public engagement, and a city with housing for all citizens. Diaz’ table also mentioned a city that treats all people with dignity and kindness, embracing all cultures and diversity, and a city that was visibly impressive—noting that not all gateways into the city were as attractive as they could be. She recommended that everyone present should visit the Friday night swap meets to see a really positive side of Escondido’s culture. McNamara noted that he had pretty much covered his vision in his State of the City, only mildly showing what may have been his impatience with the process, but reiterated it should be a unified city, with a good quality of life for all citizens, and a city that recognized and honored its historical roots, and agriculture. Morasco’s table envisioned all roads leading to Escondido, with a river park, a completed city that had annexed the unincorporated county “islands”, a city that preserved its agricultural and cultural heritage.

Before moving on to the city council priorities, Singer said that the council had to consider the context for such priorities including previous council directives, state and federal mandates, fiscal outlook, and workforce available. Then, Epp got up to invite all the heads of the city’s departments to give a brief summary of their departments’ achievements and challenges. Epp began by noting the chief challenge was money. Most of the department heads seconded his fiscal observation. Now for me, it was great to see and hear this group of obviously competent and professional city workers speak. I’ve often been impressed by the presentations they’ve made before the council, and they were equally impressive in what I think were unrehearsed comments.

Responding to the staffs’ comments, Diaz said that if they were having a problem with a state or federal regulation, or “unfunded mandate” to please let her know what specific regulation or mandate they were speaking about. That would allow her to address the lawmakers responsible for some assistance in mitigating the problem. She asked the staff to share their ideas about how the city could make money. Morasco also said the staff and council should look at how the city could enhance its income. Martinez thanked the staff for their comments, and noted that the public could help meet the city’s challenges, and she would always be open to hear new ideas. McNamara began his remarks by asking everyone in the room “are you busy?”  Well, I think I’m the only one in the room who indicated that I was not particularly busy—so he was able to make his point. Every organization or company he had every worked with had the same problems, using the available resources in the most effective way. He said he felt that the city had made a mistake by cutting the funds available to advertise the city, noting the old saw about a business should advertise in good times, but really advertise in bad times. The city, like any productive organization, must have a “can do” attitude. At this point it was time for all these busy people to take a break.

For a long-time council observer, the difference in this council and the previous was readily apparent. The previous council had established four goals: “1) Economic Development: Ensure the long term vitality of Escondido’s local economy. 2) Fiscal Management: Approve a budget each year, as required by state law, that ensures the City’s fiscal stability. 3) Neighborhood improvement: Improve aesthetics, design, land use, services, and accessibility to support community needs. 4) Public Safety: Maintain a safe environment for Escondido with high quality emergency services.”

When the council came back to consider their priorities, Singer was a bit taken aback when the new council members agreed with Diaz’ conclusion that the previous council’s goals weren’t so much goals, but what the council was expected to do—that is the stated goals were what was expected of them to do in their job. Goals should be beyond that. They should define what the council would do to improve quality of life, and how the effectiveness of the council’s actions would be measured. McNamara said that it was a goal to be a “go to” city, it was a goal to be a unified Escondido, a goal to be economically vibrant, and a goal to improve the quality of life.

Singer explained that in speaking with all the members of the council, he had gotten the impression that they were all happy with the previous goals, and would continue with them, just, perhaps, adding to them. He had handed out a long list of “action items” that were new, ongoing, or completed. At the end, the council members were asked to consider and vote for those items they felt deserved first priority etc. using the “dot” method.  The items varied from “upgrading the Kit Carson scooter park” to “a strong Climate Action Plan with true environmental and sustainability practices.”

But before that vote the council members added some more action items.

Diaz said she had been really pleased to work with the staff. This was the first time in her ten years in office that she had really had an opportunity to speak with staff other than the City Manager of City Attorney, and had always felt that approaching other staff was out of bounds. She looked forward to continuing this direct communication. One thing she would like to see was to begin to make the city staff more representative of Escondido’s demographics, making sure there were enough multi-lingual staff. She would like to see more of the staff live within the city. She would like to see more community policing.

Martinez suggested making Escondido the Soccer City in the region, since it was an extremely popular sport in Escondido, perhaps starting with something as simple as keeping the lights of the city’s sports fields on later. Morasco noted that Escondido was already considered the city of youth soccer. McNamara added that Escondido should be a city for all youth sports. Martinez added that she would like the city to develop a comprehensive housing plan for all income levels with some protection for renters.

Diaz also wanted to see the bike corridors completed, and the connectivity between neighborhoods in the city improved. She suggested allowing some of the city’s parkland be used for agriculture, such as a vineyard. She  wanted to look into the city’s relationship with San Diego in its current agreement to treat Rancho Bernardo’s sewage. If Escondido’s sewage capacity was at its maximum, perhaps San Diego could be asked to provide more resources. She also noted that the new lines being installed under the Escondido Creek floodways included an empty tube—could not the city sell that to COX or another tech company?

Morasco observed that the Bear Valley Parkway project was not really complete (as stated on the prepared list of action items) and would not be complete until it was widened all the way south to Peet Lane. McNamara said Morasco might want to be careful about what he wished for—as he had learned from officials in the coastal communities that Hwy. 101 had become an alternate to Interstate 5. The coastal cities had solved that problem by putting in lots of stop signs along the 101.

McNamara suggested that before the council voted for their priorities, the staff be given time to analyze the priorities, and give the council some sense of how feasible each priority was. Martinez said the problem was there were so many priorities too much staff time would be demanded. At least if the voted, the staff would be able to focus their time a little better. Diaz had enjoyed spending time with staff, but felt that time was also needed to be spent with her colleagues to develop what their plan should be. She and her colleagues needed more time to digest all the information. She was glad to feel that she was able to approach all the staff for help. Morasco said that he, unlike Diaz, had always felt he could talk to the department heads, and had never felt that he would not be welcome to do so. He could see that asking the staff to help with a personal problem would not be appropriate, but to ask for help with city business was always something he had felt comfortable doing.

And so, without any real discussion on the merits of various action plan items, the members voted, but with the caveat that their votes would not be their final decision. So, stay tuned. Hopefully the new council’s goals and action plan will be developed soon.

It was interesting to me to see how differently Morasco and Diaz felt about being able to work with staff. I think part of it is the “good ole boy” network atmosphere, so much a part of the previous council it bubbled over onto the staff. For years, Diaz had been to lone voice to counter the “good ole boy” arguments for business, of business, and by business. It is not surprising that she felt a bit unwelcome in such an atmosphere.

There’s definitely a new atmosphere in the city hall now. It is much more of the people, by the people and for the people.

 

 

 

 

Righting a Wrong

Item 17: Location of the Planned Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis (MFRO) Facility was the most contentious item on last Wednesday’s council meeting agenda. I’ve followed this issue for what seems years and years. Probably seems that way for the farmers waiting for the cheaper recycled water too.

It was at least 12 years ago when I remember city staff members pointing out to a group I was part of, that the existing outflow from the HAARF (sewer plant) into the ocean was not sufficient for Escondido’s growing needs, and that replacing it would cost the city not millions, but a billion or more. The city has been fined for releasing partially treated water into Escondido Creek. The city could avoid the problem by recycling the water, further treating it to be good for agricultural use. The MFRO facility is what is required to remove enough salts from the treated sewage to make it suitable for agricultural use.

Back in May of 2016, the council considered a site for the MFRO on East Washington near El Norte Pkwy., in the middle of the Chaparral housing development, a fairly prosperous neighborhood. I wrote of these neighbors’ complaints at one Mayor Sam Abed’s “town hall” meetings. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2016/05/18/another-property-rights-dilemma-for-abed/  The council later respected these comparatively wealthy citizens, and asked staff to look for another site. The following January they agreed on a new site on Ash and Washington, also in a residential area, but a much less prosperous one. I wrote about that social injustice:  https://escondidograpevine.com/2017/01/24/recycled-water-and-social-injustice-upheld/

That social injustice was rectified at this meeting, as J. Harry Jones described: https://escondidograpevine.com/2017/01/24/recycled-water-and-social-injustice-upheld/

Director of Utilities Christopher McKinney made a strong case for not moving the facility. It would cost as much as $5 million to buy 4 to 5 acres of property, another $3 million in new pipes, and $2 million more in construction costs. Plus the city would lose as much as $1 million already spent in planning. Moving the location could endanger the $2 million in grant funding and $29 million in low interest State Revolving Fund loans.

Barbara Takahara, a neighbor of the Ash Street site, said the area was needed for a park, to make the area safer. Laura Hunter pointed out that it was a question of environmental justice, that chemicals required for the plant should not be in a residential area. Hunter noted that were members of the Sand Diego County Water Authority Board that were very supportive of environmental justice issues, and would help the council in this matter.

Naturally, local farmers, represented by Edward Grangetto, were most concerned that the move would cause a delay in the farmer’s access to recycled water.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she had always supported agriculture, but not at all costs. The city owns a lot property, including acres near the fork of Escondido and Reidy Creeks. McKinney’s report made it clear that the city had never considered that property, because the former council had put it off the table for their dream of a business park. She had always felt that the best place for the MFRO was at that industrial site. The city owned the property, it did not have to buy new property. Even with the best safety precautions, accidents happen, and had happened to the city. See https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-chemical-spill-escondido-water-treatment-plant-2012mar26-story.html

Councilman John Masson was not in favor of the move. He was sure that $8 million or $9 million would be wasted. He pointed out that the land Diaz proposed was zoned M2 (general industrial) and so, very valuable. He also insisted the city couldn’t “just give” that land to the Utilities Department, without explaining why that was true.

Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez remembered that hundreds of citizens had opposed the Ash Street location. The council would not be having this conversation if the concerns of those citizens had been considered. This type of environmental injustice was not OK.

Councilman Mike Morasco felt that Martinez’ misspeak of “wronging this right” (which she immediately corrected to “righting this wrong”) was accurate. He felt the fear of the stored chemicals was “the sky is falling” hysteria. He was not in favor of the move, which he felt would lead to inevitable delay.

Mayor Paul McNamara felt that the decision should be based on what they wanted the city to look like in 30 or 40 years. The Ash property was on the Escondido Creek, and could one day be part of a park that extended through the city along the creek.

And so the wrong was righted, and the plant will be moved to a different, non-residential location.

 

A Change of Climate in Escondido’s Climate Action Plan Policy

 

There was definitely change in policy demonstrated at Wednesday’s Escondido City Council meeting. Actually a change in the atmosphere of the meeting too. It seemed much more open to participation by the public.

There were three such public speakers under “Oral Communications” at the beginning of the meeting. One young man had a complaint about a ticket that somehow had not been properly handled, and, as a result he had an inordinate towing/storage fee, what could he do to get the city to reimburse him? He was assured that if he gave the City Clerk his information, he would be contacted the next day, assured by the City Manager, Jeff Epp, directly.

The second speaker was Michael Allen, who advocated for the bullet train, saying if it could be completed, Escondido would be the only stop between Murieta and San Diego.

The third speaker was Richard Sanchez, who used medical marijuana to treat his pain from cancer, and encouraged the council to reverse the current prohibitions against medical marijuana outlets in Escondido. Mayor Sam Abed would have really bristled at this sort of request.

Now the council was respectful of all three speakers, and Mayor Paul McNamara was willing to let them go beyond their allotted time if needed. A very different attitude than the former mayor.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz pulled Consent Calendar Item 13, Consulting Agreement with PFM Asset Management, LLC to Provide Investment Management Services and Advisory services to the City. She wanted to know if the city could divest itself from any fossil fuel companies. City Treasurer Douglas Shultz responded, that might be a possibility. Had she made this request under the old council, she would have been severely criticized for such a suggestion.

Ken Lounsbery made a presentation about an arch that the Escondido Charitable Foundation, with a grant from an anonymous donor will provide for the city, if all goes well. The arch will go over Grand Ave. on the east side of Center City Pkwy. It will reflect the dome design of Escondido’s City Hall. The council all agreed that this will be a good addition to the city, and thanked the Escondido Charitable Foundation.

The discussion of Item 16: Climate Action Plan Update – Informational Report and Status Update, really spotlighted the difference between the old and new council. The previous council had, at every step towards fulfilling new state regulations to lower greenhouse gas emission and reduce the city’s carbon footprint, made it their policy to do the absolute bare minimum necessary. I wrote about one especially egregious meeting where this antipathy towards efforts to stem global warming was expressed: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/03/12/invective-and-ignorance/

Representatives of Sierra Club, Climate Action Campaign, Grow the an Diego Way, Escondido Climate Alliance, the Escondido Creek Conservancy, and residents all encouraged the council to adopt a plan with a commitment to 100% renewable energy sources.

Richard Miller Director of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra club, recommended that all new housing to be all-electric since the burning of natural gas was the third largest source of greenhouse gas emission.

Aisha Wallace-Palomares, a student at Del Lago Academy, pointed out that her generation was going to be affected, and argued for a goal of 100 % renewable resources.

Several speakers advocated for the Community Choice Energy program. Others pointed out that land use planning was an essential part of reducing greenhouse gases since sprawl development inevitably added to traffic emission.

Retired science teacher Jim Crouch said the time had come to pay attention to the science; yes, change was stressful, but not as stressful as the outcome of ignoring the science would be—consider how much greater the immigration problem throughout the world would be if entire ecosystems can no longer support human life.

Michael Allen spoke again, this time pointing out that a 2 degree Centigrade increase in global temperatures could mean the throughout much of the South and Southwest could reach temperatures of 131 degrees Farenheit, not just for a few hours one day, but for days—this is significant, because all animals will die at that temperature.

Councilman Mike Morasco began the council’s discussion. He had been in Escondido since 1959 and remembered days when he was unable to be active outside because of the smog, and noting that the actions taken by the state had worked. (OK, at this point I had to pinch myself, was Morasco actually praising action taken by the state of California?) Yes he was, and continuing that the city should do anything that was reasonable, and did not place a huge onus on families.

Councilman John Masson agreed that we should do anything we can to improve the air, as long as the economic benefits and pitfalls were considered. He went on to say that he though the windmills and solar panels had become an eyesore in the deserts.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she found the current discussion a refreshing change from the old “do the minimum” council attitude. She noted that in the past the city staff had not included environmental groups such as the Sierra Club in the outreach to the public for input into the Climate Action Plan, (CAP) and they should do so in future. She felt the city should re-evaluate their vehicle purchasing policy—certainly city jobs, other than the police, should not require SUV’s. Also, the city should discourage staff from taking their vehicles home to Temecula or Murieta. Absolutely, the city should investigate Community Choice Energy. The city should collaborate with the school districts and water districts in reducing the city’s carbon footprint. Land use issues must be considered. She noted that resisting change would result in a greater cost in the future, and their decisions should consider the effect on the next three generations.

Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez also advocated for  a bold plan for 100% renewable energy and Community Choice Energy. She suggested that the city create a Climate Action Commission to work on the plan.

Mayor Paul McNamara did not like the current low ranking of Escondido’s CAP, he wanted Escondido to be a leader. He argued that environmental action was not necessarily in conflict with economic progress. While he was governor, Rick Perry had seen the economic benefit that windfarms would bring to West Texas. The hitch in the windfarm idea was connecting them to the grid. Perry did this by socializing the expense of that connection, and now the windfarms in west Texas were a success.

And so the staff was given some new orders. Aim not for the minimum to fulfill state requirements but aim for 100 % commitment. Do more public outreach, including to environmental groups. Include land use issues in the CAP.