I was a bit tired at last Wednesday’s Council Meeting, so I almost left after the main event, the “Initiation of an annexation and associated project processing for the proposed development of the ‘Safari Highlands Ranch Specific Plan.” That item passed with the four to one vote, than any Council watcher could have predicted. I will comment on that later. But, I had noticed that there were two more, fairly interesting items on the agenda, item 9, the Fiscal year 2014/2015 Budget Briefing, and item 10, a Code Enforcement Workshop.
Now, the difference between a workshop, or briefing, or any other item, still evades me. But, the “Code Enforcement Workshop” was an interesting display of Councilmember character. Three managers from the City’s Code Enforcement department made a presentation on their activity. Basically, they reported that code enforcement was now (unlike 2008 activity) complaint driven. They perform a sort of triage on the complaints they receive, acting first on complaints that were a risk to the health and safety of residents—sewage leaks, fire hazards, dilapidated buildings likely to collapse, etc. Other complaints were handled as quickly as possible. But, none of the complaints were handled as quickly as the managers would like, because they did not have the manpower (which had been cut drastically in the recession) to do so. They estimated that an increase in their budget of almost $500,000 would allow them to bring their manpower up to the point where they were in 2008, and allow them to once again become proactive in enforcing the City’s codes.
This workshop had come after the Budget Briefing, where the Council had been informed that the increase in the City’s income would be used up in restoring the income that City Staff had sacrificed during the recession, and bring the Police and Fire Department personnel up to snuff.
Council members had many comments. I’m a bit biased, of course, but I think that Councilmember Olga Diaz had the most constructive advice—even Mayor Sam Abed reluctantly agreed that it was a good idea. She suggested that the City pass an ordinance making it necessary to obtain a permit to hold a garage sale, and, perhaps, allow only one or two sales every six months. That would allow the Code Enforcement staff to know if a complaint that someone’s neighbor was holding a garage sale every week was factual.
If Diaz had the must constructive advice, then Councilman Ed Gallo certainly had the most off-the-wall advice. Gallo proposed that if he were given a “pad” and authority, he would be glad to write up all the un-licensed street vendors he encountered every weekend. He argued that these unlicensed vendors were taking away business from vendors who operated legitimate businesses. He ranted on about a women who was selling corn on the cob in a menudo pot with butter or mayonnaise. He worried about the health risk she posed.
He went on to relate his encounter with a licensed food vendor in a van. He asked the driver of the van if he didn’t object to the unauthorized ice-cream vendor with a hand cart that was just down the street from the van. Didn’t that van driver resent the business that hand-cart vendor was taking away from him? To Gallo’s surprise, the van driver simply shrugged. Gallo asserted that if he had been that driver he’d have run over the cart vendor.
Now, I don’t really believe, for one minute, that Ed Gallo would do any such thing. But, it does show a certain detachment from the lives of poor people. Perhaps, the driver of that van could empathize with the driver of the hand cart. Perhaps he could identify with the need to scratch out a few more dollars to support a family in a country where minimum wage does not guarantee such support, and the safety net has too many gaps. It is evident that Gallo cannot so identify.
Councilman John Masson asked the inevitable Republican question—couldn’t code enforcement be outsourced? The answer was that the cost to oversee such enforcement would not be cost effective. Councilman Mike Morasco asked the second inevitable Republican question—can’t volunteers help? The answer—well that is basically what “complaint driven” enforcement is.
It was Mayor Sam Abed’s response that was the most intriguing. After praising the Budget proposed in agenda item nine, he was obviously on the horns of a dilemma. He was all for part-time code enforcement workers—because they didn’t need to be paid benefits, and all for volunteer workers, but he couldn’t help noticing that the number of cases of code violation processed in 2008 was about half that of the present time. He waxed on about how proud he was about his graffiti removal program—something his visiting brother-in-law had noticed on a recent visit. It was the priority three items on the code-enforcement priority list that were the most important Abed avowed. What people see, the esthetics, were what was most important in people’s impression of Escondido. Like Gallo, Abed seems to have a limited empathy. In Abed’s case, empathy for people living next to a sewer leak, of faulty electric line, or fire hazard. Better to remove graffiti that offends visitors?
Abed shifted the onus of finding a way to fund better code enforcement onto City Manager Clay Phillips. It’s not our job (the City Council) was his reasoning. Well, reasoning was never one of Abed’s strong points.