After the usual invocation and flag salute, Wednesday’s Council meeting began on a high note with a Kiwanis award to an Escondido Police Officer for pulling an unconscious driver from a vehicle in flames.
Under oral communications the positive spirit continued with a short oration from Sue Reiner, a member of the Escondido Education Foundation Board of Directors. She spoke of the Foundations work, and the advances that technology was making in the schools.
Then the atmosphere thickened a bit. Dollie McQuiston pointed out that Councilman John Masson had indicated that the proposed city charter would allow the Council to accept a best value bid for projects, whereas now, the City had to accept the lowest bidder. McQuiston pointed out that one of the three ways the City could choose bids did allow them to accept the best value. A comment that Masson later disputed. I don’t know the background on the issue, but I’d be inclined to think that McQuiston had the right view of the matter.
Ricardo Enriquez, Luis Romero, and Cesar Serrano, all requested that the Council stop its participation in the Joint Effort program. Enriquez asked why the check points were held at times when it was unlikely for drunks to be on the road, and why they were held in heavily Latino neighborhoods. Romero asked why requests for public information about the number of Escondido Policemen who were Latino, and number that spoke Spanish had not been provided. Serrano also wondered why the request for the demographics of the Escondido Police had taken months. He asked when would Escondido, the only City in California that was still participating in the Joint Effort program, stop so participating. Mayor Sam Abed (contradicting his dictum that council members could not directly respond to citizens in oral communications) told Serrano that the new California law only required the County Sherriff to stop participation in the Joint Effort Program, not city police.
After being warned by Abed that he could not speak about the Tiny Tots program until the budget agenda item came up, Brian Willey argued that the recreational buildings owned by the City, were never intended to be income property for the City.
Some items were pulled from the Consent Calendar. Under the “Redevelopment successor agency revised long range property management plan” item, Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz expressed her concerns that the Council had been given no specific amount about the cost that the City would incur holding on to city properties for the development of the hoped for business park, nor had they been given any actual plan for such development. Council Mike Morasco, questioned the continuation of the ground lease ($1 per year) to the San Diego County Humane Society, and the service agreement with them for animal control costing the City some $900,000. He wondered if the taxpayers of Escondido were getting the best deal.
Robroy Fawcett pulled item number 8 “Award bid for legal advertising fiscal year 2014-15” (to the UT San Diego.) Fawcett actually had a valid complaint that the City’s code required that such advertising for the City be given to a newspaper published in Escondido. Not sure if Fawcett was more concerned about the lack of a local paper or the City’s inconsistency.
There were four public hearing items. The first three warmed the atmosphere with unanimous approval from the Council. The fourth “Adoption of Fiscal Year 20114/15 and 2015/16 two-year annual operating budget and the appropriations limit (Gann limit) for fiscal year 2014/15” brought forth a chill that lingers with me still.
There were two public speakers. Tom Cowan requested that the Tiny Tots program be left as it was. Brian Willey returned to thank the Council for listening to concerns about the Tiny Tots program. He hoped that the rumors that there would be staffing cuts, facility closing, or fee increases were only rumors. He praised the Tiny Tots staff, and begged the Council to retain the staff and facilities.
Abed replied that the staff was just completing an efficiency study, and that no decisions would be made until that study was completed. In other words, don’t worry, the experts will analyze the situation, and only if Tiny Tots is not as efficient as possible, will we make any changes. Of course, the question is, who’s definition of efficiency will be used? As was made clear in his June 4, 2014, Town Hall Meeting, Abed’s idea of efficiency (that resulted in the closing of the East Valley Community Center Branch Library that served 70,000 residents per year,) now considers the new East Valley Community Center Technology Center’s 7,025 visits over 10 months a good replacement for that branch library.
After that brief public testimony, the Council’s comments began. Councilman Ed Gallo made his (evidently annual) complaint that the Rincon Fire District wasn’t paying its fair share to the Escondido.
Morasco asked several specific questions about the budget, which staff answered.
Diaz prefaced her questions by acknowledging that the Council had been encouraged to ask the staff any questions they had about the Budget before the meeting, but she felt that this was the only chance the public had to learn and be educated about the budget, noting that there was no longer a budget subcommittee. The argument for getting rid of that subcommittee was that the entire Council should own the budget. She had expected that there would be many Council discussions of the budget, but that had not happened.
Her first question was why the liability insurance for the City Council had increased from some $17,000 to $74,000. Staff answered that that was due to the fact that there had been a loss during the previous year. Hmmm. Wonder if that loss was the law suit that the City lost over their biased “educational” mailer for the General Plan ballot measure?
Diaz went on to ask lots of specific questions about the budget. Abed, Masson, Morasco, and Gallo looked bored. Abed sat back, resting his head on his hands, arms akimbo. It was only when Diaz began asking why the city golf courses weren’t held to the same full cost recovery that the other recreational programs were held to that Abed began to get irritated. Diaz argued that the $220,000 “subsidy” to the recreation program wasn’t quite accurate, because some of that fund was transferred out to cover the debt service for a golf course. City Manager Clay Phillips explained that that was just an accounting procedure—all proceeds from the golf courses were put into the Recreation Fund Reserve, then the debt service amount was taken out. Frankly, I found the whole discussion a bit hard to follow—especially as Abed et al. were continually interrupting her. But, I think Diaz’ point was that the amount taken out to pay the debt service on a golf course was not subtracted from the amount that the City supposedly subsidized the recreational programs. She argued that the recreational programs had been trimmed to the bone, and they should not be required to make any more reductions. Leave them as they are she pleaded, especially Tiny Tots.
Morasco accused Diaz of grandstanding, claiming that nothing would be done until the staff finished its study on recreational programs, and maybe there were ways to make the administration of the programs more efficient without changing the service. Abed said she was editorializing, and that she had taken 45 minutes, and two Councilmembers had not been given a chance to speak, etc. etc. Diaz again reminded all that the budget was the most important item the Council had to decide upon, and that she had earned the right to be heard. Abed condescended his agreement to her right and asked her to continue with her questions. Diaz said she would like to, but he kept interrupting her. Abed said that was because she kept going off the topic of the budget. Diaz tried to explain again that this was the only time she had to speak to the budget’s priorities, and so it was certainly on topic. Abed again condescended to allow her to continue, (if you must continue to bore us all was the message of his body language.)
I think the hour of continuous bullying, patronization, and rudeness finally took its toll on Diaz. She said she would not vote for a budget that she was not allowed to question fully, and she didn’t.
Masson smugly noted that he had asked all of his questions of the City Manager, so he had no questions. Did he even read the budget?
Abed noted his satisfaction that the budget conformed to his priorities. The budget was approved, four to one, Diaz voting no.
After this display of Republican, male, authoritarian insensitivity, I was so angry that I barely remember the rest of the meeting. But, I do remember Gallo saying how upset he was about the high rate of suicide among pre-adolescents and adolescents. What could be so terrible in their lives that they would want to kill themselves he wondered? Were Gallo even remotely aware of the difficulties of the struggling workers of this world, his question would be why are we not doing more to improve the lives of these people?