I came early (3:40 pm) to Wednesday’s City Council meeting, as I had heard it would be crowded with Escondido Country Club people. I was a bit surprised to find the west doors locked. Thinking I was too early, I walked to the southern doors, guarded by policemen. I was asked if I wished to attend the City Council meeting. I nodded. I was asked if I wished to speak. I shook my head. I was given a number, 25, and allowed to pass. In the lobby, a member of the City Staff was explaining that there had been 800 at the previous night’s meeting and did not wish to have a similar situation occur.
I had intentionally avoided that previous night’s meeting, when the Planning Commission discussed the possibility of a shelter for illegal immigrant children. I knew it would bring forth the ugly, anti-immigrant, anti-brown people, Minutemen, TEA types, and other flotsam. The same sort of crowd that came out when in October, 2006, Marie Waldron, aided by Mayor Sam Abed and Councilman Ed Gallo, brought forth her “let’s make landlords I.C.E. agents” proposition. I had attended that meeting, where the hatred and enmity were beyond anything I had experienced before. From what I’ve read, Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting was even worse, as Chairman Jeff Weber did not maintain order, as Mayor Lori Pfeiler had done in 2006. A right-wing-nut radio host had stirred the response into a froth.
Wednesday’s meeting was well ordered. The mood was calm in the chambers before the meeting, as if filled with members of the Escondido Country Club and Community Homeowners Organization (ECCHO). I was working on the second of the three crosswords I had brought with me, when one ECCHO member, sitting behind me, stated he felt that the Planning Commission’s decision to decline the shelter had been a good one. “Put them in box cars and send them back,” was his view of the matter. “Send them to Obama, let them camp out on the White House lawn,” he added for good measure. So, I did not escape all of the anti-immigrant spiel.
Tuesday’s infamous meeting was mentioned by all three of the speakers under “oral communications”. John Van Sickle agreed with the Planning Commission’s decision, but bemoaned the lack of order. He lauded Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz for her hard work in trying to calm people. Van Sickle went on to castigate the Commission for not being prepared for the number attending the meeting, not broadcasting the meeting, etc. He went on to suggest that people throughout the City should have been notified about such a shelter, not just those who lived in the near the proposed site. Katherine Fromm said she regretted the hate of the Commission meeting. She, a history professor, tried to educate the Council about the history of Central America, noting that the troubles in the area today had roots in the interference by the USA in that area during the 20th Century. I doubt she really expects the Council Majority to understand that it is the violence in Central America that is causing the influx of immigrant children into the USA. She knows they much prefer to blame it on Obama—as they do everything else. Melinda Santa Cruz, who lives near the proposed shelter site, said she was ashamed that her neighbors would show such racism and hatred.
Of course the reason the ECCHO folks had crowded the chambers was item 21, INITIATIVE MEASURE TO ADOPT THE LAKES SPECIFIC PLAN AND RELATED BUDGET ADJUSTMENT. Pat Mues has written an excellent review of this measure on her blog: http://escondido2014.com/2014/06/26/fore/.
To me, the most interesting thing to come out of the August 14, 2013, City Council meeting, when the City Council had adopted the ECCHO ordinance, declaring the Escondido Country Club open space, was not so much the adoption of the petition, but the unbelievable irony of the situation. The lawyers who drew up the ordinance were Ken Lounsbery and David Ferguson. For years, if a developer wants to get his project approved by the Escondido Planning Commission and the Escondido City Council, he will employ the firm of Lounsbery, Ferguson, Altona, and Peak. Lounsbery once observed that people like me, who objected to putting a landfill over the largest of one of San Diego County’s few aquifers was not a good idea, were the ultimate NIMBYs. Lounsbery lives in the Escondido Country Club area. When his own ox is being gored, he has no hesitation in becoming a NIMBY. At that meeting, I took delight in hearing Abed admit that all developer impact fees were used to provide the infrastructure that the new development required, and that property taxes were at best a “breakeven analysis”, whatever that means. City Manager Clay Phillips went so far as to admit that “typically, residential developments are not money makers for cities.” At that August meeting, Ferguson had argued that the intent of the City to keep that golf course as open space was obvious (even if that intent was not embodied in the General Plan.)
For years I have listened to Abed et al. argue that residential development would add to the City’s revenues, and reducing development impact fees would be OK, because the new development would make up for those lost fees. Gallo often expressed his opinion that if someone lives next to a vacant lot, they have to expect something to be built there, even if that something turns out to be a carwash instead of the retail businesses for which it had been zoned. At that August meeting, it was as though they had some sort of epiphany. Suddenly they realized that residential development did not add to the City’s coffers, that zoning restrictions, even implied rather than explicit zoning restrictions, should always be honored. I wondered if there would be further such admissions from the Council Majority at Wednesday’s meeting.
Alas, there were no more such admissions from the Council. However, Ken Lounsbery had some questions that I wish the Council would ask about all proposed developments. Where would the water for “The Lakes” come from? Who will pay for the maintenance of the public recreation facilities the developer of The Lakes proposed building? Would the schools be able to handle the increased attendance? As the Nordahl/Hwy 78 interchange was one of the busiest in San Diego County, who would pay to mitigate the increased traffic at that intersection? Could Lounsbery possibly be suggesting that there should be a regional traffic impact fee on San Diego County developments as there is in Riverside County? Yes, I wish that the Council would ask those questions about every development Ferguson presents to the Council.