Wednesday’s City Council meeting pretty much transpired as expected, well, except that Mayor Sam Abed went off the rails more than usual. Even the usually non-committal reporter for the San Diego UT noticed: “Mayor Sam Abed thanked everyone in the chambers for their civility during the hearing. However, he also strongly criticized local environmental lawyer Everett DeLano for a letter he sent this week that Abed said was filled with untruths and was an ‘embarrassment.’ ” http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/mar/04/escondido-oak-creek-council-approved/
“Strongly criticized” is an understatement—Abed was rude, very uncivil, and an embarrassment to the City.
The main item on the agenda was #10 OAK CREEK PROJECT ANNEXATION, TENTATIVE SUBDIVISION MAP, PRELIMINARY, MASTER AND PRECISE DEVELOPMENT PLAN, PRE-ZONE, GRADING EXEMPTIONS, SPECIFIC ALIGNMENT PLAN AND FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT. The project, already approved by the Planning Commission, will build 65 homes on some 37.6 acres. One home per over half an acre—that doesn’t sound too dense, a considerable decrease from what the County’s or even the City’s General Plan would allow—as the developer, New Urban West’s spokesman, Jason Han, and, later, Councilmen Ed Gallo, John Masson, and Abed pointed out. But, considering that any home built in the County would have to have a septic system, which would usually require at least an acre, maybe not. To even build 65 homes would require a sewer system. These proposed new “multi-generational” homes ranging from a mere 3,300 square feet to 4,617 square feet, with four to six bedrooms, and corresponding number of bathrooms will be built on lots of around 10,000 to 12,000 sq. feet. It will be a gated community. It will build a public sidewalk along Felicita Road, and put in a “traffic calming” traffic circle on Felicity Road. It will save the seasonal Duck Pond, and allow public access to the pond—even install a bench to view the pond. Sounds delightful.
But wait—the project will also remove some 238 mature trees, including over 100 native Coastal Live Oaks. The developer has promised to replace these with 400 native trees and 1500 seedlings. All well and good, but a mature tree can nest many more birds than many immature trees. There will be a disturbance to the bird populations.
There were, by my count, about as many speakers against the development as for the development, but there were also about twice as many supporters as opponents in the audience. Both sides made some good arguments. Escondido Neighbors United (ENU) objected to the removal of mature oak trees, the presence of toxic chemicals under a part of the development’s land caused by a toxic plume that had originated from the Chatham Waste site. J. Harry Jones sums up the history of this site well: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/sep/30/escondido-chatham-pbrothers-plume-toxic/2/?#article-copy . ENU members argue that the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) was much too optimistic in their assurances that the problem was not significant. http://escondidoneighborsunited.blogspot.com/ . They also argue that the buffer zones between the project and the seasonal creeks on the property was not consistent with Escondido’s General Plan, and that the gated community would present a major barrier to wildlife. ENU presented an alternate plan for a development, a non-gated project with 41 homes.
Those neighbors for the development cited their belief that this development would slow down the traffic on Felicity. The sidewalk would make it safer for their children. The development’s site had been allowed to become a dumping ground and homeless camp, and the proponents were glad that would not happen again. I found it curious that neither these neighbors, the Council, nor the developer questioned why the owner of the land, Arie de Jong, was never criticized for allowing his land to become so blighted. The neighbors favoring the development really got to speak twice, since many had appeared in a video presented by Han during his time before the Council. New Urban West does do an excellent job of convincing the neighbors that their developments are just what their neighborhood needs. Their development in Harmony Grove is a classic case of their smarts in the public relations department. But, that’s another blog or two, or three, or five.
Councilman Mike Morasco led the parade of praise for New Urban West by the Council majority. He complemented those who had spoken on both sides for being so civil, then proceeded to claim that the opponents had stated as facts things that were not factual—without actually iterating what those non-facts were. He could not understand why a bridge over a creek would be a problem for wildlife.
Gallo heaped more compliments onto the pile begun by Morasco, admitting that as long as the duck pond was saved, he would be happy. He made his usual, somewhat incoherent, description of the real estate domino effect. He was absolutely certain that any project with a 3,600 page EIR had to meet all environmental requirements.
Councilwoman Olga Diaz questioned why the project had narrower wildlife buffer zones than required by the General Plan. She questioned why the land had been allowed to fall into a decline. She expressed her concern that the Council had never been presented with complete information about the Chatham Superfund Site. She was told that it was the responsibility of the DTSC to inform neighbors about the status of the toxic plumes, but she suggested that once the property was in the City, the City would bear some responsibility for such notification. She too complimented New Urban West, but felt there were too many uncertainties to vote for the project.
Masson chimed in with the New Urban West chorus of praise, claiming the project would actually reduce the risk of downstream flooding, concluding, that New Urban West knew the market, and the Council should not dictate to New Urban West what size of houses to build, or whether or not to build a gated community.
Abed started his comments calmly—observing that this may have been the most civil meeting he had ever had. He was very proud of his long association with New Urban West, noting that New Urban West set the example of what developers should do. Then Abed became a bit unglued. He said that the letter from attorney Everett DeLano was so full of inaccuracies as to be an embarrassment, then went so far as to advise people to avoid the Delano law firm. He went on to criticize an Op Ed by two members of ENU, Fred Progner & Ron Forster: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/feb/28/tp-residents-seek-action-to-address-water/#comments-module , as being 50 to 60 % false. About this point in time, the opponents began to leave the chambers. Abed went on to beat the conservative mantra about property rights, and noting that ENU member Laura Hunter was against any development as far as he could tell. He preferred to ignore the fact that ENU had proposed an alternative development.
Of course the project was approved four to one. The good ole boys on the Council lived up to their commitments to the Building Industry Association. The last item on the agenda was the appointment of a white, male, general contractor to the Planning Commission. Business as usual.
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Near the end of the March 4th Escondido City Council hearing regarding a proposed 65-home development on land currently in the County and proposed to be annexed into the City, Mayor Sam Abed took it upon himself to criticize my firm and some of the good neighbors who had come out to express their concerns about the project.
He called out aspects of a comment letter I had written a couple days earlier, decrying what he labeled as “complete ignorance.” Mayor Abed alleged my letter incorrectly claimed the City’s General Plan calls for a 50-foot buffer to protect wetlands. Yet City staff put that very language up for all to see – Escondido General Plan Water Resources and Quality Policy 6.8 requires “a minimum of a 50-foot buffer and setback for development.” City staff had claimed that the language also mentions an exception might be possible where wildlife agencies approve of a smaller buffer, but two things are problematic with that assertion: (1) the wildlife agencies have actually called for a 100-foot buffer and (2) even if the wildlife agencies had said a smaller buffer might work, my comment was still valid, since the General Plan clearly expects a minimum of 50 feet and the project has buffers as small as zero feet. He also asserted my letter incorrectly claims that the development would create an island of City land. City staff made the rather ridiculous claim that the land was not an island because one tiny corner of the project site will touch a tiny corner of existing City land. But again that does not make my comment incorrect. Merriam-Webster defines “island” to mean “an isolated group or area.” In this instance, the project, a gated community surrounded by County land, will create both an isolated group of residents and an isolated geographic area.
But I wouldn’t even bother to write this if his only attack was on my work. Unfortunately, Mayor Abed next unleashed his vitriol on some of the good area residents who had taken so much of their time and energy to express their concerns. He reminded everyone of the applicant’s “property rights.” Of course, under both the state and federal constitutions, everyone has a right to express their opinions. He may disagree with those opinions, but they were completely within their rights to express them.
Perhaps Mayor Abed was angry, since some speakers (but not the people he attacked) expressed concerns about a possible conflict of interest. One speaker said a consultant to the project was on his staff, and another speaker noted that he is listed in minutes from a City Council meeting several years ago as “Co-President” of the very applicant who was seeking project approval. But that anger could not justify his venom against the good citizens who were there in the hopes their voices would be heard.
And here’s the worst part about Mayor Abed’s diatribe: earlier during the same hearing, he commended everyone (both supporters and opponents of the project) for being “civil.” He congratulated the speakers for not engaging in personal attacks. Yet like a cowardly bully, he didn’t ask me or the other residents about our statements when we were up at the podium. He didn’t give us a chance to respond or clarify anything he thought he might have heard. He waited until the hearing was closed, and then he engaged in personal attacks. In fact, when one of the residents stood up to respond, he pounded his fist on the dais and reminded him that the hearing was closed and his turn to speak was over.
At one point he said my comment letter was “embarrassing,” but I think Mayor Abed was the real embarrassment that evening. It’s one thing to know you have the power to wield the mayor’s gavel and vote against the wishes of area residents. But it’s quite another thing to abuse that power and to abuse those good people who come before the City Council to express their concerns. Mayor Abed should be ashamed of himself.
DeLano & DeLano
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