The Zenner Project and Allocation of Community Development Funds

Wednesday’s City Council meeting’s Agenda Item 9: Annexation, Tentative Subdivision Map, Development Agreement and Final Mitigated Negative Declaration (of a 13.97 acre parcel on the North of Vista Ave and West of Ash Street, the “Zenner” project) was of interest. It’s another one of those parcels that are in the North Broadway Deficiency Area—an area that requires considerable drainage improvements.

The developer has agreed to pay $12,500 per each of the 40 houses to be built for street and drainage improvements. Seems like a lot of money until you consider that about two years ago the city’s staff had conducted a comprehensive study of what it would cost to remedy the drainage problems in the North Broadway area. They determined that the cost would amount to $17,000 per lot. But, the City Council (all but Councilwoman Olga Diaz) compromised with a previous developer who had proposed paying $12,000 per lot, they compromised to $12,500, leaving a deficiency of $4,500 per lot to be passed on to the city’s taxpayers. Multiply that by the 668 lots in the area and you will note the taxpayers are on the hook for over $3 million. I considered this to be the most objectionable part of Item 9, but, since this taxpayer rip-off is ancient history, passed in December 2013, it was not brought up Wednesday night. Pat Mues wrote a comprehensive report about that meeting: http://escondido2014.com/2013/12/13/the-scarlett-ohara-approach-to-development-fees/ .

Three neighbors of the project all objected to the closing of the Lehner Ave. connection to Vista Ave. Lehner will end in a cul-de-sac in the new development, and all egress from the project will be onto North Ash. They noted that the traffic was already very heavy during the time parents dropped off or picked up their children from Rincon School.

There was also discussion about the “unnamed street”. Actually it’s not a street at all—just an easement for one that would have gone between Vista Ave. and Stanley Ave., just west of where Lehner Ave. now ends at Vista. For this development, the City agreed to vacate their street easement on this “unnamed street”. The existing neighbors to the west of this “unnamed” street understandably want the City to vacate the “unnamed” street easement on their properties too.

The developer will make improvements to Vista and Ash, including a signal at Vista and Ash, and there will be pedestrian access to the closed end of Lehner Ave. As recommended by the Planning Commission in their approval, there will be a masonry wall around the perimeter of the development. City staff claimed that the Lehner/Vista intersection was at a very unsafe angle, and closing that intersection would be an improvement in traffic safety.

Councilman John Masson complained that one requirement of the City was overkill. Rather than ending utility lines at the end of the cul-de-sacs in the project, the lines will be continuous, requiring ugly fenced-off easement pathways between backyards of the development from one cul-de-sac to another. City staff argued that this would make it easier to maintain service in case of problems. I don’t understand the logic of that, but I don’t know anything about utility engineering. In older developments, this was not required. Is the need for ease of maintenance really more important than neighborhood aesthetics? Yes, for once, I think I agree with Masson. Diaz asked if perhaps the easements could be made more attractive. Councilman Mike Morasco suggested using decomposed gravel rather than asphalt to pave the easements. Mayor Sam Abed noted that the developer had agreed with these easements, and hurried the discussion along noting that this was something that could be discussed in the future. And Agenda Item 9 passed without dissent.

Agenda Item 10. Public Hearing to approve the fiscal year 2015-2019 consolidated plan and fiscal year 2015-2016 one-year action plan for use of community development block grant (CDBG ) and home investment partnership (HOME) funds. The staff presented their plan that is summarized on pages 250 and 251 at: http://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/agendas/Council/4-22-15CCAgendaPacketRevised.pdf

Arlene Whited, Treasurer of the Assistance League of Inland North County, had spoken to the Council under “Oral Communication” at the beginning of the Council meeting. Abed had suggested to Whited that the perhaps she should wait to speak until Agenda Item 10 was discussed, but Whited said that she was only there to tell the Council about the benefits the Assistance League provided, and she so spoke. The Staff had recommended that the Assistance League be allocated $15K of CDBG funds, so she probably should have waited to speak.

Susan Hall, Executive Director of Angel’s Depot, reported that her organization serves some 160 Escondido residents. Angels Depot had been allocated $33K out of the CDBG funds. Executive Director of the Interfaith Community Services Greg Anglea, (pronounced Angel, appropriately enough) also spoke. He presented a PowerPoint about the new veteran’s homeless shelter, being developed by remodeling an old medical building on Ash. The UT published an article about the project:

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/feb/08/interfaith-community-services-homeless-veterans/

Anglea said he had applied for $75K of the CDBG funds to help complete the housing project, and was surprised that the City had allocated no funds to his cause. He almost left the meeting after his presentation, but was encouraged by the Council to stick around, that perhaps things would change. Anglea stayed.

Diaz noted that $627K for the multi-neighborhood street light project seemed a very large amount, and suggested that one part of the street lighting could be deferred to another year, allowing funds for the Homeless Veterans project. She also noted that the homeless problem was a major issue of concern for Escondido residents.

Councilman Ed Gallo said he agreed with Diaz about the veterans, adding that Escondido was the only city (in the County?) that had an armory with tanks and big guns, so it was a safe city. He then added that he would like to see more money going into graffiti removal and code enforcement. The staff had recommended $60K for Code enforcement and $90K for graffiti removal.

Morasco felt that support for seniors should be continued, but felt that the bilingual computer training ($8K) and Assistance League funding could be eliminated. He also though that perhaps some of the street lighting could be deferred.

Abed thanked the staff, and said that they couldn’t do everything. He too said the homeless were a concern, but felt that the $17K of unallocated public service funding should be added to the code enforcement and graffiti removal funding.

Masson came through for the veterans. The $75K, requested he noted, would be a one-time grant, and would pay dividends to the community for years to come. For the next few minutes a sort of surreal discussion took place between Council members and Abed. Morasco carefully went over the allocation cuts and additions, including taking funds from the CDBG reserve of over $200K to make up the difference to fund the veterans shelter. Abed then made his own list, as if it were already agreed upon, that included more funding for code enforcement and graffiti removal, and “half” the amount requested by Anglea, $35K. (Yes I know, half of $75K is $37.5K, but that’s what Abed said was half, which makes you wonder what sort of engineer he is.) Another round of discussion, and Abed was up to $40K for the veterans with his list. Finally, Abed seemed to get it—and agreed with the rest to grant $75K to Interfaith Community Services for the shelter. Anglea seemed pleased, not sure about Abed.

The Assistance League funding was eliminated. Sometimes it pays to stick around.

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