Jim Hamerly, Dean of the College of Business Administration, at CSUSM made a presentation to the Council at the beginning of last Wednesday’s meeting. He invited the Councilmembers to take a tour of the college. Mayor Sam Abed thanked him and noted, to my surprise, that education was a major part of the Council’s 2015–2016 Action Plan. Had the Council majority had a change of heart? Were they going to fund more after-school and adult-education activities? Well no, as it turns out, Abed was referring to the eighth goal (out of eight goals) in the Economic Development part of the plan: “Carryover from previous Action Plan: Turn Escondido into an Education Hub.” It refers to projects like the building of Del Lago Academy, expanding the Classical Academy and Charter High School, remodel of Palomar College, and John Paul the Great Catholic University. Nothing that would include spending any of the City’s funds.
The Action Plan was presented by Assistant City Manager Graham Mitchell—actually not so much presented as summarized. He noted that the plan reflected what the Council had recommended at the February 11, 2015 workshop, and that the Council had all received copies of the plan. Councilwoman Olga Diaz observed that it was normal procedure to make a presentation of the plan, item by item, to inform the public. Mitchell, (reluctantly?), then proceeded to read through the plan, stopping for Council comments or questions after each goal. The complete plan is available on the City’s website: https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/agendas/Council/8-12-15CCAgendaPacket.pdf
The first goal under Economic Development, was to “Relocate the Public Works Yard to allow for development of a Crossroads Business Park.” Councilman Mike Morasco was a bit surprised at the price tag for a new works yard–$60 million. Diaz suggested that too much energy was being devoted to this goal, energy would be better spent on developing the old hospital, soon to be vacated by the hospital district. Abed got a bit agitated at any criticism of his pet project said the focus should be on acquiring land, not changing priorities. Councilman John Masson couldn’t see that a new yard would cost $60 million—more like $30 million he judged. Councilman Ed Gallo’s observed that “it takes a long time to get things done.” He (Gallo) had stated years ago that the land value of the works yard was too valuable for such a use. One wonders when Gallo makes these historical observations if he is advertising his prescience, or his record of not being able to get things done. City Manager Clay Phillips, evidently riled by Masson’s comment, informed the Council that a lot of science had gone into the $60 million figure.
The second Economic Development Goal, “Carryover from previous Action Plan: Attract a Hotel to downtown Escondido.” This is a proposal that I have followed for years, and have written about. I will write more in another blog. As Gallo noted this project has been “on tap since 1986.” Gallo went on to observe that filling vacancies downtown was all about marketing—something about no one buying a rock, until it was marketed as a rock in a box. Is he comparing the relative worth of a vacant building on Grand to a pet rock?
Under the third Economic Development Goal “Optimize downtown development” recognizes that closing the Palomar downtown campus as “Although loss to the downtown area, it poses a redevelopment opportunity.” Diaz urged the recognition of this situation as one that required immediate action—working with the Hospital Board, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development group, getting people involved to come up with a plan. Phillips observed that that such planning would require an amount of knowledge. I Think Phillips was trying to head off getting too many “amateur” members of the public—much too messy.
The seventh goal, “Attract businesses that pay higher wages and diversified employment…” reveled an interesting tactic—have SANDAG “include Escondido’s Sphere of Influence in the demographic profile.” The Sphere of Influence does include some of the area’s more affluent areas, see http://www.sdlafco.org/images/11x17maps/City_Escondido.pdf . The logic of this tactic is that this would increase the average income and education level of Escondido demographics, thus making it more attractive to those “higher wage” businesses. Will this help undo the damages done by Escondido’s history of anti-immigrant turbulence?
When the discussion turned to the turning of Escondido into an education hub, Masson suggested encouraging Grand Canyon University (GCU) to expand into Escondido. Looking at the website, http://www.gcu.edu/ , one can see that GCU a private, for-profit, Christian school would fit hand in glove with the Heritage Charter Schools, John Paul the Great Catholic University, the Classical Academy etc. Diaz said she had heard that there was a plan to locate a new University of California in North County—maybe that was a possibility. Her comments were ignored. Well why consider an institution of academic excellence when you can have a Christian diploma mill?
Under the Neighborhood Improvement Goal number two “Address the issue of homelessness from a regional approach…” Gallo perhaps explained why the Council majority so blithely slashed the City’s social services budget during the recession. He noted that years ago there had been a study of homelessness, and it was found that all of the North County shelter beds for the homeless were in Escondido, because, he inferred, Escondido had “every conceivable social service available.” I see, get rid of the social services, and you’ll get rid of the homeless. Hasn’t worked.