The first person to ask a question of Mayor Sam Abed was Nina Deerfield, editor of Alianza. She again said that the City should survey the City’s residents about their opinion of all the proposed developments in town. She asked Abed how it could be possible to have hired someone like John Friend. If you haven’t heard about the anti-Semitic Friend, read J. Harry Jones excellent report: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/sep/10/escondido-fired-city-manager-office-anti-Semitic/ .
Abed shied away from the subject of Friend—saying it was entirely a matter for the City Manager Clay Phillips to handle. Abed did affirm that he found Friend’s positions unsupportable. Abed also shied away from any proposal to survey Escondido’s residents. The approval of the General Plan in 2014 was a survey, he declared.
Patricia Borchmann then pointed out to Abed that the General Plan specifically required developments that followed the principles of smart growth, and developments like the Safari Highlands Ranch clearly did not follow those principles so were inconsistent with the General Plan. Abed asked Borchmann if she believed in smart growth. Yes, she answered. Abed went into his defense of property rights (his excuse for entertaining Safari Highlands Ranch,) but assured everyone that the current Council emphasized the quality, not quantity of new developments. Borchmann should be happy with the new General Plan because 70% of the new development would be within the urban core. (So, we all shouldn‘t worry about the other 30%’s damage to the natural habitat, I guess.)
The next speaker, Jeff Frey, congratulated the City Council for the progress he had seen over the last few years—noting that when he first moved back in 200?, after leaving in 1979, he could see progress in San Marcos and Vista, but none in Escondido. I guess paving over hillsides with housing is this guy’s idea of progress. Frey then went on to the issue that most of the attendees were there for, the Escondido Country Club fiasco. “We are living in an eyesore. An urban decay…” he said. http://www.cbs8.com/story/30051040/future-of-old-escondido-country-club-up-in-the-air Frey then asked Abed to tell them what’s going on. Abed, was prepared. His trademark, Abed avowed, was being honest with people. One couldn’t talk about property rights when one is dealing with a man like Michael Schlesinger, developers needed to build trust with the community, and Schlesinger needs to get someone else to handle the project. The City Council would always put the interests of the City first when considering what to do with the lawsuit. Abed then poured more abuse on Schlesinger, he was a difficult person, he did not have common sense, his proposed 270 homes didn’t leave enough open space next to the homes that fronted the old golf course. The problem could be solved with a good project that had more open space and amenities.
A man asked Abed about the 7,200 housing units proposed for the urban core. He hoped these units would be owner occupied rather than rentals. Abed agreed that home ownership was better than rentals, then went into a sort of apology for all the rental units that had been approved by the Council, blaming the recession, and pointing out that the Latitude 33 apartments were not cheap.
The next speaker, saying that he was more of an expert on the prison industrial complex than anyone else in the room, as he had served time and was now fighting to get his conviction overturned. He wanted to assure the citizens of the community that Prop. 47, and AB 109 .(AB 109 was passed to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court Order to reduce the prison population.) would not put the lions, tigers, and bears of the prison system onto the street. Rather those released would be non-violent offenders. Abed stammered something about focusing on criminals, then asked Chief of Police Craig Carter to speak on the matter. Carter assured everyone that the police were keeping an eye on all those released under AB109 The speaker chided Abed for scaring the citizens with his earlier remarks. Abed moved on.
On to Mike Slater, President of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners (ECCHO). Slater informed Abed that ECCHO had financed a thorough study that showed a golf course was a viable possibility for the property. Was the City Council being bullied by Schlesinger? Abed started his answer with by praising ECCHO’s leadership and their ability to defeat Schlesinger’s $1.5 million ballot measure. While he, Abed, would certainly support a golf course, the problem would have to be solved with a quality development. Abed then continued his rant about how difficult, irrational, and lacking of common sense Schlesinger is.
A woman asked Abed if the City would appeal the decision on Schlesinger lawsuit against the City. Abed said he could not comment on that.
At the end of the CBS 8 report cited above there was an interesting statement: “The developer, in a statement, said the next step is bringing on a home builder who will work with the city and community outreach on its current plans to build 270 homes.” So maybe the Council is working on a compromise with Schlesinger. Maybe there will be a new developer for the project. One way or another, Abed’s ability to keep the ECCHO folks happy has a limited future. Those folks want a golf course, they won’t be happy with any “quality” housing project no matter who the developer is.