As I waited for tonight’s “Town Hall Meeting” for Mayor Sam Abed to begin, I began to understand that this would not be an easy night for him. Most of the people in the audience were there to protest the possibility of the City Council passing a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) that would allow the City to build two buildings for a facility that would further treat the recycled water produced by the Hale Avenue Resource Recovery Facility (HAARF), Don’t you just love this euphemism for a sewer plant? The proposed new facility would occupy two buildings to be built on the 3.25 acre property the city owns that is on the north side of East Washington Ave., the south side of El Norte Pkwy, and west of the intersection of Washington and El Norte, and east of Citrus Ave. If that description sounds confusing, I agree—it’s what the city has used. Will make sense if you look at a map. Pretty much, it’s in the middle of the Chaparral housing development—and the Chaparral folks were there to complain, as they had done successfully when the Escondido Planning Commission had considered the matter on April 26. https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/minutes/PC/PCMinutes042616.pdf
The Chaparral resident behind me was sure there was some skullduggery involved. Who initiated this he asked his neighbor? His theory was that Henry Avocado was the moving force behind the entire project, because “he” would be the only one to benefit.
Abed, wearing an unusual jeans/blue blazer/plaid shirt combination began the meeting, with his usual “isn’t Escondido wonderful now that I’m in charge” video. He then proceeded to hammer home the videos message with his own. He spoke of his budget balancing, cautioning the audience not to believe everything they read in the paper, no doubt referring to Joshua Stewart’s column http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/may/14/supervisors-tell-three-fibs-campaign/ . He once again blamed the state for the increase in the crime rate due to AB109. He ended with a quote from Ronald Reagan—no surprises there.
Then began his open forum with the Chaparral neighbors. They were not happy.
The first speaker said her home overlooked this new facility. It had already decreased her property values. It would destroy her views and quality of life. She said that most of the audience (nodding to the audience, and most of them responding) were there to protest the placement of an industrial facility in the middle of their residential neighborhood.
Abed, responded that any project has to mitigate any impacts it produced. He did not want to go into the details, as the matter would come before the Council. The first speaker responded that she was hearing that the project would go through, and that the three-minute or less time allotted to the residents to plead their case (an 18 page report with a protesting petition signed by over 300) before the council. The only way to mitigate this project she avowed was to put it in an industrial area. It would be impossible to mitigate a 37 foot tower. Abed said he believed there had been a lot of misinformation, no one on the council had made up their mind.
At that point, City Manager Graham Mitchell politely stood, and Abed recognized him. Mitchell said it would not be a good idea to proceed with any further discussion about the project, since that discussion, under the rules of the Brown Act, should take place in a publically noticed meeting—i.e. the May 25 City Council meeting.
But the Chaparral folks had not come to be silent. The next speaker said that when she bought her home, they had looked at property near the Hale Ave. facility, and purposely chose not to buy a home close to such a facility. Another noted that if you googled such facilities, it would show that property values decreased. An elderly man worried that the decrease in his property values wouldn’t allow him to sell his home to secure a place in a managed care home.
Then the neighbor sitting behind me asked “who in God’s name would ever consider” such a project. Another suggested that the facility be built by the dog park because the dogs wouldn’t mind. Another asked if it would be possible for the neighbors to present a group presentation rather than individual pleas at the council meeting. Abed was pleased to have something he could finally agree to.
But three more neighbors continued their discussion. Abed, the next speaker noted, had shown a video about the beauties of Escondido, but if the city continued to put industrial buildings next to residential developments, that beauty would go, as would the quality of life. The next insisted the facility be build where it made sense. Then the neighbor behind me asked Abed if the city couldn’t afford more water now, what were they doing approving all these new homes.
That gave Abed an opening to go into his property rights are American rights routine, noting that it would be un-American to deny anyone their right to build on their property if it was within the law. And, the law would not allow a building moratorium until the drought reached level three. The neighbor behind me did not “buy that”, and it was clear the audience was ready to continue the discussion on and on.
Then Deputy City Attorney Gary McCarthy came to the rescue by basically suggesting that all discussion of the matter should be at a public hearing, not the current venue.
Abed had noticed several young people in the audience, and handed the microphone to one of them, asking him what he wanted for Escondido. Well, the young man said, it would be better not to build industrial buildings in residential areas. With good grace, Abed said he had hoped to change the subject.
The subject did change to the proposed hotel project between the City Hall and the California Center for the Arts. But, that’s for another blog.