After the discussion of the proposed water treatment facility was ended by Deputy City Attorney Gary McCarthy, Mayor Sam Abed was asked about what was happening with the proposed hotel to be built between Escondido’s City Hall and The California Center for the Arts. Abed noted that this was another issue that he couldn’t really speak about, because, under the Brown Act, such negotiations needed to be in closed session.
Now I had noticed that such negotiations had been going on for some time, starting last November. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/11/19/clarks-back-with-another-hotel-scheme/ So, since no one else was asking about the matter, I broke my general rule not to speak at such meetings, (generally find it’s a bit hard on my blood pressure,) and asked Abed if the City had made a formal request for proposals (RFP) for such a hotel. Abed muttered something about how I probably wouldn’t listen to his answer (even though I was trying very hard to listen to him) and repeated his answer of the previous two questions about the hotel project. Abed said that after C.W. Clark had been unable to obtain financing during the recession, the city had not pursued the matter, because of the poor economy. He intimated that there was a sort of open RFP on the matter and there had been some other nibbles from other parties, but only Clark showed real interest in proffering a proposal. When I pressed him on the matter, he admitted that, no, there had been no formal issue of a RFP by the city on this hotel proposal. But, Abed insisted, the negotiation was not about personalities, but about what was good for the city.
I have written before a brief history of the hotel project (which I have been covering since 2003): https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/08/17/a-brief-history-of-the-downtown-hotel-dream/ . I wrote that piece in 2011. As I said I have been watching Clark’s proposals since 2003. Here is a response to a Union Tribune editorial, “Escondido’s hotel heartbreak”, of June 27, 2009, that I submitted on June 27, 2009. Did not get published, but think it’s worth the light of day now.
In your editorial criticism of the Escondido City Council majority’s rejection of the latest offer from C. W. Clark, you imply that the original Hotel deal with a neighboring multi-story condominium complex (on what is now one of Escondido’s few public parking lots) would have been a great deal for Escondido. Have you driven down Escondido Blvd. lately? If you do so, you cannot help but notice two blots on the landscape in the form of uncompleted and abandoned condominium projects. The last thing Escondido needs would be another such blight. The condominium complex that was part of Clark’s original proposal would have placed the jewel of Escondido, her historic Grand Ave., in a shadow and caused Grand Ave. merchants to lose incalculable business from the loss of easy parking and construction interruption.
Your editorial also notes that the Hotel Project would have brought 200 permanent jobs to the city. Yes, that’s certainly what Escondido needs, 200 more minimum wage jobs. The few management jobs would most likely have been filled by employees brought in from other parts of the country.
C.W. Clark has long been a favored developer for the City of Escondido. He was given $25,000 some twenty years ago to improve the appearance of the old J.C. Penney building that was abandoned when the North County Fair mall opened. He kept the money, but did nothing to improve the building. Finally, some ten years later, the City demanded that he return the $25,000, which he did, without any interest payment.
Then there was the Gateway Center deal. C.W. Clark was given over half a million dollars in fee waivers. The net result of that new center was to move existing businesses from one strip mall to another, leaving the old strip malls with vacancies. There were those on the Council at the time who argued for a better use of that land than another strip mall, a use that would have given Escondido the diversity of revenue it so desperately needs.
It is not surprising then, that when the City of Escondido put out a Request For Proposals for a downtown Hotel Project to be built on city-owned property—a request that offered no subsidies, it was C.W. Clark’s proposal that was given the nod. Unlike other potential hotel builders, C.W. Clark was confident that he could get the City to subsidize his venture. And the City, led by Mayor Lori Pfeiler, seemed pleased to pony up some $19 million in subsidies along with a ten year forgiveness of land lease payments.
Isn’t it curious that when it was becoming obvious that the City Council Majority had turned to no longer favor spending $19 million on a hotel in a time of budget crisis, Clark suddenly found he only needed $13 million? Why not $5 million? It would be great to have a hotel downtown, but the deal with Clark has always been a loser for the City of Escondido. Let the city put out a new Request For Proposals. If there truly is a market for a hotel in downtown Escondido, there will be builders, perhaps even C.W. Clark who will submit new proposals.
At Abed’s town hall meeting, the man behind me hinted of somebody reaping the benefits of the proposed water treatment facility, to be paid for by Escondido’s taxpayers. He was certain there was some backroom politics involved. I don’t really think that’s the case with that facility, but I do believe that it is the case with many projects in Escondido. There is a good ole boy network, and C.W. Clark is definitely a part of it, as are the four male members of the current city council.