A Town Hall Meeting with ECCHOs of the Past

 

Note: Most of this article is about the Escondido Country Club snafu. For some background on the beginning of this see: https://escondido2012.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/an-eccho-not-a-choice/  The resulting Proposition H ballot initiative was well summed up by the Voice of San Diego http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/news/the-strange-group-of-allies-and-enemies-born-out-of-escondidos-prop-h/ .  The loss of Prop. H was well described by J. Harry Jones: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/elections/sdut-escondido-prop-H-election-country-club-charter-2014nov04-story.html . I wrote about the Abed’s initial reaction to the loss of the City to Slesinger’s law suit   https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/03/18/abeds-dilemma/ . I wrote about his further trying to stay on good terms with ECCHO: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/05/18/abeds-dilemma-ii/ , and about the final Council agreement with Slesinger: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/10/07/ecchos-in-the-council-chamber/

There was a pretty good turnout for Mayor Sam Abed’s Town Hall on May 17. The raft of olive-green shirts in the audience made it clear that the Escondido Country Club & Community Homeowner’s Organization (ECCHO) was well represented. As the meeting began at 4:00 pm, the average age of the audience was well over what’s required to be eligible for membership in AARP. I have a feeling Abed is not really interested in hearing what working people have to say.

As usual, the Town Hall began with a video praising the wonders of Escondido. I was surprised to hear that there had been some 1,700 events in Escondido—as I had heard of about a dozen of them. But, I think that says much more about my asocial tendencies that any lack of promotion for those events. Abed boasted about the increase in business and sales tax, bemoaned the homeless problem, and once again cited the 22% reduction of crime in Escondido, which he attributed to the deportation of 2000—without offering any evidence to support that claim. He promised to fight SB 54 if passed. He insisted that the prosecution of gangs was greater than ever in Escondido. He then made the interesting claim that the homeless population had doubled, because of Props 47 and 57 which reduced sentencing and increased the chance of parole. Again, he offered absolutely no data for that claim, but then, many ultra-conservatives like Abed seem to be unimpressed with empirical evidence, much preferring to make their decisions based on their emotional inclinations.  As Bill Maher would say, Abed doesn’t know why what he says is so, he just knows it is.

Abed was happy that the poverty rate in Escondido had decreased from 20% to 15.7%. He again patted himself on the back for maintaining a “structurally balanced” budget for the six years of his tenure. By emphasizing this term, “structurally balanced”, Abed has finally recognized that all general law cities in California (as opposed to charter cities), are required to have a balanced budget. Abed has always thought that using the city’s reserve funds for any function, was not balancing the budget. So, even though it would have required only $100K of reserve funds to keep the East Valley Pkwy Branch of the Escondido Library open in 2011, he, and his colleagues, refused to do so. There were many of us, at the time who felt that such a use was exactly what “reserve” funds were reserved for. So, for Abed, to be really balanced, “structurally balanced”, there is to be no use of reserve funds.

After his “introduction” of almost 30 minutes, Abed opened up the session to questions from the audience, inserting a rare moment of humor by saying any questions were welcome except those about the Escondido Country Club. The first question about the Country Club included a question about whether or not Abed would run for Mayor again in two years, considering the two big messes he faces—the problem with the pension debt, and the mess that was the Country Club.

Abed said that he had maintained the exact same position to the Country Club for the last three years, and that he had been criticized by ECCHO and by the developer, which means, he ascertained, he’s looking for a solution. He complemented ECCHO on changing their position from golf course only, to a reasonable development. (Now Abed had also changed his view about this, after the City lost its lawsuit with the developer—but somehow that’s “maintaining the exact same position…”) Abed was obviously prepared for the ECCHO assault. He said that New Urban West’s proposal of 392 homes was offensive. The proposal in Prop. H that was voted down, city-wide, by 61% had included 430 homes. He then put up on the screen a diagram of a proposal for some 270 homes with 7000 square-foot lots, and “lakes” separating the new development from the old. Abed noted the average lot size in the neighborhood was 7000 square feet. The “lakes” were necessary to handle the drainage of the area. Even that proposal did not have enough green space Abed noted—so maybe some 250 homes? And, when asked again, he admitted he would run for Mayor again in two years.

The next question from an ECCHO member suggested that 150 homes would be more appropriate. Abed countered that the problem with fewer homes would be that there would be fewer amenities. Another ECCHO member asked why there couldn’t be a senior housing development as in Rancho Bernardo. That would be up to New Urban West Abed responded. The next questioner asked why Schlesinger was able to remodel the Stoneridge Country Club successfully, why couldn’t he do the same with the Escondido club. Abed said he had asked Schlesinger that question at least 25 times. The next speaker complained that Schlesinger was not supposed to be a part of the process at all—just New Urban West, and what would they do about the traffic in the area? Abed said that all developers were required to mitigate the impacts of their developments. The high cost of those impact fees was one reason developers requested higher densities. Schlesinger was still the owner of the property, and so it was a property rights issue, and the City could not be arbitrary in their treatment of developers or they would be sued—as Abed should know only too well. Later, someone asked Abed directly where he was with Schlesinger? Abed answered that he did not deal with Schlesinger, only New Urban West. And, the City had to accept the application from New Urban West for 292 homes. The final decision on the matter would be made first by the Planning Commission, and ultimately the City Council. The EIR for the proposal was expected to be ready for publication in June.

So, after five years, and tons of city money spent in staff time and legal fees, the ECCHO folks are looking at a project of 392 homes instead of 430, with fewer amenities than the project proposed in Prop. H. Thirty-eight fewer homes. ECCHO will fight the project. Abed says he finds it offensive, but will he fight it? New Urban West has begun the usual PR work at convincing the neighbors of what a great development they are proposing. They’re probably the organizing force behind the new group, Renew Our Country Club. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-no-country-club-20170509-story.html  So, what will Abed do? Should be interesting.

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