The more things change the more they stay the same. That was my reaction to the January 10th city council meeting. There was really only one item on the agenda, Item 8: Extension and revision of a tentative subdivision map, master development plan, development agreement, prezone, and annexation – North Avenue Estates Proposal.
This was a development first proposed in 2006, and in reviewing its history, staff referred to tract 916-R. I don’t usually remember numbers, but that number, 916, stirred up a memory. I remember speaking against the issue at the time. That was before the revised General Plan (GP) was adopted, and the proposed project was approved with much smaller lots than the existing GP called for, arguing that it was clustering the houses and providing more open space, not really increasing the total number of houses that could be built. Ummm, the problem with that concept was that the open space proposed was over the San Diego County Water Authority aqueduct easement. By definition, that has to be open space, to crowd in more houses around that and call it clustering was a wild exploitation of the clustering definition in the GP at this time. I don’t know about the current GP—it’s so watered down that such a definition of clustering might actually be spelled out in it.
David Ferguson, the go-to lawyer for developers, who had represented the developer in 2006, was representing the developer again last Wednesday, presenting the same clustering argument. It was interesting to note that Councilman John Masson recused himself from discussion or voting on this item because his company had worked on it. Now Ferguson is now listed as a resource for Mayor Sam Abed’s Pacific West Consulting firm. When Abed first opened Pacific West Consulting, Ferguson had been listed as part of Pacific West’s network, guess that definition smelled a little too much of cronyism to last. Abed never recuses himself when Ferguson presents a development for the city—he claims he never earns a penny from those projects.
This proposed project is just east of a much older development of homes along Laurashawn Lane. These homes have, at most, half-acre lots on flat ground, on septic, in what is a 100-year flood plain. When the project was finally submitted to San Diego Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) in August of 2008, to approve the annexation of the new project land into the City of Escondido, LAFCO balked. The project, as approved by the City, placed the responsibility for any failure of the septic systems in the Laurashawn properties resulting from the grading for the new development on the developer. It would be up to a majority opinion of the City Engineer, a County Environmental Health Department representative, and a forensic engineer to determine if such septic failure was due to the new development. If they decided the septic failure was in fact due to the developer, then the developer would either have to pay for the septic repair, or pay to have the Laurashawn property connected to the city sewer system. LAFCO ruled that it would be up to the County Department of Environmental Health alone to decide if the grading activities put any of the septic systems at risk for failure. If the County so determined, than the City of Escondido and the developer would be required to connect the affected Laurashawn property to the city’s sewer system, at no cost to the owner of the affected property. The city did not accept LAFCO’s changes. The recession hit. And the project died.
Well not so much died, as gone into suspended animation. The revised project has a new report from the geotechnical engineering firm of Geocon, claiming that the ground water flow will not be affected by the grading, and will not cause a rise in groundwater. But, just in case, the project will have a 12.5 foot buffer between the Laurashawn properties and the new development, on which there will be no grading. Also, all the new state requirements for control of storm water runoff will be met, as well as the construction of new drains and culverts.
Sounds fine and dandy—for the developer. As Patricia Borchmann pointed out for the Escondido Chamber of Citizens, the $12,500 fee per lot for the North Broadway Deficiency area is $4,500 less that what the city staff had recommended at the December 4, 2013 City Council meeting. The staff had determined that the deficiency in traffic and drainage infrastructure needed for the six-hundred or so possible homes that could be built in the North Broadway area to be $17,000 per lot. I wrote at the time, “[s]o, taxpayers of Escondido, and surrounding neighborhoods, there’s where the interest of the male majority of the Escondido City Council rests—ninety percent for developers, ten percent for residents.” Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she had understood that that reduced fee had only been for the two tracts under consideration at that meeting. Director of Engineering Service, Julie Procopio, said that the staff’s understanding was that the $12,500 deficiency fee had been established by the City Council for the entire area. I remember that meeting very well, but just to be on the safe side, I watched the video of that section of the December 4, 2013 meeting. When the discussion was coming to a close, Abed specifically stated that the fees under discussion were only for that project, not for other projects in the deficiency area. So, it would seem the staff’s assumption about the fees are incorrect. However, the project was approved, with the reduced fees, as well as a $100,000 credit in drainage facilities fees. One of the Councilmen mentioned that LAFCO shouldn’t be a problem this time, because, after all, Abed was the Chairman of LAFCO.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Same good ole boy crony capitalist fleecing of taxpayers.