Item 17: Location of the Planned Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis (MFRO) Facility was the most contentious item on last Wednesday’s council meeting agenda. I’ve followed this issue for what seems years and years. Probably seems that way for the farmers waiting for the cheaper recycled water too.
It was at least 12 years ago when I remember city staff members pointing out to a group I was part of, that the existing outflow from the HAARF (sewer plant) into the ocean was not sufficient for Escondido’s growing needs, and that replacing it would cost the city not millions, but a billion or more. The city has been fined for releasing partially treated water into Escondido Creek. The city could avoid the problem by recycling the water, further treating it to be good for agricultural use. The MFRO facility is what is required to remove enough salts from the treated sewage to make it suitable for agricultural use.
Back in May of 2016, the council considered a site for the MFRO on East Washington near El Norte Pkwy., in the middle of the Chaparral housing development, a fairly prosperous neighborhood. I wrote of these neighbors’ complaints at one Mayor Sam Abed’s “town hall” meetings. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2016/05/18/another-property-rights-dilemma-for-abed/ The council later respected these comparatively wealthy citizens, and asked staff to look for another site. The following January they agreed on a new site on Ash and Washington, also in a residential area, but a much less prosperous one. I wrote about that social injustice: https://escondidograpevine.com/2017/01/24/recycled-water-and-social-injustice-upheld/
That social injustice was rectified at this meeting, as J. Harry Jones described: https://escondidograpevine.com/2017/01/24/recycled-water-and-social-injustice-upheld/
Director of Utilities Christopher McKinney made a strong case for not moving the facility. It would cost as much as $5 million to buy 4 to 5 acres of property, another $3 million in new pipes, and $2 million more in construction costs. Plus the city would lose as much as $1 million already spent in planning. Moving the location could endanger the $2 million in grant funding and $29 million in low interest State Revolving Fund loans.
Barbara Takahara, a neighbor of the Ash Street site, said the area was needed for a park, to make the area safer. Laura Hunter pointed out that it was a question of environmental justice, that chemicals required for the plant should not be in a residential area. Hunter noted that were members of the Sand Diego County Water Authority Board that were very supportive of environmental justice issues, and would help the council in this matter.
Naturally, local farmers, represented by Edward Grangetto, were most concerned that the move would cause a delay in the farmer’s access to recycled water.
Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she had always supported agriculture, but not at all costs. The city owns a lot property, including acres near the fork of Escondido and Reidy Creeks. McKinney’s report made it clear that the city had never considered that property, because the former council had put it off the table for their dream of a business park. She had always felt that the best place for the MFRO was at that industrial site. The city owned the property, it did not have to buy new property. Even with the best safety precautions, accidents happen, and had happened to the city. See https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-chemical-spill-escondido-water-treatment-plant-2012mar26-story.html
Councilman John Masson was not in favor of the move. He was sure that $8 million or $9 million would be wasted. He pointed out that the land Diaz proposed was zoned M2 (general industrial) and so, very valuable. He also insisted the city couldn’t “just give” that land to the Utilities Department, without explaining why that was true.
Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez remembered that hundreds of citizens had opposed the Ash Street location. The council would not be having this conversation if the concerns of those citizens had been considered. This type of environmental injustice was not OK.
Councilman Mike Morasco felt that Martinez’ misspeak of “wronging this right” (which she immediately corrected to “righting this wrong”) was accurate. He felt the fear of the stored chemicals was “the sky is falling” hysteria. He was not in favor of the move, which he felt would lead to inevitable delay.
Mayor Paul McNamara felt that the decision should be based on what they wanted the city to look like in 30 or 40 years. The Ash property was on the Escondido Creek, and could one day be part of a park that extended through the city along the creek.
And so the wrong was righted, and the plant will be moved to a different, non-residential location.