Author Archives: mmliles

Abed’s State of the City

 

I watched Mayor Sam Abed’s State of the City address on video—going in person would mean going somewhere before 10:00 am, something I seldom do. It was quite an event, held at the California Center for the Arts, sponsored by the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, and well attended by that group of predominantly white business people.  Most of the attendees had forked out the money to attend the breakfast at 7:30 am, but it was possible to view the event for free at 8:00 am.

Police Chief Craig Carter was the emcee. He explained that when he had been asked by Abed to be the emcee at the previous year’s State of the City address, Abed had informed him that he was not his first choice. This year Abed allowed that Carter was his first choice to be emcee. When the Chairman of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce Board, Kevin Svetich welcomed the attendees, he also noted that when he had been asked by Abed to be emcee two years ago, Abed had told him he was not Abed’s first choice, and that Abed had reminded him of that fact every year since.

After the welcoming by Svetich, the City Council members: John Masson, Olga Diaz, Mike Morasco, and Ed Gallo all gave out awards to citizens who have given outstanding service to the community. They each gave out two awards—except for Diaz, who only gave out one. As this gave her a little extra time, Diaz said she wanted to speak for a minute. She quoted Martin Luther King who said that it was not the words of your enemies that you remembered but the silence of your friends. And, as she wanted to be a good friend to Chief Carter and Svetich, she wanted to remind Mayor Abed that he was not her first choice either.  Well Abed  couldn’t let that bit go by, and one of his opening remarks was that he didn’t mind not being her first choice because he was the people’s first choice—a line that actually go him a few boos from the audience if what I  heard on the video was accurate.

If you were a complete stranger to Escondido and California politics, and listened to Abed’s speech, and believed him, you would have been convinced that everything good that has happened to Escondido since he was first elected in 2010, was due to his efforts, and everything bad was due to the action of the Democratic Legislature in Sacramento.

He too presented an award, and thanked his family, the Chamber, city staff, etc. He showed a video highlighting many of Escondido’s high points from avocado farms to high tech industry.  After showing the video Abed assured the audience that the video was entirely prepared by the city’s staff at no cost to taxpayers. So—were the staff working on their own time to prepare this? Volunteering their time?

After the video Abed bragged about the economic development of the city saying the city leads the region in business attraction and private investment, citing 35 upper-scale projects either approved or going through the process. Guess that number includes one of the sponsors of the event, Safari Highlands Ranch. Abed has also received over $8,000 in campaign donations from developers of the Safari Highlands Ranch project, so the approval of this abominable devastation on natural habitat is probably in the bag.

Abed was “looking forward” to working with Integral Communities to develop the now defunct old hospital downtown, going on to praise the “outstanding healthcare” provided by Palomar West. Ah, Palomar West—Michael Covert’s monument to himself. I wrote about that boondoggle:  https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/03/03/tweedledee-tweedledum-and-the-master-of-legerdemain/  . The $496 million bond issue passed by voters in the Palomar Hospital District in 2004, (it is a public hospital,) wasn’t enough to build the edifice Covert sought—the hospital had to borrow another $568 million. We taxpayers in the district have already seen an additional increase in the amount of property tax we pay to support the bond, and the financial burden on the hospital made it impossible to keep its promise to Escondido that the downtown facility would be kept open.

Abed also seemed to brag about the council’s passage of the 380 unit Country Club project. Does he not remember his impassioned spiel when he voted against the project? Perhaps he would like to believe that the ECCHO folks won’t notice his sudden change of tune.

There were 723 new businesses started in Escondido last year, according to Abed—would like to see an actual list of those businesses. The old downtown’s Grand Ave. still seems to have vacancies. He went on to boast that since he had become Mayor in 2010, the city had added over 2,200 new businesses. So, how many businesses were lost during that period?

Abed said that the sales tax had increased from $23 million in 2010, when he was elected Mayor, to a projected $40 million this year, a 57% increase over eight years. I couldn’t find similar figures for the state, but the total sales tax revenue for the state increased from $27 billion in 2010, to $50 billion in 2015, a 54% increase over five years. So, it would seem Escondido is behind the state average there. http://www.boe.ca.gov/annual/pdf/2010/table2_10.pdf

As usual Abed bragged about balancing the city’s budget, without dipping into the city’s reserves, since he became Mayor. Of course city recreational services were severely diminished and a library shut down to reach that supposedly positive achievement. Many residents felt it would have been far better to have spent some of the city’s reserves to keep the library open.

Escondido has the best police and fire protection in San Diego County, Abed avowed. And, (even better he seemed to indicate,) Escondido had banned marijuana from the city claiming “marijuana is out of our city, period.” But, as J. Harry Jones pointed out, his belief that banning pot is what Escondido citizens want is not supported by the 2016 vote where 52.1 % of Escondido’s voters voted to legalize weed. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-no-escondido-pot-20180212-story.html

He also declared that Escondido would continue to do everything it could, in spite of the passage of SB 54—which he referred to as the “sanctuary state” and claimed had made law enforcement more difficult—the city will continue to do everything possible, under the law, to make sure criminals, including gang members, “here illegally” will be deported. His next comment was that he would “continue to build trust with the community we serve.” So, having the Escondido Police Department in close cooperation with ICE is building trust? How many instances of domestic abuse go unreported, because the abused victim is undocumented and afraid to call the police?

Abed promised Stone Brewing Company that when they submitted plans for their new hotel, it would be approved in sixty days. Really? What if they propose a marijuana bar as part of the amenities?

When briefly lauding education facilities in Escondido, Abed gave equal billing to the Heritage Charter Schools, the Classical Academy (where they teach Bible stories as history,) and Escondido public schools. All the schools he mentioned are public schools, but Heritage Charter and Classical Academy are public schools run like private schools with little oversight of the spending of taxpayer funds. His main compliment to the non-charter public schools was that they were being made safer.

Abed emphasized only two of Escondido’s challenges, the pension fund liability and homelessness. He attributes the homelessness problem to “state bad policy”—AB 109, Proposition 47, and Proposition 57. He claimed that 33% of the homeless in Escondido were either on probation, parole or had serious mental disabilities or substance abuse problems. AB109 and the two propositions had turned released criminals out onto the streets. So, Abed seems to disagree with the bipartisan belief that the USA puts too many people in jail. He seems to believe all those homeless should be in jail. Does he realize how expensive jails are?

He castigated the state for not doing something about the pension liability.

He talked about “exciting” new developments in the coming year—the Springhill Suites in La Terraza, the Stone Hotel near Stone Brewing will become a reality, transforming the old hospital into an “urban living environment”, paving more streets, the continued work on the recycled water project, going to paperless utility billing, using technology to improve pretty much everything, and “an actual draft policy” for the business park at Interstate 15 and Highway 78. It will soon be ready for “technology companies to create more good paying jobs.” Think some magical thinking is involved in that fantasy, if the old technology park around the new hospital is any example.

Uncharacteristically, he ended with a plea to practice the tolerance, understanding, respect and love that the Founding Fathers preached, making a plea for more civil discourse. Well I’m in complete agreement with that. Wished he practiced more of those good habits while conducting city council meetings.

 

 

A Question of Ignorance

So, another thing the City Council tried to sneak by on the consent calendar at their February 14, 2018 meeting was another $70K for the Reidy Creek Golf Course. Whoa, I’m jumping the gun a bit here. I just realized I didn’t mention in my last blog that the sixteen-year extension of Heritage Charter School’s lease was also on the consent calendar. Things on the consent calendar are usually voted on without discussion or debate. Consent calendar items can be pulled from the calendar by a Council member or by the public, so the item can be discussed and debated. Paul McNamara had pulled item ten about the Heritage lease. Patricia Borchmann pulled item five containing the increased funding for the Reidy Creek Golf Course. The item 5 was innocently entitled: Financial Report for Quarter ended December 31, 2017 and Budged Adjustment. Borchmann objected to this attempt to sneak the increased funding by the public.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz said that every time the expense of the golf course was more than anticipated. There never seemed to be an answer provided to the council about what to do about this problem. One golfer had complained to her that only one person was manning the golf course when he was there. She noted that J.C. Resorts (the company the city hired to run the course) ran several golf courses successfully, and held lots of tournaments. Was the city prohibiting such tournaments? Assistant City Manager Jay Petrek told her that neither the city or J.C. Resorts prohibited tournaments, but the small size of the clubhouse limited the range of such tournaments. He noted that there were always at least two or three employees on duty, but that they were working with the city to save money, and staff was the most expensive expense for the course. Deputy City Manager of Administrative Services, Sheryl Bennett, explained this year the tunnel under North Broadway on the course had been flooded, and that had significantly reduced business.

Diaz suggested that perhaps the city should look into getting another company to run the course. She wanted to read the city’s contract with J.C. Resorts.

City Manager Jeff Epp patronizingly explained to Diaz that the contract with J.C. Resorts had been approved by the city council, and it could be difficult for the city to dissolve. He pointed out the golf course did pay, in part, for the city’s debt service on the bonds the city had issued to pay for the course and the flood control basin, and if the course was closed, the city expenses would increase. He said he would be “more than happy” to let Diaz read the contract with L. C. Resorts, sarcastically adding that it was great reading.

Councilman Mike Morasco started his comments with “[i]gnorance is bliss!” I found his comments to be so uncalled for and rude to Diaz, that I had to go back to the video of this part of the meeting to rehear his statements as my anger distracted my attention for a few minutes. He used the golf course at least three times a month. He said there were always six employees, and he knew them all. They loved what they did, and were always very cordial. He knew that many coaches, teams and clubs used the course. It was an executive golf course, which meant it did not offer all the services of a full blown course. The flooding of the tunnel had discouraged regular customers, because they did not like to drive across Broadway.

Mayor Sam Abed accused Diaz of always picking on that golf course. The city had a $4 million recreational department—why didn’t she look at some of the other programs to save money?

The item was passed with the usual “four yes votes, Diaz voting no.”

I’ve written about this fiasco before. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2016/04/05/beware-of-developers-bearing-gifts-of-golf-courses/

One thing that Bennett said caught my attention when she was explaining about the flooding, she said there were water table issues. Now just recently, the council approved the North Avenue Estates project, where the council was assured by the developer’s engineer that the additional drainage into the North Broadway area would not increase the water table level. (See: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2018/01/15/same-ole-crony-capitalism/ ) If the existing water retention basin is already so saturated it is flooding in the tunnel under Broadway, how can it handle additional runoff? The city reimbursed New Urban West for its costs in constructing this water basin, which doesn’t seem to be working effectively.

Many more people used the East Valley Pkwy branch of the Escondido Library than this golf course. Councilman Ed Gallo, Morasco, and Abed all voted to close that library. But, unlike many of the golfers, the users of that closed library were not part of the good ole boy network. To close that library and privatize the one remaining public library in Escondido, is an exercise in true ignorance—ignorance of the value of libraries and the value of an educated populace in maintaining a democracy.

Crony Capitalism is Alive and Well in Escondido

The city council majority approval of item 10: Extension of Lease Term with American Heritage Charter Schools at 2285 and 2269 East Valley Parkway, at their February 14, 2018 meeting, was a sweet Valentine’s Day present to their old buddy Dennis Snyder and his Heritage Charter Schools. For many Escondido citizens, this is a heartache rather than a Valentine.

Where the Heritage Digital Academy is now, there once was a branch of the Escondido Public Library. The City Council voted to close that branch when they approved the city’s budget in June of 2011.  Mel Takahara beautifully summed up why that was not a good decision: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sdut-in-hindsight-library-closing-still-wrong-decision-2013feb26-story.html . The full study by Escondido’s Future and CSUSM can be read at: https://escondidosfuturedotcom1.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/student-survey-report-full-verison-091312.pdf .

The vacated library branch was first leased to Heritage Charter School two years later in June 9, 2013. That was another turbulent city council meeting, as described by David Garrick: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-escondido-charter-school-snyder-east-valley-2013may22-story.html . That was the first time I accused the council majority of crony capitalism. As Garrick noted, Councilman Ed Gallo was offended, saying he didn’t sell his soul for political contributions. The lease at that time was for ten years, expiring in May, 2023.

Gallo also bragged that Heritage was the best school in California. If that was ever true, it doesn’t seem to be the case now, based on anything I find. But, there’s no doubt that Snyder, his school, and the Heritage Foundation do everything they can to promote conservative propaganda in a way to please conservatives like Gallo, as Rebecca Nutile itemized in her excellent article: https://sandiegofreepress.org/2015/05/partisan-politics-go-unchecked-in-escondidos-publicly-funded-charter-school/ .

On December 9, 2015, the City Council Majority voted to extend the Heritage lease until December of 2030. At the same time the council majority agreed to lease the property that had been leased to the Escondido Community Child Development Center at the 2269 address to Heritage, also until December of 2030. The stated reason for such a long lease at that time was: “because Chater intends to use the same lender that funded the improvements at Heritage Digital Academy…”  See: https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/agendas/Council/12-09-15CCAgendaPacket-Revised.pdf  In other words, they needed to have a longer lease to obtain a loan. And in 2016, they were able to obtain backing for another bond issue with a thirty year yield—until 2046. https://www.ziegler.com/z-media/3020/american-heritage-education-foundation-case-study_0516.pdf

So it’s not surprising that Heritage now wanted to extend its lease until 2046, to satisfy its bond purchasers. And Snyder’s cronies on the Escondido City Council obliged.

At the Valentine’s Day meeting, Paul McNamara objected to the extended lease. Why extend any lease that long, he asked. Why commit to a rental increase of only three percent a year? Why was there no consideration of returning that space to a city library? How can the council possibly anticipate the financial modes of the next 25 years?

Councilwoman Olga Diaz agreed. Such an extension was unnecessary, and eliminated the possibility of returning the property to a library facility

Councilman Mike Morasco, explained that the obvious reason for the extension was to extend the lease for the length of the bond. He went on to say that there was still public use of the facility, that the space can be leased, that the computer center was available on a sign-up basis, and that the school had made tons of improvements to the building and had enhanced the entire area.

Gallo reminisced that the building had first been a Big Bear Market attached to a strip mall, and that the city had purchased the property and put in a gym, which was still open to the public. (Well that’s true, the gym is available to the public for about 20 hours a week.) But, of course, the city also remodeled the building to accommodate a library branch that served east Escondido residents. He also opined that it was not uncommon for the lease to correspond with the bond.

Mayor Sam Abed said that opponent’s problem with the lease with was with the charter school. He asked staff if this lease were any different from any other lease with the city—he was assured that it was market rate. Well market rate less a $2,600 per month credit for tenant improvements. This will add $6.6 million to the general fund. (Well, over the next 28 years.)

The lease amendment was passed four to one—Diaz voting no. After the vote, Dennis Snyder got up to leave, Ed Gallo waved at him—as if to say here’s to you, Coach. The crony-capitalist good ole boy society is alive and well in Escondido.

A Question of Who’s Bullying Whom?

It’s been over a week, yet I still get a bit upset when I think about one women’s “oral communication” at the January 24th City Council Meeting. She spoke of her daughter who was half American Indian “on her father’s side” and looked Hispanic. Her daughter, she claimed, had been bullied by illegal immigrants who had accused her daughter of being a disgrace to her race, and acting white. She then said two sons of her mother’s gardener who did well in school had been bullied by gang recruiters. All these bullies, she insisted were now “dreamers”. And Paul McNamara, who was “running for Mayor against Sam” as a member of the Governing Board of Palomar College had declared the college a sanctuary. Of the three million dreamers only 900 were in the military, only 44% had graduated from high school, and they were eligible for Medical, using taxpayer dollars. She encouraged people to vote Republican, and not for the “traitor” McNamara.

This was upsetting because she gives voice to an attitude shared by so many supporters of Mayor Sam Abed and his male colleagues. Her daughter was bullied by “Mexicans”, how does she know they were not born in this country? Does she have any idea of how brown people are routinely looked down upon and demeaned by Anglos? Talk about bullying! Perhaps she should ask her daughter.

Only 900 in the military? Does she not understand that immigrants aren’t usually allowed to join the military, only those who have enrolled in DACA were granted special permission, in 2014, to enlist. While it is true that there are over three million immigrants eligible for DACA only 800,000 signed up for the program.

Only 44% have graduated from high school? Yes, well 31% of those eligible for DACA are still in high school. Twenty percent are now enrolled in college, those who have graduated from high school but are not enrolled in college make up 33%; 11% have completed some college, and 5% have completed a bachelor’s degree. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/…/DACA-Occupational-2017-FINAL.pdf

I’m sure Paul McNamara would be surprised to learn that he alone of the six member of the Governing Board of Palomar College acted to declare the college a sanctuary for dreamers.

To call Paul McNamara a traitor is beyond the pale. He served for over 27 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring at the rank of colonel. He served in Beirut, Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War, and in Operation Desert Storm, risking his life for the nation.

Throughout his years as a Councilman and Mayor, Abed has played to anti-immigrant people like this woman. He voted for the ordinance (later overturned by the courts,) that basically would have made Escondido landlords ICE agents. He enthusiastically supports the cooperation given by the Escondido Police Department to ICE, which has given Escondido the nickname of Little Arizona. He voted to shut down the East Valley Branch of the Escondido Library, which served so many Latino students. His overall goal seems to be to make life more difficult for poor people in Escondido hoping they will move away, so the average income in Escondido will rise.

Abed is a bully, but his bullying is appreciated by people like this women who spoke so vehemently against McNamara.

Same ole Crony Capitalism

 

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.

 

 

“Newspeak” comes to the Escondido City Council

 

In its excellent editorial, the Los Angeles Times has pointed out the Orwellian trend of the Trump Administration, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-trump-climate-change-national-security-cdc-20171219-story.html. The editorial points out that this administration’s view is that it is the “anti-growth” policies to restrain global-warming that pose a threat to the U.S. security rather than global-warming itself as a threat.

Tonight, City Manager Jeff Epp, and Mayor Sam Abed also got a little Orwellian in their response to Councilwoman Olga Diaz’s question about Item 10 on the Consent Calendar: COMMUNITY SEVICES BUDGET AMENDMENT: Request the City Council approve modifying the General Fund Budget to delete the position of Director of Library and Community Services and add the position of Director of Communications and Community Services. She said she was unwilling to approve the creation of a new position that did not specify what salary would be allotted to that position. She was unwilling to sign what was basically a blank check. She pointed out that the salary for that position would obviously decrease the amount ($400K) of saving the outsourcing of the library was supposed to give the city. She moved to continue the vote on the matter until further information was made available to the council. Unsurprisingly, none of her colleagues seconded her motion.

Abed proceeded to mansplain to Diaz that it was up to the City Manager to determine the salary for city employees, the council only approved the brackets for employees’ salaries. In fact, he avowed, it was against the law for the council to interfere in such matters.

Diaz countered that Epp did need approval for the creation of a new position in the city. She noted that the city had already hired another assistant city manager, a move that seemed to counter Abed’s insistence that the city needed to cut costs to fend off the looming crisis of the unfunded CalPERS’ liability.

Abed insisted the Council couldn’t interfere with the city manager’s handling of personnel.

Councilman Mike Morasco asked Epp how the city was saving money if they had to hire another person after outsourcing the library.

Epp, obviously annoyed, patronizingly explained that money this position would come out of the general fund. If Diaz’s argument was valid, than any expense that the city added that came from the general fund would deduct from the savings of outsourcing the library. And, the salary for the position would be lower than the former position (Director of Library and Community Services.) He assured the council that the next budget would clearly indicate the $400K savings to the city.

Morasco concluded that it was Epp’s role to manage the city staff.

The item was approved with “three yes votes, Diaz voting no.”

So, Epp noted that the new position might have a lower salary than the previous Director of Library and Community Services, but he ignored the fact that the salary for the previous position was part of the calculation for the savings of the library. I’m sure that Epp will be nimble enough in his bookkeeping to wiggle the data to support his thesis of the $400K savings. Epp seems very fluent in “Newspeak”.

 

A very poorly negotiated, bum deal for Escondido, a very good deal for Maryland based LS&S.

The decision was to be expected, even Councilman Mike Morasco’s change to a yes vote, but I was still left profoundly sad. Not the despair I felt when enough Americans were fooled into voting for the complete AH Trump to elect him, just very down after Wednesday’s Escondido City Council meeting when outsourcing the operation of the Escondido Library was approved.

The tension on the council was obvious during the discussion of the budget adjustment for fiscal year 20167/17 (item 5). Councilwoman Olga Diaz, noting the transfer of $145K “to cover the Reidy Creek Golf Course operating loss” from the $3.3 million budget surplus. I wrote about this course: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2016/04/05/beware-of-developersbearinggifts-of-golfcourses/ . She pointed out that the course lost equivalent amounts every year, and that maybe it was time to consider another use for the area, maybe a park like Kit Carson. City Manager Jeff Epp responded that the city staff was already looking into other options for the course. Morasco said that the flooding of the last winter had definitely affected the profitability of the course. Abed said that they would have to look at every possibility to save money, but they needed to serve all the residents, and couldn’t just target one area. (Well, except for libraries—that’s OK to target, judging from Abed’s actions, not his words.)

City Attorney Michael McGuinness began the discussion about the library outsourcing by giving a brief history of the brief history of this affair (since June of this year.) He avowed that the Library Board of Trustees would still be in charge—busier than they’ve ever been. (Do they get a raise?) He admitted that there were no employment guarantees, but that LS&S had agreed to hire the current employees at their current rates—but, of course, not the same benefits. He had talked to the state about any possibility of employees of the library still being eligible for CalPERS. He had been assured that they would not be, but, just in case, there was a clause in the contract that terminated the agreement if, for some reason, the state deemed that they were still city workers eligible for CalPERS benefits. He then said that LS&S would be required to have measurable performance levels that improved upon the levels of 2016/17.

Diaz had some questions. Why was there a limitation of liability cap of $500,000 “for all claims arising from or related to this Agreement…” She had never seen such a cap before. Epp replied that it was to limit how much the city had to pay if the contract was breached and terminated. Well, for that matter, it limits what LS&S would have to pay the city for damages, should it, by its negligence, result in a loss to the city.

Diaz felt that the lack of clarity in the contract did not make it clear what the definition of “additional work” that LS&S would charge extra for, was. She objected to their ability to subcontract services—outsourcing the outsourcing. Well, that was probably only for things like janitorial services, McGuiness tried to assure her.

She noted that it was not at all clear what the contract meant when it said customer complaints could be referred to the “CITY’—was that the library board of trustees, the city staff, or the city council? Well, Epp replied, that would depend on what sort of complaint it was. (Meaning, he really didn’t have a good answer for Diaz’s question.)

Diaz also objected to the LS&S staff having city email accounts, since they were no longer a part of the city staff. She wondered why the city had to pay for IT services. She especially found it objectionable that there was a $137K cap on the annual amount LS&S would pay for utilities for the library. Utility cost were not something the city could control, and certainly none of the city’s other contracts had such a cap.

She objected to the automatic annual 3% increase in payment to LS&S. Why was there a volunteer coordinator position listed, when the contract specifically budgeted without the use of volunteers?  LS&S would have the legal ability to lower staff salaries. And, even though the contract required the library open for 60 hours a week, there was no guarantee that it would be open seven days a week.

Diaz ended with her observation that taking more time to study and refine this contract would not hurt anyone.

There were over two dozen public speakers against the proposal, and one for it. LS&S didn’t bother to make a presentation to the council—guess they knew they had the contract in the bag.

Elizabeth White pointed out that LS&S’s profit was as much as 33%, yet the amount budgeted for service (not including salaries) was not going to be increased, how on earth could the council think that the quality of service would not decline?

Laura Hunter noted that Jackson County was very unhappy with the service from LS&S, adding that the Escondido’s contract did not have a termination without cause clause as other cities’ contracts with LS&S included.

One speaker had gone to LS&S website to look at the job vacancies advertised and found that they were, for the most part, minimum wage jobs requiring only a High School diploma. The only job advertised for higher pay was for a high-powered sales job—so LS&S can con other cities into signing up.

Chris Nava was disappointed and outraged that the city’s published information had been so one-sided. There had been no inclusion of the Escondido’s Interim Director of Library and community Services, Cynthia Smith’s very well-researched, and very negative report on LS&S. LS&S was known for staffing their libraries with non-degreed staff.

Roy Garrett presented his analysis of the library budget, which indicated that the “savings” would be much less than $400,000 per year—less than $100,000.

Speakers pointed out that the petition against the library outsourcing had some 4,000 signatures, including people from all political parties. One speaker wondered why the city had approved spending $250K on fish for Dixon lake at their last meeting if the city was so desperate for money.

Breaking the mood a bit, Lara Hardin sang a song about the loss of the East Valley Pkwy. Branch.

Vanessa Valenzuela noted that the council had been sitting on the pension problem for six years, asking if they weren’t a little ashamed for not tackling the problem sooner. The ten-year term of the contract was unacceptable, as a Trump supporter had agreed, when he signed the petition against the outsourcing.

Abed began the Council’s discussion by stating that it was an emotional issue for “all of us.” Abed’s body language indicated his main emotion was irritation that it was taking so long.

Olga questioned the 5% fee that LS&S charged for procuring books for the library. Wasn’t buying books one of the main services they were offering? Why should the city be charged twice for the service? Abed insisted that because LS&S bought in bulk, they would save much more than the 5% they charged.

Morasco was concerned about the ten-year term. Well, McGuinness, explained, if they had limited the term to five-years, then there would be a 4% annual increase in LS&S’s charges rather than a 3% increase. That seemed to satisfy Morasco, but I was sitting in the audience holding up a sign that said “Poor Negotiation”. And was it ever. I doesn’t make any sense. If they can make 3% work for ten years, they can make it work for five years. McGuiness and company, probably with the Mayor’s blessing, bent over backwards for any terms LS&S demanded. Morasco also complained about the cap on utility costs for LS&S, and he too did not think the library staff, that would be solely under LS&S management should have access to the city’s email system.

Councilman Ed Gallo said that he had met with McGuinness, and had been very satisfied by the terms of the contract. The only thing that would change would be who the employees worked for, and that the Library Board of Trustee would still be in charge, and would have more work than ever. Gallo trusted the city’s finance department, and believed that there would indeed be a savings of $400K per year, plus more, since there would be no new library employees that would add to the city’s debt to CalPERS. There could never be such a thing as a perfect contract he insisted. He went into one of his stories, something about how when he first started out in real estate the offer to purchase a property was only one page long—now it was about twenty pages. Ignoring the fact that the complaints about the contract weren’t about its completeness, but lack of protections for the city.

Councilman John Masson said he had a passion for the library, but leaders had to get out in front and provide accountability. He felt confident that in a year from now everyone would be happy with the new situation. He read several clauses from the contract about how LS&S would work with the Board of Trustees, etc., ignoring the vagueness of what the “strategic plan” would encompass or ensure.

Diaz repeated Hunter’s objection to there being no termination without cause clause in the contract. She repeated her story of the one time she was inspired in all her years on the council when Masson proposed a new, better library in Grape Day Park. She told Masson that the city already had all the things he read about in the contract to be provided by LS&S. She did not think she could support a bond issue for a new library, because LS&S would probably use it to convince more communities to outsource and degrade libraries. She pointed out that the city was not the private sector, and could not be run as such. The council was breaking the trust the public had placed on them to provide services. She thanked the hundreds of people who had worked so hard to prevent the outsourcing, especially thanking Roy Garrett for pointing out the role that the library board of trustees was to play under California law. The contract was not ready, it had too many grey areas, too many things wrong with it. The council had not even given the library board of trustees the courtesy of looking into joining the San Diego County Library system, as the board had requested. She reminded her colleagues, that the actuary that had presented his analysis to the council about the CalPERS debt, told them the best thing to do was to pay more than they were required—just like paying off a credit card—and the council had not done that yet. She chided LS&S for doctoring photos taken in the library of empty shelves—by removing the signs on the shelves explaining the library was preparing a new selection. She warned that the quality of employees was bound to be lowered.

Abed thanked the members of the public for coming and participating, insisting he shared the same passion about the library. Using the 2017 Grand Jury report as an excuse to outsource—actually the Grand Jury repost basically concluded that Escondido needed a new library. (Of course, closing the East Valley Pkwy Branch in 2011 didn’t help.) http://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/dam/sdc/grandjury/reports/2016-2017/EscondidoLibraryReport.pdf

Abed defended the $250K fish expense by saying that lots of people liked to fish, the city had to try to cater to all of its citizens, and besides that money was not from the general fund.

Abed then repeated his misrepresentation that 80 out of 83 governmental bodies had renewed their contracts with LS&S. LS&S only has about 20 such contracts, many, like the contract with Riverside County include many branches which is where the higher number comes from. One of those contracts is with Jackson County Oregon, with 15 branches, and they are far from satisfied with LS&S. So it’s more like 65 happy campers out of 80.

There was some back and forth between the Council and the representative of LS&S, and evidently the city email would not be an issue, however the removal of the cap on utility fees would be something they would have to take back to their board.

Masson moved that the contract be approved with the proviso that McGuinness would try to negotiate on the utility issue. (What a whimpy motion—like Masson was afraid LS&S would not take the deal without this utility cap) His motion passed four to one, with Diaz voting no.

 

Abed Still on the Horns of the ECCHO Dilemma

There was an unusual Oral Communication at the October 11, 2017, meeting of the Escondido City Council. An Escondido Country Club resident actually spoke in favor of the New Urban West (NUW) proposal for building 392 homes, a clubhouse and other amenities, including permanent open space on 44% of the property. The resident spoke of the present vandalized, graffiti-covered, magnet for transients that the old clubhouse has become. He complained about the $500K the city had spent fighting and losing Schlesinger’s case against the city. He pointed out that although Schlesinger had lost his ballot Proposition H in 2014, those who voted against the measure only represented ten percent of Escondido’s total population. He said he was sure that Councilman John Masson and Mayor Sam Abed would oppose the development because they were in ECCHO’s pocket. He could only hope that Coucilwoman Olga Diaz, and Councilmen Mike Morasco and Ed Gallo would vote for the project.

I think that Abed hopes that too—that Diaz, Morasco, and Gallo will vote for the project. At his October 4, 2017 town-hall meeting, he again assured ECCHO members that he thought that 392 homes was much too dense, and he could not support it. I think that Abed would really like to have it both ways—he’d like to have the project approved, and keep his NUW buddies happy, but he’d also like to not go back on his promise to the ECCHO folks.

The ECCHO folks gave Abed a hard time at that town-hall meeting. Why had the golf course never been zoned as open space? Abed said he hadn’t been around when that zoning was developed. No, Abed wasn’t around when the golf course was developed. Nor was he around when several condo projects around the Escondido Country Club were approved, and the zoning increase mitigated by the open space of the course, as one ECCHO member pointed out. However, Abed was around when the new Escondido General Plan Update was developed, and approved by the voters in 2012. He was a big supporter of the update. The committee that developed the plan had been chaired by David Ferguson, the go-to lawyer for developers in Escondido. There was plenty of opportunity to correct the zoning of the country club at that time, but nobody noticed—not the city staff, not the fifteen member committee, not the Council Members at the time.

One Country Club resident asked “how could this happen?” She added that their rights had been taken away, Schlesinger had robbed them, and they just had to sit back and take it?

Abed must have been getting a little rattled. He stated several times that the country club was privately owned, and that the city could not just tell developers not to submit their plans, the plans had to go the planning process, and when they reached the city council, the council could deny the project. Abed claimed that he would only do what was right for the city, he was not concerned about the developers’ interest. (Which is strange since Abed runs Pacific West Consulting, a business that basically helps developers get their project through the planning process of cities or the county.) Then, Abed stated very clearly that, after all, developments did not produce enough in property taxes to pay for the new infrastructure and services the development required. This is on video—available to play back to Abed every time he exuberates over the benefits of new housing developments.

 

Library Outsourcing, a Breach of the Public’s Trust

 

And so, to the matter of outsourcing the library service. I wrote about Councilwoman Olga Diaz’s exposure of the possibility of outsourcing the library service at the June 14, 2017, council meeting: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2017/06/18/libraries-much-cheaper-than-jails/ .  It was clear then that Mayor Sam Abed and City Manager Jeff Epp wanted to sneak this matter by without much input from the public.

There was a great deal of input from the public. First at a meeting of the Escondido Library Board of Trustees on July 11, 2017. Over 100 people attended the meeting. Escondido Indivisible has a great summary of the meeting, the minutes, and much more: https://www.escondidoindivisible.com/2017/07/24/on-the-issue-escondido-public-library-privatization/  City Manager Jeff Epp briefed the board on the CalPERs system, and stated that the city might be able to save money by having part-time employees and contractors through outsourcing, saving as much as $400,000 a year. Then Library Systems and Services (LS&S) execs Ed Garnett and Dana Braccia made their sales pitch. They assured the board that they would offer every employee a job with the same pay—just no CalPERs benefits. Then some thirty residents including Councilwoman Olga Diaz addressed the Board with their many arguments against this outsourcing.

The Library Board met again on August 8, and heard a presentation against the outsourcing from a Master of Library and Information Science student, Whitney McCoy. Her excellent presentation is also on the Escondido Indivisible website. Again more citizens spoke against outsourcing, and the Library Board voted unanimously to oppose such outsourcing. The Library Board held a special meeting on August 15, 2017, to draft a letter about their decision to the City Council. Their letter summarizes the massive public input:

During the process of considering the possible outsourcing of library services, the Board listened to a presentation from Library Systems & Services (LS&S), received and read 64 letters & emails from community members, and heard 58 community members speak directly to the Board during the last two Trustees meetings, which were attended by over 250 citizens. We also received an 81-page petition with 1,000 signatures, and a separate online petition containing 576 signatures opposing outsourcing EPL. In all communications received from Escondido citizens, one person had been in favor of outsourcing our library while all others were opposed.

The Library Board felt that outsourcing would: 1) cause the loss of talented staff, 2) lose community support for the library and the city, 3) lose local control over library operation, 4) lose a chance to build a new library in Grape Day Park, 5) lose patrons passionate about the library and Escondido, 6) jeopardize the voluntary support of 218 individuals with a total of 29,080 hours of support equal to $701,991 of effort, and 7) lose support of the Friends of the Library and their bookshops annual addition of $75,000 to the library’s funding. (So, if you’ve been keeping track of the finances that’s a possible savings of $400K, versus a possible loss of about $776K.)

I spent several hours watching the August 23, 2017 City Council meeting. The meeting was covered extensively by the press—as you can see be scrolling down the above Escondido Indivisible site—as well as a tape of the meeting.  It was at that meeting that Roy Garrett pointed out that there are two provisions in the California State Code that specify that public libraries are to be managed by the Board of Trustees, and therefore, it is the decision of the Board of Trustees that counts when it comes to outsourcing. If the council approved this outsourcing, the city could be sued. Karen Tatge, president of the city employees’ union, also indicated that such outsourcing could lead to legal litigation. Altogether there were almost ninety public speakers. I counted less than five for outsourcing, one claimed the library was run by communists, and the others I remember, were current or former employees of LS&S.

The press did a good job of covering the response of the city council members, but I have some observations that the press would be reluctant to make. Yes, the press noted that Councilman Ed Gallo (who began the council’s response) said he was tired of listening to “crap” when the audience jeered him. Gallo’s demeanor made it clear during the testimony, and during his remarks that he was antagonistic to majority of the audience. In response to a question of one the speakers asked of the council, he said he had a library card, and had possessed a library card since he was a boy. He then explained that the city outsourced many of its services, including landscaping—so what was the difference between outsourcing landscaping and outsourcing a library? Sigh! Gallo may have a library card, but he doesn’t seemed to have used it much to widen his education. Gallo said he had spoken to two officials in Temecula, whom he respected, and they had nothing but praise for LS&S.

Mayor Sam Abed spoke next. It was obvious that the three hours of testimony had done nothing to change his mind. After all, he had gone to Temecula’s library, run by LS&S and had been very impressed. He had talked to people in the Temecula Library, and they were very pleased with their service. (All of Riverside County Libraries are run by LS&S. It turns out that the City or Temecula pays LS&S $180K extra each year to get all the services it wants.) He said that the city had to figure out a way to pay for the unfunded pension liability, and this would be an important step.

Diaz spoke next, very passionately, at times in tears. She began by suggesting that if Gallo and Abed thought so highly of the opinions of Temecula residents, maybe they should go represent the cititzens there. The audience applauded, and Abed couldn’t stand it, saying something about not wanting anyone to be intimidated. Diaz responded that she was not intimidated by anyone in the audience. The library’s budget, she noted, was less than ½ of one percent of the city’s budget. In her nine, almost ten years on the council, she had only been inspired one time, and that was when Councilman John Masson had proposed building a new library in Grape Day Park. Now this false frugality and misguided purpose would destroy the public trust. Library volunteers and contributors had told the Library Board and the city council that outsourcing would result in the loss of their time and donations. The council needed to listen to the community, ignoring their input would destroy any trust that the council had their best interests at heart. Yes, the city would need to handle the problem of the unfunded pension liability, but why pick on the library? The city had many real estate properties that were sitting idle—sell them. The city would be receiving millions back from the state in redevelopment funds, use that. Close down the Reidy Creek Golf Course that cost the city so much. Why pick on the library first? If the council authorized this privatization, she, she said directly to Masson, did not think she could campaign for a bond for a new library.

City Councilman Mike Morasco spent a good deal of time explaining how a City Manager run city, like Escondido, was governed. He said that several months ago, Masson had suggested to the previous City Manager Graham Mitchell that he look into LS&S, after City Councilman John Masson had heard about them at a League of Cities’ meeting. City Manager Jeff Epp had inherited that task, and had done his job. Morasco then spent a good deal more time complaining about being accused in many emails and other messages of being secretive about the matter. He said that the four men on the council definitely worked independently on the council. They never conspired. He took offense to the suggestion that he would be less than transparent or independent about any city council decision. He accused Diaz of having an activist “the end justifies the means” gene he didn’t have. He inferred that the activism that she had stirred up had interfered with the normal processes of the city. His head, he said, told him that the outsourcing was a great thing to do. His heart told him that it was asking the loyal library staff to swallow a bitter pill. His gut told him that all the controversy would make it difficult to pass a library bond in the future. Of course all of those talking organs of Morasco are really just his brain. And,  if he explored what should be a memory in his brain, he might remember his part in the closing of the East Valley Pkwy. Branch of the Escondido Library, and subsequent leasing to his crony capitalist buddy Dennis Snyder and his white-flight Heritage Charter School. It is that abysmal act that those who sent him all those nasty emails were probably remembering.

Masson said when he did volunteer work for the city, (and he did a lot of volunteer work for the city,) he didn’t do it for the people who were running the city, he did it for the youth and others he was helping, and because it made him feel good. He thought it was insanity to refuse to volunteer just because the management of the library would change. The only reason he wanted to outsource was to make the library better.

Before the vote, Diaz got in one final word. It had been a very poor public process, and it was more about a fairness gene.

As you probably know, the council voted three to two for negotiating a contract with LS&S, Diaz and Morasco voting no.

The arguments presented against LS&S were extensive and convincing. To me, one of the strongest arguments is the fact that LS&S boasts that it saves money by getting rid of items than are low in circulation. That would include classic novels—no more Jane Austen, no more Bronte sisters, goodbye Charles Dickens—and as for Herodotus, why would anyone want to read about ancient history by an ancient Greek? Any organization with such an attitude about saving money has no concept of what a library is about, and has no business running any library. Anyone who doesn’t recognize that fault in LS&S also has no business making any decisions about a library.

A Post-Vacation Rant

I have found it very difficult to write a blog since I returned from vacation. On vacation I could write about beautiful countryside and pleasant, sometimes funny, experiences. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been unable to escape the constant reminders that an ignorant, incompetent, adolescent twit of a Tweeter in Chief is in the White House. An adolescent who trades junior-high barbs with an equally adolescent and unbalanced head of North Korea, bringing our world closer to nuclear destruction than it has been in sixty years.

A Tweeter in Chief whose election was aided by a homicidal dictator, Putin. A dictator whose regime has also aided other efforts to weaken western civilization—Brexit, Marin le Pen’s Front National, Germany’s far right Alternative for Germany, etc. The collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian influence through social media is becoming clearer every day. (Yes I watch Rachel Maddow, but her research is impeccable.)

A Tweeter in Chief whose supporters continually live up to his comment in January of 2016 that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and his supporters would still support him. In a recent poll 49% of Trump supporters would support him after such an act, only 29% would not, and 26% are confused. http://www.newsweek.com/trump-voters-republicans-overall-actually-dont-care-president-shoots-someone-638462 I think than anyone with a brain who still supports Trump must be confused or living in a fact-free bubble. Such people consider real facts fake news.

Three category 5 hurricanes have devastated Huston, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and other Caribbean islands. Category 5 hurricanes supposedly have a 1 in 500 chance of occurring in one year. Three in one year, and the year’s not over. While global warming can’t be blamed for the initiation of hurricanes, the increased temperature of the ocean adds to their intensity. After years of drought, wildfires flourish in the west. Yet, 180 Republicans in Congress deny climate change and/or the effect that human activity, burning fossil fuels, has on that change. Billions of dollars in damage from these hurricanes and fires—and the Republicans are concerned that any effort to slow down global warming will be too detrimental to the economy. https://thinkprogress.org/115th-congress-climate-denier-caucus-65fb825b3963/

My own Congressman, a man who has some trouble keeping track of what funds he is allowed to use for his personal expenses, has called for a preemptive strike against North Korea. One would think that a combat veteran would think twice before suggesting a move that could lead to a nuclear explosion that could do more damage than all the bombs in all the wars of the last 20 years combined.

Even though the planet is in its sixth major extinction event, caused by too many people using too much stuff and destroying habitat, and even though San Diego County has more endangered species than any other county in the USA, several General Plan Amendment projects, including the zombie Merriam Mountain (now Newland Sierra) project are making their way through the county’s planning process. These developments will devastate hundreds of acres of natural habitat leading to more extinction. The notion that these developments, with houses that will start in the half-million dollar price range, will add to affordable housing is ludicrous.

And then there’s the Escondido City Council, where Mayor Sam Abed, Councilmen Ed Gallo and John Masson would have you believe that outsourcing the library service for Escondido’s remaining library would be an important step in solving Escondido’s multi-million dollar unfunded pension obligation. But that’s another story, for another blog.

Usually writing (I suspect this qualifies as ranting) eases my angst a bit. Not sure it’s working now—too much idiocy going on.