Price Comparison Shopping or Wheeling and Dealing?

Daley Ranch was a main topic of discussion at last Wednesday’s Escondido City Council meeting. Rick Paul, Treasurer of The Friends of Daley Ranch, opened the subject under Oral Communications, at the beginning of the meeting. He noted the history of the ranch, which was purchased by the City of Escondido in 1996 for parkland. In 1997, the city received approval from state and federal agencies to establish the ranch as a conservation land bank. That is, when a new building development damages natural habitat, the developer is allowed to mitigate that damage by purchasing credits from a conservation land bank, such as Daley Ranch. For more information see: It was city policy to put all revenue from the sale of such credits, over and above what was necessary for maintaining the park, into a fund to expand or improve the park.

Paul explained that the fund had been used over the past few years to do major improvements to Daley Ranch. But, when former Mayor Sam Abed and the previous council found out that the use of the Daley Ranch revenue was a matter of policy, not ordinance, they acted to divert the income from Daley Ranch into the city’s general fund. Paul added that, if there had not been a change of the fund’s distribution, there would have been enough to buy an adjacent property—a property now being considered for development.

The next discussion about the ranch occurred during Consent Calendar Item 4: Request to Authorize Sale of Daley Ranch Mitigation Credits which had been pulled by the public and the council. Consent Calendar items are supposed to be fairly mundane items that ordinarily do not require discussion, such as approval of the minutes. (Well, actually the approval of the minutes was also pulled for discussion during this meeting—but that’s another issue for another blog.) So, when I see items like this on the Consent Calendar, I suspect someone hasn’t given the item the priority it deserves.

Attorney David Ferguson spoke first. He said that he had spoken to his clients, the developers of the North Ave. Estates project, and potential purchaser of the mitigation credits. Ferguson had suggested that instead of paying the Fallbrook Land Conservancy $290,250, they should pay the City of Escondido that amount for 8.15 habitat credits. Ferguson had been successful, and glad that he had been instrumental in being able to enrich Escondido’s coffers by over a quarter of a million dollars.

Now in the description of this item on the Agenda, it is clearly stated that “[t]he proposed sales price represents a discount of $166,926 from the established Daley Ranch credit prices…” This price had been approved by the former council last January.

Rick Paul spoke again. He had reached out to the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, and asked them if they knew how much money they had left on the table with their proposed $290,250 sale. They did not know. Paul said he did not care whether Fallbrook or Escondido received payment for the credits, but to proceed with this sale would set a terrible precedent for the city, leaving the city open to future lowering of the land bank values. If the council voted against the item, Paul believed that Fallbrook would also ask a higher price.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz noted that Fallbrook decided pricing on a case by case basis. She also noted that at that January meeting the council had acted to prevent the underground market of mitigation credits by their ordinance that requires 75% of any profit that buyers of their mitigation credits make from resale to be returned to the City of Escondido.

Councilman John Masson said he would abstain as he had previously worked for this developer.

Councilman Mike Morasco said he felt it was not acceptable to accept hearsay. Ferguson said that if the city said no, the developer would go back to Fallbrook, but that if the city did so proceed it would be the last time he ever tried to do anything nice for Escondido. Morasco was assured by staff that the price of $290,250 was not an outlier of pricing.

Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez said she was not familiar the issue, and wanted more information.

City Manager Jeff Epp pretty much argued that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. It would be an immediate $300K or so in the General Fund.

Diaz said she felt it would be a mistake to not stick to the standards agreed to by the council and city staff, she did not want to cheapen the product.

Morasco noted that the city had a lot of credits to sell, and had not sold much since they had raised the price, and all markets will vary.

Assistant City Manager Jay Petrek explained that when the city had determined what the price of the credits should be last January, they had based their calculations on published pricing, adding that many conservation blanks did not publish their pricing, and that there was a lot of wheeling and dealing.

Diaz protested any such wheeling and dealing over this limited commodity.

Petrek said it was a matter of price comparison shopping.

Mayor Paul McNamara asked Petrek to explain again how the city had derived the pricing for the mitigation credits. After Petrek responded, McNamara said he believed that this was a commodity that was limited, and the price unlikely to decrease.

Epp said that the city had an ample supply, and might not see another offer for years.

McNamara said that was a chance they would take.

The item failed with “three no votes, Morasco voting yes, Masson abstaining.”

I feel a bit sorry for Ferguson. I believe he really thought he was doing the city a favor. His client would certainly not see any saving by buying their credits from Escondido rather than Fallbrook. Had the old council still been in place, I’ve no doubt that the council would have approved this measure. I can’t say I blame Ferguson for his reluctance to “do a nice thing for the city of Escondido.” But, I’m glad that the new council is making decisions independent of the “good ole boy” philosophy that has so long reigned in council decisions.


It was Grand

It was grand. The Escondido City Council’s Special Meeting tonight was grand. From the Escondido Police and Fire Color Guard’s flag salute to the Mariachi band playing under the dome, after the meeting, it was grand.

Mayor Sam Abed opened the meeting. After the flag salute, the Escondido Center Chorale led us all in the National Anthem. Even the invocation was refreshingly non-sectarian.

There were four members of the public who spoke under “oral communication”.

Michael McSweeney, Sr. Public Policy Adviser for the Building Industry Association of San Diego County spoke first, insisting he wasn’t there to represent the BIA, but to praise the staff for their aid in assisting his work with the Housing Collaborative, an organization that works to provide housing for people with developmental disabilities.

A representative of the new State Senator Brian Jones invited everyone to the opening of his new office in El Cajon.

Rick Paul said he was optimistic about Escondido’s future. Paul noted that he had run against Councilman John Masson four years ago, but had since found Masson to be a good representative of his district, and was happy to vote for him. Paul also said he had a great respect for Councilman Mike Morasco.

Greg Angela, CEO of Escondido’s Interfaith Communities thanked the city staff and council for all their aid for the homeless.

The final speaker, after apologizing for introducing a sour note in to a celebration, complained about the state of the library.

After the City Council certified the election results with “five yes votes” City Manager Jeff Epp presented the outgoing Mayor Abed and City Councilman Ed Gallo with plaques from the city staff. Epp noted that Escondido was a full service city, with its own police, fire, water departments, etc., with 1000 employees. The city depended on direction from the city council. Council members received between 20 and 30 complaints from the public daily, and the public constantly told the council how to do their jobs and spend taxpayer money. Abed and Gallo, Epp said, had always responded to the public, and had always been very supportive to the city staff, often thanking them for their work.

Then it was time for “COMMENTS FROM OUTGOING OFFICIALS”. Gallo began, saying it felt like deja vu all over again. He had been there before. (He lost to Olga Diaz in the 2008 election. That was before there were district elections. He then won a seat back in 2010.) He thanked his family, spoke of his 26 years in public service, bragged of balancing the city’s budget without using reserves resulting in the upgrading of the city’s credit rating, the city’s rapid removal of graffiti, and that Escondido was no longer the city with the lowest average income in the county. He ended his comments with a tearful quote about only passing through this life once, showing kindness and doing good to the audience by not deferring or neglecting his conclusion.

Mayor Sam Abed was not so kind or good. As far as I can tell, he reiterated his state of the city and campaign speeches, leaving no detail unmentioned. He added that he always was focused on doing what was good for the city and its citizens, not on getting re-elected. He ended by recommending that citizens should return to the values of the Founding Fathers of respect and love, and more civil discourse. That comment about civil discourse was too much for some in the audience who, very uncivilly, yelled their disagreement. Abed restored order, and soon concluded his “comments”.

Then came the moment most of us came for, the swearing in of the new council members. The Honorable Judge Sim von Kalinowski administered the oaths, beginning with our new Mayor, Paul McNamara, who took the oath with his family by his side. The audience broke into applause, and other expressions of approval. At that point, as Abed’s name plate was replaced by his, McNamara took over the meeting.

Consuelo Martinez was then sworn in, with her family behind her. Then the jubilation of the crowd in the hall exploded in loud exaltation. Finally, there was a council that was more representative of Escondido’s citizens. I can’t remember being around such joy since 2008, when I was in the Escondido Democratic Office with other Democrats and the election was called for Obama.

Then it was re-elected Councilman John Masson’s turn. His family was not present. He looked a bit worn. Don’t think this moment was as happy for him as it was for Martinez or McNamara.


Martinez did an amazing job of thanking her family, campaign, and her goals for the city, including uniting the city into one community, and reaching out to all neighborhoods, in both English and Spanish, smoothly transitioning from one language to the other.

Masson thanked his family and the voters in District Two.

McNamara began with a graceful thankyou to Abed and Gallo for their years of service. He thanked the citizens for their support. He said that the city did face challenges, but those challenges would be solved by everyone working together. There was going to be a lot of transparency and inclusiveness in the city. He thanked his family, and gave a special thankyou to his campaign manager, Nina Deerfield. Nina, he said, was the only other person, besides himself, that was certain he could win the election.

It was grand.

Rent Increases and a New Theater

Last night’s council meeting was a bit of a love fest. Mayor Sam Abed was present, and was very pleasant. He seems to have accepted his loss.

There were two short-form rent review hearings for mobilehome parks, and the second for the Sundance Mobilehome Park was the one item on the agenda on which there was some conflict.

I have written about the way mobilehome owners in Sundance have had to absorb the park owners’ legal costs for the long-form rent review process, as well as the owners’ increased property tax.  The combined long-form rent review increases averaged almost $300. For seniors on fixed incomes this is a large chunk out of their incomes. 

This rent review meeting was a bit unusual, as 11 of the 21 mobilehome owners (under rent control provisions of Prop. K) were present to object to the proposed new rent increase of an average $36.54 per unit. Having a majority of the mobilehome owners present to object to the space rent increase meant the council could reject the proposed rent increase.

The owner’s representative, Jeff Fisher, said he would like some verification of the presence of that many mobilehome owners.

Diaz noted the owners had already experienced traumatic rent increases. She again expressed her belief that the situation of the park owner’s property rights versus the rights of the owners of mobilehomes (homes that aren’t really mobile) presented a very difficult conflict.

Representing the mobilehome owners, Bob Wise quoted from the preamble of the Constitution, and stated his belief that the park owners were misusing Prop. K, to the point of elder abuse, cruel and unusual treatment, etc. He listed many ongoing problems with the park’s maintenance, and noted that the park owners had been required by the city to obtain four retro permits (permits for work that was done without prior required permits from the city.)

Councilman Mike Morasco asked Fisher why the park hadn’t obtained permits before doing the work. Fisher hemmed and hawed and said he didn’t have those details. Morasco scolded Fisher, noting that the time to have that information was at the present meeting.

Another mobilehome owner Susie Clark, who is a Realtor specializing in mobilehomes spoke. She had sent copies of mobilehome Multiple Listing Service information to the council, and emphasized the fact that the space rent in Sundance was around $100 more than the average space rent in Escondido parks.

Abed asked City Attorney Michael McGuiness to clarify what the council could do under Prop. K. McGuiness said the council could reject the request, or lower the amount of increase requested.

Morasco noted that a rejection or lowering the rent increase could trigger the park owner seeking a long-form rent increase. McGuiness said the owner could also try another short-form application. Morasco said he feared that a long-form rent increase process would likely be more costly to everyone concerned.

Councilman Ed Gallo said it was, and always had been, the nicest mobilehome park in Escondido.

Diaz thanked Morasco for reminding Fisher that he should have been prepared. She agreed that the short-form process was quicker, but the long form was more transparent even though there might be a greater risk to the mobilehome owners. The long-form process could clear the air.

Deputy Mayor John Masson agreed that Sundance was one of the nicest parks.

Abed repeated Morasco’s refrain about the long-form being more costly.

The rent increase was approved by “three yes votes, Gallo and Diaz voting no.”

The highlight of the meeting was item 13: “Conditional use permit, master and precise development plan and demo permit for 301 and 309 East Grand Ave.” That is, the remodeling of the old Ritz Theater, and the demolition and reconstruction of the building on the corner of Grand and Kalmia into a performance arts complex. John Masson’s company is involved in the project, so he recused himself from the discussion. Well, not so much a discussion as a celebration of the project.

The old Ritz movie theater was opened in 1937, and has a history that is typical of many such theaters, including a short stint (1972-1976) as the notorious Pussycat Theater. I didn’t move to Escondido until 1980—but the Pussycat reputation was still present. Morasco, who grew up in Escondido, said he couldn’t count the number of pairs of shoes he had lost going to the theater. (Referring to the sticky floors.) The city has done a nice job of recapping the history.  (Go to page 54.)

The project is being developed by the New Vintage Church, and there will be some religious services in the building, hence the need for a CPU. But, everyone who communicated with the council was positive about the project. Every public speaker from the head of the Chamber of Commerce to the folks at the next-door Patio Playhouse were elated. Both Gallo and Abed said it was a great way to end their time on the council.

I have to agree with Gallo and Abed for a change. This will be a great improvement to Grand Ave. I think Grand Ave. and the old neighborhood to its south, are Escondido’s greatest jewels.

It was another, for the most part, very pleasant meeting.

The Absence of Abed, a Positive Factor

Mayor Sam Abed was conspicuous by his absence at last Wednesday’s council meeting. I was trying to remember if I had ever attended a council meeting where he was absent, but couldn’t. I have been told this was the first time he had ever missed a meeting. His absence certainly made a difference in the atmosphere. Deputy Mayor John Masson ran the meeting—and he did a good job. He was respectful to all those who spoke, and moved the meeting along without making anyone feel rushed, or unwelcome. The change in the atmosphere was palpable.

Item #10: “Repeal Escondido Municipal Code Chapter 18, Article 2, Community Services Commission…” on the consent Calendar was pulled. Ana Marie Valesco, Laura Hunter, Chris Nava, and Patricia Borchmann all asked the council to delay the motion until the new council took office. They all agreed that public input to the city should be encouraged, and that doing away with the commission would close one avenue of such input.

City Manager Jeff Epp said that, when asked, commission members felt the commission was not working and that it was time to go back to the drawing board. Diaz said the appointment to the commission process, a political process, was a problem. She repeated her oft stated view that there needed to be more engagement between the community and the council. She would like to see the council make the commission work.

Councilman Ed Gallo said he took exception to blaming the commission’s failure on the political process. He felt the commission just made more work for the city staff and delayed matters. He said he had 14 days left on the council. Councilman Mike Morasco then joked that Gallo would probably spend the 14 days telling a story. Gallo was not offended. He added that members of the public speaking before the council shouldn’t give their address, because once someone who spoke before the council, and did give their address publicly, had their home egged after the meeting. Now, I have been very critical over the years about Gallo, but I have to hand it to him, he is a really good sport, and is handling his defeat with good grace, and can occasionally come up with good advice.

Morasco thought the item could be moot, since the new council could readily reverse their decision on this matter, but he felt that the staff’s recommendation and notation that the current situation can delay the city’s response to problems meant he would vote for the item.

Masson echoed Epp’s notion that there should start fresh.  Diaz said that rather than doing away with the commission, it should be remodeled.

The motion passed with “three yes votes, Diaz voting no, Abed absent.” It had been the most pleasant, civil council discussion I had witnessed in years.

Even though the new council is not yet in office, the fact that there will be a new majority on the council made a difference in the way the current council voted on two items. The first, Item 12, basically extended the time for a developer of a ten-unit subdivision off Bear Valley Pkwy. The developer proposes extending Lion Valley Road beyond its current cul-de-sac, into the vacant parcel for the development. David Ferguson, the lawyer for the developer, asked that the agreement not include the provision that the existing portion of Lion Valley Road be resurfaced after the construction process, adding that (exhibiting a picture of the road) the road was in very good shape. Michael Farr, representing the developers, said that repaving the road would be a burden and a slurry coat would be sufficient. Morasco questioned the staff about the need for a new overlay. Director of Engineering Service, Julie Procopio, said she was positive that after all the new construction traffic, the road would need repaving. Gallo said he liked the way the street looked, and didn’t think repaving the street should be a condition. Diaz wondered why the “Cash payment of $10,000 to be used by the City for infrastructure/roadway maintenance within Kit Carson Park” (an agreement the city reached with the developer) shouldn’t be going to the park closest to the new development, Mountain View Park. Director of Community Development, Bill Martin said that it was difficult to get funds to maintain city parks, and Kit Carson Park had immediate need for maintenance. The motion was passed with four yes votes—without any more concessions to the developer. I truly believe that if the old council had been reelected, they would have given the developer more leeway on repaving the road.

Item 14: “Climate Action Plan Update – Informational Report Status Update” was the second item definitely receiving a different vote. Several members of the public, who have been active in fighting global warming, had come to the meeting to ask that it be delayed. The Sierra Club had made several recommendations to make the proposed plan more effective. But their comments were not needed. Masson suggested that the item be postponed until the new council could consider it—and the rest of the council readily agreed.

It was altogether a very pleasant meeting. Abed’s absence made it so.


Bogus Threats brought to you by Threatened Pols

I have written before that Trump supporters tend to be authoritarian. His supporters are likely to choose the first answer in four questions about child rearing.  “…whether it is more important to raise a child to be (1)respectful or independent; (2)obedient or self-reliant; (3)well-behaved or considerate; and (4)well-mannered or curious.” I was responding to a piece that Abed had written for the Times Advocate. I noted that Abed was using the tool of fear, because research has shown that fear brings out the latent authoritarian tendencies in people. 

Now President Trump is using that same fear-mongering tactic with his ridiculous response to the “caravan” of Hondurans seeking refuge. He is sending over 5,000 troops to the border to “protect us” from these refugees—people fleeing violence and grinding poverty, coming together for protection—an alternative from being at the mercy of the infamous “coyotes”. Refugees of unarmed men, women and lots of children. A caravan about 1,000 miles from our southern border. Now, there may be as many as 7,000 people in this caravan. If it’s like a similar caravan in April only about a third will actually reach our border. And even if all 7000 should reach our border and ask for asylum or enter illegally—it will be a small fraction of the almost 400K immigrants detained at our border between October, 2017 and September, 2018 without any assistance from the military. Yesterday, Trump threatened as many as 15,000 troops. What a waste of taxpayer money! The military assessment of the so-called threat is that it’s not really a threat. The military does seem to worry about the “[e]stimated 200 unregulated armed militia members currently operating along the southwest border. Reported incidents of unregulated militias stealing National Guard equipment during deployments. They operate under the guise of citizen patrols supporting CBP [Customs and Border Protection] primarily between POEs [Points of Entry]”.

Trump wants to stir up the fear, get the authoritarians to vote. There are “unknown Middle Easterners” in the Caravan, Trump insists—without any proof at all. There’s absolutely no proof that anyone is funding or organizing the group other than Hondurans, but Trump allies would have you believe that it is the evil George Soros behind it all. He blames the Democrats for not passing immigration reform, even though the Republicans have controlled Congress since he’s been in office.  Trump wants people to fear immigrants as criminals, even though study after study indicates that the crime rate is lower among immigrants here documented or undocumented.

Congressman Duncan Hunter is now joining in the fear mongering with his disgusting assault on Ammar Campa-Najjar. Even the far-from liberal San Diego Union Tribune has found Hunter’s ads distasteful. That paper has published an article that explains Campa-Najjar’s history, and endorses him. But Hunter is just following the lead of Trump—make people afraid, get the authoritarian vote out, trying to visit the sins of a grandfather (who died sixteen years before Campa-Najjar was born) on the grandson.

Abed, Trump, Hunter are all using the tool of making people fearful, to bring out the vote of their authoritarian supporters. I can only hope that a majority of our citizens can see this ruse for what it is, a phony threat created by leaders afraid of losing votes.

Mia culpa.

The city’s statement on this indicates that the trees were disrupting the concrete around them. The site of those beautiful trees being cut down enraged me, and I overreacted. I have never claimed to be a journalist, but I do try to be factual. I was wrong in my conclusions about this instance.