A Little Action on a New Action Plan, More to Come.

I arrived, promptly, at 11:50 am, last Wednesday, for the Escondido City Council Planning Workshop, that had been scheduled to begin at noon, according to the city’s calendar of events. Well, actually what started at noon was the lunch for the council and staff. So several of us sat around chatting and watching people eat. The group in the audience were great company, so I really had a pretty good time, and can’t complain too much.

The workshop was an entirely different affair from the last workshop I had attended. Then the mayor and council were all seated at one table. At this workshop, the four members present, Mayor Paul McNamara, Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez, and Council Members Olga Diaz and Mike Morasco were all seated at different tables, and each council member was surrounded by the city staff heads of various departments. Councilman John Masson had recently undergone surgery and was unable to attend.  The agenda for the workshop was:

  1. Welcome and Introductions
    • Mayor
    • City Manager
    • Workshop Facilitator
  2. City Manager’s Comments
  3. Review Workshop Objectives
  4. Highlights of City Accomplishments
  5. Councilmembers’ Visions of the Future
  6. City Council Priorities
  7. Moving Forward
    • Next Steps for Staff
  8. Close

I think McNamara put his finger on the usefulness of the day, with his comments near the end of the meeting, when he said he would have preferred to do without the second, third and fourth items, and concentrated on what the councilmembers wanted as priorities, and how the staff would judge the feasibility of each of their priorities. It was clear the council members did not have enough time to evaluate their long list of priorities and vote on them accordingly. They did vote, using a “dot” method to indicate what their favorite, and their next favorite, and the priorities that could be put aside, (think that had each had five colored paper sticker “dots” for each category, but not sure.)  I couldn’t begin to tell you what was decided by that vote, since it wasn’t tallied.

In his remarks, City Manager Jeff Epp noted the history of the workshops, the first had been done without a mediator (workshop facilitator) and little had been accomplished due to political sparring. The use of the facilitator had eliminated that problem, and in ensuing workshops the council had been able to reach a consensus on their goals and priorities for the city.

The workshop followed a typical procedure wherein the facilitator, Dan Singer of Management Partners, would ask a question, then each group at the four tables, would reach a consensus on what their answer(s) would be. The first question was what factors help, and what factors hinder the successful running of the city. Not surprisingly all the tables came to the conclusion that clear communication between all parties involved was key, and the lack of that the greatest obstacle, and that there had to be cooperation, trust, and candor. It was clear that all these professionals were on the same page about everyone needing to be on the same page.

The next question called for each group to state their vision of an Escondido twenty years in the future. Martinez’ table was first to answer, envisioning a city that was welcoming of all cultures, treated people with dignity, economically robust, with public engagement, and a city with housing for all citizens. Diaz’ table also mentioned a city that treats all people with dignity and kindness, embracing all cultures and diversity, and a city that was visibly impressive—noting that not all gateways into the city were as attractive as they could be. She recommended that everyone present should visit the Friday night swap meets to see a really positive side of Escondido’s culture. McNamara noted that he had pretty much covered his vision in his State of the City, only mildly showing what may have been his impatience with the process, but reiterated it should be a unified city, with a good quality of life for all citizens, and a city that recognized and honored its historical roots, and agriculture. Morasco’s table envisioned all roads leading to Escondido, with a river park, a completed city that had annexed the unincorporated county “islands”, a city that preserved its agricultural and cultural heritage.

Before moving on to the city council priorities, Singer said that the council had to consider the context for such priorities including previous council directives, state and federal mandates, fiscal outlook, and workforce available. Then, Epp got up to invite all the heads of the city’s departments to give a brief summary of their departments’ achievements and challenges. Epp began by noting the chief challenge was money. Most of the department heads seconded his fiscal observation. Now for me, it was great to see and hear this group of obviously competent and professional city workers speak. I’ve often been impressed by the presentations they’ve made before the council, and they were equally impressive in what I think were unrehearsed comments.

Responding to the staffs’ comments, Diaz said that if they were having a problem with a state or federal regulation, or “unfunded mandate” to please let her know what specific regulation or mandate they were speaking about. That would allow her to address the lawmakers responsible for some assistance in mitigating the problem. She asked the staff to share their ideas about how the city could make money. Morasco also said the staff and council should look at how the city could enhance its income. Martinez thanked the staff for their comments, and noted that the public could help meet the city’s challenges, and she would always be open to hear new ideas. McNamara began his remarks by asking everyone in the room “are you busy?”  Well, I think I’m the only one in the room who indicated that I was not particularly busy—so he was able to make his point. Every organization or company he had every worked with had the same problems, using the available resources in the most effective way. He said he felt that the city had made a mistake by cutting the funds available to advertise the city, noting the old saw about a business should advertise in good times, but really advertise in bad times. The city, like any productive organization, must have a “can do” attitude. At this point it was time for all these busy people to take a break.

For a long-time council observer, the difference in this council and the previous was readily apparent. The previous council had established four goals: “1) Economic Development: Ensure the long term vitality of Escondido’s local economy. 2) Fiscal Management: Approve a budget each year, as required by state law, that ensures the City’s fiscal stability. 3) Neighborhood improvement: Improve aesthetics, design, land use, services, and accessibility to support community needs. 4) Public Safety: Maintain a safe environment for Escondido with high quality emergency services.”

When the council came back to consider their priorities, Singer was a bit taken aback when the new council members agreed with Diaz’ conclusion that the previous council’s goals weren’t so much goals, but what the council was expected to do—that is the stated goals were what was expected of them to do in their job. Goals should be beyond that. They should define what the council would do to improve quality of life, and how the effectiveness of the council’s actions would be measured. McNamara said that it was a goal to be a “go to” city, it was a goal to be a unified Escondido, a goal to be economically vibrant, and a goal to improve the quality of life.

Singer explained that in speaking with all the members of the council, he had gotten the impression that they were all happy with the previous goals, and would continue with them, just, perhaps, adding to them. He had handed out a long list of “action items” that were new, ongoing, or completed. At the end, the council members were asked to consider and vote for those items they felt deserved first priority etc. using the “dot” method.  The items varied from “upgrading the Kit Carson scooter park” to “a strong Climate Action Plan with true environmental and sustainability practices.”

But before that vote the council members added some more action items.

Diaz said she had been really pleased to work with the staff. This was the first time in her ten years in office that she had really had an opportunity to speak with staff other than the City Manager of City Attorney, and had always felt that approaching other staff was out of bounds. She looked forward to continuing this direct communication. One thing she would like to see was to begin to make the city staff more representative of Escondido’s demographics, making sure there were enough multi-lingual staff. She would like to see more of the staff live within the city. She would like to see more community policing.

Martinez suggested making Escondido the Soccer City in the region, since it was an extremely popular sport in Escondido, perhaps starting with something as simple as keeping the lights of the city’s sports fields on later. Morasco noted that Escondido was already considered the city of youth soccer. McNamara added that Escondido should be a city for all youth sports. Martinez added that she would like the city to develop a comprehensive housing plan for all income levels with some protection for renters.

Diaz also wanted to see the bike corridors completed, and the connectivity between neighborhoods in the city improved. She suggested allowing some of the city’s parkland be used for agriculture, such as a vineyard. She  wanted to look into the city’s relationship with San Diego in its current agreement to treat Rancho Bernardo’s sewage. If Escondido’s sewage capacity was at its maximum, perhaps San Diego could be asked to provide more resources. She also noted that the new lines being installed under the Escondido Creek floodways included an empty tube—could not the city sell that to COX or another tech company?

Morasco observed that the Bear Valley Parkway project was not really complete (as stated on the prepared list of action items) and would not be complete until it was widened all the way south to Peet Lane. McNamara said Morasco might want to be careful about what he wished for—as he had learned from officials in the coastal communities that Hwy. 101 had become an alternate to Interstate 5. The coastal cities had solved that problem by putting in lots of stop signs along the 101.

McNamara suggested that before the council voted for their priorities, the staff be given time to analyze the priorities, and give the council some sense of how feasible each priority was. Martinez said the problem was there were so many priorities too much staff time would be demanded. At least if the voted, the staff would be able to focus their time a little better. Diaz had enjoyed spending time with staff, but felt that time was also needed to be spent with her colleagues to develop what their plan should be. She and her colleagues needed more time to digest all the information. She was glad to feel that she was able to approach all the staff for help. Morasco said that he, unlike Diaz, had always felt he could talk to the department heads, and had never felt that he would not be welcome to do so. He could see that asking the staff to help with a personal problem would not be appropriate, but to ask for help with city business was always something he had felt comfortable doing.

And so, without any real discussion on the merits of various action plan items, the members voted, but with the caveat that their votes would not be their final decision. So, stay tuned. Hopefully the new council’s goals and action plan will be developed soon.

It was interesting to me to see how differently Morasco and Diaz felt about being able to work with staff. I think part of it is the “good ole boy” network atmosphere, so much a part of the previous council it bubbled over onto the staff. For years, Diaz had been to lone voice to counter the “good ole boy” arguments for business, of business, and by business. It is not surprising that she felt a bit unwelcome in such an atmosphere.

There’s definitely a new atmosphere in the city hall now. It is much more of the people, by the people and for the people.






Righting a Wrong

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.


A Change of Climate in Escondido’s Climate Action Plan Policy


There was definitely change in policy demonstrated at Wednesday’s Escondido City Council meeting. Actually a change in the atmosphere of the meeting too. It seemed much more open to participation by the public.

There were three such public speakers under “Oral Communications” at the beginning of the meeting. One young man had a complaint about a ticket that somehow had not been properly handled, and, as a result he had an inordinate towing/storage fee, what could he do to get the city to reimburse him? He was assured that if he gave the City Clerk his information, he would be contacted the next day, assured by the City Manager, Jeff Epp, directly.

The second speaker was Michael Allen, who advocated for the bullet train, saying if it could be completed, Escondido would be the only stop between Murieta and San Diego.

The third speaker was Richard Sanchez, who used medical marijuana to treat his pain from cancer, and encouraged the council to reverse the current prohibitions against medical marijuana outlets in Escondido. Mayor Sam Abed would have really bristled at this sort of request.

Now the council was respectful of all three speakers, and Mayor Paul McNamara was willing to let them go beyond their allotted time if needed. A very different attitude than the former mayor.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz pulled Consent Calendar Item 13, Consulting Agreement with PFM Asset Management, LLC to Provide Investment Management Services and Advisory services to the City. She wanted to know if the city could divest itself from any fossil fuel companies. City Treasurer Douglas Shultz responded, that might be a possibility. Had she made this request under the old council, she would have been severely criticized for such a suggestion.

Ken Lounsbery made a presentation about an arch that the Escondido Charitable Foundation, with a grant from an anonymous donor will provide for the city, if all goes well. The arch will go over Grand Ave. on the east side of Center City Pkwy. It will reflect the dome design of Escondido’s City Hall. The council all agreed that this will be a good addition to the city, and thanked the Escondido Charitable Foundation.

The discussion of Item 16: Climate Action Plan Update – Informational Report and Status Update, really spotlighted the difference between the old and new council. The previous council had, at every step towards fulfilling new state regulations to lower greenhouse gas emission and reduce the city’s carbon footprint, made it their policy to do the absolute bare minimum necessary. I wrote about one especially egregious meeting where this antipathy towards efforts to stem global warming was expressed: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/03/12/invective-and-ignorance/

Representatives of Sierra Club, Climate Action Campaign, Grow the an Diego Way, Escondido Climate Alliance, the Escondido Creek Conservancy, and residents all encouraged the council to adopt a plan with a commitment to 100% renewable energy sources.

Richard Miller Director of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra club, recommended that all new housing to be all-electric since the burning of natural gas was the third largest source of greenhouse gas emission.

Aisha Wallace-Palomares, a student at Del Lago Academy, pointed out that her generation was going to be affected, and argued for a goal of 100 % renewable resources.

Several speakers advocated for the Community Choice Energy program. Others pointed out that land use planning was an essential part of reducing greenhouse gases since sprawl development inevitably added to traffic emission.

Retired science teacher Jim Crouch said the time had come to pay attention to the science; yes, change was stressful, but not as stressful as the outcome of ignoring the science would be—consider how much greater the immigration problem throughout the world would be if entire ecosystems can no longer support human life.

Michael Allen spoke again, this time pointing out that a 2 degree Centigrade increase in global temperatures could mean the throughout much of the South and Southwest could reach temperatures of 131 degrees Farenheit, not just for a few hours one day, but for days—this is significant, because all animals will die at that temperature.

Councilman Mike Morasco began the council’s discussion. He had been in Escondido since 1959 and remembered days when he was unable to be active outside because of the smog, and noting that the actions taken by the state had worked. (OK, at this point I had to pinch myself, was Morasco actually praising action taken by the state of California?) Yes he was, and continuing that the city should do anything that was reasonable, and did not place a huge onus on families.

Councilman John Masson agreed that we should do anything we can to improve the air, as long as the economic benefits and pitfalls were considered. He went on to say that he though the windmills and solar panels had become an eyesore in the deserts.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she found the current discussion a refreshing change from the old “do the minimum” council attitude. She noted that in the past the city staff had not included environmental groups such as the Sierra Club in the outreach to the public for input into the Climate Action Plan, (CAP) and they should do so in future. She felt the city should re-evaluate their vehicle purchasing policy—certainly city jobs, other than the police, should not require SUV’s. Also, the city should discourage staff from taking their vehicles home to Temecula or Murieta. Absolutely, the city should investigate Community Choice Energy. The city should collaborate with the school districts and water districts in reducing the city’s carbon footprint. Land use issues must be considered. She noted that resisting change would result in a greater cost in the future, and their decisions should consider the effect on the next three generations.

Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez also advocated for  a bold plan for 100% renewable energy and Community Choice Energy. She suggested that the city create a Climate Action Commission to work on the plan.

Mayor Paul McNamara did not like the current low ranking of Escondido’s CAP, he wanted Escondido to be a leader. He argued that environmental action was not necessarily in conflict with economic progress. While he was governor, Rick Perry had seen the economic benefit that windfarms would bring to West Texas. The hitch in the windfarm idea was connecting them to the grid. Perry did this by socializing the expense of that connection, and now the windfarms in west Texas were a success.

And so the staff was given some new orders. Aim not for the minimum to fulfill state requirements but aim for 100 % commitment. Do more public outreach, including to environmental groups. Include land use issues in the CAP.

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: https://www.escondido.org/daley-ranch-conservation-bank.aspx 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. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-no-daley-ranch-20180202-story.html

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. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2016/08/04/another-major-rent-increase-for-sundance-mobilehome-park-tenants/ 

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. https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/agendas/Council/2018/12-05-18CCAgendaPacket.pdf  (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. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2018/06/12/be-afraid-be-very-afraid-of-authoritarians-who-stir-up-fear-and-hatred/ 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.”    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201702/childrearing-beliefs-were-best-predictor-trump-support I was responding to a piece that Abed had written for the Times Advocate. https://www.times-advocate.com/articles/dont-make-californias-mistake-and-become-a-sanctuary-state/ I noted that Abed was using the tool of fear, because research has shown that fear brings out the latent authoritarian tendencies in people. https://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism 

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. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/24/caravan-migrants-what-is-it-where-from-guatemala-honduras-immigrants-mexico 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. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/world/americas/what-is-migrant-caravan-facts-history.html 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]”.  https://www.newsweek.com/trump-administration-migrant-caravan-border-troops-1196855

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. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/five-myths-about-honduran-caravan-debunked-n922806  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. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-trump-immigration-murders-20181102-story.html?fbclid=IwAR0kWmpQJaoW19GUOkWVpRB-XObzGJADF-ZR9Qy-U7KkcZeJAECfbyligBM

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. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/editorials/sd-ed-50-district-duncan-hunter-campa-najjar-utak-20180928-story.html That paper has published an article that explains Campa-Najjar’s history, and endorses him. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/sd-me-najjar-family-history-20181030-story.html 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.