Some Observations about the Mayoral Forum

Except for the 45-minute late appearance of a candidate for the 2nd District Escondido City Council Seat, there were no surprises at the September 25th forum held the First United Methodist Church.

The forum started with the mayoral candidates, Paul McNamara and Sam Abed. McNamara thanked the church for hosting the event and stated his belief that the city’s potential was not being reached, and that it was known as “for lease Escondido”. Abed chided McNamara for tearing the city down—the city was excellent, and he had no idea what McNamara was talking about.  Abed made his usual boast that $2 billion had been invested in the city. Well, not sure where that $2 billion was spent—but it definitely wasn’t spent on Grand Ave, where 356 – 340, 249, 141, and 101 East Grand, and 101, 102-106, and 138-142 West Grand are all available for lease. http://www.loopnet.com/california/escondido_retail-space-for-lease/. With the proposed building and (at least temporary) loss of Parking Lot 1 across from the City Hall, the number of Grand Ave. vacancies will probably snowball  Abed boasted that “over 2,000 new businesses”, and “over 1500 new jobs” had been brought to Escondido. So, evidently, quite a few very small businesses. The only expansion of businesses I’ve noticed seems to be that of coffee houses—not exactly a font of high-income jobs.

When asked about the homelessness problem, McNamara observed that there could be no one size fits all solution, noting that the police were at the forefront of handling the problem. He advocated partnering with faith groups. Abed agreed that it was a complex problem, then went into to his usual “blame the state” game saying that recent laws had released hundreds of thousands from prison, thus the increase in the homeless population, as usual offering no data to support his premise.

The sale of the city’s parking lot was the next question. Abed insisted that nothing had been decided. Well, actually, the city has entered escrow on the sale of that property for “fair market value.” The decision to add 2,000 units where the parking lot was, was approved by the public when they approved the new general plan in the November, 2012 election Abed insisted. McNamara noted that Abed was again not listening to the people in Escondido, and he would stop the project if possible—arguing that what was needed was more parking, not less.

McNamara felt that the city should reopen a library in the East Valley Pkwy area, and did not think that outsourcing the library services was a good idea. Abed again insisted that the city had to outsource the library services to save $400 K a year in library expense and $10 million over ten years in pension expense. Of course during the period the city outsourced the library the city also hired new people in the city manager’s office, as well as hiring someone to oversee the city’s recreational and library services, making that $400 K savings very debatable.

Abed insisted that developers have to mitigate for any traffic impact their developments bring—yes, all of us who have lived in Southern California for more than a few years know how well that works out, not! McNamara noted that Abed and his colleagues had wanted to use the city’s parks to develop waterparks or bike racing parks—talk about traffic increase!

McNamara cited the success he had on the Palomar College Board in seeking other revenue sources to help solve the threatening pension deficit problem. Abed noted that he had been able to get the city employees to agree to the minimum pension benefits allowed under California law.

Both candidates agreed that housing was too expensive.

Abed railed against SB54, and how the city police cooperation of ICE had deported 2,700 illegal immigrant criminals. McNamara noted that SB54 did on prohibit cooperation with ICE on immigrants who had committed one of 800 crimes. Left unsaid was the lack of trust by the immigrant population that may very well lead to unreported crimes.

When asked to describe a time when they were able to bring a group of diverse people together, McNamara spoke of responding to 9/11 while an officer in the Marine Corps. Abed spoke of how much he and other businessmen on East Valley Pkwy. were able to improve the area.

Abed got a bit defensive when asked if public officials should profit from city business. He avowed he and his colleagues always abstained from any decision where they had a conflict of interest—to say otherwise was simply political grandstanding. McNamara answered with a simple “no”. There should never be any suggestion of a “pay to play” situation.

McNamara said that the solution to gang problems had to include looking at what caused the problem. He felt the police did not get enough credit for what they did. People should be given an alternative to gang life, many joined gangs because they felt they did not belong anywhere else. Abed felt illegal immigration contributed to the problem.

In summing up, Abed said he was very proud of his record and the city was on the right track. McNamara said the city had enormous untapped potential, the downtown could become a thriving community. Its leaders must not continue to regard recreation as an unnecessary expense.

More on the City Council Forum in a few days.

Memories

I attended tonight’s forum for the mayoral and city council races at the First United Methodist Church in Escondido tonight, and will write my impressions of the event later this week. But tonight’s appearance by newcomer to the race for the councilmember for Escondido District Two, Nicole Downey, brought back memories I would like to share. I don’t know what John Masson ever did to Downey, but I don’t think she likes him very much. I wrote a piece that was published in the North County Times back in November of 2012 when Masson was first appointed to the City Council. The one who accused him of being drunk and jumping into a pool, naked, was Nicole Downey. She made similar accusations tonight. But this was one of my better efforts—would like to refer you to the original piece in the North County Times, but all the old issues of that paper were “disappeared” when the San Diego Union Tribune took over, and dissolved it. So here is my copy:

Except for the accusation that one applicant for the council seat vacated by Marie Waldron had once, while drunk at a party, stripped naked, flipped off his audience, and jumped into a swimming pool, things went pretty much as expected at Wednesday’s Escondido City Council meeting.

Fateful agenda item 13, “Discussion and possible action or appointment to fill council vacancy,”  began with statements from the applicants, even though Mayor Sam Abed and Councilman Mike Morasco preferred to get the bothersome comments from the public out of the way first.  Councilwoman Olga Diaz was able to point out the logic of starting with the applicants.

Their comments about their backgrounds, concerns, and views included: strengthening Escondido’s infrastructure, praise of the current Council, need to increase revenue, praise of the current Council, eligibility due to being a 10th generation American, praise of the current Council, view from a new resident, being a third generation Escondidan, praise of the current Council, and need for graffiti removal. Several had strong resumes, including the two favorites, John Masson, the anointed Chamber of Commerce candidate, and Don Greene, the third highest vote getter in the November election. But, I found the most compelling speaker to be someone who wasn’t a candidate, Miranda Griffith, who spoke for her mother, Carmen Miranda. I’d like to see Griffith on the City Council.

Then the public spoke. The speakers who pleaded for either a special election for filling Waldron’s seat or the appointment of Don Greene, were intermingled with the “suits” who spoke for John Masson. The one surprise was a comment from highly respected Escondido historian, Carol Rae, that perhaps the appointment of Don Green would balance the Council between the interests of the business community and ordinary citizens.

Mayor Abed quoted the laws giving the council the right to select Waldron’s replacement.

Diaz suggested that the law was the minimum of what the civic obligation of their council should be. She urged her colleagues to suspend their haste, glean the most eligible from the list of applicants, hold a public forum where these applicants could be questioned by Escondido’s citizens, and then decide.

Morasco smugly asserted that any vote for him was also a vote to fill Marie Waldron sainted seat with someone with her values. It was Marie Waldron who initiated Escondido’s infamous proposals to make landlords immigration agents, and to restrict parking in order to discourage extended (read Latino) families from occupying a single family houses.

Councilman Ed Gallo argued that never before had an appointed council member been the third highest vote getter. Diaz noted that mindless adherence to the past meant that there could never be change for the good.

Gallo moved to appoint Masson. Hearing no second, Abed seconded the motion. The motion carried with Diaz voting no. The good ole boys won again, but for how long? Latino citizens have begun to organize. The times they are a changing, and the good ole boys aren’t going to be ready.

 

Parking in Escondido? “Someday it will get done.”

 

If you’ve ever been discouraged by the lack of convenient parking in Escondido, you will not be too heartened by City Councilman Ed Gallo’s prediction that “someday it will get done.” He was commenting at last Wednesday’s council meeting’s Item 8: DISPOSITION OF PROPERTY: 137-151 WEST VALLEY PARKWAY. Yes, that is correct, the city, with the current council majority’s approval, has entered into an agreement to sell the parking lot across from city hall. A lot that I have always found most convenient to downtown. If you’re interested in the details, you can see some of them on the city’s website: https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/agendas/Council/2018/09-19-18CCAgendaPacket.pdf .

The item was on the Consent Calendar. This is a group of items that usually don’t need much discussion by the council or public, e.g. approval of minutes, second readings of items that have been approved, but by ordinance, have to be covered twice in council meetings, minor budget adjustments, etc. Putting this item under the Consent Calendar seemed odd, but it was pulled from that calendar by the public.

Assistant City Manager Jay Petrek made a presentation about the proposed purchase. The buyer, Touchstone Communities, will pay the city “fair market value” (yet to be determined) for the lot. Another strange feature of this proposal. What they will build on the lot is also undetermined—another unusual facet. On Touchstone’s website they have a picture of a six-story building which they describe as  “two brand new residential projects, which will bring additional parking to the area.” http://touchstonecommunities.com/portfolio-posts/downtown-escondido-redevelopment/  Well, actually, in the proposal they are only required to provide 76 public parking spaces to replace the 118 spaces now available in the lot. To me, the suggested design looks like something you would build with Legos—very out of step with the buildings on Grand Ave.

After Petrek’s presentation, Councilwoman Olga Diaz had some questions. Was there ever, in the city’s history, an example of the city entering into a contract without knowing the sales prices, or what would actually be built? She wanted to be consistent in her decisions and felt this proposal was totally inconsistent with prior city policy.

City Manager Jeff Epp answered that their sales agreement of the old police department building had been entered into without a complete plan for what would be built. Diaz responded that agreement had some structure to it—this proposal had none. Mayor Sam Abed interrupted with the assurance to Diaz that the city wasn’t selling the property with this agreement. City Attorney Michael McGuinness explained that, actually the city was selling the property, but could back out of the deal if they did not approve of the appraisal—as could Touchstone.

Five members of the public spoke about the proposal. Robert de Fillippi, owner of the restaurant on Grand by that name, noted that his restaurant added many thousands of dollars in sales tax to the city’s budget. Taking away that parking lot, would kill his business as well as others. Jim Crone, who owns a lot of Escondido’s business property, including two buildings on Grand, concurred, noting that Mike Morasco would not be happy if Dennis Snyder were to preempt some of his parking for Morasco’s physical therapy clinic for Snyder’s school. A member of the Downtown Business Association agreed with de Fillippi and Crone. Maria Bowman said she would be very happy to see such development. David Ferguson, representing Touchstone, went into some of the details of the agreement, including a reference to a selling price of around $1.4 million.

Diaz said she did not like the item being placed on the Consent Calendar. In the initial discussion about the project there had been talk of a parking structure being built on the city’s parking lot at the corner of Kalmia and 2ndhttp://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-no-escondido-touchstone-20170630-story.html That was no longer on the table, apparently. She was opposed to the way the project was being approached, reiterating her comments on the lack of precedent for approving an agreement without much information about what the end product or sale price would be. She felt there should be much more allowance for public comment. If there were problems with the project later in the process, the developers would use the argument that they had done so much it would be unfair to deny them a chance to finish.

And then she pointed out what she felt was a big hurdle against the project, Councilman John Masson’s engineering firm’s participation in the project. Now Masson had recused himself from the discussion and vote on the project, and had done so in previous closed session meetings where the project was discussed. But, Diaz pointed out, in the ethics class she had just taken, as recommended by the city staff, that very scenario was discussed and concluded to be unethical. This could leave the city open to a lawsuit and invalidate every action the council took on the matter.

Gallo allowed that anyone who was involved with real estate knew that the buyers first determined the entitlements on a parcel before trying to build anything since they didn’t want to buy a pig in a poke. He did not explain why that process required the actual signing of a sales agreement before determining the feasibility, or why an appraisal and price couldn’t be determined before opening escrow. He then philosophized about the parking problem in the city, noting that in his own tracking of parking availability, he had never observed a time when there wasn’t plenty of parking in the lots. He then expressed his belief that a lot of the parking problem was due to the usurping of good parking by the retail stores’ owners and employees.

Councilman Mike Morasco didn’t think that the process had been “the opposite of transparent.” The council was not trying to “slip one by”. He elaborated on this “not clandestine” theme for a bit, and said that putting something on the Consent Calendar was not trying to hide it—since it could always be pulled. Then he echoed Gallo’s sentiment that parking was always a problem, maybe diagonal parking?

Abed said he wanted to address the trust issue. According to the City Attorney, Masson’s actions were perfectly all right, and putting McGuinness on the spot by asking for his agreement. An obviously uncomfortable McGuinness said that was true as far as he had observed. At one time or another, Abed continued, everyone on the council had a conflict of interest including Diaz, whose husband had worked on the police force. He admitted that there were issues with parking, but there would need to be a transitional parking plan.

Diaz said again that she disagreed with the process, and that elected officials making a profit on a project was a problem, as she learned in her ethics class. She was not accusing anyone of wrongdoing, but felt the situation was one that could lead to future litigation for the city. She noted that when her husband had worked for the police department and she was on the council, the situation had been reviewed by the legal department in depth, and it had been decided that there were so many layers between her position, and the position her husband held, there would be no conflict. In this case, there were no layers between Masson and Touchstone.

As expected, the motion was passed with “three yes votes, Diaz voting no, Masson abstaining.”

Notes from the National Parks of the West

 

Banff Springs Hotel

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

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We arrived in this beautiful spot around noon today from Calgary. We’re half way through our trip.

We flew from San Diego to Salt Lake City last Wednesday, and spent the night in Ogden. The next day we drove up to Teton National Park. On the way, near Soda Springs, Idaho, we visited an historical site where you can still see the path of the Oregon Trail immigrants. My great-grandfather, William McCown and his extensive family, traveled over that trail in    1852.20180830_114436

I like believe that the Grand Tetons probably got their name from the branch of Sioux by that name rather than a French work for a part of the female anatomy, but that may be my feminist prejudice showing. They are overwhelming. We spent the night, and a considerable fortune staying at the Four Seasons. That was underwhelming. The last time we had splurged on a Four Seasons was about 18 years ago in Istanbul, Turkey. That had been a fantastic experience. In the Teton Village branch, every time you turned around, they charged for an upgrade. The food was very good, but about four prices.

There were no bears to greet us when we drove into Yellowstone the next day. The last time I had visited the park, I was about six years old, in 1951 (?), and I can still remember all the bears begging for food as my father drove our Desoto station wagon into the park. The only other think I remember from that first visit was the herds of buffalo and Old Faithful. Well, Old Faithful is still there, but we saw only to young male bison, and no bears. I’m sure the bears are much healthier now that people are no longer allowed to feed them.

We started our visit to Yellowstone at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The West Thumb is a portion of the Yellowstone Lake. There is no East Thumb, but there is a South Arm and a Southwest Arm. The West Thumb is thought to be a caldera from one of the many volcanic explosions in Yellowstone’s geological past. We learned that the thermal hot springs pools varied in color due to a variation in their temperatures. The most beautiful clear blue pools, aare that way because their temperatures are over 140 degrees Farenheit, and nothing can live in them.20180831_131113_001 (1)

We traveled around the northwest shore of the lake, then north to see the mud volcano, then back to the lake and west to Old Faithful. We too a ranger led tour about the history of Old Faithful, the Old Faithful Inn, and Yellowstone Park as we traveled around Old Faithful, which faithfully went off about halfway through the tour. I have a new phone, and was having a disagreement with it, evidently, while I tried to take a picture of the geyser spouting, so didn’t get a picture. The phone has a good camera, but it changes setting if I hold my tongue wrong or something.

We spent that night at the Old Faithful Inn in the older of the two wings—1920’s sometime. We ate dinner at the Inn, and the food was good and prices reasonable, and the wait interminable. As we were leaving the Inn the next day, the Steamboad Geyser went off—much bigger than Old Faithful, but not nearly as predictable.

The next day we traveled to the Mammoth Hot Springs, stopping along the way at many varied hot springs and geysers. The Mommoth Hot Springs terraces were one of the highlights of our visit.

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We then traveled east to Tower Fall and then south through the Dunraven pass to Canyon. The scenery was spectacular, and from the pass we caught another glimpse of the Tetons. In the foreground of this picture, you can see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.20180901_155315_001 (1)

We spent the night at the new hotel in Canyon, and again had a good, reasonably priced dinner.

The next day, before setting out to our next destination we took the Canyon Rim Road, and caught a view of the Lower Falls with a rainbow.20180902_083906

Now our next destination was to have been Whitefish on the west side if Glacier National Park. However, we found out that our Glacier National Park was closed due to the fire, so we made reservations in Great Falls, Montana instead. That way, we could visit the Canadian part of Glacier National Park, which was open.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Chateau Lake Louise

Great Falls Montana is a very pleasant city, with a definite western flavor. The stores in the strip mall near our hotel were very much like those you find in Escondido, but then, so did the stores in the strip mall in Airdrie, a town, really a suburb, north of Calgary, where we spent the next night.

From Great Falls we traveled northwest to the east side of Glacier National Park, and actually went through Saint Mary, the eastern entrance to the park. On the way we had some beautiful views, but then it clouded over, and was raining by the time we got to the Canadian Park, which was very beautiful, even though we couldn’t see very far up the mountains. Our best views were from Highway 17 towards the park.

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The drive from Airdrie to Banff was really spectacular, but our drive yesterday, through the Icefields Pkwy. northwest of our marvelous hotel at Lake Louise. The sun was in the wrong direction to take really good pictures, but I was able to get one that gives some idea of the magnitude of the beautiful views.

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This view is but a sample of the views along the parkway—they were all pretty amazing,

 

And this is a view from our hotel window here in Lake Louise.

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More Fear-mongering from the Right

I’m sure that the Paul McNamara campaign would be surprised to learn that he is going to build a detention center in Escondido and declare it a sanctuary city if elected mayor. That was what Melinda Santa Cruz, the first speaker under oral communications at last Wednesday’s city council meeting, claimed she had heard—adding that one would have to be really stupid to support that.

She began her comments with a strange anecdote about a friend who had a girlfriend who worked for the San Diego City Schools. Very few of her students spoke English, so therefore when this friend developed a case of bacterial meningitis it must have been due to his indirect contact with his girlfriend’s students? She said he wasn’t diagnosed until six hours before death. Did he die? Before she had made this outrageous statement, she referenced Dr. Michael Savage’s Diseases Without Borders, listing a long list of diseases brought by immigrants into the country, including chicken pox, T.B., malaria, as well as lice and scabies (which she did not differentiate as infestations.)

I would like to write-off the woman as a nut case—but I think that there are many in Escondido who have similar fears about immigrants, and Mayor Sam Abed and company are only too happy to stir up that fear. Abed is not shy about breaking the rules and responding to those who are critical of anything he does during oral communications from the public, but in the case of this woman’s outrageous statement about McNamara’s intentions, he remained silent. The fact that a detention center would be a concept that is totally contrary to a sanctuary city seems not to have occurred to this woman.

Just a few weeks before, at a City Council/Mobilehome Rent Review Board meeting, a man, representing the residents in a mobilehome park, during the discussion of a request for a short-form rent increase item, began his complaints about the maintenance of the park by thanking Abed for keeping Escondido from being a sanctuary city. Here’s a mobilehome owner subject to rent increases that are almost automatically approved by the Escondido City Council in their role as the Mobilehome Rent Review Board, still supporting Abed, even though Abed receives lots of campaign donations from mobilehome park owners, and consistently votes to support the park owners’ interests. His fear of immigrants evidently outweighs his fear of rent increase.

No matter how you look at the current political situation, here and abroad, the rise of extreme anti-immigrant rightwing political movements is basically about racism, and fear of “the others”. Rightwing politicians know that increasing fear of immigrants by outrageously exaggerated claims of their bringing disease and crime will increase the number of people who support their politics, as I pointed out in more detail in my last blog.

How can we overcome this fear? Education? There were two cases of meningococcal disease in San Diego County in 2017—was this woman’s friend one of them, or one of the three cases so far this year? https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/dam/sdc/hhsa/programs/phs/documents/Monthly_CD_Report_March2018.pdf   I’m sure this woman’s convinced that there is a major epidemic caused by immigrants. Never mind that it might very well have been an endemic source. It is spread by droplet infection—was her friend’s girlfriend sick too—or was her friend in his girlfriend’s classroom?

It’s been my experience that you can provide tons of empirical evidence to people who still support Trump, or Abed, but it’s like talking to a brick wall. Facts don’t seem to matter anymore—they’re written off as fake news. But I will continue to try.

 

Be Afraid, be Very Afraid—of Authoritarians who Stir-up Fear and Hatred

 

Mayor Sam Abed’s opinion piece in the Times Advocate https://www.times-advocate.com/articles/dont-make-californias-mistake-and-become-a-sanctuary-state/  has so many fallacies—it’s hard to know what to object to the most.  I will start with his comparison of the current immigration situation in this country with the situation in Lebanon forty years ago. Lebanon, under French colonialism from 1920 to 1943, had a government that favored the Christian minority, and the parliamentary structure in place was largely run by the elitist Maronite Christians. After the establishment of Israel in 1948 there was a massive migration of Palestinians into Lebanon, followed by another massive migration in 1967, tilting the demographic balance into one that was heavily Muslim.  During the Cold War, the Maronites were on the side of the West, and the leftist and pan-Arab groups sided with Arab countries aligned with the USSR.  The controversy ignited into a civil war in 1975. To compare our situation in Escondido with war-torn Lebanon is an outrageously false comparison—“…the cause of this anarchy and loss of overall sense of public safety is due solely to the passage of SB54…” Abed claims. Really? I certainly do not sense anarchy or feel unsafe in Escondido.

Like Attorney General Jeff Sessions before him, Abed claims that “SB 54 forbids the sharing of information or offering any level of cooperation between state and local law enforcement officials and federal immigration agents.” As pointed out by Politifact, this is another lie. An undocumented immigrant convicted a serious misdemeanor or felony—some 800 listed in SB 54, can be reported to ICE. http://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2018/mar/07/jeff-sessions/jeff-sessions-misleading-claim-california-bans-pol/  

Abed accuses the California Legislature of being “more concerned with making a political statement against President Trump than they are with the safety of those living in California and the rest of the U.S. They have been blinded by emotion and cannot force themselves to see the chaos that they have created on the streets of California’s cities.” Chaos on our streets? Where? When?

Abed is using a typical tool of those who would like to see an authoritarian state that seems to be his preference and that of other Republicans in their support for a president who insists he is able to pardon himself–an attribute of a dictator. That tool is fear.

In a study completed before the 2016 election, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams conducted a poll of 1,800 registered voters. He found that the way people answered four questions about childrearing was the best indication of whether or not someone would favor President Trump. “Specifically, he asked 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 https://www.times-advocate.com/articles/dont-make-californias-mistake-and-become-a-sanctuary-state/ These are questions that previous research has shown to predict how authoritarian a person’s outlook is. People who choose the first choice in each question, respectful, obedient, well-behaved and well-mannered tend to be highly authoritarian. They tend to be didactic—things are either black or white. They have no patience with ambiguity, subtlety, or anyone who disagrees with their view of what is right or wrong. They tended to favor Trump.

Other research has shown that fear can bring out latent authoritarian tendencies in people. https://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism   So, it is no surprise that President Trump, and Abed sound the alarm of fear. Fear from terrorist Muslim immigrants, criminal Latino immigrants—false dangers, but believable to authoritarian types who dislike change. Poor, poorly-educated whites who see the dominant place of pale-faces in society slipping away, are particularly susceptible to the drum-beat of fear sounded by Abed and Trump.

Evangelicals tend to have an authoritarian outlook, which may help explain what appears to be their illogical support for a twice divorced, admitted fornicator and constant liar. A man whose behavior makes Bill Clinton look like a choir boy. But when you consider the history of evangelism in this country, it is not as contradictory as it first appears. Since the eighteenth century, evangelicalism often embraces anti-intellectualism, considering it only necessary to read the Bible or, as the nineteenth century preacher Dwight L. Moody said “I do not read any book, unless it will help me to understand the book.” https://newrepublic.com/article/133488/evangelicals-like-trump

For those of us who wish children to be independent, self-reliant, considerate, and curious, this is a fearful time—not from any outside threat, or lack of cooperation with ICE, but from our own citizens, who seem so ignorant of how fascism arose in the past. Those who are familiar with the rise of fascism in 1930’s Europe, can see many parallels in this country today. That is the true threat to our country, not SB 54.

 

 

Self-storage Facilities, Carwashes and Bullies.

Last Night’s Escondido City Council’s meeting was not without its surprises, however, Items 4 and 5, short-form rent reviews for increases in the rent of rent-controlled mobile homes in two parks went as expected—the increases granted.

This in spite of the valiant attempt by the resident’s representative in the Casa De Amigos Park, Meryl Burke. She pointed out a few problems with the amenities, and untrimmed pine trees that were creating messes. Many of the affected residents were living on a fixed income, Social Security, and the $23 increase was a significant increase for them.

After the council discussion, in which Councilwoman Olga Diaz pointed out that unless 50% of the residents of rent-controlled homes showed up at the council meeting to complain, the council was pretty-much obligated to approve the short-form increase. Burke was given another chance to speak and noted that since many of the affected residents were elderly and disabled, getting 50% to the meeting would never happen.

Diaz inquired of staff about the senior rental subsidy that the city offered and was informed that since the loss of redevelopment money, all the funds for the subsidies was being used by seniors already accessing the funds. Diaz also noted that some park owners offered their own assistance to such seniors, and the park’s manager nodded his head—but whether the owner will offer such assistance is an open question. At previous meetings, Diaz has argued that the residents should be allowed to submit written statements rather than having to be physically present at the meetings, but her arguments were lost on her colleagues.

I was sort-of half paying attention during the staff presentation of Item 8: Amendments to the Escondido Zoning Code, …to limit self-storage facilities and maximize the city’s ability to exercise discretionary review of self-storage facility applications. Basically, this makes it necessary for any new storage facility to obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) which demonstrates that it will economically benefit the city. At the present time there are 17 self-storage facilities in Escondido, and three that are approved to be built. It seems to have finally occurred to the city staff and council that these facilities do not provide much sales tax, property tax, or employment to the city. Mayor Sam Abed was praising the wisdom of the item, when he said something that totally grabbed my waning attention. He said that even though it was generally argued that the free market was the best solution, the free market does “not work”. In fact, he almost yelled that last bit. Will be nice to remind him of that statement.

Item 9 was pretty-much the same as Item 8, except it addressed car washes rather that storage units. The Council had made news two weeks ago when it placed a moratorium on the building of car washes. As J. Harry Jones pointed out in his article, a proposed car wash on Broadway had reached the point of almost being approved when the moratorium was passed. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-no-carwash-moratorium-20180503-story.html  After the staff had completed their presentation, the developer of that proposed carwash, Neil Capin, pointed out that the property he wants to build on has sat vacant for ten years, and argued the city would receive benefit from his project if the council would grandfather his approval.

Councilman John Masson asked staff how much more would be required from Capin if his project was not grandfathered. He was told it would need more review, and would require a CUP. Councilman Ed Gallo said he had visited the area again, and noted that in the immediate area there were car dealerships and a parking lot, and, in his view, the car was would dress up the area a bit.

Diaz was explaining that she felt the city should be fair, and that Capin’s project should be grandfathered in, or, at least, he shouldn’t have to pay the additional fees, when she was interrupted by Abed. Abed insisted that the council was only discussing the item, not discussing a particular project and that Diaz was out of order. Diaz objected. They appealed to City Attorney Michael McGuinness who said that the “chair” (Abed) did have a right to direct the discussion.  Diaz said to Abed, “you can interrupt me, got it.”

Then Masson also said he felt it was wrong not to grandfather Capin’s project, and was also interrupted by Abed (although not as quickly as Abed had interrupted Diaz.) Masson was undermining what the council had decided two weeks ago, Abed insisted. Masson said that the council could take any action they wanted. Abed repeated his undermining claim. Abed then went on to insist that the carwash proposed by Capin was right in the middle of downtown, and the council should consider the noise and traffic it would produce, etc., etc.

Councilman Mike Morasco tried to calm thing a bit, by asking City Manager Jeff Epp if there was some way they could require Capin to do a bit more to screen the noise and improve the looks of the project without making him go through the CUP process. Epp and McGuiness both said that the only thing the council could do for Capin would be to grandfather his project.

An obviously riled Abed said he had never seen this before, the council was completely undoing what they had agreed to, two weeks before.

Diaz asked if it would be possible to delay the date the zoning change was implemented, providing a time gap that would allow Capin’s project to finish the previous approval process. No, she was told, in a rather lengthy explanation.

Abed again insisted they were defeating their goal, and neighboring businesses would have to deal with the noise and traffic. Diaz noted that Abed had once approved a carwash in a residential area, where neighbors would have to put up with the noise and the traffic. Well, that was different, Abed claimed. To grandfather in Capin’s carwash would contradict their vote two weeks earlier.

Diaz asked McGuiness if their moratorium decision committed the Council to stop all unapproved car wash project. McGuiness said no.

Diaz moved to approve Item 9, while grandfathering in Capin’s project. The motion passed, “Abed and Morasco voting no.”

This argument points out another similarity of Abed to Trump. They both are bullies. They both want complete loyalty from their staff. It wasn’t until after McGuiness was sure of some support by the other council members, he had the courage to say something he knew Abed wouldn’t want to hear—that the moratorium did not mean Capin’s project could not be excepted.

Trump and Abed, two good ole boys together

 

So, Mayor Sam Abed is going to Washington to meet with Trump as a reward for Abed’s fight against California’s AB 54 the so-called sanctuary state law. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/sd-no-white-house-20180510-story.html  I wrote about Abed’s position in my last blog: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2018/04/11/ego-hubris-and-the-curious-amicus-curiae/   Well, Abed and Trump have quite a bit in common, especially their factually-challenged views on immigrants.

Trump is the first President in the current era, not to put all his holdings in a blind trust, or to publish his tax returns. As The Economist reported as early as July, 2017, the room rates of Trump’s hotels in the USA were increased as much as 40% after his election. https://www.economist.com/news/business/21725303-six-months-mr-trumps-conflicts-interest-look-even-worse-how-donald-trump-monetising 

After Trump secured the Republican nomination, the number of buyers of Trump properties that were limited liability companies (that allow the actual purchasers to hide their names) jumped from 4% to nearly 70%. The profits from the sale of those properties goes to a trust that is managed by Trump’s sons, but, as sole beneficiary of the trust, Trump can take money from the trust any time he cares to. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/06/13/trump-property-buyers-make-clear-shift-secretive-llcs/102399558/  So, Trump is receiving unknown sums from who knows who. The public has no access or knowledge of what sort of back room deals are being made by Trump, or with whom they are made.

In the last few weeks we have learned that large companies like Novartis and AT&T paid large sums to Trump’s sort-of attorney Michael Cohen to—well we’re not sure why. But, it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t for Cohen’s legal knowledge of drug or communication laws. The Cohen story has more turns than the old Grapevine road from L.A. through the Tehachapi Mountains.  The Washington Post has put out a pretty good summary of the Cohen debacle so far: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/05/10/a-taxonomy-of-michael-cohen-and-potential-trump-corruption/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0319ca68ec93  . Every day seems to bring a new revelation about the financial benefits Trump is reaping from his position.

Abed is not in Trump’s league when it comes to financial gain from his office, but he’s all for it. Shortly after becoming Mayor, Abed started a firm, Pacific West Consulting, a “public relations firm [that] specializes in how to describe a project to elected officials and the media.” http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/growth-development/sdut-escondido-mayor-sam-abed-development-firm-2013mar04-story.html  Abed maintains that he never advises a developer client about any project that must be approved by Escondido. And that is probably true. But that doesn’t stop him from advising a developer about a project in another city or the unincorporated county, establishing a strong relationship with that developer, then voting on another project the same developer does want to build in Escondido. Nor, from voting on and approving projects that are represented by lawyer Dave Ferguson, whom Abed has advertised as part of his network for Pacific West Consulting. Abed’s actions are not illegal, but they don’t pass my morality sniff test.

I have written about the generosity of Abed and his colleagues in reducing the developer impact fees that would cover the drainage and traffic deficiencies in the North Broadway area, from $17,000 to $12,500. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/04/25/the-zenner-project-and-allocation-of-community-development-funds/  That generosity would appear to have been rewarded by campaign contributions, half before the vote on the project, half after. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/sdut-escondido-abed-masson-campaign-donations-stir-2014feb16-story.html  Abed may not have a Cohen working for him, but he’s doing okay on his own.

 

 

 

Ego, Hubris, and the curious Amicus Curiae

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I hesitated going to the April 4, 2018 Escondido City Council Meeting where Item 12: Request for authorization to support filing of Amicus Curiae brief on behalf of City of Escondido in United States V. State of California Lawsuit. I knew it would be a very contentious meeting, filled with negative emotions on both sides. J. Harry Jones has written an excellent summary of the meeting and the preceding rally: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-escondido-sanctuary-20180405-story.html   

As did David Ross:

https://www.times-advocate.com/articles/council-supports-fed-lawsuit-against-sanctuary-state/ .

In the end I went, and knowing it would be a very crowded meeting, I reached the chambers by 3:30 pm—an hour before the meeting began, joining a very dear Latina friend. As the chamber filled, I did a bit of visiting with old friends, and met a few new people. On returning to my seat, my old friend had been joined by a young Latina, whom she knew. We spoke of the overwhelming majority of Latinos in the audience, when the noisy, anti-immigrant Trumpers entered with their red-white-and blue raiment and MAGA hats, and took up a section near the front, directly between the TV cameras and the podium.

By this time, the chambers were filling up, and a stray female anti-immigrant sat down in a single open seat in front of us. She turned to us and said something really bizarre. “You are traitors. Did you fight in the Revolution?”

I immediately took umbrage and said “My great, great, grandfather…” when she interrupted me saying, “I was not addressing you.” Well, silly me. I’m very much a paleface, she, of course would not have accused another Anglo of being a traitor. My old friend said that her father had fought for this country in WWII, and then wisely decided that the prudent action would be to end this interaction, and she did. But that pretty much destroys the myth that this entire immigration argument is not about ethnicity.

Unemployed Torrance resident, and self-appointed leader of the resistance to California’s Values Act, Arthur Schaper, spoke first under Item 9: Support of the reducing crime and keeping California Safe Act of 2018. (He spoke again under Item 12.) Trump was the best president ever, the most pro-life—defunding Planned Murderhood, strong defender of the Second Amendment, and was fighting California’s lawless legislation. Coal is alive he avowed, and the porn star suing Trump was so ugly, no one would want her company. He seems to aspire to be as obnoxious a jerk as his idol. You can read more info about his idiocies here: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-arthur-schaper-trump-conservative-20170603-htmlstory.html . 

Before the discussion about SB 54 began, Councilwoman Olga Diaz read from the city’s conduct of municipal business code, which specifically states that the Council should not make decisions about matters that did not directly affect the municipal operations of the city. To make a decision about a Federal/State matter was not within the purview of the council’s duties. To continue with the matter would violate their own rules. Her objections fell on the deaf ears of her colleagues.

After City Attorney Michael McGuiness explained what the Amicus Brief filing was, Diaz took issue with his comparing the federal suit against SB 54 to the federal suit against Arizona’s SB1070, explaining that in that case, as in the case of Escondido’s infamous rental ordinance, the State of Arizona, like the City of Escondido were taking more authority to act on immigration matters, than was practiced by the Federal government. The courts had found both these actions unconstitutional. In the case of SB 54, the California was limiting federal authority, not giving the state more—an entirely different action.

Paul McNamara began the public discussion by pointing out that the matter was beyond the scope of the city council, they were not going to solve the immigration problem. They should concentrate on city issues rather than national ones. This action would not make a bit of difference in the outcome of the lawsuit and was a xenophobic waste of taxpayer money on staff time.

The supporters of the action had many fantasy arguments. Illegal immigrants cost $23 Billion a year, 68,000 were murdered by illegal immigrants, illegal immigrants were the largest population in the jails, 26 Americans die every day due to illegal immigrants, they cost $135 billion. Most of these poorly informed folks were from out of town or out of state.

Opponents pointed out that study after study showed that the crime rate among immigrants, regardless of legal status,  was lower than among natural citizens. Several argued that the only purpose of the motion was to get the anti-immigrant voters riled up to vote for Mayor Sam Abed, Councilman John Masson, and Councilman Ed Gallo in the November election. One young high school student quoted Abed’s hero, Ronald Reagan on amnesty for immigrants. Others pointed out that immigrants take jobs that no one else would work.

The bright spot of the evening, for me, was the wonderful testimony of young high school Latino students. They bravely plead their case, and condemned the actions that tore families apart. Their courage gives me hope.

Councilman Mike Morasco began the Council discussion by asking that Mayor Sam Abed and Councilman John Masson explain why they had put the item on the agenda.

Abed read a prepared statement with his usual harangue about the core of his mission was to keep Escondido safe, and that since 2010, the Escondido Police Dept. working with ICE had deported more than 2,000 criminal illegal aliens, reducing crime by 33%. But, the awful state laws, AB 109, and AB 450 had turned prisoners loose, creating the homeless problem. He proposed the strange theory that SB 54 puts non-criminal immigrants at greater risk of being detained by ICE because it limits the cooperation between ICE and the Escondido Police. The fact that the Trump administration has doubled down on enforcement, according to Abed, is not the reason that more raids are being carried out by ICE. Abed then stated his real issue. A year ago he had promised Governor Jerry Brown that he would sue the state if AB 54 became law. Now he was fulfilling that hubristic promise. Well, sort of. As McGuiness pointed out, an Amicus Brief is not really suing.

Masson echoed Abed’s public safety sermon, and insisted that he had sworn to uphold the Constitution, and was doing so in protesting the unconstitutional SB 54—Sacramento overreach! He was not, he insisted, racist or xenophobic. The people who called him such things did not know him.  He was going to be building schools in Mexicali with his Rotary groups soon. “If you guys want to make it about division, go ahead.” But, he didn’t get any of that.

Councilman Ed Gallo continued with the upholding the Constitution theme. He had received many more emails for this action than against. He went on to assert that he was Latino, as was Morasco, because they were of Latin descent. (Italian?) He added a strange bit that anyone who was of Spanish, French, or Italian descent were Latinos. Now the Brazilians, he said, were not, because they spoke Portuguese.

Morasco reiterated the “nothing to do with race” chorus. Like Masson, he referred to his charity work—his in South America. He read the oath of office he had taken. AB 54 was an anti-Trump move by the state. He was frustrated by the state. AB 450 was taking away his rights as a businessman. The one thing he didn’t understand, was why, if an immigrant had been in the country for many years, they didn’t become citizens? That statement was met by a spontaneous sputtering of incredulity from the audience majority.

Diaz bemoaned having to deal with this issue since 2006. The words she had heard, hurt, but she had reached a point where she was becoming numb to the continued attacks. The action proposed by Abed and Masson would have zero effect on anything.  There had always been unjust laws in the USA, and the immigration system was broken. But, she said, the whole reason that Abed had made this action was now clear to her—he had promised to sue Governor Brown if AB 54 became law. It was a question of Abed’s ego. However, the large participation by Latinos that night had given her the fuel to go on. The entire exercise was a waste of time. She felt that apologies were needed for the horrible expense of time and money.

And so the fruitless item was passed, “four yes votes, Diaz voting no.” Abed and Masson may have been successful in riling up the voters—but perhaps not the voters they had in mind.

 

Limiting Campaign Contributions?  

The last Escondido City Council meeting on March 21, had several interesting items on the agenda, but the one that generated the most public attention was number 17: Request that the City Council consider amendments to the campaign control ordinance in the Escondido Municipal Code and provide direction for final changes and adoptions.

Basically this was a proposal to bring Escondido’s campaign laws in line with California’s Political Reform Act (PRA) —for example the city required all payments from a campaign to be made by check, while the PRA allows electronic payments.

Greg Dean and Patricia Borchmann both noted that compared to other cities, the contribution limit for Escondido was pretty high, $4,100 per individual donor, vs. $100 to $1000 in other cities in the county. Borchmann pointed out how difficult it was for ordinary citizens to contribute $4,100.

Councilman John Masson responded that six of cities listed had no limit on individual contributions.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz noted that she had voted for the increase in the campaign limit from $560 to $4,100 in 2013, since she felt that was a better option than no limit at all—which had been proposed at the time. She dislikes one of the PRA rules that allows up to $100 of individual anonymous cash contributions.  She felt the code should be changed to allow up to $100 of cash contributions, but the donors should not be anonymous.

Councilman Ed Gallo agreed with the changes, and agreed with Diaz that anonymous contributions should continue to be disallowed in Escondido.

Mayor Sam Abed agreed that there should be no “unanimous” contributions allowed, and suggested that the limit should be increased to $4,300 in line with the PRA.

Masson liked that idea too—we should simplify, he insisted, and tie everything to the PRA. Staff explained that the PRA $4,300 limit was specific to those running for the state legislature.

After a little more back and forth, the council voted to approve the suggested revisions to the code, with the exception that anonymous contributions would continue to not be allowed, and the limit be increased to $4,300.

In arguing for the increased limit, Abed said that such checks represented less than 1% of the total checks. Well, that’s not quite true for Abed. His Schedule 460 for the July 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017 shows a total of $117,100 in contributions to his campaign. Of that total, $53,971 was transferred from his 2014 mayoral campaign account, meaning that he received a total of $63,129 in contributions in that six-month period. Of that total, four of the 98 checks received were for $4,100—or about 5% of the number of checks, but 26% of the amount of money he received.

Abed also pointed out that donors could have their spouses or family members contribute as well, so an artificially low limit was easily overcome—perhaps explaining his lack of reluctance to disallow anonymous donations.

One of those $4,100 contributions to Abed was from Safari Highlands Ranch. Yet, I’m sure Abed will not recuse himself from voting for that project. There is no law that would force him to do so. This is just one more example of how embedded the crony capitalist system is in our system.