Wednesday’s City Council meeting pretty much transpired as expected, well, except that Mayor Sam Abed went off the rails more than usual. Even the usually non-committal reporter for the San Diego UT noticed: “Mayor Sam Abed thanked everyone in the chambers for their civility during the hearing. However, he also strongly criticized local environmental lawyer Everett DeLano for a letter he sent this week that Abed said was filled with untruths and was an ‘embarrassment.’ ” http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/mar/04/escondido-oak-creek-council-approved/
“Strongly criticized” is an understatement—Abed was rude, very uncivil, and an embarrassment to the City.
The main item on the agenda was #10 OAK CREEK PROJECT ANNEXATION, TENTATIVE SUBDIVISION MAP, PRELIMINARY, MASTER AND PRECISE DEVELOPMENT PLAN, PRE-ZONE, GRADING EXEMPTIONS, SPECIFIC ALIGNMENT PLAN AND FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT. The project, already approved by the Planning Commission, will build 65 homes on some 37.6 acres. One home per over half an acre—that doesn’t sound too dense, a considerable decrease from what the County’s or even the City’s General Plan would allow—as the developer, New Urban West’s spokesman, Jason Han, and, later, Councilmen Ed Gallo, John Masson, and Abed pointed out. But, considering that any home built in the County would have to have a septic system, which would usually require at least an acre, maybe not. To even build 65 homes would require a sewer system. These proposed new “multi-generational” homes ranging from a mere 3,300 square feet to 4,617 square feet, with four to six bedrooms, and corresponding number of bathrooms will be built on lots of around 10,000 to 12,000 sq. feet. It will be a gated community. It will build a public sidewalk along Felicita Road, and put in a “traffic calming” traffic circle on Felicity Road. It will save the seasonal Duck Pond, and allow public access to the pond—even install a bench to view the pond. Sounds delightful.
But wait—the project will also remove some 238 mature trees, including over 100 native Coastal Live Oaks. The developer has promised to replace these with 400 native trees and 1500 seedlings. All well and good, but a mature tree can nest many more birds than many immature trees. There will be a disturbance to the bird populations.
There were, by my count, about as many speakers against the development as for the development, but there were also about twice as many supporters as opponents in the audience. Both sides made some good arguments. Escondido Neighbors United (ENU) objected to the removal of mature oak trees, the presence of toxic chemicals under a part of the development’s land caused by a toxic plume that had originated from the Chatham Waste site. J. Harry Jones sums up the history of this site well: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/sep/30/escondido-chatham-pbrothers-plume-toxic/2/?#article-copy. ENU members argue that the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) was much too optimistic in their assurances that the problem was not significant. http://escondidoneighborsunited.blogspot.com/ . They also argue that the buffer zones between the project and the seasonal creeks on the property was not consistent with Escondido’s General Plan, and that the gated community would present a major barrier to wildlife. ENU presented an alternate plan for a development, a non-gated project with 41 homes.
Those neighbors for the development cited their belief that this development would slow down the traffic on Felicity. The sidewalk would make it safer for their children. The development’s site had been allowed to become a dumping ground and homeless camp, and the proponents were glad that would not happen again. I found it curious that neither these neighbors, the Council, nor the developer questioned why the owner of the land, Arie de Jong, was never criticized for allowing his land to become so blighted. The neighbors favoring the development really got to speak twice, since many had appeared in a video presented by Han during his time before the Council. New Urban West does do an excellent job of convincing the neighbors that their developments are just what their neighborhood needs. Their development in Harmony Grove is a classic case of their smarts in the public relations department. But, that’s another blog or two, or three, or five.
Councilman Mike Morasco led the parade of praise for New Urban West by the Council majority. He complemented those who had spoken on both sides for being so civil, then proceeded to claim that the opponents had stated as facts things that were not factual—without actually iterating what those non-facts were. He could not understand why a bridge over a creek would be a problem for wildlife.
Gallo heaped more compliments onto the pile begun by Morasco, admitting that as long as the duck pond was saved, he would be happy. He made his usual, somewhat incoherent, description of the real estate domino effect. He was absolutely certain that any project with a 3,600 page EIR had to meet all environmental requirements.
Councilwoman Olga Diaz questioned why the project had narrower wildlife buffer zones than required by the General Plan. She questioned why the land had been allowed to fall into a decline. She expressed her concern that the Council had never been presented with complete information about the Chatham Superfund Site. She was told that it was the responsibility of the DTSC to inform neighbors about the status of the toxic plumes, but she suggested that once the property was in the City, the City would bear some responsibility for such notification. She too complimented New Urban West, but felt there were too many uncertainties to vote for the project.
Masson chimed in with the New Urban West chorus of praise, claiming the project would actually reduce the risk of downstream flooding, concluding, that New Urban West knew the market, and the Council should not dictate to New Urban West what size of houses to build, or whether or not to build a gated community.
Abed started his comments calmly—observing that this may have been the most civil meeting he had ever had. He was very proud of his long association with New Urban West, noting that New Urban West set the example of what developers should do. Then Abed became a bit unglued. He said that the letter from attorney Everett DeLano was so full of inaccuracies as to be an embarrassment, then went so far as to advise people to avoid the Delano law firm. He went on to criticize an Op Ed by two members of ENU, Fred Progner & Ron Forster: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/feb/28/tp-residents-seek-action-to-address-water/#comments-module, as being 50 to 60 % false. About this point in time, the opponents began to leave the chambers. Abed went on to beat the conservative mantra about property rights, and noting that ENU member Laura Hunter was against any development as far as he could tell. He preferred to ignore the fact that ENU had proposed an alternative development.
Of course the project was approved four to one. The good ole boys on the Council lived up to their commitments to the Building Industry Association. The last item on the agenda was the appointment of a white, male, general contractor to the Planning Commission. Business as usual.