Recycled water and social injustice upheld

Notice of public hearing marks the spot.

Escondido’s city council approved a conditional use permit on Jan. 11 to build a recycled-water treatment plant  on a vacant lot at 1201 E. Washington Avenue near the Springs retirement home. The facility  will further treat water from the city’s Hale Avenue Resource Recovery facility to a level suited for agriculture, mainly avocados. In a later phase, the city will expand it to focus on potable reuse water.

Council members voted 4-1 opposing an appeal filed by councilwoman Olga Diaz and an attorney for the Springs retirement home against county planners approval of the land use for the facility. “A Blue View for Escondido‘s” citizen watchdog Margaret McCown Liles takes you there.

The meeting was of such community interest it had been shifted from the regular council meeting room at City Hall, across the way to California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

The councilman doth protest too much, methinks, (with apologies to Shakespeare.)

This applies to Councilmen Ed Gallo and Mike Morasco, Deputy Mayor John Masson, and Mayor Sam Abed in their insistence that their decision to deny an appeal made by Councilwoman Olga Diaz and The Springs retirement facility of the Planning Commission’s decision to approve building a water treatment plant at the corner Ash and Washington had nothing to do the with age, affluence or ethnicity of the neighbors to that proposed plant.

Those neighbors disagree. A resident of The Springs, Geri Teutsch told J. Harry Jones of the San Diego Union Tribune: “The other place had lawyers and they had money. . . Now (the city is) hitting the lowest level, people in the winter of our lives and you figure we can’t fight this. We don’t have monies left. Our monies are poured into here. Most of us living here just hope our money outlasts our rent.”

The “other place” Ms. Teutsch spoke of was the Chaparral Glen development. I wrote about this previous decision in May of last year.  and

The discussion began with a presentation by the city staff. I find I tend to zone out a bit during these presentation, as any details I need can be found on the City’s website:

One thing stated by staff in response to the appeal grabbed my attention. Staff affirmed that Reveal Escondido Creek was not a formal policy document. I suppose this is correct, but it seems a shame to ignore a policy that could dramatically improve Escondido’s quality of life. Reveal Escondido Creek envisioned a park and open space.

CBS News 8 – San Diego, CA News Station – KFMB Channel 8

By my count, nineteen people spoke against building the project, and four, for the project.

Russell Nakaoka, manager of The Springs agreed that the plant must be built, but it would be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood in this location. The city should find another location. He noted that even though the Planning Commission had approved the project without dissent, many of the commissioners had concerns about better landscaping, but had put no requirements for such landscaping in their approval. Once built its possible use to enhance the Escondido Creek project would be gone forever.

Most of the speakers against the project recognized the need for the plant, but felt this location would be inappropriate.

There was concern about the storage of chemicals. A resident of The Springs, Alfred Roebuck reminded the council that only five years before there had been a major spill of sodium hydroxide at the water treatment plant near Dixon Lake. Randal Roberts listed some requirements for workers in such water treatment plants—no beard (so masks can be tightly fitted,) no contact lenses etc.

Springs resident, David Dryden was especially concerned about the storm water pond that was a part of the project—a part that was not always included on plans shown to the residents. “Old people matter” he declared.

Bob Serrano, owner of the Round Table Pizza on Ash across the street from the proposed location opposed the project. The restaurant had been there since 1979, and many youth sports teams were patrons.

Barbara Takahara, Marilyn Gallegos Ramirez, Chris Nava, and Consuelo Martinez all expressed their concern about the lack of public outreach made by the city to all the residents. Takahara had asked the city why notices had not been sent out in Spanish—because there is no law requiring such notices, she was told. “You can do better” Martinez scolded.

Martinez noted that the public works storage yard availability in lieu of the Ash/Washington location had been glossed over at the planning commission meeting. She felt the Council should not gloss over that site, all possible sites should be considered by the city.

A surprising opponent of the project is long-time city resident Arie DeJong. He goes swimming at 6:00 am every day, and it was at the pool that he first found out about the project from Barbara Takahara, who also swims at that hour. What is really needed, he insisted, was low cost housing.

The Springs of Escondido.

Delores McQuiston reminded the council, that over ten years ago, the council had received an offer of $2 million from Hi Tech Hi for the property. Had that money been invested it would be worth $5.06 million today, and the city would have a world class charter school.

Abed and Gallo had both been on that council. It was a terrible decision. Abed’s hope that what is now the public works storage yard will be turned into a technology park is a pipe dream. She added the existing technology park now had a hospital, power plant, and brewing company. (Guess that constitutes hi tech in Escondido.)

The sole resident of The Springs in favor of the project Marshal Byer, noted that only 20% of the projects units would have a view of the project, and that any noise from the new facility would be drowned out by the traffic noise.

Another neighbor of the project said he felt it was a much better use of the property than more apartments, or liquor stores. His wife spoke next, agreeing with his position. Ed Grangetto, representing Escondido Growers for Agricultural Preservation asked the Council to deny the appeal, stating that the longer it took to get treated water to the farmers, the less likely those farmers would be able to stay in business to buy the water.

Diaz began the council’s discussion. She encouraged he colleagues to seriously consider the public works storage site. An advantage of that site, besides being in an area that is non-residential, is that it is near the confluence of Reidy and Escondido Creeks.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, Diaz said, to extend those purple pipes to carry water to the farmland north of Escondido? She responded to Grangetto’s concern by noting that the proposal would probably be held up by litigation—the fastest solution to getting water to the farmers would be to build the plant on the public works storage site.

McQuiston’s comments about Hi Tech Hi evidently got under Gallo’s skin. He insisted the property had been appraised at $5 million at the time and Hi tech Hi’s offer was way under that value, adding that Hi Tech Hi had had spent $5 million to purchase property in San Marcos. I remember now that that was about the time that Marie Waldron (an intellectual equal to Ed Gallo) proposed making landlords I.C.E. agents.

Abed and Gallo both voted for that boondoggle that was struck down by the courts, costing Escondido a ton of money. I remember now that it was rumored that Hi Tech Hi was negatively influenced by that rental ordinance decision. Gallo claimed that the argument that the low-income and Latino nature of the area made it more likely to be chosen was B.S.

Site of proposed water recycling plant.

Masson said he appreciated the comments that had been made, but, building a Costco or Home Depot would have a much more harmful effect on the neighborhood. The public works storage yard was the most valuable property the city owned he claimed. He too was insistent that the decision had nothing to do with income levels or social injustice. That was “crap”.

Morasco noted that in all of the 49 years he had lived in Escondido, that site had been vacant eyesore, much more deleterious to property values than the plant would be.

Abed said he understood the comments that had been made, but that the residents and council all shared the same goal of doing what would be best for the city. The suggestion that the plant’s location had anything to do with the affluence or ethnicity of the affected residents was just political talk. He pressed Escondido city manager Graham Mitchell to explain how thorough the city had been in its outreach to citizens.

An uncomfortable Mitchell responded that they had held two workshops and had met with several residents individually. Abed then insisted that the public works site was much too valuable to be used for the water treatment plant. He insisted that one day there would be a hi tech business park that would provide 1,000 jobs paying an average of $75K per year.

And so the appeal was denied, the four men voting against the appeal, Diaz for the appeal. No surprises there. These four men may actually believe that they aren’t being socially unjust. They would have you believe that the pressure from affluent residents did not influence them any more than pressure from less-affluent and Latino residents, but their actions make it apparent that is not the case.

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