I urge the City Council to support the Public Art fee and commission.

The City Council created a 33-page City Council Action Plan for 2013-2014 which has four major action areas, one of them is Economic Development which includes this item: Determine the appropriateness of retaining, reducing or eliminating the current Public Art Fee and the Public Art Commission. Just a few months ago, the membership of the Public Art Commission was reduced from nine to seven.  Not a bad idea since there had been quorum issues, but I hope this is not an indication that the City Council is looking to make any other cuts to the Public Art program.

PublicArtReflectionsOfDowntown1When the City Council decided to build Maple Street Plaza with a million dollars of outside money and two million of our own, they obviously working looking for funds throughout the budget.  And they found $350,000 in Public Art fund by deciding the fountain in the Plaza as well as the gateways at each end were in fact “Public Art.”  (Some of that money had been earmarked for gateways at the Escondido Creek walk but all that money is fungible and so off it went to Maple Street.)  Those expenditures cut the Public Art fund balance about in half so it looks like once the Queen Califia repairs are done we will be down around $350,000 – $370,000 by June 30, 2014.  And therein lies the problem.

If we want to repair, restore and maintain our existing Public Art, the Fund needs to be large enough to provide some funding through interest on the balance — which is low at a time interest too is low.  The only way to improve the balance number is to continue the Public Art Fee.  In a North County Times article in 2011, “Land-use attorney Dave Ferguson, who has worked with developers planning large projects in Escondido for decades, agrees that public art fees aren’t large enough to kill projects.” So I hope the City Council will take his counsel on this particular subject.  It appears we have a lot of developers flocking into Escondido, I don’t think we need to eliminate this fee in some mistaken belief it will make us “more friendly” to those same developers.

Save the Queen!



Queen Califia’s Magical Circle: Escondido’s most precious Public Art.

niki snakeMonday afternoon the Public Arts Commission met.  On the agenda was an update on the repair of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, the sculpture garden in Kit Carson Park created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Free for visiting from morning until night since its opening in October of 2003, it was closed last year.  Here are brief notes from Union Tribune articles on the subject:

May 30, 2013   Iconic sculpture garden closed.  Vandalism and other damage have prompted Escondido to close an iconic piece of public art that attracts visitors from around the county and the world.

September 30, 2013  City, foundation to fund sculpture gardenrepairs   An independent art consultant reported that ..the garden had suffered from neglect, the use of recycled sewer water to clean the sculptures and malfunctioning security cameras.

January 16, 2014  Iconic sculptures getting repaired  The garden was open from sunrise to sunset before it was closed in May because of deterioration and some damage from vandalism.

I learned at Monday’s meeting that most of the damage at Queen Califia’s is not from vandalism.  In fact, the people from the Niki de Saint Phalle foundation were impressed with how well the art had stood up being outside, alone and open for ten years. (In Europe, her sculpture gardens are closed in the winter and are supervised by paid staff.)  So why the damage? Most of it is the result of design, material and construction problems — the spalling of tiles not made for exterior applications, water and moisture seeping behind tiles and causing them to come loose, mirrored tiles too thin to take foot traffic cracking — are three examples.  Some of this is being repaired now but there will be more issues to deal with in the future.

The report states that Vandalism is a big problem at the park, especially due to a lack of security. The current security system is run by solar power, which is not reliable since the solar panel is partially obstructed by a tree. Furthermore, Parks staff and police are unable to identify the people caught on tape. Petty damage to mirrors, tiles, and stones is pervasive…some of the more appealing stones, like agate and mother of pearl, have been pulled out by vandals or birds. Youths have been observed running along the tops of the walls and climbing on the sculptures. 

There appears to be almost universal agreement that Queen Califia’s needs protection from vandalism but I am not sure we make the place available for visitors if we’re going to operate with only volunteer docents since it is very difficult to maintain reliable hours of operation with volunteers unless you have someone running the whole operation.  But there are options to consider:

1. Get the security cameras running on dependable power.

2.  Consider open hours when vandalism usually doesn’t occur.  (If it’s kids who do the damage, have it open during school hours.)

3.  Hire some docents — I mean pay them money.  My experience working at a museum is that older people are dependable.  There are also many living on fixed income who would love to make extra cash.  We don’t need armed guards, just folks with a walkie talkie willing to keep an eye.  (We could also save on the cost of printing the beautiful brochure on the exhibition by providing laminated copies to the docents who could pass them out to folks when they arrive and retrieve them when they leave.)

4. I don’t know if the kids in the surrounding schools come to Queen Califia’s for an art lesson.  If not, they should, along with some discussion (the advice of a professional might be helpful) about the problem of vandalism and why it matters.  This might be a good way to work with the Arts Partnership.

5.  Friends of Kit Carson Park were brought up in the meeting.  I am sure they will be interested in playing an active role in the Queen’s future.

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is a major art installation — the only sculpture garden by this artist in the whole United States — and it brings visitors to Escondido from all over. But it must be repaired, maintained and protected. And that requires money, money that at this time comes from the Public Art Fundpublic art fund (click image to enlarge). Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the Public Art Fund, where its funding comes from and whether it will continue to be a fund providing the money necessary to keep public art a part of Escondido.


Real workshops are a great way to get community input.

Whenever an issue comes up in Escondido, we’re always told there will be a “workshop” on it at a City Council meeting.  But those occasions just seem to be a Council meeting with a little more explanation.  What if we had workshops at least a couple times a year on topics people suggested?

I could imagine having ones on:

Creating a dog park in Grape Day City

Figuring out ways to make art a focus

Developing tourism that ties our downtown to our open spaces

Making City government available to all.

Those are just a few ideas, the list could and should be a long one.  I found this post on the website of Chino Hills and thought it sounded so friendly. Maybe we could create workshops that offer such a warm invitation and take advantage of the good ideas there are in our city.

Dog Park Workshop Set to Gather Community Input – January 15th

The Chino Hills Parks and Recreation Commission is seeking input from the community as they review opportunities to potentially create a dog park in the City. A Dog Park Workshop has been scheduled on Wednesday, January 15th from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 14000 City Center Drive. Staff will make a presentation and provide background and information on earlier efforts to develop a dog park. Attendees will break into small groups to brainstorm and share their opinions on a variety of topics related to a dog park at an existing park site, including what features are necessary. Persons who are unable to attend are invited to submit their input by sending an email to cfructuoso@chinohills.org or by phone at (909) 364-2711.


Looking at the details in the Initiative/Specific Plan.

I took a second look at the flyer for Escondido Open Space Community Revitalization Initiative (I’m always amazed with the names folks come up for initiatives). because a commenter had said that it “only mentions housing with an asterisk.”  Well, I must have a different flyer because the one I got in the mail mentions “residential property” on the front and “residential housing” on the inside.  Is it as prominent as it could be/should be?  No, but it’s what I’d expect from a “sales” brochure.

So then I sat down and reread the 108-page initiative, taking a careful look at those areas that were subject to comment. (I want to apologize for the small documents that need to be clicked on to enlarge but it is the only way I can show the actual words.)

One commenter wrote in to say: “I believe one small article buried in the 108 page document says that when the Special Accommodation granted the developer is in conflict with the City, the developer shall prevail…. or words to that effect.  This can be a dangerous precedent that will put every neighborhood in Escondido at risk of being over run by any developer.”

So I went looking for that paragraph – and I think it is this one lakes specific(click to enlarge) that includes the statement Where these [development] regulations and [design] guidelines conflict with other plans ordinances or guidelines of the City of Escondido, the Specific Plan’s provisions shall control.

Is that unusual? Is that something typical for a Specific Plan? I went on to the City website Planning page that provided links to a number of Specific Plans.  What did I find?  There’s similar wording in a number of them that says basically the same thing: Northeast Gateway, Rancho Vistamonte and Lomas del Lago: (again click to enlarge)  lomas del lagonortheast gateway 2004

rancho vistamonte  2001

From what I can gather, Specific Plans are for new developments that may contain differences from certain regulations and guidelines elsewhere in the City.  If that is a problem, it seems to be one running through Specific Plans throughout the City.  There might well be neighborhoods all over the City at risk of being “over run by any developer” but I think that is more dependent on Council policies than this sentence in this Specific Plan.

Another comment was “Those amenities are not iron clad open to the public…he doesn’t have to build the amenities at all!”  Again, I went to the Initiative (I couldn’t find the comment that noted a specific paragraph so I searched on my own) and found this information.  First, here’s a drawing of community picthe Community Center, as you can see it includes the center itself, a pool, tennis courts, a duck pond and parking (sorry that it is sideways, click to enlarge).  Yes, but where does the Specific Plan state that this actually had to be built and be open to the general public?  There is also language in the Specific Plan that states that there will a Community Center — that will be the next document posted below. And community 2community center approvalthen there is the last paragraph posted that states there must be public access and perpetual maintenance of the Community Center as a condition of approval for the Specific Plan.  Together, these citations lead me to believe there are specific requirements
within these documents that make a Community Center, as illustrated, a necessity for the creation of any residential units  – which is what the developer needs to make a profit.

I have not seen any other comments that address specific issues within the Initiative/Specific Plan.  Of course, this is a long document and one most of us are not very familiar with.  It has been approved by the City, though I do not know if that includes any “vetting” of the initiative.  If other folks have concerns, I look forward to hearing about them.

(On a purely personal note, there seems to be some confusion about when and where I have lived in Escondido.  I have lived in Escondido for 15 years. Half that time was in the county, the rest in the city.  Each has its charms and I’m glad i’ve been able to enjoy both.  I also remember visiting Escondido in the early 60s since I grew up in Orange and San Bernardino Counties and we used to come here on day trips. I also used to come through here when visiting family after I moved back East.)

Second Spring—Conserving Nature in Life and Art

I went to the new exhibition at the California Center for the Arts last Sunday. Second Spring—Conserving Nature in Life and Art offers California landscapes, mainly Southern CA and more specifically San Diego County, from two eras.  The one gallery is all contemporary work by about 20 artists, including pieces that had been completed this year. (Yes, you could still smell the oil paint.)  The other gallery is mainly pieces completed during the first half of the 20th century.  My favorites were tended to be the large ones with strong colors and a good contrast between light and shadow.  There was also one small painting from I believe the 40s that showed crowds enjoying a celebration at Grape Day Park.  The women had on long “country” dresses and straw hats and the painting showed two wooden concession stands, one selling hot dogs, the other grapes. I encourage people to come see the exhibition since it will only be here through April 26th.

nature-principle-cover-3d (1)Today, at 1:30, the Museum will host a lecture by writer Richard Louv who writes in his new book, The Nature Principle, that The future will belong to the nature-smart—those
individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.
 I checked and you don’t need to make a reservation and the lecture is included in the price of admission — which is $8, $5 for seniors.

There were a steady stream of visitors while we were there, though the place certainly wasn’t busy.  I felt it was a good exhibit and if I’d known about this lecture I would have waited and come today.  The Museum opens at 1 today and as always, there is plenty of free parking in the Center’s lot on Escondido Boulevard across from the post office.

I disagree about the Country Club property and the accusations fly.

UPDATE: If anyone would like to contact Mr. Schlesigner, they can do so at michael@lakesatescondido.com.  I would also like to remind commenters that this is not Facebook and all comments are moderated.  For those new to 2014, I have some guidelines for posting that might be helpful.

I got an email yesterday that really threw me for a loop.  Beginning with the subject line: Boy, you have drank the kool-aid! it goes on to lambast me for supporting Mr. Schlesinger’s right to build on the property he purchased. But the line that really stood out was this one: I can only guess you are a Republican that enjoys some “padding” in your pockets, or, you are Mr. Chicken Poop himself.

Now I have been called many things, but this is the first time I’ve been called a Republican, which I am not.  (It’s also hard to square with the fact that just a few weeks ago Mayor Abed told an audience of Republicans that I was an “extreme liberal” and also ignores the fact that 4 of the 5 Council members who voted in support of the ECCHO initiative are Republicans or did that vote somehow turn them into Democrats?) I am also not Mr. Schlesinger.  But what really offends me is the idea that I am “padding” my pockets by writing in support of Mr. Schlesigner’s property rights.  That would mean that I began my blog almost a year before the country club controversy and proceeded to write every day — for a total of more than 300 posts — just so I could have the opportunity to support Mr. Schlesinger when the time arose. Interesting theory but not a bit of truth to it. I do research, attend meetings, talk with people and write a post every day — and I do it for free.

Anyway, I want to thank the writer for her email because it made me take another look at the Country Club controversy and the stand I have taken — and I still support Mr. Schlesinger’s right to develop the golf course property.

Do I believe the people living on the country club got sold a bill of goods when they bought their homes?  Yes I do since they were lead to believe the golf course would be there forever, even though there is no legal document that ties their land to the course and no homeowner ever paid for the maintenance of the golf course.  But that is not the fault of Mr. Schlesigner who came into this whole thing long after country club folks had been screwed by developers who promised home buyers something they didn’t actually deliver. (If I was one of the homeowners who will have no open space after the development is completed — on the original plan it looked to be about 60 — I would certainly want to talk to the developer about what landscaping they would be willing to provide as the project moves forward.)

Do I think the City Council made a big mistake by passing the initiative to make the golf course an Open Space/Private?  Yes. The City Council should have allowed this decision to come to a vote this November.  That would have spurred ECCHO and the developer to come to an agreement since the outcome of the vote would not have been known. Certainly each side would have waged its own PR campaign, but I believe the looming election would have pushed both sides into a compromise

Do I feel the folks at ECCHO have a right to be angry?  Of course they do, they got screwed.  (And that is true of a number of communities around the country that thought they had a guaranteed golf course only to find them go bankrupt and be abandoned.)  And they can feel free to use their online presence to call Mr. Schlesigner evil, greedy, a bully, a snake in the grass and say a whole lot of nasty things about him, his company, even his family. But it certainly seems like an odd way of convincing Mr. Schelsigner to spend tens of thousands of dollars maintaining the golf course property in a way that they would find acceptable.

What do I think of the decisions Mr. Schlesigner has made? I believe he made an excellent presentation before the City Council and they should have listened to his recommendation that they put off their decision for at least 30 days to better understand the situation.  But the ugly fence he erected around the property was unnecessary and he should find a way to settle the encroachment problems without continuing the lawsuits against the parties involved.

Does Mr. Schlesinger play hardball?  Absolutely, just like the members of ECCHO.

I have little doubt that Mr. Schlesinger’s petition will get the necessary signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.  I would hope that the Mayor and members of the Council would consider supporting it come November. Because years from now, depending on what happens in the short term, this golf course will be one of two things: exactly what it is now or a new community.  I will be signing the petition soon and voting for the initiative in November, not because I am a Republican or because someone is padding my pockets, but because I believe this is the best way out of this mess and that it will provide new amenities for the community. ‘To continue with this level of rancor is bad for everyone.





And so why do we need to become a Charter City?

At Wednesday night’s Council meeting we got to hear a little more from Council and City staff concerning the Why? of becoming a Charter City.

Mayor Abed 4/9/14: “We want to have the home rule and we want to have the prevailing wage.”

Councilman Gallo 4/19/14: “Why? Well, in the Preamble if you read it …we do hereby exercise the express right granted by the Constitution of the State of California to enact and adopt this Charter for the City of Escondido. So it’s not something we just pulled out of the air.”

After quoting the proposed Charter: All lawful ordinances, resolutions, rules and regulations, or portions thereof, in force at the time this Charter takes effect and not in conflict with or inconsistent herewith, are hereby continued in force until the same have been duly repealed, amended, changed or superseded by proper authority, Councilman Gallo stated “Everything we have stays, nothing changes.”

Councilman Masson 4/19/14: “It [the Charter] gives us a little more control over our municipal affairs.  And if it’s not written in the document specifically about how we control those municipal affairs then we can’t do anything about it.”

City Attorney Jeff Epp 4/19/14:  “The whole idea behind a charter is to have more local control.  So what she [Pat Mues] is doing is pointing out those areas where you may want to exercise local control.”


I respect Mayor Abed for being clear on why he wants the Charter: Home Rule and Prevailing wage (which really means no prevailing wage if the Court strikes down SB 7 which denies State capital improvement funds to cities that do not pay prevailing wage.)  He understands that the Charter gives the City Council power over municipal affairs and he thinks that’s a good thing.  As to paying prevailing wage or not, again the Mayor has been clear that he is anti-union and if the Charter gives him the power to stop paying union wages on City construction projects he’ll put it to a Council vote as soon as the opportunity arises.  He wants the powers over municipal affairs a Charter will provide and he is not afraid to say so.  I totally disagree with him on prevailing wage but at least he is upfront.

As for Councilmen Gallo and Masson, there are two options.  They either do not understand how Charter cities work — in which case they shouldn’t be pressing for Escondido to become one — or they’re just pretending that it’s no big deal to get it passed — and that’s dishonest.  Because if this Charter is as inconsequential as they say, that “nothing changes” with the Charter, then why are they pushing so hard to get it on the ballot and get it passed? Maybe they’ll let us know at the next public hearing on the Charter on May 21.