Tiny Tots disappeared from the projected 2014/15 budget revenues in March.

As I have written about repeatedly (here, here, and here), this Mayor and Council Majority have stated that they expect the Recreation Department  to operate at Full Cost Recovery.  That means all of the direct costs (personnel, maintenance and operations) plus all the indirect costs (a portion of City overhead for things like administration, IT, telephone etc) should be recovered through fees for programs/activities.  The Mayor and Council majority set policy — and that is their job.  City Manager and City Staff do what is necessary to create a budget that reflects that policy — that is their job. The budget planning process begins in earnest at the start of the year, but the emails I received don’t begin until March because the City policy is to erase all emails after 90 days. (I have chosen to use Department names rather than individuals when noting senders/recipients on emails, except for City Manager.)


March 3 7:47 pm From Recreation to program staff  Subject: Revenues Attachment: Recreation 2014-15 Revenues
Hi All, Attached are the revenue projections.  If you look down the sheet, you will see your areas.  Please verify that these projections are correct…

And here’s what was attachedSCAN0053: 

If you look at Tiny Tots, second on the list, you will notice that its projected revenue for 2014/15 is ZERO.  Why would that be?  Because the program wasn’t going to be operating in 2014/15 and so it would produce no revenue. The follow-up email makes note of that:

March 3 8:13 pm From Community Services to its Staff  Subject: Expenses by Area
At this time we are still over budget by quite a bit.  Therefore, we are more than likely looking at some cuts…
You may notice that our special events — FORE and Pumpkin Run and Tiny Tots have been cut.  Please remember that these budget proposals will be brought to council.

Second week in March, Recreation considered what it could receive in income by leasing out the Don Anderson Facility, which has been used exclusively for Tiny Tots.

March 11  From Community Services to Real Property Subject: RE: Don Anderson Facility
Do you know when you will have the anticipated lease earnings on the Don Anderson Community Building if we vacate it?

March 14 From Real Property to Community Services Subject: RE: Don Anderson Facility
The building is 2,897 sq ft, and at an estimated market rent of $.90/sf would produce a rent rounded to $2,600 per month…Keep in mind that it will likely sit vacant for at least 3 months while we are marketing it. 

Through March, Community Services considered a variety of scenarios to save Tiny Tots, but they all required some subsidy from the City.  April 9th email from Community Services lays out the final numbers on Tiny Tots.

April 9   Email from Community Services to Finance Subject: Tiny Tots Updated 

The bottom line is: 

Total Employee Costs + “Other” Expenses: $187,734

2012/13 Revenue           $186,702
Scholarship $ issued          18,976
Total Revenue                $167,726

Difference Expenses vs Revenue:  ($20,188)

This is the sad story…

Two weeks later, on April 23, the Preliminary Budget was presented to the City Council.  The Agenda Packet includes a short paragraph about the Recreation fund that begins: This fund has eliminated 2.5 full-time equivalent positions and has decreased their operating budget by $70,000.  A $315,000 decrease in Fees for Service revenue is projected for fiscal year 2014/15.  There are no available reserves in this fund.  The programs within this fund will continue to be analyzed and future program reductions are anticipated…

When Councilman Gallo questioned the large decrease in Recreation fees, City Manager Phillips said:  We are taking a very, very hard look at Recreation…and there are some things that are going away, programs that aren’t doing well that have costs associated with them as well.  So we are taking a hard look at what the Council has directed us not to have, and that is a deficit in Recreation…

Mayor Abed was the last to speak on the budget.  His remarks included this: Social services is important but you know the Council is going to make a decision. We are providing a lot of it but again we have to take care of our basic core services…


May 2 at 11:31 pm, a concerned Tiny Tots parent created the “Save Tiny Tots” Facebook page.

One hour later Community Services/Recreation received an email from Economic Development informing them of the Facebook page.

Tomorrow: The Memo that provided the information …that was used in the determination to eliminate the Tiny Tots Program…

The City was preparing to shut down Tiny Tots.

At the May 7th Escondido City Council meeting, a number of Tiny Tots supporters were seated in the audience, ready to express their concerns about the possible closing of the program. Mayor Abed took the unusual step of speaking out to those in the Chamber before Oral Communications began.

Mayor Abed: I would like to start just to let you know about the Tiny Tots program and I think many of you are so passionate about it. There has been a lot of social media on that, rightfully so, but that was on some unauthorized leak of information to the social media on this program. We did discuss this in closed session and there was some misunderstanding between staff and council about the magnitude of the funding gap. In our opinion, or at least in my mind, it was $200,000 but after doing more research and talking to our staff I think that amount is closer to $20,000…I think the Tiny Tots program should continue and the City Manager will be handling those based upon this new information to make sure this valuable program continues in our city.

I was at that Council meeting and I did not consider that confusion between $200,000 and $20,000 to be a reasonable explanation. And so I made a Public Records request for documents associated with Tiny Tots and the 2014/15 budget. It yielded hundreds of pages – mostly emails along with a few memoranda. Almost all these documents were dated from March or later, a reflection of the City policy to automatically delete all emails after 90 days. These documents offer a fragmented picture of the budget discussion around Tiny Tots and I will write more about them tomorrow.

But let’s start with the $200,000 funding gap that the Mayor mentioned as the reason the program had been considered for closure. On the face of it, that could seem like a reasonable explanation, if it wasn’t for the fact that in 2012/13 the budget for the WHOLE program was $187,734, with all but $20,188 covered by fees paid by parents. So the idea that somehow, in one year, the program could have gone from a $20,000 deficit to $200,000 is absolutely ridiculous. The Mayor knows the budget and he knows the cost of programs and he certainly would have been alerted if quarterly numbers had showed a major deficit in Tiny Tots. And I am sure there is no one on City staff involved with the program who would report a $200,000 deficit to the City Council, because staff would know that was not possible.

So let’s move on from there and think about why Tiny Tots was discussed in Closed Session, as the Mayor said when he spoke on May 7. The main subject of the Closed Session could not have been the cost of the program; that would have been a violation of the Brown Act. So it was either legal matters, real estate negotiations, a few other oddities, or – and my bet is on this one — “the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee or to hear complaints or charges brought against the employee.” I believe employment was the subject of the Closed Session. It was to talk about the two Tiny Tot employees and what was going to happen to them once the program was closed.  There is more to come on that.

Two days before the May 7 Council meeting, Mayor Abed and Councilman Morasco had an evening email exchange in which they seemed to be on the same page about Tiny Tots: SCAN0052

 This is part one in a series.

The big bad nanny state gives Escondido nearly $675,000 for parks and recreation.

Last week’s UT article Cities awarded grant money for parks tells us that Escondido will receive nearly $675,000 from the State of California, Department of Housing and Community Development.  This grant is a “reward” of sort for the City’s work in creating affordable housing and it is good to know that work is being done.  The State site says the funds should be used for the Creation of new park and recreation facilities or improvement of existing park and recreation facilities. 

The UT reports that this money …will go toward a handful of projects: upgrades to the James Stone pool on Woodward Avenue and the Washington Park pool; resurfacing for the Washington Park court; and replacement of the East Valley Community Center monument and building signs.

James Stone Pool has been on the City’s list of necessary projects for at least a few years so it’s great to see the repairs/upgrades for the downtown pool finally get funded.  The work on the Washington Park courts is needed and it should certainly make Councilman Gallo happy since Community Services Director McKinney said at a recent Council meeting that at least one of the courts would be configured for possible pickle ball use.  I’m also fine with work being done at the Washington Park pool.  But that last item? I don’t remember the East Valley Community Center sign ever being on the list of parks and recreation projects that needed funding and I certainly think it’s a stretch to consider the replacement of that sign as an improvement to recreation facilities.  arroyo beforeHow about spending that money on another pocket park along the Creek?  The Arroyo Park was completed without City funds, now might be a good time for the City to get some skin in the game.


arroyo after(Before and after Photos from Reveal Escondido Creek Facebook.)




Do we all know what a Specific Plan is?

specific plan

I have taken text from a State of California site which you can access here. I hope all of us learning more about what a specific plan is — and is not — will help to inform our decision making.

Specific plans describe allowable land uses, identify open space, and detail the availability of facilities and financing for a portion of the community. Specific plans must be consistent with the local general plan…

A specific plan is a tool for the systematic implementation of the general plan. It effectively establishes a link between implementing policies of the general plan and the individual development proposals in a defined area. A specific plan may be as general as setting forth broad policy concepts, or as detailed as providing direction to every facet of development from the type, location and intensity of uses to the design and capacity of infrastructure; from the resources used to finance public improvements to the design guidelines of a subdivision.

Statutory Requirements

Section 65451 of the Government Code mandates that a specific plan be structured as follows:

(a) A specific plan shall include a text and a diagram or diagrams which specify all of the following in detail:

(1) The distribution, location, and extent of the uses of land, including open space, within the area covered by the plan.

(2) The proposed distribution, location, and extent and intensity of major components of public and private transportation, sewage, water, drainage, solid waste disposal, energy, and other essential facilities proposed to be located within the area covered by the plan and needed to support the land uses described in the plan.

(3) Standards and criteria by which development will proceed, and standards for the conservation, development, and utilization of natural resources, where applicable.

(4) A program of implementation measures including regulations, programs, public works projects, and financing measures necessary to carry out paragraphs (1), (2), and (3).

(b) The specific plan shall include a statement of the relationship of the specific plan to the general plan.

The City of Escondido has approved 11 Specific Plans which can be viewed on the City website’s Specific Plans page.   If the Lakes Specific Plan initiative passes, it does not eliminate the steps required for getting the actual permits necessary to build a subdivision and community center, pool, tennis courts, etc.  Those must still be applied for and they must meet all the regulations/restrictions/requirements of the City and State.

City Staff Reports On The Initiative Measure to Adopt “The Lakes Specific Plan”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the City Council will, by law, approve the Lakes Specific Plan initiative for placement on the Escondido ballot for November 4, 2014. At the same time, they will receive the report they requested at the June 25 meeting.  I have not yet had time to go through the report thoroughly; you can see it for yourself here.

At first glance, it appears a good part of the document gives us the highlights of the City’s legal argument against Mr. Schlesigner’s lawsuit. That is proceeded by a history of the recent activities on both sides and followed by the impacts and concerns about the proposed development.

It will be interesting to see what kind of discussion there will be on this since Wednesday night’s meeting will be the last time anyone concerned will be able to state their case before the City Council.  After that, each side will have three and a half months to tell the electorate why they should or should not vote for this initiative.  On November 4 we will see the results. Odds are, no matter which way it goes this will not be the end of the conflict.

Just what does the City expect in a parking lot?

As I continue to research rules about parking lots in Escondido, it appears that the problems at the Mayor’s lot on W. Grand go far beyond whether or not a Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan (SUSMP) should have been submitted.  Looking at the barren, asphalted half-acre lot it appears it doe not meet basic City standards.  grandThere is no curbing to keep the water from running off of the asphalt, there are no trees planted within the property, there is not adequate soil/vegetation to handle runoff and there is no screening of the lot from the street.

Escondido Municipal Code

Sec. 33-780. Border—Barricades, screening and landscaping.

(a)    Every parking lot, either public or private, having a capacity of five (5) or more vehicles shall be developed and maintained as follows:

(1)    All rows of parking spaces shall be provided with curbed terminal islands to protect parked vehicles and facilitate circulation. Wheel stops shall be provided for each parking space and placed eighteen (18) inches from terminal island or facing parking space. Terminal islands shall be a minimum of five (5) feet wide and shall contain at least one (1) tree for each row of parking spaces for which the island is serving. Wheel stops may be excluded if the terminal island is expanded to eight (8) feet wide.

Looking at the Mercado Area Plan, it too states the need for vegetation:

 Trees should be used to provide shade within parking lots and to reduce the visual impacts of large lots.
 Open lots shall be screened from view.

The City has spent $2 million on the Mercado.  Looking east on Grand across the street from the lot is landscaping, paving and a professional building. acrossThe Mercado will continue to struggle to create its new identity as it deals with properties that sit empty and/or abandoned.  In order for it to become a lively part of the downtown landscape,  we need to make sure properties are developed to the high standards adopted by the City Council. Will the City require property owners to meet those standards?  I will continue my research and report back.  Stay tuned.

PS I have checked out the cost for the paving of the half acre.  The $25,000 is within the standard range for 2″ asphalting.



Did Mayor Abed’s paving project adhere to City Stormwater Mitigation requirements?

It all started at the June 18th City Council meeting during the discussion of the Capital Improvement Program budget.  Mayor Abed wanted the parking lot at Daley Ranch paved and in the discussion of possible cost he said: Well I did pave my half acre on Grand Avenue for $25,000… 

After that I had folks contacting me wondering if the Mayor had followed the rules when he paved his property on Grand. (I was told there were certain permits and fees required that would have made the price higher.) Last Friday, I went down to City Hall to see what was required.  I went to Building first but they directed me to Engineering, which handles paving projects.  I asked the gentleman behind the counter about the permit process and gave him the address. We looked up the site on the City computer — 540 W. Grand APN 2294011500 — and it was a big square dirt lot (the map was from 2009). grand aerial The City staff person told me a site like this, that appeared to be compacted soil already, would not need to have a permit.  He emphasized that parking lots were usually a part of a project that included actual buildings — not just a paved lot. He said SUSMP –pronounced “sue sump”– (Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan) requirements did include parking lots but in a case like this, since it was under an acre, the rule did not apply — unless it created 15 new parking spaces — but he said again and again that parking lots were usually in conjunction with a building project that would require permits.  I left City Hall confused.

Then I sat down the City of Escondido’s own 130-page SUSMP document, which puts forth the rules for developing property in Escondido while protecting water quality and keeping polluted water out of our overtaxed water treatment facility.  It states: The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requires that more specific runoff treatment controls be incorporated into priority development projects...[including projects] that would create, add, or replace 5,000 square feet or more of impervious surface and are in one of the categories listed in Table 1-1. Here is a portion of Table 1-1.parking lot So according to this document, which was created by the City of Escondido in 2011, the Mayor’s property on Grand, at half an acre (that’s nearly 22,000 sq. ft.), would require a Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan (SUSMP). When I went back to City Engineering on Monday and asked if the property had submitted a Stormwater Mitigation plan, I  was assured that that NO SUMSP submittal had been made on the property at 540 W. Grand.  (I was told further questions should be directed to their Stormwater expert who has not returned by calls.)

Then I went back and listened to the 1/12/11 Council meeting Item #6 which was when the City Council discussed and then approved the SUSMP Stormwater mitigation requirements. Near the end of the discussion, a City Staff member explained to the Mayor and City Council …If there’s redevelopment of a site, say a parking lot, it’s the 5,000 square foot trigger, then they would have to address [stormwater issues]

After she finished, Mayor Abed spoke: For me, I’ve seen this several times. It’s another mandate…the EPA has a history of over regulation.  My concern is staff report says the fiscal impact from the general fund associated with this is none…it will cost the developers and private sector more money…the most cost effective way is mother nature, that will take care of it without regulation without paperwork…

Based upon what I have read and heard, I believe the asphalt paving of the Mayor’s half-acre parking lot on Grand Avenue did need to have a SUSMP Submittal. Here’s how that would work:grand

Compliance Process at a Glance  (page 6-7 of document)

Applicants for development project approval must follow these general steps for stormwater compliance:
1. Discuss requirements during a preapplication meeting with City staff.
2. Review the instructions in this SUSMP before preparing the project’s tentative map, preliminary site plan, drainage plan, and landscaping plan.
3. Prepare the SUSMP project submittal with the application for development approvals (entitlements). The SUSMP project submittal consists of the project’s Water Quality Technical Report (WQTR) and project drawings.
4. Create the detailed project design, incorporating the features described in the SUSMP project submittal.
5. In a table on the project construction plans, list each stormwater compliance feature and facility and the plan sheet where it appears.
6. Prepare a draft stormwater facility operation and maintenance plan and submit it as part of the project
7. Maintain stormwater facilities during and after construction in accordance with required warranties.
8. After construction, formally transfer responsibility for maintenance to the owner.
9. Periodically verify that stormwater facilities are properly maintained and must provide the City with maintenance records annually.  Preparation of a complete and detailed SUSMP project submittal is the key to cost-effective stormwater compliance and expeditious review of a project.

At half an acre, this parking lot is described in the SUSMP as requiring a full plan for dealing with the stormwater that will run off such a large flat area, taking all the grease, chemicals and other materials that build up on a parking lot into the sewer system.  With proper design and appropriate retention features, that water can be contained and improved before it goes back into the ground.  Was such a system created for this property? If not, why not?  Who has ultimate responsibility for pollution that might be caused by this site which is in the middle of the Mercado?  How does it get dealt with after the fact? And looking at the bigger picture, is the City adequately enforcing its own Stormwater Mitigation requirements?