UT interviews with Mayor Abed and Deputy Mayor Diaz.

The UT published two articles last week, each based upon an hour long interview at the UT in August.  Mayor Abed’s is titled Regional economic growth, prosperity are key goals while the one on Deputy Mayor Diaz is titled Lack of representation spurred Diaz to politics.  From these divergent headlines, we get two very different articles, with only one question — variations on Why should you be mayor? — being the same for both candidates,

I have read through the articles repeatedly and have to admit I find them strange.  Each one has the proviso Here is the edited transcript of the interview… but they still leave me shaking my head. If you’ve read this blog, you know I sometimes provide transcripts and I try my best to keep them accurate.  When I need to edit I try my best to punctuate properly, adding brackets for words that are [not stated], ellipsis for words that are left out of a quote and of courts [sic] to show the person being quoted used a wrong word like I just used “courts” above when I meant “course.”  I’ve also done many interviews and these seem much too compact, much too planned sentence for sentence as if they were being read. I would have loved to have seen more of the give and take, back and forth between the interviewer and the candidates, as well as more follow-ups.  And I certainly wonder about all the things that were said but not included.  There is really nothing new in either of these interviews that hasn’t been said in one way or another at events, City Council meetings and other interviews.

The only thing that stood out for me was the Mayor’s willingness, as he did at the Mayoral Forum, to rag on Escondido for having poor people. The political correctness has put this city back probably 15 to 20 years. Now we have more low-income housing than North County cities combined. We have more illegal immigrants than North County cities combined. We have more social services than North County cities combined. Nothing against any of these issues in particular, none is a killer issue. But if you combine all of them, it will (make) the city the poorest in North County.

Now if someone else had been Mayor for the last four years, I could understand making an attack based upon the fact that we have poor people living in our city, especially if it had been a liberal administration that the Mayor disagreed with.  But the Mayor has had a conservative, pretty-much-unstoppable City Council majority for four years (along with six years as part of a conservative Council majority that launched frequent attacks) and his particular kind of war on poverty — starting with the poor people themselves — hasn’t really worked.  There are many ways to run a campaign.  I wish the Mayor would take a more positive approach, one that doesn’t need the City to look bad for him to look good.

The poverty rate in Escondido shot up in a single year. Why?

After the first Mayoral forum, I wrote about the different viewpoints of Mayor Abed and Deputy Mayor on the subject of poverty.  I wrote about  having a devil of a time finding accurate numbers on poverty throughout San Diego — until now.  Just yesterday, a friend sent along an article by Don Bauder from The Reader which reported the numbers just released by the US Census Bureau which included the fact that the Escondido poverty rate was 19.6%. And that lead me to the Center of Policy Initiatives where I found a number of reports I had not come across before and am glad I did.

I report this to confirm the Mayor’s repeated statement that Escondido has a poverty rate of 20%.  He is right.  But it wasn’t something that happened very gradually over the course of a decade.  Almost half of it happened in one year.  In 2009, Escondido’s poverty rate was 13.8%, a year later it was 20.5%.  What happened in 2010 that would make the number climb so fast — increasing the rate by almost 50%?  I can’t think of any one factor, but there it is. Love to hear theories or even an obvious explanation.  (If it was some reporting error the number would have gone back down the next year but it didn’t.) But the Mayor should be happy to see that the 2013 number 19.6% is actually a 3% reduction from 2012.  It’s not a lot,, but I think we should take good news any time we can get it.

I can’t find the statistic Mayor Abed keeps quoting.

The Union Tribune has published articles based upon their interviews of Mayor Abed and Deputy Mayor Diaz.  I will be writing more about them next week, but wanted to start with the Mayor’s statistics on crime rates in Escondido which he repeated in this interview stating that “we” have “reduced crime by 25 percent.”

Now I want to say that I consider Escondido to be a pretty safe city.  I live downtown.  I have never been afraid and I have never had any problem with theft, burglaries or break-ins — something I’ve experienced incrime rate the other cities I have lived in.  I certainly understand crime is a problem, but if you look at the Crime Trends chart from the Public Policy Institute of California, you can see crime rates have gone down all over the State — just as they have nationally.

But let’s get local and look at crime rates around San Diego County and Escondido.  I tracked them down via the Escondido Police Department website which linked me to ARJIS (Automated Regional Justice Information System) which allowed me to search for crime numbers by month/year starting in 2008.  For each year, 2008-2013, I noted the Crime Index Total which is the total of Violent Crime — murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults & Property Crimes – burglary, thefts, and motor vehicle thefts. aaacrime I wanted to put them into one chart, but since the top chart includes the reports for San Diego County — Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Coronado, County Sheriff (which includes del Mar, Encinitas, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Poway, San Marcos, Santee, Solana Beach and Vista), El Cajon, Escondido, La Mesa, National City, Oceanside and San Diego — with a Crime Index of around 80,000 versus Escondido with a Crime Index of around 4,500 it made sense to put them on different charts so you could clearly see the trends for each.  I post them fairly small so you can see both of them at once, but you can click on the chart to enlarge it and see the actual numbers.

Both charts show a decrease in crimes from 2008 – 2011 and then trending upward through 2013. Now when you have six years to work with, you can come up with all sorts of statistics. The closest I could come to the Mayor’s 25% decrease was the difference between 2010 and 2011 — an impressive 20% decline.  But crime rates are capricious and they go up and down all the time.  Make that same comparison between 2011 and 2012 and you see crime increases by an even more whopping 22%!  I figure it’s best to look at these stats over some reasonable period of time, so I considered the change over the six years available.

The total for the San Diego cities in the report was 95,109 for 2008 and 79,196 for 2013.  That is a drop in the Crime Index of 17% between 2008 and 2013.  For Escondido, the total was 4,749 for 2008 and 4,562 for 2013, a much smaller drop at 4%, and a far cry from the “25%” reduction Mayor Abed reported to the Union Tribune.  And if I’d decided to consider the crime statistics for just five year — 2009/2013 — then Crime would have risen from 4,509 to 4,562, a 1% increase.  Now I know the Mayor loves his numbers, and he’s going to cherry pick whatever sounds the best.  But when one of the three major accomplishments on his campaign flyer is that he “Made our City a Safer Community” but the FBI statistics show Escondido about where it was five years ago, well I have to wonder what other accomplishments just don’t add up.

Could we just start with some tables and chairs?

A Master plan for Grape Day Park is a long-range plan for major changes to the park.  So I’ve been thinking about small ways we could change the park now and I keep going back to the fact that people from City Hall don’t use the park.  That just seems so sad.

I also started to think about Bryant Park in New York City and came upon an article, Bryant Park: The Quintessential Downtown Informal Entertainment Venuebefore.  It describes the Park thusly: Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, Bryant Park was such a notorious place for drug use and sale, prostitution and associated crimes that the police, at one point, completely closed it down. Landlords and real estate brokers then involved in properties facing the park reported that its problems and ill repute made leasing commercial spaces very difficult and suppressed rents (1). During those troubled days, Bryant Park stood out as the paragon of a afterfailed public space, a stark demonstration of what can happen when a public space, even in a great location, is badly managed, poorly designed and unsuccessfully programmed. In contrast, today, Bryant Park is a paragon of a successful public space, deservedly acclaimed, extremely popular and a model from which others can learn.  Note: Bryant Park is 9.6 acres; Grape Day Park is 11 acres.

So then I went to the Bryant Park Blog (photos above are before and after from this blog) and found this interesting piece of information: During the restoration of Bryant Park, in the late 1980s, Park management heeded the advice of Urbanist William H. Whyte, and decided to introduce movable chairs into the park in time for its planned re-opening in 1992.
        As Whyte aptly wrote in his book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces: “Chairs enlarge choice: to move into the sun, out of it, to make room for groups, move away from them. The possibility of choice is as important as the exercise of it. If you know you can move if you want to, you feel more comfortable staying put.”

Whenever I have mentioned the idea of lightweight, easy-to-move tables and chairs for the park or Maple Street Plaza, the the first reaction sadly is “But they’ll get stolen.”  So I Googled “stolen chairs” + “Bryant Park” and got this information from The New York Times blog:  “On a yearly basis, 400 chairs must be replaced from wear-and-tear, as well as the 6-8 that are stolen. BPRC keeps the number of chairs in the park stable at around 2,000.” That’s virtually none.  So what’s the trick on chairs not disappearing?

Put them in busy places with a lot of traffic. So I foucurvend these tables and folding chairs for just $99 at Target and I found the perfect busyaasw spot for half a dozen of them — right outside City Hall where people are always coming and going. It would take all of 5 minutes twice a day to put them out and bring them back in and maybe, just maybe, some of the folks that work at City Hall might actually use them.  And that could be a small step toward enlivening the Park.  Because while we wait for the big plans and the big grants, why don’t we make a little effort on our own?  The cost is tiny and maybe it could have a big payoff.


Making Grape Day Park a place where people want to spend time.

The Master Plans for Grape Day Park created by RHA Landscape Architects-Planners offer many possibilities.  An elegant promenade, arbors draped in wisteria, splash pads filled with laughing children.  All interesting ideas that could change Grape Day into a beautiful urban park.  At the meeting last week, there were many points of discussion.  Here’s a little of what people had to say:

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaSplash pads.  What I saw as an engaging, refreshing place for kids to play, others saw as a shameful waste of water.  Misters were suggested as a cooling alternative and that could work in some spots — but it’s passive not active.

Tropical and non-native vegetation:  There were many placesabcabc in the plan where the landscape architect specified palm trees, noting that they were prevalent around Escondido,  There was agreement among some that we should be using deciduous trees that give good shade — such as live oaks — as well as native plants that were more drought tolerant.  And I agree.  And let’s not get started on what to do about the need/desire for green lawns.

aagggg Trees around the City Hall fountain:  When you are in City Hall you can’t really see the park for the trees and the view of the fountain is blocked for the same reason.  The landscape architect suggested cutting those down and putting in………………..palms. My suggestion was to just keep low plantings so the big fountain was visible from everywhere.

Identifying the buildings:  A number of people. including me. bannertalked about how anonymous (and I would say ominous) the CCAE buildings are.  I really apprecIate their idea of putting brightly colored banners on the buildings,  My only suggestion would be to put actual words on the banners  — MUSEUM, CONCERT HALL, CENTER THEATER — rather than their idea that someone could say “Oh, you want to go to the Museum?  Look for the red banners.” (Let’s not hope for a guide and just make it clear.) And if we do this, can we put banners for the Museum on the side of the Museum that faces the Park so people can actually see them from someplace other than standing right in front of the entrance to the Museum.

For those of you interested in what will actually be done in the next year or two, I encourage you to go to the Facebook page and study the alternate plans for the children’s playground — and then leave your comments on the FB page.  As for the overall plan, here are my final comments.

The landscape architect referenced Maple Street Plaza much too often for my comfort.  That Plaza had not been successful and I believe that is because there is nothing to do there since it is on a side street that offers no activity besides a parking lot and some dumpsters in view. (The post Can we make Maple Street Plaza more lively? discusses this issue.) If Grape Day Park is going to be a lively part of downtown, there have to be reasons for people to go there. City staff at the workshop “confessed” that City staff did not have lunch at the park and did not spend time there.  Participants at the workshop expressed their desire for some food server — restaurant, cart or  truck — to give people a reason to hang out at the park.  The workshop facilitator said zoning would not allow a restaurant, I suggested that zoning had been changed through a CUP many times and this might be one that would benefit the park and community.

Maple Street Plaza, despite expenditures of nearly $3 million, sits empty most of the time while police monitor it for vandalism.  And just to be clear, I think it has been a failure as a “community gathering place.” I would urge RHA Landscape Architects to reconsider their references to Maple Street Plaza and instead consider the natural feel of Grape Day Park in any final design recommendations.  ababaIf you look at this image on the right  that was part of the Power Point last week, you can see that people looking comfortable are not stone chairsitting on anything akin to the rock solid “tables and chairs” of Maple Street Plaza. (That is the image on your left. Grim aren’t they?) but rather at lightweight bistro-style tables and chairs that can be moved to suit the needs of visitors as you can see in the photograph. We might also want to consider compacted, decomposed granite walkways rather than the DIY-looking pavers on Maple — that cost a shitload and are being replaced right now because they couldn’t handle the traffic.

At this point, I would call for breaking the Master Plan work into two parts. The first would be the completion of design by RHA Landscape Architects-Planners for the Children’s Playground which has funding. But for the rest, I think we need to step back, take a breath and consider what is really the best for Grape Day Park.   I have no doubt of the talent of RHA, but they do not live here.  Yet their design decisions will lock us into a plan that could guide development of Grape Day Park for decades.  It really needs a lot more discussion from those who will live with it — and hopefully enjoy it.  We need to talk about it more, consider all the possibilities and then agree on a plan.   Let’s slow down and consider all our options rather than paying for a design that hasn’t really been thoroughly considered.  Let’s give ourselves some more time to consider the Grape Day Park of the future.