Myths about the Charter City measure continue to flourish.

If you are new to the discussion on Measure G which would turn Escondido into a Charter City, I have written about it many times and if you type “Charter City” into the SEARCH box you can read all about it.  As I’ve listened to candidates speak at the forums, I continue to hear statements about the Charter that are not true.  But I want to start by clearing up some confusion I have heard from people “on the street.” Charter cities and Charter schools have nothing to do with one another.  The word “charter” simply means they have been granted the power to operate under the terms of a written document. Aside from that, they are totally unrelated and Charter schools operate the same way no matter the status of the city in which they are located.

Myth #1  If it is not written in the Charter, then the City can’t do it.  Another observation is that the Charter is an empty document.  So let’s look at the words of the Charter itself:

Section 101. Powers

The City shall have all powers that a City can have under the Constitution and laws of  the State of California as fully and completely as though they were specifically enumerated in this Charter. The enumeration in this Charter of any particular power, duty or procedure shall not be held to be exclusive of, or any limitation or restriction upon, this general grant of power.

I think it is pretty clear, right?  This paragraph says  Just because it’s not written in the Charter doesn’t mean the City won’t take all the power it can — the “general grant of power” which covers everything considered a “municipal affair.”

Myth #2  If we had been a Charter city they wouldn’t have taken our Redevelopment money.  Now this is usually said in a vague way, like “the State steals our money” but then they refer to the tens of millions of dollars that were lost.  Well, the fact is EVERY city in California that had redevelopment funds — Charter or not — had those funds taken away. Being a Charter City would have made NO DIFFERENCE and that will hold true in the future it the State determines funds are a “statewide concern.”

Myth #3  The Charter cities will win their case against prevailing wage on appeal and then we’ll save 30% – 40% on our construction projects.  If this case is appealed — and we don’t even know that it will be — it will be in the courts for awhile and it is not likely to be overturned, so we might just want to hold off. In the meantime, we might want to wonder why appointed Councilman Masson said that as a Charter City we could save “30% – 40%” when those in favor of Charters never quote a number that high.  I also found it interesting to learn that when the City of Carlsbad was asked about savings as a Charter City not paying prevailing wage they said this:  “We have found savings to be hard to ascertain. Bid prices may be lower on the front end but there is some suspicion that the total project costs may impact initial savings (change orders, costly project delays, more labor by city employees, etc.)”

Myth #4  The only reason the Charter failed in 2012 was because it included Districting. There is absolutely no information that backs up that claim.  The Charter failed by 5 points and no one has brought forth any concrete data on any specific reason why.

I urge everyone running for Mayor and City Council to get clarity on the Charter and what it does and doesn’t mean.  Then I hope they will make their cases based upon the facts, and not the myth that suits their message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YES and NO votes at City Council happen for all sorts of reasons.

When a member of the City Council votes NO on a measure, does that mean they’re opposed to it?  I know that sounds like an odd question, but let me give you some examples to consider.

On a balanced budget: I must begin here by reminding everyone that the City of Escondido has ALWAYS had a balanced budget.  It is required by law.  So when someone says they balanced the budget, remember that happens every year.

Mayor Abed is proud of the years he voted against the City’s Operating Budget, even though they were balanced budgets.  His complaint?  They were balanced using reserves the City had accumulated for difficult times but he felt they shouldn’t be spent.  He wanted there to be more cuts to services rather than spend reserves.  So when he voted NO on those budgets does that mean he was voting against public safety, maintenance of roads, parks, recreation, libraries — all the services paid for by the budget?  I would say NO.

I bring this up because the Mayor has made a point of repeatedly saying that Deputy Mayor Diaz voted against balanced budgets.  Just like the Mayor, she did so for many years.  But the reason she voted NO was the opposite of his.  She felt reserves should be used to retain services, rather than cut services (closing the branch library and cutting funds to recreation and community programs in 2011 is a prime example.) So if she voted NO on a budget does that mean she was voting against public safety, maintenance of roads, park, recreation, libraries — all the services paid for by the budget?  I would say NO again.

Reporting on votes by a Council member can provide misleading information.  In 2010, Mayoral candidate and City Council member Daniels put out a campaign mailer that stated Councilman Abed “…voted against the new Lexus dealership.”  That was a surprise to me until I went back and looked at all the votes on Lexus.  Yep, then Councilman Abed voted (along with Councilwoman Waldron) against the Lexus dealership because he had a problem with the signage.  Do you think he would have cast that if it would have stopped the project? Doubtful. But since there were three others who would vote in favor of moving things along he was able to make that vote.

Same goes with a Charter vote on May 13, 2012.  Here’s how it was reported in the minutes.

 MOTION: Moved by Councilmember Diaz and seconded by Councilmember Morasco to direct staff to include voting districts, language to revert to an at large election if necessary and to review the City Treasurer election process. Ayes: Diaz and Morasco. Noes: Abed, Gallo and Waldron. Absent: None. Motion failed.

MOTION: Moved by Councilmember Diaz and seconded by Councilmember Morasco to direct staff to include voting districts, language to revert to an at large election if necessary and to review the City Treasurer election process. Ayes: Diaz, Gallo and Morasco. Noes: Abed and Waldron. Absent: None. Motion carried.

Now if you read both of these, you will see that the motions are identical.  But the first time around, it loses with only two votes, while the second time it wins with three votes.  Who made the switch?  Councilman Gallo.  Seem a little weird to you, considering the two motions were the same?  Well, if you watch the video of the meeting you will see that Mayor Abed needed to vote against it so he could say he had voted against districts which were part of the first charter.  Same for Councilwoman Waldron.  They both wanted that symbolic NO vote against districts. And so the Mayor looked to Councilman Gallo to change his vote.  It’s arm twisting of an odd sort, but Councilman Gallo — after some private discussion with City Attorney Epp — agrees to support the motion.  So Mayor Abed voted against the Charter in 2012.  But then voted for it on June 13, 2012.

YES and NO votes are not cut and dried.  A YES vote for the 2008/9 balanced budget meant using reserves to maintain city services.  It was a 4 to 1 vote, with Councilman Abed voting NO.  A YES vote for the 2009/10 balanced budget meant using reserves to maintain city services.  It was unanimous.  A YES vote for the 2010/11 balanced budget meant using no reserves and cutting services while closing the branch library.  It was a 4 to 1 vote, with Councilwoman Diaz voting NO.

I urge everyone to find out the details on a vote that is being used as criticism of a candidate.  The Council meetings are online back to January of 2009 so you can always watch the discussion and see what that vote really meant.

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The highlight reel from last night’s Candidate Forum.

All the questions for this forum came from the audience and were collected and sorted by the women from the League of Women Voters, none of whom live or vote in Escondido.  That was good on the whole, though it led to some questions being bunched together that were on very specific issues that would only be known to those who followed Escondido governance and politics.  This report will be very brief, covering only those items that stood out over the course of the evening.  I will have more later.

District 1 Councilman Gallo versus Consuelo Martinez

Councilman Gallo wants folks to stay the course.  He’s been involved in the city since jaycees and Rotary and has worked with every neighborhood group.

Consuelo Martinez wants people to understand she has been doing grassroots community work for more than a decade, is bi-lingual (important in District 1) and more approachable

Their major area of agreement was that people had to get organized and demand services for their neighborhoods.

District 2   Nicole Downey vs Chad Hunzinker vs appointed Councilman John Masson vs Rick Paul

Councilman Masson doubled down on the Charter saying that yes, the battle against prevailing wage had a setback, but he doesn’t believe it is over. (Though the courts have voted against the suit.)  In fact, he feels so strongly about how it will allow the City to save money once it is eliminated he upped the amount of money the City would save without prevailing wage.  While the most “generous” estimates from those against prevailing wage have set the saving at 10-20%, last night appointed Councilman Masson raised that savings to 30-40% on City construction projects.  Nothing to back that number up, but what the heck.

Appointed Councilman Masson continues to talk in newspeak about the fees charged to the developer of the North Broadway Deficiency area.  The Planning Department  recommended fees of $17,000 while the developer wanted to pay only $12,000.  To appointed Councilman Masson the decision to go with $12,500 was RAISING the fees.  I guess that makes sense if you think the developer should set the rate for fees.  And it was interesting to hear that appointed Councilman Masson did not even know what the Planning Department had recommended saying they wanted “$21,000 or whatever.”  So he didn’t know what the proposed fee was but he knew it was too high?  I guess that’s because the developer told him so.

Rick Paul again stated that the Charter was an “empty document.”  I urge him to do some reading on the subject and understand that if it is not mentioned — and it is a “municipal affair” — the Charter allows the City Council to do what they want.  That is not an “empty” threat.

Nicole Downey was very good in her discussion of the closing of the East Valley Branch Library, noting that the City didn’t have the money to keep it open but six months later had the money to put in carports with solar panels.  If Ms. Downey could dispense with reading her notes, she would be a much better candidate.

Mayor Sam Abed vs Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz vs Stephen Siaw

This was the main match of the evening and we’d heard much of it before, so I won’t go over old ground.  Just know that Mayor Abed stuck to his script, Deputy Mayor Diaz brought up some new ideas and Stephen Siaw said what he thought, taking it to the Mayor a couple of times.

Since the audience got to submit questions, I did so and one of them was asked:  What was the worst decision by the City Council in the last 5 years?

Deputy Mayor Diaz went first, citing the closing of the East Valley Branch Library — which she voted against — noting that it was an investment in education that the City just threw away.

Mayor Abed said that he was “proud of every decision I made.”  Said something about making Escondido a safe city for all residents and ended by saying “I don’t regret any decisions.”  For someone to believe they have not made one bad decision in five years is not a good thing n my book.

Stephen Siaw said the adoption of the ECCHO Initiative was the worst decision.  At a later point, in a discussion of Measure H, he noted that the city had changed the zoning on the guy. He closed that remark by saying “For the love of God, somebody bought that place.” The audience laughed out loud.

I will have more on the meat of the Mayoral debate in the next few days, but I wanted to end with this. The rules for the event, supplied to all the candidates, stated that “No visual aids, such as PowerPoint, or props may be used by any candidate.” But there was the Mayor walking in with his chart under his arm but he wasn’t allowed to bring it to the dais.  So what did Mayor we-all-have-to-abide-by-the-rules Abed do? When he wanted to reference his chart, he pulled an 8 1/2 x 11 copy out of his jacket and held that up.  But he was followed by Stephen Siaw who pulled his own chart out of his pocket noting that the Mayor’s chart of good and bad years looked pretty much like the one he was holding that showed the US economy. Point goes to Mr. Siaw.

Republican Central Committee Meeting June, 2013 – Sam Abed’s Full Speech

I was recently sent a link to a video of Mayor Abed’s speech before the Republican Party of San Diego’s Central Committee meeting.  It was held in Rancho Bernardo on June 10th of last year, and was uploaded to YouTube in October by the Republican Party of San Diego.  I assume that means everybody involved thinks it’s a important video, one that shows the Mayor and the Republican Party in a great light.

I watched the whole video and most of it was what I expected.  I was surprised to hear (and it sounded like much of the audience was too) when Mayor Abed said “i am here to officially declare Escondido as the capital of the Republican party in San Diego.” From there he attacked Olga Diaz and the Democrats and then went on to lay out his standard sales pitch. It was all so familiar I was only half listening until more than three-quarters of the way through when Mayor Abed referenced a question that had been asked (he didn’t say when) by Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party.  I was so taken aback but what Mayor Abed said that I had to stop, rewind and listen to the video a couple more times to be sure I was hearing it right.  And I was.  So here is what the Mayor said and seemed to think was a perfectly reasonable question:

“Ron Nehring has asked the question. What are you going to do about the Hispanic population in your City?”

I listened again.  Yes, Mayor Abed said “what to do about” the Hispanic population.  Not how to help or how to recruit or how to make them feel like a part of the city.  No, it appears to the Mayor and the Republicans he was gathered with that Hispanics are a problem they have to “do” something about.  Did the Mayor really think it was fine to repeat that question as if there was nothing offensive about it?

Well, he certainly did and then went on to say: “We have half of them, 47% of our population are Hispanic.”  Them?  “Not something like Half the residents of my City are Hispanic” but rather “them.”

In my America, being HIspanic or French or Lebanese or any other ethnicity does not make you the “other” — part of a group that the “Americans” have to “do” something about.  So when the Mayor went on to say he was inclusive, I did not find that believable.  Because if he thinks he has to “do something” about half the population of Escondido, he’s leaving out a hell of a lot of people in his inclusion. But then, that doesn’t seem to concern him.

He ended by say how grateful he was for all the support the Republican party had given him in maintaining the Republican Council majority in Escondido but he felt that Escondido was just the start.  He wanted the group to move from advocacy to action. His final words?

“Let us take our country back, one city at a time.”

Take our city back from whom?  (Can you hear the dog whistle?)

 

Latest update on downtown — Grand and 2nd.

In my post of a year ago, I mentioned the new places opening on Grand.  One of those was the Metro Diner, which opened last October.  There have been days when the place looked busy and others when it was empty.  When Cruisin’ Grand came back in April, I hoped that might help to build a following but there is something about that location that does not attract people on Grand.  (My personal bet would be the 7/11 which turns that corner into a wasteland of asphalt and bright light.  Why the hell that was ever allowed to be built is far beyond my understanding.)  Last month it closed for the proverbial remodeling and then today I saw a For Sale sign in the window.  It’s a tough location and the interior needs some work, but I think it could do well as a bar with good food.  Will keep you informed.

F Street has been purchased and will become a warm and friendly restaurant.  Will pass along more information as it becomes available.

El Nopal has closed and is being replaced by another Mexican restaurant. Can’t remember the name, but it includes the word Mariscos so we know there will be seafood.

Swirlz Candy Emporium has announced they are closing.  Opened in 2011, it appears the foot traffic they needed never materialized and now they encourage everyone to come in for their final Going out of Business sale.  If you’re a fan of retro candy and toys, you might want to stop by.  Maybe some early Christmas shopping for the little kids on your list.

Had a nice talk with a shop owner who said people in the downtown had a problem with the City not on the big stuff but the little stuff.  S/he then went on to tell me about the businesses that had gotten in trouble for signs, painting and such — and that two major painting projects had been stopped by the City part way through.  S/he also said that people felt they were nickeled and dimed when they moved in downtown and wished there was more flexibility.  I don’t know if the complaints are justified — does it really cost a small business $400 to be allowed to put up a sign? — but I’m laying it out for discussion since no one seems to want to go on the record about this issue.

The business owner made a good observation.  “The downtown doesn’t need more businesses, it needs more customers.” S/he did feel the Catholic University had made a difference in downtown — that happened because Mayor Abed and Deputy Mayor Diaz supported the project over the objection of the Planning Department — and that the City needed to do what we could to bring even more young people downtown.  S/he did wonder if the City could do something to push the owners of the big three buildings — former Heller Ford, movie theater and EH Johnson — to sell their buildings rather than get such nice tax writeoffs.  Deputy Mayor Diaz has suggested the City begin a low-interest loan program for buyers who face extensive bring-it-up-to-code renovations (Mayor Abed scoffed at that, saying What do you think we are, a bank? which seemed odd given the fact the Mayor supports the facade program, which GIVES money to businesses.  Maybe he doesn’t like the idea because it wasn’t his?) I thought we were so close on the Heller Building that Tom D’Agosta wanted to turn into a permanent Farmers’ Market.  That never made it past the Economic Development Subcommittee meeting but maybe something will happen come the new year.

For now, please do your part to support the downtown.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between — coffee midmorning, tea in the afternoon and a glass of wine or beer early evening — all add up for the entrepreneurs downtown.  And while you’re there, take a walk up and down the street and stop into some of the neat shops.  You might find something you love or something that would be perfect for someone on your holiday list.  I promise you Amazon won’t miss the money.