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In January, the Escondido City Council heard an appeal of the Planning Commission's approval of a Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis (MFRO) treatment plant. The appeal was to address concerns of a 100-unit senior living facility which would be located directly adjacent to the new plant.
The council, to no one's surprise, voted 4-1 against the appeal and in favor of building the plant. Now, the residents of the Springs have filed a lawsuit against the City to have the building of the facililty stopped.
What was surprising was the level of rancor from the sitting council members toward the public - especially the seniors - who were present to speak in favor of the appeal. The seniors and other neighbors of the facility were critical of the city's decision to place such an industrial use in the middle of a residential area. The parcel of land is zoned for General Commercial use, is next to two different commercial plazas and needed a Conditional Use Permit to be allowed to move forward. This did not concern the council as much as the charges from residents the council didn't care about the low-income and senior neighbors.
Previous to the plant being proposed at its current site, it had been planned to be place in the Chapparal neighborhood of Escondido, an middle to upper-middle class neighborhood of single family homes north east of the present site. Those who spoke out against the new location of the facility - including residents of Chapparal - questioned why the council was OK with putting the facility in a lower-income neighborhood.
Mayor Abed, like the attendant at Disneyland's Tiki Room, began the show by waking up his parrots that sit on the council. Council member Ed Gallo (who represents the district) said, "When you bring up ethnicity, that really rubs me the wrong way. This is B.S., plain and simple.” He went on to say, “Socio-economic status doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it.”
Not to be deterred - or outdone - Council member John Masson stole the evening by telling those who pointed out the inconsistancy of the city's actions, "This has nothing to do with social injustice. We don’t do that crap here.”
The gaslighting of Escondido and its residents has begun. Perhaps the sitting council members didn't remember the comments of the Mayor to the Union Tribune in an article about the protest of the Chapparal residents when the plant was first planned.
In an article dated May 20, 2016, Abed is quoted as saying the hearing on the water plant would be delayed “to evaluate the issues that have been addressed by citizens.” At the May 26, 2016 council meeting, according to an article in the UT, after telling the assembled crowd the item had been delayed and would not be discussed, Abed said, "We decided the staff needs to evaluate the whole project and needs more time. We need to explore every alternative to minimize the impact on the nice neighborhood.” Abed ended the meeting by saying to those who had waited to make public comments, “Your points are well taken. We will not put any chemicals that would risk children or family’s health. This would not happen. We’ve got it. We’ve responded. Let us do the homework and come back to you."
This is very different from the story the council was parroting at its January meeting. When faced with the very same chemicals and project, those who live in the low-income neighborhood directly across the street and those who live in the senior living facility directly adjacent and down wind to the east did not make the same salient protests apparently as the residents of Chapparal. But this type of irregularity demonstrates the current method of governance at Escondido City Hall - not "do the least harm" but "do harm to those least able to protest effectively."
The residents of the Springs have taken the lead by mustering what they can of their retirement savings and putting them toward suing City Hall to allow them the quality of life they enjoy currently. The Republican majority of the City Council should be ashamed of themselves for even considering putting this project here, especially when there is a viable alternative location to be considered.
All opinions expressed are those of Don Greene and not necessarily his employer.