by Everett DeLano
Near the end of the March 4th Escondido City Council hearing regarding a proposed 65-home development on land currently in the County and proposed to be annexed into the City, Mayor Sam Abed took it upon yourself to criticize my firm and some of the good neighbors who had come out to express their concerns about the project.
He called out aspects of a comment letter I had written a couple days earlier, decrying what he labeled as “complete ignorance.” Mayor Abed alleged my letter incorrectly claimed the City’s General Plan calls for a 50-foot buffer to protect wetlands. Yet City staff put that very language up for all to see – Escondido General Plan Water Resources and Quality Policy 6.8 requires “a minimum of a 50-foot buffer and setback for development.” City staff had claimed that the language also mentions an exception might be possible where wildlife agencies approve of a smaller buffer, but two things are problematic with that assertion: (1) the wildlife agencies have actually called for a 100-foot buffer and (2) even if the wildlife agencies had said a smaller buffer might work, my comment was still valid, since the General Plan clearly expects a minimum of 50 feet and the project has buffers as small as zero feet. He also asserted my letter incorrectly claims that the development would create an island of City land. City staff made the rather ridiculous claim that the land was not an island because one tiny corner of the project site will touch a tiny corner of existing City land. But again that does not make my comment incorrect. Merriam-Webster defines “island” to mean “an isolated group or area.” In this instance, the project, a gated community surrounded by County land, will create both an isolated group of residents and an isolated geographic area.
But I wouldn’t even bother to write this if his only attack was on my work. Unfortunately, Mayor Abed next unleashed his vitriol on some of the good area residents who had taken so much of their time and energy to express their concerns. He reminded everyone of the applicant’s “property rights.” Of course, under both the state and federal constitutions, everyone has a right to express their opinions. He may disagree with those opinions, but they were completely within their rights to express them.
Perhaps Mayor Abed was angry, since some speakers (but not the people he attacked) expressed concerns about a possible conflict of interest. One speaker said a consultant to the project was on his staff, and another speaker noted that he is listed in minutes from a City Council meeting several years ago as “Co-President” of the very applicant who was seeking project approval. But that anger could not justify his venom against the good citizens who were there in the hopes their voices would be heard.
And here’s the worst part about Mayor Abed’s diatribe: earlier during the same hearing, he commended everyone (both supporters and opponents of the project) for being “civil.” He congratulated the speakers for not engaging in personal attacks. Yet like a cowardly bully, he didn’t ask me or the other residents about our statements when we were up at the podium. He didn’t give us a chance to respond or clarify anything he thought he might have heard. He waited until the hearing was closed, and then he engaged in personal attacks. In fact, when one of the residents stood up to respond, he pounded his fist on the dais and reminded him that the hearing was closed and his turn to speak was over.
At one point he said my comment letter was “embarrassing,” but I think Mayor Abed was the real embarrassment that evening. It’s one thing to know you have the power to wield the mayor’s gavel and vote against the wishes of area residents. But it’s quite another thing to abuse that power and to abuse those good people who come before the City Council to express their concerns. Mayor Abed should be ashamed of himself.