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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Who Owns Cody Campbell?

Hint: They're Not Vista Voters




Of the $16,874 from a total of 41 donors to Cody Campbell's campaign for reelection to Vista's City Council, only $2,640 came from city residents. He could thank the six of them by having them over for dinner.

To thank the others he will have to drive up the coast to Irvine and Newport Beach, after stopping in Oceanside to thank Mayor James Wood for his $300 donation and visiting other generous residents of Vista's neighboring cities.

But take a closer look at the out-of-towners to get a clue to their affection for the politician.

Vista limits individual campaign donations to no more than $440. But that didn't stop four businesses with shared urban development interests and the same mailing address (6885 Alton Pkwy. Suite 100 Irvine, California), from giving Campbell $1,760 on the same day last month, September 28.

Progressive Realty Partners is a property management group; Trico Capital Investments specializes in multi- family, mixed-use and retail properties; VASF 1 CA SPV, LLC is a Self-Storage business, and Hard Hat Inc. is a design/build firm.

At the City Council's March 8 meeting, Campbell proposed an amendment to the city's General Plan to change zoning on a 1.9 acre parcel of vacant land to allow Trico Capital Investments to build a two-story, commercial building with office/retail and storage space.  Hard Hat Inc. partnered with Trico in the plan. Seven months later the two companies joined to give Campbell $880 for his campaign.

Silvergate Development, the San Diego firm responsible for developing Vista's new City Hall, gave Campbell's campaign $440 the following day, on September 29. The development firm has a plan to demolish the Breeze Hill Shopping Center to build apartments, as well as another to build apartments at Creekside, next to Frazier Farms.

Silvergate has appealed to the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission's recent vote to require an Environmental Impact Report for the Breeze Hill apartment project. Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby appealed an earlier Planning Commission's vote to approve the Creekside development. Both appeals are scheduled to be heard by the city Council at its November 15 meeting.

Pathfinder Management Co., partners with Silvergate on the Creekside apartment project, gave Campbell $440 on September 29.

The four partners of Integral Communities, a Real Estate firm in Newport Beach, kicked in a total of $1,760 to Campbell's campaign. They want a 17.7-acre site in South Vista to be rezoned to allow for a mixed-use project. A vote wasn't taken on it at the Council's January 12 meeting, but, as the Coast News reported, "a majority of Council members say they were open to the idea of rezoning the land at 2100 W. San Marcos Boulevard to allow for a mixed-use development. Vista Palomar, proposed by Integral Communities, would include 196 two- and three-bedroom condos and a 100-room four-story hotel. Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby said she wanted to examine the differences between mixed-use and residential zoning before moving forward on the idea, but her colleagues expressed support for a housing development. Councilman Cody Campbell said he considered the proposal smart growth." (Hoa Quach, The Coast News, Jan. 12) http://www.thecoastnews.com/2016/01/15/new-condos-could-come-to-vista/

Ten corporate donors from Irvine, Newport Beach, La Jolla and San Diego gave Campbell's campaign a total of $4,400; twenty-five other non-residents of the city gave him $9,834; Six Vista voters gave him $2,640. Any question about how Campbell will vote at the November 15 City Council meeting, when the Council votes on whether to approve the Creekside and Breeze Hill development plans?

On November 8 Vistans will decide whether they want him there.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Why I'm Voting for Tanner and Schumacher for Carlsbad City Council



On September 10, 2015, I received a developer's glossy mailer, urging me not to sign a petition to vote on his City Council-approved plan to build a shopping mall next to the city's Agua Hedionda Lagoon. The five beaming faces of Carlsbad's mayor and city council appeared above the headline: DON'T SIGN THE PETITION. A handy Signature Withdrawal Request card, addressed to City Hall, was attached, in case I'd already signed it. That was the day I decided not one of those elected officials deserved my vote in the next election.

Unfortunately, there are only two open seats on the November 8 ballot. The incumbents needing replacement this year are Keith Blackburn and Lorraine Wood. Check out their campaign websites here: Blackburn; Wood. You'll find the two say nothing about the need to regain the trust of the community.

Wood says she is, "dedicated to supporting the Village and the Village Master Plan because this special place is truly the heart of the community."

After taking credit for supporting it, Blackburn praises the Desalination Project for "assuming responsibility as the Agua Hedionda Lagoon’s steward," despite his attempt to surrender its stewardship to an  L.A. real estate billionaire.

Wood and Blackburn are apparently satisfied with business as usual at City Hall, neither addressing the challenging issues facing the city on its way to build-out.

The four challengers are Ann Tanner, Cori Schumacher, Bill Fowler and Brandon Rowley.

Carlsbadians get to vote for two of the six. Incumbents benefit from at-large elections, with the most name recognition and number of previous supporters. Challengers are likely to split the votes of the disgruntled.

The September surprise in this election is Melanie Burkholder's withdrawal from the race on September 28, too late for her name to be removed from the ballot. She's the only candidate to list her party affiliation as "Republican" on the form she filed for this non-partisan office.

Blackburn and Wood report $100 payments from their campaigns for membership in the San Diego County GOP. Wood added an additional $360 for Carlsbad Republican Women Federated. Its satellite club, "Happy Hour Politics," was launched by Burkholder in 2014.

Conspiracy theorists might say Burkholder's candidacy was intended to benefit the two incumbents from the start, by drawing votes away from the four other challengers.

On October 12, two weeks after she had already dropped out of the race, the Oside News carried an Op-Ed Editorial announcing the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC endorsement of Burkholder. In a close race, the number of votes mistakenly cast for her could decide the election.

I'll be voting for Tanner and Schumacher (no relation to current Councilmember Michael Schumacher). I made my decision based on what I've learned about them in print, social media, streamed video of City Council meetings, and their campaign platforms. Click on their names below for links to their websites.

Ann Tanner, elected to the Carlsbad Unified School District Board of Trustees in 2010, served as president in 2014. During her four years on the board she had to address the divisive issues of balancing budgets, coping with funding cuts, and seeking consensus within the divergent views of her constituents.

I was impressed by Tanner's experience as an elected official and the comprehensiveness and specific priorities in her platform.

1. Require fiscal discipline, balanced budgets and prudent reserves. Deal with the city's $450 million unfunded pension liability by beginning now to fund pensions at 100 percent.

2. Develop support for entrepreneurs, small businesses and emerging technologies, making clean, high tech and research/development businesses a priority.

3. Restore trust and accountability in city government by giving all constituents equal access, providing explanations of all city council votes, and shining a light on campaign contributors' specific agendas.

4. Seek public opinion from all, not just "those who matter," about what to do when the land occupied by the Encina Power Plant is vacated, preferring it to be zoned Open Space for all to enjoy.

5. Return the 48-acre site near the lagoon to TR (Tourist Recreation) zoning, allowing green space for country trails, birding, lookout points, and picnic areas.

6. Reduce building height limit in Village/Barrio Plan back to 35 feet. Make the village walkable and bikeable.

Cori Schumacher, a charismatic leader in the campaign that stopped a developer from polluting a pristine landscape surrounding a city lagoon, she impressed me with her speeches about what was wrong with the developer's project. While the issue drew passionate feelings from both sides, Schumacher relied on facts, not emotions, to make her case.

As does Tanner, Schumacher goes beyond generalizations in describing her priorities.

1. Stop the Council's reliance on the seasonal and unpredictable tourism and hospitality industry. Instead, attract and retain the talent and businesses of the over $250 billion global clean tech industry.

2. Give voters, not developers, control over land use matters.

3. Amend the city's Growth Management Plan to define what amount of growth per 3-5 years is acceptable to decrease the impact of simultaneous, large scale developments.

4. Develop more creative and active methods of engaging residents, listening to them, rather than developers and real estate investors, to make decisions for our community.

5. Restore confidence in the competency and integrity of local government, with more openness, transparency and accountability.

6. Support a transition in Carlsbad to 100% renewable energy by 2035 by allowing residents more choices of energy providers through Community Choice Energy (e.g. See here for Q&A link for Sonoma Clean Power).

Bill Fowler says his reason for running is to stand up to a bully, the current City Council, promising, "I am ready to lead our great small city into a future where we protect our life style, protect our environment, keep our streets safe and have a City Council that listens to our citizens."

Those are excellent goals, but his platform and public comments are aimed mostly at attacking the Council, falling short of the vision of city growth and development described by Tanner and Schumacher.

Brandon Rowley, a 23 year-old recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo and San Diego Zoo employee, says he's running for office to "energize and empower young adults to become actively engaged in local government…and bring merit to the idea that younger voters matter in politics."

That's a worthy goal, especially in a city with a history of electing officials of a certain age only. Although Rowley's leadership experience falls short of my top two candidates, I hope he continues to be engaged in local politics. Both his resume and platform are impressive.

Business as usual is no longer acceptable in Carlsbad politics. Ann Tanner and Cori Schumacher have the experience, integrity and talent to begin replacing the elected officials who've been ignoring the best interests of their constituents.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Vista's Mixed Use Zone: A Developer's Dream



Imagine a city where developers are able to choose from among 57 different business enterprises for a downtown site, either for a single use or any combination thereof. Here's a small sample from the ala carte menu.

Bank or financial facility
Pharmacy
Multi-family dwellings
Recycling collection facilities
Retail shops and restaurants
Check casher
Pawn Shop
Service stations
Bail bond businesses
Bargain-basement stores

Add to that list temporary uses for carnivals and circuses, a farmers market, and seasonal sales of pumpkins and Christmas trees.

Welcome to Vista, California, where the purpose of its Mixed Use Zone is "…to allow for a mix of residential and commercial, or just residential, or just commercial (standalone) land uses."

It's a developer's wet dream.

One developer has already received the go-ahead from the city's Planning Commission to build a high density, 41-unit apartment complex on a 1.5 acre site in a scenic downtown area known as Creekside.

He's now proposing an 88-unit apartment complex on a 3-acre site near City Hall, where he'll demolish a 22,000 square-foot building that once housed shops in the Breeze Hill Promenade Shopping Center.

Silvergate Development Manager Ian Gill introduced his plans two years ago. They've been met with strong opposition from a group calling themselves Vistans for a Livable Community, who say plans for Creekside and Breeze Hill violate twin goals listed in the Land Use and Community Identity Element of the city's General Plan: smart growth and sustainable development.

Opponents say the developer's plans should be denied because of their high density, which would create unacceptable additional parking demand, traffic hazards, the violation of smart growth goals, and the abandonment of balanced commercial growth.

At the City Planning Commission's September 6 meeting a motion to disapprove the Creekside plan was interrupted by the assistant city attorney, who claimed a state law required it to be approved unless there is documented evidence the project would have "a specific, adverse impact upon public health or safety." Following his opinion, Commissioners voted to approve the plan. That decision has now been appealed to the City Council by Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby.

There's a solution to the developer's standoff with his opponents. He could build at both sites to conform to the density and building height requirements in the city's Multi-Residential Zone, like those governing the 300-unit Charlemont condos located near his Breeze Hill project, reducing density by limiting dwelling units to 15 per acre.

That would bring the number of Creekside apartment units down from 41 to 23 and the Breeze Hill plan from 88 to 45. The first floor of all buildings could be leased office and retail space, creating actual mixed use sites.

By doing so Silvergate could satisfy the land use and community identity goals in the General Plan: retaining and expanding the city's economic base, addressing housing needs, and maintaining the safety and convenience of roadway users.

But follow the money to see why that would be a non-starter with the Deep Pockets.

Pathfinder Partners LLC, a San Diego-based real estate investment firm, bought the Breeze Hill Promenade Retail Center for $7.35 million in August 2014. Here's what Mitch Siegler, Senior Managing Director of Pathfinder wrote in his April 2015 report to investors about the Breeze Hill purchase.

The center includes two free-standing buildings – one a national drug store chain and the other a national bank…Red hot demand for these. We’re planning to sell them and recover our entire investment. And we’ll be left with the 10-year-old, floundering inline retail center in back – for free. Highest and best use isn’t retail but residential. We hope to demolish the retail center and build 100 apartments.

That explains why the retail center floundered. Property owners were in no hurry to help it succeed. The Breeze Hill property changed to mixed-use in 2012 at the owner's request, when the city updated its general plan.

As one shop owner put it in a September 19 letter to Mayor Judy Ritter and the Vista City Council, "This was not a failed shopping center, it was a shopping center that was failed by its owners."

Her shop was located there from 2009 - 2014. Beginning with an application to rent a space, she described her experience with the leasing agency. After waiting two months for a reply, she called them back. It took another six months before the lease was hers.

The agency promised her several other businesses were on the way, the center was filling up. But over five years only three new businesses moved in.

She realized the owners had no intention of renting out the surrounding shops when one of her customers, planning to open an exercise business there, tried to contact them about renting a space. Her calls were never returned.

After the Planning Commission voted to table the Breeze Hill project until it gets an Environmental Impact Report, Silvergate's agitated Ian Gill drafted a letter to John Conley, Director of Community Development/Engineering, asking for an appeal of the Commission's action. Conley agreed to schedule the appeal, citing development code, section 18.04 .5 0B .2, reading: "…all decisions of the planning commission are appealable to the City Council."

City planners have told those opposing the projects the goals in the city's General Plan are only "guidelines," and that Silvergate's plans dot all the "i's" and cross all the "t's" in the building codes of the mixed use zone. Fair enough. But they may also be leading Vista backwards down a path toward the zone-free urban decay reminiscent of the 1950's.