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Local News October 9th, 2008

Arguments Against Prop T (The $98 million High School Bond Issue) Building

While the Escondido Union High School District, its staff and supporters begin its public relations campaign to inform the public about the proposed $98 million bond issue, organized opposition has already emerged that strongly argues the bond issue is totally unnecessary. One of the chief critics of the proposed bond issue is Escondido patent attorney, Robroy Fawcett.

“Proposition T should be defeated,” he says. “The District Superintendent has already confirmed there is a tax sharing agreement already in place that is scheduled to deliver $46.6 million in redevelopment funds for school construction from the city of Escondido to the District. This Tax Sharing Agreement has been in place for decades.”

Fawcett has been frustrated by what he sees as intentional delays by the School District in providing him copies of correspondence and agreements between the District and the city of Escondido. He complains the District told him they could get him the information by October 16th . . . he initially requested the information on July 28th, and then again on September 23rd. That is not acceptable, he says.

"The voters were hoodwinked by proponents of Prop BB (the Palomar Pomerado Hospital bond for $496 million) . . . they don’t deserve to be hoodwinked again. The District and the city of Escondido need to be forthcoming and lay out the Tax Sharing Agreement for one and all to see."

According to Fawcett, “My inquiries have resulted in information that shows the Tax Sharing Agreement envisions $145 million in redevelopment funds being made available for high school construction and rehabilitation. Further, the agreement stipulates If the redevelopment funds continue to flow into the City as projected, the Escondido Redevelopment Agency long ago agreed "to fund three (3) or more new high schools, including the cost of property acquisition or exchange", "to fund two (2) or more new continuation high schools, including the cost of property acquisition or exchange", and "to fund the rehabilitation and construction of facilities and grounds, on a one-time basis, at all existing District schools."

“Now,” says Fawcett, “why on earth would the District ask the voters to approve a $98 million bond when they already have the money allocated and committed for the schools?

There’s just way too much wrong with this package. The Financing Plan for Proposition T ignores now falling real estate values! The "best estimate" of the tax liability in the tax rate statement is based on predictions of economic conditions over the next 44 years! The Plan hopes for growth in assessed values at a rate of 5.05% per year for 44 years with no accountability for already wrong economic predictions.

The San Diego Taxpayers Association states that the District may receive up to $254 million from the City of Escondido under the Tax Sharing Agreement. The Agreement and other documents are available for inspection at http://propt.ipress.info.

Taxpayers must demand that the District and the City of Escondido honestly set forth the amounts and timing of the redevelopment funds allocated for high school construction before voting on Proposition T. It is simply unconscionable that our District would ask the taxpayers for more money when there is no need. While the city may be reluctant to keep its commitments, they need to be up front and honest about it and find a way to keep their commitment. The City of Escondido must not waiver in its required investment in better schools for our children."

“The voters,”
he said, “should totally reject Prop T because it would be foolish to approve bond debt before the funds are actually needed; foolish to approve an unusual Financing Plan that is worse than subprime; foolish to approve new bond debt when sufficient redevelopment funds have already been allocated for the needed school construction.”

Asked why the Escondido Chamber of Commerce would so strongly endorse such a flawed plan, Fawcett replied, “They were fooled by misrepresentatons by sharp talking folks on Prop BB and they didn’t do their homework. They haven’t done their homework on this proposed bond issue either. I’m hoping the Escondido voters will study the issue and vote Proposition T down. But I call on the School District and the city of Escondido to make the information available so the voters might study the facts and make an informed vote.”

MultiMillion Dollar Lawsuit Urged Against SDG&E

In a four page letter, David Hogan, Conservation Manager for the Center for Biological Diversity urges William Metz, Forest Supervisor for the Cleveland National Forest, to seek damages from San Diego Gas and Electric for harm caused to the Cleveland National Forest (CNF) from the Witch Fire of 2007. He also requested that Metz and his agency oppose construction of the proposed “Sunrise Powerlink” transmission line through any portion of the Cleveland National Forest to reduce the likelihood of future destructive power line fires.

To bolster his argument, Hogan pointed out there were two formal government investigations which have now concluded that San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) is responsible for starting the Witch Fire. On July 9, 2008, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) announced that SDG&E was “careless or negligent ” in operating its electric transmission lines in violation of Health and Safety Code Section 13001. It found that the company failed to clear flammable material or take other reasonable precautions necessary to ensure against the start and spread of fire. CALFIRE also found SDG&E power lines were the cause of the Rice fire. Another California state agency also found SDG&E responsible for both the Witch and Rice fires. On September 2, 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission Consumer Protection and Safety Division issued a report concluding that SDG&E failed to operate its overhead electric transmission lines in accordance with utilities commission regulations. The utilities commission also reach the disturbing conclusion that SDG&E “did not provide full cooperation with the CPSD in a timely manner” during its investigation.

Hogan went on to say , “Based on the extent of damage to the Cleveland National Forest, we urge you to take all necessary steps to fully restore damaged National Forest natural resources and facilities. Based on the documented culpability of SDG&E, we also urge you to seek compensation from SDG&E to recover public funds spent in response to damages from the Witch Fire. The recent findings of both CALFIRE and the utilities commission make clear that as a matter of law SDG&E may be held accountable for damages incurred to the CNF. Earlier this year the United States recovered over $100 million in costs resulting from the “Storrie Fire.” This fire burned approximately 52,000 acres of National Forest system lands as a result of the negligent conduct of the Union Pacific Railroad. The court found that recoverable costs include “separate injuries to trees, to the soil and pre-merchantable timber, and its loss of habitat and environmental services during the period of forest regrowth…reforestation costs are recoverable…habitat equivalency damages are legally permissible and separately compensable…” United States v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35338 (E.D. Cal. April 30, 2008). As a matter of law, SDG&E’s negligent conduct leading to the Witch Fire is indistinguishable from the facts in Union Pacific.

Hogan also argued that, “SDG&E’s negligence with regard to the Witch Fire also calls into serious question the ability of the company to safely operate a major new transmission line through the Cleveland National Forest – the “Sunrise Powerlink.”

One of the areas in the CNF identified as the most vulnerable to large wildfires is an area that would be traversed by possible southern routes for the Powerlink. Another area of concern would be traversed by northern Powerlink routes.

Based on this information and based on SDG&E’s negligence around the Witch and Rice fires, we urge you to act to protect people and nature by rejecting construction of the Powerlink on any portion of the Cleveland National Forest.

Dennis French a Council Candidate in Escondido

In a local news story from the October 2nd edition of The Paper, it was announced we would list our endorsements in this issue for council candidates in Escondido and San Marcos, as well as for the PPH Board (which we have done)... We listed all candidates except for the city of Escondido. We neglected to include Dennis French as being one of six candidates for two seats on the Escondido City Council.

Mr. French is, indeed, an active candidate for council. The Paper regrets the error and omission.

Oceanside Municipal Airport to Have New Owners?

Oceanside councilmembers were asked last night to approve a 70 year lease with Airport Property Ventures, a Los Angeles based private company. The proposal called for a 50 year lease with two ten year options. Over the first 25 years, the proposed lease is scheduled to return $11.3 million to the city in rents and loan repayments. The company also would build new hangars, tie-downs and a terminal.

The airport, first built in 1963, has one 3,000-foot-long runway suitable primarily for propeller aircraft, and is home to about 60 planes. There are presently 34 hangers on the 50-acre property presently but under the terms of the lease the new company would build 100 hangars. The proposed lease calls for a minimum annual rent plus 40 percent of all net income generated above that. The minimum rent in the first year would be 11 payments of $9,000 each.

Airport Property Ventures is expected to repay a $744,000 loan the city received from the state for airport improvements, and repay the city general fund $450,000 that was used to help operate the airfield when revenues there did not meet expenses. The City Council's decision to turn the airport over to a private operator comes after several years of controversy involving lawsuits, city studies, election campaigns and rebukes from the FAA.

At press time, the council had not reached a decision.

New Oceanside Shopping Center?

Where we used to buy and munch on popcorn while watching the movie at the old Valley Drive-In Theaters . . . we may now go shopping instead. That is, if the Oceanside Planning Commission approves. one of the largest shopping centers ever built in Oceanside.

To be known as “Pavilion at Oceanside,” it would be built on the 92-acre site that was once the Valley Drive-In but, of late, has been used as a weekend swap meet. The site is located at Mission Avenue and Foussat Road, about two miles east of Interstate 5. It is also near the Oceanside Municipal Airport.

Pavilion, with 950,000 square feet of buildings, if approved, would be built by a company from Georgia, Thomas Enterprises. The financial consultants estimated the project would employ about 2,800 people and bring in almost $3.8 million in new sales, property and business-license taxes annually. If the Planning Commission approves the plans the next step is referral to the Oceanside City Council. The head of the Planning Department has recommended approval.

Carlsbad City Council Candidates Clash

A candidate’s forum for Carlsbad City Council’s two vacant seats became, at times, contentious, as candidates Thomas K. Arnold, Farrah Douglas and Glenn Bernard criticized the city's pension plan, which at retirement pays employees 3 percent of their salary for every year they worked. The questions focused in on another of the six candidates for the two available seats, Keith Blackburn, who is a Carlsbad police sergeant who is set to retire in January.

Douglas said the state's retirement system – called CalPERS – lost $25 billion Monday when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 777 points. Blackburn corrected her to say the actual figure was $7 billion, and it recovered $4 billion of that the next day and is not in danger of failing to meet obligations. He also pointed out the system is funded and, in any event, the city is not on the hook because its employees pay into the system. (However, if CalPERS can't meet its obligations, the city must pay in to make up any shortfall.)

Councilwoman Ann Kulchin, who's running for her eighth term and is supported by the police and firefighters unions, said that Mayor Bud Lewis planned to look into alternate plans that might alleviate financial pressures on the city. The hopefuls also debated the expansion of auto dealerships and city drainage systems.

Candidate Evan Delaney Rodgers was absent from the forum.

• • • • •

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