Like many other municipalities in San Diego County, revenues in the City of Escondido’s financial coffers are drying up. The city is projecting, for the current fiscal year, a $6 million budget deficit.
The deficit -- again like so many other cities throughout the county-- is blamed on a shortfall in property, sales and now, business tax revenues. In recent months, car dealerships and large retail department stores in Escondido have boarded their windows, locked the doors, and left town. In response, city council members are feverishly trying to recruit businesses and also looking at ways to cut back on city expenditures.
They’ve talked about cutting 19 positions in the police department, closing the East Valley Library, asking city employees to volunteer for a decrease in pay, raising fees for city services, and are considering killing off the grass at some city parks.
And yet, despite the bleak financial forecast and potential cuts in public services, the city council has pledged La Jolla developer, C.W. Clark, $18.9 million in taxpayer contributions to build a seven-story, 196-room, luxury hotel smack dab in the heart of downtown, next to city hall. The project’s total cost is estimated at over $67 million.
In addition to the help with construction costs, On October 22nd, the city council extended the deadline until January 1st of 2009 for the developer to acquire the funds necessary for the project and have promised another few million dollars in renovations to the site.
Some Escondido residents are outraged at the city’s dedication to the project. Lisa Prazeau, president of the Escondido Chamber of Citizens, is one of them. “While fire stations are understaffed and the economic outlook for our entire nation is pretty weak, the fact that the Escondido City Council is willing to "contribute" $18.9 million dollars for a hotel that no one can afford to stay in because everyone is broke is outrageous!”
While many residents are scratching their heads as to why councilmembers are supporting the project in such financially dire times, Prazeau feels much is due to the political contributions made by the developer to the re-election campaign of council member Sam Abed, one of the main proponents of the project.
Yet, on December 3rd, when new city councilmember, Olga Diaz, is sworn in to replace Abed council ally, Ed Gallo, new opposition to the project will be present. Diaz has repeatedly expressed her concerns over the timing of the project and the city’s pledged contributions.
For more on the luxury hotel or the dying grass at the city’s parks, go to ci.escondido.ca.us.