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Many Escondido citizens have reservations about contributing $18.9 million toward a $67 million luxury hotel downtown. Most thought the proposal was dead in the water when developer C.W. Clark was unable to acquire funding by the January 2009 deadline.

However, in a closed-session meeting last April, as reported by the Union-Tribune, city councilmembers decided to give Clark another chance -- a decision that has woken up those opposed to the hotel project.

On Wednesday, June 3, demonstrators filled council chambers to speak out about the proposal. Before they addressed the five councilmembers, those opposed to the hotel proposal sat through a budget workshop that detailed the city’s bleak financial situation.

During the workshop, city staff listed the cuts that have been implemented in order to reduce this year’s remaining budget shortfall of $3.8 million and next year’s deficit of nearly $6.7 million.

According to the report, staffing levels are back to those seen in 1991. Seven percent of positions on the city payroll now have a hiring freeze placed on them.

“We’ve reduced library hours,” said Gil Rojas, director of the finance department. “We’ve reduced code enforcement. We’ve asked that employees not use personal heaters. We’ve reduced the number of personal printers. We’ve cut back coffee service to all departments. We made sure there are only refrigerators in the breakroom, and on ‘furlough Fridays’ we are trying to keep people out of the building to not use electricity.”

After department heads listed the cuts in their respective departments, Liza Prazeau, president of the Escondido Chamber of Citizens, began a 15-minute presentation warning against pursuing plans for a downtown luxury hotel.

“Recent reports regarding San Diego County’s latest hotel-performance statistics showed revenue generated per room declined 25.4 percent from last year,” read one of the PowerPoint slides.

“We are not opposed to a downtown luxury hotel. A full-service, first-class hotel would definitely be an asset for Escondido,” read another slide. “However, in light of the current financial crisis facing the city, we do oppose the $19 million taxpayer subsidy. It would be completely reckless for the council to give away what amounts to the citizens’ only emergency-relief funds to a private, for-profit developer.”

Councilmember Olga Diaz addressed the hotel proposal during council comment. “I think we all agree we like the idea of a hotel. What we are struggling with is the subsidy. We are not a city opposed to having wonderful things in it, but at a time when we are running out of money, what we really need to do is figure out a way to sustain our community.”

For more on the Escondido Chamber of Citizens and their objections to the hotel proposal, go to escondidochamberofcitizens.org.

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