Escondido farms need affordable water. Though the city plans to build a recycled-water treatment plant, many residents drawn to a recent city-council meeting were not in favor of living near a “membrane filtration/ reverse osmosis facility.”
On January 11, the city council approved a conditional use permit, denying an appeal of the county planning commission’s decision to put the facility on a vacant lot at 1201 East Washington Avenue. Appeals were lodged by councilmember Olga Diaz and an attorney for the Springs retirement home.
The plant will further treat water from the city’s Hale Avenue Resource Recovery facility to a level suited for agriculture, mainly avocados. In a later phase, the city will expand it to focus on potable reuse water. A few neighbors supported the location, noting other uses might be less desirable.
“We don’t need more apartments,” said Stewart Taylor — or more food and traffic. There are 12 liquor licenses near his home, he said.
Most meeting attendees opposed an industrial plant in their residential-commercial zoned neighborhood.
“This isn’t what I signed on for,” said Alfred Roebuck, a parent who bought his home two blocks away with his kids in mind, never expecting the area to accommodate industrial uses. In 2012, the Dixon Lake treatment plant had a large spill of caustic soda, a chemical that will be used at this plant, he said. “If you wouldn’t want it next to your home, don’t put it next to mine.”
Bob Serrano, owner of Round Table Pizza since 1979, protested that it will be only 100 feet from his dining room. “Trying to make a living here. I feel this will greatly devalue my business.”
Some said the plans were not made visually clear, which amounted to bait-and-switch. “Old people matter,” said Springs resident, David Dryden, who will have a stormwater pond 15 feet from his door.
Russel Nakaoka, an appellant and manager at the Springs, home to 100 senior citizens, argued that it will affect future development since it’s next to Escondido Creek. The creek should be the focal point, as called for in the general plan, he said. It should be an active place, not host to an “unmanned monolithic industrial processing plant.”
Barbara Takahara, who lives two blocks away, says she’s angry that the city won’t use its industrial land at the Hale facility’s public works, which is on the creek where pipes are already laid. “The amount of chemicals stored on that site is not compatible with a light commercial and highly residential area.”
According to planning documents, there will be storage and use of sodium hypochlorite, liquid ammonium sulfate, sulfuric acid, sodium bisulfite, antiscalant, and sodium hydroxide. Three of the chemicals are categorized as a health hazard, but none are classified as flammable or explosive. Would they endanger the public or the environment through routine transport, use, or disposal? The environmental evaluation deemed it a “Less than Significant Impact.” So, too, the use of gas, diesel, oils, and lubricants during construction.
Critics argued that the city’s Mitigated Negative Declaration was just a way to avoid the more intense scrutiny of preparing a full environmental impact report. Health and safety concerns were fully addressed, councilmembers insisted, while city officials downplayed concerns about noise once construction is complete.
Some noted that a more affluent community (Chaparral) had fought off the proposal. Takahara says her neighborhood had fewer resources to take on the city. “There is so much I did not know how to do,” she says.
Councilmember Ed Gallo, who represents the district, took offense at claims of discrimination. “Income levels doesn’t have a darn thing to do with anything,” he said. “I get sick and tired of the socio-economic arguments.” Raising the topic of ethnicity is BS, he said. “Plain and simple.” He was vehemently opposed to putting it at Chaparral, he said, because there it would be only 15 feet from homes.
The Hale facility lacks available land, councilmembers said. Portions are set aside for habitat and future expansion to accommodate growth. The public works yard is M1 zoned (industrial use) — the most highly priced land the city has. They’re saving it for high-paying jobs. And if they had to move their public works yard, it would cost 60 million to do so. The city can’t afford it.
But the project will save the city 300 million to 400 million dollars by not having to extend the outfall pipe, now near capacity, that takes used water to the sea. As a future potable-reuse project, they also argued the need for the central location.
It will benefit everyone, said mayor Sam Abed, stressing that 70 percent of agricultural cost is water, and farms are at risk. “We have 3000 acres of agricultural customers. The project’s first phase will serve 1700 acres.”
Councilmember Diaz acknowledged the need. “If we don’t do this, we won’t have enough water for ag.” But somewhere down the line, she said, the plan changed. She was shocked by what the project has turned into. These are not just storage tanks. They’re pipes, chemicals. “Now it’s industrial. We weren’t brought up to speed.” She proposed moving it to the industrial public works yard.
By denying the appeal, it will surely end up in litigation, causing unpredictable delays, Diaz said. “The ag community needs this water as fast as possible. And this site is not going to give it to you as fast as possible.”