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Recycled water plant approved in Escondido
By J. Harry Jones| January 12, 2017

A large recycled water treatment plant will be built at the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Ash Street in Escondido, despite the protests of dozens of residents and business owners who argued the project will ruin their neighborhood.

The Escondido City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve the plant, saying it’s for the greater good of the city.

The project will allow already partially treated water to be further desalinated and piped east, where it will be used mainly to irrigate 3,000 acres of avocado groves. Perhaps more importantly, it means the city won’t have to spend as much as $500 million to expand a major outfall pipe that takes Escondido’s treated wastewater to the ocean.

The location for the plant was chosen months after residents in another part of town vigorously objected to initial plans to build the project near their homes. The council ultimately agreed that site was inappropriate.

That decision was cited by some people who attended Wednesday’s council meeting and suggested the city had settled on the new location because it’s in a predominately Latino and less wealthy part of the city. They said the city’s refusal to put out public notices about the project in Spanish was further proof of discrimination.

Mayor Sam Abed and other council members bristled at the suggestion that race or class played a part in the decision.

“When you bring up ethnicity, that really rubs me the wrong way,” said Councilman Ed Gallo. “This is B.S., plain and simple.”

He said the earlier location would have seen the plant built within 10 feet of homes in a strictly residential neighborhood.

“That’s why we opposed that. It was absolutely the wrong location,” he said, adding that the Washington and Ash site is primarily surrounded by commercial uses.

“Socio-economic status doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it,” Gallo said.

Councilman John Masson agreed.

“This has nothing to do with social injustice,” he said. “We don’t do that crap here!”

Councilwoman Olga Diaz — who sided with residents and voted against the plant — urged the council to instead consider putting the project on a 16-acre lot on the western side of town where the city’s public works storage yard now exists. The council majority has long hoped that site would be developed into a high-tech business park that could employ a thousand people at good salaries.

She said the Washington and Ash location was inappropriate for the neighborhood and the the storage lot was a far better place for an industrial building.

Abed said the storage yard is the most valuable land the city owns because it’s next to Interstate 15 and state Route 78 and near the transit center. It would also cost $60 million to relocate the yard, he said.

Neighbors fighting the plant included residents of the Springs of Escondido retirement home, who say they’re worried about noise and health risks.

The retirement home sits just to the east of the city-owned 4-acre lot. About 20 of the 100 apartments in the three-story building will overlook the plant which will be built about 150 feet away. Several residents told the council the noise of construction would disrupt their already fragile lives since many residents have health problems. They also said they were concerned about the chemicals that will be stored and used in the process, even though the city has assured them they pose no threat.

Attorney Everett DeLano, representing the Springs’ owner, Holiday Retirement Corp., filed a lawsuit earlier Tuesday accusing the city of violating the Public Records Act by not providing documentation showing how they determined the site was the only viable location for the plant.

He also said the environmental assessment of the property made by the city is incomplete because it is likely that at some point in the future the plant will be expanded to turn recycled water into drinking water and that component of the long-term plans should also have been analyzed.

The owner of the nearby Washington Square Shopping Center also urged the council to reject the project, saying an industrial plant at that site wouldn’t bring new customers to the area.

“We assumed business would benefit some day by other businesses or residential being built next door,” shopping center owner Steve Dixon said. “An industrial property will decrease the surrounding property values.”

Councilman Mike Morasco countered, saying having a vacant, muddy, weed-filled lot “sitting there for decade after decade after decade” certainly hasn’t done much for property values.

City Manager Graham Mitchell said Thursday that, barring legal complications, construction should begin by this fall and be completed by the end of 2018.

jharry.jones@sduniontribune.com; 760/529-4931; Twitter: @jharryjones

 

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