The short August 19 meeting of the Escondido City Council included action on a grant application for funds to create “safe sidewalks” for children walking to school on Citrus Avenue; creation of a subcommittee to study revamping the process for appointments to city commissions; and an extension of the city’s business recovery program.
Safe Routes to School
The council approved 4-0 the staff request to apply for an Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant from California Transportation Commission (“CTC”) for Safe Routes to Schools (“SRTS”) improvements at Hidden Valley Middle School.
A delighted councilmember Olga Diaz exclaimed, “I’ve repeatedly wished for some funding to install sidewalks along school routes. It’s been years and years and I really hope that you get it.” She said she had worried about “bothering you by mentioned it all the time,” and credited fellow councilmember Mike Morasco with being a “good ally” in this quest.
The lion’s share of the project would be covered by the grant, which would pay for installing the sidewalks. The program was created by several bills in the legislature that encourage increased use of “active modes of transportation” (i.e. walking.) Earlier this year the CTC called for projects to be submitted with $440 million to disburse.
Revamping Commission Appointments
Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez requested that her colleagues revisit the process whereby residents are appointed to city commissions, such as the planning commission.
Currently the mayor presents a list of nominations to the council, who either approve or disapprove of them. Martinez wants to expand this appointment process to the whole council, and make appointments less of a “who-you-know” extension of the good-old-boys network.
“I added this [to the agenda] because there is a great potential to revamp our board and commission process,” said Martinez. She wants to look at each commission to see if it is still relevant and if others might be created. And to hear public input on all of these.
She wants to learn from other cities. Some cities set aside seats for particular constituencies and often allocate representation for each district. “Since we have districts now, it would be good to explore having district-specific seats on commissions,” she said.
“I really support this,” said Mayor Paul McNamara. “Right now the mayor makes a recommendation and then the council ratifies it,” he said. “What I’ve tried to do is solicit input and find consensus. I think it’s time—since we’ve gone to districts— where certain boards would have appointees by their district representative. I think that would give us better representation and make it a little more diverse.”
The council received several public comments supporting more public involvement in commissions and boards.
Councilmember Diaz supported the proposal. She also wants to identify some boards to keep, some to eliminate and some to combine with existing boards and to “revamp the entire community input process.” She also supports each councilmember having input for each commission. “It’s been an all or nothing decision,” she said. She called for a citizen’s police review commission and a youth commissin.
Morasco added, “We’ve done this in the past before and made some modifications. The one thing I don’t want is to create paralysis by analysis, where we have so many trying to micromanage entities that it takes us forever to make decisions because so many voices makes it paralyzing.”
Martinez suggested shorter terms for some commissions. “Four years seems a little long,” she said.
Morasco commented, “One thing we might want to take advantage of is staff’s historical knowledge with commissions we have had in the past. So we are not creating problems that have already been solved. We go in with eyes wide open.”
Diaz said now might be the time to look at residential requirements for commissions. Currently some residents of unincorporated Escondido are allowed to serve on the planning commission. She wanted to revisit that.
The council voted to create a subcommittee to explore these options, with Mayor Paul McNamara and Martinez making up the subcommittee.
Business Recovery Strategy
The council also voted 4-0 to extend the Urgency Ordinance To Assist Business Economic Recovery first adopted 90 days ago. The report on the program’s success so far was delivered by Mike Strong, director of community development and Amber Terrac, deputy director of economic development.
The strategy has been to reduce outdoor retail regulations, encourage carry-out zones, parking in non-parking areas, and accessory retail use in industrial zones.
Terrac described how the city partnered with the Downtown Business Association and Escondido Chamber of Commerce to promote the program. She noted how Grand Avenue partially shut two lanes of traffic and local artists painted murals on the k-rail dividers.
The city has awarded 58 small business grants, totaling $595,776. It approved 34 special use permits for outdoor operations in parking areas and or sidewalk dining and approved 17 operations in city parks and 26 relocated instruction/gym activities in city parks.
The city has published the August Business Recovery Brochure Update, which you can find at Escondido.org/business.aspx
Strong urged the council to extend the ordinance and expand it to include new provisions such as indoor expansion for use without zoning permits. An example of this would be to allow church services to be allowed by expanding into adjacent buildings to create more social distancing.
Additional provisions include promoting agricultural experiences though roadside sales, hikes and other activities. It also creates “catchall” provision to cover unanticipated needs. “During this crisis, we really don’t know what to expect,” said Strong. This would broaden staff’s ability to address such things as allowing extended hours of operation so more customers could come in—but spaced out.
Morasco was delighted to hear about provisions for allowing indoor church services. He said he gets more comments about allowing church services than anything else.
Strong said the city will be reaching out to businesses and other organizations to let them know what they can do.
In other business, the council voted to cancel the municipal election for City Treasurer since there was only one candidate, Doug Schultz. This saves the city $75,000 in election expenses.
It voted 4-0 to begin recruitment for city manager by executing an contract with Teri Black & Co. for not more than $26,700. It chose the company after receiving applications from 43 recruitment firms. In July City Manager Jeff Epp retired, but agreed to remain as a “retired annuitant,” until his successor is hired.