Escondido, CA

Council rejects $515K in traffic safety funding

At the September 16 council meeting the council failed to approve accepting a grant of $515,000 form the Office of Traffic Safety. The city has accepted such funds for the last 15 years.

The vote was 2-2, with Mayor Paul McNamara and councilmember Mike Morasco voting yes and members Olga Diaz and Consuelo Martinez voting not to accept the funds. 

Escondido is one of the worst cities of its size in California in terms of serious car accidents.

Diaz and Martinez expressed concerns that such traffic stops target certain ethnicities and neighborhoods and don’t address root causes of the DUIs and traffic fatalities they aim to prevent. 

Diaz asked if it was possible for traffic officers to be unarmed and for the money to be used for masks.  

Chief Ed Varso replied that by state law traffic enforcement must be done by armed peace officers. The grant money may not be used for masks, he said.  The traffic enforcements “target specific traffic safety problems we have, such as speeding, and running red lights. Ethnicity is not a factor in what action we take,” he said.

He noted that next month city police officers would be attending “principled policing” training.

Martinez said, “I pulled this item.” Last year she asked for more statistics about DUI checkpoints. “I don’t see anything about checkpoints being necessary. I know there are different ways to tackle drunk driving. There are saturation patrols. Some communities don’t have checkpoints and I’m sure they do receive funding.”

Varso said the department usually applies for the grants at the beginning of the year. The Office of Traffic Safety reviews its data and consults trends. The OTS “initially asked us for eight checkpoints. I thought eight was too much. I wanted us to focus more on saturation patrols.”

Diaz said, “Chief Varso, you know that checkpoints in Escondido have been controversial for many years and had a difficult past being used to tow cars of non-drunk drivers.” State law no longer allows police to confiscate cars, but she said checkpoints create bad feelings. “I understand we want to prevent drunk and distracted driving, but I don’t think checkpoint data is as effective as they say it is. You net more drunk drivers with saturation patrols. Over my dozen years here I’ve seen very little movement in these statistics. Are we doing anything to address the root cause? What are we doing to deal with the problem instead of these dragnets that hurt our reputation, especially when they are concentrated in certain parts of the city?”

Diaz wants more data: “Where do they get drunk? Do we have too many bars? Too many liquor licenses? I want to know root causes. We aren’t doing anything to address the root problem.”

Varso said they do collect some data such as that in 2019 22% of collisions were connected to intoxication. There were seven fatal accidents that year.  “That puts Escondido as one of the worst cities for fatal accidents for cities of our size in California.”

The grant is also used for education campaigns and partnerships with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving.)

Chief Varso said that at one time EPD was holding many checkpoints. “I asked staff what would happen if there were no checkpoints. The answer is we would lose a significant amount of funding including an officer who is used for DUI enforcement. I think it’s important to approach it from different levels.”

He said the department does look into where people become intoxicated. “Did it happen at a house or a bar? We can bring ABC into that to investigate.” Varso said causes are “a whole host of reasons, including casinos and parties. It is a very difficult problem and it really concerns me. The best approach is what we are doing, which is trying to hit it from every direction.”

Diaz wondered if most of those in such accidents are from Escondido or passing through. 

“The image  is that Escondido has a problem that other communities don’t. If I could see more data I would better be able to understand it better. I’ve gotten tired of asking because I never got it anyway.” She added, “Where are these drunk drivers sourced. I want to know more. Year after year nothing substantially changes.  It’s been expressed that they are heavily placed in certain areas of the city. I’d like to get past that.”

Varso said a majority are Escondido residents. “It is mostly a local problem and checkpoints are based on where the DUI’s are.”

Morasco, who voted to accept the funding, said that the figure of 500 arrests per year “is mindboggling. You have to use the tools that you have.” 

8 responses to “Council rejects $515K in traffic safety funding”

  1. Gwen Latta says:

    I really pray a drunk driver never hits any of you.. I lost a brother and a uncle from drunk drivers.. Have done so many accidents locally resulting in serious or fatal accidents. Just one arrest at a checkpoint can save someone’s life…..


    Oh My God the city council is staffed with world class idiots turning down a grant that for the past 15 years has funded effective traffic enforcement. Diaz and Martinez obviously have their heads of their racists asses fearing their people will be targeted to Hell with the rest of the citizens of this city. “disarm” out traffic officers, did Martinez really ask that? This is certified proof that idiots are being elected just like Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle. Who voted for people so out of touch with reality?

  3. Alex MacLachlan says:

    We have 7 major exits off the freeways into Escondido that lead to a handful of major traffic arteries within the city. Surely the council could have applied strings to their Yes vote to assure a scientific and statistical probability approach was applied to a traffic safety policy. Smearing our multi ethnic EPD with insinuations of racial bias? Are you kidding me? Sam is gone, Clay is gone, two Chiefs of Police are gone, we have a Democrat majority, yet the old racial playbook remains without the foils to blame. No wonder we have a “reputation”, creating that image empowers some and maligns others…

  4. Jennifer Smith says:

    Absolutely ridiculous! Bring back Sam Abed!! Free money to protect the Property TAX paying citizens and the city won’t take it?!? What!?! Horrible citizen representation!

  5. Beni Martinez says:

    The city of Escondido has a history of racism. The DUI checkpoints have been used to harassed the Hispanic community for decades. The rejection of this grant is a clear signal that we are no longer going to tolerate a racist agenda anymore. I am proud to say that we finally have intelligent council members that can see past the politics of xenophobia and fear mongering. I applaud council members Diaz and Martinez. I do hope that Mayor McNamara will start to recall who got him elected.

  6. Beni Martinez says:

    Not publishing my comments, your censorship shows your bias, cowards.

    • admin says:

      Mr. Martinez: You are sure quick to jump to conclusions. We typically review comments made by first time posters during business hours (which is currently only Tuesday/Wednesday during COVID). You posted two comments on a Saturday morning, then a few hours later accused the newspaper of being cowards for not promptly approving your posts. Patience is a virtue.

  7. Aisha Wallace says:

    Just wanted to point out that the statement about unarming police officers and using the money for masks was not made by Deputy Martinez. This comment was made by council member Diaz. In addition, although there have been changes in the leadership of the police department that does not mean that there is still not work that needs to be done. This department has a history of creating fear in the Latino community. Escondido has a history of racism. The institution of policing was founded in slave patrols, this in itself is problematic. The police department should not see an increase in funding instead it should be working towards building community trust, and working towards the construction of an alternative institution.

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