Escondido, CA

Retirement community sues to stop water treatment plant

A retirement community, the Springs of Escondido, located on Washington Avenue, is taking the city of Escondido to court to stop it from building a Micro-Filtration Reverse Osmosis water treatment plant across the street.

January 11, the city council approved by a vote of 4-1 (Diaz voting no) a conditional use permit for the city’s utility department to build the Hale Avenue Resource Recovery Facility (HARRF), a reverse osmosis treatment facility on vacant city property at Ash Street & Washington Avenue.

This is vacant city land that was the site of the old Escondido Mutual Water Company operations yard for many years. Where the 7-11 market is now was the district office. The property has a creek running behind it.

The building site is about 300 feet from the Springs of Escondido Senior Living Facility.

The January council meeting was an angry one with audience members shouting “old lives matter.” Some council members took umbrage at accusations that they cared less about the retirees’ quality of life than they had about the Chaparral Glen neighborhood, a high-end community, where the plant was first proposed— only to be relocated after protests from residents persuaded the council that it was a bad location.

The lawsuit was filed about a month later. The lawyer for Springs of Escondido, Everett L. DeLano III, is a well-known local attorney who sometimes takes on legal battles involving environmental issues. He has represented the Escondido Conservancy in the past.

According to DeLano the lawsuit centers on two fundamental issues:

“One of the issues is that the project simply doesn’t fit there,” DeLano told The Times-Advocate. “Nobody that I know of doesn’t support recycled water. It’s not whether we should have such plants. It’s simply doesn’t fit in this neighborhood. It’s a combination of transition zone from residential to higher density residential to commercial area.”

DeLano invites anyone who wants to understand the lawsuit to visit the site. “If you look at it you can see it doesn’t fit,” he said. DeLano quotes city council members when the same issue came before them, but for Chaparral Glen. “The mayor and council was quoted in another context saying, ‘It doesn’t fit.’  I can’t see how those same city leaders say it fits here.”

The second fundamental issue, said DeLano, is that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by filing a negative declaration, i.e. saying that the plant would have no significant environmental impact on the area.

“It’s not just in terms of not looking good,” said DeLano. “It’s not consistent with the general plan. In doing this they ignored the Environmental Impact. It is a project that has several environmental impacts. Such as potential use of toxic chemicals, construction impact on the Springs and residents, noise impacts that we raised that they just kind of ignored.”

DeLano believes that if a private developer had tried a similar project and claimed it didn’t require an EIR it wouldn’t have passed muster. “I don’t think that a private developer would have gotten away with doing a negative dec,” he said. “But in this case the fox was guarding the henhouse, so they didn’t do one and give those issues full consideration.”

A trial date for has not yet been set. DeLano said it is not unusual for such cases to take a year to get to a judge.

Meanwhile, the city appears to have stopped work on the project until the litigation is resolved.

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