A shopping mall complex at the west end of downtown’s Grand Avenue? Was it a possibility? Could it have been? Maybe. Maybe not. Yes, such a project was proposed. It was the proposed precursor to what is now the Westfield North County Mall on city-leased land at the south end of Escondido’s Kit Carson Park. But it never materialized. Could the former Daily Times-Advocate, of which I was the editor at the time, have had something to do with the proposal’s abandonment and demise? Maybe.
The year was 1977. and the city was planning to lease a swath of land, occupied by several commercial and light industrial businesses, on the west side of Centre City Parkway in an area generally bounded by Pine and redwood streets on the east and west and by Valley Parkway and Second Avenue on the north and south.
But how was the city going to acquire the privately owned property? Through the only sure-fire way it could: the power of eminent domain, which allows a government agency to acquire private property for public use by condemning it and forcing its sale to the agency at fair market value.
But in this case, the city could not institute outright its power of eminent domain and just condemn all the subject property. that’s because the proposed project for which the property was being acquired was not essential for the lifeblood of the community, such as a highway for traffic relief, a sewer system or a waterworks. nor was this the only location on which the project could be constructed.
So the city had to opt for its only legal alternative: to declare as blighted the area on which the project was planned. By declaring the area blighted, the city then could legally use its power of eminent domain, therefore forcing the property owners to sell.
And that’s what happened. The city one day quietly announced it was going to declare a designated area west of Centre City Parkway at the end of Grand Avenue as blighted to pave the way to a shopping mall.
But, was the area in fact blighted? There were no shacks; no boarded- up buildings; no junk-strewn lots; no graffiti-infested buildings. Some of the businesses in operation at the time were a grocery store (still there), Pyramid Granite, a feed store and feed mill (still there), agas station and Knights of Columbus meeting hall (still there).
The area did not appear to be blighted in the true sense of the word. If it was not blighted, then the city of Escondido was abusing its power of eminent domain to acquire private property for use not absolutely essential to enhance the lives of its citizenry.
Believing that to be the case, the Times-Advocate, in a series of three editorials during the next few weeks, publicly criticized the city for its plan. the T-A was not opposed to a shopping mall at that location, it was opposed to what it perceived as the city’s abuse of its power to achieve that end.
The city council, which never formally adopted a resolution to start the “blight” process, eventually abandoned the downtown plan. Somewhere along the line, the city and the developer negotiated a long-term lease for several acres of city-owned land at the south end of Kit Carson Park that eventually culminated in the opening of that mall in 1985.
For the Grand Avenue project, it never got to the point of specifics. There was never a discussion of how many stores; how many square feet; how much parking and where; what about traffic patterns on Centre City Parkway and Quince Street?
There’s no question that such a project would have changed the dynamic of downtown Escondido – dramatically. did the T-A editorials affect the city’s decision to abandon the project? Who knows? There were rumors at the time that a citizens’ initiative would be mounted to force a ballot election to determine the fate of the project.
I want to correct a misstatement I made in my column of June 9. I said that the trio of Wil Mason, Bill Crow and George Linthicum were first elected to the Escondido City Council in 1968 and re-elected in 1972. Crow was first elected in 1972. Linthicum had served one term from 1964 to 1968; then was elected again in 1972. The five members on the council from 1968 to 1972 were Wil Mason, Alan Skuba, Lew Tustin, Lorraine Boyce and Kenneth M. Roberts.
Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times- Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.