Controversial location for water facility approved by Escondido city council

Controversial location for water facility approved by Escondido city council
Dozens of Escondido residents urged the city council Wednesday to uphold an appeal to build a recycled water facility at 1201 E. Washington Ave. The council denied the appeal and approved the construction. Photo by Steve Puterski

ESCONDIDO — Despite dozens of protests and pleas, the City Council approved, 4-1, a conditional use permit, denying an appeal in the process, to relocate a recycled water facility.

The reverse osmosis facility, which will be at 1201 E. Washington Ave., will add 2 million gallons per day of treated recycled water to the city’s system.

It will provide advanced treatment of recycled water from the city’s Hale Avenue Resource Recovery Facility (HARRF) station.

However, residents cried foul on Wednesday at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. More than 90 percent who spoke at the meeting were against the location, saying it doesn’t fit the surrounding area, as the plant is an industrial facility, which will sit in a residential and commercial neighborhood.

None, though, said they didn’t believe the facility is unwarranted as the city moves forward to diversify its water portfolio. It is the location that drew their ire.

In addition, The Springs of Escondido, a senior living facility, will be less than 300 feet away from the plant. Numerous residents and Assistant General Manager Russell Nakaoka spoke against the location.

One resident shouted at the council saying, “old lives matter” and “give a damn about us people.”

The Springs of Escondido Assistant General Manager Russell Nakaoka spoke against the proposal for a new recycled water facility at 1201 E. Washington Ave. The Springs, senior living facility, is several hundred feet away. Photo by Steve Puterski

The Springs of Escondido Assistant General Manager Russell Nakaoka spoke against the proposal for a new recycled water facility at 1201 E. Washington Ave. The Springs, senior living facility, is several hundred feet away.
Photo by Steve Puterski

“The Planning Commission had an issue with its visual compatibility,” Nakaoka said. “We have an active place and don’t want a monolithic facility. The city is large enough to find alternative areas.”

Residents also suggested the council was approving the plant due to residents’ social-economic status and ethnicity. Many noted how the project was delayed last year when residents from the Chaparral Glen neighborhood objected.

However, the council said it wasn’t due to social status, but because the project would be within 10 feet of homes.

As for the implications of social inequalities, Councilman Ed Gallo and Deputy Mayor John Masson defiantly and loudly shot down those claims.

“When you bring up ethnicity, that really bugs me. That is B.S.,” Gallo said.

“We don’t play that game,” Masson added. “Saying we are doing this because of social injustices … that crap doesn’t belong here.”

Masson also asked to see evidence of the plant reducing property values, after residents made such claims.

Gallo, meanwhile, said the plant would save the city $400 million, as it won’t have to expand its outfall.

The two councilmen, along with Mayor Sam Abed and councilman Mike Morasco, said their decision was based on the needs of the city.

In addition, the majority said it doesn’t make sense to spend millions for a new piece of land or put the facility at the Public Works Yard.

Several residents put the yard forth as an alternative location, but Abed said the land is too valuable. He noted plans to develop it as a business park.

Abed also said the San Diego Economic Development Council reported the development would bring in 1,000 jobs through light industrial and technology. He added its location, near state Route 78, Interstate 15 and a rail line, make it ideal for business development.

“It is our obligation to do what is best for the city,” Abed explained. “We totally understand your concerns. That is why staff took their time and due diligence.”

Councilwoman Olga Diaz was lone no vote and said the scope of the project caught her off guard as it move forward. She also appealed the Planning Commission’s ruling along with Escondido attorney Everett DeLano, although the two appeals are independent of each other.

Diaz, though, agreed the city must expand its recycled water capabilities, especially since the water from this plant will be delivered for agricultural uses. However, she said the vision doesn’t fit with the area and will be delayed by a lawsuit.

Resident Alfred Roebuck, who lives two blocks from the site, said an industrial facility near his home wasn’t what he “signed up for.”

He explained of a chemical spill at another facility in 2012 and said even with safeguards, another accident could still occur.

“You wouldn’t want it next to your home, so ask to build next to mine or theirs,” he said of his neighbors.

The facility could also be expanded to three million gallons per day, should it be determined the city needs to increase its capacity.

Two buildings would comprise the new plant, one consisting of 21,660-square feet and the other at 14,400 and housing the chemicals needed. In addition, above-ground storage tanks totaling 1.26 million gallons would be on site and range between 27 and 31 feet high.

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