Lawsuit filed against Escondido water recycling facility

Lawsuit filed against Escondido water recycling facility
The Spring of Escondido senior living facility files a lawsuit in Vista Superior Court against the city of Escondido concerning its approval to place membrane filtration reverse osmosis adjacent to residential building on the corner of Washington Avenue and Ash Street. Photo by Tony Cagala

ESCONDIDO — The controversial recycled water facility project has hit a legal hurdle.

The Springs of Escondido filed a lawsuit last week against the city over its approval to place the project adjacent to the senior community on the corner of Washington Avenue and Ash Street.

The City Council approved the project, 4-1, in January with Councilwoman Olga Diaz objecting.

The facility 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.

As of Tuesday, the city had not yet been served with the suit, although City Attorney Jeff Epp said his office and city officials are aware of its filing in Vista Superior Court.

“I understand it says there should have been more environmental studies and it’s not compatible with the adjacent Springs project,” Epp added. “Our primary goal is to work with the neighboring Springs project to make sure they’re comfortable from a design and land use stand point.”

The Springs of Escondido hired attorney Everett DeLano, who challenges that the membrane filtration reverse osmosis facility mitigated negative declaration, that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act in “several respects” and that the city failed to adopt findings adequately supported by the evidence.

In addition, the suit also notes comments from residents who said the lack of an environmental impact report (EIR) and the project would lead to health and safety issues.

In addition, the site could be available for future expansion as the city aims to increase its recycled water supply.

“It is a good project in a bad place,” DeLano said. “Nobody opposes recycled water. That is a wonderful thing. The problem is, it just doesn’t belong in this location.”

DeLano said it could be many months before the litigation is concluded, which means the water facility could be on hold for an undetermined period. Should the city start construction, though, DeLano said he would seek an injunction to stop those efforts.

The city, meanwhile, refuted any claims of health and safety impacts and will attempt to move forward with the project as quickly as possible.

Chris McKinney, director of Public Works, said in a previous interview that numerous safeguards would be installed to ensure safety for employees and nearby residents.

Epp, though, said a goal for the city is to work with The Springs of Escondido to ensure residents feel more comfortable about the project. In addition, the city plans to challenge the suit.

“We’ll probably fight the lawsuit and press forward with the project,” Epp explained.

The suit alleges the city failed to follow CEQA procedural requirements, consideration for all aspects for the project, preparing environmental analysis as required by CEQA, an EIR as required by CEQA, adopt feasible mitigation measures and alternatives and violation of municipal code and General Plan.

The suit also alleges the residents would be adversely affected by the placement of the facility on the empty lot, which will be less than 300 feet away from the nearest apartment.

Epp said the city is making efforts for recycled water, which is beneficial for the city especially coming off years of drought. He said the pushback is surprising given those efforts.

“We are being stymied in going forward because of apparent environmental considerations,” Epp said. “We’d like to get that taken care of so we can move forward and do something that is good. That is the objective.”

DeLano’s suit also alleges the city could not produce analysis records concerning the cost benefit, alternative locations, projects and approaches to certain water needs in the city.

The Springs of Escondido appealed the planning commission’s approval on Dec. 21, 2016, according to the suit. They reasoned it was inconsistent with municipal code, General Plan requirements, that an EIR should be prepared and the city was “illegally piecemealing” consideration of the project.

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