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North County: Development, Legislation, Politics

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Aired 3/29/10

If you think San Diego's North County is a sleepy, bucolic area where nothing happens, think again. Our editors take a look at what's going on north of the 56, including the rejection of a major development, the continuing fallout from the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois and the ever-changing roster of candidates for offices in Poway.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. A lot of San Diego's most interesting and, sadly, most tragic stories recently are coming from the north county. We thought now might be a good time to get an update on some of those stories and, in the process, get details on the politics and issues going on in north county cities. Joining me for this north county update are my guests. Logan Jenkins, he is North County columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Good morning, Logan.

LOGAN JENKINS (North County Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Kent Davy is editor of the North County Times. Welcome, Kent.

KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Thank you. Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And we – let’s start out, we have a lot to talk about, so let’s start out with you, Kent, if we may, about the vote last week on the Merriam Mountains project, near Escondido. Can you explain the size and the scope of that project to us, Kent?

DAVY: Sure. The project, which was proposed by MPP Stonegate, was a housing development—mostly housing, a little bit of retail mixed with it—that was proposed for a piece of property to the north of Deer Springs Road on the west side of I-15. It was as – this iteration of it was a 2600 home development that sparked a lot of controversy among its neighbors and people around here on both pro and con. The opponents principally argued the impact on people who already live and own property along Deer Springs Road, that their quality of life will be affected. The Deer Springs Fire Protection Board argued that it was not a safe place…

CAVANAUGH: Umm….

DAVY: …to build a housing development.

JENKINS: Yeah, one thing, you know, I might throw…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, Logan, right.

JENKINS: …in, too, to add to Kent, is that the Golden Door is right next to the Merriam Mountain and as most people know, the Golden Door is like ‘the’ elite health spa owned by the Blackstone Group, which is – which also owns Sea World and Legoland, so they were a formidable force in fighting Merriam Mountain.

CAVANAUGH: In opposing the project.

JENKINS: Yeah.

DAVY: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Kent, the board of supervisors voted against the project last week. What were the reasons that the supervisors gave for turning down the project?

DAVY: Well, let me back up and give you a little more background…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, please.

DAVY: …and that is in December they voted. Ron Roberts was not at the supervisors meeting when this came up. The vote was 2-2, which meant that it was effectively dead. After Roberts – basically, he came back to town and he brought it up for reconsideration, which led to Wednesday’s vote. That vote went 3 to 2 against the project, with Roberts voting against it. And I think the surprise was that people assumed that he brought it back to approve it rather than to kill the measure. The…

CAVANAUGH: Right, yes. You would assume that if the measure was already dead. So what was the reason for reviving it?

DAVY: Well, he articulated. What he said is that he was – an architect and a planner background and that projects need to conform more to smart growth, and pointed at the need for mass transit and housing that is located near mass transit. With that statement, I can only suppose or triangulate that he’s looking forward to trying perhaps a mayoral run someday in the city of San Diego and trying to burnish his environmental credentials, be my guess.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, Logan.

JENKINS: Well, you know, that’s a possible interpretation. The most striking remark he made in my view was ‘I consider this a 20th century development.’ In other words, it’s old-fashioned smart growth, if you will.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

JENKINS: It was an excellent project in many ways but as Jacob reiterated, you know, it’s leapfrog development, it’s an old model, and so Roberts was arguing for more growth closer in toward urban centers.

CAVANAUGH: How do the other four supervisors come down on this?

DAVY: Well, Greg Cox and Bill Horn were the proponents. Horn, I think, has wondered aloud now whether or not this, in effect, signals a moratorium on any kind of growth that’s in country property as opposed to inside one of the cities. And I think that certainly would seem to indicate it given the nature of the vote.

JENKINS: Yeah, you know, I’d certainly concur with that. There are five big projects in the pipeline in this general area of north county and all of them are threatened by, you know, this particular approach. And it should be pointed out that the county has a general plan that goes back to 1979 and they’ve been working on a new general plan for years, and it’s very possible that these kinds of large, you know, close-in or, you know, tract type developments are just a threatened species up in this part of north county.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you a brief question to wrap this up, gentlemen, there. The supporters of this project talked a lot about this project stimulating construction jobs, etcetera, etcetera. Do we get any feeling as to how the residents of the area feel about this development being nixed? Kent?

DAVY: Well, the – I think that from the point of view of building trades, people who do not live in the immediate vicinity, I think there’s some hand-wringing about the loss of jobs and the construction work. The economy here over the last 15 years was so dependent on the building industry that that not happening is a big deal.

CAVANAUGH: I am speaking with Kent Davy. He is editor of the North County Times. And Logan Jenkins, north county columnist for the U-T. We’re talking about a north county update, talking about some of the very big stories coming from the north county. And, unfortunately, one of those very big stories is a tragic story. Just this past Saturday, hundreds of people turned out at Escondido High School for a memorial to 14-year-old Amber Dubois. And I wonder, and let me start with you, Logan, how would you characterize the level of public concern in the north county over the murders of Amber and Chelsea King? Are people panicked? Are they angry? What would you say, Logan?

JENKINS: Well, I’d start with this, that in 25 years I’ve been covering north county I’ve never seen anything like this. Amber, when she disappeared more than a year ago, it was like a virus. You know, it was this sort of debilitating, depressing reality and, you know, her posters were, you know, all around Escondido. The killing of Chelsea King was like a blow to the chest. You know, these – And it was made worse by the fact that it was in a segment of San Dieguito River Park, which is north county’s central park or Balboa Park, this particularly beautiful spot near Lake Hodges where a lot of people enjoy going. It was just traumatic. And so now that these two young women are sort of fused in our memory, you know, that’s how I always think of it, I think of this long sickness punctuated at the end by this blow to the chest.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kent, do you get a feeling as to what people are feeling now? Is, as I say, is there a lot of anger? Is – Are people very nervous?

DAVY: I think there’s some of both. I talked to a man here a few days ago who teaches music and had run into his – a couple of his students running in a park over in Carlsbad and said that his immediate reaction was are you with someone?

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DAVY: Because there’s – So there’s – I think there is fear out there. I think there’s a great deal of anger. And we see that in the calls for one-strike on violent predators, sexual predators, violence towards children, one-strike laws, for reexamination of Megan’s laws for filling in the holes. There are people who are very, very motivated to try and make – somehow make it safer.

CAVANAUGH: Right. And the big story last week was that Chelsea King’s parents joined with Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher to announce new legislation, a proposed Chelsea’s Law. Let me ask you both, let me start with you, Logan, do we have any idea what would be in that law?

JENKINS: Well, I think it would be, you know, closer supervision of dangerous, you know, offenders, people who have manifested violence toward women. So I think it’s a radical strengthening of the law. You know, one of the things I point out, which I did in a column recently was that, you know, we have to be somewhat careful. You know, all of this focus on changing the law and so forth, I mean, there is a person in custody, John Gardner, but, you know, all of that is predicated on the fact that he’s guilty. You know, it’s a kind of intellectual and moral trap that I think we all have to be somewhat aware of.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kent, in your reporting of these tragic stories, have you referenced back to the – whether sexual offenses or violent crime is on the increase in north county? Or is it actually decreasing?

DAVY: I don’t think there’s any evidence that it’s on the increase. In general, crime rates have continued to slide. I am unaware that there has been any uptick in violence. And, fact is, one of the things the mythology about sexual offenses is that sexual offenses, when taken as a broad general category, and that includes lots of different kinds of offenses, the recidivism rate for sexual offenses is much, much lower than almost any other kind of major felony in – depending on how you measure it, so on and so forth. A Bureau of Justice Statistics study indicated that something like only three or four percent of sexual offenders, as a general class, are rearrested and charged with another sexual offense within three years of that first conviction, just that – or, release. It just doesn’t happen that often. So I think there is some reason to temper the reaction, understanding that there are certainly – are things that can be done to tighten up parole laws. There is consideration of a one-strike offense against violent predators, violence against children, so…

CAVANAUGH: Let us move on to a story that has nothing to do with tragedy and has to do with political goings-on and, Logan, you’ve been covering this. It’s in Poway. Could you fill in our listeners who – about the saga of Poway City Councilmember Betty Rexford?

JENKINS: I will try.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

JENKINS: In its 30-year history, Poway has never experienced anything like this. This is the year of governing dangerously. Mickey Cafagna, who’s just a widely-loved mayor, died about a year ago and there was a tense battle for mayor and Don Higginson won the appointment over Merrilee Boyack. Okay, speed ahead to August. The City settled a five hundred – you know, cost to the city, a $500,000 settlement involving Betty Rexford and the allegation that she had abused her power to make her neighbors’ life miserable when they were trying to develop their property. At that point, after that settlement, the four city council members, other than Betty Rexford, called for her to resign. Now the grotesque aspect of this was that she at the death – she was tending to her dying son at that time. Well, at that point, a fellow named Steve Vaus, a singer/songwriter, whose theater name sometimes is Buck Howdy, came forward and said I’m going to lead the recall movement against Betty Rexford. Betty Rexford said I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’m going to stay in office. So signatures were gathered through the winter, the recall was going – the recall election will be held in June. Now when – Going back to the mayoral appointment, Don Higginson said I’m going to retire in November of 2010, and Steve Vaus always said I have no interest in running for office, I’m completely disinterested, I just want to see Betty Rexford out of office. Well, last week Steve Vaus announced that he’s running for the council in the June recall election, and Don Higginson came out a few hours later and said, I’m running for mayor. So Merrilee Boyack is a – feels betrayed. She was the one who thought that she was going to be the mayor. So now you have a pitched battle between Merrilee Boyack and Don Higginson for mayor in November. And a lot of the people who signed the recall feel betrayed by Steve Vaus.

CAVANAUGH: Well, it’s a politician’s prerogative to change his mind, right?

JENKINS: Well, it’s a woman’s prerogative.

CAVANAUGH: But let me – We have to end. We are out of time, but I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us. And we’re going to catch up more on what’s going on in the north county. Logan Jenkins, Kent Davy, thank you so much for speaking with us.

JENKINS: Thank you.

DAVY: Okay, thanks.

CAVANAUGH: And if you’d like to comment on anything you’ve heard, KPBS.org/thesedays, you can post your comment there. Now, coming up, we’re going to be speaking about the legacy of Prop 13, that’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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