By Don Greene / Escondido Democrats
In the past month, much ado has been made over a parking lot located at 540 W. Grand Ave. The blog, Escondido2014.com, ran two posts on the parking lot and the potential of some funny business involved in the paving of that lot.
The owner of the lot is Escondido Mayor Sam Abed. He owns not only the vacant lot in question, but the adjacent office building at 562 W. Grand (the corner of Grand and Quince). The office was recently home to a fitness business that used the unpaved lot next door as a track area for outdoor exercise. Now that the office building is vacant, the formerly dirt lot has become a paved parking lot.
The paving of this lot has raised many questions and they were addressed in the posts on Escondido2014.com. Did the Mayor overlook – or get a pass on – state storm water regulations? City storm water regulations state that any lot being paved over 5,000 sq feet must conform with state storm water regulations. The actual city document is 130-pages long and covers a variety of mitigation factors which appear not to have been implemented when this lot was paved.
But there are a couple of other interesting facts that have come up about this lot.
First, when the Mercado Area – specifically the Grand Avenue portion – was being upgraded, the multi-million dollar project was not only raising the property value of the Mayor’s property, it was directly putting money into the Mayor’s pocket. The construction company responsible for the new construction paid the mayor rent to park their construction equipment on – you guessed it – the vacant lot that he owns. This might be considered a conflict since the mayor was a council member at the time of the contract award. To be fair, the mayor did abstain from the Consent Calendar vote, but since all negotiation and discussion happened behind closed doors, no one can be sure of exactly how much influence he had in the process.
Second, there was no permit issued for the paving project. According to the post on Escondido2014.com, city officials have indicated that no permit is necessary for this kind of project, unless a parking lot is “in conjunction with a building project that would require permits.” This is contrary to information from experienced contractors and developers with whom we’ve spoken. They say that a permit is required if the parking lot is over 5,000 sq ft, which this clearly is. So if this is true, why then was there no permit issued on this project?
Also, if what the city official told Escondido2014.com is true, the question then is just how much in conjunction with a building is this lot? The lot does have its own parcel number and is a stand-alone piece of property. But, when you delve deeper into the marketing of the Mayor’s building, the listing is very suspicious.
The agent has listed on their website information about these two pieces of property – the building on the corner (562 W. Grand) and the lot (540 W. Grand) as one piece of property. The listing shows the total space available as 21,000 sq ft, the building only being 3,900 sq ft of the total. The description of the property says:
“Freestanding building on corner location. Close to bus and Sprinter station. Walk to shopping and restaurants. Close to I-15 on/off ramps. Newly completed signalized intersection with landscaped walkways. Great visibility and signage opportunity. Close to bus and Sprinter station. Walk to shopping and restaurants. Close to I-15 on/off ramps. Approx 27,000 SF adjacent vacant lot could be paved for extra parking. Rent for parking would be approx $2,000/mo.”
Now that the lot is paved, is the parking included in the lease of the building?
The reason this is important: The addition of a parking lot to the office space increases the value of the property and the potential revenue generated. An increase in the value of the property would potentially mean an increase in property taxes paid to the county. But, remember, there was no permit pulled for this project. Which means that the county has no idea of the increase in property value to the building.
According to the county assessor’s website, “All the cities and the County must notify the Assessor’s Office whenever building permits are issued.”
There was no permit for this project so no new assessment was triggered for the property. Of course, this just might be a mistake in the listing of the property – that, in fact, they are two separate lots that are coincidentally located next to one another and the co-marketing of the properties is an error on the part of the agent. Should this not be the case, then there might be some new issues with property taxes to consider along with the state storm water regulations.
The primary purposes of a city council are to protect its citizens, maintain infrastructure and manage land use. It seems at least for this Mayor, he’s got the last one down pat.
This article was originally posted at EscondidoDemocrats.Org