By Don Greene / Escondido Democrats
Budget discussions at the City of Escondido have for the last 4 years focused on a more streamlined approach to spending. The City Council has cut back on many programs and amenities, none more so than our Parks and Recreation Department.
I drive past Grove Park and Washington Park and admire that the city has set aside outdoor space for its residents. The question always comes to mind as to why would we want to cheapen these areas or outright sell them off? Why wouldn’t we want to preserve these spaces for the residents to enjoy?
Of course, with budget cuts, the city is having a hard time maintaining the programming at our city parks. The move to make the Recreation Department as close to a “full cost recovery department” as possible, has stripped away many of the amenities that our parks offered to our residents. Many of the amenities at our local parks have fallen into disrepair and there doesn’t seem to be money in the budget to fix these problems. With limited amenities, our parks are not being used by residents.
There have been proposals such as the Water Park and the BMX Track slotted for Kit Carson Park. These projects would have been, presumably, a public/private partnership that would have brought more revenue and more visitors to the city. Opponents of these measures argued that we would lose valuable green space. But our parks are not the only source of green space in the city.
In the past, city residents have banded together to create nice green spaces through the city’s Adopt-A-Lot program. This program allows residents of a neighborhood to create and maintain a green space on a city-owned lot or utility easement in exchange for a waiving of fees and various regulations by the city. It is a win-win for the city and the neighborhoods. Unfortunately, this program has been taken advantage of and used to benefit those in charge.
Take, for example, a plot of land that sits on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Centre City Parkway (more specifically, Pine St.) This plot of land is well-maintained, with green grass and neatly trimmed trees. The only eyesore is the large “for sale” sign that sits directly on the corner of the property. It’s a nice space that you’ve driven by a number of times. What you didn’t know is that it’s a park.
Yes, it’s a park. The Mercado Neighborhood Park. In fact, this park has existed since January 20, 2004 and has been a well-kept secret in Escondido since its dedication. It is a well-kept secret because it does not exist on the City’s list of owned properties. Looking through that list, you’ll find Grove Park, Washington Park, Jesmond Dene Park, even Kit Carson Park. But no Mercado Neighborhood Park. So then, how can it be a park?
It meets the minimum qualifications of a park – it’s a green space with trees – and the city maintains the lot. We pay for watering and upkeep, and have for over 10 years. As far as upkeep goes, the company that does the landscaping for this property is Executive Landscaping, the same company that contracts with the city to do most, if not all, of its landscaping.
If this is a park, why isn’t there a sign you ask. Oh, there is. Attached to a very inconspicuous boulder is a plaque that reads, “The Abed Family, in collaboration with the Mercado Business Association and the City of Escondido have sponsored this Mercado Neighborhood Park. Dedicated January 20, 2004.”
It seems that the Abed family has graciously “sponsored” this plot of land for the city to create a park. Or have they? The land is not listed on the City’s owned properties list. And, there is a rather large for sale sign on the corner. How is it that the lot can be for sale if it’s a park?
The answer is: It’s not a park. It’s actually an Adopt-A-Lot. It seems that instead of the Abed family adopting this piece of property, the city has adopted it. This is exactly opposite of what the Adopt-a-Lot program is designed to do and it’s a way for the taxpayers of Escondido to pay to maintain Mayor Sam Abed’s brother’s property.
For 10 years the residents of Escondido have paid the bill for the watering, cutting and fertilizing of the grass; we’ve paid for people to empty the trash can on the property and all that time we didn’t realize it was happening.
It’s hard to estimate how much the city has been paying for the maintenance of this piece of property. There is a similarly sized piece of land that is located a block away (the triangular shaped property at the corner of Quince and 2nd, where 2nd and Valley Pkwy split) that has a budgeted amount of approximately $4,100 (City of Escondido 2013-2014 Budget, page 90). We can use this amount and calculate that the Abed family has been subsidized close to $41,000, over the last 10 years, by the taxpayers of Escondido.
It seems that this item of open and transparent government has eluded the Mayor and his full disclosure to the public. According to the Community Services Department, this is the first Adopt-a-Lot in the city and it is the only lot that the city does not own. And, this is one of the two existing lots where the city provides the water. The other lot is HeritageGarden (on the corner of Juniper and East Grand) and the city owns that piece of property, so the fact that they provide water is not out of line.
In an email to Mayor Abed, we asked for explanation and comment. The Mayor responded, “The city has leased the property from my brother under the Adopt a lot program to be used by the community. You may contact the city for more information.”
No one else, it seems, is able to benefit from this arrangement. The Adopt a Lot program is concentrating on city-owned property that has at least 3 sponsoring groups, one of them being the city. This is the only case where a privately owned piece of property is being maintained by the city. And it doesn’t seem coincidental to us that the property is in the Abed Family.
To be fair, according to tax records, it appears that property taxes are being paid for this parcel by the owner, Mayor Abed’s brother. And he’s not complaining. Since he doesn’t have to pay to maintain the property, Mayor Abed’s brother is presumably in no hurry to sell off the parcel because there are no upkeep costs. And when he does potentially sell it, the Mercado Neighborhood Association is out of a park. Then again, the Association may not miss the park since they probably don’t know that it’s there.
So when is a park not a park? When the property is owned by the Abed family.