The Coast News Group

Council approves amended zoning laws on undesirable businesses

ESCONDIDO —  After a couple weeks of crafting amendments, at its Aug. 21 meeting the City Council unanimously passed a slate of alterations to the city’s zoning laws aimed at cutting down on undesirable businesses permitted in the city.

Those businesses include things such as new pawn shops, drive-thru restaurants and vaping and tobacco shops. The ordinance was first considered and deliberated upon on Aug. 7 by City Council.

Passage of the ordinance came in the aftermath of a months-long Zoning Code and Land Use Study, as well as community outreach sessions, conducted by city staff.

Amendments to the ordinance included giving more flexibility in the siting of tattoo parlors, transforming the drive-thru legal language from compulsory to advisory and defanging much of the ordinance language pertaining to auto dealerships. Those amendments came in the aftermath of meetings held between community business leaders concerned about provisions in the ordinance and city staff members.

James Lund, an Escondido business and real estate attorney who has practiced in the city since 1979, thanked the City Council and staff for hearing out the concerns he raised at the Aug. 7 meeting and in discussions held with them since.

“During that time (since 1979) I’ve had at least 100 opportunities to come before the council and staff and tell them they were wrong and many times to tell them they were right,” said Lund. “And I would like to thank the council for giving us the two weeks to dialogue. It was a wonderful opportunity and … we put in some written changes, which were not all accepted, but they were discussed and they were discussed in such a kind, professional manner.”

Others, including attorney Catherine Ferguson, representing the Wooden Spoon Restaurant; John Baker of John Baker Property Management; and Toni Giffin, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Diego County all shared similar gracious sentiments.

After the public comment period, City Councilwoman Olga Diaz jested that she thought it “was the first time we’ve ever gotten a clean slate of thank yous.”

“That’s it? That’s all you’ve got,” she quipped. “You’re very welcome. Thank you for the compliments for our staff. They do work hard and they don’t often get recognition in public, certainly, so … we’re happy we were able to negotiate something that works for everybody.”

Councilman Mike Morassco kept his remarks simple and to the point.

“Ditto. I think everyone’s happy. Group hug,” he said to laughs.

Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez, though, did raise some concerns about treatment of other businesses which did not garner a lobbying champion during the two-week period. In particular, she pointed to pawn shops and payday loan stores as places some people go when facing tough economic times.

“I wanted to make sure I did my research before just saying these businesses are not allowed,” said Martinez. “Just knowing that people use these kinds of businesses who maybe don’t have bank accounts, who maybe don’t have family members they can borrow $100 from. You know, banks don’t give $100 loans. And so, I really had to ask those questions and I was able to talk to a business owner and just hear their side of this.”

Ultimately, Martinez said she relied on numbers and figures to put her at ease on the issue.

She said that while Escondido has 10 pawn shops, the more populous Oceanside only has five, while most other North County cities have zero or one storefront. Martinez further pointed to Escondido having 13 payday loan stores, with Oceanside having 11 and the rest of North County cities having zero to four.

“So, after seeing the overconcentration of these businesses, I support moving forward with the ordinance as it’s written,” said Martinez. “But I am very sensitive to saying that we prohibit any kind of businesses, because I want Escondido to be a business-friendly city and I want to be sure that we communicate with businesses who may be affected by this.”

City Council also voted unanimously to authorize a $32,750 contract with the firm True North Research to do public opinion polling on the highest priority city services for Escondido residents. The results of the polling will inform cuts or other measures the city can take in the coming years as the budget becomes lean, a reality facing the city in light of looming pension payment obligations for its workforce.

That contract included the creation of a subcommittee which will work alongside True North to help formulate questions and oversee the survey process. Councilman John Masson and Diaz received the support of their colleagues to work on that subcommitee.

City Council will convene again on Sept. 11.