ESCONDIDO — The Sierra Club San Diego Chapter released letters sent to three Escondido City Council candidates, Mike Morasco, Tina Inscoe and Joe Garcia, requesting that they return campaign donations they received from Safari Highland LLC, proponents of the controversial Harvest Hills development.
On Aug. 22, the Sierra Club urged that the candidates, who each received $4,300 from Safari Highland LLC, return the money, citing a “conflict of interest.”
The City Council is expected to vote on the Harvest Hills development in the coming months. The divisive project is a high-end sprawl development that proposes an up-zone to 550 units on 1,100 acres of open space currently zoned for just 27 units, according to Sierra Club’s media release.
Critics of the development say it will endanger wildlife habitats, increase wildfire risk and have negative effects on transit and climate change.
Proponents of the project say that it supports sustainability by being the city’s first-ever carbon neutral, net-zero energy and agri-neighborhood housing community.
Laura Hunter, Chair of the Sierra Club NCG Conservation Committee, told The Coast News that the Sierra Club hopes that Escondido will implement an ordinance like San Marcos’ to limit donations from entities with financial decisions in front of the council.
“We are trying to shine light on the excessive influence of money in local government. For many years, Escondido has had what can only be characterized as obscenely high campaign limits. … It is past time to end the current situation that smacks of ‘pay to play,’ which allows campaign coffers to be loaded up with money when an important decision for the residents and city hangs in the balance,” Hunter said. “It just isn’t right, and the public knows it.”
The Coast News reached out to the three candidates and gathered their statements on the Sierra Club’s request.
Councilman Mike Morasco (candidate for District 4):
“A lot of different organizations out there will screen candidates that are running for a seat and they’ll have a series of questions or interviews and they will either support or endorse those candidates based upon how they match up philosophically with their organization’s plan. That could be the Sierra Club, it could be the DIA, it could be any number of groups out there and they all do the same thing. Those groups analyze those running and they make the determination of who philosophically aligns with them, and those are the ones who they’ll usually endorse and support. That’s the process I’ll always follow and it’s the process I’ll continue to follow, as does everyone else.”
Tina Inscoe (candidate for District 2):
“I’m grateful for all who’ve supported my campaign, but to be clear, those who support my campaign are endorsing my ideas and vision for Escondido, not the other way around. I believe in responsible, smart growth which puts current residents of Escondido ahead of new residents and developers. I will hold all new development to the highest standards for environmental stewardship. I’ll also insist that new developments not only provide for traffic, water, schools, parks and other infrastructure improvements, but that those improvements benefit existing residents as a net positive for our community.”
Joe Garcia (candidate for District 3):
“The only demands with which I am concerned are those that are in the best interest of my district and the City broadly. My stances on issues and my votes will not be dictated by any interest group, either the Sierra Club or developers. My focus remains, as it always has, on promoting economic growth, improving fiscal responsibility, and supporting neighborhood safety.”