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Local News January 22nd, 2009

40,000 or More Expected in Escondido for Big Bike Race

Lance Armstrong heads the parade of bicyclists particpating in a major cycling event that will terminate at Grand and Broadway in downtown Escondido on February 22nd. Called the Amgen Tour of California, it is a nine-day race that will bring not only famous cyclists but tourists and major media attention as well. City officials hope and believe that this will provide a major boost to the area economy.

The final stage will begin in Rancho Bernardo and pass through Valley Center, go up and down Palomar Mountain and conclude in Escondido between 3 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22. Cami Mattson, chief executive of the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been working on the project for some time. Mattson says there will be a number of hospitality tents, bleachers, a kids zone, a wellness fair, a bicycle safety area and plans are underway for a food court as well. Mattson, city police and fire officals have been working for months on the event, coordinating road closures and safety for the event.

Rancho Bernardo is also expecting an economic boost from the event. All the bicyclists and tour officials are staying in Rancho Bernardo hotels, and the San Diego North chamber of commerce has organized a large wellness fair for Feb. 22 on Bernardo Center Drive.

Primary credit for bringing the event to Escondido, according to all those working on the project, goes to Cami Mattson. She persuaded race officials to terminate the race in Escondido, landed an exclusive contract to that event, and has been providing leadership ever since.

Escondido Water Rates Spraying Upwards

High usage city residents and agricultural users have been alerted to expect substantial increases in their water bill as the City of Escondido seeks to generate sufficient revenue to offset the increased water usage during yet another year of drought. The rate increases go into effect on February 1st for residential customers who use more than 7,000 gallons per month as well as almost all agricultural customers.

The increased rates are not only designed to encourage conservation but to further ensure the city can cover the cost of supplying water to its 26,000 customers.

Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler Will Not Run for Reelection

While some political insiders had guessed that Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler would not seek re-election it still came as a bit of a surprise last Thursday when she confirmed her intentions to not seek reelection and also endorced City Councilman Dick Daniels as her successor.

Political sources had already speculated that Councilman Sam Abed would challenge Pfeiler for the seat had she run and it is now very probable he will challenge Dick Daniels for the post.

Pfeiler, who has been mayor since 1998,, and on the council since 1992, said she had served long enough. Pfeiler, 51, said she planned to seek a job in the private sector that pays more than the Escondido mayor's $53,000 annual salary. But she said financial concerns did not play a key role in her decision.

Battle lines appear to have been drawn already as Pfeiler indicated one of the reasons she endorsed Daniels was that he would “steer clear of the divisive politics that have brought turmoil to Escondido over illegal immigration and related issues in recent years.”

Pfeiler said she disagrees with Abed's overly aggressive approach to fighting illegal immigration and balancing the city budget.

Abed was reporedly angry that Pfeiler had declared her endorsement so early. "The voters should decide who will be the next mayor, not Lori," said Abed, who was easily re-elected to a second council term in November. "This is a self-serving attempt to continue her liberal policies by choosing someone who will stick with those policies after she's gone."

Abed, 56, took particular issue with the timing of the decision.

"My priority right now is the city's financial crisis, not an election that is nearly two years away," he said, referring to a $6 million city deficit that has been attributed to plummeting sales tax revenue.

On the other hand, Abed said he was considering a mayoral run even before Pfeiler decided not to seek re-election.

"I've been approached by many community leaders over the last several years about running for mayor," said Abed. "And I am seriously considering it."

Pfeiler conceded that her announcement came unusually early in the election cycle, but she said the timing was prompted by relentless questions this winter about her intentions.

"I'm really not good at hedging, and I haven't been able to say with a straight face that I plan to run," said Pfeiler. "I don't think it's fair to let people believe I am running when I am not."

Pfeiler said she approached Daniels about replacing her shortly after last November's election. Daniels, 66, said Thursday that he was excited about the opportunity to unite the city.

"Our city can't afford the politics of division that pit one group of residents against another."

It is significantly more risky for Daniels to seek the mayor's job than Abed. Daniels will have to give up his council seat in order to run because his council term expires in 2010, while Abed could remain on the council if he lost because his council term runs through 2012. But Daniels said he thought about the risk and decided to run anyway.

It is widely assumed that former Escondido councilmember Ed Gallo will seek to replace Daniels on the Council.

Escondido Declares Emergency City Budget Cuts of $2.8 Million
Fire, Police, Libraries and Recreation all affected.

The City Council approved nearly $2.8 million in emergency budget cuts last week, including 5 percent pay reductions for 222 employees, a drastic decrease in library hours and significant cuts in the Escondido Police and Fire departments. The package of cuts, which city officials have been haggling over since sales tax revenue began plummeting last fall, was approved in a 3-2 vote. Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she voted no because of the library cuts, while Councilwoman Marie Waldron said her dissent was based on the public safety cuts.

The council majority that approved the cuts Wednesday ---- Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, Councilman Sam Abed and Councilman Dick Daniels ---- all declined to order spending of the hotel money reserve fund because no one was certain how long the recession would last. Abed stressed that even with last week’s emergency cuts, the city is still projected to run a $3.3 million deficit in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The salary cuts for the 222 employees in City Hall were in lieu of 31 layoffs the city had been planning. A union representing 187 city employees agreed to the pay cuts during last-minute bargaining sessions Tuesday. As part of the cuts, city officials agreed to close City Hall every Friday instead of the current policy of alternating Fridays.

Luanne Hulsizer, wife of San Marcos Concilmember Mike Preston Says Mayor Jim Desmond Abuses Power

Councilman Mike Preston's wife, Luanne Hulsizer, publicly accused Mayor Jim Desmond of abusing his power by trying to get her fired from her job as president and CEO of the Poway Chamber of Commrce by complaining of her political activities in a pre-election campaign against Councilwoman Rebecca Jones.

Desmond said he spoke to several people only because he was concerned that Hulsizer had used her chamber e-mail address instead of her private e-mail address to forward a letter her husband wrote to the Republican Party of San Diego County's Central Committee, urging it not to endorse Jones and fellow incumbent councilman Hal Martin in the Nov. 4 election.

“It's an abuse of power and unethical behavior," Hulsizer said. "And he's interfering with my First Amendment right to free speech."

(See a sidebar discussion under . . “Observations.”)

Oceanside Graffiti Crackdown Working

Oceanside officials report a dramatic drop in vandalism and graffiti, thanks to a 10-month crackdown headed by two police officers and supported by other police and city departments.

Team members Officer Mark LaVake and his partner, Officer William Wallace, have dedicated most of their time since April 2008 to building cases against graffiti vandals. LaVake and Wallace said they think their work has deterred vandals who know police have gotten more serious about arresting them. Those who have been punished and those who have only heard of the crackdown are thinking twice before sketching on a wall or sign, the officers said.

The court typically orders taggers ---- or their parents, if they are under 18 ---- to pay restitution for all proven property damage.

Unexplained Deaths in Vista and Carlsbad

Sheriff's homicide investigators have determined that there was no foul play involved in the deaths of two people whose bodies were found in an apartment Sunday night at the home on Oak Drive near Monte Mar Road in Vista.

Meanwhile, Carlsbad police report the finding of an elderly man and woman in a two story home on Chestnut Avenue in Carlsbad after a relative requested them to check on the welfare of the couple. An elderly man answered the door and let the officers in where they found an other elderly man and a woman, both dead. Both appeared to have been dead for several days and had obvious signs of trauma. The investigation continues.

Fast-Track Emergency Room at Tri-City Popular with Patients

In and out of the ER in 20 minutes? Impossible you say?

Nope. That's a typical time for patients in Tri-City hospital's new fast-track unit. It's designed for those who aren't critically ill or injured, and who previously might have waited a long time to be seen. Now, patients are assessed as soon as they enter the emergency department and, if qualified, referred to the fast-track unit, a few steps away in a separate area. They might have a sore throat, bad cold, a nasty cut or a sprained ankle, but can't have anything needing oxygen, suction or monitoring equipment.

Dr. Gene Ma, head of the emergency department physicians, said that not only does the fast-track unit treat patients quickly, but it also has allowed the hospital to reduce the waiting time for patients with more serious illnesses and injuries because beds have been freed up.

With an average of 191 patients a day, Tri-City Medical Center has the second-busiest emergency room in the county, after Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa. Financial as well as humanitarian reasons prompted the fast-track unit. The hospital is trying to retain the 800 patients a year who, tired of a long wait, leave the waiting room without being treated. It seems to be working.

• • • • •

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