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Local News August 20th, 2009

Stolen Vehicle Recovered: Two Suspects Arrested

On 08-12-09, at about 1144 a.m., an Escondido Police Officer was on patrol driving south on Juniper Street when he observed a white Honda Civic traveling north on Juniper Street, north of Felicita Ave. The officer recognized and confirmed with police dispatch that the vehicle had been stolen from a residence in Escondido earlier that morning.

The officer made a u-turn and caught up to the vehicle at 15th Ave. As the vehicle pulled into a residential area on 15th Ave, police officers converged and detained both the driver and passenger.

The driver was later identified as Hugo Escalona (21 years of age). The passenger was identified as Cresencio Viva Vergara (45 years of age). Both subjects reside in Escondido.

Escalona was later booked into Vista Detention Facility for auto theft, possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of burglary tools. Vergara was later booked into Vista Detention Facility for an outstanding arrest warrant.

Homicide Suspect Composite Sketch Released

photoThe Escondido Police Department in conjunction with San Diego Crime Stoppers is offering a $2000.00 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for killing 26 year old Daniel Alexander at a 4th of July party. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact San Diego Crime Stoppers at 888.580.8477 (TIPS). Tips may be given and paid anonymously.

According to witnesses, Daniel Alexander was at the 500 block of S. Vine Street to visit his girlfriend. Alexander was confronted by several Hispanic males who were at a party next door. One of the suspects was armed with a handgun and shot Alexander. At the time of the shooting, Escondido Police Officers were arriving at the location in response to a loud party call. They discovered Alexander in the driveway and immediately attempted life saving efforts until fire paramedics could arrive. Alexander was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers detained over 150 persons at the party and were able to obtain the attached composite sketch of the suspect responsible for killing Daniel Alexander.

The Escondido Police Department Homicide Unit is investigating the crime. Anyone that may have information on this case is asked to contact Detective Miguel Ramirez at 760.839.4925, or Crime Stoppers at 888.580.8477 (TIPS).

Escondido Police Arrest 10 and Impound 84 Cars

Police impounded 84 vehicles and issued 103 citations at Lincoln Avenue and Fig Street, Esconido, during a nine-hour operation. Police also arrested 10 drivers at the checkpoint for driving under the influence and charged one with possessing illegal drugs. Five citations were issued for open containers of alcohol in vehicles.

A total of 3,636 cars passed through the checkpoint, with about half of them getting screened and 163 receiving further scrutiny, police said.

Oceanside Mobile Home Park Owner Takes City to Court

A Superior Court Judge is being asked by the owners of Cavalier Mobile Estates, a large, rent-controlled mobile home park in Oceanside, to grant a rent increase and find that the city’s rent-control law violates the state constitution. Many other mobile home park owners in rent-control cities will likely be watching this lawsuit rather keenly.

City Attorney John Mullen said that Oceanside’s rent control ordinance has been determined to be constitutional in prior court proceedings so he is not worried that the court will find differently. Oceanside city staffers contend the park owners are already making a reasonable return.

The city's mobile home parks provide affordable housing for many low-income residents. Cavalier, located near the Interstate 5 interchange at Oceanside Boulevard, has 346 spaces with an average monthly rent of $350. That's less than at comparable rent-controlled parks in the city and far below "reasonable, fair market" rents, the owners argue. In April, they sought permission from the Manufactured Home Fair Practices Commission, a council-appointed panel that oversees rent control, to charge $600 per month.

Park residents have said higher rates could price many of them out.

The commission denied the request, and a retired judge affirmed the decision on appeal, saying evidence produced by the commission was "more credible" than that of the park's owners.

Oceanside has had mobile home park rent control since the 1980s. The law permits annual rent increases of up to 75 percent of the Consumer Price Index. If owners want more, they must ask the commission for a special adjustment.

In what may be a contingency plan should the lawsuit fail, Cavalier's owners recently notified residents they plan to subdivide the property and offer the lots for sale. Doing so could wipe away local rent-control protections.

Utility Poles in San Marcos Coming Down

Residents along a section of Barham Road should have a little better view soon. The city of San Marcos is taking down utility poles along part of a frontage road that parallels Highway 78.

The poles and wires have lined a mile-long stretch of Barham Road between Woodland Parkway and the city's western border, just west of Opper Street, for several decades. That is all changing now that a contractor has finished installing new utility lines and cables in a trench that runs along the same road. Once the poles are down, the city will have the other lines and cables energized and things should return to normal, albeit with a better view.

The work was part of a $9 million city project that also is widening Barham and adding sidewalks and landscaping to it. The project started in January and is expected to be finished in November ---- putting it ahead of an original timeline that would have seen the work completed next spring.

San Marcos has been replacing its overhead lines and cables with underground utilities section-by-section for several years. The city requires private developers to make the switch whenever land is subdivided for building.

Opposition Mounts in Urging Carlsbad City Council to Deny the La Costa Town Square Project

Carlsbad residents turned out in force for a recent hearing concerning the proposed La Costa Town Square Project. Most were opposed to the project and made their feelings known. The La Costa Town Square project, with banks, retail stores, offices and housing, has been proposed for the northeast corner of La Costa Avenue and Rancho Santa Fe Road.

Some opponents argued the city should get rid of the ‘big box’ store site as well as the multi-family housing area. Public testimony stretched into three hours due to the large turnout. After all the speakers had been heard, the council decided to postpone its discussion until its Aug. 18 meeting (this past Tuesday). In order for the project to proceed, the council will need to certify its environmental impact report and agree to issue many permits.

The La Costa Town Square project includes 284,000 square feet of shopping space and 55,000 square feet of office space, plus 64 homes and a 128-unit, multi-family housing complex.

They're envisioning an upscale development that will generate nearly $1 million a year in sales tax revenue to the city, project manager Patrick O'Day said, calling the project a "great place for Carlsbad."

Jerry Harmon, a former Escondido mayor who is involved in a traffic congestion group, also spoke out against the plans, as did Bruce Ehlers, a former Encinitas planning commissioner, and Fred Sandquist, president of the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation.

Escondido Rejects $2.7M Loan Request from Hotel Developer

The city's chances of getting its first business-class hotel went down Monday when a city panel rejected a $2.7 million loan request from the developer.

The developer said the $13.4 million project near Valley Parkway and Interstate 15 would be delayed indefinitely without the loan, but that construction could have begun this fall if the loan had been approved.

Councilman Dick Daniels said the 105-room hotel was a badly needed amenity in Escondido, but he said lending such a large sum of money would be too risky because the city could lose the entire loan if the project ran into financial problems before construction was complete.

"We're not secured if something unforeseen goes wrong," said Daniels, who sits on the council's economic development subcommittee with Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler. "I'm all for stimulating the economy, but this falls flat with me."

Pfeiler suggested the proposal could be an opportunity to push a worthy project "over the top" with some extra financing, but she was not able to persuade Daniels.

"Sometimes, you have to wait for things to evolve more naturally," said Daniels, suggesting that the project would go forward when the economy and the hospitality industry recover from the recession.

To keep the project viable, Pfeiler and Daniels said they would support extending the deadline for the hotel to open from April 2010 to April 2013. Without such an extension, the developer would lose more than $1 million in hotel-tax rebates included in a package of financial incentives the council approved in December 2007.

The agreement included a construction deadline to give the developer an incentive to quickly build the hotel, a Springhill Suites Marriott planned for high above Interstate 15 on La Terraza Boulevard. Terry Jackson, a Burnham Real Estate vice president who represents the developer, told Pfeiler and Daniels that the recession has increased the equity required to get financing for hotel projects and that the $2.7 million would solve that problem.

He said another reason the money was needed was a downward shift in projected occupancy rates and room charges at the hotel, which is planned to include a pool, spa, outdoor recreation area, conference room and small gym.

Initial occupancy rates are now projected at 55 percent, compared with 65 percent when the project was approved. And the projected average room rate has dropped from $115 to $104.

Jackson conceded the loan was risky because the city would be second in line behind the primary lender if the project went "belly up." But he said the most likely outcome with the loan was the hotel opening in late 2010 and the city being repaid by 2013. Jackson said the project has received all but one required approval from the city planning department, making it virtually "shovel ready."

Escondido has been trying to attract more hotels to diversify city revenue, which has come primarily from sales and property taxes. But of the four major hotel projects proposed in the past three years, none is moving forward at this time.

A hotel planned as part of the Westfield North County mall renovation has been scrapped. A 76-room Candlewood Suites hotel planned near Coco's and I-15 is on hold while the developer negotiates with In-N-Out Burger about possibly acquiring the site. And a seven-story luxury Marriott planned for downtown is on hold because only two of the City Council's five members support roughly $12 million in city subsidies that the developer wants for the $60 million project. Escondido now has 967 hotel rooms. If the Candlewood Suites and the two Marriotts are built, that number would increase to 1,344.

Chief Jim Maher Defends Checkpoints

Escondido’s police chief faced a number of Latino critics Monday evening and defended his departments Driver’s License Checkpoints. His audience, comprised of members from the Latino American Democratic Club meeting, were unconvinced. They still think the Driver’s License Checkpoints are simply traps designed to deport illegal aliens.

Maher reported that in 2005, one year after the checkpoints were established, 42 percent of all people who reported crimes were Latino, compared with 51 percent white. Last year, 46 percent were Latino and 47 percent were white, he said.

Maher said that checkpoints have reduced the number of hit-and-run incidents from 600 in 2004 to 433 last year because unlicensed drivers are being taken off the roads. Everyone is stopped at driver's license checkpoints, he said, not just Latinos.

The checkpoints will continue.

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