In the News
February 20, 2023
By David Ross
Congressman Scott Peters of the 50th District Thursday joined the Greater Escondido Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Roundtable to hear concerns of business people who are now part of his district. Escondido’s new mayor, Dane White, also took part in the hour-long discussion.
Chamber CEO James Rowten introduced the session, which he called “an opportunity for the congressman to hear about our local business.”
Peters said he and his staff are “still trying to learn about the community,” which became part of his district in last year’s redistricting.
Representatives of businesses attending introduced themselves briefly. They also spoke about some challenges facing them today.
Peters gave some background, noting that he practiced environmental law for 15 years before running for the Escondido City Council. He became the first Democrat to represent La Jolla, and where his issues were fixing the broken sewer system, finishing Hwy 56 and redoing Birdrock.
He served on the San Diego Port Commission for four years. In 2011, he was urged by constituents and friends to run for the U.S. Congress. “I consider myself a civil rights Democrat,” he said. “I’m not a partisan rock star.” He frequently reaches across the aisle. He recently co-sponsored a bill with Republican Kevin McCarthy (the Speaker) called “Save Our Sequoias.” This bill seeks to prevent a repeat of the 2017 disaster when one of the oldest living things on Earth, a 3,000 year old Sequoia, was burned by a wildfire. Fully 20% of these stately trees have been destroyed by fire. The bill speeds up the process of allowing clearance of vegetation that catches fire and spreads to the trees—when in their natural state they resist fire.
He talked about the four legs of San Diego’s economy: The military, the Border, science-technology and tourism.
The military makes up 20% of the San Diego regional economy and includes the 250,000 veterans who also make up the population, and who Peters devotes much of his time to serving. “We are proud of our military culture” he said. “We want to make sure that former military transition into society.” Which, of course, includes services to keep them from becoming homeless.
When he first became a congressman, then San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders told him the most important thing the federal government could do for San Diego was create an efficient Border crossing. Which he helped bring about. Peters continues to want to nurture that relationship. “The relationship with Mexico is something we should garden,” he said. “We need them as a friend.
San Diego’s bio-tech sector is the third largest in the nation, he said, with more than 1,000 companies, many of them small, and many of them start-ups. “Most are small outfits trying to solve big problems with private capital.” He wants to do what he can to encourage them.
“Of all the cities I have seen, this one is the ripest for opportunity,” said Peters. “It’s a place where people would naturally want to locate.” Peters is an advocate of growth and especially more housing. “There is an opportunity for Escondido to use growth to improve your city.”
Mayor White responded, “The city council would love to work with you!”
Corrine Busta, manager of governmental affairs for Cox Communications, asked, “Is there any way to bring first responders to stay in Escondido?”
“We are talking to the military about building more military housing here,” said Peters. “The whole region needs to build more housing—period. Escondido has a huge opportunity to do housing all around.”
Deanna Smith, Escondido’s longtime gluten-free bakery owner, noted that the number of people she employs went from 25 before the COVID-19 pandemic to eight post COVID.
Peters asked Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado, about the labor situation. Henry said they have a labor shortage. “We’re happier to pay people what they are worth. We have a problem with labor availability.” He added, “We use labor contractors. In general we are doing OK.”
A bigger concern with avocado growers is water. “That’s very important to us to have adequate water.” Henry credited Escondido’s water recycling facility that generates water for Escondido’s growers. “That’s been working very well.” Besides the high cost of water, Henry said fuel is the third highest cost of farming—especially diesel fuel. “Everything everyone eats comes on a truck that uses diesel,” he said.
Mike Shaw, of Wheelhouse Athletic, who recently opened a batting cage training facility at the site of the old 24-Hour Fitness on East Valley Parkway, said. “From permitting it has been cumbersome, to say the least. It’s a lot easier to take my business to San Marcos but I didn’t want to do that. Dane [White] has been great. The biggest challenge has become the homeless. I took a building that was abandoned for years.” In confronting homeless people he said, “Recently I had a gun pulled on me.”
White said that Shaw “has been a force in kicking the homeless out” of that area.
Kay Bates of Bates Realty said she has to be careful showing homes. “How do we feel safe?” she asked.
Peters repeated, “I say more and more that we need to build more homes. We’re a great place to live if you have enough money to live here.” He added, “We’re too good-looking to be cheap but we have to reach the homes demand with supply. We are in competition with other places. We need to adopt a tax policy and a housing policy.”
Jennifer Schoeneck, deputy director of economic development, challenged the narrative that high costs of housing is related to Escondido’s homeless numbers. “Escondido has lower rents and we have one of the highest homeless rates. We are exporting talent from our city.”
Shaw said, “The homeless are here because of the services we provide.”
Realtor Sabrina Covington agreed. “Interfaith does a great job, which is a double-edged sword.” She added, “We have an unfair reputation throughout the county.”
White added, “A portion of the walk up services [for homeless] exacerbates the problem. It’s a cocktail of issues. There should be more residential services and less walk up services.”
Richard Marks, a consultant added, “I don’t agree that Escondido should be a dumping ground for homeless.”
Rep. Peters wrapped up the hour by noting that his staff is here to provide constituent services. “Most of what we do is casework.” Examples being people who are not getting their Social Security checks or veterans benefits and need help linking to assistance.” Peters has a satellite office in San Marcos several days a week.
Peters concluded by observing, “We’re going to spend a lot of time up here. I’m pretty easy to get ahold of. I want to learn about what I can brag about.”
Source: Escondido Times