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North County Report: Rainbow Residents Take Transparency Into Their Own Hands

Judge delivers mixed ruling on Solana Beach sea walls, new study details poverty in North County communities and more in our weekly roundup of news from North County.

In 2013, the Vallecitos School District Board of Trustees voted to end audio recordings of its regular meetings, and instead rely on notes taken by the secretary for the public record. Starting in January, though, a group of volunteers that includes former VSD Board President Bill Harding plan to take matters into their own hands and record the proceedings themselves, and make the recordings accessible online.

Harding said the district, which serves the town of Rainbow, lacks any sort of verbatim record of the meetings, which poses transparency issues and opens the district up to he-said-she-said arguments over past votes.

“For almost 40 years, until 2013, Vallecitos had been audio recorded to create this verbatim public record. As a board president, I valued that as a way to settle disputes and clarify the record,” Harding said.

The school stopped recording the meetings, because officials said the secretary was spending too much time trying to transcribe the audio recording, said Harding. He noted that the change also came after he urged trustees to publicly explain the firing of Patricia Bell, the former business manager who is suing the school district for wrongful termination. Decisions involving staff are often made in closed-session, discussions that aren’t publicly accessible.

Harding said he’s not alone in wanting a verbatim record of what occurs at school board meetings. He said some of the volunteers joining him have sat on the boards of other agencies, like water districts, which have settled disputes based on audio recordings.

Board President Michael Darnley declined to speak, saying he didn’t want to put any information out that was misleading, but that the board was considering the matter, and should act at its next meeting on Jan 3.

Harding said he’s optimistic the board will resume audio recordings of the meetings, but he and other volunteers are prepared to video record beginning in January.

“I’m hoping it will be official – that the school district will do it – but if they won’t, we’re very happy to record it, and archive and maintain the recordings.”

Study Shows Trends in Poverty

The Center for Policy Initiatives released a study on poverty and income in North County, which found that more than 12 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level – slightly lower than the county average.

The study also found that while 5.2 percent of Carlsbad residents live below the poverty level, the rate was nearly 19.2 percent in Vista, marking a stark contrast between some coastal communities and inland areas.

Other cities the study looked at include Escondido (15.7 percent) San Marcos (14.9 percent), Oceanside (14.2 percent) and Encinitas (8.9 percent).

This is the first such study CPI has produced on North County, which was based on data from the Census Bureau’s 2015 one-year American Community Survey.

The Union-Tribune delved into the report and found that incomes haven’t rebounded to pre-recession levels in most of North County, affecting those who were already at the low end of the income scale.

“We have lost middle-income jobs, and as we have added jobs back they tend to be lower paying service jobs,” Peter Brownell, research director for CPI, told the U-T. “And that is what is driving this lack of recovery.”

Solana Beach Gets Mixed Ruling on Sea Walls

A Superior Court judge has weighed in on the fight over sea walls in Solana Beach, upholding many of the city’s restrictions, while handing property owners a few small wins of their own.

The fight has been brewing since 2013, when coastal landowners sued the city, which had prevented them from constructing or improving seawalls that protect their homes at the top of the bluffs.

The Union-Tribune reports that the court upheld rules that ban seawalls for new construction, require permits to expire and require public access as a condition for future permits. The judge did overturn a ban on seawalls for new “accessory” structures, and maintenance of private stairways.

Environmental groups and the Coastal Commission have opposed seawalls because they prevent natural erosion that adds sand to the beaches, which impacts habitats and public access to the beach.

Most recently, the Coastal Commission balked at a decision to approve a fee schedule Solana Beach wanted to establish for seawalls, which would have increased each year.

(Disclaimer: I work in IT and the Surfrider Foundation, which worked with Solana Beach to defend its policies.)

Also in the News

• The race for the 49th Congressional District saw nearly $3.7 million of airtime purchased, compared with nearly $4.7 million bought by all races in the county this year. (inewsource)

• The New York Times’ California Today newsletter discusses the region’s housing crisis and includes the story of the Poway housing project for veterans that was denied.

• Oceanside will consider adding two new soccer fields to a park in the Eastside neighborhood, where for years, an informal soccer club has kept kids away from gangs, and on the field. (Union-Tribune, Seaside Courier)

• Plans for a resort hotel in Ponto are in the early stages, while plans for a new hotel in Oceanside Harbor have fallen through. (Union-Tribune)

• The Escondido Creek Conservancy is seeking a grant to restore the creek to its natural state. Like many Southern California waterways, the Escondido Creek was channelized in the 1960s to prevent flooding. (Union-Tribune)

• In a contentious series of negotiations with the city, Helgren’s Sporfishing will share its space with Oceanside Sea Center, at the location in the harbor that Helgren’s has leased for decades. (Union-Tribune)

• Two North County scribes died this week, Bill Arballo and Bill Missett. (The Coast News, Union-Tribune)

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