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Opinion Polls Gauging Support for Proposed $70 million
Downtown Escondido, California Marriott Vary Widely

By David Garrick, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 26, 2010--Polls gauging public support for a proposed downtown Marriott have produced widely divergent results, with surveys conducted by opponents showing strong opposition and surveys conducted by a supporter showing an even split.

Neither of the polls have been conducted by professional pollsters, and they don't have statistical validity. But they are the only insight available into public opinion about the $70 million, seven-story project, which the City Council is slated to approve next Wednesday.

Opponents say public opinion about the 196-room hotel should be a key factor in the council's decision, because the agreement with the developer includes more than $10 million in city subsidies and requires the city to give up control of its conference center.

"The result of my survey was the voters saying, 'Hell no!'" said Lisa Prazeau, a City Hall critic who conducted a phone poll earlier this month that she said showed more than 97 percent of 170 respondents were opposed. "If they put this to a vote of the people, it would clearly fail. You'd think the council would care about that."

But Councilman Sam Abed, the council's most ardent supporter of the hotel, has had a poll on his website for many months that showed 41 people opposed and 40 people in support through Friday afternoon. And he said public opinion should not play a crucial role in Wednesday's vote anyway.

Abed said council members have been elected to lead the community, not to make knee-jerk decisions based on polling.

"I am a leader who will shape public opinion instead of just following it," he said. "We are elected to make decisions."

Abed said bad timing might be responsible for some hotel opposition, contending that ambitious and expensive projects often seem ill-advised during tough economic times.

"I understand the concerns, but this is a good decision for the city's future," he said.

Abed and Councilman Dick Daniels, who are both running for mayor this year, also said their visits to thousands of residences on the campaign trail this spring have indicated no widespread opposition to the hotel.

"I've not had any pushback on the hotel, except from people who have always opposed it," Daniels said.

Abed said support goes up when he explains to residents that the city subsidy will be redevelopment money, which must be spent on projects that enhance economic activity, not unrestricted city money, which could be used to increase library hours or pay firefighters.

And he said support increases even more when he mentions the city's return on its investment, which has been estimated at $27 million over the next 55 years.

How the issue is framed appears to have had a big effect on poll results. Prazeau's poll question focused on the city subsidy, while Abed's focused more on the hotel increasing city revenues.

A third poll, conducted in spring 2009 by Councilwoman Olga Diaz, also focused on the city subsidy, and it showed 92 percent of 248 respondents were opposed.

Wednesday's public hearing on the hotel project is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in City Hall, 201 N. Broadway. It will be the first time the council has discussed the project publicly in more than four years.

The hotel would be built along Valley Parkway on a 75-space parking lot between City Hall and the arts center.

The city staff report for the project, which includes several hundred pages of documents, can be found at http://www.ci.escondido.ca.us/government/agendas/PublishedMeetings.htm

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To see more of the North County Times or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.nctimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.

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