Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

The Mill closing is reminiscent of my own experience

The Mill closing is sad. It’s a loss for our town and I have to believe if we were incorporated as a city, it wouldn’t have happened. We would have more influence and control over our own businesses and our own Department of Planning and Services or Land Use.

What was a neglected rundown property at the entrance to town, a haven for drug addicts, heroin users and the homeless, was transformed into a beautiful building and a hip, cool business. It was different. It was fun, and it was one of the very few businesses that welcomed children and was family-friendly. There was a corner set aside in the outdoor patio area with a sandbox and things for kids to play with while the adults enjoyed each other’s company.

Anyway, the County apparently couldn’t come up with a creative solution to save this business and the investment of these young entrepreneurs. I doubt they cared or tried.

It reminded me, sadly, of my own story. I bought the Elder House property where 127 is now years ago. It was a charter school at the time. I just loved the historic house, the patio, the stream in the back. We actually lived upstairs for a few months as well. We spent tens of thousands of dollars painting it after it had been neglected for years. We renovated the inside, built a new bridge in the back, cleaned out the stream and made it something Fallbrook could be proud of.

We had concerts that brought people from not only Fallbrook, but also Temecula. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Fallbrook is so beautiful. I can’t believe we’ve never been here before.”

Anyway, we ran afoul of the County Planning Department because, like with the Mill, “someone” complained about our school.

Never mind that it mostly served young students who were falling through the cracks in public school.

Never mind that they were doing amazing in their new school that tailored learning for each of them individually. The County of San Diego said that they weren’t allowed to be there. It was the wrong zoning.

Nevermind that the charter school had every right to be there because they were chartered by the state of California at that exact address, which supersedes the county planning.

Nevermind that the attorney in the Governor’s office said we were right but they couldn’t join us in our fight.

Nevermind that the very politicians who had written the charter school legislation wrote us letters of support against the county.

Nevermind that a civil rights attorney said the county was squashing the students' civil rights. None of that mattered. What mattered was that the county attorney, when in a meeting with my real estate attorney and myself and the superintendent of the school said, “We don’t care.” When presented with any answer or reasoning to support our position, he simply said, “We don’t care.”

It was an unbelievable situation. My rent checks for the school, received directly from the county, stopped.

We also had made improvements to the property after hiring a firm that did exclusively school architecture and improvements. They were experts. What we experienced was going to the county and being told one thing, and then being told something else from a different county employee.

The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing or saying. It was unbelievable. Then one day county trucks showed up to kick the children out of the Elder House, which would have meant they would be in the cold on the back patio.

Luckily, we had already canceled school. The Fallbrook resident who was the head of DPLU screamed at me on the sidewalk. I couldn’t believe it. So, the school serving maybe 30 students closed.

Rumors were that it was the teachers’ union that had complained. I don’t know. I do know that the superintendent at the time could have saved the school, but she refused. Was the daily attendance revenue really that much of a loss for FUESD? Most of the students transferred to Temecula anyway.

State leaders told me that we were right, but it came down to my attorney’s question, “How much time do you have to put into this (post recession) and how much money do you have to fight the County’s deep pockets?” Since it was post 2008, we were in an impossible situation, so we gave up and after Village News couldn’t sustain the rent, we did a short sell of the property.

I didn’t write about it in the Village News. I was concerned about making the Village News all about me and now I regret not shouting it from the mountain tops, or at least from the balcony. I loved that property. I still do. It’s one of my favorite spots in town and Roy Moosa and Faro Trupiano have done an excellent job with it.

I just know first-hand that Main Avenue decisions being made from downtown San Diego costs us in ways we don’t even all know. For me it was instrumental in the greatest financial loss my family has experienced. I’m sure there are plenty of stories like mine that I haven’t heard and I would like to print those stories if you have one. Forgive me if I’m feeling a little extra sad as I drive by the Mill, which is now closed.


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