ENCINITAS — City Council voted to revert the Hall park plans to the 2008 design in the face of a challenge to modifications approved in the past two years.
The 4-1 vote came after the council reluctantly heard an appeal of the approved substantial conformance application detailing the changes. In fact, Councilman Jerome Stocks attempted to circumvent the appeal all together before it was presented by making a motion to scrap the modifications.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” he said. Stocks viewed the appeal as a sign that more litigation was probably forthcoming. “We as a city council should direct staff to dispense with any modifications and return to the original plan.”
Councilwoman Teresa Barth was aghast at the suggestion that the appeal not be heard. “I find this extremely disrespectful of the public,” Barth said. She called the motion “antidemocratic.” “It is absolutely appalling at its arrogance.”
City Attorney Glenn Sabine suggested the motion be withdrawn. “The applicant came forward and paid a fee and they should be able to say something,” he said to applause from the audience. “That’s the first time I’ve ever got any applause,” he said with a smile.
The 44-acre site purchased by the city in 2001 has been controversial throughout the various stages of planning. The property is partially surrounded by residential neighborhoods with the eastern edge adjacent to the freeway and its northern border along Santa Fe Drive.
Stocks said further delays in developing the park and money spent on previous litigation were unproductive. “You know what we thought, we were doing a nice thing for the neighborhood,” he said referring to the modifications.
Newly elected Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar also voiced concerns about the financial impacts and time delays in creating the park.
City Planner Kerry Kusiak told the council the environmental impact report certified by the council in 2008 and upheld in a 2009 challenge to the California Coastal Commission was modified to accommodate the proposed Interstate 5 widening. The council approved the changes on Dec. 16, 2010, without further environmental study.
Donna Westbrook, an Encinitas resident, appealed that decision to the City Council, saying the alterations — including a slightly larger skate park, increased parking, new landscape and retaining walls — required further study rather than a mere vote by the council to approve the modifications.
“We think you can’t take any action before the appeal is heard,” Cory Briggs, attorney for appellant Westbrook, told the council after a brief recess to confer with his client.
When the public hearing resumed several speakers urged the council to consider the impacts of air quality on the health of park visitors.
Dr. Jack Hegenauer, a retired UCSD professor who studies freeway pollution issues, said the particulate matter from the expansion of Interstate 5 would have negative impacts on people at the park, especially those involved in high levels of activity. “You can’t build your way out of congestion,” he said.
“Everything we have to say was in the letter (to the council),” Briggs said. He told the council that his client didn’t want the park scraped. “Our recommendation is to revisit public health issues in light of the I-5 expansion,” he said. He suggested a supplemental environmental impact report specifically addressing air quality issues.
City Planner Scott Vurbeff said the certified environmental impact report did take into consideration the possible expansion of Interstate 5.
Stocks renewed his earlier motion to dispense with the modifications to the park plan. Barth said she was frustrated with the process of removing productive modifications and called the action “pig headed.” She said the council was negligent in not addressing the air quality issues raised.
“I am looking forward to getting this park built,” Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan said.
Gaspar apologized to the community who helped with the modifications to the park.