For the first time in Encinitas history, a City Council member will be selected not democratically by a vote of the people, but by a political appointment. Some say it is the latest move in a political chess match between residents seeking to protect community character and pro-development special interests seeking to increase density.
The “Houlihan appointment” is being watched closely and will be the subject of this column for the next two weeks.
In 2003, Houlihan supported the Encinitas Draft Community Character Implementation Plan, a body of laws that would restrict development. In two citywide elections, Houlihan got more votes than any other candidate because residents overwhelmingly supported her positions to protect Encinitas small town community character.
Houlihan was opposed by special interests from the real estate, nursery and building associations who did not support the Draft Community Character Implementation Plan. They wanted the city to give them new zoning rights to increase density. A Political Action Committee (PAC) was formed to fund efforts to defeat Houlihan.
In 2004, with three council seats open, it was possible the special interests could secure a council super-majority. That year Houlihan asked if the special interest agenda was about securing a 4-1 council super-majority to increase zoning and development opportunities without a vote of the people. The very thing Houlihan opposed.
That same year, current Encinitas Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks received campaign funds from a number of development firms outside of Encinitas. In 2008, Stocks received campaign money from three Political Action Committees including the California Real Estate PAC of Los Angeles and the Associated Builders and Contractors PAC.
As reported by the Encinitas Taxpayers Association, 55 percent of his campaign funds came from outside of Encinitas and nearly 70 percent came from the real estate industry. Now, Stocks and his supporters will have a vote in selecting Houlihan’s replacement, while the 13,000-plus voters who voted for Houlihan and her position to protect community character from high density zoning will not.
All of this matters because the threat of a 4-1 council super-majority is real. Developers could make millions while residents could lose community character and property values.
Consider the Pacific View site. Houlihan voted no to up-zoning the property calling for an independent appraisal. Stocks and Mayor James Bond opposed Houlihan and the independent appraisal. A 4-1 super majority could up-zone the property without a vote of the people. Will Stocks and Bond appoint someone who supports Houlihan’s vote or their own?
A super majority also threatens the so called “General Plan Update.” The city is rewriting zoning. The proposed land use changes could allow new high-density mixed-use residential zoning.
This past week a real estate firm paid $78 million dollars to buy the Trader Joe’s property on Encinitas Boulevard. The site is within the “General Plan Update” zone and would benefit from new zoning allowing mixed use that could create 2,000 new residences along El Camino Real. A 4-1 Council super-majority could “up-zone” the plan without a vote of the people.
For the first time in the city’s history the public won’t vote. The council could appoint a candidate endorsed by Houlihan, a move that would validate the votes of thousands of citizens and go a long way to ending claims of political cronyism.
They could appoint a person who will honor Houlihan’s votes and who agrees not to run in 2012, a move endorsed by the League Of Women voters. Or they could thumb their noses at the public and choose instead to appoint a candidate that will support the special interests.
Let’s hope they choose wisely, because you and I don’t have a vote.
Filed Under: Life, Liberty and Leadership