COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Encinitas’ road to incorporation

On Nov. 5, 1974 — 35 years ago — local voters decided whether the then small towns of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Encinitas, Leucadia and Solana Beach should incorporate into the city of San Dieguito. Elect our own city council? Local control vs. the far-away downtown county government? Slow growth vs. aggressive development?
City hood had been raised before, in the 1920s and 1930s, by the vast flower growing industry and their need for more water. But it was during the freeway alignment fight of the late 1950s where incorporation appeared to be the only hope to try to stop the California Highway Department from placing the future Interstate 5 through the downtowns of Del Mar to Carlsbad. The coastal communities remained sleepy little beach towns until the early 1970s.
With a combined 1970 population of less than 35,000, local activists saw the handwriting on the developers’ maps. Preliminary plans were announced to turn San Elijo Lagoon into a yacht marina. A nautical-themed amusement park was slated for Batiquitos Lagoon. In Cardiff’s west side, two-story duplexes had just starting springing up, blocking the ocean views of the older beach-style cottages. In Solana Beach, multi-story condos were being developed on every inch of ocean bluff top land. Leucadia was fighting proposed drive-thru restaurants and convenience stores on Coast Highway 101.
In Encinitas, not much existed east of Oak Crest Junior High in the area known as Green Valley. Some parts of El Camino Real were still dirt roadways. Two well-established car dealerships from Coast Highway 101, Peterson Ford and Harloff Chevrolet, moved to the middle of nowhere, joined only by farms, chicken ranches, an auto junkyard, and the county dump, at what would become the now very busy corner of El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard (then named Rancho Santa Fe Road).
On that 1974 election night, the first shopping center in the new area — what was becoming known as “Village Park” — opened for business. The new Alpha Beta grocery store (now Henry’s) held a grand opening dinner for all. The primary chitchat in the waiting line was “Who would ever want to this beautiful area to become a city?”
Voters rejected the 1974 incorporation by a 3-to-1 margin. Few voters were aware of the massive development plans already filed with the county of San Diego. Only about 100 Village Park homes were under construction even though advertising signs all over North County directed people to the development by noting how many more “country miles” remained until they reached the sales office.
Leucadia resident Ken Shultz was active on the Leucadia Town Council and would have become the city’s first mayor. He points out that after the loss, the economy went bad through the rest of 1970s. It slowed down some of the rampant growth, which in turn helped protect some of the remaining community character.
Ken and his band of slow growthers, of which I was proud to become associated with in 1977, went on to throw out the pro-development good ol’ boys on the Encinitas School Board, Leucadia County Water District, Olivenhain Water District, San Dieguito Irrigation District, and the San Dieguito Planning Group — at the time, our only forms of locally elected government — and eventually place the 1982 incorporation question on the ballot. It failed by a 2-to-1 margin. But all five slow growth city council candidates, out of a field of 13, would have been elected. Incorporation for both Encinitas and Solana Beach, as separate cities, occurred on the third attempt in 1986, by a 3-to-2 voter approval.
I often wonder how Encinitas may have been vastly different in 2009, had incorporation passed in 1974. Would we have been a more “cool” beach town, like Coronado, Del Mar, Laguna Beach or Carmel? Or would future city councils of the 1980s and 1990s have caved in to the development pressures that were felt all over the Southern California? Some say we did anyway. Either way, as we supporters of the 1982 incorporation said the night of our failed vote, “We’re still better than Santee!”

Ken Harrison was president of the Cardiff Town Council and wrote the incorporation study that led to the 1982 vote. If passed, Harrison would have been the city’s first vice mayor. Now a regular attendee of Politicians Anonymous, the native Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident makes ‘em laugh at his statewide California Comedy Traffic Schools headquartered in Oceanside.

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