Public weighs in on Encinitas’ priorities for the year

ENCINITAS — In the first of two special meetings, City Council listened to recommendations on Jan. 18 from the public, department heads and city commissions as it prepares to set annual goals for the coming year.
The city’s budget loomed large in the discussions as a presentation on the state of the city’s financial affairs was first on the agenda. Despite the lingering economic downturn, the city has fared well in comparison to other municipalities within San Diego County, according to Finance Director Jennifer Smith.
Smith said property taxes, which account for approximately 65 percent of the city’s revenue, have remained stable throughout the depressed economy. Encinitas is one of three cities in the county that has actually seen property-tax assessments on the rise in the past year along with Del Mar and Coronado according to Smith.
With median home prices stable between $680,000 in the 92024 zip code and $930,000 in Cardiff, Smith said the volatile housing market has had little impact on the city’s property tax assessments. While most cities take 17 percent of the total local property tax revenue, Encinitas receives 27 percent. “It is one of the highest allocations in the county,” Smith told the council.
Even though sales tax revenue increased 7 percent since last year, Smith tempered the good news by reminding the council that consumer confidence overall tends to remain low and the state’s unemployment rate is at 12.4 percent.
Several commissioners made requests to the council to prioritize goals. Erica Buxbaum, chair of the commission for the arts, asked for an increase in the city’s arts and community grants funding to $75,000. The budget allocated $54,000 for last year’s grant recipients. Buxbaum said the city’s increased contribution would go a long way. “The Mizel family will match it dollar for dollar,” she said, referring to the private foundation that has been a supporter of the program for several years.
A representative from the Planning Commission asked that design review guidelines be updated; specifically sustainability and environmentally conscious design. It also requested that a policy incentivizing sustainability design be created. The commission also reported its concern that pedestrian access in commercial zones be improved. While some of the issues may be addressed in the city’s new general plan update, the commission wanted specific direction on several items.
Gene Chapo, a former planning commissioner, expressed concern about the downtown area trend of the proliferation of drinking establishments. “My interest is that Encinitas not become Pacific Beach,” he said. Chapo said there are enough choices for drinking alcohol and that nothing in the downtown specific code defines what a restaurant is and what distinguishes it from a bar. “We might want to define that,” he told the council.
Dody Crawford, an arts commissioner, asked the council to consider placing public art at the Hall park. As executive director of the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association, she requested attention to the Santa Fe Drive undercrossing and the south entry treatment of Highway 101. Citing heavy pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks she asked that the city clean them more frequently that twice a year.
Elizabeth Taylor, chair of the environmental advisory commission, asked the council to adopt the environmental action plan that began development in 2009. “We feel this plan is very comprehensive,” she said.
Taylor also suggested that the city look into creating a full-time staff position to implement the plan. She acknowledged that while the budget may not seem to allow for additional employees, a “sustainability coordinator” would be a boon to the cohesiveness of all of the city’s environmental efforts.
Continuing on the environmental theme, Leucadia resident Russell Levan once again encouraged the council to adopt an environmental purchasing policy. He also said that the city might want to consider an “idling law.”
“People don’t turn off cars,” he said referring in part to the long waiting lines for pick up at local schools.

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