ENCINITAS — Residents can now have their issues discussed by City Council according to a new policy that was unanimously passed March 16. If a council member supports the person’s request that is made during an open meeting, the item will appear on a future agenda according to the new agenda-setting rules.
Under the existing system, a majority of the five-person council had to support the resident’s request. In fact, if a council member wanted to get an item on a future agenda and spoke up about it at a meeting, the council member had to have the support of two fellow council members.
For years, several residents and at least two council members have argued that the old system was too restrictive and prevented minority viewpoints from being aired. Council members Teresa Barth and Maggie Houlihan both actively supported changes to how the council’s agenda was set, but to no avail until this vote.
Houlihan said she was hopeful the new system would allow for broader citizen input. “I’m going to remain optimistic on this,” she said. Houlihan said she was willing to support the revisions without requiring a 60-day time limit for when a requested item must appear on an agenda.
Barth and Houlihan, who have often been a two-vote minority on the council, have protested that the agenda setting system prevented discussion about important topics such as the possible purchase by the city of the old Pacific View Elementary School property and the preservation of an historic home on the Hall property.
Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar served with Houlihan on the subcommittee that drafted the policy revisions. She said the changes were an improvement over the old system. In particular, Gaspar said she supported the fact that only the support of two council members rather than three is necessary for an item to be placed on a future agenda. The new councilwoman championed changing the agenda-setting system when she ran for council last fall.
But not everyone agreed completely with the new changes. Councilwoman Barth said they did not go far enough.
“I’m going to support it because I can’t certainly subscribe to what it was before,” Barth said. However, she said the 60-day time limit was crucial to make certain an item gets on the council’s agenda quickly.
Mayor James Bond and Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks said they didn’t see a need for imposing a time limit, saying council-requested items do end up on agendas.
Yet, Tony Kranz, a Leucadia resident and council candidate in 2010, said his firsthand knowledge is instructive on how the council can conveniently forget to agendize an important city issue. He reminded the council about an issue from 2006 that included an all-way stop sign at Hygeia Avenue and Cereus Street. That issue was tabled and has never come back for a vote he said despite his constant requests about the issue.
“A time limit would prevent that sort of thing from happening,” Kranz said. He also suggested that the city put a searchable section on its website related to agenda topics, so residents could find out if an issue they cared about had been discussed before.