Business as usual at Encinitas City Hall

It has only been a few months since our new City Council took office. 

We, the tax paying citizens, had great hopes that the new council members would bring fresh air and light into city chambers darkened by shameless backroom dealings.

Recent council meetings have shattered that expectation. It is now only too painfully obvious that pro-development and special interest groups still hold their 20-year-old stranglehold on our public resources, expecting to reap huge profits on taxpayers’ expense and feeding on the public trough, while destroying the unique character of our five communities forever.

The Feb. 13 and the March 12 Council meetings on the “Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative” provide clear evidence that nothing has changed at City Hall. This long overdue initiative is about protecting our General Plan, which has served the people of Encinitas as their Constitution. Contrary to opposing claims, it does not aim to overturn the city’s General Plan, Zoning Code, and Land Use ordinances. If voted in, it will give some control back to the residents to decide whether a proposed new development, requiring major changes and exceptions to the existing Land Use Element, is appropriate for the community. It is not anti-development, but may prevent inappropriate development that violates existing codes. Existing regulations and past agreements will not be affected.

I had the good fortune of being a friend of our first Mayor, Marjorie Gaines. Before she died in 1995, she told us that we must protect our General Plan from being mutilated by special interest groups, be they land barons and out-of-town developers or old boys’ clubs. She said we must have an initiative requiring voter approval of any insidious changes to our General Plan. This is what the initiative is really about.

At both public hearings, it was evident that all council members had their mind made up before they entered the chamber. At the Feb. 13 hearing, before council had debated any pros and cons of implementing the initiative, a motion was already on the floor that council should take a negative stance on the initiative and not adopt it outright. This is strange, because three council members had signed the initiative’s petition. The council then voted unanimously to order City Manager Gus Vina to hire a consultant for analyzing the impacts of the initiative. Gus Vina stated that he had already set the process into motion. How could he have done this, unless City Manager Vina had already agreed with council on how they should vote in, what many feel, was a sham public hearing?

This breach of protocol appears to be a blatant violation of the Brown Act. Confirming evidence was brought forward at the special council meeting on March 12, when citizen Denise Martin produced copies of city documents showing that Vina had already signed a $40,000 contract with the Rutan and Tucker law firm in Costa Mesa to perform the impact study on Feb. 4, fully nine days before the council vote. A city manager takes orders only directly from the City Council, who can give the order only after council has voted to do this. This further has the appearance of implicating every council member and the council’s attorney of collusion. The law firm Rutan and Tucker is well known as the “developer’s choice” for defending clients against grassroots movements.

On March 12 Attorney Joel Kuperberg summarized the Rutan & Tucker analysis and staff report for one and a half hours, taking an extreme viewpoint of deriding the initiative as having only bad effects on city planning. He neglected to mention that all his hypothetical and contrived problems, purportedly caused by implementation of the initiative, would also occur under present city laws. Attorney Everett Delano, who drew up the initiative, was given only nine minutes to rebut allegations made by Kuperberg. There were 28 public speakers. A dozen, or so, speakers were invited spokespersons for powerful special interest groups. These speakers included representatives of the Ecke/Carltas empire, the retired Attorney Charles Marvin, a self-proclaimed hired gun for developers, and Mike Andreen.

Council promptly ignored input from pro-initiative speakers and went on to schedule plans for creating a committee for drafting a ballot statement, justifying council’s official opposition to the citizen’s initiative. No plans were made for a committee that would investigate the positive effects of the initiative. Clearly, City Council bought into pro-development forces, who are afraid of no longer being able to persuade council into modifying the municipal code in favor of inappropriate development.

All this shows just how desperately we need this initiative. If its provisions had been in place, we would have an attractive shopping plaza and cultural center instead of half a dozen ugly, unfriendly and “unwalkable” strip malls searching for a plaza amidst a sea of cars and traffic lanes covering a vast asphalt desert.

We would be getting a true, serene Community Park for young and old instead of a 43-acre soccer tournament complex heartlessly infiltrating residentially zoned neighborhoods.

Special interests, in collaboration with city officials, will spend over a million dollars to defeat this initiative. But they cannot put the people, once awakened, back to sleep. Let justice and the common good prevail.

Dietmar Rothe is a Cardiff resident.

 

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  1. GPU in the ruts says:

    Dietmar is correct. If we can’t trust our newly elected council to protect Encinitas from further intrusive developments, who can we trust? When it comes to land use decisions, the residents must have a say and cannot be bypassed by a 4/5th majority exception. It’s unbelievable that some council members are so misinformed and chose to follow the arguments used by pro-developments forces that do not even reside within our city limits. If councilman Kranz can justify his objection to Prop A (as it is now called) on the fact that the specific plans will be jeopardized (when in the first plan they don’t even conform from our General Plan, a direct violation of State law), he must have forgotten how he got elected in the first place. A lot of his constituents supported him because he was for managed and slow growth and wanted the public support on the General Plan. At all election forums, he reiterated his support for the initiative. This U-turn from Kranz is very telling how things change when you get in a power position and forgot how you got there.
    When it comes to future developments for Encinitas, who do you trust: you, the resident of Encinitas or local politicians who can turn their backs to their constituents in 90 days or less?

    Two Lies we have already heard:

    1)If the initiative passes you won’t be able to remodel or make additions to your house.
    2) We will bot be able to meet State housing mandate because of the height limit restriction of 30ft (we can, we just have to vote on it). We can build another La Paloma if we want.

    The opposition to the initiative will try to drown us in technical arguments about specifics plans, “unintended “consequences, need for affordable housing, staggering costs, etc.. but the bottom of line is this: What kind of community do you want to live in in 20 years? If you want to preserve Encinitas the way it is and allow only small controlled growth, support the initiative. If you like traffic, pollution, density and the feeling of a big city, by all means vote against the initiative. I vote to keep our small beach town character for a while longer. I vote YES on A.

  2. Rogelio Espinosa says:

    ¡Válgame Dios! After watching the webcast last night of the city council stumbling over writing the ballot opposition statement, I can only agree with the commentary. At least Mike Andreen was shot down twice by a 3 to 2 vote in his attempt to take control. Council member Gaspar read her version which sounded like it was written by Andreen, who lives in Oceanside. Who’s paying him? Clearly Gaspar and Muir support him.

    It’s the council’s fear of the HCD and SANDAG housing mandates that makes them oppose the initiative. Yet they were promising to abolish the 4/5 majority approval of upzoning, which would then put them into exactly the same position if the initiative passes.

    Remember that the initiative requires a public vote for major amendments that increase density and height. Stop with the “unintended consequences.” The consequences are clear, as outlined in the commentary. Vote YES on Prop. A.

    I

  3. John E says:

    I signed the petition, plan to vote for the proposition, admit that it might need some fine-tuning, and regret the expense of the special election, the need for which could/should have been avoided. I do not agree that things are “business as usual” as City Council — conditions have improved, and the real Loxodonta africana in the chamber is the state of California, with its inflated, outdated housing “needs” demands for density increases. We incorporated against the enemy of Paul Eckert and the County of San Diego, and we are now caught in precisely the same fight, this time against the state and, to a lesser extent, the shadow government known as SANDAG.

  4. Steve T says:

    John,

    The council has voted.

  5. Steve T says:

    The council has also given feedback and information that guides the city staff into action, in the backroom. That is not what we wanted and it is exactly why we can’t trust even this council.

  6. Kydd is Clueless says:

    The initiative proponents are not fooling anyone. We all know the whole 5-story proposition was a big lie to get rid of Stocks. At least that’s what they said repeatedly at their booths, in emails, and when calling the initiative hotline. Uh-oh…. are more campaign violations going to come down? I wonder how many witnesses there are to these behaviors and how well they are documented? Could Clueless Kydd be one of the centerpieces of this campaign violation debacle too? Pobrecito Senor Kydd.

    • Knock, knock Andreen says:

      Is that you Mike? Where have you been? How is the weather in Oceanside?
      So the initiative has a hot-line? You might want to check your facts or is it just another day in the life of Andreen where facts and fictions are often mixed to make a statement. Or is that PEPR spray?

  7. Council's arguments made out of fear says:

    Another great commentary, Dietmar; thank you!

    The initiative, as written, by attorney Everett Delano, is severable. If any part of it, according to State Law, should be found to be “invalid,” then the rest of it is still effective. Delano is an expert in Environmental Law. He knows, and told Council that environmental review by the California Coastal Commission would not be a problem.

    The CCC has already approved our CCC and our Local Coastal Program. The initiative only eliminates the loophole by which past Councils, by a 4/5 majority, have voted to make some of our current Specific Plans INCONSISTENT with our General Plan, which already mandates a 30′ height limit, MAX, measured from finished grade or natural grade, whichever is lower, as supported by our EXISTING Encinitas Municipal Code, through our zoning definition ordinances.

    The CCC issue, the height limit issue, and the fears of affordable housing/density bonus mandates are all “non-starters.” These bogus arguments are based on developers’/expansionist interests’ twisting of the facts, manipulating by fear, and misleading by prejudice, and insider influence.

    The Right to Vote on Upzoning initiative was carefully crafted to support the General Plan and our existing EMC, which also supports our GP. Councilmembers Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer would NOT have been elected without having endorsed the right to vote on upzoning initiative, to be put on the ballot, in June, as Prop A.

    Gus Vina, our City Manager, who will soon be up for evaluation, went behind the public’s back to hire a pro-development lawfirm to write an 58 page impact report that was far from impartial, in answer to a 9 page initiative! Rutan & Tucker could have written its pro-development impact report, in 25 pages or less, and Everett Delano could have written an impact report from an environmental, holistic perspective, which would take into account the greatest common good, not the “highest and best use” of developable land according to developers.

    We’ll be voting YES on A in June! Those who signed the initiative, with the exception of Councilmembers Kranz and Shffer, are too smart and too compassionate about preserving our neighborhoods, taking back our city, to be fooled by fear mongers and those who only care about their bottom line of profit at the expense of our community character and quality of life.

  8. Lisa Shaffer says:

    For the record: the City Council did not meet with the City Manager behind closed doors – Mr. Vina took the initiative to order the impact report on his own authority. I learned of the timing when Denise spoke at Council and I asked about the City Manager about it afterwards. As he said at last week’s meeting, he decided to get the report started in anticipation of our need for it, figuring that if we voted to implement the Initiative, the report would be useful to the staff and if we voted to ask for the report, there would be a little bit more time for the analysis to be completed. I know it’s easy to make assumptions about evil intent, but in this case, Mr. Rothe is wrong. What he wrote simply is not true.

    Also, for the record, I am working to eliminate the 4/5 loophole as soon as the city’s bureaucracy allows. We need to schedule and conduct a public hearing first and we will. We will also work to put the issue on the November 2014 ballot to make it irreversible by a future council.

    I have been in office for 4 months. We inherited a city attorney and city staff, and the new planning director has not yet been hired. As a Council member, these are the resources I have to help me as I try to learn about the issues and make decisions. It’s very frustrating on my side of the dais too. I am as impatient as the next person, and I want to see things done differently. But unfortunately for us all, it takes time.

    It may sound defensive, and maybe it is, but truly, we’re trying to do what’s right. We are working hard, individually and as a Council, to listen, to evaluate, to understand the laws and constraints within which we operate, and to move in the right direction. I got no money and no direction from any builders or developers. My values didn’t suddenly change when I got elected. I had reservations about the Initiative well before the election and I expressed them, to the frustration of the petition organizers who asked me not to. I signed it, and I think it represents an important message to the Council, and we’ve heard it. But I also have learned that the situation is much more complicated than I realized when I signed the petition. Whether it passes or not, we will take action to address most of the elements in it. We will do our best to make our actions as binding as the Initiative would make them – ie, not reversible by a future Council.

    Some have commented that we need to just do it – make the change this week. We have a long list of things we want to do, and despite extra Council meetings and meetings that go past 11 pm, there hasn’t been enough time yet to get to everything. One reason is that so many of the public want to speak and that’s ok. Another reason it takes time is because we are trying to take the time to explain what we’re doing. We are offering the public much more information in our meetings – not in the back room, behind closed doors.

    We have to go through the formal, legal process to change the General Plan, including a public hearing. We will get it done. I only ask that you be patient, and that you check your facts before making accusations.

    • Jeff Clark says:

      It is public record that the members of the council met with the City Manager behind closed doors.

    • Staff says:

      Staff should never be viewed as resources for objective analysis.

      Staff are a special interest group whose interests are frequently at odds with the interests of the public.

  9. City for Sale says:

    It is not so much that Mr. Vina hired the consultant that was the problem–he has the right to do so as City Manager. The problem is a lack of forthright communication since he said at a council meeting that he could not recall the name of the contractor that he was considering– after he had already signed a contract with them. Mr. Vina has been caught in a number of falsehoods.

    Who is in charge here? The Council, or the famously dishonest and mistake-prone city staff? People need to be fired!

  10. Fire Staff says:

    Everyone is saying the same thing. A housecleaning is needed in Planning and Engineering, and a hard look has to be taken at our City Manager and City Attorney.

    If changes aren’t made, the Council are in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

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