‘Right-to-vote’ initiative headed to special election after Council vote

‘Right-to-vote’ initiative headed to special election after Council vote
At least 5,700 signatures are deemed valid for a “Right-to-Vote” initiative, qualifying it for a special election June 18. The initiative would allow voters to decide on increasing density or building heights. Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — Council ordered a special election for the “right-to-vote” initiative to take place June 18, instead of adopting it outright at Tuesday night’s meeting. 

Under the initiative, increasing density or building heights beyond 30 feet would require a majority vote of the public. Additionally, changing the zoning type of a parcel in some circumstances would also need voter approval.

The initiative aims to strip council of its power to increase height or density and change zoning type with a four-out-five council member vote.

Council members agreed that they, and future councils, shouldn’t have the ability to “up-zone” with a four-fifths vote. But they also had some reservations with the initiative.

Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said she’s concerned that the initiative, if approved by voters, might also need the go-ahead from the California Coastal Commission. About 80 percent of the city falls under the coastal commission’s jurisdiction.

Should the initiative pass with the voters and the coastal commission deny it, it would put most of the city on “one zoning track and the rest on another,” Gaspar said.

“What it says to me is that the projects that incorporate more intense uses get shoved to the areas that have the more lenient zoning,” Gaspar said.

Councilman Mark Muir said the initiative is a package deal. Council members can’t pick and choose what they like from it.

“There’s some parts of the initiative that I like, and some not so good parts,” Muir said. “Unfortunately, there’s this thing called unconditional acceptance — you can’t just accept part of it, you have to accept all of it.”

The initiative will include an impartial description and an argument for and against it when it goes before voters. In sending the initiative to a special election, council had the option of writing the argument against it. Council agreed the opportunity should be used to list the pros and cons of the initiative, or what Mayor Teresa Barth called an argument that’s “kinda, sorta against.” A subcommittee will present that language to council for approval March 27.

During the public comments section, Ian Thompson, the husband of the late Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, said the initiative will give residents power over influential development interests.

“Unfortunately for the past 12-plus years, Encinitas City Council development decisions have been dominated by special interests, inside and outside of our community,” said Thompson referring to actions of previous councils.

Because of this, much of the development in the city has been incompatible with Encinitas’ slow-growth philosophy, he said.

As a result of council direction, the law firm Rutan and Tucker issued an analysis of the initiative last week. The report lists a host of issues.

Chiefly, the report states that the city would have a difficult time complying with state-housing requirements if major zoning decisions are put in the hands of voters.

Every eight years, the state says a certain number of housing units must be built in Encinitas, and other cities, based on population trends and other factors. To accommodate these units, the city will likely have to rezone properties or plan for increased density, triggering a public vote.

If voters reject the units, developers could sue the city for not having a housing element in place, which is against state law. But two of the 28 public speakers pointed out that Encinitas has never certified a housing element. Further, the initiative isn’t “anti-growth,” but rather about growth people can live with, several residents said.

A similar proposition was passed in Escondido more than a decade ago. Escondido has rejected some developments, but the city has never faced a lawsuit from developers due to the proposition, according to Jerry Harmon, a past Escondido councilman.

“Citizens do pay attention; they do like to be at the table,” Harmon said.

Everett Delano, a lawyer who helped author the right-to-vote initiative, said Rutan and Tucker’s report is full of “dooms-speak,” specifically the claim that the coastal commission must green light the initiative.

His reasoning: the initiative seeks to overturn certain land use elements that aren’t subject to coastal commission approval. But on the off chance the coastal commission does get involved, only parts of the initiative are in question, rather than the whole thing, Delano said.

Not all the speakers were in favor of the initiative. Some were plainly opposed. They said the initiative would cripple development and send election costs sky high.

Other residents were torn.

Keith Harrison said he too is concerned with community character. But he noted the initiative could negatively impact “specific plans” like the one in downtown Encinitas.

Under the specific plans, some of the buildings within them are taller or denser than normally allowed under city standards. In certain circumstances, raising density makes sense, and it’s not fair to hold up specific plans that take the context of the neighborhood into account, Harrison said.

Harrison added that, “community character isn’t just about height.”

“The La Paloma Theatre is one of the most beloved buildings we have in our downtown; it’s 40 feet tall,” Harrison said.

“That tells you right there that a 30-foot-height limit doesn’t establish community character,” Harrison added.

Council also threw around the idea of a public workshop to discuss the pros and cons of the initiative, but didn’t finalize plans for it.

At least 5,700 signatures for the initiative were deemed valid, qualifying it for a special election. The special election will cost the city an estimated $350,000 to $400,000.

 

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  1. Concerned citizen says:

    Many find it hypocritical and inconsistent that Encinitas Council now appears so concerned about how Coastal Commission approval could affect the ordinance that would result from this initiative. Everett Delano, whose lawfirm wrote the right-to-vote initiative, was absolutely correct in his studied advice that Rutan & Tucker’s report is full of “dooms-speak,” specifically the claim that the California Coastal Commission must green light the initiative.

    Delano is correct that certain land use elements aren’t subject to CCC approval. Should the CCC get involved in certifying any amendments required for our Local Coastal Program, only parts of the initiative are in question, rather than the whole thing. The initiative could still be enacted, citywide, while the CCC reviews it, should review be necessary.

    With those housing element updates required every 8 years, if a vote is required, any such votes could be coordinated to be held during General Elections, which we have during even numbered years, saving taxpayers about $350,000, comparing the cost of another question on the General Election Ballot to that of the cost of a Special Election. In fact, Councilmember Tony Kranz had originally asked that the contracted impact report should include looking at the alternative of Council’s adopting the initiative outright, with the condition that the possibility of repealing it could be placed on the ballot at the General Election in Nov. 2014.

    Council could have thought outside the box, adopting outright; then it could have come up with a different initiative, for the next General Election, “tweaking” a couple of issues it claims to be concerned about, but still eliminating the loophole of a supermajority of council’s taking away the public’s right to vote that already exists in our General Plan. But that alternative, offered by Kranz, although Glenn Sabine had said it would be looked into, WAS NOT ADDRESSED by the report, NOR was the public’s request that the City of Escondido’s similar initiative and ordinance could be reviewed. The report was all NAY SAYING, and Rutan & Tucker is NOT balanced in its opinion, but is decidedly balanced. Any ballot analysis written by that lawfirm would not be “impartial” as required.

  2. Agree, Council's inconsistent says:

    Everett Delano pointed out that the enactment date is not necessarily the date that the ordinance would become effective. The date of effectiveness could be co-ordinated to begin, citywide, after any required CCC approval. Delano is much more expert in Environmental Law as it relates to our City and the CCC than is Rutan & Tucker, which is decidedly pro-development, as has been demonstrated by Orange County newspaper articles and at least one editorial cartoon relative to that firm’s special interest leanings in Fullerton.

    Why didn’t the City Manager, Gus Vina, give public notice about which lawfirms were being considered to write what turned out to be a 58 page “dooms-speak” impact report? This could have been and should have been at least announced at the public meeting when the report was ordered, as Rutan & Tucker had ALREADY BEEN CONTRACTED! Why must our Council pay an outside county, pro-development firm to tell them what to think, to urge them to be afraid of the public’s right to vote, and the overwhelming support demonstrated by the abundance of signatures gathered to qualify the initiative for the ballot, far exceeding the number required for a special election?

    And yes, Council has been inconsistent and hypocritical re dealing with us citizens and the CCC because when the issue came up re the Coastal Development and Design Review Permits that are currently being processed with respect to the public works project of the so-called Leucadia North 101 Streetscape Project (the section of highway between A St. and Marchetta, for the first roundabout phase, is neither in Leucadia nor part of N101) which is being phased in with a “lane diet” (lane elimination for northbound motorists), and CCC staff and City staff both recommended that after the slurry seal on North Hwy 101, the lanes should be re-lined as previously configured, with two lanes for motorists going both northbound and southbound, Council chose, instead, contrary to the recommendation of the City Staff Report for the January 30 Council Meeting, to GO AGAINST THE CCC letter sent to the City on January 23.

    Specifically, LANE ELIMINATION for motorists is what requires our LCP to be amended, as well as our General Plan and N101 Specific Plan, because 101 is a primary circulation element, main arterial and Major Roadway that affects Coastal access and egress. So in the case of the initiative, Council is saying, oh, no, this won’t work because we would have to put an ordinance through CCC review (which review wouldn’t be problematic), and in another, Council is in effect “thumbing its nose” at the California Coastal Commission and saying, “You aren’t the boss of me!”

    Sharrows could have been installed both northbound and southbound, where more accidents and near accidents have occurred, due to the danger of dooring, and because businesses and residents are only on the west side of N101, due to the railway corridor, where a Class One Bicycle Lane could and should be prioritized in the RR Right of Way, rather than the City’s breaking Coastal Act law and prematurely eliminating a lane for motorists.

    In both cases, the right to vote on upzoning and lane elimination on N101, Council is going along with what the various business associations, which are heavily subsidized through the city, acting as lobbyists for commercial development and building industry interests, want and demand, IGNORING what individual, unsubsidized and much less organized private citizens want. The initiative is a wonderful example of a grassroots efforts, where citizens have been able to organize, to advocate for positive change. We seriously doubt that Councilmembers Lisa Shaffer or Tony Kranz would have been elected had they not signed the initiative and supported its principles, if they hadn’t been considered populist candidates. They have let us down by their inconsistency and by Council’s continuing to cozy up to special interests by not keeping its promises to the voters.

  3. Leucadians voting yes on the initiative says:

    The City contracts with Peder Norby, $100,000+ per year, to be 101 Czar, or “facilitator,” also acting as a lobbyist for a roundabout and lane elimination plan decided against by Solana Beach and voted down in Del Mar.

    Norby has organized the various 101 business associations to all change their names to “101 Mainstreet Associations” a generic categorizing which flies against our various communities’ wishes to be diverse and distinctive. This changing of names and subsidization by the City is acting against the best interests of residents who SUPPORT the right to vote on upzoning initiative, and those residents, particularly those of us west of 101, and local commuters, who oppose the 101 Streetscape Project’s roundabouts and lane elimination for motorists.

    Why are these newly named business associations sponsoring a dinner for the Mayor’s State of the City address? Shouldn’t that address be given at City Hall, as has been the custom, with few exceptions, at a regular Council Meetings so private citizens don’t have to pay? I hope that the mayor will repeat her address at a regularly scheduled Council Meeting.

    We do support preserving and enhancing the canopy, keeping Leucadia Funky, preserving community character, quality of life, and extending the existing rail-trail bicycle lane ASAP, which goals would be facilitated by giving private citizens more power to control our own lives, as is being demonstrated by the right to vote on upzoning initiative and the grassroots efforts of our neighbors. We’ll be voting yes at the Special Election!

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