City to ramp up public outreach

ENCINITAS — Concerned about traffic on certain roads? Or maybe bluff failures in Leucadia? 

There will be more opportunities to speak up in the near future. That’s because city officials want to do a better job of capturing public sentiment and distilling it into policy considerations, said City Manager Gus Vina.

“We need more participation,” Vina said. “We have to change the way we engage.”As part of a new outreach campaign, the city plans on holding workshops and virtual town hall meetings on eight topics, including transportation, economic development and the environment.

Workshops will be held in each of the five Encinitas communities, followed by citywide meetings with experts in relevant fields.

And for those who can’t attend the meetings, the city is considering letting residents weigh in on their own time via MindMixer, a structured online forum allowing constituents to discuss issues and share ideas.

MindMixer, a growing startup, is increasingly being used by cities throughout the U.S. to drive discussion and gauge what’s important to residents, Vina noted.

“We can’t assume everyone is going to come to a meeting,” Vina said. “Reaching out to people with non-traditional means is a priority.”

The eight topics were identified by councilmembers this summer during the first phase of “strategic planning,” and the second phase of the planning effort calls for community input for specific policies.

“Council recommended eight broad areas,” Vina said. “It’s up to citizens to put the meat on the bones.”

The recommendations will eventually form five distinct community plans.

From there, City Council will draw upon the community plans when crafting its next budget and future policies.

“There may be things we’re already doing (in the budget) that tie nicely to the goals the communities talked about, or not,” Vina said. “Council may need to rethink and realign its budget.”

Also, input from the outreach campaign will inform the General Plan Update, a blueprint for everything from transportation to land use for the next two decades.

The first part of the General Plan: certifying a housing element. Vina said the housing element will serve as a “trial run” for the outreach process, tentatively scheduled to start this fall.

Cities must turn in a housing element every eight years, as required by the HCD (Housing and Community Development).

For Encinitas, that means mapping out the potential location for 850 “low-income” units (HCD equates building density with affordability, though the housing units are sold at market rate.)

Reaching consensus for where the housing units could go has proved difficult for the city in the past.

Residents decried a plan to cluster housing on El Camino Real two years ago, leading the city to create two stakeholder-advisory groups to get more people involved with the housing element.

The advisory groups presented their recommendations this past spring, and based on those, city staff will put together maps for each community showing which areas could accommodate housing.

From there, the city will hold meetings in each community, scheduled for the fall, with the mapping results as a starting point for discussion. The city aims to put its housing element to a vote in Nov. 2014.

Vina presented an overview of the second phase of strategic planning at the July 17 City Council meeting. But given the contentious history of the General Plan Update, two council members worried about déju vu.

However, Vina said past outreach didn’t give residents as many opportunities to participate.

“Many more people will be involved,” Vina said, adding the online component will be key.

“If we can get business people, homeowners, those involved in the PTA and more, we will find common ground,” Vina said.

And Vina said this time around will be more focused on specific community needs. What works in Leucadia might not fly in Olivenhain, for instance.

“Leucadia might really care about bus stops, while Olivenhain might not,” Vina said.

“Let’s put together recommendations for each of the communities and not be cookie cutter,” he added.

This article was updated to clarify that the city aims to put its housing element, not the entire General Plan, to a public vote in Nov. 2014. Also, the city is only considering MindMixer at this point.

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  1. C.J. Minster says:

    Encinitas has many knowledgeable people in the various communities, experts who have spoken in front of council in the past and been totally ignored, even though, in some cases, they had more knowledge about certain topics than did City staff. Is there any plan to put these experts on an equal footing with City staff in the community workshops? We can’t expect City staff to have expertise on every subject, but we can expect them to listen and consider, with respect, the expertise of others. It certainly would reflect more positively on staff and Council if they demonstrated the confidence to provide a true forum for the community to hear all views.

    I would also like to know whether the City will videotape all community workshops. As we’ve discovered from the past, written records are not necessarily reliable. Having a video recording of these sessions would also allow people not able to attend the workshops an opportunity to see for themselves what occurs. We can’t assume individuals are not interested just because they can’t attend!

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