8 Encinitas stories to watch in 2014

8 Encinitas stories to watch in 2014
Stories like the mayoral election and a budding agriculture cluster are worth watching in 2014. Photos by Jared Whitlock

From the Encinitas Community Park making its debut to tougher rules for bars, here’s a rundown of eight stories that will define Encinitas over the next year.

1. Mayoral election

No longer will a council majority choose the mayor. Proposition K passed in 2012. So, for the first time, Encinitas voters will directly elect a two-year mayor in November.

Mayor Teresa Barth and Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar are exploring entering the mayor’s race. Both confirmed on Monday they haven’t made a decision either way.

There’s also an open council seat up for grabs in November. Barth stated she’s not interested in the four-year council seat due to the length of the term. Gaspar said that if she doesn’t run for mayor, she’ll vie for the council member position.

“Although I am committed to running for office in 2014, my final decision to run for mayor will be based upon the feedback I receive from the community,” Gaspar said in an email.

So far, 23-year-old Alex Fidel is the only person to announce an intent to run. In an interview on Tuesday, Fidel said he’s against local water fluoridation and what he sees as the federal government interfering with Encinitas.

 2. New agriculture taking root

A farming cluster is sprouting in Encinitas.

Namely, the Leichtag Foundation is transforming the 67-acre property formerly known as Ecke Ranch into a hub for commercial and educational agriculture.

Organizers of the 10-acre farm on Quail Gardens Drive check out the soil of the property.

Organizers of the 10-acre farm on Quail Gardens Drive check out the soil of the property.

Go Green Agriculture, an expanding company that grows hydroponic lettuce, offered a glimpse into the property’s future when it set up shop there in the spring.

Jim Farley, CEO of the foundation, said Leichtag is in talks with two other innovative agriculture companies and hopes to bring them on board in 2014.

Plus, various nonprofits dedicated to issues like food security are due to move onto the property. And Leichtag hopes to plant a “food forest” — an ecosystem teeming with vegetables, fruits and nuts — later in the year, according to Farley.

Across from the Leichtag land on Quail Gardens Drive, a 10-acre plot will soon host a community farm and one-acre satellite campus for the Encinitas Union School District. Work began on the school portion this fall, and the community part will be plowed for crops in the coming months, said Scott Murray, the project organizer, last month.

Also of note: the new one-acre Ocean Knoll Elementary School Farm will sprout more produce and offer expanded educational lessons for students in 2014.

 3. Pacific View negotiations

Pacific View

The city and the Encinitas Union School District are negotiating over a purchase price of the Pacific View property.

“Encinitas needs a community arts center.” It’s a common refrain from residents and local businesses.

To fill the need, the City Council is considering purchasing the Pacific View property from the Encinitas Union School District.

Councilman Tony Kranz confirmed on Tuesday the city recently made an offer for Pacific View, but couldn’t disclose further details since negotiations are ongoing and in closed session.

This summer, the city received two varying appraisals for the property, located on Third Street in downtown. One came in at $3.29 million and the other at $7.28 million.

 4. Plastic bag ban up for a vote

Encinitas could follow in Solana Beach’s footsteps and eliminate plastic bags.

The City Council will vote on a ban, likely in February or March, according to Richard Phillips, Encinitas Environmental Commission coordinator.

California legislators are due to look at a statewide ban, which would primarily apply to larger retailers. But Kranz said he’s inclined to support a local ban that covers most stores to create a level playing field.

“Plastics in the ocean are a significant problem,” Kranz said. “I’m hopeful Carlsbad, Oceanside and other coastal cities give a ban consideration.”

5. Encinitas Community Park opening

A skatepark, dog park, playground and multi-use sports fields — those are some of the features that will make up the 44-acre Encinitas Community Park.

After more than a decade of debate and legal setbacks, the long-planned park got City Council approval during summer 2012.

This past November, city officials stated the park, behind the Vons on Santa Fe Drive, will debut in fall 2014.

The city will determine which athletic groups and other organizations can use the fields. Also, the City Council will consider naming the dog park after the late Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, who advocated for dog-friendly areas.

The cost of park construction is estimated at $19.3 million.

 6. New pension fund

About two months ago, Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer proposed the city take a portion of surplus revenue and dedicate it toward a new pension contingency fund.

The idea is to contribute to the contingency fund during good times, Shaffer explained on Monday.

That way, if there’s a downturn in the economy that drives up pension costs, the city can draw upon the reserve fund as a stabilization measure.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the contingency fund in late spring. Further, she said council members could potentially take a harder look at new employee salaries, because employee pay determines pension payouts.

Last year, a city-ordered analysis pegged Encinitas’ long-term unfunded pension liability at $39 million.

State reform, which went into effect for Encinitas last year, cut retirement benefits for new employees. Other reform: in the past, Encinitas paid half of employees’ 9 percent contribution to the state’s pension system. In 2012, Encinitas required that all employees pick up their full share.

However, the Encinitas Taxpayers Association has argued the city needs a more aggressive plan to pay down pension liability.

7. Debate over density bonus housing

First, it was the Desert Rose development in Olivenhain, and now there’s controversy over a proposed 10-home project in Leucadia on Fulvia Street.

At issue: California’s density bonus law.

The law gives developers permission to build extra housing on parcels if they set aside one or more units for low-income residents.

Fulvia

Residents protest the proposed Fulvia Street housing development.

In the case of the Fulvia Street project, the state law grants five additional homes on the property in exchange for building one low-income unit.

The project, which will go in front of the Planning Commission sometime in the next few months, has caused an uproar among nearby residents, who argue the additional homes would result in flooding and hurt the neighborhood’s character.

Councilman Mark Muir recently asked for a report on the city’s options for limiting density bonus projects.

Also, per the council’s direction, the city’s lobbyist will advocate at the state level for more local control over housing.

“We need to address the issue head on and see what we can do,” Muir said on Monday.

8. Stricter rules for bars

Sometime in the next few months, the City Council will give the thumbs up or down to tougher standards that aim to curb noise and trash outside of bars.

The stricter standards are part of a proposed deemed-approved ordinance.

Alcohol-serving establishments that fail to comply could be hit with fines or eventually even the loss of their license.

Some residents have stated the ordinance is necessary to keep the downtown bar scene in check. Another reason they’re in favor: older bars face fewer regulations and performance standards, and the ordinance would create uniform rules.

But others believe the ordinance is heavy-handed and unnecessary. Since the summer, when the issue of downtown drinking reached a fever pitch, bar owners made a concerted effort to address alcohol-related problems, they argue.

Other stories to watch

The Encinitas and Solana Beach 50-year sand replenishment project will be seeking federal approval and funding. Also, an e-cigarette ban in public places will go before the City Council. Plus, residents will have the chance to weigh in on the city’s housing element during workshops throughout Encinitas.

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  1. Joan Marchese says:

    Pacific View is surrounded by private dwellings and could remain that way if the city makes sure the School District can sell it for housing as it should be. We do NOT need another art center. Thank you.

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