ENCINITAS — To say the Encinitas City Council had a busy year would be an understatement.
The Council accomplished a number of major milestones — some that the entire council endorsed, while others caused deep division on the council and within the community.
City Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer highlighted the city’s accomplishments in her recent newsletter. She said she doesn’t believe the fact that some of the votes were contentious diminishes their significance.
“When we do have a difference of opinion, whatever motion gets 3 votes is the direction of the Council,” Shaffer wrote to supporters. “The fact that all our votes are not 5-0 does not mean that there is anything wrong. It doesn’t necessarily mean there was a big struggle or that anyone acted inappropriately, although sometimes we do struggle to find the right path.”
Among the highlights of the busy city year are:
The completion of the Encinitas Community Park, which will have its grand opening Jan. 10.
The purchase of the Pacific View Elementary School site.
Securing the funding for the $3 million renovation of the Moonlight Beach Lifeguard Tower
An E-cigarette ban.
A plastic bag ban.
The closure of several “density bonus” loopholes
An updated campaign sign ordinance
An updated illegal dwelling unit “amnesty” program.
The launch of eTown Hall and several other social media platforms
The launch of the city’s housing element public outreach
A summer-long crackdown on alcohol-related incidents in the city’s downtown district
Perhaps no more emblematic of the council’s milestones — and the division they caused — was the purchase of the Pacific View Elementary School site, which was approved at every step of the way with 3-2 votes, with Kristin Gaspar and Mark Muir casting votes against the purchase.
Originally, the purchase was something considered a top priority by both residents and the council alike. But the city and Encinitas Union School District’s announcement in late March that the city would purchase the property from the school district for $10 million caused a rift among supporters, some who believed the purchase price was too steep. Previous appraisals tabbed the land’s value anywhere from $4 million to $7 million.
The city council majority that favored the purchase said the city would lose the opportunity to secure the land for the public in perpetuity, as several bids for the property were set to be unsealed at a public auction.
Opponents argued, however, that spending $10 million would limit the city’s ability to pay for other important projects, such as increased road and infrastructure maintenance.
Other council accomplishments occurred with 5-0 votes and no community opposition.
In October, the City Council reached a settlement with a Leucadia couple over their illegal garage unit that lifted a $190,000 tax lien from the couple’s home in exchange for bringing the unit up to code. The 4-0-1 vote ended a 16-year-long, and often contentious, legal battle between the city and the couple.
When the council’s vote was cast, the audience at council chambers erupted in applause.
The same 5-0 voting scenario occurred when the council in July voted to end several practices that developers had used to increase the number of units they could build under the state-sanctioned density-bonus program.
Council chambers was packed that night, and residents — many of whom had fought the city on its approval of the Desert Rose subdivsion in Olivenhain — erupted in applause when the city took what they said was the stand they had hoped the city would have taken just a year earlier.
That accomplishment, however, has been thrown in limbo as the Building Industry Association of San Diego has challenged the council’s actions in court.