By Geoff Nathan
On Wednesday, April 13, the City Council of Encinitas voted to remove Bruce Ehlers from the Planning Commission.
This came at the end of a contentious two-hour session, where every piece of written communication received, every ticketed item registering an opinion and every one of the 30-plus speakers indicated strong support for the commissioner. Cumulatively, they testified to Ehlers’ character, his knowledge, and his dedication to making the city a better place.
Yet the vote was 5-0. Why?
For those unaware, the city is currently in violation of California law regulating affordable housing. The current council has been struggling to bring Encinitas into compliance with state requirements.
Ehlers’ termination was predicated on two points related to this issue: 1) that he opposed implementing “objective standards” under state law in evaluating housing sites and 2) that he served as treasurer of a group suing the city.
The second charge problematically conflated several disconnected issues, as many pointed out. Even Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who spearheaded this motion, seemed to abandon this specific point.
As for the first: Ehlers does not oppose state requirements, but he has been vocal in his opposition to the city’s method of meeting those requirements.
That he is also running for council apparently made his long-standing and public stance suddenly a burning issue.
What is particularly disturbing about this unanimous vote was the precedent it set. Many commissioners past and present have publicly objected to and ignored council policies and city regulations while serving.
As a member of the old Traffic Commission, for example, not only did I occasionally reject these ostensible requirements, but even ran an online political column critical of the council’s decisions and some of its members.
Many in Encinitas will remember the much-missed Bob Nanninga, whose comments and actions while on the Parks & Recreation Commission make Ehlers seem like a Trappist monk who has taken a vow of silence. None — zero — of these commissioners were removed in this manner.
Regardless of the merits of this termination, the council’s tin ear on the matter was astounding.
Councilman Joe Mosca incredulously implied during his comments that Ehlers was free to exercise his First Amendment rights, but not as a commissioner. Mr. Mosca is still a bit of a carpetbagger in Encinitas, so this may be understandable.
But Tony Kranz — the only member seeming to struggle with the vote — echoed such thoughts. This was ironic, given that he also spoke of Ehlers as a mentor. Perhaps given Kranz’ own mayoral ambitions, this was political kabuki on his part.
Thus, without regard to the public interest, to history or to apparent self-awareness, the council chose to exercise its power to remove Bruce Ehlers.
Instead of opting to quietly not renew his position at the end of his two-year term, they antagonized an entire community.
The mayor, in trying to preemptively protect herself, uttered a banality about governance not being a popularity contest.
Like most rhetoric, such words possess the malleable quality of being true when convenient. But it epitomizes all that’s wrong with current city governance and presages what a state Sen. Blakespear portends.
Geoff Nathan is a long time Encinitas resident and former member of the Traffic Commission (now Mobility and Traffic Safety Commission)