ENCINITAS — The city’s Planning Commission has named Commissioner Kevin Doyle its new chairman after the Encinitas City Council unanimously voted to remove the former chair, Bruce Ehlers, in the face of public opposition last month.
The Planning Commission selected Doyle by a unanimous vote at its meeting on May 4, also naming Commissioner Steve Dalton as the body’s new vice-chair.
Ehlers wholeheartedly endorsed his replacement, describing Doyle as a strong leader with a deep knowledge of the planning commission code.
“Kevin will do great, he came up to speed on the concept of findings and sticking to the facts and sticking to the law,” Ehlers said. “His deep involvement with the community, especially in Leucadia 101 makes him a very good candidate. He comes up to speed very well with the necessary legal findings, and coming to a conclusion as well that’s a requirement for a planning commissioner and that’s what he does so well.
Commissioner Steve Dalton, the body’s representative from Cardiff-by-the-Sea, expressed that Doyle has the commission’s complete confidence and spoke highly of Doyle both personally and professionally.
“I think that he’s really experienced on the planning commission when it comes to knowing our procedures and processes, reviewing the codes and documents we have to review, and I think he’s more than capable of handling the projects coming up in front of us,” Dalton said.
“I really do appreciate his community service and his commitment to improving this community, he’s been a really level-headed person to work with on the commission and I think that he has real strength and openness to hear both sides and to not be entrenched in one position or another. I like that he’s open in that way and willing to discuss the issues and then make decisions accordingly.”
Ehlers was suddenly terminated from the role in April after refusing Mayor Catherine Blakespear’s request to voluntarily resign. Blakespear and the rest of the council cited Ehlers’ alleged conflicts of interest as preventing him from being impartial while performing his duties.
However, Ehlers and many others decried the move, calling it a “political hatchet job” meant to hurt his campaign for the City Council.
“This is purely political. They’re taking me off of the commission, claiming that I’m violating policy, but they haven’t shown how I’ve violated city or state law,” Ehlers said. “What they’re doing is they’re trying to tarnish my reputation, and they’re completely wrong in doing so.”
Blakespear denied the council’s decision was political and instead maintained that by making public statements about certain housing developments and his involvement in litigation against the city, Ehlers’ presence on the Planning Commission had become “a liability to the city of Encinitas.”
Kurt Groseclose, a former city planning commissioner, spoke highly of Doyle while calling the removal of Ehlers a “travesty.”
“I believe that putting Kevin in there is the best option in a bad situation,” Groseclose said. “I worked with Bruce for a long time and his removal was ridiculous. He should not have been removed. The City Council says that planning commissioners serve at the discretion of the City Council. Well, I disagree with that — they should serve at the need of the people and not at the need of the council.”
Moving forward, Doyle anticipates his tenure as chairman will be contentious due to some controversial development projects scheduled to come before the commission.
“I’m looking forward to doing this job and I think that it’ll be an exciting and scary time moving forward,” Doyle said. “Everyone thought that the Goodson project was contentious but there are several others I know that are coming that will be quite testy and have a lot of neighborhood involvement.”
For the sake of maintaining impartiality, Doyle declined to talk about the specific projects the commission will be reviewing.
A long-time jewelry store owner, Doyle has represented Old Encinitas on the Planning Commission since 2017. He’s also served as a board member for the Leucadia 101 Mainstreet Association since 2005, serving as the committee’s treasurer. Doyle and his wife Malin have lived in Encinitas since 2003, and they have one son together.
Doyle talked about his approach to the position — he’s both excited about the role but also cognizant of the challenges facing the commission.
“This is a difficult job to do, and not a lot of people wanted to jump into it,” Doyle said. “Five years ago, I didn’t know a lot, I was just a consultant, and now I’m immersed in our code, I love our code. I was mentored by Glenn O’Grady, the former commission chairman. And I personally feel like it’s better, given the work we do, if we do have a conversation and I appreciate a little disagreement even, because that’s where we really get down to the red flag issues.”
The new commission chair shared that one of his top priorities will be to analyze where the group can steer city policy in such a way as to promote the responsible development of affordable housing units.
“Some of the things we’re hoping to do as a commission is we’re hoping to dive into the issue of affordable housing,” Doyle said. “From a planning commission standpoint, we’re hoping to take a lead on this and look at things in our zoning code that we could easily change that could spur affordable housing.”
At the same time, Doyle acknowledged the need to balance growth with the city’s existing infrastructure, noting that some of the major projects under review are expected to have substantive impacts on traffic, parking, fire safety and drainage.
“Yeah, I mean in some cases, there are some serious infrastructure gaps,” Doyle said. “Every one of these projects will require more work from the city. We’ll be requesting to fast-track some of these projects, you have some that are more difficult than average and unlike anything we’ve ever had before. Like now you have all of these R-30 sites and they’re huge.
“One thing is that we’re going to be dealing with a lot of public perception issues. People want to know that we’re doing the right thing, but when they look at some of these projects coming down the pipeline they don’t necessarily see it as the right thing.”
The chairman said that one challenge facing the commission is a growing clash between newly-enacted state laws, such as Senate bills 9 and 10, and zoning ordinances. The onset of such regulations has been a challenge at the municipal level, Doyle said, because it’s been difficult for residents to rely on the city’s up-to-date zoning ordinances when state laws can conflict.
“[SB 9 and 10] are basically overruling a lot of our local zoning codes,” Doyle said. “We know what the code should be but we’re having to set aside our code because the state law supersedes it. The biggest issue in the big picture is that last year, over 1,000 bills were signed at the state level, so that’s five to six laws per working day and our staff has to scramble every time a new law comes in and find guidance for us and handle contradictions between their rules and our rules. When push comes to shove we have to follow the state law, but yea it mucks things up because the public needs our rules.”
Doyle also discussed the evolving nature of homeownership in the city and hopes that Encinitas can continue to grow as a municipality while maintaining its unique culture and remaining affordable for future generations.
“I first fell in love with this town for all the usual reasons — the surf, the parks, the laid-back beach-town atmosphere — in so many ways, Encinitas was a unique gem, seemingly untouched by time,” Doyle said. “I’m fortunate to own my own home here in Encinitas. I don’t plan to sell, but I track the perceived value of my home, and I probably couldn’t afford it today. I want to see greater efforts to create affordable, or at least attainable, rental housing. We are an aspirational community, but I want us also to be inclusive. We need transitional housing so that our most vulnerable residents aren’t forced to move elsewhere to survive.”