ENCINITAS — After collecting more than 17,000 votes as a mayoral candidate in 2020, Julie Thunder has thrown her hat back into the political ring, this time for the District 3 seat on the Encinitas City Council.
Thunder, a retired software developer for the defense industry and nearly 40-year resident of Cardiff, said she’s a unique candidate who appreciates the responsibility that comes with holding local elected office.
“What makes a great leader is someone who cares about the people in the community they represent. Period. And I do,” Thunder told The Coast News. “I care about every home that I see. I care about them more than I care about any political party policy or state mandate, and I think that’s the job of a council person, is to represent the people that voted for you. It’s the one vote that you have that means the most. That representation should be most meaningful to an elected person. (Voters) pick you to represent them directly in how our city grows, and I firmly believe that our city should grow in a more thoughtful way rather than slamming three-story apartment buildings all over the place.”
Over the decades, Thunder has raised four daughters, spending several years managing competitive soccer teams, serving as a board member of the Cardiff Soccer League and managing La Costa Canyon High School’s surf team.
Thunder’s campaign is centered around the notion that what residents truly want is for the city to retain its unique character and vibrancy.
“With my personal roots in this community, it’s my deep desire to slow down the changes happening,” Thunder said. “There are people who have lived here for a long time for a reason because they love many things about it. It’s frustrating when new people come to town and have all these ways to change it. Change is inevitable but we can slow those changes down and keep Encinitas and Cardiff as the town that we fell in love with in the first place, and keep the parts of our city that are the most meaningful to us. I see current leadership pushing to change everything.”
Thunder was critical of the current council, which she characterized as prioritizing state policies and reforms at the expense of the needs of Encinitas residents, particularly when it comes to issues of housing density and homelessness.
“I think that the current leadership in our city seems to value the opinions of other political leaders more than they value the wants and needs of the people of Encinitas,” Thunder said. “And I’m just tired of it. I have the energy and time at this point in my life to that person that says I’m willing to stand up and be the change, stand up to people.”
The issue most central to her campaign will be retaining local control over housing rules and regulations, Thunder said. She vigorously opposes state laws such as Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10, which she argues prioritize housing density goals over the ability of communities to maintain their unique character.
SB 9 allows for homeowners to build a second unit on their lot or split their property and develop up to eight market-rate units (depending on city ordinances) on lots previously zoned for single-family residences. SB 10 allows local agencies to adopt an ordinance to allow up to 10 dwelling units on any residential plot if located within a transit-rich area or urban infill site.
Thunder expressed support for the Brand-Huang-Mendoza Tripartisan Initiative, a grassroots referendum that seeks to amend California’s constitution to allow local jurisdictions to override state housing laws (the tripartisan initiative was seen as a symbolic rebuke of both housing bills).
Thunder also criticized the current council, including sitting District 3 Councilwoman Joy Lyndes, for not resisting the state and standing up for local control, which she said is the biggest issue facing Encinitas and one of the primary reasons she decided to run.
“Our city faces some difficult times ahead,” Thunder said. “There is great pressure to become a densely packed coastal town, similar to what you see in Orange and LA Counties. While I recognize the need for change, I also believe we need to do our best to preserve the elements of Encinitas that originally attracted us. The first change we should undertake is to change our leadership so that the interests of the residents of Encinitas become the foremost policy concern. This is one change that needs to happen now — time is running out.”
Along with preserving Encinitas, she vows to do a better job of listening to the residents than the city’s current leadership, which Thunder described as being out of touch with its constituency.
In 2021, Councilwoman Joy Lyndes was appointed to District 3 replacing former Councilwoman Jody Hubbard, who stepped down due to health reasons. While Lyndes believes she’s already accomplished much while in office, she said it’s actually her career as a landscape architect prior to serving on the council that really informs her approach to the position when it comes to preserving what’s unique about Encinitas.
“I think one of the most important issues for me is preserving our culture, history and character,” Lyndes said. “I’m a landscape architect, and I’ve spent my whole professional career designing properties with that in mind to draw from a context and really express the uniqueness of a community. I think that experience informs this process really well. In fact, I feel like that’s my biggest asset.
“I’m not sure that the community has looked closely and critically at how we preserve that culture, character, ecology that we love. It doesn’t matter what your political background is, because ultimately we agree that we’re a special slice of the world. So we have to ask, ‘Why aren’t we preserving it?’ We just have a lot to do in putting good policy around it as we move forward into the future.”
On the council, Lyndes said she’s initiated an item of discussion on how the city can best identify and protect its culturally significant spaces for future generations. She pledged to continue that fight if elected to an additional term.
“We need to look at natural history, our cultural history, and articulate that in policy so when we develop in the future we have policies in place to tell us where to develop and not to develop, something tell us what’s valuable in our character as a city,” Lyndes said.
Lyndes also touted eight years of experience on the city’s Environmental Commission, where she played a key role in advancing significant policies promoting environmental stewardship and conservation. Lyndes also helped launch Cyclovia Encinitas, an annual open-streets event aimed at promoting mobility and the city’s Climate Action Plan.
She was also instrumental in initiating the city’s Environmental Excellence Award, an award bestowed on local businesses, nonprofits, and individuals that profile such entities who are leading the way in conservation efforts.
“Serving two terms on the Environmental Commission was an amazing experience where we did a lot for the community,” Lyndes said.
On housing, Lyndes said the city needs to balance the need to provide more affordable housing for middle and low-income families with the notion of protecting culturally significant spaces. Lyndes supports the city’s current expansion of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. In December, the council passed an ordinance allowing for one ADU per primary unit on a designated lot.
“I am really focused and behind the idea of attainable housing,” Lyndes said. “We’re losing families out of our community because we don’t have enough choices for how people can stay in our community. I like the direction that we’re going with ADUs, I think people like that. We have an opportunity to look at attainable housing a little more broadly and explore options that work in different parts of the community.”
Overall, Lyndes said she’s excited about the prospect of serving a full term as a District 3 representative.
“When you look at what I’ve already done for the city, I think that it’s clear that one of my strengths is that I’m a problem-solver, I actually enjoy this position,” Lyndes said. “To be a great leader you have to have a clear vision and get passionate about it, but then you also have to have an ability to think broadly and listen. A good leader understands the passion and vision behind a clear direction, and you’re also open to listening to a broader range of input from the community that’s valuable to improve that direction as we move forward.”
Bruce Ehlers, chairman of the Encinitas Planning Commission, is currently running unopposed for the council’s District 4 seat this year after Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca recently announced he will not be seeking reelection.
Like Thunder, Ehlers said he’s running because he’s concerned about the city’s direction under the current council’s leadership, especially with respect to maintaining local control over land use and development decisions.
“Recent decisions by our own City Council and the State have seriously eroded and overridden local control of land use and development,” Ehlers said. “In a matter of a few short years, low-density zoning has been replaced by three, four and even six-story housing proposals with 30 to 45 units per acre.”
Specifically, Ehlers condemned the council for what he called its tacit support of SB 9 & 10, and its opposition to the Tripartisan Land Use Initiative (only Councilman Tony Kranz voted for a resolution that would have endorsed the initiative).
“What’s happening now is that there’s a threat to this city coming from our own council and a threat from the state,” Ehlers said. “Our council hasn’t been defending us from this threat and so they’ve become a part of it. Their actions [on SB 9 & 10] have been silent for the most part, they were silent on Brand-Huang-Mendoza, with all five of them except Kranz opposing a position in support of that. Given the egregious nature of our state legislature attacking local control, I really did view that initiative as one of the few ways to take control back.”
In 2013, Ehlers was the primary author of voter-approved Proposition A, also known as the “Encinitas right to vote” initiative. Prop A was seen as an effort to reclaim local control over Encinitas’s housing density requirements, requiring a public vote on any increases to zoning density and building height above two stories or 30 feet.
After the proposition passed, the Encinitas City Council spearheaded multiple efforts to overturn Prop A, arguing the voter-backed initiative unduly restricted the city’s ability to meet state housing density requirements. Both of those efforts— Measure T and Measure U — were defeated by voters. In March 2020, the City of Encinitas filed a lawsuit seeking to override Prop A, but a judge upheld the voter-approved initiative.
“The council was against Prop A and then they were for these Measures T and U,” Ehlers said. “In all three cases, the public prevailed but it’s just very clear how out of sync the council is with the people of Encinitas, as proven by these majority votes.”
Ehlers, who serves as chairman of the city’s Planning Commission, also said he’s been frustrated by the city’s failure to invest in more affordable housing opportunities, despite repeated chances to do so.
In June 2021, the Encinitas City Council approved changes to the city’s municipal code to require inclusionary housing at a rate of 15% for very low-income units or 20% for low-income units citywide. However, Ehlers said this action ignored the Planning Commission’s original recommendation of requiring a 50% inclusionary housing rate across the board.
Not only did the city miss an opportunity to provide vastly more affordable units to low-income residents, but according to Ehlers, the council’s actions have now put Encinitas at risk of failing to meet minimum affordable housing numbers as required by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which stipulates each city’s affordable housing needs over the course of an eight-year cycle.
“We ended up with 15-20% affordable housing instead of 50%, I mean what is that? The council needs to explain,” Ehlers said. “They’re certainly serving some interest and it’s not the people of Encinitas. It’s a question the mayor should have to answer.”
On homelessness, Ehlers called for stricter enforcement of existing city laws to better protect residents. He also advocated for greater investment in services combatting problems of mental illness and drug addiction at the heart of the city’s homeless population.
“Homelessness, as a problem, is dominated by a majority of the homeless population who are mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs,” Ehlers said. “That kind of addiction needs to be addressed to a greater degree and the city can’t totally do it alone, so I would address 100% that issue. And then we also need to leverage more services from the county and take advantage of those resources.
“The other side of this is that I’m a believer that we need to enforce our local laws, that we can’t let people commit petty crimes or take over parks. And to do that, you have to facilitate services to get them off-street, but at the same time a significant portion of these people actually don’t want to get off the streets at all, and we really can’t just let them run rampant.”
Overall, Ehlers emphasized the need for greater transparency and accountability at every level of city government. In particular, he criticized the city’s records retention policy, which he said gives officials too much discretion when it comes to disposing of records, such as email correspondences, that should be publicly available upon request.
“The records that aren’t kept alarm me,” Ehlers said. “When the city went through and reviewed the records retention policy, they decided to allow each individual to choose which records were retainable and which ones were disposable as far as the emails go. I absolutely oppose the current retention policy. I advocate for making these emails 100% available, and there should be no discretion about what to keep and what not to keep.”
Ehlers also expressed dissatisfaction with the way council meetings are currently conducted, arguing that council members rush through agenda items too quickly without giving the chance for public comment or more thoughtful balanced discussion.
“I am a firm believer in doing business in the public forum,” Ehlers said. “I’m a proponent of collaboration and compromise. I believe in having discussions in the public forum. I’ve been dismayed recently with quite a few items where one person will speak first, then there will immediately be a motion, a second, no discussion at all, and then they pass it – no discussion, no care for what the public said, no talk about the staff report. I just don’t think that’s right. I’m frustrated by this and that’s why I’m running because I’m frustrated that this City Council is not doing what the vast majority of the people want.”