EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify a question regarding “stroads” during an Encinitas Viewpoint virtual forum. Additionally, a quote was incorrectly attributed to Julie Thunder in an email chain consisting of Thunder, Susan Turney and other residents. After further review, it is not clear exactly who wrote the statement.
ENCINITAS — Testing the waters on local issues, Encinitas candidates for mayor and city council recently participated in virtual Zoom forums, discussing local topics, such as transportation improvements, homelessness, housing density and climate change.
Of the three forums held in the previous three weeks, one was hosted by Mayor Catherine Blakespear and the other two hosted by the local citizen-run group, “Encinitas Viewpoint.”
The latter two forums on July 30 and August 6 served as a less formal conversation featuring Encinitas mayoral candidate Julie Thunder, District 2 candidate Susan Turney and Alex Riley, candidate for District 1.
Blakespear’s forum on August 11 — “Zoom with Catherine and Friends” — served as part campaign rally and part conversation with fellow incumbent candidates, including Deputy Mayor and District 2 candidate Kellie Shay Hinze, Councilman and District 1 candidate Tony Kranz, State Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), U.S. Rep. Mike Levin (CA-49), and District 4 County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
Blakespear, along with Fletcher, hosted her own virtual forum, interacting with audiences and soliciting campaign donations in an almost telethon-style manner, thanking participants for donations made during the event.
Candidates shared their personal and professional relationships with Blakespear and discussed local issues, including construction in Leucadia’s rail corridor, homelessness and climate change.
Blakespear also recognized the growing concerns of a select group of residents regarding the bike lanes on Coast Highway 101 and public safety.
“When I hear reports of accidents, I become alarmed too,” Blakespear said. “We never want to build things that are a danger or put people at risk, so I asked our city staff to conduct an analysis of alleged accidents.”
After comparing official accident records with incidents described by concerned residents, Blakespear noted the data doesn’t match up. Blakespear suggested some of the issues may be caused by inattentive pedestrians and unrelated to the construction of the bike lanes.
She also noted there is a section of the sidewalk for pedestrians currently being built.
Kranz expressed excitement for the upcoming Leucadia Streetscape construction, saying, “I’ve been involved from the start because this will offer the opportunity to take a piece of infrastructure that is over 100 years old and transform it into a roadway safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Kranz also talked about the numerous state-wide as well as federal challenges in-regards to rail corridor construction, noting the expense and level of bureaucratic hurdles required in building rail crossings through Leucadia.
Hinze shared her own personal experience and involvement in the recent Leichtag Foundation’s Homeless parking lot, stating the lot was a “tangible solution” to the rising homelessness issue in Encinitas.
“Everybody in the city agrees we do not want homelessness to increase,” Hinze said. “Between the pandemic and economic calamity, the tremendous suffering and hard times are only likely to get harder for those experiencing homelessness. We need to be prepared in Encinitas and need to be realistic.”
Hinze invited the public to join the city for a virtual public presentation on the city’s Draft Homeless Action Plan at 6 p.m. on August 17, encouraging all residents to participate in the event.
Additionally, both Levin and Boerner Horvath spoke on the importance of climate change to local coastlines and the importance of participating in local politics this election season.
According to Blakespear, the Zoom event prompted 59 individual donations totaling over $5,000 throughout the course of the forum.
Encinitas Viewpoint Forums
The two forums hosted by Encinitas Viewpoint, which were not fundraisers, focused on specific issues including the proposed high-density housing development on Rancho Santa Fe Blvd in Olivenhain as well as the “good and bad in government.”
Both virtual forums can be viewed in full on EV’s YouTube channel.
During the first forum, Bruce Ehlers, vice-chair of the city’s Planning Commission, opposed the Goodson development and the three candidates agreed, expressing concerns on fire safety, the number of affordable units in the building itself, as well as their perceived impact on nearby home values.
“People have to realize with the tiny amount of affordable units we’re going to get, we’re sacrificing our whole town,” Thunder said. “There’s nobody that doesn’t want restaurant workers to have a place to live in town… but we’re sacrificing our town for something we won’t get.”
Riley expressed concerns over the public safety implications of high-density development in Olivenhain and Leucadia Streetscape construction, asking when the fire department will weigh-in on evacuation risks.
The second forum, candidates voiced their disagreements with various recent municipal actions, including communication between the city and residents, lack of public attendance on city council meetings during COVID-19, and the upcoming Leucadia Streetscape construction.
“I have a problem with [the City] not being upfront about costs and there is room for improvement, safety measures,” Turney said. “I would like to see [the Council] work with cycling groups who understand the width constraints needed.”
The group also discussed the city’s “Shared Streets” program. Thunder’s main contention with the pilot program was the reduction of Coast Highway 101 to two lanes, which the city has since changed back to four lanes. But Thunder also took issue with the origins of “Shared Streets.
“Why were permits even required? I don’t know the answer but it’s very frustrating to me.”
During the Q&A portion, the discussion sparked a question from a participant who took offense to Thunder’s lack of knowledge regarding Encinitas 101 Main Street Association. Thunder apologized and offer to learn more about the nonprofit organization.
During the Q&A portion of the forum, several incorrect facts were shared among candidates.
For example, a District 2 resident expressed her fear that candidate Hinze supported turning roads adjacent to Coast Highway 101 into “stroads,” or high-speed roads used to circumvent traffic. The question was initially directed at Turney, who also perceived Hinze to support “stroads.”
In previous weeks, email strings have circulated among residents and candidates and the following statement was made (it is unclear who wrote the statement): “Hinze supports the notion of ‘stroads.’ These involve narrowing main thoroughfares to force overflow traffic into neighborhoods. We have this in writing from her to a friend whom she had this discussion. Folks who count on keeping their streets residential will not be happy — would you?”
However, The Coast News obtained and reviewed the emails wherein, Thunder alleged, Hinze had endorsed “stroads,” but found they stated the opposite.
“There is so much to love about Highway 101, especially if we can get it to act less like a ‘stroad,’” Hinze wrote in the email. “Just some food for thought. Happy to discuss.”
Hinze told The Coast News again she is adamantly opposed to turning Coast Highway 101 or adjacent roads into speedways used to avoid traffic.
Another participant also falsely stated that Blakespear supported “defunding the police.” However, Blakespear has not publicly expressed a desire to withdraw from the city’s contract with the sheriff’s department.