ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council will appoint its fifth member in January, instead of holding a special election for the seat, city officials decided last week.
In its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14, the newly sworn-in City Council voted 3-1 to appoint a replacement for new mayor Tony Kranz’s District 1 council seat. Kranz, Kellie Hinze and Joy Lyndes voted to appoint while new member Bruce Ehlers voted against the resolution.
The vacancy on the council was created in November when Kranz was elected to replace outgoing mayor Catherine Blakespear, who was elected to the state Senate.
Encinitas’ municipal code stipulates that city officials must appoint a new council member to fill a vacancy within 60 days. Otherwise, the city must hold a special election. With last week’s vote to appoint, interested persons will have until Jan. 10 to submit applications for the District 1 seat. The council will meet Jan. 18 to make a decision.
The city clerk’s office has not yet released a list of those who have applied for the District 1 vacancy. However, at least two candidates have already announced their intention to apply for the position. Alex Riley, a retired lifeguard official who ran against Kranz for the seat in 2020, and Michael Blobe, who ran for mayor in 2022.
The majority cited cost and time as the primary factors for why they voted in favor of an appointment over an election. The city clerk, Kathy Hollywood, had estimated that a special election would cost Encinitas $250,000-$400,000.
Additionally, an election could not be held until May at the earliest, whereas an appointee could be sworn in as soon as February, Hollywood said at the meeting.
“From my perspective it’s important that we get someone into the seat and do in a way that makes the most sense for the community, and importantly satisfies the majority of community,” Kranz said.
“The council is always in a position where they need to make their best assessment of what most people would want, and in this particular case my assessment is that most would want someone in the seat sooner than later and not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
He added: “If we don’t have an election until May, and then it takes time to get the votes counted, it could realistically be into June that we actually have someone fill the vacancy.”
Kranz noted that the council would have to vote on key issues, including a whole budget cycle and discussions about capital improvements, with just four members during that interval.
“It really would be good to have a new council person in place for those discussions — an election would mean putting the city’s business on hold in a way that is not good for District 1.”
Lyndes and Hinze — both appointees themselves who have since been elected — agreed. In addition to the concerns about cost and timeliness voiced by Kranz, Lyndes talked about how an election could actually be a discouragement to some qualified candidates in seeking the office.
“I think that having a special election and making people go through that process would extremely limit the pool of people who are interested in coming here and participating in public service,” she said. “I think the overarching benefit is that we can get someone in who can help us pull the load forward and represent the Leucadia district fully as soon as possible.”
Conversely, Ehlers argued that the majority of Encinitas residents are in favor of holding a special election to fill the District 1 vacancy. He said that an appointment by the council would be problematic since individual council members may have biases toward certain applicants that may not reflect the will of the majority.
“I’m a huge proponent of a direct vote of the people, it’s why I backed Proposition A,” said Ehlers, referring to the 2013 measure giving residents the right to vote on zoning changes. “I have ultimate faith that the people will pick the right person for the people. I hope that we all agree that assuming we’re going with an appointment that the appointment should reflect the wishes of voters, but that’s very difficult for a council to do because we all come in with biases.”
To make his point, Ehlers argued that his fellow council members likely would not have selected him to fill the vacancy left by former deputy mayor Joe Mosca, the District 4 member, if Mosca had resigned before the expiration of his term. He noted that the current council voted to remove him from the city’s Planning Commission and endorsed his primary rival, Pamela Redela, in the November election — indicating that the other three would not have appointed him to replace Mosca.
“If Joe had resigned mid-term … the council would not have appointed me, yet the electorate did by an overwhelming margin … that goes to show that it’s very hard for this council to make that appointment without those biases slipping in,” Ehlers said.
“In your hypothetical … you’re probably right, that we would not have appointed you,” Kranz acknowledged in response.
Ehlers also said that if the council appoints a candidate, that candidate should pledge to not run in the next election cycle, to give the people a chance to vote on a new council member for the District 1 seat. He noted that Del Mar and Carlsbad both have such a requirement in their laws that restrict an appointee from running for election.
“I would support appointing somebody who voluntarily would agree not to run in next election cycle,” he said, an opportunity “to have a free open election without having the anointed incumbency advantage.”
Eleven of the 16 public speakers at the meeting agreed with Ehlers that the city ought to hold a special election to fill the vacancy.
“You’re faced with two difficult solutions. One is expensive, the other is far from democratic,” said longtime resident Bernard Minster. “I would say how much does democracy cost? And what is it worth? If it’s $400,000, let’s find ways to raise it — instead of choosing a far more autocratic form of government.”
Resident Cyrus Kamada characterized an appointment as an unfair power grab that would simply reinforce the power of the majority on the council while not reflecting the diversity of opinion in Encinitas.
“Sometimes the most effective use of power lies in its restraint. If the council appoints a supporter in District 1, you would have an 80% majority,” Kamada said. “A government that deliberately diverges from the makeup of its constituents loses legitimacy almost by definition. That is the reason that diversity has value and if diversity is truly our goal then we should embrace it even if the outcome complicates our agenda. The cheapest and quickest solution isn’t always the best one.”
Former City Council candidate Susan Turney also spoke out against an appointment, expressing concern that the council would simply appoint a like-minded candidate who would go along with the majority votes.
“Encinitas has experienced a string of appointments in recent years that regularly produced unanimous votes in lockstep with Mayor Blakespear’s. Hinze, Lyndes and Mosca have perfect or near perfect voting records that align with the mayor,” Turney said.
“These votes usually occur after very little council dialogue even on the most important issues … at worst this speaks to repeated Brown Act violations — which means that the votes were predetermined illegally out of public view. At best these votes point to an unhealthy dynamic known as groupthink … which would only be reinforced if this council chooses an appointee.”
Kranz and the other council members acknowledged these concerns, but the mayor reiterated his view that the majority of residents would be comfortable with the council representatives exercising their authority in selecting an appointee.
“I recognize that there’s a lot invested in segments of community in having an election. I understand why, but for me, given the difference in timeline election and appointment and difference in cost, I’m confident that the majority of the community would prefer that the City Council exercise their representative democracy if anything else comes up,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re in a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. The vast majority of people who have been appointed have also been re-elected by the voters.”
“He noted that Del Mar and Carlsbad both have such a requirement in their laws that restrict an appointee from running for election.”
We reportedly cannot impose this very rational restriction because we are a general law city, instead of a charter city like Del Mar or Carlsbad. Perhaps we need a charter.
Absent a 2024 candidacy ban, the most rational, equitable appointee would be Alex Riley, who came in second to Kranz in the most recent D1 election.
Typical from Kranz, Lyndes and Hinze.
Bruce Ehlers was the only vote Encinitas got correct, IMO.
$400,000 is a drop in the bucket for Democracy especially compared to the tens of millions of debt StreetScam is costing us.
Blakespear may be finally gone but Kranz can’t escape the authoritarian bent of her mode of Government.
Another 200 votes and Julie Thunder would have beaten Lyndes and we wouldn’t be going through this nonsense.
The Verdu-Blakespear-Limousine Liberal machine continues unabated and Encinitas will suffer the consequences. Kiss the small town vibe goodbye and say hello to apartment complexes on El Camino Real and wealthy developers running roughshod over this City.
Steven, I think your characterization of my comments misses the mark. There is no “power grab”, and there is nothing “unfair” about an appointment. My point was that the legitimacy of the council has been under fire as a result of it’s obligations under state housing mandates. While expensive, an election would underwrite the legitimacy of the council, even if, as I would prefer, a progressive was selected to replace Tony in District 1. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to express nuance in 3 minutes and that leaves you open to reflexive characterizations.