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Encinitas council, residents tangle over Sheriff’s contract, Equity Committee

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday night to discuss renewing its contract with the Sheriff’s Department, prompting some residents to voice their concerns about potential cuts to law enforcement services based on a social justice committee’s involvement in policy discussions.

The city contracts with the Sheriff’s Department along with eight other cities in the county, including Solana Beach, Del Mar, San Marcos and Vista.

The sheriff’s contract is the city’s largest expenditure, which has increased every year for the past decade and has drawn interest from the Equity Committee, an eight-member group appointed by the council in the aftermath of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd.

The committee’s stated goal is to “help the City of Encinitas and Encinitas community create safe, healthy, accessible, and inclusive opportunities for everyone who lives, works and visits Encinitas.”

However, since the group formed in May 2021, some residents have questioned the committee’s motives and approach to law enforcement, raising fears the group is lobbying the council to “defund the police” by focusing on “inequities that don’t exist.”

Marlon Taylor, a trustee on the Encinitas Union School District board and a member of the Equity Committee, said during the meeting he was not requesting defunding police services in the city.

“When I talk about fiscal responsibility, I am not advocating for cuts,” said Taylor. “I am advocating, however, for the use of data to make informed decisions that will lead to wise fiscal decisions in the future. If we are effectively using all of the public health and safety resources available to us, we can provide residents the support they need, make our community safer while also making better use of the city’s funds.”

Keith Spears, the Sheriff’s contract manager, outlined what law enforcement services and duties the city can expect under the contract, such as patrol, traffic enforcement, investigations, crime prevention, emergency services, communications and more. When asked about any reduction to funding or staffing levels, Spears said nothing in the city’s contract will change.

“No, there is no plan to change anything for Encinitas,” Spears told the council. “Your staffing level is exactly the same this year… as it was going into 2021-22.”

Capt. Dustin Lopez of the Sheriff’s Department North Coastal Station further addressed questions about the city’s staffing levels for deputies, noting the city has fewer officers than the national average but doesn’t have the same crime rate as other cities.

“I think the staffing levels are adequate,” Lopez said. “From what I’ve seen, I’ve obviously only been here since September, but I think what we have in place is very adequate.”

During the public comment period, the Equity Committee drew the consternation of several residents, including Tamara Dixon and former mayoral candidate Julie Thunder.

Dixon used her comment period to ask the council why unelected members of the Equity Committee were invited to speak on a topic related to public safety, seeking a back-and-forth dialogue with the council which is not permitted during public comments.

When Blakespear refused to answer her question, the mayor and Dixon stared at each other for approximately one minute until the speaker’s time had expired.

Thunder said she agreed with some of the points raised by Taylor and fellow Equity Committee member Robin Sales during the meeting but questioned the committee’s origins and level of involvement in policing decisions.

“It’s confusing that we even have an Equity Committee that’s involved in this,” Thunder said. “And in fact, it’s concerning that we even have an Equity Committee at all. This committee was formulated by Mayor Blakespear and Councilmember Hinze – you created it on your own, it doesn’t fall under normal commissions that have representation from each of the districts in the city. It’s a committee that the two of you formed and then you handpicked the members. And you also promised it wouldn’t cost any money and now it is costing money.”

According to a public records request shared with the Coast News, the city initiated a one-year contract in June 2021 with consultant Nicole Lance, of Lance Strategies, to facilitate Equity Committee meetings. Per the contract, the consultant receives $2,000 for every meeting and $200 per hour for additional work, including “extended committee work session.” The total contract is not to exceed $35,000.

The contract may be extended for up to one additional year if a written extension agreement is signed before the end of the original term.

“I don’t want people I didn’t elect discussing with our mayor and a council member policing policies in a formal way and then coming to a City Council meeting and being given more time than the public to (state) what might have sounded like demands from our Sheriff’s Department and our city,” Thunder said.

Other speakers accused the council of failing to protect residents from a growing local perception of rising crime and homelessness across the city.

“Mayor Blakespear and council, you are leaving us citizens to fend for yourselves,” said resident Len Arkins. “It’s not about hiring more sheriffs … This is what happens when you’re soft on crime and ignoring the data and not acting on the data.”

The council said the city has not set any policy directives related to decreasing levels of crime enforcement. Lopez said his station has never received directives from the council to be “soft on crime.”

“I have not been told to not enforce laws by the City Council or anyone else,” Lopez said. “There has been no one on the City Council, nor the mayor or anybody else that has directed me anymore not to enforce laws.”

After a contentious public comment period, Blakespear addressed the criticism directed at her and the council.

“I’ll just say that I know you have the right to stand up here and to berate me, to insult me, to demean me, to bait me and that’s all part of the First Amendment rights that you have,” Blakespear said. “My hope is always that we can go back to recognizing that our democratic system relies on having the ability to see the humanity in others and to trust each other. And if you don’t like the policies, if you don’t like what you see from your elected officials, that you work really hard to elect somebody else.”

The sheriff’s contract will be reviewed and approved in the coming months after the city receives the new proposal.

1 comment

steve333 January 28, 2022 at 1:55 pm

I feel certain that at least 75% of the voters who voted for Blakespear regret their decision.
She is a disaster as a Mayor and will be even worse as a State Senator. Make sure to vote for anyone else but her.
Anyone But Blakespear

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