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Encinitas council selects Prendergast replace ousted planning chairman

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council has named Robert Prendergast to replace former chairman Bruce Ehlers as the new Olivenhain/New Encinitas representative on the city’s Planning Commission. 

Prendergast, managing director of investment sales at Jones Lang LaSalle, who has also served for years on the city’s Traffic and Mobility Commission, was selected by a 4-1 vote at the council’s meeting on Wednesday.

Councilmembers Tony Kranz, Kellie Hinze, Joe Mosca and Mayor Catherine Blakespear all voted in favor of Prendergast’s appointment while Councilmember Joy Lyndes, the city’s District 3 representative, voted no. 

The council considered three applicants for the role, including Prendergast, engineering company president Frederick Snedeker and Dan Vaughn, a biopharmaceutical consultant who is the acting president of Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development.

Lyndes supported Vaughn for the role, citing the overwhelming public support for Vaughn’s appointment. In public comments on the agenda item — 18 of 19 residents asked the council to appoint Vaughn to the Planning Commission. 

“I know the emotions of the community surrounding this decision — it’s highly charged,” said Lyndes. “I feel quite compelled to listen to what the community is saying about Dan Vaughn being the candidate that they would prefer.” 

However, the other council members expressed they felt as though Prendergast was the most qualified applicant for the position, given not only his background in real estate but also his experience as a traffic commissioner. 

“It’s much easier for somebody who has already served on a commission and understands how these commissions work, who understands the reading that you have to do, the research, the training you have to go through,” said Mosca. “There’s a lot going on here with this position and I feel that Bob has that commitment and I feel like he has the experience, the professional experience of looking at what the facts are and understanding the particulars of each case before him.” 

Kranz agreed. 

“(Prendergast) stood out because of his role as a traffic commissioner and his background has lent itself well to analyzing projects, some of which are fairly complex, so overall he will be ready to step in and hit the ground running,” Kranz said. 

One reason the council cited for not picking Vaughn was his role with Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development, a group that has filed multiple lawsuits against the city over the controversial Goodson project, a proposed 277-unit development on Encinitas Boulevard. 

“I think highly of Dan Vaughn, and I appreciate his advocacy on important issues such as homelessness and environmental conservation, but he’s also a part of Encinitas RRD and they’re suing the city,” said Kranz. “So it seemed to me that that would be incongruous with an appointment to the Planning Commission spot given what we’ve already been through with commissioner Ehlers.

“There were the same can of worms that we dealt with regarding Ehlers that would have been present with a potential commissioner Vaughn, so we weren’t interested in trading one set of perceived issues of bias with a commissioner with another set of similar issues.”

Ehlers was terminated from his role as chairman of the Planning Commission in April after refusing Blakespear’s request via telephone to voluntarily resign.

Blakespear and the rest of the council pointed to 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 at the time. “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.”

In comments made to the council at Wednesday’s meeting, Vaughn denied his involvement with litigation against the city would create any conflict of interest if he was selected to the planning commission. 

“I know that some on the council think that my involvement with lawsuits against the city and my role at RFD to be disqualifying. I disagree,” Vaughn said. “These suits have shown how the city’s hands are not tied by the state. By following environmental laws, the city can mitigate the worst impacts of these by-right projects.

“At a time of divisive partisan hostility, I offer my services as a nonpartisan, pragmatic consensus builder. I urge this council to resist making this appointment solely on political affiliation and instead to embrace the messy civic dialogue and debate that comes from including opposing ideas.” 

Ehlers spoke highly of his new replacement, calling Prendergast an “exceptionally knowledgable” choice for the planning role. He also spoke of the challenges that Prendergast and the rest of the commissioners would have to tackle in regards to the R-30 upzoning projects the group will be reviewing in the near future. 

“I know Bob very well, he used to live in my neighborhood, he’s a very good person,” Ehlers said. “He does have a development background and he’s also very environmentally conscious. Fundamentally I have no problem with Bob or Dan or Fred being on the commission, they’re all great local people. As a commissioner I hope that Bob will continue to look at the details of these projects because it will be a lot of work. It’s going to be all these R-30 projects, making sure that developers fulfill their promise of providing lower income units.” 

In addition to having served on the city’s mobility and traffic commission, Prendergast is the managing director of investment sales at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate entity, where he has worked since 2008. In total, Prendergast has worked in commercial real estate and investment banking for almost forty years. 

“I believe that I provide…a skillset not currently found on the commission. I have a strong background in real estate finance and I understand the perspective of developers and applicants coming before the commission,” Prendergast said. 

Prendergast also expressed to the council that he’s concerned about state-mandated development projects that may not fit the character and infrastructure of the community. 

“New statewide mandates and laws are placing pressure on our city for more housing with less consideration for the impacts on the city’s infrastructure, including fire, traffic, noise, and most importantly, our quality of life,” Prendergast said. “I understand development performance and their capitalization, and can bring this knowledge to reviewing their applications.

“I’m familiar with zoning ordinances and the CEQA process which affords me a unique perspective in projects brought before the planning commission. I hope I can find solutions to help our city grow while still preserving our quality of life, our open spaces, and our community character.”