ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council held a lengthy debate on Wednesday night about whether to approve a second-year permit for the Moonlight Beach Half Marathon, 10K and 5K races set for March 2024.
The event organizer, Steve Lebherz of Exelerace, has put on many successful races in Encinitas over the years, including the Cardiff Kook Run and Encinitas Turkey Trot. However, last year’s half marathon encountered some issues that caused safety concerns among city officials.
It is routine for those putting on annual events to appear before the council following the inaugural year.
City staff recommended denying Lebherz’s permit application due to failures to adhere to permit conditions, such as submitting timely paperwork, following the approved timeline and site plan, and full payment of law enforcement services.
During last year’s race, city staff said some runners were still on the course after the road was supposed to be reopened to vehicle traffic, signs were missing or set up incorrectly, and the start and finish lines were changed on the day of the event without notifying the city.
Deputy Greg Hoover of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said the main issues were a lack of communication from the event organizers to city staff and law enforcement, which prompted the sheriff’s department to step in and manage areas of the race course.
Lebherz said that most of the problems stemmed from a lack of volunteers and an incorrect timeline on the event website. For this year’s race, Lebherz said he would make changes like hiring outside companies experienced with managing half marathons and bringing on more volunteers.
Taking into account Exelerace’s history of running more than 20 other races in Encinitas with few issues, Councilmember Bruce Ehler proposed granting Lebherz conditional approval, which received the support of Mayor Tony Kranz and Councilmember Allison Blackwell.
“(The first half marathon) was an outlier, but their track record counts for something,” Kranz said.
The conditions included submitting all application materials by Dec. 1, subjecting the event to another City Council review for its third year, prepaying law enforcement costs, and finalizing the site plan and timeline at least four weeks before the event with no further changes allowed. City staff would also have the authority to impose additional mandatory conditions or cancel the event if requirements are not met.
Councilmember Kellie Hinze and Deputy Mayor Joy Lyndes voted to deny the application per the city staff’s recommendation.
“My heart rate is already racing thinking about some of the safety concerns that still remain and might still be outstanding at the time of the race,” Hinze said.
Lebherz acknowledged last year’s mistakes and pledged to make changes for another successful race.
“We had a bad day. It happens,” he said. “But we won’t blow this if given another chance.”