ENCINITAS — For first-time candidate Cindy Cremona, it’s clear residents have lost trust in the city’s leadership based on a growing disconnect between issues that matter to locals and the policies coming out of City Hall.
“I think that great leaders look to achieve consensus as best they can, that you have to be capable of making difficult but fair decisions,” said Cremona, a small business owner. “In the case of our local government, there are two things that are going to be critical for the next mayor and the next council to earn back the trust of this community.
“The first thing is transparency in government, and the second thing is including and listening to residents. Residents need to feel respected, and right now they do not, by any member of this council.”
Cremona, a longtime San Diego area resident, touted her background as a certified personnel consultant and owner of The Hire Alternative executive recruiting practice as providing her with the leadership characteristics needed to succeed on the Encinitas City Council.
“I’m an experienced business owner who has spent well over thirty years advising organizations about their structure,” Cremona said. “Where I’ve been successful is bringing opposing views to the table and getting a consensus. I’m a problem solver, a negotiator. I advocate and I get results.”
Cremona, who is running as an independent, emphasized her ability to work across the aisle politically with those holding opposing beliefs or party platforms.
“I’m running as an independent because I don’t think that partisan politics have any place in local government, in fact, part of the problem with our current city government is partisan politics, and it’s very important not to get hamstrung by that,” Cremona said. “I believe in getting results and in the idea that all sides should believe that there’s a win-win option possible.”
For Cremona, issues concerning local housing control are paramount to her campaign and policy platform moving forward if elected to office. She expressed frustration with city policies that she said have paved the way for numerous housing development projects that lack the corresponding infrastructure to support these programs.
Cremona said that she was disappointed in the city’s 5th Cycle Housing Element that laid the groundwork for fifteen new high-density housing projects. She was also critical of a number of other upcoming city developments, including the 200-unit Clark project, the Melba project, the Piraeus project and a 200-unit development coming soon on Encinitas Boulevard across from the Crack Shack restaurant.
“The city is going to be inundated with thousands of homes, condos, and apartments, approximately 5-7,000 new housing units without any additional infrastructure improvements, and that leads to a big problem with traffic and safety, and that’s a very big issue,” Cremona said. “Encinitas needs to keep up on infrastructure, our streets are not keeping up with the giveaways to developers, and with all of the high-density projects that are on the horizon, there’s a lot of misplaced priorities that are coming out of our current City Council.”
Cremona also argued that Encinitas also needs to prioritize investment in real affordable housing to a greater extent than under the current administration.* In the summer of 2021, Cremona said the City Council “squandered” an opportunity to increase the number of new affordable housing units to 50% — as recommended by the city’s Planning Commission — but instead settled for a much lower 15 to 20%.
“We are struggling with a lack of affordable housing, and with the current housing plan only 15-20% of the projected units to be built will be affordable,” Cremona said. “The city lost an incredible opportunity last summer by not accepting the planning commission’s proposal of 50% affordable, thereby condemning us to a minimum of 4,000 additional market-rate housing units.
“We desperately need affordable housing. Our current City Council has squandered away their best opportunity to get some meaningful affordable housing in place while keeping our city safe from overdevelopment. Our hands are not tied.”
According to Cremona, the key to making progress on reducing the city’s homeless numbers will also be partnering more extensively with county and state agencies that Cremona says Encinitas does not currently work very closely with.
And while she believes in compassion when it comes to handling the unhoused — Cremona herself has had family members who have been homeless — the business owner said the city needs to do a better job of balancing compassion with enforcement of existing laws that protect the interests of residents as well.
“There’s no simple solution to homelessness, it’s a multifaceted issue,” Cremona said. “I do not believe that homelessness should be criminalized, but I do believe that criminals should be prosecuted, we do have laws in place that can be more effectively enforced.
“I also think where the city is lacking is in utilizing other county measures that are available to get people off the streets. We should be partnering with the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, utilizing those resources to offer folks on the streets in crisis connections to resources that can help get them off the street. These are things that we’re not doing that we can make effective almost immediately.”
For many Encinitas residents, Jeff Morris is a familiar name that evokes strong feelings one way or the other. But regardless of how some residents may feel about the longtime resident and founder of Encinitas Watchdogs, Morris has announced his campaign for mayor of Encinitas.
“To be a great leader you have to be honest and truthful,” Morris told The Coast News in a sit-down interview. “You have to be passionate and stand up for what’s right, to be strong and courageous in the midst of adversity.”
Morris said that he’s running to reform the mayoral position and will campaign on a platform of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness, lambasting what he calls systematic corruption on the part of current city leadership.
And he’s more than confident the residents of Encinitas will back his candidacy.
“I think I’m going to win, in fact, I firmly believe that, because the community will see that I’m not in this for myself, that I’m here to protect my town and I’m not going anywhere,” Morris said. “I’m here to save this city.”
Morris doesn’t have any prior experience in elected office. But he’s certainly politically active, founding several online advocacy groups, including Watchdogs and North County Citizens Coalition, or NC3.
Most importantly, Morris said it’s his lived experience of more than 40 years in Encinitas as an engaged resident who cares passionately about preserving the city’s idyllic, laid-back, beach-town character that makes him unique among the several candidates who have already declared their intent to run for mayor this November.
“I have a deep respect for the ocean, for beach life, and for the pleasure that the ocean brings to everybody— it’s something that I consider a rare precious resource, and yes it can be taken away from us,” Morris said. “I’ve been in love with the ocean my entire life. I came to Encinitas as a child and I realized this place was my home, I knew it immediately and I always want to live here. This is paradise, and we need to keep it paradise”
Morris said he was homeless as a child on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, abandoned by his family and without resources to fall back on.
“I was kind of a lost soul, I was a nobody,” Morris recalled. “I used to be embarrassed about that part of my life, but now I realize that that’s become the most valuable experience I lived and ever had, and I’ve been able to use that to help fight for Encinitas.”
By age 27, Morris was a millionaire, homeowner and successful owner of numerous businesses in finance and marketing. And the same indefatigable work ethic and determination that lifted him off the streets he says will define his campaign and ultimately his tenure as mayor.
“I will outwork everybody this election, you’ll see me everywhere,” Morris said with a smile. “In order to gain this community’s trust I’ll show them that I’m serious, I’ll be meeting everybody, taking on every challenge, I’ll do it all.”
During the interview, Morris painted a picture of a city in decline as a direct result of corrupt and incompetent leadership, specifically on the part of sitting Mayor Catherine Blakespear, whom he described as being set “against the interests” of residents when it comes to issues such as homelessness and public safety.
According to Morris, the city’s homelessness issue is nothing short of “a disaster” due to city policies directing state grants to local nonprofits with no results to show for their work.
“Homelessness has become the homeless-industrial-complex in Encinitas,” Morris said. “These nonprofits actually gain financially from homelessness, so they don’t have any real intention of fixing this problem. They want to keep this whole thing going and make the money.”
Morris also emphasized the city needs to start conducting its own homeless point-in-time counts and disclose the amount of money the city has spent on homelessness. Not only does a lack of such information reflect poorly on the transparency of city government, but meaningful policy solutions on homelessness can’t be constructed without these metrics, he said.
“You can’t even talk about solutions, talk about fixing this, because nobody even knows what the numbers are or at least you’re not telling us,” Morris said. “We need the metrics and the methodology on this, we need to find the numbers that they’re hiding, I mean nobody can even provide a breakdown for me of what this is costing the city.”
The longtime business owner also ripped the current City Council for implementing policies that he said have increased Encinitas’s overall crime rate and ignored constituents’ concerns. One such policy was the opening of a Safe Parking Lot for unhoused persons on Saxony Road in September 2021.
Far from being “safe,” Morris claims the parking lot has become a breeding ground for drug abuse and crime, while simultaneously being relocated near two K-12 schools, creating a threatening environment for children.
Morris’ group NC3 filed a lawsuit on March 2, 2020, in an attempt to halt the project, but the complaint was subsequently dismissed after the site was relocated to the Encinitas Community and Senior Center.
However, according to call-for-service records released to NBC7, Sheriff’s deputies responded to the parking lot just three times over an 18-month period.
But Morris argues that the program has attracted more out-of-town homeless persons to the city, exacerbating the issue and elevating crime.
“Encinitas was one of the safest towns in the area before that (Safe) Parking Lot happened,” Morris said. “You fast forward to today and the crime rate is skyrocketing, we’re setting records. Just look at the SANDAG and FBI biannual crime reports. I mean (the city’s) entire argument is about things being safe but it’s no longer safe. I 100% support taking care of our homeless but this method, while it may make money for those involved, just isn’t going to work.
“It’s become scary around this city. There’s a clear direct correlation between more transients coming into town and crime going through the roof, and I actually predicted that this would happen.”
While a SANDAG mid-year 2021 crime report showed increases in most property and violent crimes in North County coastal cities, including Carlsbad, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas, for many cities, these increases are equal to or lower than crime rates in 2017. The crime rates were also exceptionally low the previous year due to the pandemic.
Blakespear has also firmly disputed claims the Safe Parking Lot is correlated with any rise in crime.
“We have meticulously followed the data on this and there have been no negative neighborhood consequences in Encinitas, we don’t have safety concerns…the bottom line is it’s helped people and hurt no one,” the mayor said in January.
Morris has become a controversial figure in Encinitas, by his own acknowledgment. In the past, he’s been accused of harassing city employees and making online threats towards different individuals, including The Coast News’ own employees.
But Morris said that while he owns his mistakes, he’s not going to let anyone tear down his reputation or intimidate him from running for office.
Morris claims Blakespear and her “allies” have systematically tried to smear him and other dissident residents with false accusations in an effort to discredit critics of city government.
“They accuse you of crimes, they try to ‘cancel’ you,” Morris said. “Well, this is my beach town and I’m going to fight back. I don’t initiate attacks but I own my mistakes, I own the adversity, I have no problem doing that. The people that know me, know that I have a good heart and that I’m a good person. In fact, I’m the best candidate to run because I know exactly how these people will completely try to destroy this city. It’s my heart for the beach, my love for the beach that’s my motivating factor. I can’t protect all of California but I can protect this town.”
As District 1 representative on the Encinitas City Council for the last 10 years, Councilman Tony Kranz is a man who needs little introduction to most residents. Kranz said his experience in city government and near-lifetime lived in Encinitas make him the best choice to replace the outgoing Blakespear this November.
“I’m running because I think that experience is really important for the next mayor to have,” Kranz said. “ I’ve been serving on the City Council for 10 years and I have experience in addressing a number of issues coming up over time, and I think that [as mayor] I would be valuable in handling the things that will come up in the future as well. There are many challenges that we have not resolved, and it’s really important to have someone intimately familiar with the history of this city, with where we’ve been and what we’re trying to do.”
According to Kranz, the two biggest challenges facing Encinitas in the years ahead are homelessness and the city’s dire infrastructure needs.
On homelessness, Kranz said that out of all of the candidates running, he has the most intimate understanding of how city policies can come to bear on the issue.
“The most controversial issues we deal with have to do with housing and the other side of that, which is homelessness,” Kranz said. ” I expect that as mayor, we will continue to solve those challenges in ways that work best for our community. In my experience since 1960 living in Encinitas, I’ve become familiar with the growth that our community has experienced, and it’s still happening and we need to figure out how best to manage it.”
On infrastructure, Kranz, who also serves as the chairman of the North County Transit District, acknowledged the need for more robust city action but emphasized the key role that existing projects, specifically Leucadia Streetscape, will play in helping ameliorate some of the city’s infrastructure needs.
“Legacy infrastructure continues to need some pretty significant work and we’ve started that process with streetscape and we want to see that through to completion,” Kranz said. “With other areas of the town like Encinitas boulevard, La Costa, Leucadia Boulevard, you have to think about the impacts of traffic on the community being significant, and there being the need to figure out a way to accommodate people who want to do more biking and walking because there are definitely some challenges integrating all modes of travel in our current system.”
When it comes to transportation, Kranz said that he’s in support of SANDAG’s recently passed Regional Transportation Plan, or RTP, which calls for $162.5 billion in development and improvements to the county’s transportation system and transit lines to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.
Kranz, who served in an advisory capacity to SANDAG for several years, also emphasized that he’s the best choice for the city’s representative to sit on the metropolitan planning agency’s board as important decisions are made in years to come in adjusting and augmenting the RTP to best fit the transit needs of Encinitas.
“I think that the RTP is a good start but important modifications need to be made to that, and I want to be in the middle of that conversation,” Kranz said. “This city was impacted significantly by the railroad corridor and the I-5, and with this plan we really need to advocate for changes that benefit this city,” Kranz said.
“The mayor represents the city at the SANDAG regional body and makes significant decisions, so you don’t want somebody who just wants to be mayor taking that seat, you want someone who has experience hitting the ground running,” Kranz said. “As I was on the SANDAG in an advisory capacity, I’m familiar with what’s going on. Ultimately, we need to have somebody in mayor’s seat who is familiar with the regional players and how we can bring resources region to bear on some of these problems.”
Kranz acknowledged that many locals don’t feel as though the city has been transparent when it has to come to the handling of issues like housing, homelessness and infrastructure. As mayor, Kranz said he would pledge to conduct business in a way making all residents feel included and heard.
“Transparency has always been an issue for me, I want the city to be as open as possible,” Kranz said. “Those people who aren’t being heard like to say that the city isn’t being transparent, but I would say that we do hear you and in some cases, we agree to disagree.
“I myself have been fairly dissatisfied at times with the way that we’ve handled particular issues. Overall, I do think the city has done a fairly good job though of communicating to the constituents of this city, but we need to continue working on that, and I’ll try as mayor to conduct business in a way that makes people feel as though they’ve been heard.”
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly paraphrased a quote from Cindy Cremona that appeared to equivocate affordable housing with solving the city’s homelessness problem. This was not an accurate description of her views on both issues. We sincerely regret the error.