The Coast News Group

Encinitas officially makes switch to district elections

ENCINITAS — Encinitas City Council is slated to host its first district election in November 2018, but two council members want the public to vote on whether the city should be divided into five districts rather than the four the council approved this month.

The divided council voted 3-2 on Nov. 15 to approve the transition to district elections, as well as the four-district map and sequence of the district elections.

Councilman Mark Muir, however, asked city staff to bring back an item on a future council agenda to discuss a ballot measure that would ask the public if they would want five council districts rather than the approved four districts and a citywide-elected mayor.

“I am disappointed we are going to four,” Muir said. “What is happening is anticipated, with the conflict between the different communities and the fact that one is being completely eliminated.”

Encinitas is one of several cities and agencies that has switched its election system after receiving a legal threat from a Malibu-based law firm that alleges that the at-large voting system disenfranchises Latino voters.

San Marcos, Oceanside, Poway and Carlsbad have voted to switch to district elections.

A former Poway mayor is suing the city and state in federal court to reverse the decision, arguing that the state law being used to prompt the switches violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

Muir’s comments about Encinitas’ process are aimed at the final map approved by the council, which was drawn anonymously by Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath.

The Coast News originally discovered in a public records request that Boerner Horvath authored the two final maps from which the council selected the final map.

Muir and others have argued that the map appears politically gerrymandered to place Muir’s neighborhood, along Via Cantebria north of Encinitas Boulevard, in the same district as the community of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and to weaken the voting power of New Encinitas, the largest of the city’s five communities.

Boerner Horvath has denied that her map was politically motivated, but said it was meant to satisfy the council’s goals of having at least three districts along the coast and more than one district including a portion of El Camino Real, among other considerations.

Muir appears to have the support of Councilman Tony Kranz, who has been the most vocal opponent of the district-forming process. He once again reiterated his displeasure in the process.

“I want to remind us that we don’t have a gun to our head, what we have is a ransom note threatening to put a gun to our head,” Kranz said. “And we decided to take this action pre-emptively. I think in the case of the city of Encinitas, it is a mistake.”

One resident, Steven Winters, who authored one of the 22 maps the City Council considered before choosing Boerner Horvath’s map, called the process a “farce.”

“What started off as a process that welcomed the community in its involvement has devolved into what appears to be a backroom deal lacking transparency failing the basic standards of ethical behavior and leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of 60,000 Encinitas residents,” Winters said.

Winters pointed to the fact that seven of the 22 maps appeared to meet the council’s criteria.

“What was wrong with the other five maps that they weren’t even considered?” Winters said. “Herein lies the problem and the proof that this was a rigged game all along.”

Boerner Horvath said that in looking at the totality of the process after “binge watching” the council meetings dealing with districts, the council did its best to listen to the public at each step.

“I think that is really important that we listened to the public, we listened to each other and we ultimately chose this map,” she said.

Boerner Horvath said she actually preferred Map 15, which she said she based on another citizen’s map, Map 14.

“I did look at all the other four maps, and they had errors,” Boerner Horvath said.

While any council member can request an item be brought back before the entire council, it remains to be seen if Muir’s request will have the backing of a council majority.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she wouldn’t support it, arguing that the public elected the council to make decisions like the districting one.