ENCINITAS — Several candidates for Encinitas’ council and mayoral seats vowed at Tuesday’s candidate forum to not alter the 2012 voter-approved initiative known as Proposition A.
The forum, hosted by the Cardiff Town Council, was the first time during the campaign season where all five mayoral and four city council candidates were under one roof to answer residents’ questions.
Current council members Kristin Gaspar, who serves as the city’s appointed mayor, and appointed Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz are running for the city’s first elected mayor position, along with former mayor Sheila Cameron, independent journalist Alex Fidel and local engineer Mike Bawany.
Catherine Blakespear, Julie Graboi, Alan Lerchbacker and Brian Ziegler are running for the Council seat left vacant when Teresa Barth chose to not seek re-election.
The open and free-flowing format allowed audience members to pose questions to one, some or each of the candidates. Each candidate was allowed to deliver a two-minute opening statement and closing remarks.
While a number of the questions touched on broad issues from the militarization of the police force to the difference between “clean water” and “healthy water,” several questions touched on key Encinitas issues: the candidates’ opinions on Prop. A, the issues stemming from the proliferation of bars in downtown Encinitas, railroad trenching and the question of stadium lighting at the city’s new Encinitas Community Park.
The question as to whether the candidates would do anything to alter Prop. A — which requires voter approval for zoning changes in the city and for buildings or structures taller than 30 feet — evoked some of the stronger responses.
Cameron, who served on he council in the late-90s, called the 2012 initiative “the most important initiative since we (Encinitas) became a city.”
She urged people to reject any version of the city’s general plan update, which voters will decide on in 2016, that contains any language that would undermine Prop. A protections.
Gaspar and Kranz, who are also running for mayor, opposed Prop. A, but both said they would abide by the will of the people who voted for the measure.
“It is the law of the land and we need to respect that,” Gaspar said.
Kranz said that while he did not vote for the proposition, he said that he supported the principle of voters deciding land-use decisions, which was originally part of the general plan.
Graboi, who publicly campaigned for Prop. A, said she would “do everything to protect the right for residents to weigh in and have a voice.”
Ziegler, who left with back pain before the question was asked, earlier touted his support and active campaigning for the proposition.
Downtown’s well-documented issue with public intoxication was another hot topic for the panelists. Graboi and Cameron said they supported the so-called “deemed-approved” ordinance, which would create a special permit system for existing alcohol-serving businesses and require businesses to meet certain trash, noise and policing standards.
Cameron warned that without additional laws, Encinitas could go the way of Pacific Beach, which is notorious for high levels of nuisance and crime associated with its bar scene.
The Council voted against the ordinance earlier this year and opted to step up enforcement and dedicate a city code enforcement officer to assist with the crackdown. The Council is expected to receive a report on the summer enforcement to see if its efforts have improved the problems.
Blakespear, who is running for the open council seat, said while it was important for bars to be good neighbors, she wanted to hear the enforcement results before adopting a new ordinance. Kranz and Gaspar, who both voted against the deemed-approved ordinance, echoed Blakespear’s sentiments.
Fidel argued that the proliferation of bars was due to a flawed federal banking system. Fidel also called for the City Council to fire City Attorney Glenn Sabine and replace him with an environmental activist attorney to pursue true environmental reform.
Cameron and Graboi, who has been an outspoken critic of Sabine, both said they believed the city should part ways with Sabine, and Cameron said she also believed the Council should replace City Manager Gus Vina.
Another topic that generated some of the more pointed discussions was about the lighting at the Encinitas Community Park. Currently, the city does not plan to light the ball fields, but has the infrastructure in place to do so in the future.
Cardiff residents have expressed concern about the lighting, which they said would have environmental impacts and would be unnecessary for a youth park because kids could participate in activities during the day.
“If the lights are 90 feet, it’s going to be … in my backyard so I am right there with you,” said council candidate Alan Lerchbacker, who throughout the night touted his Naval and corporate background as providing him with strong leadership skills.
Gaspar was the lone supporter of field lights. The mother of three young children, Gaspar said the lack of lit ball fields in town has forced teams to travel out of town for games and tournaments.
“There is no reason families should be driving out to Ramona to play on a dirt field,” she said.
One question that received unanimous support from the candidates was on the importance of lowering or trenching the city’s section of the rail corridor.
“Right now, access (to the beaches and across the rails) isn’t great,” Blakespear said.
The resident who asked the question, and who supported the concept, also asked the candidates if they knew how much it would cost.
Cameron estimated, using figures from the San Diego Association of Governments on the Interstate 5 corridor improvement project, which sets aside about $800 million for rail corridor improvements, that it would cost $152 million to trench Encinitas’ section. What it would take to advance it, she said, was regional will.