The Coast News Group

Housing element, council vacancy, rail trail loom for Encinitas City Council in New Year

ENCINITAS — The New Year brings new challenges for every city council. Encinitas is no different.

The year that was, 2016, left the council in a vulnerable position as voters rejected its most detailed and labor-intensive to update its long-overdue Housing Element, Measure T, which leaves the city in a vulnerable position to further lawsuits. How will the city proceed forth? Will it search for more favorable ballot initiative — and be sued by developers and housing advocates who believe another measure is doomed for defeat — or will it adopt the defeated measure and face the wrath of residents who roundly rejected it at the ballot box?

“Getting compliant with state housing law is our biggest struggle and our most important priority,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. “Our noncompliance is the reason we have ongoing lawsuits, which is an unacceptable situation for the city and our taxpayers.”

The year also left the council with four members, as Blakespear was elected to the mayor position. In filling the vacancy, the council will have to balance the allure of a super majority with the desires of the “No on T” contingent that has already been vocal about having the appointment filled with one of their allies.

These are among the top issues facing the City Council in 2017, according to elected officials interviewed by The Coast News.

Here are several of the other hot issues the Council faces next year:

The Cardiff Rail Trail and rail corridor questions

With Caltrans kicking off a suite of projects along the rail and Interstate 5 corridor, the city will already be faced with some of the short-term strains of those activities, including traffic and noise complaints.

But also looming are several key issues: can the city pursue a quiet zone for its section of the rail corridor, what are the results of the study on wayside train horn noise at the proposed Montgomery Avenue rail crossing and will the California Coastal Commission accept or reject the city’s preferred alignment of the Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail along Coast Highway 101?

The city will receive the answers to these questions this year, and could receive the answer about the trail alignment from the Coastal Commission as early as April.

The Coastal Commission staff signaled last year that it would not support a 101-aligned rail trail, but Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she is confident that the commission itself would OK the project.

“I am not even thinking about that,” Blakespear said about the possibility of the commission rejecting the alignment. “We are proceeding forward, and SANDAG is proceeding forward, with the preferred alignment, and I’m confident that the Coastal Commission will override staff if it came to that.”

Pacific View and a new theater vision

With the Encinitas Arts Culture and Ecology Alliance armed with several agreements from the city, the group charged with refining and enacting the vision for the Pacific View Elementary School site took a big step forward during the last month of 2016 when it hosted its first private fundraiser.

Moving into 2017, the group will start the lengthy process of getting entitlements to the land — which includes approval from the Coastal Commission — and approvals for the arts center that it will eventually propose.

Meanwhile, in Encinitas Ranch, the city will be working with a Solana Beach theater company to construct a new theater on a pad in the Encinitas Ranch Town Center long earmarked for such a building.

The North Coast Repertory Theatre entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement last fall to build a theater on the 3/4-acre pad in the Town Center. A similar arrangement between the city and Intrepid Shakespeare Company failed to materialize, so it will be interesting to see how this arrangement unfolds.

Leucadia Streetscape, homelessness, pensions, open space and the budget

A new year means a fresh look at the city’s operating and capital improvement budget, and a new council means potentially a new set of priorities moving forward.

The previous City Council had set a list of budget priorities through a series of strategic planning sessions. The City Council, of course, is not bound to those priorities, but chances are that many of them will remain in place.

“Making those types of decisions are really big policy decisions that our council must tackle,” Blakespear said.

Among the questions that the council will answer during that budget process will be: should the city increase its allocation to paying off its pension obligations, should the council earmark funds toward the acquisition of open space — a proposal that Mark Muir made last year that was delayed until the budget cycle — how much more money should the city put into so-called “mobility” projects, such as previously planned roundabouts and the long-awaited North Coast Highway 101 Streetscape, which is only 50 percent funded?