Encinitas mayoral, District 4 candidates tackle issues at forum

Two current Encinitas City Council members and those vying to take over their seats fielded questions related to Olivenhain, New Encinitas and the city as a whole on Oct. 3.

The forum at the Olivenhain Meeting Hall allowed a packed room of residents to ask questions to two mayoral candidates and two people running for the District 4 seat, which represents Olivenhain and New Encinitas and is one of two newly formed districts that are up for election in November.

The two current council members, Mayor Catherine Blakepear and Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca, appeared to agree on most ideas when it came to subjects such as housing and short-term rentals. Those aspiring to take the seats, mayoral candidate John Paul Elliott and District 4 candidate Tony Brandenburg, thought it was time for a change and new strategies.

When asked their position on Measure U — the city's latest attempt toward a housing element — Blakespear and Mosca urged voters to approve the plan in November to help the city become compliant with state laws and avoid the state enforcing an unapproved plan on the city. Encinitas has not updated its housing element — a document that spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate future housing, particularly for those of low and very-low incomes —since the 1990s.

The current council members, who are both attorneys, noted three pending and current lawsuits regarding the city's lack of a housing element. Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier granted Encinitas an extension until after the November election to rule on whether the city has failed to comply with state law and whether it should be forced to adopt a previously written plan.

Encinitas must zone for 1,141 more homes, a 6.4 percent increase from the city existing 25,000 homes. Measure U zones 15 sites across the city for possible future housing.

Both Blakespear and Mosca considered the plan better than its predecessor, Measure T, which failed in the 2016 election.

"[Measure U is] not perfect, but it's a compromise," said Mosca, a former Parks and Recreation commissioner who was appointed to the city council in January 2017. "It barely meets state law. ... I think we've done a decent job at meeting that law."

However, Elliott and Brandenburg both opposed the plan and agreed it favored developers over residents.

Elliott, who moved back to Encinitas earlier this year after formerly living in the city in the 1980s, believed Measure U would "squeeze" in more properties throughout the city without building affordable housing. He instead proposed a method in which Encinitas would own all of the land in the city and lease it out to residents as a way to guarantee affordable housing for generations to come. In this scenario, the city would avoid developers entirely and have total control over its housing, the real estate broker said.

"We want to be the developers," the Leucadia resident said. "We want to be the landlords."

Brandenburg, a former planning commissioner and judge, advocated against Measure T and believed Measure U was even worse.

The 50-year Encinitas resident considered the court's threats as merely a "scare tactic" to push Encinitas to pass a plan. He said a California judge has never ruled against a city's decision.

The current council members and their competitors also appeared to disagree on how Encinitas should handle the cultivation, production and sale of marijuana.

Blakespear and Mosca noted the issue will be on the 2020 ballot and California is also set to decide if deliveries should be legal statewide.

But Elliott and Brandenburg believed the city could earn tax revenue off the sales of cannabis. Brandenburg, however, additionally opposed cultivation and manufacturing.

Addressing concerns of an increased threat to public safety as a result of marijuana in the city, Brandenburg noted “the only thing [he’s] seen a marijuana user do violently is attack a refrigerator.”

In regard to the Leucadia Streetscape, Blakespear appeared to be the project’s lone supporter and noted that area has not seen improvements in 70 years. The $35-million project would add wider sidewalks, parking in the rail corridor, crosswalks and a dedicated bike lane, as well as beautification methods such as the planting of trees.

"We need to reconsider how we use that public space," said Blakespear, who was first elected as mayor in November 2016 and formerly served on the city’s Traffic and Public Safety Commission.

However, Elliott, Mosca and Brandenburg appeared concerned with the project’s price tag and said that money could be used elsewhere, such as mitigating traffic or investing in senior housing.

Mosca said he wanted to see improvements to Leucadia and noted the plan had been in the works with goals of functionality, safety, flow and aesthetics for more than a decade. However, he also said he could not immediately support a plan without knowing how the money would be raised, how the city would pay for it and how the council could guarantee it wouldn’t displace all other critically-important plans.

All Encinitas residents will be asked to vote for the mayor's seat in November. Those living in District 3 — which encompasses Cardiff — and District 4 will also be asked to vote for their respective area representatives.

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