Demonstration, Brown Act discussion highlight Council meeting

It was such an eventful evening at City Hall on Oct. 26 that a No on Measure T demonstration, complete with balloons as props, outside before the City Council meeting was one of the least contentious parts of the night.

The public speakers that opened the City Council meeting spent more than 15 minutes attacking the measure, also known as a Housing Element Update or At Home in Encinitas, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot — then the tone got a little more tense when a group of speakers numbering nearly double digits spoke out against immigration and Encinitas officially joining the nationwide Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, which happened back in June.

But all of that was the undercard to the main event, a heated discussion about a letter from David Hutchinson, a former city Traffic Commissioner who lives in Cardiff, accusing two Council members (Catherine Blakespear and Lisa Shaffer) of repeated violations of California’s Ralph M. Brown Act, designed to guarantee government transparency.

The letter detailed four instances that Hutchinson took issue with and, according to Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who put the item on the agenda, the city attorney was “conflicted out” from rendering a decision as he represents the Council as a whole not individual Council members.

During public comment, several residents — including former Encinitas Mayors Teresa Barth and Sheila Cameron, and Kathleen Lees, who is on the board of the Leucadia-Encinitas Town Council and was named in the third instance referenced in the letter — spoke harshly about the item even being on the agenda. Lees said her contact with Blakespear regarding the recommended list for the Coastal Mobility and Livability Study, formed in July, was far from a Brown Act violation, but, in fact, an example of government transparency, which is the spirit of the Brown Act.

Since the first two instances mentioned came more than 90 days ago, and therefore no longer subject to Brown Act scrutiny as the Council and public was reminded by public speaker Marco Gonzalez, a local attorney, the focus turned to the most recent accusation. This incident highlighted words spoken between Shaffer and Blakespear regarding the Pacific View lease, which came moments after a subcommittee meeting between fellow Council member Tony Kranz and Shaffer about the issue. Mayor Gaspar heard this conversation outside her office and said it met the criteria for a “serial meeting” violation of the Brown Act.

Under the provisions of the Brown Act, City Council members are prohibited from having what are described as “serial meetings,” or conversation so that views of more than two members of the Council are discussed in succession outside of public view.

Shaffer said there was no discussion of details of a draft lease for the Pacific View and “to the best of my recollection, I came out of the meeting, I passed by Council member Blakespear’s office, she said something like ‘how’s it going.’ I said something like ‘I’m working on the Pacific View lease’ and she said something like ‘we have to get that moving’ and that was it.

“At the time we didn’t have a draft lease … to date no action has been taken to either approve or reject any specific plan, so for there to be a real Brown Act violation, we would have had to have had a substantive discussion about the issue — which we didn’t — and the Council would have had to take action in some way that was influenced by the discussion — which we haven’t.

“It’s a silly charge and pure political theater.”

Kristin Gaspar’s husband Paul is running to replace her as Mayor, and Blakespear is his opponent. Several speakers mentioned that as the real reason the Mayor brought the issue before Council.

“It is unfortunate that it took place, it was a violation of the Brown Act,” Kristin Gaspar said. “This was a five-minute conversation that took place out of the office, no matter how you want to spin it.”

Blakespear did not speak during the Council discussion — they eventually voted 5-0 to put the issue to rest — but she told the San Diego Union Tribune on Oct. 25 that “the Brown Act is not meant to prevent normal human interactions.”

She added that the Oct. 26 agenda item is “the Mayor’s politically-motivated attempt to discredit me” to help get her husband elected.

A few hours earlier, the Committee Opposed to Encinitas Measure T had a demonstration outside of city hall and co-chair Bruce Ehlers spoke and took questions from a group of around 40 residents.

The committee had balloons set up at different heights — green for the height buildings are allowed to be under the current Encinitas zoning codes and red for the height they say will be allowed if Measure T passes. Similar demonstrations, complete with the balloons, are scheduled throughout the weekend at the sites around the city that will be affected by the Measure T vote.

“Many people have difficulty visualizing the future impact of new buildings based on paper plans. Our balloons demonstrate the excessive height proposed in Measure T’s zoning changes,” Ehlers told the Encinitas Advocate. “Whether you are next to them staring up or attempting to look over them from a distant location, these balloons provide real world images of Measure T’s negative impact on our city.”

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