It was ironic that candidates Catherine Blakespear and Paul Gaspar were sitting in one place for the entire Oct. 11 Mayoral forum at the Encinitas Library, because the topic of the night was mobility.
A couple of the questions submitted by the full house of an audience asked about bikes, traffic and public transportation, and the candidates also circled back to the issue on several other occasions.
The event was hosted by the Leucadia-Encinitas Town Council and the questions were asked by an impartial moderator from the League of Women Voters.
Blakespear, a current city council member, listed mobility — specifically programs that make biking and walking in Encinitas easier and safer as well as encouraging residents to use those forms of transportation — as second only to planning along the rail trail when asked to list the priorities she would focus on if elected.
“We could definitely do more around public transportation, but I think the more important focus is the biking and walking because that is something that is possible (to improve) with less money,” Blakespear said.
Gaspar, who runs a physical therapy practice in town and is married to current Mayor Kristin Gaspar, also said he likes the idea of more residents biking and walking to get around.
However, when asked about bike safety, Gaspar did say that “I don’t necessarily think it’s the city council’s job to be encouraging or telling residents how they should be getting around. I do think that we can provide better options, we can provide better safety and, frankly, I’ve seen that we’ve made a lot of progress lately, particularly around the schools.”
And while the back-and-forth between candidates was mostly cordial and sometimes even jovial — as opposed to a recent radio interview on KPBS — both did take time to point out ways they differed, as Blakespear did in response to Gaspar’s answer about bike safety.
“This might be an area where we differ the most,” she said. “I really feel that we need to take a leadership role in making it easier to bike and walk. Biking is not something people will do if we don’t create the infrastructure for it.
“It takes leadership on the council and it takes mobilizing the professional staff to create that, and we also need to put money into it. It’s something that is critically important to our future in Encinitas.”
In those answers, the candidates were speaking about general biking and walking around the entire city. There was a little more heat when the talk turned specifically to the rail corridor.
After Blakespear listed planning in that area as one of her top priorities, Gaspar said:
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done but I don’t necessarily want to just line up a list of projects, I want to do the right projects and I want to do them very well. I think we need to be careful with the progression of the rail corridor, we need to take our time with it and make sure that the improvements are something that people actually want.
“I also want to actually improve the culture at city hall, I’d like city hall to be seen as excellent. I look at my own company and I see that the people are happy there … I’m hoping the citizens can begin to trust city hall more.”
The next question touched on the rail trail again with Blakespear explaining why she changed her vote on the alignment of the Cardiff segment of the rail trail.
“The reason that I changed my vote on the rail corridor is because we did not have any control over that project,” she said. “It was SANDAG’s project, a regional board outside of the city, and it was a concrete monolith that was being taken off the shelf of SANDAG and shoved into the Cardiff corridor.
“I changed my vote on that so that we could have it on Highway 101, which is already concrete and I said I want to improve our corridor but I want to do it in a way that fits in with Encinitas and is charming, a little ribbon of a trail.
“There will be compromises that have to be made. We don’t make all of the decisions on the rail corridor, it is owned by the railroad companies so we have to be aware of these other agencies we are working with.”
When given a chance to respond, Gaspar had a different take.
“Catherine’s right about who controls the corridor, but the fact is that it was always that way,” he said. “At the risk of sounding disagreeable, I do have to say that nothing really changed over time with the project, except her position, and it cost us $800,000.”
Blakespear later reminded the audience that it was a 4-1 vote when the council changed its mind on the alignment, and claimed that it didn’t actually cost the city any money.
Other topics of discussion included open space, Measure T, affordable housing, city pension benefits, climate change, the drought, sand replenishment, building codes and crime, and one of the candidates’ final question was “what are the differences between you?”
Gaspar said there was a difference in experience and style — “I try to lead things at my company by consensus and that’s the way I would do things at the city.”
He added that there was a difference in how they would handle fiscal responsibility issues.
Blakespear, meanwhile, cited a more general area:
“I have had a hard time really getting any handle on what Paul’s actual platform is, or his vision for the city. I feel that I have been clear in my vision and my commitment to the residents. … I feel a passion for this city. I think there is a big difference in the passion that comes through in the two of us.”