Sniping City Council makes several decisions

Though the night of Sept 28 started off with a touch of tension during a special session of the Encinitas City Council, the council switched gears by focusing on improving the beauty and safety of the city for most of the regular meeting that followed.

The special meeting was scheduled as a consideration of the price and terms for the city to lease the Pacific View property to the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance (EACEA) — a deal that has been in the works since the city bought the property from the Encinitas Union School District for $10 million in March 2014 — followed by an adjournment into closed session to provide direction to city staff on negotiations.

However, Mayor Kristin Gaspar made the motion to discuss the proposed direction in open session to provide more transparency after it was her interpretation that three other members of the City Council had violated the Brown Act by discussing the item earlier in the day.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer and council member Catherine Blakespear disagreed with Gaspar’s assessment, which council member Mark Muir also made reference to wondering if the proposal had “already been voted on.”

Shaffer and Blakespear said there was certainly not a private vote.

The accusation came out of a conversation Gaspar said she heard between Shaffer and Blakespear in front of Gaspar’s office. Shaffer, according to Gaspar, had just left a subcommittee meeting with council member Tony Kranz, and Blakespear asked how it went. Gasper said she then heard Blakespear say, “We’ve really got to get the lease signed,” and explained that the single statement made it a three-way meeting that violated the Brown Act.

Blakespear called the accusation “completely absurd” as she would have no way of knowing the terms of the actual lease as it had literally just been worked out that afternoon, and her statement was merely a “in passing comment” that she would like to get moving on the item, which has been debated for nine months.

The lease being proposed is for 10 years at $1 per year because the city has already approved the organization’s Right of Entry, believing it to be an asset to the city culture.

Direction was eventually given for city staff to bring back a fully developed lease agreement and the item will be on a future City Council agenda.

Following the heated discussion, the special meeting was adjourned and the regular meeting featured a crowd-pleasing decision regarding downtown ficus trees, and approval of a mosaic to be donated by Surfing Madonna Oceans Project and placed at the new Moonlight State Beach Marine Safety Center, which also had its construction contract directed to be executed later at the meeting.

After four ficus trees were ordered to be cut down by the city last month, public outcry led the council to press pause on Sept. 14. Information raised by a passionate group of citizens — many of whom were in the audience Sept. 28 — along with research by city staff led to an agenda item recommending the council to direct staff to provide increased levels of maintenance for all of the 55 ficus trees in downtown Encinitas and adopt a resolution to add $54,000 to the 2016-17 budget for this cause.

The motion passed unanimously.

Later, the proposed Surfing Madonna mosaic donation was passed with enthusiastic City Council agreement.

“The generosity of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project is apparent … and it is special to have the opportunity to display this art at Moonlight Beach,” said Kranz, a lifelong friend of the main artist on the project, Scott Walt.

For the mosaic to be displayed on a wall at the Moonlight Beach Marine Safety Center, the center must first be built and a later agenda item had the council voting unanimously to authorize the city’s Director of Public Works to execute a contract with EC Constructors Inc. to build it at a cost of $2.9 million, with leeway up to $3.1 million.

The Marine Safety Center is expected to be finished by next summer.

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