Encinitas traffic commissioners discuss perceived conflict of interest

A member of the Encinitas Traffic and Public Safety Commission says that a fellow commissioner asked him to step down because of his bike and pedestrian advocacy, sparking a commission discussion over how much room should be made for biking and walking on city streets.

At the Sept. 14 commission meeting, Vice Chair Brian Grover said at least one commissioner and some members of the public perceive a conflict because he’s on the commission and also the chair of Bike Walk Encinitas, a group that pushes for bike and walking infrastructure for all ages and abilities.

During an agenda item he initiated on the topic, Grover said it’s well within commissioners’ rights to express an opinion outside the commission, as long as they don’t violate the Ralph M. Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to take part in public officials’ meetings.

“I’m stating my role as a pedestrian and bicycle advocate, and if folks don’t agree with that, I think that makes for good decision-making. I think that’s why I’m sitting here as traffic and public safety commissioner. That’s part of the process. But I don’t want to be criticized for that.”

Commissioner Dave Hutchinson took issue with Grover promoting “complete streets” — roads that accommodate car lanes, as well as bike lanes and sidewalks.

“Your agenda, so it’s been revealed in the last couple of weeks, is anti-traffic,” Hutchinson said. “It’s complete streets, which cuts down the flow of traffic.”

Hutchinson also said that the commission’s mission is to ensure the steady flow of car traffic, not bike access.

“When I joined, this was the traffic commission ... biking wasn’t even in the vocabulary,” Hutchinson said. He added that the commission now has “this emphasis on biking, which is opposed to what we’re supposed to be doing in trying to get traffic to flow through this community. I have a real problem with that.”

In response, Grover quoted the city’s website, which states that the seven-member commission makes recommendations to the Encinitas City Council on “matters related to the circulation of motorized vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles and on matters related to public safety.”

He also said that the Encinitas council’s strategic planning goals include implementing complete streets in the interest of safe road access.

“I don’t have a problem with that difference of opinion,” Grover said about complete streets. “I have a problem when I’m personally attacked and character-assassinated for it.”

The day after the meeting, Grover said Hutchinson had recently asked him via email to resign from the commission because of “hearsay” in a letter from Mike Andreen, owner of the business group New Encinitas Network.

In an Aug. 26 letter obtained by the Encinitas Advocate, Andreen criticized Grover for emailing Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer about the proposed route of the Cardiff rail trail — a path aimed at getting more people biking and walking.

Andreen alleged a conspiracy among Grover, Shaffer and councilmembers Tony Kranz and Catherine Blakespear to advance complete streets, which Andreen believes would increase car gridlock.

In April, Andreen told the Encinitas Advocate he was exploring New Encinitas seceding and becoming its own city, in part because of the three councilmembers’ support of biking and walking projects, saying those come at the expense of road infrastructure in New Encinitas.

Grover said more cities are embracing complete streets, and that he hopes that Encinitas joins them, rather than continuing down an auto-centric path.

When asked after the meeting whether he requested that Grover step down, Hutchinson declined to comment, saying, “I’m not going to discuss anything I exchanged with him privately.”

Hutchinson also said he’s not questioning Grover’s character or integrity, only his stance on complete streets. He added the matter didn’t necessarily need to be aired out in public and put on the agenda.

Commission Chair Maryam Babaki said it was placed on the agenda so that the entire commission could discuss whether commissioners should share their opinions with council and city staff, and if so, how those should be communicated.

Commissioner Peter Kohl said he had no problem with Grover’s advocacy, but recommended that Grover not list his position as traffic commission vice chair when emailing councilmembers, because that could suggest he’s speaking for the entire commission.

Grover said the council is familiar with what the commission is up to, so they probably realize his emails don’t represent the commission. Nonetheless, he agreed to refrain from inserting his role as vice chair in his emails.

But he maintained he shouldn’t be criticized for sharing opinions outside the commission.

“What I want to make clear is that myself and all commissioners, in fact, are entitled to their opinions and they’re entitled to share those opinions, not just with city staff, not just with city council, with anyone,” Grover said.

The commission took no action on the agenda item.

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