Mayor Blakespear wants to tackle housing, homeless issues

Mayor Catherine Blakespear wants to keep the beach suburban charm of Encinitas while complying with state law and also tackle the city’s homeless issue but knows the tasks won’t be easy.

With the failure of Measure T, the city’s proposed housing element, Blakespear and the four other councilmembers — with one vacant seat being chosen within the next two weeks — will have to come up with a plan that satisfies residents and complies with state law.

The measure, which went up for a vote in the November election, ultimately failed because people did not want to see high-density development in the city, Blakespear said.

The lawyer, whose family has lived in the city for nearly a century, understands residents’ desires to maintain the city’s charm, but acknowledged that the city needs to comply with state law in order to avoid more lawsuits.

“I’m very closely connected to what creates quality of life,” she said. “It is the fact that we are still a laid-back beach community with a soul, and perpetually adding more and more density does wear away at that, and it could eventually lead to a completely different character of the city. I don’t want that to happen. I want us to maintain the character we have while complying with the state law. That’s threading the needle of what kind of housing plan we can have that more residents would support and would maintain our community’s character.”

Blakespear said the city will zone for at least 1,100 units to comply with state law so the city does not “waste taxpayer money” on lawsuits.

A meeting will be held Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Encinitas Community Center with city council members and residents to discuss where the city should go with a housing plan.

“It’s important that we not kid ourselves into thinking we’re going to avoid upzoning in Encinitas,” Blakespear said. “As an elected leader who’s responsible for the taxpayers’ money — which we’re wasting on these lawsuits — it’s just not responsible. I feel an obligation to uphold state law. I don’t think you can just thumb your nose at it.”

Blakespear also said the issue of homelessness needs to be further addressed. Last year, she said, the city counted 93 homeless individuals in the city. Another count is being planned for Jan. 27.

She said she’s interested in the city having a closer relationship with the Community Resource Center to find solutions to the “growing” homeless population.

“The city has a role in tackling that problem and helping people not live unsheltered on the street,” she said. “I do expect that in my term — which is only two years — that we’ll spend more time on that than we have in the past.”

Blakespear added the city will take more time planning the rail corridor and improving the overall quality of city streets.

She said many streets are unimproved from when the city incorporated in 1986.

“I want us to do more to look at our streets holistically in terms of roots,” she said. “I think we haven’t been as forward-thinking about our streets as we could be.”

The challenges, she said, come down to money. The city has a $100 million budget.

“There are lots of things that we want to do, and there’s limited money,” she said. “The challenge of being in this job, in general, is trying to be really true to wanting to do what’s best for the community that I internally feel like is best, and also recognizing the very important role of me being a delegate, who has been elected by people, and representing what people want.”

She said she wants to have time in council meetings to discuss policy questions.

“Sometimes things that were most urgent would get in the way with things that were most important,” she said.

One of Blakespear’s first tasks as mayor is choosing someone to fill a vacant council seat with Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and Councilmembers Mark Muir and Tasha Boerner Horvath.

Candidates will interview at the council meeting on Jan. 11 to fill the seat, which replaces Blakespear’s after she was elected as mayor. The councilmember could be chosen that night or the following week, Blakespear said. 

Ideally she is looking for someone who can work well with the members of council and sees himself or herself as a team player to help make decisions.

Overall, Blakespear said, she is looking forward to getting things done as mayor.

“I didn’t run for office to do nothing,” she said. “I want to do things. I want us to make progress. I’m not planning to just warm the seat.”

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