Hubbard, Muir field questions in candidates forum

Encinitas residents in District 3 will have two candidates to choose from in November. One has served on the city council for three terms, while the other is a current planning commissioner who aims to bring a new vision to the city.

Incumbent Mark Muir and his challenger Jody Hubbard fielded questions regarding some of the city's most pressing subjects, including future housing and traffic, at a debate Sept. 25 at Ada Harris Elementary School. The pair is vying for one, four-year term in the newly created District 3, which represents Cardiff and is one of two districts up for grabs this year.

The City of Encinitas adopted district-based elections last October, following threats from a Malibu-based lawyer who claimed racial discrimination in the city's former at-large election policy. The mayor's seat remains based on an at-large election.

Both Muir and Hubbard vowed to take the entire city into consideration for decisions but believed there were pros and cons to districting.

Hubbard, a retired certified public accountant and current business owner, said districts make it easier for residents to know who they should reach out to at the council, but they can also have the potential to pit areas against each other. Muir noted he initially did not vote in favor of districts but hoped they would make residents more engaged in the community. He said a downside is being able to find a balance and compromise in the city's overall budget.

When asked about future residential zoning, arguably Encinitas' hottest issue in the last several years, both candidates said they support Measure U, the city's latest attempt toward a state-mandated housing element. Encinitas has not updated its housing element — a document that spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate future housing, particularly for those of low and very-low incomes — since the 1990s.

The city is the subject of three lawsuits and pending litigation regarding the lack of a housing plan. Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier granted Encinitas an extension until after the November election to rule on whether the city has failed to comply with state law and whether it should be forced to adopt a previously written plan.

"It's essential that we get out of the penalty box," Hubbard said at the debate. "If we do pass Measure U, it will give us time to get ahead of the state and we can build affordable units where they belong... and where they fit best in our community."

Muir, a former fire chief, considered the housing plan as one of the most difficult council tasks. As an advocate for open space, he said he started off not in support of the plan but found it was the option with the least amount of housing and the "best chance of success."

Muir added it is important the city work "creatively" to zone for future housing and push back against the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

"We have to get creative in ways that we find the housing, whether we look at granny flats or legislative fixes to include trailer parks," he said. "We have to focus on our city character and understand we have rules and regulations to abide by."

The candidates agreed that traffic was the worst problem facing Encinitas today, responding to an audience comment that Encinitas Boulevard is often gridlocked with cars.

Hubbard said the city must become friendlier for bikers and pedestrians, but traffic problems will always likely be there as long as people are commuting to the city to work. Muir said traffic must be tackled in the city's circulation element in the general plan.

Regarding the proposed Leucadia Streetscape — a $30-million project aimed to enhance the North Coast Highway 101 corridor — the candidates disagreed on how that matter should be handled. Muir said he could not support such a costly project that would decrease lanes and add roundabouts. But Hubbard said improvements are needed in Leucadia for safety and beautification purposes. She noted the area is the last Encinitas community to be improved.

"The vision is a really great one, and once it's in, people will wonder why they were ever afraid of it," she said.

When asked to name their strengths and weaknesses, Muir considered his time on the council as his biggest asset because of his level of experience and ability to think critically, but noted he can be impatient with the pace at which governmental decisions can be made. Hubbard described herself as a leader and overachiever. She contended Muir "hasn't been taking that role seriously as much over the last several years."

"Mark has given us the best he has to give, and it's time for a change," she said in her closing statement, adding that Muir has often refused ideas. "Just saying no without any alternative does not make our city better."

In an August interview with this newspaper, Muir said he originally questioned whether he would run for re-election until he saw Hubbard was vying for the seat and couldn't agree with her vision.

"I saw the person who is going to run, and they have a different vision than I have," he said in the interview. "I didn't want to let that go, whether it's the rail trail on the east side and the open space there and the change in the environment or high-density development in some of the communities. ... I want somebody that represents what I think is the majority of the people in the community, and I didn't see that in Jody."

A forum for the District 4 seat, with currently-appointed Council member Joe Mosca and challenger Tony Brandenburg, is set to take place Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Olivenhain Meeting Hall.

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