Encinitas Mayoral, Council candidates speak at forum

It came as no great shock that Measure T — the Housing Element Update that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot — took up a big chunk of time at the Sept. 12 Encinitas Mayor and City Council candidates forum, which was presented by the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Town Council and run by the League of Women Voters at the Ada Harris Elementary School auditorium.

What may have been a bit more surprising to some voters, including the more than 150 that were in attendance, was to hear six of the seven candidates say they support the measure, though most of them mentioned that while necessary, it is far from perfect.

The lone candidate saying he would vote against Measure T was Tony Brandenburg, a mostly retired judge and a member of an Encinitas Planning Commission that supported the Housing Element Update unanimously.

“I want affordable housing, I have children and grandchildren who I want to live here,” said Brandenburg. “But with this piece of legislation, there is absolutely no guarantee that one affordable house will ever be built.

“I helped put it on the ballot (as a member of the Planning Commission) because of the threats of lawsuits, etc. But … I’m a retired judge, I’ve talked to several attorneys and if this doesn’t pass, I doubt there’s going to be a lawsuit (brought by the state). And No. 2, I doubt any judge would touch this.”

Encinitas has been the target of lawsuits from developers who say the city is not in compliance with state law. In addition to total support from the Encinitas Planning Commission — which includes Council candidate Tasha Boerner Horvath as well as Brandenburg — the Housing Element Update received unanimous support from a City Council that features Catherine Blakespear, Mark Muir and Tony Kranz.

This November, Blakespear is running against Paul Gaspar for Mayor, while Kranz and Muir are running for re-election against Boerner Horvath, Brandenburg and Phil Graham in a race that sees three City Council seats up for grabs.

The two candidates for Mayor also weighed in on Measure T, both saying they would vote for it but with Gaspar showing some reluctance.

“I think the Planning Commission and the City Council have done the right thing putting this on the ballot, not just because it’s the law but also because of the lawsuits,” Gaspar said. “I’m definitely going to be voting yes on this (but) I can’t say, as one of the City Council members said, that I’m enthusiastic about it, because I’m not, but it needs to be done.”

Blakespear, meanwhile, highlighted the importance of the Housing Element Update.

“I do support Measure T because we are out of compliance with state law and we have been for many years,” said Blakespear, who works as an attorney. “We are the only city in the county in that position and there is no way we are going to avoid this.

“We have gone through different plans, we have spent millions of dollars on plans, this is the people’s plan. It’s based on 140 meetings, it affects 1 percent of the total land and … we incorporated in 1986 so we could have authority over our land use.”

Blakespear recently traveled to the state capital, to “advocate against housing laws that don’t serve us in Encinitas.”

“The reality is, the (density bonus law) is getting worse,” she continued. “The message that I tried to convey (to the legislators in Sacramento) is please don’t make every city be urban. We are a low-rise, low-density community … and we as a city should be able to maintain our character.”

Gaspar, who is the husband of current Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar and owns a successful physical therapy practice which now has seven locations, said he’s also done work in Sacramento, fighting on behalf of physical therapy businesses against insurance companies and special interests.

“I’ve probably been up to Sacramento more than the other candidates combined, and I won big battles against very long odds, but I’m telling all of you, this is a bigger one than I’ve ever dealt with,” Gaspar said.

He also added that “I want to congratulate Catherine for going up to Sacramento, but there’s a large part of going up to Sacramento and doing things that is timing and strategy. We really needed to be careful what we were doing with those density bonus lawsuits. When we are out of compliance, we don’t look good when we go up to Sacramento and fight the big bullies up there, we look like we’re lawbreakers, basically, and sometimes you can actually lose votes that way.”

The forum also gave time for the candidates to talk on other issues — answering questions submitted by the audience and read by moderator Roni Seay, a League of Women Voters volunteer who lives in Solana Beach — such as Measure A (a sales tax increase to fund regional transportation), homelessness in Encinitas and Community Choice energy. But perhaps most important was the candidates getting a chance to introduce themselves to the public.

Phil Graham, the stepson of former Gov. Pete Wilson and a candidate for California Assembly earlier this year, said he left his job as a vice president at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (in La Jolla) to campaign and hopefully serve Encinitas full time. He mentioned one very important issue to him was protecting the small businesses that make Encinitas special.

“When I talk to every single one … I tell them that I’m here to make sure that you, as a mom and pop shop who has taken big risks to start this business, are protected and allowed to grow,” Graham said.

After touting her track record as a community leader, Planning Commissioner and businesswomen, Boerner Horvath told the crowd that she is the right choice to lead Encinitas.

“What Encinitas needs and deserves are leaders that can strike the right balance and really find creative solutions to get things done,” Boerner Horvath said.

Muir, a former fire chief who has served on the City Council for five years, said he thinks all of the candidates are strong, it just depends on what residents are looking for.

“People have track records,” he said. “I encourage everyone to leave tonight and not just take what we said, but take how we voted. Spend a little time, look at our record, find out what aligns with you and vote for that person.”

Muir’s colleague on the City Council for the past four years, Kranz has a successful printing business and has lived in Encinitas for more than 55 years. One issue he is passionate about is revisiting the city’s Circulation Element to deal with the traffic problems.

“I hope to accomplish many more things (on the Council),” Kranz said. “My experience and my desires to keep our community a great place to live will add to the conversation.”

The League of Women’s voters will moderate two more candidate forums, both sponsored by the Leucadia Encinitas Town Council. The Mayoral candidates will speak on Oct. 11 (7 p.m.) at the Encinitas Library and the Council candidates will be at the library on Oct. 18 (6:30 p.m.).

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