Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2nd Annual Acoustic Kook Jam tomorrow

U-T:
Fiddlers, strummers and other acoustic string musicians are invited to gather at the Cardiff Kook statue Wednesday afternoon for the second annual New Year’s Day Splash Jam. As many as 100 musicians are expected to turn up at the loosely organized jam, which will begin at 2 p.m. with a group performance that will begin with three folk standards: “Bile ’em Cabbage Down,” “Cripple Creek” and “Old Joe Clark.” The first Splash Jam — held in Cardiff on Jan. 1, 2013 — was a fluke, but it was so popular with the musicians and public, it’s coming back this year, said Encinitas fiddler R. Avery Ellison.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Quail Gardens to strip members' voting rights

We haven't paid much attention to Quail Gardens since they moved to San Diego, but an e-mail correspondent alerts us to this:
On the Governance page of our website you will find a set of proposed actions to modify the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of the Quail Botanical Gardens Foundation, Inc., d.b.a. San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG). The amendments relate to deleting the requirement for SDBG to have statutory members, and they were approved by our Board of Trustees on November 25, 2013.

It has been pointed out by several different constituencies within the community that most nonprofit public benefit corporations do not have statutory members. Statutory members have the right to vote on certain issues, including the election of trustees. There is often a concern that special interest groups may organize to “take over” nonprofits by applying for membership and voting in new trustees who may then change the purpose and direction of the corporation. Some of the plans SDBG has been working on to acquire additional property are being jeopardized by the way we are presently structured with statutory members.
What that means is taking away the members' right to vote for trustees, and making the board a self-selecting cabal.

The Gardens appear to be in financial trouble, losing more than half a million dollars last year on revenue of $2.2 million. What's this land deal they think the members won't like?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch

In an apparent reference to the city workers who purged Sweet Baby Jesus with great haste on Christmas Eve, the kook bears a grinch mask today.

Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch,Who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Friday, December 20, 2013

McDonald's reopens despite Prop A

Remember when the developer cronies told us that Prop A would mean that rebuilding the burnt McDonald's would require a special election?
Example: if the ‘Encinitas Right To Vote’ were currently the law and the owners of the McDonalds that burned down in the Sprout’s Center wanted to rebuild it exactly as it was in the 70’s, they would have to underwrite a Special Election of the half million dollars before they have spent one nickel on plans, materials labor etc…
Yeah, not so much.
After the fire in 2011, the McDonald's on Encinitas Blvd. was demolished and completely rebuilt with a new design. The new McDonald's is not connected to the any of the other businesses in the plaza and features a double drive thru but no play place. The inside is updated and more modern looking than the previous building.
Who can we trust these days?

A first step on density bonus

From Lisa Shaffer's latest newsletter:
At the final Council meeting of 2013 we showed that there is a different set of priorities and values on the Council and it makes a difference for the community. Specifically, I am pleased that we used our authority to increase the fees that a developer must pay in lieu of building affordable housing units. Our fee now more accurately reflects the cost of actually providing that housing somewhere else. In the past, staff used the price of condominium sales to calculate the "in lieu" fee. However, the City's inclusionary housing ordinance says a developer must build a 3-bedroom, 1500 square foot home or pay the in lieu fee. The City was using a composite of condo sales of all sizes, including studios and one-bedroom units. When they looked at more recent sales of units of equivalent size to the mandated homes, the fee went from about $178,000 to $319,000. If we used past sales of actual detached homes, which is what the fee is in lieu of, the calculation results in a fee of over $400,000. While I hope we will move to the higher calculation, or perhaps eliminate the in lieu option altogether, I thought it was unfair to make that change all in one leap, and proposed a middle ground. The Council supported my motion to set the fee at $319,000 by a vote of 4-1 with Councilmember Gaspar voting no.
So it sounds as if the "in lieu" fees are purely at the discretion of the council, and their existence as a cheap option for developers is a deliberate incentive that past councils have created to encourage maximum use of the density bonus. How many recent bad developments would have been different if developers had to give up valuable real estate to get the density bonus rather than paying a token fee? If this council wants to demonstrate a difference from the Stocks/Bond/Dalager council, this looks like an excellent opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Late night drunkfest discussion

Tonight's council meeting started with the Hall Park toxic runoff fine issue as a non-open, controlled-message, no public discussion, presentation-only agenda item.

After that was another presentation from the Encinitas Hospitality Association, trying to fend off a "deemed approved ordinance" that would give the city more power to regulate bars behaving badly.  The new EHA spokesman is a middle-aged frat boy attorney (literally -- keeping his Stanford fraternity out of trouble was the experience he cited for being able to handle the Encinitas late night drunk scene) who resembles Senator Lindsey Graham.  Several residents spoke about continuing problems with noise, trash, vomit, and naked drunk girls in alleys.  High-density development attorney Marco Gonzalez spoke on behalf of the EHA wearing his baseball cap backwards, perhaps emulating the trendsetting style of some of the EHA's finest customers.

Council Member Kranz, who had previously opposed, with Council Member Gaspar, an emergency bar moratorium supported by the other three council members, took a tougher stance tonight.  He asked pointed questions of the EHA about the noise, trash, and vomit.  He was twice slapped down by Mayor Barth because this was supposed to be a presentation rather than a decision item on the agenda, but he persisted.

There was no action item, but the tide seems to turning toward the "deemed approved ordinance."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Is it enough to be "nice?"

It is widely agreed both by residents speaking at City Council and by council members' own public comments that the council's foremost achievement for 2013 is being nice to each other.  The prior council had been known for petty personal squabbles, particularly among three of the five council members, so maintaining the same basic standard of civility we demand of schoolchildren was indeed a welcome change. Yet we can't help but feel that we deserve more from our elected leaders than not being at each others' throats.

Serendipitously, Maureen Dowd wrote an essay on niceness in the New York Times just days after the council's shared-mayor love-in meeting.  Dowd's argument that there's a duty to be honest rather than nice in book reviews would seem to apply even more strongly to matters of public policy.

The road maintenance backlog is still underfunded and getting worse.  The pension liabilities are still underfunded and growing.  The council continues to take on additional debt with no discussion of how to service it.  We haven't had any progress on the General Plan Update. The new council hasn't followed through on promises to enact a sunshine ordinance or to find ways to mitigate the density bonus.  Public trust in the council is still badly damaged by the council's unambiguously dishonest ballot arguments against Proposition A.  City contractors, under lax city oversight, continue to violate environmental regulations both with respect to protecting trees at construction projects and to preventing toxic waste runoff into the lagoon.

But the council members are nice to each other.

Somehow, we suspect the residents who voted for change in 2012 had more in mind than the council's interpersonal bickering.

Dowd:
All quarrels are not petty. Sometimes quarrels are about big things, and it’s an actual privilege to take a side in them.        





Thursday, December 12, 2013

Neighbors protest high-density development in Leucadia

Again, developers are using "density bonus" laws to force high-density developments on low-density residential neighborhoods.  Jared Whitlock of the Coast News has the story:
“As far as the density issue, and I know that’s why everybody’s here, I realize you guys want five (homes),” Haley said. “But in order for it to work with us, we’re going to go in and proceed with 10.”

He later said CityMark would work hard to make the development blend in with the rest of the community.

CityMark is in escrow with the property, but the purchase is contingent on the project getting approval from the city. Haley declined to state the sale price.

The city is currently reviewing CityMark’s project plans, according to Roy Sapau, senior planner with Encinitas. Staff members will then look at whether the development could have a significant impact on the environment.
Some of the current council members have made statements about challenging density bonus laws, but based on what they did to the Olivenhain community of Desert Rose, we wouldn't hold our breath.

You can see where the city and developers want to put high density next here. If you have lavender or purple near you, be afraid. That's what the city sees as "underutilized" (i.e. "not generating enough revenue to fund our pensions").

And even if you don't have lavender or purple near you, ponder how El Camino Real, Encinitas Boulevard, and I-5 are going to handle all those additional people coming and going.

Got gridlock?

What you get for $1.25 million

This house on Sylvia near Moonlight Beach was featured in the New York Times real estate section.



WHAT: A three-bedroom two-and-a-half-bath house near the beach

HOW MUCH: $1,249,000

SIZE: 1,552 square feet

PRICE PER SQUARE FOOT: $805

SETTING: Encinitas is a coastal city in San Diego County. This house — a bungalow with a red-tile roof — is on a narrow street dotted with palm trees two blocks from Moonlight Beach. Public coastline stretches out on either side. Downtown, a collection of small shops, cafes, restaurants and bars along a low-key stretch of Highway 101, is a block or two inland. San Diego is about a half-hour south.

INDOORS: The two-story house was built 1944, and remodeled within the past few years. Floors in most rooms are dark hardwood, and windows have plantation shutters. Through the front door is a living room, with an arched entryway leading into the dining room and kitchen, which has quartz countertops, a farm-style sink and stainless-steel appliances. French doors in the kitchen open to the backyard. Across the yard, there’s a detached artist’s studio with a full bathroom. One of the bedrooms is on the main level; the other two are upstairs.

OUTDOOR SPACE: Between the house and the studio, there’s a yard and an outdoor shower.

TAXES: $15,612 a year (estimated)
It sold 4 1/2 years ago for $880,000. Nice trade.

Happy 50th Birthday, Lisa

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Half a mayor

In last night's meeting, the Council decided to give Teresa Barth half of the next year as mayor, and Kristin Gaspar the other half.

Apparently, the Council's unanimously approved city attorney Glenn Sabine didn't bother familiarizing himself with the city code on the issue before the meeting.
2.20.020 Presiding Officer

A. On the second Tuesday of each December, the City Council shall choose one of its members as Mayor and one of its members as Deputy Mayor. (Ord. 2010-09)

B. The Mayor and the Deputy Mayor shall serve a term of one year, or until a successor for each position is chosen. Three affirmative votes shall be required to choose or change the Mayor or Deputy Mayor (Ord. 2010-09).
But who cares about law or good public policy? We have council members who get along with each other, and isn't that what really matters?

In other news, the council decided not to have an open council meeting about the city's pollution of Rossini Creek at the Hall Park project. Apparently, getting fined by a regulatory authority for repeated, reckless practices that pollute the lagoon is just like being involved in a lawsuit that requires confidential strategy discussion. So the public will receive only a carefully crafted "informational presentation" on December 18 rather than an open, honest discussion of what happened.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Encinitas fire chief quits after two months

Del Mar Times:
Encinitas Fire Chief Jon Canavan has resigned after two months on the job and will return to Poway as its fire marshal. Canavan said Thursday his change of heart was based on the large time and energy commitment needed to do the Encinitas job, coupled with unspecified personal issues.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bank-robbing returns to Encinitas

It's been almost three years since frustrated home-seller John Leendert Oskam was identified as the Drywaller Bandit. Yesterday, bank robbery returned to Encinitas. Someone robbed the El Camino Citibank:
A man wearing a white baseball cap robbed a Citibank in Encinitas on Tuesday, authorities said. The robbery was reported at 12:30 p.m. at the bank on North El Camino Real near Encinitas Boulevard. The thief approached a teller and lifted his shirt, showing a handgun tucked in his waistband, FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth said.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Mistakes were made"

In the U-T, Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz share their thoughts on their first year in a roundup of freshman council members around the county.
 Asked to expand on the highlights and disappointments, Shaffer emailed the best part has been “a new kind of leadership on the City Council.”

“I think we have created a new expectation of civility and respect,” she said, “and it has enabled us to work together across differences.”

As for disappointments, she said she was “sad at the divisive tone and misleading messaging” at the Proposition A special election last June. 
We share Shaffer's sadness at the divisive tone and we wish we could remember who was responsible for the misleading messaging. Kranz emphasized the positive impact of strategic planning:
Her colleague Kranz said: “Looking back on my first year on the City Council makes me feel very grateful for the opportunity to serve my community. I’d say that the council’s biggest decision this year, one that will position us for future success, was to engage in a strategic planning process in order to establish next year’s budget priorities for both operations and capital improvement projects. “One of the frustrating parts of governing is how long it takes to get things done. But I’m looking forward to this next year, when we’ll be implementing some new ways for the public to contribute to the conversation.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

City and contractor face fines of $430,000 for dumping sediment into Rossini Creek at the Hall Park

Read all about it here.  Full complaint with photos here.

When a culture of cronyism and incompetence is tolerated at city hall, stuff like this is bound to happen.

Related post from June: Who killed Rossini Creek?


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Strawberry Fields paved over?

Encinitas Guerrilla raises the specter of the Manchester strawberry fields being paved over for a Park & Ride (hat tip: Dr. Lorri).

Funny, we had heard the city's Smart Growth politicians and developers were eyeing that land for high-density housing.  Rumor is that the council is working on one or more mass-upzoning ballot initiatives, to include the strawberry fields.

Which will it be?  A Park & Ride or high-density housing?  Maybe a little of both?

How are we supposed to "Buy Local" food when all the local agriculture land is being turned into parking lots, apartment buildings, and offices?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Meet your new Encinitas Communications Director

... Marlena Medford, former editor of Encinitas Patch.

She did a solid job at Patch, with good local news coverage.  Since she left Patch (about a year ago?), it's gone to more generic, non-local fluff.

Congratulations to Marlena on the great new gig!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A modest proposal


From the Inbox:



Dear New Encinitas folks,
Below FYI is an idea I have submitted to the whole Encinitas City Council and the Encinitas Traffic Commission.  I want to send it along to you as a representative of many New Encinitas residents for your review.  Perhaps a plan like this one could be developed to present to the city to try to reduce the El Camino Real traffic gridlock and make a more community friendly space in the process.
Thanks,
Ed Wade

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Caretaker council

Often when reading on national political issues, we're struck by parallels to local politics. Most recently:
Caretakers maintain the status quo, a task that boils down to throwing a fiscal bone to every politically powerful constituency and doing so in a manner that does not create career-threatening blowback.

[...]

Caretaker politicians take credit for things that would have happened even if they'd lost the election and some other caretaker politician had held the office: the new school would have built anyway, the strike settled one way or another, and the nation would have exited from the unpopular discretionary war.

The signature accomplishments of caretaker politicians always leave the status quo power structure and constituencies firmly in place [...]
Caretaker politicians are fine if the voters are happy with the status quo and there are no long-term problems being ignored. But neither of those are true in Encinitas, are they?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Smart Growth FAIL

Remember the "Smart Growth" dream of Pacific Station, that all these people would live close to public transportation and not use cars and not create Global Warming?

How's that working out?

Here's the entire frontage of Pacific Station at 7pm on a recent weeknight. Lots of dark windows. Where are all those working families cooking dinner after hopping off the Coaster?









In fact, only one unit across the entire frontage showed any sign of life at all, the faint glow of a TV screen.

Then again, when you're selling 2-bedroom condos for $945,000, the bus-riding working class isn't really your target market. More likely they're owned as speculation and second homes for the rich from LA, Arizona, and beyond, who burn ungodly amounts of fossil fuels every time they visit!

Ever get the feeling this whole Smart Growth thing is just a scam to create big profits for developers?

To be fair, the cheaper units in back overlooking the railroad tracks appeared better-occupied. If the city really cared about Global Warming and "affordable housing," maybe they'd work with the state to require all units in density bonus projects to be affordable on median household incomes. Didn't some of the new council members pay some lip service to pushing back on density bonuses?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Encinitas Ranch resident writes on ERGA slush fund

In U-T letters:
Regarding “Encinitas panel to study golf course issues” (Oct. 22), the U-T portrays the Encinitas Ranch Golf Course as some benevolent entity that pays its special local taxes only if it is doing well.

I have lived in Encinitas Ranch for 13 years, and paid my fair share of “special taxes” each year no matter how well I was doing financially. When do I get to create my own private “slush fund” to defer any down years I may have?

Forgive the pun, but something is not up to par on the coast when the City Council can approve a plan to rob us of more tax dollars to support a failing golf course that coincidentally just got new sand traps and upgrades.

Shame on those who would allow such a thing to transpire behind the backs of those who would be footing the bill.

David De Vore
Encinitas
Background on the ERGA scandal here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Paranormal

From the inbox:
Was reviewing the budget document for FY 2013-2014 & FY 2014-2015 and found an oddity. On page 1-6 is the Council's strategic plan. The budget was approved by the Council June 12, but the strategic plan was presented to the Council and the public July 17. Must be goblins at work.
Is this another Wizard of Oz moment like when Vina contracted for the Rutan & Tucker report long before being authorized to do so, when we see that Vina is making all the decisions and the council's role is just to rubber-stamp approval of his actions after the fact?

 Excellent!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last night's special meeting on transportation

By request. How's that public participation working out for ya?

They're baaaaack...

The yoga haters, that is.
The law firm that unsuccessfully sued to end a yoga program in the Encinitas Union School District earlier this year is appealing the court decision that allowed the practice to continue. [...] [Plaintiff's attorney Dean] Broyles said the appeal may not be heard until mid to late next year, but he predicted it would be successful if the appellate court “neutrally applies well-established First Amendment legal principles to EUSD’s religious yoga program.” He also said he is ready to take the fight to the state and even federal Supreme Court if necessary.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The ruse of public participation

From the Inbox:
Gus likes to talk about dialogue, but there IS no dialogue since words like dialogue, communication, and conversation are all reciprocal or two-way processes. There is no way that citizens can participate since there is no clear entry point into the process. When we share our thoughts and when they don't like what we say, they simply refuse to process or consider our comments. The entire Stategic Plan is a top down intiative. He says that he is rolling it out slowly because it is a work in process. I attended his soft roll out of the plan in Olivenhain, and he talked about the importance of community character and said that he wanted to know what community character means for at least 15 minutes, but it did not appear on his handout at all. An audience member pointed out that his oral and written presentations need to match.
Public participation is encouraged only so long as it fits within staff's narrowly defined set of acceptable opinions (e.g. the dot exercises pitting neighborhoods against each other over high-density development). But it's not just the public whose options are curtailed. Similary, Gus Vina limits the City Council's power. By presenting limited information and a limited set of options, Vina neuters the Council and preserves the status quo. Example: Vina's options for Encinitas' financial problems only include more revenue via more development or higher fees on residents, never substantial cuts to Encinitas' bloated budget and excessive payroll and pensions. And the new council that so many had so much hope for either doesn't recognize the dynamic, or worse, happily accepts it. It's enough to make one think Russell Brand has a point in saying, "Don't vote; nothing changes." See also North Coast Current: Encinitas aims to increase engagement on strategic plan.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

One woman with courage makes a majority

From Lisa Shaffer's latest e-mail newsletter:
City Legal Services: During my years as a Council observer, I observed the City Attorney's public performance and I saw things I didn't like. When I asked if he ever got a performance review, I was told that the Council didn't think it was necessary since he'd been there for a long time and they were familiar with his work [paraphrasing Jim Bond, who was mayor at that time]. Since the Council only directly has hiring and supervisory authority over the City Manager and the City Attorney, I thought it was important that we understand how the city's legal needs are being met, and consider if our public funds are buying the best services possible. Early in my tenure I helped create a performance review process and require that the City Attorney and City Manager have written performance plans approved by the Council. I also asked that we review the scope of City legal services - the role of the City Attorney and the use of outside special counsel. The item was on our agenda on Oct. 23 with a report prepared by our City Risk Manager. With only two public speakers and not much Council discussion, no action was taken by the Council in response to the report.

Glenn Sabine has been the City Attorney since 1999, and it seemed to me to be good practice to see what else the market might offer 14 years later. The arrangement we have with him might be the most cost-effective, and it might not be - we won't know if we don't solicit other options. We provide some perks to our City Attorney that other cities don't offer, but we pay lower hourly rates. There was not enough information in the report to assess the quality of the service we provide, and no benchmarks like cost per capita (one would assume that smaller cities would have lower costs), or work volume (how many lawsuits resolved, how many contracts reviewed, etc.) I made a motion that we develop a request for proposals and solicit bids for City legal services. Nobody seconded my motion, so no action was taken.

I did not talk to my Council colleagues about this item before our meeting, so I didn't know whether anyone would support the idea. And while I still think it's good practice to periodically recompete long-term contracts, I understand why my colleagues did not support my proposal.

Here's where the progress idea comes in - prior to the November 2012 election, there had been no public discussion of the City's legal services since Mr. Sabine was awarded a contract as City Attorney. There had been no formal performance plan and no regular evaluation process. Earlier this year the full Council agreed on the evaluation process and directed the City Attorney and the City Manager to develop a performance plan for Council review and approval. Since this effort began, I believe the City Attorney has been more responsive, and even initiated a monthly status update to report on current court cases or legal issues. That's progress.

My colleagues said that they wanted to complete the performance planning and evaluation cycle before considering whether any change is called for in how we get our legal services. Fair enough. A year from now, I will probably try again, and see where my colleagues are on this matter. We could go through this process and end up with the same City Attorney - if so, at least we'll know that we have made a choice based on a real comparison across different law firms and haven't just been on autopilot because of a decision made in 1999.

So, I tried to deliver on an issue I talked about in my campaign - the need to recompete our City Attorney contract. I was not able to get support from the rest of the Council to take that action. Nonetheless, I believe that I have helped to shine some light on the role of the City Attorney, to challenge the Council to take seriously our responsibility to oversee and direct the City Attorney, and to hold the City Attorney accountable in a formal evaluation process. That's progress in my view.
Some council members have, in the past, used the excuse "I'm just one vote" to justify going along with the majority and rubber-stamping the Stocks-Bond-Dalager-Vina-Sabine status quo. We hope Lisa Shaffer's actions last night will encourage other council members to start showing some leadership.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Prescience kills

In this weekend's Coast News, Doug Fiske writes:
The first thing most people say when they read the headline or hear those words is, “It would be too expensive.”

Of course trenching the tracks would be expensive, but if we don’t trench we’ll still have the problems, and they’ll get much bigger when the tracks are doubled. Here are the problems:

Crossing Hazards. When people cross the tracks at the grade crossings from Chesterfield Avenue to Leucadia Boulevard or at grade between them, getting from one side to the other can be dangerous. Even being near the tracks is a hazard.

Google search for news articles about train collisions in Encinitas in only 13 of the years since 1990 reveals eight calamities, resulting in 10 deaths and eight injuries. Periodic collisions causing deaths and injuries have occurred since the tracks were laid in the 1880s.
Sadly, Fiske was proven right just a day later. NBC:
A pedestrian was struck and killed by a northbound Amtrak train Saturday morning in Encinitas, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. The fatal collision happened just before 7 a.m. on the train tracks in the 1200 block of North Coast Highway 101. Deputies say Amtrak train #763 struck a man on the tracks, and the man died at the scene.
1200 North Coast Highway is near the Leucadia Post Office. UPDATE: The victim has been identified as 23-year-old Jon Curtis Lynch, a suicide.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Downtown vibrancy update

Patch:
A man walking home from an Encinitas bar early Friday was struck into unconsciousness by an unknown assailant who apparently used a miniature baseball bat, authorities said.

The man said he was walking home on North Coast Highway 101 around 1:30 a.m. when he felt two blows to his head, fell to the ground and passed out, according to San Diego County sheriff's Sgt. Richard George.

Cyclist Kook



The Challenged Athletes Foundation is completing a 620 mile Frisco-Dago ride today. They likely spent the night somewhere in the OC and should be passing through Encinitas some time around early afternoon, and are scheduled to finish at La Jolla Shores mid-afternoon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Encinitas Ranch Golf Course scandal begins to see daylight

Thanks to Tony Kranz requesting the long-simmering ERGA scandal be brought before council, the public is finally starting to learn about it.  The story, as far as we can tell, goes like this:

ERGA is a public-private partnership between the city and Carltas, the Ecke family development company.  In 2008 and 2009, ERGA made two payments to the city to repay loans that Carltas owed. These were apparently illegal gifts of public funds to the Ecke company.  The payments were reportedly approved by the ERGA board including former city manager Phil Cotton, but no record of the vote or justification for the payments exists.  The gift to Carltas came at the expense of Encinitas Ranch homeowners, whose CFD fees were raised.

Recently when an audit was requested by HOA representatives, His Excellence Gus Vina limited the scope of the audit to exclude examination of the 2008-09 shenanigans, creating the appearance of a cover-up.  That's our preliminary understanding; please correct us if we're wrong about any parts.

Watch here as long-time local watchdog Gerald Sodomka explains, starting at minute 8.  And check out the aggrieved homeowner at 40 minutes.

The sums of money here are not enormous -- a few hundred thousand dollars in taxpayer handouts is trivial to the fabulously wealthy Eckes.  But the flippancy with which the ERGA board gives away public funds to private corporations, and the eagerness of Encinitas city staff to cover it up, smack of serious corruption.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Meet your first mayoral candidate

... the only declared mayoral candidate so far, Alex Fidel.

His campaign page on Facebook:



Fidel can be heard in this internet radio interview (starts about 02:05:00) discussing issues including the Federal Reserve, militarization of our local police and fire services, Agenda 21, and legalization of marijuana.

Fidel's positions on issues stem from his broader green-libertarian political philosophy. He has not, to our knowledge, weighed in directly on many of the contentious local issues keeping Encinitans up late at city hall. How does a libertarian weigh a bar owner's right to do business against the neighbors' rights to peace and quiet? How would an anti-Agenda-21 libertarian push back against state-mandated high-density development?  What would Fidel do about Encinitas' pay and pension practices, His Excellence Gus Vina, and comic attorney Glenn Sabine?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Party on!

Bier Garden windows to open:
A downtown restaurant known for its beers can reopen its open-air window spaces and keep them glass-free until 10 p.m. each day, the Encinitas City Council decided Wednesday night.

In a split 3-2 vote, with Mayor Teresa Barth and Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer opposed, the council reaffirmed a recent city Planning Commission decision and rejected an appeal filed by several nearby homeowners.

The council’s decision allows the Bier Garden restaurant on Coast Highway 101 to return to the open-air look it had months ago — before the city discovered the newly opened business didn’t have a permit for those special window spaces and ordered them closed.
As we pointed out in August, people who buy high-density condos tightly wedged between a railroad crossing and a late-night bar scene have a lot of nerve to complain about noise. It seems the council majority agrees.
The council majority said the Pacific Station residents should have known they were in a noisy, urban area before they moved in — it’s mentioned in the housing purchasing contracts they signed.

“There is a difference between living in downtown and living in an area that is not in a commercial area,” Councilman Tony Kranz said.
A two-bedroom condo conveniently overlooking the Bier Garden can be had for $975,000.

It was a 3-2 vote, with Barth and Shaffer opposed. It's nice to finally see some dissent in council votes. It's a long-absent sign of independent thinking.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

EHA considering ballot initiative in support of late-night drunks?

Does Encinitas need a Right to Party initiative?

Recently, some Encinitas residents received an automated polling phone call asking about bar and restaurant issues.  The poll was pretty clearly coming from a pro-vibrancy group, as the questions emphasized government interference in local businesses rather than neighbors' noise and crime complaints.

After gauging respondents' sentiments on bar regulation, the poll asked whether any new regulations should be put to a public vote.

Hey, it worked for the Prop A folks.

Monday, October 7, 2013

In praise of politicians, and in condemnation of citizens who hold them accountable

We hesitated to post this item, because our immediate reaction was speechlessness. The use of this quote was just so appallingly self-aggrandizing, tone-deaf, and condescending that we were stunned.

But others in the community have brought it up as well, so it has definitely struck a nerve with a number of people and merits comment here.

From Lisa Shaffer's October 4 newsletter:
THE MAN IN THE ARENA Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered by Theodore Roosevelt on 23 April, 1910
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
The description of a politician as a "strong man" and a "doer of deeds" is telling. Roosevelt's words would be more appropriate coming from Vladimir Putin than from a legislator in a representative democracy who understands that her job is to represent the interests of her constituents.

Teddy Roosevelt had his great strengths and accomplishments, but listening to others and building consensus were not among them. As the quote above might indicate, Roosevelt was a "my way or the highway" kind of guy. In fact, he turned against his former friends, splintered his political party, and then lost his third Presidential run in a landslide. Not that that has anything to do with anyone in Encinitas.

As for the doing of deeds, we eagerly await the new council doing something toward fulfilling its campaign promises, or, indeed, doing anything differently than the Stocks/Bond/Dalager council would have done.

Oktoberk├╝ek

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Braking Badly

From the Inbox:

This was reported not a vibrancy-related incident.

Friday, October 4, 2013

UFOs over Encinitas

Leucadia may have the astronauts, but Encinitas has the UFOs.

Encinitas Undercover has obtained this exclusive video of five unidentified flying objects over downtown Encinitas last night.



From a distance, the objects appear to be an unusually bright formation of stars, but then the observer notices that they are moving. Some kind of military aircraft from Miramar on night maneuvers? Or just Encinitans being Encinitans?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Leucadia sting leads to arrest in child prostitution case

This is making headlines as an Encinitas story, but the Encinitas connection so far is tangential. The suspect is from Rancho Santa Fe. The city of residence of the victims and the location of the crimes has not been released.

The one solid Encinitas connection is the suspect's prior arrest at the Leucadia Howard Johnson's for soliticing prostitution. HoJo neighbors can rest a little easier, however, knowing that it wasn't real prostitution going on there, but a police sting.

Sheriff's press release:
Michael Lustig (date of birth 9/23/43) was arrested without incident this morning by the
San Diego Sheriff's Department and FBI. Lustig was taken into custody during a car stop in the
vicinity of I-805 and Governor Drive at approximately 10:00 a.m. He will be processed at the
Encinitas Sheriff's Station and booked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego later today.

In June of 2012, the San Diego Sheriff's "North County Human Trafficking Task Force" (NCHTTF) conducted a prostitution operation which targeted 'johns' at a motel in Encinitas. Michael Lustig was one of the 'johns' arrested for soliciting prostitution.

At the time of Lustig's arrest, multiple cell phones belonging to him were seized. Subsequent analysis of the phone information indicated Lustig was texting two minor females (ages 12 and 13) to solicit prostitution.

Further investigation identified these two minors, and both have admitted to having
performed sexual acts with Lustig for money in late 2011 and early 2012.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More backdoor action at City Hall tonight

From the Inbox:
Please try to attend Wednesday's meeting if you can carve out the time!

On Wednesday, the Council is going to vote on actions pertaining to the Housing Element. It appears that they are trying to slip through a back door way to upzone the City--particularly New Encinitas and greenhouse properties. The following list are some problems with the report:

Specific Parcel Numbers Not Identified

The Staff Report that was available on Friday contains a map that shows areas that they want to upzone without identifying them by parcel number! Not surprisingly, the Sprouts/ McDonald's parcel is one that has been identified, as is the Ralphs/Trader Joe's parking lot. Although it does not indicate that it goes most of the length of El Camino like the original MIG map--by getting a foot in the door, they can easily extend it down the entire street. This is bifurcation in action!

RHNA Requirements Vary. Terms 'Affordable Housing' and 'Low Income' are Not Defined and Are Used Interchangably

In addition, there are many questions about the actual RHNA numbers that we must take since there are a range of figures presented though out the report.

No Red Line Version Has Been Made Available

In addition, the red line version of the Housing Element has never been created--even though it was requested by the previous Council almost 2 years ago. Without a red line version, there can be no accountability for the process since it is impossible to make a side by side comparison of what they have changed from the current General Plan.

They Are Back Interpreting Prop A--In the Wrong Way

They make claims in their power poing about Prop A which are not true.

The Stategic Plan is Also on the Agenda!

As if this was not bad enough, the issue of the Strategic Plan will also be on the agenda. Instead of updating the General Plan and its elements starting with our existing plan and asking for citizens to weigh in, they want to resurrect parts of the failed MIG plan and seemingly, want to run it through Gus' Strategic Plan.

Please attend the meeting if you can, and speak to the issues if you have background in these issues.

In conclusion, there is absolutely nothing in the report that is deserving of a vote or even a discussion in its current, unfinished form.  Please make every effort to attend Wednesday's meeting.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Leichtag Foundation trying to get a backdoor upzoning?

From the Inbox:
At last week's Planning Commission meeting, the Leichtag Foundation managed to push an accessory use "interpretation" for two new offices for non-agricultural use on what is supposedly "ag in perpetuity" (of Ecke fame) property. They asked for the two and got them. Never mind that the code doesn't allow this use, never mind that in very real terms it's a violation of Prop A - effective rezoning without a vote of the public - it's one more bone the city can throw at business.

Those who heard testimony from the Leichtag group that focused almost solely on what nice people the Leichtags are, what philanthropic folks they are, and, in a time when all we hear are bad, sad things on the news, they offer a ray of hope to our poor city. What they offered and the city enabled is a slippery slope to what Jim Farley (Leichtag spokesperson) has been whispering around town: they'd love to see a convention center there. Would you??

According to Farley, the good people at Leichtag make no profit on their operation and whatever they do is good for the people of Encinitas...except they forgot to ask us. Kind of brings to mind the image of foie gras that is so yummy and so good, except producers forgot to ask the goose. You know how that turns out for the goose.


Here are two more views on the subject from long-time residents.

When asked about the plans, Mayor Barth was supportive of Leichtag.

Other community members voiced the concern that changing the rules for a beloved community group sets a precedent that the law no longer applies equally to everyone and that cronyism may become business as usual.

Let's give the last word to Lee Leichtag's granddaughter, Heather Greene:
My grandfather always had the attitude of, "if you can't get in through the front door, you go around and you go in the back door."

First testimony in Vilkin hearing

Union-Trib:
In court Monday, one of two laborers hired by Vilkin that day to prune trees along the disputed path testified that Vilkin told him he had a gun, and that if a dog or a person approached, Vilkin would take care of it.

The laborer said he’d been working about 30 minutes before Upton, whose hands were empty, approached and offered to move his car, which was parked near where the laborer was trimming. Upton then walked off toward Vilkin, who was about 100 feet away.

The second laborer said he saw Vilkin yell at Upton, who was still about 40 feet from Vilkin.

One of the laborers had told investigators that Upton was calm, and Vilkin was agitated.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Priorities

What is the most important thing that Encinitas City Council should be working on, but has been ignoring? Unfunded pension liabilities? Growing road maintenance backlog? Transparency in government? Excess staffing levels and pay and pensions? High-density development destroying community character and quality of life?

Reform-minded Encinitans were cheered when the new council changed its policies to allow individual Council members to initiate agenda items, breaking the longstanding stranglehold of the mayor over the agenda.

So what do our new council members, elected on a campaign platform of community character, open government, and fiscal responsibility, want to do first with this new opportunity?

Let's go to Mayor Barth's newsletter:
Consideration of Enrolling in Earth Hour City Challenge of the World Wildlife Fund.

This is a request from Deputy Mayor Shaffer using the recently adopted process that allows for a council member initiated agenda item.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Does high-density bring affordability?

Here's a Pacific Station flipper who bought a 2-bedroom for $860,000, pimped it out, and is trying to sell for $975,000. HOA fees are $460 a month, taxes will run you about $1000 a month, and your mortgage will be about $4000 a month. Grand total: $5500 a month for two bedrooms wedged between the train tracks and the late-night bars.

That's not providing housing for working families. That's a vacation home for a rich out-of-towner.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Serious bike injury on 101

Photos taken Saturday morning (credit Anonymous).

A bicyclist reportedly tore his arm on the rack of a parked truck, so badly that it required a tourniquet.










Brodie goes to Cal Poly Kook

Friday, September 13, 2013

Amtrak to stop in Encinitas beginning October 7

Coast News:
Those in North County who wish to hop on the Pacific Surfliner no longer have to make the trek to Solana Beach or Oceanside.

Six of Amtrak’s Surfliner trains will stop daily at all of the eight county Coaster stations beginning Oct. 7. North County Transit District (NCTD), which runs the Coaster stations, recently announced a deal with Amtrak and Caltrans to expand the Surfliner service.
This will be convenient for people going to or from Orange County, LA, and beyond. Amtrak is a fun, if overpriced, way for single people to travel. If you have two or more people traveling together, it's usually cheaper and faster to drive (it's often cheaper even to rent a car).

Locals will also be able to use Coaster tickets on Amtrak trains between Oceanside and downtown San Diego, though cyclists will have to buy much more expensive ($12 each way!) Amtrak tickets to bring bikes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How Congressman Issa saved the Internet

Read all about it in Forbes.

Rep. Issa's media image as a bare-knuckled brawler certainly is part of the truth about him.  And we don't at all disbelieve his alleged youthful indiscretions which may have included felonies.  But Rep. Issa is a far more complex character than the New York Times would have you believe.  And sometimes, as in the SOPA/PIPA case outlined in the Forbes article, he's a principled crusader, reaching across the aisle to find allies to fight for what's right against powerful interests.

And then sometimes he goes along with the majority and the President and votes to allow the indefinite detention of Americans without trial.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Roundabouts are hard



A sign in the middle of the Santa Fe roundabout was mangled, apparently by an eastbound driver, during a vibrant Labor Day weekend downtown.

The more we think about it, the more roundabouts make a lot of sense as drunk traps.  Far better for late night 101 drunks to get into single-car accidents crashing into the middle of a roundabout than to T-bone somebody running a red light or kill someone on the freeway.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A little common sense and elbow grease goes a long way

For years, goat head thorn puncture vines have plagued the 101 and Vulcan bike paths from Encinitas Boulevard to La Costa.

When residents and cyclists complained to the city, staff made excuses such as that they didn't have enough money or that it was NCTD's problem.

Frustrated with City and NCTD inaction, some residents took matters into their own hands and organized a clean-up, which was a good start but didn't eliminate the problem. The next year, the vines were back.

Recently, cyclists have once again been seen on the 101 and Vulcan bike paths, and the once-ubiquitous puncture vine plants appear to have been cleared by rakes. How did that happen?

Encinitas Undercover has learned that in early August, Council Member Tony Kranz e-mailed NCTD staff asking to put together a joint effort by the City and NCTD to solve the problem. Within weeks, NCTD was on it.

In response to an inquiry, NCTD Right of Way Officer Tim Morehead writes:
NCTD has instructed our contractors to use hand tools and to drag burlap sacks around to remove the remaining goat heads from the ground on the east and west side of the tracks from La Costa Ave. to Leucadia Ave. Moving forward we will continue our efforts monitoring this area and looking for a permanent solution.
Thanks to Tony Kranz for taking the initiative to fix a problem that has plagued the community for years, and thanks to NCTD for the quick response when asked. Why did no previous council members make a similar request years ago?

SPECIAL EDITION! City of Encinitas Strategic Plan Inside!

So this is what Gus Vina has had City Council doing all year while not addressing the chronic road maintenance backlog, not reforming pensions, and not right-sizing city staff.



And here's the result: a five-page PowerPoint presentation full of feel-good buzzwords.





Well played, Vina!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

City finally releases Pacific View appraisals

These should never have been kept from the public in the first place. The only legitimate purpose of hiding documents like this from the public in real estate transactions is so you don't tip your hand in negotiations. But given that these documents were apparently openly shared with EUSD, the negotiation counterparty, there was absolutely no legitimate reason to keep hiding them from the public.

But you all know Glenn Sabine's position on government secrecy.

Nevertheless, thanks to some selective insider disclosure and some persistent pestering by watchful members of the public, here are the appraisals at last.

They come in at $3.3 million and $7.3 million, while EUSD's Tim Baird has almost doubled last year's asking price to $13.5 million.

Given that the land value depends largely on land use zoning, could it be that Proposition A has saved the community millions of dollars already?

Union-Trib: Encinitas bar problems greatly improved

Gee, that was easy!

U-T:
In a report to the City Council on Wednesday, the recently formed group, called the Encinitas Hospitality Association, said they’ve already implemented an action plan to ease complaints about rowdy bar patrons.

Board member Danielle Yee said the group has hired private security to patrol downtown streets, started overhauling training programs for both doormen and wait staff, held several meetings and are about to launch a hotline number that neighbors can call if they see a problem.

Conditions have improved enough that one of the neighbors even sent her organization an email thanking it for its work and saying she had a quiet night’s sleep recently, she added.
Encinitas Undercover commenters following the meeting had a different take.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Redevelopment districts are back from the dead -- and they're pissed!

Central planners to stamp out traditional Southern California lifestyle

Sacramento Bee:
From the broader perspective of public policy, however, the problem with redevelopment in California was that it had evolved from a program to reduce urban blight into a tool for local politicians to practice crony capitalism.

Quite a few proposals to resurrect redevelopment have been floated in the Capitol, and [Senate President Pro Tem Darrell] Steinberg's version, Senate Bill 1, is the most prominent.

It would rename redevelopment agencies as "Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities" and focus their activities on high-density, transit-oriented housing, low-income housing, and "clean manufacturing," such as solar panels and trolley cars, with "prevailing wage" workers.

The new agencies could issue bonds, levy sales taxes and seize land under eminent domain, but the old requirement to define blight in areas earmarked for redevelopment would be eliminated, thus vastly expanding their reach.

[...]

Steinberg holds visions of how Californians should be living their lives and wants state law and taxation to achieve those visions in ways that would discourage politically incorrect, albeit more traditional, lifestyles.
Well, seniors and young people should be happy.



Burning Man Kook




Decoration by "Creepy Camp," who are headed to Burning Man. "Come see us at 7:52 & H."

The kids are alright. It's the adults in this town you have to watch out for.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Back by popular demand

Due to complaints over uncomfortable questions asked about actions at city hall, this site now returns to its original programming: stupid Kook photos.



Sweet sentiment. Cardiff has that effect on people. And these folks sound like they'll be missed too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Things that make you go hmmmm....

If the city council is so concerned about Global Warming that they send our tax dollars to the UN's high-density-advocating ICLEI....

... then why do they allow party buses to idle for hours outside Encinitas bars?


Photo taken in August 2013, after the city council decided to rely on self-policing by Encinitas bars

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chutzpah

People who bought high-density condos wedged between a full-horn-blast, dozens-of-times-a-day railroad crossing and the "vibrant" nightlife of downtown 101 suddenly don't like the fact that they live above a popular bar.

The new Bier Garden in front of Whole Foods has a pretty spectacular layout for an open-air beach bar. The windows open so that the bartenders and taps inside can serve patrons sitting along the exterior patio bar. The setup evokes your favorite tropical vacation memories, or maybe Pacific Beach.



Or so it was clearly designed all along, until the residents (er, wealthy second-homers and speculators) in Pacific Station pushed the city to order the windows closed. To be fair, the previous restaurant there, Barracuda Bar & Grill, was always dead as a door nail, so the Pac Stationers may have thought it would be like that forever. But vibrancy marches on.

Last night, the Planning Commission voted 3-1 to allow the windows to open.
A downtown restaurant known for its vast selection of beers can create glass-less “window” spaces linking its outdoor patio and its indoor dining areas, even though nearby homeowners hate the idea, the Encinitas Planning Commission decided Thursday night.

[...]

Holding up her iPhone, which contains a noise-level-sensing application, Pacific Station resident Susan Crane said that she’s measured sound levels at 75 to 78 decibels in her bedroom — and that’s with both her windows and the restaurant’s closed.

“Consequently, I have issues with the windows ever being opened,” she said.

While Pacific Station residents blamed their noise woes on the restaurant, which they said recently lost much of its interior soundproofing in a renovation project, Bier Garden representatives and Planning Commissioners said their noise problem probably came from the other side of Coast Highway 101.

The First Street Bar & Grill, which is across the street from the Bier Garden and Pacific Station, has live music, karaoke and dancing late at night, unlike the Bier Garden, attorney Marco Gonzalez said.
In a reasonable compromise, the windows will be closed at 10 pm nightly.

The city should never have allowed plans for an open-air bar to go all the way through the permitting and construction process, and then tried to take away the open air. And people who buy into developments that change community character shouldn't complain when they get what they asked for.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Darius Degher: Leucadia Love Song



From Darius Degher:
The video is a little gift to my fellow Leucadians and features still photos of Leucadia sights. The song is on my Coyote Cantos CD, which was just nominated for a San Diego Music Award.

Monday, August 12, 2013

NPR Airs Conspiracy Nut

The key part of this interview on NPR related to how just creating a new pension tier with lower benefits does not fix the financial sustainability "problem." It only delays it.


Excerpts from NPR (listen to the whole thing).
...Jeremy Gold is an actuary and economist. We asked him for an explanation of all of this and why does the think that the math all these years has been wrong. He joined us from our bureau in New York, and I asked him how actuaries go about estimating how much money is needed to fund these plans.

JEREMY GOLD: When they do make these projections, they begin by looking at each retiree one at a time and saying what might this retiree be entitled to over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years? Those entitlements are then summed across all the retirees so that we have the total future entitlements year by year by year. And at that point, pretty much all actuaries agree. Then next step, however, is where actuaries do not always agree. And that is what discount rate should be applied to those future promises?

In the case of CalPERS, the actuaries did agree that THEIR assumptions were to high.  The governing board did not change the calculations because it would have made the city's books look worse and/or suggested pension contributions go up.

STAMBERG: What does a discount rate mean? What does that mean?

GOLD: Suppose I owe you a dollar next year? How much should you and I agree to settle that dollar for this year? Well, if the discount rate is 2 percent, we'll settle for 98 cents. But when we go out multiple years, we get somewhat more complicated calculation but the idea is still the same. If the discount rate is relatively high, then the value today is relatively low. If the discount rate is low, then the value today is high.

STAMBERG: You think that's too optimistic a way to go about it. So, how would you calculate?

GOLD: Well, it's not that I think it's too optimistic so much as where in the spectrum of the low-to-high interest rates we place ourselves. Now, the actuaries, for the most part, in public plans, including Detroit, have, for the last 15 years or so been using an 8 percent discount rate. When they started doing that, interest rates on bonds were more or less in that range. Nowadays, Treasury bonds average about a 3 percent return.

UHM... 3% versus 8%. Investments beyond T-Bonds come with more risk. Who should carry the risk when going beyond a highly secure treasury bond (lets ignore global economics for the moment)? Or, more importantly, the general risk of planning for the optimistic outcome and not preparing for the worst?

STAMBERG: So, if this is correct, does it mean that even though cities that have contributed over the years the amounts that are required, they're falling behind anyway?

GOLD: That is my opinion, yes. That some of the best states and cities in terms of making the payments that are required, even those have not been funding adequately in light of the low interest rates prevailing in today's markets.

The pension funds are not conservatively funded and if optimistic economic predictions fail to materialize there won't be enough in the pension pot at the end of the day. Relying on optimism to protect us is not being responsible.

____________________________________

What should we do? Pay as we go and not pass on debt to our kids. We also want to be able make good on pension promises made today, to the junior city staff.

1. Fund the pension system using conservative estimates.
2. Get skin in the game for the $100K pensioners and senior management. These folk sell the financial schemes actively or passively to their councils (making room for pay and benefit increases). Doing that would bring the current approach to screeching halt. Let's let the city's big earners present plans to truly maintain sustainable budgets.

Senior management are paid the big bucks for their financial acumen. Many of them are close to retirement and have great financial incentive for painting a financial picture for their council that indicates there is plenty of room for increasing (or maintaining) their current high compensation and hiring more staff.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

It doesn't take a "conspiracy" to ruin a city

A recent audit by the state Controller's office finds that Stockton's bankruptcy was the result not of corruption, but of incompetence and financial mismanagement.  Beginning in the 1990's, Stockton went on a wild spending, debt, and pension binge, assuming that growth and development would eventually pay the bills. It didn't take Bell-style corruption or conspiracy to destroy the city.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Recently, at least two council members have separately used the word "conspiracy" in response to questions from the public about the process that led to the council's questionable (at best) ballot statements against Proposition A. Crying "conspiracy" is a common rhetorical technique to belittle and discredit an opposing point of view.

What is the "conspiracy?"

Here are the facts:

1. City Manager Gus Vina selected the notorious pro-development law firm Rutan & Tucker to write an "independent analysis" of Proposition A. Vina signed the contract on February 4, more than a week before the February 13 council meeting at which the council ordered the report. At the February 13 meeting, Vina and the Council avoided letting the public know that the firm had already been chosen and the contract signed.  Council members have not criticized either the selection of Rutan & Tucker or the timing of the contract before the Council decision, and the Council has since unanimously reviewed Vina's overall performance as "excellent."

2. The Rutan & Tucker report was predictably biased against Proposition A and raised numerous "what-if" fears, the most significant of which have already been debunked by the Coastal Commission on bifurcation and the city's own Planning Department on residential height limits.

3. The Council wrote ballot arguments against Proposition A that included both outright falsehoods and further stretching of Rutan & Tucker's already tenuous speculative hypotheticals.
a) "THERE NEVER WERE, AND WILL NOT BE, APPROVED PLANS FOR 5-STORY BUILDINGS IN ENCINITAS..." In fact, nothing in the General Plan or any other governing document would have prevented future councils from approving 5-story buildings without a public vote. Prop A prevents that. And this is not just a hypothetical. Peder Norby proposed allowing 5-story buildings at the May 24, 2012 ERAC meeting, and got a positive reaction from the committee.

b) "Major land use changes HAVE ALWAYS happened with a vote of the people and the Council is committed to codifying this practice."  In fact, both the Leucadia and Downtown Specific Plans increased building heights from two stories to three stories, and both were approved by the City Council without a public vote.

c) "Prop A [...] allows taller structures in existing developments. Imagine a 30-foot structure five feet from your property line." Here the council stretched Rutan & Tucker's speculative "could be interpreted," which was not adequately supported by any real argument or explanation, into an absolute certainty (which has since been falsified by the city's own Planning Department).
4. After Proposition A passed, the Planning Department quickly resolved the residential height question exactly in accordance with the way the Prop A people said it was intended and should be read.

5. Council members now want to "move forward" from discussion of Proposition A without addressing the serious breakdown in trust that has occurred.  In stark contrast to their campaign themes of open government, fair play, and transparency and trust, Mayor Barth and Council Member Shaffer are refusing to answer questions about the process that led to the Prop A debacle.


Questions and observations:

1. How did Vina know long before the vote that the Council would want to order an analysis rather than saving the taxpayers $300,000 and just adopting the initiative outright?  It sure looks like everybody in City Hall was on the same page to kill Proposition A long before the discussion was held in an open, public Council meeting.  Is that a "conspiracy?"  If so, it's certainly not a very far-fetched one.

2. Why was no one on Council concerned that Vina had selected a law firm that was immediately recognized by the public as a notorious pro-developer firm?  It looks like Council was happy to get a report that supported their position, regardless of its fairness or credibility.

3. Why couldn't the Planning Department have announced the same simple, clear interpretation of residential heights before the election that they did shortly after the election?  That would have gutted one of the Council's primary fear-based arguments against Prop A.

4. Why did the Council resort to ballot arguments that seem pretty clearly dishonest by any objective reading?  It looks like they were more concerned with winning than with providing voters with an honest discussion of the pros and cons.  If there are true problems with Prop A, we never got to have an honest discussion about them.

5. Why did the Council fail to give us an alternative to Prop A that locked in the right to vote but removed whatever supposed flaws Prop A had?  If there are flaws in Prop A, an alternative honestly discussed with the public likely would have won.  It seems that Council never had any Plan B other than hoping the initiative wouldn't qualify and then hoping it wouldn't pass.

6. Who is in charge here, Vina or the Council?  It certainly looks like Vina took the lead with the Rutan & Tucker contract, and then steered the Council right into a political box canyon, pitting the new majority directly against their own political base.  Or did the Council really want it to play out just like this?

7. If council members are unwilling to discuss and learn from their mistakes on Proposition A, how can we be assured that the next controversial issue will be handled honestly and fairly?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Stockton's leaders, like Encinitas', dismiss criticism from citizens, prompting this quote from the president of the local taxpayers' group that may feel very familiar to Encinitans:
"If only Stockton's leaders would listen and consider that someone else might have something worth saying."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Santa Monica looks admiringly at Encinitas' voter rights movement

As reviled as Proposition A is by our City Council and staff, residents of other coastal communities are looking at it as a model to preserve their own community character.

Santa Monica Lookout:
Santa Monica is in the midst of creating a new Downtown Specific Plan and three pending hotel projects, all taller than any building constructed in Santa Monica in three decades, has bitterly divided the community over the future of development in the city.

Developers have proposed those projects on three of eight special “opportunity” sites, each identified in the pending Downtown Specific Plan as places where there could be increased height and density limits to encourage more intense development in exchange for more community benefits.

Those sites, however, have become flashpoints for controversy with some members of the community characterizing the sites as give-aways to developers looking to cash in on Santa Monica's choice real estate.

“If they approve the Downtown Santa Monica Specific Plan with those heights in the plan, not as a separate text amendment, collecting signatures (for a ballot initiative) begins the next day,” Feinstein said.

Placing an initiative like Encinitas' Prop A on the ballot would only take about 8,000 signatures, or roughly 15 percent of Santa Monica's registered voters, he said.
The people behind Encinitas' Proposition A have much to be proud of. This rag-tag band of rebels defeated both the entrenched powers of City Hall and the deep pockets of development interests. And residents of other cities all over Southern California and beyond are poised to benefit from our neighbors' leadership.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Quarterly investment reports disappearing?

From the inbox:
City quarterly investment reports removed from public comment. Council receives the reports in the back room.

The quarterly investment report provides the taxpayers the information on income generated from the collected money in the General Fund, the SDWD, the sewer districts (divisions) and all other moneys collected by the city.

Under previous city policy the quarterly report was on the Council agenda within 30 days of the ending of the quarter.

Within the last few years of city managers that policy was changed to “periodic” reports.

Now the City Council has allowed city manager Vina to decide if the reports will be vetted in public or given to them as a memo behind the glass doors.

It will take a public outcry to restore the city policy that the quarterly investment report be placed on the Council agenda within 30 days of the ending of the quarter reporting period.

Otherwise, taxpayers will be left in the dark.
We've never found the quarterly investment reports interesting or useful. It's basically a bank statement showing a few million dollars earning approximately 0% (thank you Ben Bernanke).

The city's "investments" (assets) are insignificant relative to its enormous liabilities (Hall Park and fire station debt, infrastructure maintenance backlog, and unfunded pensions).

We're inclined to give City Manager Gus Vina the benefit of the doubt on this report, and assume that this change is to save council time by getting rid of an agenda item. We also assume the quarterly statements will still be made available to the public on the city's web site. They are extremely simple to produce.

Does anyone have additional information on this?