Sunday, January 30, 2011

Central Falls, RI is 33 years ahead of Encinitas

... and it ain't pretty:

In 1972, the city created a new pension plan for public-safety officers that allowed them to retire after 20 years and earn 50% of their final year's salary thereafter.

50%? How quaint! Encinitas firefighters get 60% after 20 years at 55 and 105% of their last year's (spiked) pay if they stay 35 years (plus cost-of-living increases, of course!). And it's not just firefighters -- all city employees get a similar deal with just a trivial 10% less than firefighters. We're going to have an army of city workers retiring in their 50's, living into their 80's or worse, and collecting decades of annual payments that are bigger than most working Encinitas residents' salaries!

How are we supposed to pay for that? Well, here's how it played out in Central Falls:

Over time, such labor costs have swamped the city's budget. In 1991, the state took over the schools because the city could no longer afford to fund them. But that didn't solve the problem of costly and restrictive collective-bargaining agreements.

Last year, labor costs made up roughly 70% of Central Falls's budget. [...] Unable to pay its bills, Central Falls wanted to declare bankruptcy, but the state intervened and put the town into receivership.

Retired judge Mark Pfeiffer was appointed last summer as receiver to review and fix the city's finances. His first move was to strip the mayor of his powers. Then he hiked property and car taxes by nearly 20%, and cut labor costs by $900,000. Those tax hikes have merely driven more people out of town: City officials tell me nearly half of the houses are boarded up.

And our city council thinks sports bars and train whistles are the most important issues it needs to address.

Called shot

From an anonymous comment on Leucadia Blog last February:

At Wednesday's council meeting Jerome Stocks was suddenly talking about quiet zones for the railroad. I think it finally dawned on him that his developer friend DeWald would need some "special" help similar to what he has done for Michael Pattison and David Meyer on many occasions.

Too bad the comment was anonymous. That commenter could do a victory lap. Just as DeWald starts selling his railroad condos, he can assure prospective buyers that making the taxpayers pay to silence the train horns is a top city council priority.

Sports bar for me but not for thee

Look who's happy about a push to ban additional sports bars on 101:

"I think right now, we're just about at saturation," said Haven Dunn, manager of the D Street Bar & Grill at the northern end of downtown. "I think the city's right in trying to limit it any further."

Dunn said his business started a trend when it took over the old Martini Ranch location seven years ago and transformed what had been a bar with a "bad vibe" into a local attraction that serves both families and young people looking for fun on a Friday night.

Dunn said it's flattering that the business is being imitated by some new restaurants that have "bar" in their names, but added that things have gone a little too far. Some of the newcomers have even copied D Street's interior design, he said.

"You have to have diversity in any given (location); you can't have 10 sports bars and grills," he said.

Must be nice as a small business to have a city council willing to ban your competition!

The threats that Encinitas will turn into Pacific Beach are ridiculous. Pacific Beach is the way it is because thousands of college students live within stumbling distance of the bars, and it is a central meeting point for students of all San Diego's big universities: SDSU, UCSD, and USD. They are not all going to start driving to North County to get drunk just because a couple more restaurants serve beer and have sports on TV.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Shea Homes to build 20 apartments in front of Riviera trailer park

San Diego Daily Transcript:

A fully entitled, 1.08-acre parcel of land on N. Vulcan Ave., in Encinitas 92024, has been sold for $2.3 million. The buyer was homebuilder Shea Homes, which plans to construct 20 flats of multifamily housing on the entitled property.

It looks like the sellers are people from Solana Beach who have been trying to build there since 2002 but finally gave up. They got a density bonus somehow to put 20 units on 1.08 acres. Hope you like your neighbors.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

City Council: wayside horns, hassling restaurants top priorities; pension reform, not so much

We've got trouble right here in River City! Not pool halls this time, but restaurants that serve beer and show sports!

City Council thinks allowing sports bars will turn downtown Encinitas into Pacific Beach.

... and the City Council decided to make wayside horns a top priority to increase the value of John DeWald's yet-to-be-sold railroad condos, but didn't say anything about making the city's most serious issue, pension reform, a top priority. By the way, Del Mar is using private funding for wayside horns. Why is our council ignoring that obvious solution?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Barth comments on the Hall Park Switcheroo

In the U-T, Jonathan Horn covers the reversion to 2008 plans to avoid further environmental review.

Teresa Barth comments in her e-mail newsletter:

Jonathan Horn got the story right. I said (and I do) support the park changes, especially the larger skatepark. Jerome's motion was to go back to the previously approved plan and that is what I voted against.

I am still not sure if what happen was procedurally correct. The agenda item was to approve or deny the appeal NOT to direct staff to do something else.

This puts the park construction back at least 6 months to a year. Staff & the consultant now have to start all over again with construction drawings, grading plans, etc. before this can go out to bid. More waste of time and money.

While I think it's true that this will require some cost and delay to re-do the plans, the costs of another round of court cases and environmental reviews would surely have been higher. So now we go forward with plans that nobody likes because we're trying to push this broken-down jalopy across the finish line before anybody can place any more obstacles in the way.

The Hall Park situation is a mess for a number of reasons. Here are my top three:

1) A regional sports park with 90-foot stadium lights is totally out of character for the west Cardiff community. Call the 'poser district people NIMBYs all you want, but they are right. Their neighborhoods were not made for Carlsbad traffic, and Cardiff sunsets will be ruined if the lights go in.

2) The city vastly overpaid for the property and now is having trouble finding funds to either build or maintain the park.

3) The cost of legal and environmental review and compliance in California is Too Damn High. The city is getting a taste of what it's like for businesses to try to operate in California, except businesses don't get to use taxpayer money to fight this stuff.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Old Switcheroo

In the face of an environmental lawsuit, the city council reverts the Hall Park back to 2008 plans.

That may be good enough to stop the legal challenge, but is it what Encinitas residents want? Do we want 90-foot stadium lights drowning out Cardiff sunsets? Isn't there a more modest option for a community park that doesn't damage the community?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ex-New Jersey pension chief warns of national pension disaster; Encinitas leaders keep whistling past graveyard

Financial Times:

US public pensions face a shortfall of $2,500bn that will force state and local governments to sell assets and make deep cuts to services, according to the former chairman of New Jersey’s pension fund.

The severe US economic recession has cast a spotlight on years of fiscal mismanagement, including chronic underfunding of retirement promises.

But in addition to slashing services and raising taxes, there are other remedies:

“I don’t assume that you will have that level of defaults just because there are various remedies, including asset sales, that you can engage before you have to default,” he said. “States have an interest in their major municipalities not defaulting.”

Anybody wanna buy a 50% interest in a money-losing golf course? How 'bout a contaminated former flower growing site?

The Encinitas City Council, after boosting pensions in 2005 to allow employees to retire at 55 and get paid full-time salaries for life, still has not put pension reform on the agenda.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The greatest band you've never heard of...

... at the greatest venue you know and love.

Being just a few miles up the tracks from the Belly Up is one of the things that makes Encinitas such a perfect place to live.

My favorite little band, the Old 97's, play there Wednesday. They're billed as alt-country, which is the industry term for what I call cowboy rock.

Here's what I wrote about them back in 2005:

I just got back from an Old 97's show. I've listened to this band's recorded music for three or four years now, and finally got to see them live. It was worth the wait.

The Old 97's are cowboy rock. The closest well-known band I could compare them to is the Rolling Stones on their country-most songs, like Sweet Virginia and Dead Flowers.

The show was at the Independent on Divisadero Street, pretty much San Francisco's smallest music venue that's bigger than pub-size. Catch this band now, while they are still playing venues this small. They have been playing for more than 10 years, but they are going to get some big exposure in a Hollywood film next summer.

Check out some Old 97's tunes online. Try Barrier Reef, Victoria, and West Texas Teardrops for a start. Then go buy the albums. And if they come to your town, see them live.

The songs all have catchy hooks that should have got these guys on the radio, and the lyrics are edgy and smart. And there's a fun little rivalry between frontman Rhett Miller who is kind of a pretty boy pop star and bassist Murry Hammond, who's a Texas good ol' boy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Summer in January

Sunny and low 70's today.

Git on yer bike!

Jerry Sanders on San Diego's pension reform

Sanders talks about reforms including pay freezes for existing employees and 401(k)s for new employees.

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During the Olivenhain candidate forum, Kristin Gaspar at least implied support for a 401(k). As Jonathan Horn describes it, "[s]he said that as someone who oversees her company’s 401(k) plan, she would be able to help create a benefits package that allows Encinitas to retain highly qualified workers, while considering the cost to taxpayers," which sounds like a weaselly way to sound like you support 401(k)s without actually supporting them. Other observers at the forum interpreted her remarks as a clearer endorsement of 401(k)s for city workers.

Was Gaspar just blowing hot air or will she put pension reform on the agenda?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brown widows attack Encinitas

Encinitas just can't get a break from the animal kingdom arthropods.

Last summer it was killer bees; this winter it's brown widow spiders.

I've found several adult females and egg sacs in the back yard composter. Today I also found an adult building a web in the vegetable garden.

More on the brown widow here. The colors range from a light brown with patterns to a black just slightly lighter and not as shiny as the black widow. The egg sac can be identified by its spiky exterior.

The origin of the brown widow is unknown, but an awful lot seem to be from Orange County like those other unwelcome invaders, Neptune Avenue weekenders.

A ray of hope from Kristin Gaspar

After her first two bone-headed public moves (allying with Stocks against Barth after promising to be a uniter, and her tone-deaf op-ed blaming Barth's supporters for a negative campaign while ignoring the garbage spewed by her own supporters), Kristin Gaspar has made her third move a positive one.

Newly elected Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar, who campaigned that the rule [to get an issue on the agenda] should be changed, made the motion. Under Gaspar's proposal, each future meeting would devote a time for members of the public to present their issues to the council. If they receive two votes, it would have to be heard within 60 days.

Thank you, Kristin!

Now will Barth/Houlihan or Barth/Bond please put pension reform on the agenda?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Leucadia bluff collapse

Nobody injured, though it happened on a nice day for the beach.

3:30 PM around the 1500 block of Neptune. Click on over to NBC San Diego for the picture.

This is the same bluff that collapsed in late December, just getting worse.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

San Diego faces up to its pension crisis

City attorney says DeMaio plan to freeze salaries is legal, would save hundreds of millions:

The freeze would lock salaries at their current level, and in essence, cap the size of a worker’s future pension. Employees could still receive additional compensation through incentive pay that would not apply toward pension calculations.

The opinion by Goldsmith comes as city leaders, from Mayor Jerry Sanders to City Councilman Carl DeMaio, have pushed forward separate plans to limit or lower the city’s liability for future pension costs.

Sanders said he hoped the opinion would push the city’s labor unions to work with him on a solution that reduces costs for the city and ends years of expensive litigation for both sides.

When will Encinitas face up to its pension crisis?

HT: T-Dub

Friday, January 7, 2011

It's on like Donkey Kong

Encinitas Unified School District threatens to sue to turn Pacific View into high-density condos.

Despite state code allowing the school rezone, Barth said, other laws, such as the Coastal Act, may take precedence. City Council member reasoning for the denial varied: Jerome Stocks said he could not support the rezone until further studies were done. Maggie Houlihan said Pacific View is a “jewel” integral to community character. James Bond said it is wrong for the district to sell its assets to help cover current expenses.

Hey, we found a way to unite Stocks and Barth! All it took was an out-of-control school district trying to sell a prime coastal asset for cash to blow on operating expenses.

Bond is right. Tim Baird is pulling a Schwarzenegger, selling off irreplaceable assets to plug a budget hole for a few years because he can't control his expenses. He's already soaked us in 30 years of Prop. P debt, much of which is being blown on operating expenses. What happens when he runs out of assets to sell and he needs more money while the citizens are still paying off Prop. P?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Encinitas attorney Michael T. Pines faces bar discipline

The attorney who made national news a few months ago by helping clients break back into their foreclosed houses is none other than Encinitas' own Michael T. Pines.

Well, the little take-back-the-house stunt didn't go too well for the families involved, as the houses' new owners and the courts didn't put up with it. And now Pines faces a state bar hearing and possible loss of his license.

Pines has reportedly had several of his own properties foreclosed, including his law office at 732 N. Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia.

NOTE: This is NOT La Jolla personal injury attorney Michael Pines, who is concerned about being confused with the Encinitas break-in artist.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Panic at Trader Joe's

You'd think people were stocking up for a hurricane. It's so thick with shopping carts it's hard to move.

I'm not sure the new Whole Foods will relieve this much. Kind of a different crowd.