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!

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


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?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Mark Muir tops pension list

"Public service" has its rewards.

The OC Register has an updated list of pension millionaires, and Mark Muir is King of Encinitas:

Last employer Retired Monthly allowance Annualized benefit
CITY OF ENCINITAS 11/9/2011 $14,640.20 $175,682.40
DONALD G HEISER CITY OF ENCINITAS 7/1/2006 $12,757.56 $153,090.72
JOSEPH W BUNN CITY OF ENCINITAS 7/1/2010 $12,402.05 $148,824.60
TALMADGE F TUFTS CITY OF ENCINITAS 12/31/2005 $10,194.02 $122,328.24
DARLENE R HILL CITY OF ENCINITAS 12/31/2009 $8,937.04 $107,244.48
ROBERT M ROMERO CITY OF ENCINITAS 12/31/2009 $8,766.36 $105,196.32
GARY A REEVE CITY OF ENCINITAS 1/2/2002 $8,677.20 $104,126.40
DAVID L MOORE CITY OF ENCINITAS 7/1/2007 $8,419.92 $101,039.04

Gary Reeve is not doing too badly either, having retired 11 years ago and already pulled down more than a million.

What if some of these people live to 90?

Olivenhain Wild West mentality spreads to Encinitas Ranch

City News Service, via Patch:
A 32-year-old man shot an acquaintance in the hip during an argument at an Encinitas home early Friday, authorities said.

The shooting at 714 West Bluff Drive was reported at 12:34 a.m., according to San Diego County sheriff's Sgt. James Cady. David Kaufman is suspected of shooting 41-year-old Peter Byrne in his hip, he said in a statement.

Paramedics flew Byrne to Scripps La Jolla Hospital, Cady said. He was expected to survive.
714 West Bluff is in the Sandalwood development (Baja Encinitas Ranch).

Like this year's Olivenhain shooting and last year's near San Diguieto Academy, this appears to be a crazy neighbor situation, as Byrne is the West Bluff homeowner while Kaufman is listed as living just down the hill on Princehouse.

Discharging a firearm within city limits is a violation of municipal code.