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

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.


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.