Friday, February 28, 2014

Lake Orpheus


Leucadia flooding

How's it looking?

E-mail your pics & we'll post.  Other cool storm pics welcome as well.

"another poisoned oleander falls prey to the elements"

Thursday, February 27, 2014

EUSD says Naylor Act doesn't apply to Pacific View; attorney who saved Del Mar Shores disagrees

North Coast Current:
A document released by the school district that was penned by law firm Best Best & Krieger suggests that because the school facility and its playground have been unavailable to the public for a period of more than eight years, they are no longer protected by the act, and this is the legal opinion that the school district will consult moving forward.

“Here, the Pacific View property has not been used for playground, playfield or any other recreational activity for the last eight years,” the legal opinion states. “Accordingly, by the plain language of the Naylor Act, it is inapplicable to the Pacific View property.”

Other observers such as Carl Hilliard aren’t so sure that the legal opinion gives the best view of the law and how it works. Hilliard served as one of two lawyers who worked to keep the Del Mar Shores school property in Del Mar from residential and commercial development in the mid 2000s.

“We invoked the Naylor Act and the school in Del Mar had been closed for more than that period of time,” Hilliard said. “And the Naylor Act applies to playgrounds and allows the city to purchase (a school property) at 25 percent of per market value, but it must contain a playground and if it’s not used as a playground then there’s a right for the school district to repurchase it.
The Naylor Act would require the district to offer 30% of the property to the city at 25% of market value.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Feb 26 Economic Development Council Meeting Open Thread

... because tonight's meeting seems to be generating a lot of discussion.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nice work if you can get it

The city also has a short list of six applicants for city manager after a national search by a consultant. Hall said local government officials and Carlsbad council members will conduct interviews, and the goal was to hire a new top administrator by March 1. The city received 50 applications for the position. Coates, the last city manager, earned $220,500 plus benefits for overseeing a staff of 650 with an annual budget of about $120 million.
Encinitas pays Gus Vina, a man whose experience consists of finance and management in failed cities Stockton and Sacramento, about the same as the Carlsbad city manager gets for running a city with staff and budget more than twice the size of Encinitas (and Vina gets a much better pension at 55). And the Carlsbad gig is so juicy that they got 50 applicants.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Party on!

From the Inbox:

> Taken just now outside D St bar & grill. Didn't get the shot of the guys peeing against the La Paloma (for obvious reasons), sorry.
> The party bus is huge and periodically honks it's horn LOUDLY. Cooler out on the sidewalk, open, with ? on ice, didn't see what.

Taxpayer-funded "Encinitas 101" still pushing to gut Prop A, impose 3 stories

This Wednesday's council meeting will feature a presentation on economic development by a group including the city, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Cardiff, Encinitas, and Leucadia 101 merchant associations.

In an unorthodox arrangement in Encinitas, the merchant associations receive direct taxpayer funds from the city.  The arrangement raised eyebrows recently when, during a discussion of the funding, Deputy Mayor Mark Muir asked about the merchant associations' plans for advocacy on Proposition A, creating the appearance that the taxpayer handouts were connected to providing political support for the council.

This week's presentation makes clear that despite Mayor Barth having acknowledged "Prop A passed and the city is implementing it citywide," Encinitas 101 just won't let it go.  On a list of "if resources were not a barrier" goals, the group lists "Overturn Prop A at least for specific plans."  The reference to specific plans means the areas covered by the downtown Encinitas and Leucadia 101 specific plans, and the practical effect of such repeal would be a mass upzoning of the entire area to three stories.  Why is Encinitas 101 so obsessed with imposing three stories all along the coast?  Does Encinitas 101 really represent main street merchants, or just land speculators?

The Chamber of Commerce (not funded by the city to our knowledge) also listed Prop A as a "problem that hinder[s] economic development," and the city's own dot-mapping game found three votes for Prop A "uniformity" as a "weakness."  Cardiff 101 and Leucadia 101 seem to have been more successful at moving on from Prop A.

The economic development group selected a group of cities with comparable features and issues to Encinitas. Most of the cities on the list have downtowns similar to ours: open, friendly, one or two stories, lots of restaurants, cafes, and small businesses: Laguna BeachSan Luis Obispo, San Clemente, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Ventura, Redwood City, Dana Point.  Some have a few three-story buildings just as we have Pacific Station and the Moonlight Lofts, but tall buildings are not a dominant or defining feature of any of the downtowns.

The only major exception on the list is Vancouver, Washington, a much larger city and a major suburb of Portland, whose downtown has a much more major commercial, less retail and restaurant focus.

So what do you want to be, Encinitas?  A charming beach town or a big city?  Solana Beach or Vancouver? Encinitas 101 is using your tax dollars to advocate for the latter.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Happy 14th Birthday, Tom!

♫ Clap along if you feel like happiness is the Kook ♫

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gaspar, Muir, Kranz block Vina's latest attempt to expand the bureaucracy

Last night, City Manager Gus Vina requested an increase in a code enforcement position from part-time to full-time. Council Members Kristin Gaspar, Mark Muir, and Tony Kranz voted to deny the request, at least for the time being.

Apart from the obvious fiscal issues (Encinitas is completely broke, and full-time employees cost way too much), there was much discussion of the changing role of code enforcement. Since the founding of Encinitas, code enforcement has acted only in response to public complaints. The word repeatedly used last night was "proactive," which means code enforcement will go around looking for trouble. This appears to be a fundamental change in the department's role from a public service to an antagonistic (and revenue-seeking?) harassment force.

Mayor Barth and Council Member Shaffer voted, as usual, to rubber-stamp Vina's agenda.

And we now have a fourth point of differentiation in the hypothetical Gaspar-Barth mayoral contest.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Save Pacific View

From the Inbox:
Dear Encinitas (and other North County) friends,

We are in real danger of losing the Pacific View site to general development (and a likely housing project), if the school board sells the property. This is a horrible shame, as that property was bequeathed to the children of Encinitas. Many residents would rather see it become a community arts center, me among them.

So, I urge you very strongly to visit the website below and, once there, write a short letter to the school board, explaining that we want the property to remain in the hands of the Encinitas public, not those of developers.

It's late in the game, but there still may be hope if the board receives enough letters. Please send a letter; it will take you five minutes or less.

See also the Coast News on local resident Scott Chatfield, the man behind the Save Pacific View web site.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Encinitas is broke, badly mismanaged, and threatening a sales tax increase

You know how for years staff and council have told us that Encinitas finances were in great shape and conservatively managed?


February 2003:
The city is in good economic health despite the looming threat of state budget cuts, Mayor Jerome Stocks said in his State of the City address last night.


Stocks said a combination of healthy property-and sales-tax revenues and adequate reserve funds have braced the city for the fallout of the state budget crisis.
May 2011:
During the April 27 meeting, acting City Manager Phil Cotton told City Council members that Encinitas is in a very good spot and will once again have a "structurally sound budget." The city has ridden out the nation's troubled economic times by being fiscally conservative, city finance department staff said.

"We tend to be realistic, but conservative," City Finance Director Jennifer Smith said as she discussed the city's proposed revenue forecasts for the coming two years.
May 2012:
Following a watchdog report on government reserve fund overflows, appearing in the U-T in late April, officials with the City of Encinitas claimed a chart depicting the percentage the city had in their general fund reserves for the Fiscal Year 2010/11 was misleading.
July 2012:
Gus Vina: "Good, prudent and consistent fiscal management in Encinitas has allowed our organization to serve the community at appropriate levels in spite of the recession that has swept across America."
March 2013:
An important element of the City’s overall financial strategy is to remain nimble, proactive and prepared for occurrences beyond its control. The City has a $10 million Contingency Reserve and a $1.1 million Budget Stabilization Reserve.

The City plans to continue pursuing the conservative budgeting philosophy that has enabled it to preserve programs and services while moving forward with new projects desired by residents such as Encinitas Community Park, slated to open in 2014.


Well, those lies have just been officially and thoroughly debunked. Council Member Lisa Shaffer's Feb 13 newsletter acknowledges the sad financial truth that Encinitas watchdogs have been screaming about for years.
One issue I feel strongly about is pavement management - we have chronically underfunded road maintenance, and unfortunately, the draft CIP budget did not offer any improvements. We have been spending about $1.3 million/year and it would take about $2.8 million/year to maintain a constant quality level and prevent continued decline (which only leads to more expensive repairs later). Council agreed that we need a strategy to increase funding for pavement overlays to get to this level and be able to maintain it going forward.
This is the issue behind the long-running road report fiasco, where staff and council spent years illegally trying to hide a public document from the public. Our new City Council last year unanimously approved continuing the contract of city attorney Glenn Sabine, the legal mastermind behind the debacle.  Council watchdogs note that even the new $2.8 million figure could be dramatically understating the true cost, as staff and council still have not provided the public any transparency behind the estimates and calculations.

Beyond the roads, there are tens of millions in desired capital improvement projects with no apparent funding.  Last year, the council unanimously voted to put the city deeper into debt and plunder its reserve accounts to build the Hall Park, without identifying revenues to pay for either the Hall Park operating costs or its debt service.  Shaffer:
Without going through all the projects and all the fund sources, there is no question that our "wants" exceed the available funding. The City has a number of financing strategy options:

* Pay as you go - only commit to what we have funds to pay for
* Take on more debt through issuing bonds
* Increase revenues through a sales tax or other tax assessments
* Cut expenses and/or cut back or cancel other projects
* Sell surplus assets
And then there's pension costs, which will be rising by millions of dollars per year due to years of chronic underfunding by our city's "good, prudent and consistent fiscal management."

And of course last week the council floated the idea of raising the sales tax instead of getting our spending problem under control.  Giving a drunk the keys to another liquor cabinet.

A sincere thank you to Council Member Shaffer for being the first city insider to publicly begin speaking honestly about the city's financial condition.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Average Encinitas government worker makes $92,000 per year, plus $36,000 in benefits

Just the facts, ma'am.

The state has posted online data for all government employees. The summary data are here, but understate the averages because they include part-time, contract, and partial-year workers. The raw data are here. Note: both links are currently broken at the time of posting, but we assume they'll be working again soon unless government unions can quash them like they did the CalPERS pension database.

Anyway, we accessed the files before they went down, and here are the Encinitas details for 2012, with part-time, contract, and partial-year workers and city council members filtered out.

Position titles and pay ranges are on next week's consent agenda for rubber-stamping by the city council. Staff have data to show that the pay ranges are comparable to other California cities, so why should council even question whether $130,000 per worker is fair, reasonable, or affordable, or bear any relation to private sector compensation?

The median household income (i.e. including those with two or more working adults) in Encinitas is estimated around $80,000 - $90,000 per year, with far less generous benefits.

Hat tip to California Public Policy Center.

UPDATE: Encinitas' private employment data from the city in 2009 for comparison:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Council to skip Pacific View auction, float sales tax increase

The city of Encinitas won’t participate in the Encinitas Union School District’s effort to auction off the former Pacific View school in March, City Council members decided Wednesday night, but if the auction falls through, the city might pitch a sales-tax increase in order to buy the land.

The council declined to submit a bid for the proposed auction, saying the district’s $9.5 million bid requirement was far too pricey. But, in a 3-2 vote, with Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir opposed, the council agreed to explore raising the city’s sales tax rate to fund new civic projects, including transforming the old school property into a city arts center.
We'd be slightly more inclined to consider a sales tax increase if the council had made any effort over the past year to rein in the city's out-of-control payroll and pension costs, rather than voting to put us deeper into debt and to raid the city's reserve funds. Council Member Mark Muir agrees:
Muir said the council should do a better job of cost-cutting, instead of exploring new taxing methods. The former city fire chief said he thought the estimated $2.9 million price tag for the Moonlight Beach lifeguard tower was one area where the city should cut back.

“There’s a thing called fiscal discipline and that’s what we’re lacking here as we go through this (year’s budget process),” the councilman said during the council’s review of proposed capital projects.
They'd need a 2/3 vote to raise sales taxes on Encinitas families even as city employees are retiring at 55 or 60 on six-figure, set-for-life pensions. Good luck with that. [UPDATE: the council is now considering a general transaction and use tax, as opposed to a specific use sales tax, which means they only need 50.01% of the vote.]

On the brighter side, this issue gives us a differentiating point between Teresa Barth and Kristin Gaspar, in case they face off against each other in the race for mayor. Until now, they have voted identically on almost all of the major issues (Desert Rose, Prop A, budget, road diet, "excellent" Vina, red light cameras, etc.), with the exceptions being allowing general office use in agricultural zoning (Barth for / Gaspar against) and the bar moratorium (Barth for / Gaspar against). Now we have a third point of differentiation: Barth for raising taxes, Gaspar against.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Direct democracy comes to Solana Beach

In a turn of events that echoes Encinitas' Proposition A, Solana Beach voters approved Proposition B last night.

The origins of Proposition B were that residents wanted to be able to use the beautiful, taxpayer-funded community center at Fletcher Cove for events like wedding receptions. But the council, under the influence of wealthy nearby neighbors, put onerous restrictions on its use, including that only one day per weekend would it be open, only two drinks per adult could be served, and professional bartenders had to be hired.

Well, it's hard to believe that so many residents could be so upset about not being able to use a facility for an occasional event that they would go through the time and effort of a successful petition drive, but they did. Prop B would require the facility to be made available to the public for events at least two evenings each weekend, and that no additional alcohol restrictions beyond existing state law could be imposed.

The campaign was bitter and divisive. Opponents railed against the cost and the permanence of a voter-approved initiative. "No on B" signs seemed to far outnumber "Yes" signs in yards. We suspected the No's would prevail based on the public being annoyed at having to vote on, and pay for, something so seemingly trivial. Yet the "Yes" vote prevailed. There must have been deeper and more widespread resentment at the council and the millionaire Fletcher Cove neighbors keeping the facility off-limits to the public.

Government by initiative is messy, expensive, and fraught with problems. But sometimes the politicians leave us no other choice.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Charge like Kirk

Kirk "Fanta" Passmore lived in Carlsbad and died in November surfing big waves on Oahu's North Shore.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bank in Dalager consulting scandal pulls out of Encinitas

California Community Bank, the bank that employed former Mayor Dan Dalager as an independent consultant to steer business to the bank, has closed its long-time branch in downtown Encinitas. The consulting relationship raised accusations of impropriety as Encinitans felt that the outcomes of their business with the city of Encinitas could be influenced by whether or not they helped Dalager earn commissions by opening accounts.

California Community Bank was acquired by Regents Bank in 2012. Following the closing of the downtown branch, Regents does not have a location anywhere in Encinitas.

Dalager was not prosecuted by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for the consulting role, or for a separate undisclosed loan from a resident who had business before the council. He was allowed to plead guilty to a no-jail misdemeanor on an unrelated charge of receiving discount kitchen appliances from another resident who had business before the council. Dumanis has been in the news recently for her own scandal.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Historic deed to Pacific View school site

This is a transcription of the handwritten deed from J.S. Pitcher in 1883:

You gotta admit, he didn't say not to sell the thing off to developers and use the cash for routine maintenance and operating expenses.  Perhaps it didn't occur to him that future trustees would be so rapacious?

Pacific View is on the agenda again at next Wednesday's council meeting, but at this point the ball is in the school district's court. And the developers... will the zoning issues raised by Prop A keep the developers away from the district's auction?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Round and round

Carlsbad claims first roundabout on North County's historic Coast Highway.

What's the deal with roundabouts anyway? How can such an innocuous, aesthetically pleasing thing be the subject of such controversy? Is there any truth to the claim that roundabouts are a sneaky way for city planners to get around traffic service standards?