Sunday, March 30, 2014

Here come da Judge!

"Elect Judge Tony Brandenburg for Encinitas City Council"

It appears we have our first declared candidate for City Council: long-time Olivenhain resident  Tony Brandenburg.  Brandenburg would likely be more supportive of preserving community character than the current council, as we believe he voted to protect Desert Rose when it came to the Planning Commission (a decision later overturned by a government that had no pride).

Anyone know Brandenburg's position on Encinitas' financial mess?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Our Lady of the Ocean news

If you haven't had a chance to check out the beautiful new viewing area for the Surfing Madonna at Moonlight Plaza across the street from her original location, please do.

And you can now show your support for Mary's message.

From the Inbox:
The Surfing Madonna “Save the Ocean” Paver Project has begun!!! Become a part of the history & legend of the Surfing Madonna!

Customize your own brick (paver) with a message, name, date, or favorite quote of your choice that can be shared with your friends, family and community for years to come!

The paver will be installed below the Surfing Madonna mosaic, which has recently been transformed into the zen-like Surfing Madonna Park, complete with a flowing fountain, native plants and flowers, night time lighting and a 24 hour camera, which is live on the internet!

Funds raised will provide local high school students the opportunity to get involved with our Surfing Madonna Ocean Conservation Programs and be a part of the positive change in our community. A portion of the proceeds will also provide the on-going support for our free educational community programs and events, which are open to the public!

We have very limited space, so the bricks will go fast! It’s the PERFECT GIFT for someone special that will last a lifetime!

Price starting at $150 and includes the following: • An 8x4 Customized Engraved paver with 3 lines of any name, message, quote and/or date of your choice placed directly in front of the Surfing Madonna at her permanent home off Encinitas Blvd and the Pacific Coast Highway • Installation and Maintenance • Monthly updates and photos of the community charity projects YOU helped make possible with purchasing the brick


For more information, please call Robert Nichols at 760-846-5721 or Megan McCarthy at 760-585-6631 or you can visit our website

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Staff claims Prop A height limits are a mere suggestion, city can override them at will with discretionary waivers

Can you believe the nerve of these guys?

Tomorrow's agenda FAQ's:

Yes. A height limitation qualifies as a development standard for which a developer may request a waiver.
Government Code 65915(o)(1)
From the Inbox:
Prop A is not a "development standard," but a general amendment enacted by the voters, not the city, that requires a public vote for any structure over 30 feet, and that is not something the city can get around. The only way to eliminate the Prop A requirements is through another vote of the people.
Can there now be any doubt that staff's #1 priority is to force high-density development on Encinitas against the will of the residents? And whose side are your council representatives on, staff's or the public's?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Poker 101

If you look around the table and can't spot the sucker, it's you. - poker proverb

While it's possible that the Encinitas Union School District had some buyer lined up to pay $9.5 million for the Pacific View site under current zoning, it seems highly unlikely. Possibly a developer had plans for a medical office complex or something similar that would have penciled out. Or maybe a developer knew he could count on Vina and Sabine to put up an intentionally ineffective defense of Prop A so he could upzone the whole thing to residential.

But most likely at this point is that the EUSD was bluffing, knowing that three council members were so desperate to buy Pacific View that they would pay any price if the district just bluffed that they had a buyer.

Well played, Baird. Well played.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shaffer re-flip-flops (un-flip-flops?) on taxpayer-funded push-poll to advocate sales tax

Just days after Lisa Shaffer flip-flopped on her vote to use taxpayer funds to hire a consultant to run a push-poll to create the illusion of public support for tax increases, Shaffer seems to have re-flip-flopped back in favor of spending public funds on the push-poll.  Shaffer's e-mail newsletter didn't mention the flip-flop, and city sources tell Encinitas Undercover that Shaffer has re-reversed her position and now once again supports the taxpayer-funded push-poll.

For some background on Gus Vina's hand-picked tax pollster Catherine Lew of Lew Edwards, see what she did in Modesto. Kinda reminds us of the pre-determined outcomes Vina got from the supposedly neutral report from notorious pro-developer attorneys Rutan & Tucker on Prop A.

In related news, Shaffer, Barth and Kranz  appear to have decided to buy Pacific View at EUSD's asking price of $9.5 million.  It remains to be seen where the money will come from in a city that is completely broke.

Council votes unanimously to expand pensioned bureaucracy yet again

On the "Deemed Approved Ordinance" to create tougher enforcement mechanisms against problem bars, the council rejected the idea 3-2 with Kranz, Gaspar, and Muir voting no.  Whether a DAO is too draconian is open to debate, but there's no question it would have been an effective tool in giving downtown residents relief from the nightmare they have had to live with for three years now.

What will be far less effective is a new full-time, pensioned code enforcement officer that the council unanimously approved last night who will spend only half his/her time on bar issues (the other half "pro-actively" snooping on residents), and presumably only a fraction of that time patrolling late night weekend hours.  A part-time, contract, non-pensioned position would have been far less costly and could have been dedicated entirely to the bars and the problem late night weekend hours.  But nobody on our council ever claimed to be fiscally responsible, did they?

Muir proposed, and the council adopted, the idea that the position should come from cost savings found in other departments.  Muir suggested, as an example, that Peder Norby's $100,000 contract wasn't renewed so that money could be used.  The problem with that idea is that Norby's contract cancellation was already used as an excuse to create the new Communications Director position.  Further, if the council are creating new, full-time, pensioned positions without eliminating full-time, pensioned positions elsewhere, they are actively making Encinitas' pension crisis worse.  Will Vina actually eliminate a pensioned position somewhere, or will he just shuffle the financial accounts like he did to build the Hall Park?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

Encinitas and Berkeley, like many California cities, have a serious problem with escalating pension costs due to years of financial mismanagement at both the cities and CalPERS.

Recently, we saw how Encinitas city management communicated internally and to the public about the pension crisis. That is, with false reassurances:
"the city has already included a 10% annual increase in the current six year financial plan beginning in FY 2015/16."
In contrast, see how Berkeley officials discuss the same circumstances in their city:
“This is a pretty grim projection for the future,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “The assumption (on the rate increases) is there are no salary increases and no new employees. It’s difficult to imagine there won’t be an increase over that time. We’re headed for some really difficult decisions down the road, there’s no doubt about it.”

“Those numbers are shocking enough without seeing them going up,” said Capitelli. “People are retiring at an earlier age and living longer.”

Finance director Hicks said the primary driver for the rate increases is Calpers’ investment returns (see table above). In the year to June 30, 2013, its investments gained 13.2%, 5.7% higher than the assumed 7.5%. But that excellent year, and the likelihood of another bumper year to this June 30, does not make up for the severe losses in 2008, 2009 and 2012.

“This is not just a Berkeley problem, this is a major problem for the state of California,” Bates said. “The state needs to step into this. It’s going to hemorrhage all over the state. We’re putting ourselves in the position where there’s going to be a major hit on the economy.”

Which kind of city management do you want: the kind who will tell you comforting lies or the kind who will tell you the difficult truth?

Late-night drunkfest solution: hire another full-time, pensioned government worker!

What part of completely broke don't these people understand?

 On tonight's agenda:
10A.Public Hearing to review and consider: 1) the introduction of Draft Ordinance No. 2014-01 entitled "An Ordinance of the City of Encinitas, California, adopting an amendment to Title 30 of the Encinitas Municipal Code to add Chapter 30.27 - Deemed Approved Alcoholic Beverage Sale Regulations and Provisions for Expanding and Intensifying Alcohol Serving Establishments, and amendments to certain Specific Plans to make reference to Chapter 30.27 of the Encinitas Municipal Code"; and 2) other related actions and activities. CASE NUMBER: 13-271 ZCA/SPA/LCPA; APPLICANT: City of Encinitas; LOCATION: Citywide.  Contact Person:  Planning and Building Director Murphy 

Recommended Action: A) Implement a proactive enforcement program as described by staff; as part of that program, include a single point of contact for the public and identify more efficient ways to report complaints such as adding signage/branding; B) Develop metrics to help track/measure the success of proactive enforcement efforts; C) Delay adoption of the Deemed Approved Ordinance (DAO) to December 31, 2014. Once information from the proactive efforts are collected and evaluated, have the DAO returned to the Planning Commission for review in February 2015; D) Should the Council adopt draft Ordinance No. 2014-01, remove the reference "incompatible uses" under Section 30.27.010(A) attached herein as Exhibit A to Attachment 1 of the Agenda Report; E) Receive an overview of other actions taken by the City to address the concerns raised relative to impacts associated with alcohol serving businesses; F) Consider the proactive enforcement and outreach program described in the Agenda Report. Should the Council wish to implement the program, the required staffing will be presented as part of the FY2014-15 budget process in May 2014 as per previous Council direction.

2014-03-19 Item #10A Public Hearing to Consider Draft Ordinance 2014-01 - Alcoholic Beverage Sale Regulations

How about another idea? A part-time, contract Code Enforcement Officer working Thursday through Sunday, 8pm to closing, paid for by the Encinitas Hospitality Association. If the EHA doesn't want to pay for it, give them the Deemed Approved Ordinance.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

City of Surfing Madonna emulates City of Angels

Today's LA Times:
The [sales tax] proposal drew a critical response from Jack Humphreville, a neighborhood council member who campaigned successfully against the city's sales tax hike last year. Humphreville said that in recent years, money that should have gone to repairs went instead to "over-the-top compensation" for city workers.

The city's elected officials "were grossly negligent over the last two decades in maintaining our infrastructure," he said.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Kranz drops deferred maintenance bombshell

Lost in the excitement over Council Member Lisa Shaffer's inter-meeting vote switch on a sales tax poll was the remarkable acknowledgement of the city's financial condition by Tony Kranz.

Logan Jenkins:
We’re informed the deferred maintenance on infrastructure in Encinitas is staggering. Councilman Tony Kranz tells me the pricetag is $25 million or much more.
While activists have long known that deferred road maintenance was a major problem on par with our unfunded pension liabilities (and believe that "or much more" is the operative phrase), this was the first time that a city insider had publicly acknowledged the magnitude of the problem. The statement directly contradicts the official party line that Encinitas is well-managed and fiscally responsible. A few recent examples:

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.
Thanks to Tony Kranz for beginning a long-overdue honest discussion of the Encinitas financial mess, and to Lisa Shaffer for making a similarly important revelation last month about the annual amount of ongoing road maintenance decline.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

No, Virginia, there is no financial plan for Encinitas' rising pension costs

In her Feb 22 newsletter, Mayor Barth wrote, "the city has already included a 10% annual increase in the current six year financial plan beginning in FY 2015/16." To city-watchers, it was great news that the city was actually thinking ahead and already had a plan to pay for not just increased pension costs, but the new debt service and operating costs for the Hall Park as well as perhaps ending the short-sighted, costly deferral of road maintenance.

Barth was relying on an e-mail from Finance Director Tim Nash to the council in response to a question from Council Member Lisa Shaffer:
In the current six year financial plan projected contributions to PERS are increased approximately 10% per year beginning in FY 2015/16. By FY 2018/19 (the final year of the current six year plan) contributions are assumed to increase 40%. When the six year plan is updated to add FY 2019/20 another 10% increase will be included resulting in a total 50% increase in PERS contributions between FY 2015/16 and FY 2019/20.
Encinitas Undercover wanted more information so that we could share the good news with our readers. Somehow, City Manager Gus Vina had found a way to increase revenues and/or cut costs that resulted in a balanced financial plan even including rapidly rising pension costs, road maintenance, park operations, and debt service. It seemed too good to be true.

Well, you know what they say about things that sound too good to be true. We asked for a copy of the current six year financial plan that Nash referred to.  No current plan was provided, and the response was:
The 10% annual increase that the Mayor is referring to is the anticipated increase in PERS contributions for actuarial changes that CalPERS has implemented. The “draft” financial plan was included in a couple of slides in the CIP presentation on 2/12/2014 and is included as an attachment to the agenda report for that meeting. The final budget and financial plan will be discussed at three City Council meetings in May with final adoption in June.
In fact, the CIP presentation on February 12 did not include anything that could be remotely considered a financial plan, "draft" or otherwise. A financial plan, in any normal sense of the term, would show projected revenues and expenses by category, and an explanation for any significant increases or decreases.  Nothing like that exists in the presentation.

Apparently, the most that can honestly be said is that the city is aware that costs are going up, but has absolutely no plans on how to pay for the increases. That's quite a different reality than the Mayor's reassuring statement to the public based on staff assurances to the council.

Wouldn't any competent city manager have created at least a medium-range financial plan before starting a project as large and expensive as the Hall Park construction? And what does it say of our city council that they didn't even require Gus Vina to produce a plan before they approved his borrowing and spending?

Communications Director Marlena Medford and Mayor Barth were very helpful and responsive to our inquiries, and both seem genuinely interested in improving transparency in the city's financial plans, as does Council Member Tony Kranz. We hope to see a legitimate six-year financial plan at the city's budget meetings in May.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kranz, Barth, Shaffer push foward with futile $100,000 sales tax survey

Encinitas residents should be surveyed on whether they would support raising the city’s sales tax rate to pay for roadway improvements, new trails or other civic projects, a majority of the City Council indicated Wednesday night.

The council voted 3-2, with Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir opposed, to seek cost estimates from survey research companies, with the goal of voting on a contract next month.

Conducting surveys and doing other community research is likely to cost at least $100,000, one research consultant told the council Wednesday night.

Catherine Lew, president and CEO of the Oakland-based Lew Edwards Group research company, also warned Encinitas officials that they should set a fast pace if they hope to have their tax proposal ready to go before the city’s voters in November. Other communities proposing to put sales tax proposals on the 2014 general election ballot started work last year, she said.

Even without that time crunch issue, the sales tax hike proposal appeared on Wednesday night to be highly unlikely to make the November ballot. In order for the proposal to go on the ballot, four of the city’s five council members must back it, and two council members — Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir — said there was no way they were going raise residents’ taxes.

“You can count me out,” Gaspar said, commenting that she doesn’t believe city leaders have done enough to make certain the city is living within its means.

“When we’re exploring any kind of a tax, it needs to be a last resort — I don’t believe we’re in that place,” she said.

Muir agreed.

“My standards for raising taxes are pretty high … I will not be one of the four-fifths voters,” he said.

But Mayor Teresa Barth, Councilman Tony Kranz and Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said the survey work was worth doing, even if the sales tax proposal was unlikely to make it on the November ballot. Shaffer said she would like to get the survey results to find out how residents would like the extra tax money spent.
Watch the consultant's presentation from last night. The survey isn't about finding out what the public wants. It's about how to spin a sales tax increase to get it to pass.

If they're honest about it, we would see survey questions like this:

1) Would you like to raise sales taxes to improve road maintenance?

2) Would you like to raise sales taxes to avoid the need to reform pensions?

3) Would you like to raise sales taxes so that Encinitas' hundreds of city workers can continue to earn more than $92,000 on average plus $36,000 in benefits?

Do you think those would poll overwhelmingly positive? 60% or 70% in favor as Mayor Barth suggested last night?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sales tax increase

Gus Vina hired a consultant, speaking now, on how to sell a sales tax increase to the public.


Pacific View sale to continue

10 News:
The auction of the old Pacific View Elementary site is moving forward despite protests at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Nearly 100 people attended the Encinitas Union School District's board meeting in an attempt to convince the trustees to postpone or stop the auction of the property. The opponents of the auction asked district leaders to keep the space public.

"This was a gift from the public, by the community to the school district and it's time for the school district to reciprocate," said a speaker.


The trustees told the group to share their concerns at Wednesday night's City Council meeting. The auction is planned for Tuesday, Mar. 25 at a minimum bid of $9.5 million.

Happy 30th Michelle Kook


Tuesday, March 11, 2014


The guy who sold the Peak Democracy program to Gus Vina is running for City Council himself in Berkeley.

He's got some big, unorthodox ideas he calls "moonshots": self-driving golf cart taxis, electronic surveillance systems, etc. Many of the ideas would not be as relevant to Encinitas as we don't (yet) have Berkeley's terrible traffic, parking, and crime problems.

But his decibel-monitoring system gave us one idea that could be useful in Encinitas. How about decibel monitors on 2nd Street that are programmed to cut off the power to Union when noise reaches a certain level?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Alex Fidel weighs in on contentious issues

While likely mayoral candidates Teresa Barth and Kristin Gaspar have agreed on almost every major issue this term (Desert Rose, Prop A, budget, Communications Director, His Excellence Gus Vina, etc.), we have identified four votes in which they disagreed. Now Alex Fidel, so far the only declared candidate for mayor, gives us his positions on these issues.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

We love Encinitas the way it is

A love letter from Aspen:
But the cool thing about Encinitas is that not much has changed. Surf culture is relatively timeless in terms of its dress, daily rhythms and attitude. All of my favorite haunts are still there. I got to have my grilled-fish taco platter at Las Olas, Curry Panang at Siamese Basil, the Ahi Wrap at Ki’s, and a soy latte and gluten-free muffin at the Pannikin in Leucadia. I even took Ryan into Cardiff Seaside Market not to grocery shop but to browse, to see the sesame-encrusted seared ahi in the gourmet deli, the fresh flowers, the beautiful vegetables and the amazing baked goods that somehow taste good even though they’re this-free and that-free.
See also Waves to Ride: A Better Mousetrap

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Communications plan open thread

From our perspective, Marlena Medford is a smart, professional, friendly woman with a thankless task.

What's your reaction to tonight's presentation?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Kranz blocks underpriced land deal based on shoddy appraisal

The City of Encinitas has a history of shady land deals that enrich wealthy landowners and developers at the expense of the public, from the not-so-"turnkey" Mossy public works yard to the unremediated toxic waste at the Hall property.

Last week a much smaller, but equally ill-conceived and eyebrow-raising, land deal was on the council agenda.  An oddly-shaped, city-owned 0.2 acre parcel near Santa Fe and Lake Drive is surrounded by a developer property.  The developer wants to buy the property and merge it with the larger adjacent property.

The city's appraisal came in at $16,000, about $2 / sq. ft., reflecting its odd shape, lack of access, and unsuitability for building as a stand-alone lot.  Staff recommended, and the council appeared ready to go along with, selling the lot at this price... until Council Member Tony Kranz pointed out that it was ridiculous to sell for $2 / sq. ft. a property that would be worth $50 / sq. ft. when merged with the larger property.

Kranz having raised the uncomfortable question, the rest of the council agreed to ask staff to go back to the appraiser (side note: who pays a $2000 appraisal fee, more than 12% of the alleged value, to value an empty lot? Homeowners get appraisals valuing both land and structures for a few hundred bucks!).  No vote was taken on the land sale.

After a year when the city council's decisions consisted primarily of unanimously rubber-stamping City Manager Gus Vina's plans, it's nice to see somebody finally asking some questions and tapping the brakes.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Communications Plan

The city's new Communications Director has unveiled the Communications Plan.  There are two key new systems: OpenGov, which promises to give the public access to city financial data; and Peak Democracy, an online opinion-gathering tool.

If OpenGov delivers as promised, it will be an important and long-overdue step toward transparency.  For example, Mayor Barth stated in last week's newsletter that the city had already budgeted for five years of 10% annual increases in pension costs.  But to our knowledge, no five-year operating budget has ever been shown to the public, nor could we find any such document online.  If the city actually has a plan to pay for pensions as well as the Hall Park operations and debt service, that would be most welcome news indeed!

As for Peak Democracy, it claims to fairly engage the public by creating an online forum that requires commenters to be authenticated.  We suspect that its use will be dominated, just as council meetings are, by special interests and a handful of activists.  Online surveys get filled out primarily by people on mass e-mail lists when an issue comes up that affects their particular interest.  And the council's interest in knowing what the public wants would be more credible if the council hadn't spent the last year doing the exact opposite of what the public clearly and vocally wanted on so many issues: Desert Rose, Prop A, retaining Sabine, pronouncing Vina "excellent," hiring an expensive new Communications Director...