12/16/14: First Council Meeting Thoughts & Next Meeting Preview

What a great first week!

I was sworn in, unanimously appointed to be the Deputy Mayor and the next night had my first (five-hour!) City Council meeting. The City Council atmosphere felt positive and cohesive to me, with the individual council members working well with each other and the city staff to get the city’s business done. It’s so much easier to accomplish tasks in an environment of collaboration and good will. I have genuinely positive feelings toward all four of my colleagues, and look forward to the time we spend together on Wednesday nights. I aim to maintain this, even when we have our inevitable differences.

One interesting observation about sitting on the City Council dais is that it’s not entirely clear who to speak to in making decisions and offering commentary. By state law, the Council meeting is designed for elected officials to do the city’s business in public (instead of behind closed doors), so it’s our only chance to talk to each other before voting on the matters before us. But the Council chambers are oriented as if we’re talking to the audience — and it’s the public’s trust, and public’s money, that’s at stake. The reality is the city staff is doing the heavy lifting of the actual work, so there can be a tendency to have a dialogue back and forth with the city staff because they are the subject matter experts. It’s an interesting juggle.

At the end of the meeting, I requested a future agenda item to address the public health issue that arises when city parks double as dog parks during specific hours. I’d like to see a half fence, or other demarcation, around the playground equipment and sand boxes to keep dogs off areas where kids play. Both Orpheus and Viewpoint Park are considerations for this pilot project. The rest of the Council seemed to agree this was worth looking into.

At tomorrow night’s (Wednesday’s) meeting, here are some of the issues we’ll consider:

  1. Discuss how best to handle the City Manager’s resignation last week and the process for selecting an interim City Manager. The city manager, Gus Vina, took another city manager job near Sacramento. The City Manager is the CEO of the city and manages all the day-to-day operations associated with its 250 employees. The direction of the city can be heavily influenced by this position. Although I only served with him for a few short weeks, he was clearly very skilled. Hiring for this position is our opportunity to affect the direction of our city into the future.
  2. A subcommittee to develop a strategy to deal with the consequences of climate change in Encinitas, specifically rising sea levels and bluff erosion. Council Members Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz are proposing a subcommittee with two members of the Environmental Commission to come up with a plan for areas, such as Coast Highway 101 in Cardiff, that are particularly vulnerable to the rising sea levels. These meetings would take place in public, with the public invited. Stay tuned for more on this and opportunities to get involved.
  3. An appeal of city staff approval of a four-parcel subdivision near Berryman Canyon Road. Background: The proposed development is four homes on about two acres near the San Dieguito Tennis Club, the Grauer School and the retirement home Somerford Place of Encinitas. Berryman Canyon Road, which is currently dirt and serves five homes, will be paved. A resident is appealing the planning department’s approval of the project based on concerns about storm water runoff, fire danger, parking, grading, placement of driveways and homes, and the procedural approach.
  4. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Background: At the end of every fiscal year, an independent CPA firm audits the city’s finances and gives an unbiased report to City Council. In the last fiscal year, the city’s total revenues were $101.4 million, which is up from $93.7 million in the previous fiscal year. The city’s total expenses were $82.9 million, up from $81.9 million the year before. Overall the city revenues (mostly stemming from property and sales tax) were well above the forecast for the year and expenditures (mostly employee compensation) were under budget. The city has total debt of $47.5 million and the debt service on that amount for the City Hall building, the public library and the Encinitas Community Park, is $4.5 million a year. This is 7.5 percent of operating revenue, and it’s the city’s policy to stay under 10 percent. Overall our financial position looks excellent – we have a “large and diverse tax base”, “very strong income levels”, “very strong financial performance and fund balance positions” and a “low-to-moderate debt level.”
  5. We’ll approve the Mayor’s appointments to various regional boards and two vacancies on city commissions.

Blakespear PoinsettiaThank you for your interest in the city of Encinitas! Please forward this email to anyone interested. Send me an email stating “Add me” and I’ll include you on my email list.

With much gratitude for your trust in electing me to the City Council,
Blakespear Signature- Catherine

(At right, our historic Ecke poinsettia bush is in bloom!)