11/25/20: Encinitas Updates and Thanksgiving Thoughts

The last couple of weeks have been a roller coaster for all of us, with the ups and downs of the election followed by worry and anxiety about the surge in coronavirus infections.
 
Recognizing that this pandemic will be with us for a while, we also see the glimmer of hope at the likelihood of a vaccine. My husband works in healthcare, and he says we’re at mile 22 in this 26-mile marathon of coping with the pandemic – substantially more than halfway home, but even when you hit the wall you still have to push through the unpleasantness to get to the finish line.

Let’s all continue to do our part to avoid gatherings, wear our masks, physically distance, and keep ourselves and others well. 
 
I was recently in a shopping center along El Camino Real that had three store vacancies where successful businesses once operated. My heart sank for those families without jobs, landlords without paying tenants and former business owners without their livelihoods.

In my family, Thanksgiving is usually one of the most festive and celebratory holidays of the year, with my sister and her family coming down from Oregon, and family games like volleyball and (for several years) archery before the big potluck mid-afternoon meal. My mom gives an extended toast highlighting special accomplishments for all 20-something guests. 

This year it’s been cancelled to protect everyone’s health. San Diego County coronavirus hospitalizations are at record highs, including at Encinitas’ Scripps hospital, although our city’s positivity rate remains among the lowest in the county. More than 500 people now hospitalized because of coronavirus in the county; just a month ago this number was at 170.  

The current third wave of COVID-19 will be the largest and deadliest, experts say. And new evidence suggests that mutation has created a strain of the virus that infects people more easily, and has become dominant as a result. 

Experts are also encouraging us to forego travel and holiday visits with people beyond those we live with. So our nuclear family will have a very pared-down Thanksgiving meal, thankfully still featuring turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce homemade by our son yesterday.

Despite the changes, our sense of gratitude hasn’t diminished this year. I was recently asked by a friend to quickly visualize the things I’m grateful for – my family members, home and beautiful city of Encinitas appeared in my mind in concentric circles. 

There is so much to be grateful for – I invite you close your eyes and take a moment to quickly visualize something that makes you feel thankful this year. 

Now onto the city’s work. The challenges and opportunities facing the City of Encinitas go on, and the prospects for building a better future are exciting! Just around the corner, 2021 beckons. 

Here are some recent developments:

Designing the El Camino Real corridor’s future

The El Camino Real corridor, with east at top and Encinitas Blvd. to the right.

The city approved the acceptance of a $300,000 state grant to create an El Camino Real Corridor Specific Plan, which will allow the community to create a planning document for future residential and commercial uses in this corridor.

As the staff report, linked here, states:  “Existing conditions of the El Camino Real Corridor include a series of commercial (strip mall-style plazas) with varying depths and uses. Several buildings and uses existing within the area were developed prior to the incorporation of the City (before 1986), and as such create inconsistencies of development from adjacent properties and uses. 

“Existing provisions within the Encinitas Municipal Code leave limited deviations for new development or redevelopment within the corridor… Additionally, the irregularity of existing development impacts the flow of traffic, pedestrian friendliness, and overall connectivity of the area. 

“Development of the El Camino Real Corridor Specific Plan could significantly improve general mobility, and connectivity of the area and specific improvements will be studied and researched during the specific plan development.”

This will be a process heavily reliant on public input. The grant requires that the planning must be completed within three years. 

The City of Encinitas attempted to do an entire general plan update 10 years ago that would have up-zoned this area for substantially more housing. The plan was thrown out by the City Council at that time in the face of strong community opposition. This specific plan for the area is more narrow than an entire general update.

I look forward to creating a holistic plan for this corridor that can allow the area to evolve in ways that meet the community’s needs. 

Hemp is here and cannabis is coming

Encinitas voters appear to have approved Measure H by a slim margin, allowing up to four stores that sell cannabis products and a full supply chain, from growing to cannabis kitchens, manufacturing to sales. At this writing, the measure has garnered 19,957 in favor to 19,068 opposed (51% to 49%).

Recognizing the will of our voters, the city’s elected leadership and professional staff will implement Measure H. Interestingly, in this same election a cannabis initiative in Solana Beach failed 62% to 38%.

An unrelated issue appears to be the many complaints the city is receiving about the smell of hemp growing at Dramm Echter Farms off Quail Gardens Drive. The operator registered with the county (not with the city) to cultivate industrial hemp in 2019.

The complaints have resulted in visits by city code enforcement, the county air pollution control district, the county agriculture department, the Sheriff’s department and the county hazmat division of the Department of Environmental Health.

As a result, the landowner says that they will begin using large fans with air filters to remove the smell. The city’s zoning code prohibits nuisances, including “unreasonable odors at or beyond the lot line.” I hope the operator gets a handle on this right away. The city will continue closely monitoring the situation to ensure we’re doing everything possible to protect resident’s health and quality of life.   

Encinitas continues its environmental leadership

The city approved an update to our Climate Action Plan that was lauded by members of the Climate Action Campaign and other environmentalists. We had about 20 speakers on this item at a recent City Council meeting, each one in support. The city’s environmental commission also unanimously favored it.

Some of the highlights include more bike parking, better data tracking to document transportation choices before and after a project, electrification in new construction and a municipal telecommute policy, among other things. The staff report with more information can be found here.  
 
Upcoming City Council happenings…

The next Encinitas City Council meeting is December 8 at 6 p.m. when the election results will be certified and we will take the oath of office. This meeting is usually festive, however, the Zoom format won’t easily substitute for the feeling of energy in the room. It appears that all the same City Council members will remain on the City Council, which is a happy outcome.

Kellie Hinze, who was elected into a four-year Council seat after having been appointed in 2018, has proven to be an able deputy mayor during 2020 and I’ll miss working closely with her! At our December 8 meeting, I’ll recommend that the council name another colleague to serve as deputy mayor for 2021. We’ll also decide on appointments to the city’s outside boards. 

In subsequent newsletters, I plan on letting you know about upcoming meeting topics that you may want to weigh in on.

Let’s start now: on December 9th at 6 p.m., the City Council will introduce a new density bonus ordinance being driven by changes in state law, and we’ll discuss providing more aid to small businesses as part of the CARES Act funding the city received. To watch the webcast you can find the link here. There is no Zoom link for the meeting yet, because the agenda has not come out.

Shop local, vote for art, and let’s make it a happy Thanksgiving! 

If you’re inclined to do holiday shopping this weekend, please buy local! Our local businesses need you to survive. Our three Main Street Associations and the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce are hosting a Shop Local event this Saturday. More information can be found here.

Also, please choose your favorite art mosaic that will be installed at the Encinitas Blvd. underpass. There are three options and the survey is only one question. It’s really cool to to see how different they look. The link to the survey is here

Finally, I’m feeling grateful for you, and the opportunity to resume writing these newsy updates as your Encinitas Mayor! Thank you again for all your support in recent months. I’m hoping that you enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, even if this year is a departure from your traditions.

With gratitude and in your service,