12/13/20: SANDAG Chair Election is a Win for Encinitas

Before we jump straight into this week’s news, I want to acknowledge the difficult time we’re in right now, and the dark winter ahead. Coronavirus case numbers are surging, with more people dying every day from COVID-19 than died on 9/11. It’s being called a surge within a surge and local ICU staffing capacity is at critically low levels.

Please do everything you can to reduce risk – stay home as much as possible, as our county health guidelines state. And when you must be around others, take extra precautions by staying outside, wearing your mask, and washing your hands. Taking care of each other during this difficult time is the most important thing.
 
Looking on the bright side – the vaccine is coming and our next holiday season looks to be better than this year. We’re a strong and resilient community and we’ll make it through this difficult period together.
 
Encinitas’ influence is boosted by SANDAG election
 
At the beginning of the new year I’ll become the new chair of the SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) Board of Directors, which is the county’s $1.2 billion transportation agency. At last week’s board meeting, I was unanimously chosen by the county’s 18 mayors and elected members to lead this important agency for the next two years. It’s a tremendous honor, and an important responsibility.

When the announcement was posted on a local Facebook page, one of the first questions was: How does it help Encinitas to have the mayor spending time on this?

Great question! The simple answer is that to get things done for Encinitas, relationships and expertise are essential. Outside boards like SANDAG provide both.

Engaging in these broader efforts bring opportunities and improvements back home. And the engagements don’t detract from my ability to be connected to purely local constituencies and interests. 

In the City of Encinitas, outside agencies like SANDAG have tremendous power over what happens here. They allocate money, withhold or grant permission for projects, and hold sway with larger influential agencies like the California Coastal Commission and Caltrans.

When Encinitas officials participate in the running of larger agencies, that’s good news for Encinitas residents.

The importance of Encinitas’ relationship with SANDAG is exemplified right now with our largest infrastructure project. We just broke ground on the El Portal pedestrian railroad undercrossing, which is paired with the first phase of Leucadia Streetscape. This is a city project, but SANDAG is overseeing and managing it. Here’s more information on the project.

The construction project is taking place on property owned by the railroad operator – North County Transit District – where our very own Tony Kranz, the city’s deputy mayor, serves as chair.

These projects in the rail corridor were not a slam dunk, and at times negotiations with the agencies and their staff were bare-knuckled. One of the biggest hurdles to projects moving forward is getting everyone on the same page. A key to our successes involves building islands of supportive decision-making, ensuring that things are working smoothly, and then expanding outward to create momentum for future projects. 

None of us arrive in local elected office knowing precisely how to do the job effectively. Evaluating how successful systems are created, and knowing when and where to use leverage, are skills learned from participating with other elected officials on these powerful outside boards.

For instance, making a cold call asking for help with a regional problem, such as homelessness, isn’t nearly as effective as a warm call to a county supervisor I already know from having served together on the SANDAG board.

In short, I strongly believe that our city is best served by having your elected leadership engaged in wider community conversations – I think of it as looking up and out, instead of in and down.

Here are a couple of news articles about the SANDAG chair appointment: “Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear Named New SANDAG Chair” from the Encinitas Advocate, and “Blakespear Lays Out SANDAG Goals” from Voice of San Diego.

And here are a couple of interviews I did with KUSI News on December 9 and a more detailed one on December 13.

We’re pre-paying our pension debt

For the last six years, we’ve dedicated money at the end of the year to pre-pay the city’s accumulated pension debt. The amount each year varies, but it’s on top of the fee that CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) charges the city for our pension costs.

This fiscally prudent practice started with Councilmember Lisa Shaffer (see reference to her new book below) recommending devoting 5% of the year-end carryover for this purpose. Our goal is to chip away at the debt when it is relatively painless. For several years, we have put an extra $500,000 toward pre-paying this responsibility. 

At our last city council meeting, I pulled from the consent calendar the financial results for fiscal year 2019/2020 because the pre-payment had not been included in the budget. We then unanimously approved the change to include 5% of the $3.4 million year end carryover, or about $170,000. We will consider adding the entire $500,000 when we have financial results from the fourth quarter available.

You can read the staff report of the city’s year end finances here. Although the future holds a lot of financial uncertainty at every level, the first three months of COVID-19 (April-June 2020) actually had a surprisingly small effect on the city’s budget. 

At our Council meeting, we also provided some additional help to our embattled small business community. We approved $75,000 for small business grants to be distributed in Encinitas, as part of our CARES Act funding. Details are in this Coast News story. And the city staff report about the grants is here

Adopting a more realistic housing formula

(Photo by K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune.)

In housing news, the City Council continued its pursuit of regulations that allow new housing to fit comfortably into existing communities. We’re committed to doing everything possible to manage and guide our growth, instead of being swallowed up by it.

The city is responding to constant changes in state law related to housing and we’re doing our best to navigate the legal requirements, the desire and need for more affordable housing and the importance of preserving our city’s community character. At our last City Council meeting, we were adopting the city’s first policy for calculating the formula for “density bonus” projects, which are required under state law.

Consistent with all surrounding cities, specifically Carlsbad, Oceanside, Del Mar, Solana Beach and the City of San Diego, we unanimously supported using “net acreage” in density bonus calculations instead of “gross acreage.” “Net” means land that can actually be built upon, and excludes land that is underwater, steep cliffs and the middle of streets, among other things.

We received many supportive emails from constituents in favor of “net” acreage, and this was our Planning Commission’s recommendation, as well.

You’ll find more information in this Encinitas Advocate article.

Calling all artists

The Seacrest Village Retirement Community is seeking art proposals for a permanent public art work that resonates with the theme “Heart of Gold.” The artwork will be installed in the “heart” of Seacrest Village in Annette’s Village Square and will serve as a reminder of the love and compassion that is getting us through this pandemic and will lead us into the future with hope.

Click here for more information. 

Former Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer’s book offers local government advice

I recently ordered and enjoyed reading the sage advice of former Encinitas Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer in her new book, entitled Potholes, Parks, and Politics. The Coast News did a nice story about Lisa’s book. The book’s aim is to help residents get what they want from their local government without having to run for office themselves.

Here’s a recorded interview with Lisa and her collaborator, former Mayor Teresa Barth, from KPBS radio.

What a great holiday gift for your friend or family member engaged in local advocacy! Potholes, Parks, and Politics can be ordered directly from Lisa here

Here’s your chance to help run things!

The city’s recruitment for open commission spots is underway. Starting in March there are spots open for the Commission for the Arts, Environmental Commission, Parks & Recreation Commission, Planning Commission, Senior Commission and Traffic & Public Safety Commission. Incumbents need to apply by January 14 and new applicants by January 21. You can get more information and apply here.

Being a part of an Encinitas commission can be enriching for both you and the city. It also provides a great way to participate in local government, where you can gain crucial experience in case you’re interested in eventually running for city council or mayor.

Swearing-in, pandemic style

This week we experienced the most unusual (and efficient) swearing-in ceremony that I’ve ever seen. With very little fanfare, Councilmembers Tony Kranz, Kellie Hinze and I each took the oath of office on Zoom.

It was very cozy – I was surrounded by my immediate family in our living room. Six years ago in 2014, I was sworn in for the first time with my family at City Hall (see below). 

Today, I still maintain the same hopefulness, love for Encinitas and aspirations for our city that I brought to that first swearing-in. We’ve accomplished so much together and there’s still much to do!

And Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate!

With gratitude for all that you are and do,