8/23/20: Leucadia Timeshare Project Rejected

August 23, 2020

This week the Encinitas City Council unanimously denied a permit application for “Surfer’s Point,” a timeshare project on a parcel of vacant land at the northeast corner of La Costa Ave. and Highway 101.

The site of the proposed Surfer’s Point timeshare development, on the north side of La Costa Ave., by the palm tree.

This project was recommended for approval by the city’s planning staff, but had been denied by the appointed planning commissioners. That’s an unusual procedural posture for a project when it lands on our desks.

The applicant spoke at the virtual City Council hearing, sharing that he purchased the property in 1999 and has been trying to develop it for the last 21 years. The Planning Commission approved permits for the project 15 years ago in 2005, but the Coastal Commission appealed the project. Then a long period of inactivity began when the recession hit in 2008. 

In 2005, the then-26-unit project (it was resubmitted as 25 units) was to be constructed spanning property that was owned by both the applicant and the North County Transit District (NCTD), which operates the railroad right-of-way. A signed lease with NCTD allowed for this development.

I reviewed the project documents and discovered that, after the passage of many years and changing circumstances, there was no indication of a current signed lease with NCTD. The project also had been “phased” from a single construction event to two, to account for the fact that NCTD planned to install a second railroad track and would re-evaluate sometime in the future.

This is an inadequate premise on which to base these permits and this project. The project had substantially changed, and the circumstances around the project had also substantially changed. 

Given this and other changes since 2005, the City Council determined that the EIR (environmental document) analysis was insufficient in failing to adequately address changed circumstances and project modifications. In addition, there was strong evidence that the permits had expired. 

On August 19, the Encinitas City Council considered the Surfer’s Point permit application in a virtual public meeting.

After law school, I clerked for an appellate court judge, doing legal research and writing draft opinions for the judge’s consideration. Working in appellate law is very different from the work of an elected official, which includes public speaking, corresponding with constituents about problems, and big-picture planning.

But when the City Council evaluates appeals in its quasi-judicial role, it’s gratifying to be able to use my legal and analytic background to figure out the proper course of action.

After researching voluminous records and analyzing facts and the law over multiple days, it felt somewhat like watching a figure emerge from a block of clay as the truth started to form from the material beneath it. (A biography of Michelangelo I read years ago described his experience of freeing the figure from the unformed marble – that visual stuck with me as a humble aspiration).

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the limitations of what came before the City Council last week. We were considering the applicant’s permits only, not any future project or development on that property, or any alternate uses of the property. Those issues were simply not part of this agenda item, and it would have been impermissible for us to consider them at this meeting.

The applicant, or the investors he represents, have a property right to their land and they can develop it according to the zoning matrix, which in this case is “visitor-serving commercial.” The applicant also has the right to sell the property. I point these things out because sometimes people believe that the city has the power to unilaterally rezone property for another use, such as open space, but that isn’t legally allowable.

I’d like to recognize the important contributions of the Planning Commissioners, who were all deeply engaged on this project, the Encinitas residents who wrote emails and spoke at the hearings, and the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, which provided needed context on environmental matters. I also empathize with the applicant’s years-long effort.

Free Zoom event on Encinitas housing Tuesday

This Tuesday, August 25 at 6 p.m., I’ll be joining Encinitas 4 Equality for a free hour-long Zoom event tackling “the perils, pitfalls and opportunities of housing in Encinitas.” I hope you’ll be there, too.

E4E is a non-profit that emerged recently during the national outrage in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. Their leaders and members have impressed me with their passion and desire to delve beneath the surface on several issues to create a more equitable Encinitas.

As E4E’s Zoom invitation states, “We believe that a diverse community is a beautiful and just community and that one of the obstacles to a more diverse community is the access to affordable housing. We know that sculpting the future is contingent on a deep understanding of the past, and learning how we can make changes to meet the present hurdles.”

You can make your free reservation here, and submit questions in advance by emailing Encinitas4equ[email protected].

Teaming up with Terra!

The campaign for my re-election as your mayor continues. I’m excited about a joint virtual campaign event at 6:30 p.m. on September 10 with Terra Lawson-Remer, who is running to represent us as our Supervisor.

You can register for our joint virtual Meet & Greet here!

I offer full-throated support for Terra’s campaign to represent us at the County Board of Supervisors, and I believe it’s the most consequential race in San Diego County. I strongly encourage you to check out Terra’s platform and see for yourself why she’s a better fit for this district. You can find information about her, or donate to her campaign here

Searching for a new city manager

Here you see your City Council sitting outside and properly distanced as we interview candidates for our next Encinitas City Manager. We’ve met with some outstanding candidates and I’m really pleased with the high caliber of applicants that Encinitas has attracted.

It’s always interesting to talk with people who run other cities; they provide insights and experiences that add depth to my own perspective as your mayor.  

Thoughts on the Democratic National Convention

(CNN photo.)

I was inspired and energized by the Democratic National Convention last week. The “Build Back Better” theme and the combination team of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris strikes me as what our nation needs right now. 

I recently finished reading an excellent book given to me by a constituent called The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power, who was the former US Ambassador to the United Nations while Joe Biden served as Vice-President.

One of my main takeaways was the power that comes from a sequence of small solutions, which she and her team termed “shrink the change,” which went along with President Obama’s version of that sentiment – “better is good.” We might not be able to solve large intractable problems completely or quickly (homelessness and climate change come to mind) but “better is good.”

The author quotes a friend, stating the simple truth that “governments can either do harm or do good” and “what we do depends on one thing: the people. Institutions, big and small, were made up of people. People had values, and people made choices.” 

In our upcoming election – from the top of the ticket and all the way down the ballot – each candidate is an individual person. Their values and their choices, as demonstrated by what they’ve done and what they stand for, will define our collective direction for a long time.

I’ll leave you with a Chinese proverb about choosing to do something small in contrast to spending time admiring the problem:

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

In ongoing service,

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