ENCINITAS — After receiving an email in October of last year, Duff Pickering, a resident of New Encinitas, said his eyes were opened. He read the summary of the city’s general plan with great surprise. Enough so, that he was moved to action.“I’ve lived here for 13 years, it’s all new to me,” Pickering said. “I’m not an activist-I didn’t know where city hall was before this.” He’s now addressed the council three times on the general plan issue.
Pickering has coordinated with other residents to disseminate information about the general plan. The loosely defined group has developed a website and a mission to “provide information about the New Encinitas General Plan 2035 for the residents of New Encinitas in the hope that it provides awareness, and gives our community a stronger voice within Greater Encinitas.”
The policy document intended to guide the city’s decision-making over the next 25 years is comprised of multiple elements that inform planners, developers, policymakers and the community.
Beginning in January 2010, a general plan advisory committee, along with city staff and a consultant, began the first phase of updating the general plan. The city’s blueprint has been updated to address new policy issues such as sustainable and healthy communities, green building codes and emissions standards.
The plan also speaks to traffic circulation, walkable communities, economic and environmental sustainability and recycling. The existing general plan was adopted in 1989.
The group has met a “handful of times” according to Pickering and keeps in regular communication via email and phone. “We’re representing a broader concern,” he said. “The more we talked, the more we realized how few residents really understood what the impact will be on New Encinitas.”
The group has tripled in size in the last few months according to Pickering. “The petition (on the website) has been signed by over 600 people,” he said. “That’s not our family and our neighbors, we’ve touched a nerve. That’s strengthened our voice.”
Among the group’s main concerns is the way in which the public input was solicited. “The input was very small,” Pickering said. “The city planning department did a poor job of advertising (workshops).”
However, between January and June 2010 five community-specific workshops and a citywide workshop were facilitated. Additional public workshops and open-houses have been heavily advertised and well-attended.
Diane Langager, a principal city planner said the public’s concerns were at the forefront of developing the document. “It is a citywide document” she said, referring to crafting a blueprint that encompasses five distinct communities.
“We’ve really honored the process,” Langager said. She noted that the planning department relied heavily on public input from various community workshops to develop the draft. “We’ve expanded and enhanced our outreach to the public even further,” she said. “There will be ample opportunity for input.”
In an effort to garner even more public participation, the City Council agreed with a subcommittee recommendation on Dec. 14 to create a panel to comb through the draft general plan.
The Element Review Advisory Committee is slated to go over each part of the extensive blueprint for the city’s future growth during a series of meetings.
The 23-member group is comprised of volunteers that held its first meeting on Feb. 13. Depending on the rate of progress, meeting dates could run through July according to a planning department document.
The committee will analyze each element of the policy document over the course of several months including land use, housing, traffic circulation, parks, recreation and public facilities, resource management, public safety and health and noise.
The general plan land use element is particularly disturbing, explained Pickering. “So much of it (future residential development) is being so focused in such a small area of the city. That simply doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “The area is already one of the more congested places in the city. We’re really concerned about changing the character of the community.”
Langager said that traffic counts based on increased density were an unknown because the analysis and an environmental impact report have not been fully completed. “We just don’t know the answer to that yet,” she said.
“That’s a lot of people to insert into the El Camino Real corridor,” Pickering said, referring to the population projections used by the planning department and consultant.
“New Encinitas is a highly functional area. Everything I need is close by,” he said. “There are ways to improve it, but not by increasing the number of people.” He questioned whether other areas of town would be able to absorb some of the population expansion. “We’re looking for some fairness.”
He said the city planning staff responds to the group’s criticism by saying certain elements are required. “They’ve shifted from ‘what do you want’ to ‘we have to (do this).’”
The state does have mandates for capping greenhouse gases, creating affordable housing and other regulations that are addressed within the general plan. “We must meet state laws,” Langager said.
Patricia Stielder, a New Encinitas resident said she’s heard “rumblings” about the general plan but hasn’t attended any meetings. “I think a lot of us are late to the table on this one and are realizing that it’s one of the most important issues our city is going to face.” She said she plans to attend future workshops to learn more and increase her participation. “I can’t really complain unless I was a part of it.”
To access the general plan visit encinitas2035.info