ENCINITAS — Council could have adopted the “Right to Vote” initiative at Wednesday night’s meeting, but in the end, Council ordered an independent analysis of the initiative’s fiscal impact and effect on land use.
Under the initiative, any zoning changes that increase height or density beyond current city limits would require a majority vote from the public. Additionally, changing the zoning type of a parcel in some circumstances would need voter approval.
Councilman Tony Kranz noted he signed the initiative last year. But he was reluctant to adopt it outright during the meeting.
“My signature was a step in getting this question before the voters,” Kranz said.
The independent analysis on the initiative will be presented to Council either on the March 13 or March 20 meeting. At the meeting, Council once again has the option of adopting the initiative. If Council declines to do that, the initiative will be placed on the ballot for a special election, likely for June 4. The special election would cost the city an estimated $350,000 to $400,000.
More than a dozen proponents of the initiative at Wednesday’s meeting urged Council to adopt it then and there. For one, they said that action would save money on a special election. Most of all, they argued the initiative is critical to preserving community character.
“This is not a no-growth initiative,” said Bruce Ehlers, spokesman for the initiative. He added that residents would vote in favor of development they can live with.
“It puts the final approval in the hands of the voter,” Ehlers said.
Many in favor of the initiative referenced the stalled General Plan Update, a blueprint of housing and land use in Encinitas. Troubling to them, they said drafts of the General Plan Update call for increases in density that would unfairly burden Encinitas neighborhoods.
Resident Keith Harrison said he is also concerned with the General Plan Update. But he made the case that the initiative should be studied more.
Harrison said people will have a better idea of what they’re voting for after an analysis is released.
“The people who signed the petition only heard one side of the debate,” Harrison said.
Further, he questioned why backers of the initiative were pressing Council to adopt it at the meeting, when the initiative is all about “the right to vote,” he said.
Two speakers at the meeting were flatly against the initiative.
Michael McSweeney, senior public policy adviser for the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, said the initiative amounts to “ballot-box planning.”
“The citizens of Encinitas elected their Council to be stewards of land use decisions,” McSweeney said. “Taking Council out of this critical decision-making process severely restrains Council’s ability to govern locally, and to exercise its representational role within SANDAG.”
The group behind the Right to Vote initiative submitted more than 8,500 signatures to the Registrar of Voters two months ago. At least 5,700 of the signatures were deemed valid, qualifying the initiative for a special election.
Currently, most of Encinitas isn’t zoned for more than 25 units per acre.
Many major zoning changes are already subject to a public vote under city rules. But Council can raise density limits and change zoning type with a four-out-of-five council member vote — a power that would be eliminated under the initiative.
Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer called Council’s ability to increase density a “loophole.”
“Whether or not the proposed initiative is approved, I think that the Council should eliminate the big loophole that exists,” Shaffer said.
She added that if the loophole is closed, some provisions in the initiative might be unnecessary.
Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said that the independent analysis should address a host of potential impacts. Namely, how the initiative would affect land use and if it could conflict with state laws.
“No matter where Council decides to take this issue, the voters will be well informed,” Gaspar said.