It has only been a few months since our new City Council took office.
We, the tax paying citizens, had great hopes that the new council members would bring fresh air and light into city chambers darkened by shameless backroom dealings.
Recent council meetings have shattered that expectation. It is now only too painfully obvious that pro-development and special interest groups still hold their 20-year-old stranglehold on our public resources, expecting to reap huge profits on taxpayers’ expense and feeding on the public trough, while destroying the unique character of our five communities forever.
The Feb. 13 and the March 12 Council meetings on the “Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative” provide clear evidence that nothing has changed at City Hall. This long overdue initiative is about protecting our General Plan, which has served the people of Encinitas as their Constitution. Contrary to opposing claims, it does not aim to overturn the city’s General Plan, Zoning Code, and Land Use ordinances. If voted in, it will give some control back to the residents to decide whether a proposed new development, requiring major changes and exceptions to the existing Land Use Element, is appropriate for the community. It is not anti-development, but may prevent inappropriate development that violates existing codes. Existing regulations and past agreements will not be affected.
I had the good fortune of being a friend of our first Mayor, Marjorie Gaines. Before she died in 1995, she told us that we must protect our General Plan from being mutilated by special interest groups, be they land barons and out-of-town developers or old boys’ clubs. She said we must have an initiative requiring voter approval of any insidious changes to our General Plan. This is what the initiative is really about.
At both public hearings, it was evident that all council members had their mind made up before they entered the chamber. At the Feb. 13 hearing, before council had debated any pros and cons of implementing the initiative, a motion was already on the floor that council should take a negative stance on the initiative and not adopt it outright. This is strange, because three council members had signed the initiative’s petition. The council then voted unanimously to order City Manager Gus Vina to hire a consultant for analyzing the impacts of the initiative. Gus Vina stated that he had already set the process into motion. How could he have done this, unless City Manager Vina had already agreed with council on how they should vote in, what many feel, was a sham public hearing?
This breach of protocol appears to be a blatant violation of the Brown Act. Confirming evidence was brought forward at the special council meeting on March 12, when citizen Denise Martin produced copies of city documents showing that Vina had already signed a $40,000 contract with the Rutan and Tucker law firm in Costa Mesa to perform the impact study on Feb. 4, fully nine days before the council vote. A city manager takes orders only directly from the City Council, who can give the order only after council has voted to do this. This further has the appearance of implicating every council member and the council’s attorney of collusion. The law firm Rutan and Tucker is well known as the “developer’s choice” for defending clients against grassroots movements.
On March 12 Attorney Joel Kuperberg summarized the Rutan & Tucker analysis and staff report for one and a half hours, taking an extreme viewpoint of deriding the initiative as having only bad effects on city planning. He neglected to mention that all his hypothetical and contrived problems, purportedly caused by implementation of the initiative, would also occur under present city laws. Attorney Everett Delano, who drew up the initiative, was given only nine minutes to rebut allegations made by Kuperberg. There were 28 public speakers. A dozen, or so, speakers were invited spokespersons for powerful special interest groups. These speakers included representatives of the Ecke/Carltas empire, the retired Attorney Charles Marvin, a self-proclaimed hired gun for developers, and Mike Andreen.
Council promptly ignored input from pro-initiative speakers and went on to schedule plans for creating a committee for drafting a ballot statement, justifying council’s official opposition to the citizen’s initiative. No plans were made for a committee that would investigate the positive effects of the initiative. Clearly, City Council bought into pro-development forces, who are afraid of no longer being able to persuade council into modifying the municipal code in favor of inappropriate development.
All this shows just how desperately we need this initiative. If its provisions had been in place, we would have an attractive shopping plaza and cultural center instead of half a dozen ugly, unfriendly and “unwalkable” strip malls searching for a plaza amidst a sea of cars and traffic lanes covering a vast asphalt desert.
We would be getting a true, serene Community Park for young and old instead of a 43-acre soccer tournament complex heartlessly infiltrating residentially zoned neighborhoods.
Special interests, in collaboration with city officials, will spend over a million dollars to defeat this initiative. But they cannot put the people, once awakened, back to sleep. Let justice and the common good prevail.
Dietmar Rothe is a Cardiff resident.