Protecting Encinitas from high density building, over-development and control by a 4/5 super majority City Council to change land use zoning all represent the “spirit” of the Prop A — The Right-to-Vote Initiative.
The City Council agrees with this intent and at the May 22 meeting voted unanimously to eliminate the 4/5 super majority exception and added a requirement for voter approval of the comprehensive General Plan update. Council will submit these changes for voter ratification on the Nov. 4, 2014 General Election ballot.
Unfortunately, the Initiative also included language the City Council could not support because of ambiguity that, in the council’s opinion, could lead to interpretations contrary to the “spirit” of the initiative and to the detriment of the community.
For example, the Initiative will amend components of previously approved Specific Plans, based on past experiences these provisions must be certified by the California Coastal Commission before they can go into effect in the coastal zone, which is approximately two-thirds of the city.
Former Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan has stated that the Coastal Commission would not delay the implementation of the Initiative, yet recently the Cardiff Specific Plan, approved by the City Council in July 2010 could not be implemented without Coastal Commission approval. It took nearly three years and required changes requested by the Commission. During this time the existing codes prevailed.
There is no clear answer as to what the impacts would be if the Coastal Commission does not approve changes required by a voter-approved initiative.
All of this uncertainty and ambiguity opens the door for legal challenges.
Supporters of the Prop A say that it doesn’t change any existing property rights but that is not entirely true. Only if a property owner has a valid building permit and performed substantial work on the project are they considered “vested” and not affected by the changes.
I sympathize with the public’s desire to limit over-development and their frustration with state-mandated requirements such as the Density Bonus Law that requires the city to grant developers waivers from city development standards, including density, height limits and parking requirements, if the projects include as few as one affordable unit.
However, the courts have been very clear that state law supersedes local regulations and voter approved initiatives.
By establishing more restrictive regulations, the more likely it is that property owners will use the Density Bonus Law to circumvent our constraints. The very projects the proponents thought they were preventing may become more common if Prop A is approved.
Prop A supporters argue that the council could have adopted the Initiative outright, saving the cost of a special election. However, Section 13 of the Initiative specifically requests a Special Election if the petition was signed by not less than 15 percent of the voters in the city, which was the case.
Even if I agreed 100 percent with all sections of the Initiative, I believe that all Encinitas voters should have the “Right to Vote” on the Right to Vote Initiative.
Furthermore, a decision of this significance should be determined by the majority of the voters not 15 percent who signed a petition, which they may or may not have read.
I understand the public’s desire to have control over what happens in their community. However, I do not believe it is possible to make precise rules to deal with the complex nature of our diverse community.
The character of a community is defined by much more than the height of buildings…it’s the beaches, parks and open space, libraries, schools, thriving local businesses, arts and culture, public safety and the diverse people who live here.
That is why the City Council will seek voter approval of the comprehensive General Plan Update providing the community with a greater voice in our future not just the heights of the buildings.
I urge you to Vote No on Prop A and become actively engaged in the process to update our General Plan so that we as a community can come together to create a positive vision for our future.
I am committed to doing the right thing but not in an irresponsible way.
Vote No on Prop A.
Disclaimer: Comments represent my opinion and should not be considered the opinion of the City Council or the city of Encinitas. References to the City Council are statements of fact based on council actions.
Editors note: Teresa Barth is mayor of the city of Encinitas.