ENCINITAS — For years, Encinitas served as Peder Norby’s home away from home.
Although he’s lived in Carlsbad for nearly three decades, much of his time over the past 16 years was spent shaping Encinitas’ coastal corridor.
Norby signed on as the executive director of the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association (DEMA) in 1997. Later, he became the city’s Highway 101 coordinator, a role in which he promoted local businesses, events and projects.
Needless to say, he’s witnessed Encinitas’ growing coastal business scene firsthand.
“Today, the biggest difference I see is people giving the (coastal) district a bear hug,” Norby said. “They eat here, they exercise here and they shop here.
“Before, people generally weren’t shopping in downtown,” Norby added. “They maybe had one or two favorite coastal businesses, but they mainly went east to other stores.”
Norby will no longer have a front-row seat to changes in the coastal corridor. He recently ended his contract with Encinitas to focus on sustainable ventures with the city of Carlsbad. Norby said his passion for “relocalization” prompted the decision.
Solar panels on his 4,600-square-foot Carlsbad home generate enough energy to power his home and car, along with his wife’s automobile. And some of the food he eats, as well as the wine he drinks, is grown on his estate.
“My goal is to shrink my footprint as much as possible for water and energy use,” Norby said. “Part of the decision to go to Carlsbad is I can ride my bike to work.”
The other part of relocalization? He wants to better know his community.
“I have one foot in Encinitas and Carlsbad,” Norby said. “It’s a bit awkward. I want to have a better feel for what’s happening in Carlsbad by working on projects that are near me.”
Beyond laying his head in Carlsbad, Norby has quite a bit of history with the city.
Born in San Diego, Norby began working in his godfather’s bakery at 10 years old. He worked his way up the ladder as he got older, eventually saving enough money to buy a home at 19 years old. Twelve months later, he opened his own bakery in Carlsbad, eventually leading to more locations.
Years later, his ties to the city grew stronger when he became part of a bid to bring Legoland to Carlsbad.
While visiting Denmark in 1984, it just so happened Norby shared a fence with a Legoland executive. They struck up a conversation, and Norby learned Legoland was launching its first location outside of Denmark.
Even though Norby and other officials lobbied for Carlsbad, Legoland chose England. Five years later, though, Carlsbad got a second shot.
It came down to a city in Virginia and Carlsbad. Carlsbad had three speaker slots to make its final case to Legoland executives. And Norby fought to include a local 10-year-old boy who had won Lego contests as part of the delegation.
“You can imagine the pressure of telling a senator they were beat out by a 10-year-old boy for the last slot,” Norby said.
“If you were to ask me what swayed the decision, it was that boy,” he added.
At that point, Norby realized his passion lied in community and economic development. A fan of downtown mainstreets, he was drawn to DEMA.
“There’s a culture and diversity downtown,” Norby said. “From the homeless person to the rich guy from Rancho Santa Fe, and everything in between, I love that dynamic.”
One of the major projects he helped champion: re-establishing the Encinitas sign that hangs above Coast Highway 101 near D Street.
The first Encinitas sign came down in 1937. A new sign was floated in the 1980s as a means of boosting civic pride, but funding was an issue. Thanks to heavy campaigning from Norby and others in the community, the City Council finally approved funds for a new Encinitas sign in 1998.
At the time, Norby noted DEMA also tackled a high downtown vacancy rate, particularly at The Lumberyard. While counterintuitive at first blush, Norby decided it should be more selective when it comes to business attraction.
“Instead of going after anyone who can pay the rent, we wanted to take a closer look at our business mix,” Norby said.
Now, he added, downtown has distinguished itself from other Encinitas areas with an emphasis on independent retailers. And in contrast to the past, there’s a wide range of shops, including a hardware store and grocery store.
“The focus on mom and pops, the mix of shops — it made the area a destination,” Norby said.
Then, six years ago, Norby was named Highway 101 coordinator, where he focused on promoting businesses for the entire coastal corridor he Encinitas. He also nurtured the fledgling Leucadia and Cardiff 101 mainstreets.
But Norby said the credit for downtown’s revitalization belongs to private investment and City Council decisions like the “retail-only” restriction for the ground floors of buildings on South Coast Highway 101.
Encinitas Mayor Teresa Barth said Norby is being at least a little humble. Above all else, he has a knack for bringing together groups with opposing viewpoints.
“Under his direction, the collective of the group will rally together and arrive at a smart decision,” Barth said.
“I’m a big fan of what the mainstreets have done,” she added.
Norby’s reputation as a uniter led the City Council to ask him to help reboot its General Plan in 2011.
The request came about because residents widely panned a consultant’s plan to cluster future housing along El Camino Real as part of the General Plan update. Or, as Norby puts it: “The General Plan update exploded.”
In the wake, the city formed two stakeholder groups, GPAC and ERAC, to make recommendations on housing, and Norby agreed to facilitate them.
A group of city activists said Norby was unfit to represent these groups, alleging that he misrepresented work from a past Cardiff advisory panel. In response, Norby said that he was “unfairly targeted” by some due to widespread dissatisfaction over the General Plan.
For her part, Barth said that Norby stayed cool in the face of intense public pressure.
“Whether you think the GPAC and ERAC results were good, bad or ugly, Peder kept a civil tone,” Barth said.
“I never heard of him losing his cool,” she added.
Norby said his listening skills can be traced to being the third of eight children.
“If you’re presenting yourself as the expert who knows everything, you won’t last long in a family with seven brothers and sisters,” Norby said.
Because the ERAC and GPAC results have been presented to City Council, and the mainstreet programs are established, Norby said “it’s a good time” to be moving on.
In Carlsbad, there are loose plans for Norby to oversee bike path installations, a redo of the Palomar Airport Road freeway interchange and a pedestrian crossing at Chestnut Avenue.
“I’ve been disconnected with that area for 15 years,” Norby said. “I’m looking forward to understanding the culture and what can be done.”