Barth ready for her second retirement

Barth ready for her second retirement
Former Encinitas Mayor and longtime City Councilmember Teresa Barth is about to embark on her second retirement. File photo

ENCINITAS — Teresa Barth will hop on a plane Wednesday morning. She’s headed to San Francisco.

It’s the start of her second retirement.

The night before her departure, she will be saying goodbye to her second career, the Encinitas City council, on which she has served since 2006 before not seeking re-election this year.

She leaves with no regrets.

“I had set a goal of a maximum of two terms, or eight years, that was something my husband and I discussed,” Barth said. “We talked about, ‘After you retire the second time, let’s do ‘this and that.

“I felt I needed to respect that, even though running for mayor would be a two-year term,” she said.

Barth talked with the Coast News about her eight-year journey, the highs and the lows and what lies ahead for her.

“A second career”

Barth said running for city council was not something she planned on doing. Only three years removed from her retirement from the 22nd Agricultural District — better known as the Del Mar Fairgrounds — she was looking forward to enjoying her newfound free time.

Then, Christy Guerin decided to not seek re-election, and Barth — among the more active members of the Cardiff-by-the-Sea community — said she started getting asked, “Why don’t you run?”

“It wasn’t on my radar for my retirement, but I knew I never wanted to run against an incumbent, so this was kind of how it happened,” she said. “Since it didn’t appear anyone else would step up, I decided to run.”

Barth finished second behind incumbent Dan Dalager in the voting, besting her closest challenger, Doug Long, by more than 1,000 votes. She joined the late Maggie Houlihan to form a two-vote minority that would remain in place until 2012.

It wasn’t easy, Barth said.

The council majority of Jerome Stocks, Jim Bond and Dalager, Barth said, stifled Houlihan and her from bringing forth new ideas, environmental policies and discussion on other topics unpopular with the trio.

“I really never considered myself this awful person that I was portrayed as by some of my colleagues,” Barth said. “I was always one of those people who would say, ‘Can’t we all just get along.’

“It wasn’t just disagreeing with us, they were actively trying to prevent Maggie or myself from bringing forward ideas for discussions. They were trying to shut us down completely.”

Barth said that her treatment during those formative years would mold her leadership style when she finally was selected to be mayor in 2012.

“I believed that even if I didn’t agree with you, I felt you had the right to at least talk about it,” she said.

In particular, Barth said the ringleader was Stocks, whom Barth filed a harassment claim against in 2009. The claim was dismissed by a law firm hired by the city that concluded it had no merit.

Later in 2010, when Kristin Gaspar was voted into office, replacing Dalager, the council majority for a second straight year passed over Barth in the rotation for the appointed mayorship. Supporters of Barth at the time erupted at the council meeting, one of whom called Gaspar a “puppet for Stocks.”

Barth said she tried to handle her issues with Stocks internally by following the city’s employee procedures on harassment. As it happens, city council members are not treated as employees, and the matter became very public – and very messy.

Barth said she still believes Stocks’ behavior was tantamount to harassment, and believes it speaks to a broader problem of how elected official interact with their colleagues and city employees, one she compared loosely to the incidents that led to the resignation of former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner in 2013.

“There is a problem internally with how elected officials behave and how they treat their colleagues and employees, and I think there should be a way to address it so it doesn’t have to blow up into this public thing,” Barth said. “But elected officials are neither fish nor fowl.”

Barth said she has not spoken to Stocks since voters did not re-elect him in 2012.

Maggie and the 2012 change

Meanwhile, as the council’s relationship deteriorated, so did the health of Barth’s friend and ally, Houlihan.

Elected to the City Council in 2000, Houlihan, a fierce advocate for animal and environmental rights, had battled cancer before. This time, however, she would lose her battle with endometrial cancer in 2011.

Barth said Houlihan’s decline was difficult on everyone.

“I knew Maggie just before she ran for council the first time,” she said. “I really did watch her challenges, and watched her go forward, and talk about the harassment that she suffered. I really admired her for just keeping her head up and doing her job, and moving forward, that was an inspiration to me.

“If Maggie can deal with the stuff that she did, which was really awful, I can do this too,” Barth said.

Barth said the thing she remembers about watching Houlihan deal with the return of her cancer was the positive, Epicurean outlook she had.

“She always had such a positive attitude about living every day to its fullest, and that was something I very much admire about her.”

Meanwhile, Houlihan’s death ultimately left her in the position of being in the super minority: against the backdrop of vociferous outcry from Houlihan’s supporters, the council majority selected Mark Muir, who was the city’s fire chief, to fill the vacancy.

To further exacerbate the situation, the council majority chose to not formally recognize Houlihan’s death, going so far as to not let city flags be flown at half-staff in her honor.

“I did worry about being all alone, but things ultimately worked out,” Barth said.

A new chapter

Things did work out in 2012, when, following Bond’s decision not to seek re-election, voters also chose not to re-elect Stocks and voted Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer into office.

In one fell political swoop, the balance of power shifted and Barth was now part of the voting majority.

The honeymoon, however, was short lived, when the council — including the majority — chose not to support Proposition A, a landmark zoning initiative that returned authority over major zone changes and building heights to the electorate.

This was a measure that supporters of Houlihan said she would have supported had she been alive, and Barth, Kranz and Shaffer’s decision to not support the measure was seen as a betrayal.

The rift between Barth and some of Houlihan’s most ardent supporters would further widen when the City Council voted to approve the Desert Rose subdivision in Olivenhain, a density-bonus development that opponents argued would foul the environment and cause other significant harm to the neighborhood.

Barth and the council said their hands were tied by state law that governs density bonus development. The residents sued, and a judged ruled the environmental report that accompanied the development’s approval was insufficient, and ordered it to be redone, and the approval invalidated.

The developer has since appealed the decision.

Barth, for her part, believes that the council majority has for the most part lived up to its promises it made to voters on election night, and stands by the decisions that were perceived to have caused the rift.

“I am proud of my legacy, and I don’t have any regrets,” she said. “There were quite a few lessons learned, but that is life. I don’t put a lot of angst into reliving the past.”

Barth said she made her decisions based on what was best for the community at large, something that Houlihan taught her.

“One of the things Maggie taught me was that you frequently have to side between two conceding rights, and you have to look at the biggest picture,” she said. “Sometimes you have to make decisions that might not make your supporters or your friends happy, but you have to consider if it is in the long-term best interest of the city. That is how I went about making my decisions on those tough kind of situations.”

Perhaps no tougher a decision was the council majority’s recent decision to forge ahead with the $10 million purchase of the forlorn Pacific View Elementary School site, a decision that many people criticized for being far too expensive and poorly planned.

Barth said she believes it is the quintessential part of her legacy that she will leave behind to future generations, one that in the future could turn into a public performing arts space that will be unique to Encinitas.

“Would I have liked to buy it for less than we did? Of course,” Barth said. “But that is the kind of legacy, in which you have to make decisions that are about the greater good. I think that is a perfect representation of it.”

Moving on

And now, Barth moves on. She said she felt it was time to move on, and believes in the idea of fresh points of view on the council.

“I don’t believe career politicians at the local level are a healthy thing,” Barth said. “I truly believe in the importance of new blood, new ideas and new points of view on the council.”

Enter Catherine Blakespear, the candidate Barth endorsed, who finished first out of a four-person field.

In addition to her background as a journalist and an attorney, Barth said she was impressed by her strong family roots to the community, her energy and her ideas – all while being a young mother of two children.

“Seeing her win was very good, exciting, because it was a tough election across the board with different dynamics, shall we say,” Barth said. “I am pleased to see her win, it was a very good showing, and I believed it was a very broad-based election and support.”

So what is next for Barth? She says after her “mini holiday” in San Francisco, she will return to some of the volunteering she did prior to 2006, such as with the Friends of the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Library.

“I am going to take it easy,” she said. “I am going to enjoy retirement.”

The second time around.

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