Mayor stresses long-term planning in State of the City address

ENCINITAS — On a Tuesday night highlighted by puppies and alligators, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar did not address the so-called “elephant in the room.”

Well, not the elephant that some expected her to address.

Gaspar did not specifically mention the Cardiff Rail Trail in her 30-minute State of the City Address on March 22, held a week before a March 30 special meeting in which the council is expected to address the future of the current alignment of the trail, among other things.

“We’re addressing it next week, and I felt this wasn’t the appropriate venue to address the topic,” Gaspar said following her speech.

Gaspar framed her state of the city address around on an old idiom: “When you are up to your ears in alligators, sometimes you forget your mission is to drain the swamp,” which she used as a call for city officials to not lose sight of the long-term mission (the swamp) at the expense of short-term demands (the alligators).

Gaspar appeared as if she would discuss the trail when she mentioned the “elephant in the room,” but instead discussed the upcoming housing element, which she said has been one of the most difficult tasks she’s undertaken during her six-year tenure.

Regarding the housing element, which voters are expected to determine its fate in November, she said that the effort was not about creating density to accommodate outsiders, but more about retaining the city’s young entrepreneurs who otherwise could not afford to live in Encinitas after college.

“This is not about letting a bunch of outsiders in,” she said. “It is about how we keep people living here that are here today.”

In her speech, she also praised her council colleagues for their adoption of the 18-month strategic plan after more than a year of meetings and discussion. The council didn’t unanimously agree on portions of the plan, Gaspar said, but it represented a compromise that she urged her colleagues to adhere to.

“Everyone left marginally unhappy, which means we must have gotten it right,” Gaspar said.

She also touted the city’s financial strength as it emerges from the recession, the capital improvement projects underway and recent gains in public safety under Sheriff’s Capt. John Maryon, especially in the downtown corridor, where police focused their efforts to cut down on drunken behavior, loitering and misuse of downtown parking.

Gaspar also discussed a one-year pilot program that she successfully crafted that aims to place the majority of Encinitas’ homeless veterans in permanent housing and provide them with the necessary social services within that year. She said she hopes that program can become a template for other communities to use.

In terms of long term vision, Gaspar pointed to three specific plans that she said should be priorities for the city: the safe routes to school plan, the city’s pavement management plan, and the long-term vision of the city’s railroad corridor.

Several members of the “No Rail Trail” group attended Tuesday’s address, donning stickers in support of their cause.

After the speech, they said they understood why she didn’t specifically mention the rail trail, but felt that she got the point across with her overriding theme and mention of the rail corridor vision.

“She kind of mentioned it,” said Julie Thunder, one of the most vocal opponents of the current rail trail project. “She talked about the entire vision rather than a piecemeal approach, and that’s what we think the current approach is.”

“She addressed what she needed to,” said Joe Alkhas, another rail trail opponent. “If she didn’t call out any other specific projects, it is fitting she didn’t call out ours.”

Before Gaspar’s speech, Thomas Whitman of Navy Federal Credit Union gave a community update summarizing the city’s many accomplishments. Nick Winfrey, a vice president with the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, served as master of ceremonies for the event, which was organized by the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce.

Winfrey, who opened the evening with a personal anecdote of how he arrived to Encinitas, also presented two puppies available for adoption at the humane society — named Kristin and Lisa, after Gaspar and Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer.

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