Encinitas City Council race pits five for three positions

ENCINITAS — Encinitas’ City Council could look very different come Nov. 9 — or it could change very little, depending on the outcome of a five-person race for three positions.

Two incumbents — Tony Kranz and Mark Muir — are seeking re-election to four-year terms, while a third, Lisa Shaffer, is not seeking re-election.

Planning Commissioners Tony Brandenburg and Tasha Boerner Horvath and businessman Phil Graham are the other candidates.

The Coast News has briefly profiled each of the candidates. More detailed answers to 10 questions we asked the candidates are available on the website at thecoastnews.com.

Tony Brandenburg: A life of service, an opposition to Measure T

Tony Brandenburg, a longtime Olivenhain resident and former judge, said he is the candidate that can bring the council together after years of partisan division.

Everyone says that, so what makes you different, a reporter asks.

“Did any of them have my resume?” Brandenburg quickly responds.

Brandenburg, who served for decades as a Superior Court commissioner, also served as the Chief Judge of Intertribal Court of Southern California, on the Encinitas Union School District board, the Olivenhain Town Council as well as the planning commission. He considers himself “90 percent retired.”

“I do feel that the council has been one clique leading and the other clique following behind,” Brandenburg said. “I feel I have the skills and proven leadership ability to bring people together, not just one group or clique, but the entire city.”

Brandenburg speaks of Encinitas with pride (“Encinitas is part of me and I am part of Encinitas,” he states), and said that while he has lived here longer than any other candidate, he know that change is inevitable.

He just wants the right change.

“You are never going to freeze frame the community, ever, but the idea is responsible growth, taking into consideration the foundation on which the community is built, and respecting neighborhoods and respecting the communities,” Brandenburg said.

Brandenburg, who is the lone council candidate opposed to the city’s housing element initiative Measure T, said he opposes it because it will irreparably harm the city’s distinct communities while not bringing about affordable housing, which is supposed to be the measure’s goal.

“Where is the low-cost housing, where is the affordable housing?” Brandenburg said. “There’s nothing in there. It’s an empty package. There are ways that the city can achieve this without this massive plan that changes the character more than what the residents want.”

Brandenburg said he feels the city should fight the state mandate of density as proxy of affordability, arguing that the city should lead the charge of

“Someone’s got to start it, someone has to stand up,” said Brandenburg, comparing the fight against the state’s density requirements to women’s suffrage or the civil rights movement. “The law is what you can boldly assert and plausibly maintain,”

Brandenburg said he wants to revisit the housing element with lower heights and lower density levels, with a nod to loosening restrictions on accessory dwelling units, which the state has also loosened in recent weeks.

Tasha Boerner Horvath: “Strategic vision and pragmatic action”

Earlier this fall, the Encinitas Union School District, city officials and parents at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School celebrated several recent improvements that have improved pedestrian and biking safety for kids at that campus.

Tasha Boerner Horvath, Brandenburg’s colleague on the planning commission, took in the day with a level of pride.  She was at the center of the effort to bring about those changes.

If elected, Boerner Horvath said, residents could expect the same collaborative and goal-oriented style.

“I’ve tackled tough problems with strategic vision and pragmatic action,” the 43-year-old marketing and communications expert said. “That means I see the big picture, plot a path to completion and make sure projects get done.

“The other thing I think it shows is my ability to balance important interests,” Boerner Horvath said. “On the planning commission, I have a track record of listening, doing research and really finding creative solutions and balancing the interest of private property rights, community character, thriving local businesses and residents’ need for peace and quiet.”

If elected, Boerner Horvath said one thing she would call on the city to implement is an overhaul of its current land use and zoning code, which she believes has contributed to the rise in density-bonus projects in the city.

“Our current code doesn’t serve anyone,” she said. “It makes it hard for homeowners and businesses to make minor improvements, its makes it hard for residents to fight to protect their community character, and there is no sense of certainty for developers, who … don’t know if what staff said is going to be revised by the planning commission,” Boerner Horvath said. “To take on any project you need a degree of certainty and our code doesn’t provide that.”

On the planning commission, she has started a program of minor improvements to the code, and hopes the actions will ramp up if elected.

“Providing a code that contained a clear vision of what we want development to look like the city and transparency as to how projects were evaluated, more developers would choose our local code as opposed to density bonus, because nobody wants to go through the drama of getting a density bonus case approved in the city,” Boerner Horvath said.

Boerner Horvath also said she wants to focus on how to make Encinitas a hub for incubation of innovative businesses. Taking her cues from the city’s thriving and growing for-benefit sector, she said that she wants to start a working group that focuses on what the city can do to provide support for existing businesses and to attract emerging startups to take roots here.

“There’s huge potential to position Encinitas as an incubator that takes entrepreneurs from idea to proven concept,” Boerner Horvath said. “We don’t have the land to grow them beyond that so they will have to go into North County to grow their businesses, and we get sad when they have to leave, but I think we should say that we could incubate great ideas that are compatible with our community and when they need to move on they are able to move on within the region, where nothing is really far away, and I think that fosters economic growth in our entire region.”

Phil Graham: A call for fiscal responsibility

Phil Graham often remarks that he is the only candidate that has lived in four of Encinitas’ five communities, save for Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

The 48-year-old businessman and stepson of former California Gov. Pete Wilson is also the only candidate to call for Encinitas to be audited if he is elected to the council.

Graham, who is closely aligned with Paul Gaspar in the 2016 election race, echoed many of his concerns when it comes to the city’s fiscal state of affairs.

“What I have seen has been a waste of taxpayer dollars on bad projects,” Graham said. When pressed to give examples of the projects, Graham pointed to the $10 million purchase of Pacific View and the city’s lawsuits with developers, which have cost taxpayers nearly $1 million.

“I am afraid that there is a lot of stuff in there that not many people know about,” Graham said. “Which is why the first thing I would do if elected is call for an audit of city finances to make sure we are prioritizing correctly and where we can cut out waste and make sure that hopefully things like (the purchase of) Pacific View never happen again and that we won’t get sued unnecessarily.”

Graham also said he wants to provide a listening ear to all of the five communities and not just focus on certain interest groups. A perfect example of this would be the rail corridor, he said, where a one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with the issue of crossing the railroad won’t fit.

“In some communities, trenching might work but in others, that’s not what the community is interested in,” Graham said. “You have to be able to listen to the community and what they want, I think too often that city government says ‘We know best and we are going to create a solution for you.”

Another area he said a listening ear would change city priorities is in Leucadia, where the proposed overhaul of North Coast Highway 101 has languished for nearly nine years since its inception.

“Too often, it seems that the past city councils have not had Leucadia’s infrastructure needs as a funding priority,” Graham said. “This needs to change because the streetscape promises great things for our city and our citizens.”

Graham, like many of his colleagues, has taken a position in support of Measure T, the city’s housing element initiative, which he called flawed, but better than the alternative.

“When you look at all of the potential alternatives of not passing the housing element, they are all far worst than if you were not to pass one,” Graham said. “We need to stop putting ourselves in this legally untenable position that will lead to more lawsuits and potentially being stripped of our land-use decision making authority.”

Mark Muir: “Tested, proven and trusted” record 

Incumbent Mark Muir has served on the City Council since 2011, when he was appointed to serve out the term of the late Maggie Houlihan, and re-elected to the post in 2012.

Muir said that if voters want to know about him, check his voting record — it speaks for itself.

“I’ve constantly made decisions that I believe reflect the values of the community,” Muir said.

Muir said he thought of the city’s youth when he facilitated the acquisition of a key grant that paved the way for Leo Mullen’s dilapidated soccer field to get replaced.

He thought of the high value that residents in Encinitas place on trails and open space when he made a proposal to set aside 10 percent of the city’s budget surplus toward acquiring more open space.

And, he said, despite being considered as a “developer friendly” candidate, Muir said his record will reflect that he has voted against developer interests more than his other council colleagues.

In addition, Muir, who previously oversaw the fire agency that encompasses Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach, touts his record of fiscal responsibility, pointing to his efforts in balancing both the fire departments.

He said his biggest goals upon re-election are to complete the city’s general plan update in its entirety, which includes the housing element update but also includes the circulation element and overhaul of the city’s land-use map.

“Achievements should be community based, which should include more outreach, participation and consensus building at the community and council level,” Muir said.

The former fire chief also said that he wants to place a priority on the city’s core services, including public safety, fire, road repairs and open space.

He, like Graham, pointed to wasteful spending as something he wants to end at City Hall. As a minority on the council, he voted against the purchase of Pacific View, arguing that the city overpaid for the property.

Moving forward, however, he said that city has a fiduciary duty to its residents to realize the dream of transforming the property into a performing arts center.

“Now that the city has purchased this land, we need to clean it up and develop a shared community arts facility vision with a strong financial plan that matches the core goals and objectives of the work plan,” Muir said. “A more aggressive marketing plan with the private sector, may be a way to identify additional funding opportunities.”

Tony Kranz: A defense for Pacific View

Incumbent Tony Kranz said the election campaign has been “strange,” as he’s felt that a lot of the acrimony of the national race has trickled down to the local election.

One issue in particular, Kranz said, is the resurfacing of the city’s purchase of Pacific View Elementary School for $10 million as a campaign topic, two years and one election after the decision had been made.

Kranz, one of the three-member voting majority that green-lighted the purchase and the use of bonds to pay for it, said that opponents are grasping at Pacific View because it is the only tangible argument they can make against him being re-elected to a second term.

“I think it lends itself to classic political divisions, it is a conservative cause that is to make the argument that we borrowed money to make the purchase and that we paid too much,” Kranz said. “It really is bumper sticker politics.”

Opponents, fueled by conservative and developer interests, have sent out a mailer that referred to the acquisition of the site as a boondoggle. Kranz said the characterization that the city overpaid for the property does not include valuable context, historical significance and common sense.

“The silliest part is that nobody thinks that three acres of downtown property right off the coast couldn’t fetch more than what we paid for it,” Kranz said. “My frustration is that there is a spin on this story that leaves out some very important context.

“Ultimately, anyone who wants to run for a seat has to make voters thing I have done something irresponsible or foolish,” Kranz continued. “It’s unfortunate that it has come to that, because the reality is that we have a great city, our budget is in great shape, and that is in large part because our land values are so high, which that in itself shoots down their argument (regarding Pacific View).”

Kranz said his vision on Pacific View looks beyond his years on the council, when he believes the property will become a “legacy property,” much like the $44 million purchase of the Hall property that is now the Encinitas Community Park.

“The fact is when I am long gone, people are going to look back at the city acquisition of that site as brilliant,” Kranz said. “I am perfectly prepared to make decisions that may have political implications, but when it comes to the impacts on the community and benefits to the city, I would put that way before the political considerations.”

Kranz, the 57-year-old printing and graphic arts manager, said his priorities for his next term if re-elected include stewarding Pacific View, working with the rail corridor working group to develop a master plan for the city’s rail corridor and preparing for the next phase of the city’s general plan update, the circulation element.

“Encinitas is struggling with some of typical challenges in this megalopolis that is Southern California, and the impacts on quality of life are significant,” Kranz said. “Those are things that I have worked first four years to elevate important part of council conversations and I think I have been somewhat successful, but there is still much work to be done.”

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