ENCINITAS — Voters will have an opportunity to cast their ballots for Encinitas mayor Nov. 8, and are presented with two candidates that have a sharp contrast for both their vision of the position and the city.
The race pits current Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear against Paul Gaspar, CEO of a mid-size physical therapy outfit and husband of current Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who is not seeking re-election after opting to run for County Supervisor.
The candidates share some things in common — both support the city housing element initiative, Measure T; the acquisition of more open space and creation of trails and the upcoming North Coast Highway 101 streetscape project.
But the similarities essentially end there, as the sometimes acrimonious campaign has drawn a sharp contrast in the candidates’ visions, goals and campaign styles.
Blakespear has campaigned on her vision of protecting the city from over development, improving its biking and walking infrastructure and improved environmental stewardship. Gaspar has focused his campaign on the current council and what he calls a “dismal record of fiscal responsibility,” and partisan politics.
“champion” of mobility
Blakespear, 40, said she strongly believes that if given an opportunity for people to visit friends, go to dinner, go to the grocery or go to the park without having to get in their cars, they would.
But the city’s car-centric infrastructure doesn’t always make it a viable option — or a safe one, Blakespear said. And while the city has approved plans that would in theory improve those conditions, they often wind up collecting dust on a shelf as opposed to being implemented, she said.
“The biggest thing that most cities have to deal with is growth and development and land use, and there are a lot of things in process dealing with how to keep our community character,” Blakespear said. “Right under that, however, is how we get around, and I don’t think that receives the attention it deserves.
“It takes prioritizing, being in line with city leaders and city staff on this, and this is something that I want to champion as mayor,” Blakespear said.
Blakespear said that mobility extends beyond just looking at cars, pedestrians and streets, but also involves how people get around the city’s three-mile rail corridor, its network of walking trails and its biking infrastructure.
“People want to be outside of their cars. Being in your car is a dead time, so if people can go short distances, like a half or quarter mile, outside of their cars, they will, and that will free up space for people in their cars on the road,” Blakespear said.
The estate planning attorney with deep family roots in the city also wants to see a city that continues to bolster its environmental credentials, as it were.
Blakespear points to the recently approved agricultural ordinance, which she promoted, and the city’s plastic bag ban that was approved just before she was elected in 2014, as demonstrations of the city’s commitment to being environmental stewards.
She wants to take that commitment further by restoring the tree canopy, reducing the city’s water usage, achieving 100 percent recycling compliance for local businesses, going solar on all city facilities, acquiring more open space and supporting a ban on polystyrene products.
Blakespear also points to bringing the city into compliance with the state’s housing element mandate and providing affordable housing as one of her top priorities.
Whether or not Measure T passes, Blakespear said, the city has to do a better job of providing affordable housing in a way that is reflective of the character of the existing communities. In addition to a housing element, Blakespear said she wants to develop strategies that do lead to more affordable housing, not just high-density, high-income units.
“Growing up here, I have a similar sensibility and recognition of the reality of traffic and density, and the fact that I don’t know if that helps our community,” Blakespear said. “At base are we really going to be providing housing for our workforce when most of the ‘densification’ is high income? That is why I really want to look at strategies that will actually provide affordable housing.”
She listed several possibilities, including purchasing units and deeding them as affordable, or fostering public-private partnerships that lead to the construction of new units.
Pointing to the Iris Apartments in Leucadia, Blakespear said affordable housing could be created to blend in with the community.
“When you tour Iris, it is obviously completely compatible with the community,” Blakespear said.
council’s fiscal track record
Gaspar, the CEO of Gaspar Doctors of Physical Therapy, has made fiscal responsibility the rally cry of his campaign.
He points to several instances in which he said the City Council has not been stewards of the city’s tax dollars: the $10 million Pacific View purchase, the city’s ever-growing legal tab over several housing lawsuits and settlements and the city’s decision to change course on the Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail, which he said cost regional taxpayers $800,000.
“The council majority has made decisions that have essentially thrown away our taxpayer dollars, which could be used for much more important things,” Gaspar said. “You wouldn’t be able to run a business in this fashion, otherwise you’d be out of business.”
In the case of Pacific View, Gaspar said, the current council majority that includes Blakespear, Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz could compound the exorbitant purchase of Pacific View (which he believes was overpriced) by leasing the old elementary school site to a group the city has tapped to build an arts center on the campus for $1 a year.
“When a council pays three times the appraised value for Pacific View, wastes $750,000 on losing lawsuits, squanders up to $800,000 on the wrong rail trail, and plans to lease the 2.3 acre Pacific View School property for $1/year to their friends and campaign supporters, you’ve got a problem,” Gaspar said. “These spending habits strip money away from priorities of all 63,000 citizens and that’s not fair.”
Gaspar, for his part, said he wants to pursue future projects that receive broad community support. He cites the North Coast Highway 101 streetscape project, which has been long delayed, as an example of a project that he supports.
He also said the same approach should be used when the city prepares plans for its rail corridor, which have been controversial in Cardiff, where the city reversed its course on the preferred alignment on the Coastal Rail Trail after a groundswell of opposition emerged.
Gaspar has championed the opposition group, No Rail Trail, and they have endorsed his candidacy.
“The biggest issue during the last one to two years is that council has moved forward without consulting the involved communities,” Gaspar said. “Nevertheless, council has budgeted millions for an at-grade crossing at Montgomery that the neighbors do not support and have spent thousands studying warning horns. I support moving forward with plans having broad consensus, like the crossing at El Portal.”
Gaspar said he doesn’t want to move forward with mobility plans that snarl vehicle traffic, which he points out is still the overwhelming choice for transportation in Encinitas.
“I would be open to other plans improving mobility, but they would have to have community support and would have to compete with other priorities in the Capital Improvement Budget, which is currently loaded with hundreds of millions in unfunded projects.”
Gaspar said that he would provide consistent leadership while in office, repeatedly pointing to Blakespear’s decision to reconsider the rail trail alignment as a political “flip flop.”
“The fact that nothing changed (about the alignment) except for her mind,” he said.
Debates on leadership style
Blakespear at several of the forums has pointed to Gaspar’s attacks on the current council majority as a sign that he lacks a vision of his own.
“I think I reflect our residents’ values more than he does,” Blakespear said. “I don’t have a clear sense of what Paul is actually running for.
“I have a clear leadership temperament, and a track record of a contemplative and thoughtful decision making process that is based on listening to the community,” she said.
In defense of her decision on the rail trail, Blakespear said that she believed that the city would have much more control over the final product than they did, and that as a result, she felt it was necessary to revisit the decision.
She said that a hallmark of good governance is the ability to correct the course when necessary.
“I think the role of mayor is not a person that is on top of a pyramid, but at the center of intersecting circles, and there is a profound difference in how someone acts when they are in those two situations,” she said. “We want people who are dynamic, engaged and resilient and who aren’t afraid to correct course, rather than those who dig in their heals and say, “We’ve made a decision and are never going to revisit it.”
Gaspar said he prides himself on a collaborative leadership style that he has fostered at his company, which includes 27 physical therapists who are partners in the firm.
“I value all of their input; if I ran it as if I were on the top of a pyramid, I don’t think we would have the positive working environment and culture that we have created there, which is not what I believe exists at City Hall,” Gaspar said.
Gaspar also touts his advocacy efforts with two of the state’s largest physical therapy organizations, the California Physical Therapy Association and the Independent Physical Therapists of California. He said with Encinitas at odds with the state over issues such as density bonus and the housing element’s density requirements, his advocacy experience could come in handy.
“I’ve been faced with tough odds up in Sacramento, but we have gotten things done,” Gaspar said. “I know I could be effective for the city in the same capacity.”
The mayoral election race has been contentious since the day Gaspar announced his candidacy.
It received regional attention early on after Paul Gaspar’s decision to run for mayor prompted two husbands of current and former council members to mockingly throw their names in for consideration.
Gaspar, who is a doctor of physical therapy, then drew criticism and accusations of misleading voters by using the “Dr.” title without attaching the appropriate suffix in campaign brochures and on his website.
Blakespear also came under fire recently when a local resident accused she and Shaffer of violating state open meeting laws. The City Council voted unanimously to reject the complaint, which supporters of Blakespear called dirty politics due to the resident’s connection to Gaspar and his supporters.