Housing, voting districts top post-recess council agenda

ENCINITAS — Will Encinitas finally craft a housing plan that passes muster with voters, or will a court decide the fate of the city’s affordable housing zoning?

How swiftly will the City Council act to respond to a Malibu attorney’s demands to change the city’s voting system from a citywide election to one where voters elect officials by district?

These are the two issues that loom largest on the Encinitas City Council agenda as it returns from a monthlong summer recess.

The Coast News reached out to each of the five council members and asked them to give their top three issues facing the city following the break.

Each listed coming into compliance with the housing element as the city’s top post-recess priority, followed by resolving the demand sent by attorney Kevin Shenkman, who has successfully threatened several other cities in North County into changing the way voters will elect future council members.

The council members also named the looming issue of whether the city will allow commercial farming of cannabis and ongoing projects that will improve streets for all modes of transportation as the other major issues on the council’s docket.

But it was clear that the housing element and the voting districts issues are the most pressing.

The housing element limbo has gone on long enough, council members said.

“Our community needs to once and for all get beyond this issue. We need to turn the page,” Councilman Joe Mosca said. “By getting the housing element completed and certified by the state, we’ll be able to shift our focus to the important task of doing everything we can do to bring about more affordable housing in our city. Also, we need to end the lawsuits and the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent in connection with these lawsuits.”

Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who sits on a committee charged with crafting a new housing element plan that would gain voters’ approval, said she is optimistic the committee could get it done in six months.

“Working together with our ad-hoc committee, I’m hoping to get a modified housing plan back before the City Council in the next six months,” she said. “The city’s ongoing noncompliance with state housing laws and the related lawsuits remain our most urgent city issue.”

The council members said the second most pressing issue would be addressing the legal demands to switch from at-large to by-district voting, though the question of if the city should change appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Blakespear in a recent newsletter to supporters said that the city likely will move forward with the switch, albeit reluctantly. No city has successfully challenged a lawsuit to change its voting system since the state Legislature passed its updated Voting Rights Act in 2002.

“Some things aren’t popular but you recognize reality and get on with it,” Blakespear said. “Districting falls into this category.”

Where the issue will become time consuming for the council will be the crafting of the four voting districts, which will not likely mirror the natural divisions within the community.

The council, following its vote on whether to proceed with creating the districts, will likely hold community workshops to solicit public input on the districts.

The council will also have to address the issue of cannabis production and cultivation within the city limits, a process that began shortly after voters passed Proposition 64 in November.

The “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” legalizes recreational cannabis use, but also leaves cities with the question of how to regulate growing, cultivating, processing and delivering the plant.

Local flower growing outfit Dramm and Echter has led the call to allow for farmers to grow cannabis on a portion of their farms, which they said would make local farming operations financially viable.

A City Council subcommittee composed of Tony Kranz and Joe Mosca is looking into the issues of commercial cultivation and mobile source deliveries.

Meanwhile, Mosca said, a citizens initiative was filed with the city to allow for commercial cultivation, manufacturing and dispensaries in the city. Voters rejected a previous citizens initiative for medicinal cannabis dispensaries in 2014.

Finally, several council members pointed to the list of transportation projects on the council’s docket, including one on this week’s agenda for a pedestrian and bike lane overhaul on Santa Fe Drive, and future projects including along El Camino Real, Birmingham Drive and Coast Highway 101.

Blakespear said that a lack of staffing has impeded the city’s ability to move swiftly on some of these projects.

“We remain under-staffed in this area, and this hampers our ability to accomplish the City Council’s mobility priorities,” Blakespear said. “We are currently interviewing for several higher level transportation related positions. Within six months, I expect us to tackle improvements along El Camino Real, planning and community meetings regarding upgrades to Birmingham Drive, progress on the Leucadia streetscape project in downtown Leucadia and other ancillary Safe Routes to School projects that seem to take a fair amount of our time and energy.”

Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath said she expected “a lively debate” on some of the recommendations for South Santa Fe Drive, which include narrowing the traffic lane from 12 feet to 10 feet.

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