Ex-city official weighs in on district election issue: Stand up to ‘bullying’

After hearing the Encinitas City Council deliberation on district elections on Aug. 30, I feel compelled to respond to some of the things that were said. The mayor said Encinitas needs to “get right with the law.” I understood this to mean she believes there is a basis for the complaint received under the California Voter Rights Act, alleging discrimination against Latino voters, but she offered no evidence. On the contrary, many public speakers testified to pro-active city outreach efforts to the Latino community, as well as the fact that there have been two Latina elected officials. Encinitas has appointed at least one Latino Planning Commissioner, a Latina housing commissioner, and there are numerous city-supported programs to welcome and celebrate the ethnic diversity of Encinitas. 

The mayor also linked district elections to the failed housing element update and related lawsuits. The implication was that Hispanics are disproportionately impacted by the lack of affordable housing, assuming their ethnicity equates to lower income levels. Again, no evidence supports this assertion, and the implication is offensive.

We are operating in an area with not much experience — the only city to go through the full legal process lost, but their size and demographics were dramatically different from Encinitas. One can assume the worst case scenario as the mayor did, and imagine legal costs in the multi-millions. Or one can assume that a response to Mr. Shenkman with facts and figures to defend our city’s record could dissuade him from proceeding with a lawsuit, or would persuade a judge to dismiss his complaint. I would rather spend money on this than on defending our lack of a housing element, which we know IS in violation of state law.

If the mayor wants to get “right with the law” then I respectfully suggest the council implement Measure T, the housing element update approved unanimously by the council, but which failed to gain public approval at the ballot box. Adopting the measure would put an end to the lawsuits that have already cost close to a million dollars. Meanwhile, the working group developing a modified housing element update can continue working and if they succeed in getting public approval for a different plan that meets state requirements, that new plan can replace the Measure T version. Housing law is the only law that Encinitas is not “right” with.

Meanwhile, go ahead with districting demographic studies, but let’s defend our city against this inappropriate, bullying demand letter on districting.  Our elected leaders should represent our city accurately and set the record straight. We’re all for fiscal responsibility, but we’re also for integrity and courage. Let us be a bright light against blackmail, and let’s not disrupt our relatively young city’s electoral structure for no good reason.

Lisa Shaffer is a former City Councilwoman and deputy mayor of Encinitas.

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