What it means when we talk about Encinitas’ ‘community character’

In Encinitas, the term “community character” usually refers to the qualities of the city’s communities. But Encinitas as a whole also has a community character, an identity shaped by its history and inhabitants. These days, as Encinitas gentrifies at warp speed, that identity is threatened. Maybe it’s time for us, as a community, to think about that identity, before Encinitas is redefined as a less colorful place. Maybe even – gasp! – as just another Southern California suburb.

There’s no single profile to Encinitas’ character, just a particular flavor – an eclectic one. Encinitas has been a place of seekers, makers, outsiders, and adventurers. A place of rebelliousness, vision, and creativity. Yes, it’s a great place to raise a family, but it’s never been an Ozzie and Harriet kind of town. Far different from its neighbors, Encinitas has always been more like a forgotten island within San Diego County. It’s a live-and-let-live kind of place, never a community where one group tells another how to live.

Encinitans have not been of any one particular political or social persuasion. The English spiritualists who named Leucadia after their Greek idyll had their own interests. The Prohibition bootleggers who used Moonlight Beach for their illegal booze runs had theirs. And when Paul Ecke invented poinsettias here, he had his own passion: making something that had never existed before. He was thinking way outside the box, folks. And that’s the spirit of Encinitas.

When Yogananda came with Eastern philosophy for the West, he found the spiritual space for it here. When the yoga teachers and vegetarians followed later, it was all perfectly natural. When Ravi Shankar and George Harrison and Timothy Leary came, they fit right in, too.

Even surfing was initially a lifestyle of outsiders and dropouts. Long before there was Surf P.E., surfers were adventurers, both in sport and lifestyle. Society didn’t sanction that lifestyle until Gidgit (a character reputedly based on Encinitan Linda Benson) hit the big screen, until “Surfin’ USA” (referencing our own Swami’s) hit the national airwaves. Yep, before surf boutiques and crowded line-ups, surfers were a variety of social outlaw. But they helped define Encinitas culture. Skateboarding, too, before the fame of locals like Tony Hawk, was considered nothing but a waste of time. But not in Encinitas.

When I landed on the quad of San Dieguito High in 1974, I felt like I’d been beamed down to the surface of a new planet. I didn’t know that Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Burrito Brothers had gone there, or that Eddie Vedder would come later. But I felt an artistic spirit of place that I hadn’t known previously. It was a freer, more open-minded place.

Countercultures have usually been accepted in Encinitas. It’s important these freewheeling facets of our community character are not lost as the forces of homogenization set in. Encinitas is still an artists’ community, a place where free spirits and outsiders flourish. So, when less open-minded newcomers arrive, inadvertently redefining Encinitas, arguing against such things as school yoga and agricultural marijuana, those of us who still feel the spirit of the place need to speak up. When people unwittingly encourage a blander, more suburban, more closed-minded Encinitas, let’s gently correct them. When we talk about Encinitas community character, let’s make sure we know what that means.

Darius Degher is a Leucadia resident

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