How Cardiff residents saved the town

As Cardiff-by-the-Sea turns 100 it’s worth remembering that the Cardiff that is, almost wasn’t.
Cardiff is the result of “small town zoning.” Commercial buildings in the six-block district can only cover 30 to 40 percent of the lot and have a two-story height limit. Setbacks keep the streets wide and views protected. The zoning prevents high density, mixed use development and preserves a small “beach town” identity.
From 1999 to 2010, Encinitas wrote a new zoning document called “The Cardiff Specific Plan.” During this time Cardiff came under pressure from developers who wanted City Council to give them new property rights to increase building size by 200 percent and mixed use zoning. Cardiff would have tripled in size. Residents wanted zoning that would protect the Cardiff they loved.
During the writing of the Cardiff Specific Plan, City Council told citizens they wanted public input, but to many residents it didn’t seem that way. City staff did the opposite of what residents said they wanted. Some claimed city council members who had election campaigns financed by developers worked against the citizens.
For instance, 131 residents attending a city conference led by the Rick Planning group in 2001 produced a report titled “A Vision for Cardiff,” that said, “The conference did not favor increasing height limits,” and “current limitations should be strictly enforced, as should limitations on total square footage, lot coverage and setbacks.”
But, after the city had paid them $100,000, the Steele Consulting group presented a draft of the Cardiff Specific Plan in 2007 that proposed rezoning Cardiff to the benefit of developers, allowing three-story buildings, 200 percent increases to density, mixed use, and zero setbacks that would create ocean view blocking street walls — the very things residents did not want.
When the Steele draft met with resident disapproval, the council appointed the Cardiff Citizens Specific Plan Area Review Committee (CSPARC) to rewrite the Steele Draft. The council paid Mr. Peder Norby to lead the meetings and three city planners took notes.
City staff prepared an analysis showing how the single story VG Donuts center would become a three-story mixed use building that would cover the lot with building and have underground parking. The owner of the Post Office promoted his site as suitable for a three-story Walgreens. Residents fought back with presentations on the negative impact of mixed use on community identity.
On Sept. 11, Sept. 18 and Oct. 2, 2007, the CSPARC committee held five votes on mixed use in the Cardiff Specific Plan and reached a consensus that mixed use would be limited to lots of 5,000 square feet and only on the east side of Newcastle Avenue. The votes were filmed by residents.
One year later, Sept. 17, 2008, Mr. Norby told the Encinitas Planning Commission that the Citizens Committee did not reach consensus on mixed use, ignoring the five committee votes he had led. High density mixed use was put back in the plan and the hard work of the volunteer committee was almost undone. Later, the city staff that took notes told the City Council that, “Staff would like to emphasize the committee did not reach consensus on mixed use in the plan area.” Many said the fix was in.
The Cardiff Specific Plan finally came before the council in 2010 for a vote. Some 20 speakers spoke. An Air Force Academy graduate told the council that the Constitution he swore to defend was a “Government of, for and by the people, not a government of, for and by the developers.”
One resident presented a film showing the five votes of the Citizens Committee.
The council voted to approve the Citizens Cardiff Specific Plan removing new mixed use zoning in Cardiff. The plan is now awaiting approval from the Coastal Commission.
This decision means, that for the time being, Cardiff will keep its unique community character.
Many fear that given developer funding of the election campaigns in Encinitas, it won’t be long before Cardiff again comes under attack.
Last Saturday, many people gathered at the Cardiff Post Office for a parade to celebrate its 100th birthday. Floats and revelers marched down Newcastle Avenue, a wide street with small buildings on small lots past wide open spaces with views to the sea. They passed Cardiff residents who lined the avenue. They don’t make small towns like this anymore. Let’s hope we get to keep this one.
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