ENCINITAS — Encinitas City Council candidate Tony Brandenburg came out as the lone opponent of the city’s housing element ballot measure and incumbent Tony Kranz came out as the lone supporter of the county’s regional half-cents sales tax measure during the first candidate forum of the election season.
Kranz and Brandenburg were among the seven candidates for city council and mayor positions that attended the Cardiff Town Council’s candidate forum on Sept. 12 at Ada Harris Elementary School.
Kranz, and Brandenburg, a former judge and current city planning commissioner, are among five candidates vying for two city council seats. Incumbent Mark Muir, current planning commissioner Tasha Boerner Horvath and former state Assembly candidate Phil Graham are the others.
Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Paul Gaspar, owner of a physical therapy chain and husband of current Mayor Kristin Gaspar, are running for mayor.
Candidates fielded several questions from the moderator during the 90-minute forum ranging on topics from their work experience to community choice energy.
But the bulk of the discussion centered around Measure T, the city’s proposed update to its housing element, which has divided the city.
Opponents assail that the plan does nothing to guarantee affordable housing, but rather subjects the city to increased density and building heights that run afoul of the spirit of the 2013 voter-backed Proposition A. Supporters say that while imperfect, the housing element brings the city into compliance after two decades without an updated plan, which has exposed the city to costly lawsuits. Further noncompliance, they say, can result in a local judge imposing a housing plan.
Brandenburg was part of a unanimous planning commission vote to place the housing element, designated as Measure T, on the Nov. 8 ballot. But when the moderator asked the candidates if they supported the measure, Brandenburg said he would be personally voting against it.
“I want low-cost housing, I want affordable housing, but with this piece of legislation, there is absolutely no guarantee that one affordable house will be built,” said Brandenburg, which drew applause from the “No on T” contingent in the audience.
Brandenburg’s colleagues all said they support the measure to varying degrees. Almost all of the candidates pointed to the specter of additional lawsuits by affordable housing advocates and developers and the possibility of a judge imposing a housing element on the city as reasons for their support of the plan.
“I’m not saying it is perfect,” Graham said of the measure. “But the alternative is really bad.”
But Brandenburg said he is skeptical that any judge would intervene or that any developers would sue.
“I’m a retired judge…and I’ve talked to several attorneys, and I doubt there is going to be a lawsuit or that a judge is going to touch this,” Brandenburg said. “But give me something that says my kids will have a place to live, or that I will have a place to live a few years from now. But I can’t support it the way it is, but I think it is really up to you.”
Kranz also parted from his colleagues on the matter of Measure A, the regional half-cents sales tax increase that would pay for a laundry list of highway, transit, open space, bike and pedestrian projects.
His colleagues, including council ally Blakespear, opposed the measure for a variety of reasons, including the sentiment that North County will not receive its fair proportion of the proceeds and that it doesn’t fully or holistically address the county’s transportation woes.
But Kranz, who represents Encinitas on the North County Transit District board, said the measure, albeit flawed, will help address some of the issues along the region’s busy rail corridor.
“The stretch of rail corridor from Santa Fe Depot to Union Station (in Los Angeles) is the second busiest in the nation, and it is bursting at the seams and is in desperate need of more money,” Kranz said. “While it’s not perfect, it goes a long way toward investing in some of the shortcomings of our rail corridor and transit.”
Blakespear and Gaspar traded barbs during the event as well. Gaspar, who supported the successful “No Rail Trail” campaign that moved a controversial segment of the Coastal Rail Trail to the west side of the railroad tracks, took several shots at Blakespear and the current council majority for its perceived mishandling of the rail trail’s placement.
Originally, the council voted to place the rail trail on the east side of the tracks, which later prompted outcry from a large section of the community. Blakespear and Kranz later reconsidered their support and voted along with Kristin Gaspar and Muir to change the preferred alignment to the west side of the tracks, which is now being scrutinized by the California Coastal Commission, which has signaled they won’t support the project.
Gaspar, who frequently touched on his business experience as CEO and founder of Gaspar Doctors of Physical Therapy, said that he would “get things right the first time.” This prompted Blakespear, in her closing remarks, to say that the city needs a candidate who is willing to revisit issues in the community if it is determined the initial decision was not an acceptable one.
Boerner Horvath championed her role in increasing pedestrian safety around Paul Ecke Central as evidence of her ability to collaborate with multiple organizations to come up with creative solutions to the benefit of the community.
Graham, who has lived in Encinitas for 12 years, said he entered the race because he believed the council majority has made wasteful decisions with city dollars.
Muir, who is seeking re-election, touted his handling of a multi-million dollar fire budget as the city’s former fire chief.