ENCINITAS — Organizers were busy setting up extra chairs Tuesday night during a two-hour debate between eight of the nine Council candidates at the Encinitas Community Center. Around 150 people, more than anticipated, attended the third and final Council debate, which touched on everything from whether citizens should be allowed to directly elect a mayor to a new movie theater in Encinitas; most of the resident-submitted questions, however, centered on community character.
Some residents expressed concerned over late night drinking getting out of control in downtown Encinitas. In response to a question on the topic, candidate Tony Kranz agreed the bar scene is becoming too wild. He said the city invested heavily into downtown, and thus Council should work to implement solutions before the city’s investment and reputation are hurt because of someone getting injured or killed in a bar fight.
“You want to destroy a reputation, then let this thing go,” Kranz said.
Bryan Ziegler suggested more patrol deputies for Friday and Saturday nights, more frequent checks to make sure bars aren’t over capacity and prosecuting bar owners that knowingly commit violations.
Thomas Brophy said he wasn’t so sure stepping up law enforcement is the answer. And differing from some residents who floated the idea of a moratorium, he came out against it, arguing that limiting bar hours would hurt businesses.
Instead, Brophy said Council should work with citizens and bars to find “a creative solution.”
Candidates voiced sharply different stances when asked about an initiative that would let voters, instead of potentially a four-fifths Council super majority, decide on whether to approve major density increases that are part of proposed building projects.
Backers of the Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative believe it’s necessary to counter overdevelopment and density increases in zoning.
Mayor Jerome Stocks contended the initiative would lower Encinitas’ “reinvestment rate” into the community.
“Part of what keeps Encinitas a fantastic, vibrant community is the reinvestment in our community, in our property and in our projects,” Stocks said. “And anything that will diminish that, I will oppose.”
Kevin Forrester also said he’s also opposed to the initiative, arguing that a representative government is effective when making zoning decisions.
Lisa Shaffer said she would have tweaked a few things if she authored the initiative, but gave her approval for it.
“I think it’s important as a strong signal that people don’t trust the government to make decisions on their behalf,” Shaffer said.
Barbara Yost, arguing it’s necessary to preserve the community, her main campaign platform, also threw her support behind the initiative.
Kranz believes the initiative should be approved so that developers know any large building plans that raise current density limits will have to “pass muster by the community.”
With the exception of Stocks, all of the candidates favored more community workshops to gain feedback and help citizens understand budget issues.
“We have always sponsored community workshops, they’re called Council meetings,” Stocks said.
When asked about the city’s pension situation, Councilman Mark Muir said the city needed to fund more of its pension liabilities.
“We’re moving toward the target,” he said.
In addition to pension reform, Shaffer also said she favors salary reform, contending it should be pegged to private sector pay.
Shaffer applauded the city for requiring some employees to contribute more to their pensions, but wondered why the city also increased their salaries.
“That increases their base salary from which their future pensions are calculated,” she said. “So I’m not quite sure how that math works out.”
In November, a ballot initiative known as Proposition K will let voters decide whether Encinitas should directly select a mayor for either a two or four-year term in the future. Currently, the Council selects the mayor and deputy mayor via a Council majority.
Five of the eight candidates, including Muir, supported Proposition K.
“I think you let the people decide,” Muir said. “I don’t know how you can go wrong with that.”
Stocks agreed, pointing out that 15 of 18 cities in San Diego County elect their mayor.
Kranz, however, opposes Proposition K. He said the rotation system was working, but was “hijacked by politics.” His solution: Codify the rotation system to prevent abuse.
Concurring with Kranz, Shaffer said the rotation system should be formalized so that Council members take a turn each year.
“I think that if you knew that person sitting next to you at the dais was going to be the mayor next year, and you were the mayor this year, you might act differently than if you knew you had a lock on being mayor for the next four years,” Shaffer said.
Attracting another movie theater in Encinitas was also discussed. Echoing most of the candidates, Muir said Council doesn’t have the power on its own to bring a movie theater to Encinitas, as it’s a “market-driven decision,” he said. He proposed reaching out to theater owners and “being business friendly” to attract another movie theater.
There are currently nine Candidates running for three Council seats. Peter Schuh was the only candidate who wasn’t at the debate.