ENCINITAS — An Encinitas councilman’s attempt to pause the city’s move toward district elections was thwarted last week when the City Council voted down his proposal behind closed doors.
Councilman Tony Kranz was joined by Councilman Mark Muir in supporting a vote that took place in closed session Sept. 20 that would have put the districting process on hold in favor of a different strategy.
What that strategy would be is not clear as the discussions took place in closed session. But Kranz said that his comments in closed session were consistent with his public comment “that I don’t think districting is good for the community.”
“What we discussed in closed session is an approach different than the one we are currently taking,” Kranz said. “A vote was taken to put the process on hold, and it failed 3-2.”
Mayor Catherine Blakespear and council members Tasha Boerner Horvath and Joe Mosca voted against the proposal.
Encinitas is currently weighing whether it should change its election system from its current “at large” system to one where voters elect council members by district. The city is considering the change after receiving a demand letter from a Malibu-based law firm that contends that the city’s voting system disenfranchises Latino voters.
Kranz said that he feels the city is rushing into the process when it hasn’t yet been sued.
“If we were in fact sued, we would have another decision to make whether to defend the lawsuit or how vigorously,” Kranz said. “Right now, we are reacting to a demand letter … he hasn’t even formally challenged us.”
Blakespear said at the Sept. 20 meeting that she thinks Encinitas needs to act now before a lawsuit is filed to maintain control of how it would transition to districts, including the creation of the voting map.
If the city is sued, she said, they could lose control of that to an outside judge.
“Once we get in court a judge makes that decision … and there is no chance that our priorities would be the priorities of the court,” Blakespear said.
Residents who spoke at the Sept. 20 meeting — which was the second of five public hearings the city is legally required to hold before voting on whether it will establish district elections — largely opposed creating districts.
In some cases, residents had strong words about the law firm and the legal threat, which several called a “shakedown” and “blackmail.”
“I think we ought not to submit to blackmail by this shyster lawyer,” New Encinitas resident Glen Johnson said.
“We should tell the lawyer to bag it,” former Councilwoman Sheila Cameron said.
Other residents said they understood the council’s predicament, and understood why it would be wise to avoid a lawsuit if at all possible.
And one resident, John Giada, became the first resident on record to submit suggestions for a proposed district voting map. Giada said he opposed the council’s suggestion earlier this month that the voting districts should be horizontal in nature to touch the coast and the inland areas.
In one of his proposed maps, which he called “country to coast” the map would have districts that would combine the communities of Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Olivenhain and leave the communities of Old Encinitas, New Encinitas and Leucadia largely intact.