ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council unanimously adopted a $76 million operating budget and its six-year capital improvement budget, but voted down an 11th-hour request by the Sheriff’s Department to hire an additional deputy.
The Council voted 3-2 on the Sheriff’s department’s proposal for an additional patrol unit that would primarily service the beaches and Coast Highway 101, with Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear and council members Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz voting against it.
Sheriff’s Capt. Theresa Adams-Hydar said she made the request because the department is understaffed at a time where, despite reports that violent crime and property crime rates are falling countywide, the number of calls for service are rising, especially in downtown Encinitas and the beaches.
“This unit is proactive, we would be going out and dealing with those issues in the beach community, in the 101 community,” Adams-Hydar said. “That is what I am trying to get at here so you don’t see that crime trend going up.”
Several downtown merchants as well as Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir spoke in favor of the motion. Gaspar said the request came out of a briefing she and Blakespear had with Adams-Hydar, in which Gaspar said she believed the captain voiced concern about lean staffing levels.
“I believe missing this opportunity would be a major oversight,” Gaspar said. “What we have now isn’t cutting it, we are becoming too lean and have to make some changes, and our captain is telling us this.”
The trio of council members who voted against the proposal said they needed more information — including information about current deployment of Sheriff’s resources and potential alternatives to hiring additional staff — before they could consider the request.
They also questioned why the Sheriff’s Department made the request so late in the budget process, which has been ongoing for more than four months.
“If we don’t make the decision tonight and we make the adjustment to the budget, I would feel more comfortable knowing what we are doing,” Shaffer said. “This is too much without the analysis.”
Blakespear, echoing Shaffer’s concerns, said she wasn’t sure hiring an additional deputy, at a cost of nearly $200,000 a year, would solve some of the issues that merchants have complained about, namely vagrancy.
“This is the first time that this has ever come up and basically that’s $1.2 million over the next six years,” Blakespear said. “That is a railroad crossing, that is a roundabout, that is pavement on our streets, that is a lot of money. And my fear is that we will spend this money and actually not see the benefit.”
Blakespear also questioned the need for additional deputies, given Encinitas’ slow growth over the past 15 years and dropping crime rates. She said she felt the downtown needs could be met with the current staffing levels.
“I feel we could re-deploy these people (current staff) before we start hiring more people without a clear definition of need,” she said.
Additionally, through a line of questioning between Kranz and Adams-Hydar, it was determined that even if the council approved the request, it would be unlikely the new deputy would be on the street during the summer months, which are the cause of much of the concern on the beaches and in downtown.
Longtime resident and community stalwart Bob Bonde was the lone resident to speak against the proposal. He said the city should do a cost-benefit analysis before adding additional officers.
“I realize that it is akin to talking against motherhood,” he said of being critical of the request. “But someone has to stand up and demand that you face reality that you can not proceed as in the past and spend, spend, spend.”
The council passed the remainder of the budget with little discussion, as the council had finalized its budget talks last month.