ENCINITAS — Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear and her lone challenger in the upcoming election shared the stage Sept. 11 at Ada Harris Elementary School at the first candidate forum of the election season.
Blakespear and John Paul Elliott — who was joined on stage by his dog, Coco — answered questions on an array of local issues, including affordable housing and the city’s latest plan, Measure U, transportation issues, the rail corridor, the Leucadia Streetscape and beach access.
The forum, organized by the Cardiff Town Council, provided attendees a chance to see the sharp contrasts between the two candidates.
Blakespear deftly offered detailed answers to the dozen or so questions, while Elliott, a self-described “metaphysical broker,” frequently pivoted back to his desire to build affordable housing for the city’s municipal workforce.
While not offering much detail about the plan, he alluded to building hundreds of units on the grounds of the old Pacific View Elementary School “as opposed to turning it into a garden,” alluding to the current plans to turn the property into the so-called Pacific View Academy of Arts, Culture and Ecology.
“We’ll just do the 1,500 houses ourselves, we’ll be the developer and we will pay the money,” Elliott said. “Oh my gosh, what a concept. We need to take our place back from the developers.”
Blakespear touted the city’s progress on its priorities during her first mayoral term, including its green initiatives, Measure U, road, pedestrian and bicycle improvements and the marine safety center at Moonlight Beach.
“These things are all taking place against the backdrop of two important principles,” Blakespear said. “One of them is our full commitment to public safety, and then also fiscal responsibility …evaluating every project through the lens of its value.”
Blakespear and Elliott also drew contrasting answers when asked about whether they supported the Leucadia Streetscape, which has divided the community in recent months.
Elliott said he opposed it because of its price tag and his understanding the project would move people through North Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia faster. He suggested “crosswalks and stop signs” as an alternative.
“I don’t really see it (the streetscape) help keep Leucadia Leucadia,” Elliott said.
Blakespear said the project would “take back” the road from commuters who use it to bypass traffic on Interstate 5 and encourage people to visit the businesses along the corridor.”
“I think all streets need to be reconsidered and repurposed and improved after 70 years and Leucadia hasn’t had that,” Blakespear said. “It is controversial as my experience is that anything that reconsiders how public space is used is controversial … I think there are great improvements coming to Leucadia and I support Leucadia streetscape.”
Blakespear said she is hopeful the city would defray the cost of the project through state and federal grants, citing the city’s success in paying for the El Portal undercrossing with mostly grant funding.
The pair was also asked about their stance on short-term vacation rentals, including AirBnB. Blakespear pointed to the city’s program to register all short-term rentals and require them to pay transient occupancy tax. She said that the city may revisit the vacation rental situation following resolution of the current housing element.
“AirBnBs are a part of that (housing discussion) and they really do affect neighborhoods so we need to strike the right balance,” Blakespear said.
Elliott said that he wanted the companies to go away, and that only longtime residents should be allowed to rent their properties.
“I think people have found our area, we don’t need more people coming in,” he said.
Elliott, who recently moved to Encinitas from Riverside County, received several questions about his background and his how long has he lived in Encinitas. He offered few details, other than he claimed to live in Seabluff years ago before he and his wife got a divorce.
He said he returned to Encinitas after his daughter gave birth to his first grandson, which he said was the primary inspiration for him to run.
“She got the house, and I got the boot,” Elliott said. “But I am back here, and I want to make sustainable housing a reality for (my grandson).”
Blakespear also added that she was proud of the city for successfully sponsoring a state bill that will make it easier for the public to get permits for their accessory dwelling units.