EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include links to complete transcripts from interviews with the candidates.
ENCINITAS — On a Tuesday evening during September, the two candidates for mayor shook hands for the first time, and the contrast between the two candidates could not have been clearer.
Incumbent Mayor Catherine Blakespear donned a business suit, while her challenger, dressed down for the occasion, wearing a blue aloha shirt, shorts and sandals, holding his dog Coco.
The contrasts between the two candidates do not stop at their attire.
Blakespear is running for office for the third time in four years, Elliott, a real estate broker with a penchant for the eccentric, has never held political office. Blakespear supports the city’s most recent attempt at passing a housing element update, Measure U. Elliott does not. Blakespear also supports the city’s efforts to transform Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia with its proposed streetscape. Elliott opposes it.
And finally, Blakespear supports the continued efforts of a nonprofit group to transform the grounds of Pacific View Elementary School into an arts, culture and ecology center, while Elliott has made the centerpiece of his campaign his plan to devote the site to housing for the city’s workforce.
Blakespear, an estate planning attorney, is seeking her second term as mayor after defeating Paul Gaspar in 2016.
Blakespear, who was first elected to the City Council in 2013, has championed efforts to improve mobility throughout the city and environmental initiatives to make the city greener and said she will continue to do so if re-elected.
She touts the city’s passage of its climate action plan, which was called a “gold-standard plan” by the Climate Action Campaign, as one of the critical achievements during her first mayoral term.
The plan outlines how the city plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent by 2030, the cornerstone of those efforts being a pledge to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. The city plans to accomplish this by pursuing community choice energy, the process in which a jurisdiction forms an entity that buys power on the open market — as opposed to from a utility company — and chooses the source of power based on the community input.
Blakespear also cites Measure U, which aims to bring the city into compliance with state housing laws, as an achievement of compromise.
Housing elements are state-mandated documents that show where the city plans to locate denser, and by extension, more affordable units across the city. The city’s previous attempt, Measure T, failed at the ballot in 2016, and the city began work almost immediately on a replacement.
Those efforts became more complicated when the state passed a slate of rules aimed at making cities pass plans that would result in housing actually being built, not just planned.
She and Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath notably dissented with her council counterparts on the removal of a city-owned parcel in Leucadia known as “L-7” from the housing element plan.
Despite this, she said that the plan represents the city’s best effort of gathering input from the community and reaching some consensus.
Blakespear has also ardently supported the North Coast Highway 101 Streetscape proposal, which would transform Leucadia’s stretch of Coast Highway 101 from four to two lanes (with a third center lane) and include up to six roundabouts.
She said she believes that many of the complaints about the plan are driven by fear of change.
“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.
John Paul Elliott
Much of the mystery surrounding the race for mayor has been around Elliott, whose stances on a number of issues — as well as questions about his background — have intrigued residents.
Elliott, 71, calls himself a “metaphysical broker” on his ballot statement that voters will see on their sample ballots. When asked to explain what it meant, he said that the answer describes his two occupations. The first, he said, is that he is a real estate broker with 40 years of experience.
The second is his self-proclaimed title of “metaphysicist,” which he said is dealing with the study of your mental makeup controlling your physical output. He champions “mammalizing,” a process in which you shake vigorously to rid your body of gluten, and he believes that everyone wears “god suits,” and that programming your cells to love will transform your life.
He also said he plans on letting every employee bring their pet to work daily and wants to set up council meetings where the audience can interact online, voting up or down on council items in real time.
Some critics have called the longtime Riverside County resident’s ideas eccentric, but Elliott said he is serious about being mayor of Encinitas, and the centerpiece of his campaign is a plan he dubs “community village complexes,” which he said was inspired by the 1940s-era government housing projects.
Elliott said the city can solve its housing woes by being the developer itself, and the pilot for his plan would include building 300 “village-style” units on the grounds of Pacific View for the city’s workforce.
“In This manner our City will be the developer, builder, and landlord for these ‘villages’ that will be made available for our worker core members of Encinitas,” Elliott said. “By eliminating developer costs the city will be able to receive $1,531,000 per month in continuous rental income, forever providing affordable housing for the real citizens of Encinitas.”
Elliott scoffed at the current planned use for Pacific View, the planned Pacific View Academy of the Arts, calling it a “garden.”
“That’s not what the community needs,” he said. “We need housing.”
In addition to housing, Elliott has championed a grassroots effort to stop the city from building a staircase at Beacon’s Beach, which some residents believe doesn’t fit the character of the beach community. City officials said the bluff is unstable and could collapse during a serious rain event and take out the switchback staircase and the bluff-top parking lot.
“This is an huge expenditure of wasted money ($3.5 million) that does not have to be spent, and is not wanted at all by the voting citizens,” Elliott said. “With my experience as an Army Corp of Engineer Officer, we can see that the Bluff has already collapsed, there should be no fear of the Beacons Bluff re-collapsing again there is no overhanging bluff to fall at all.”
Elliott lists his third priority as mayor redesigning the proposed streetscape, citing the current $30 million price tag as the reason.
“The present plan is far too expensive to the community as designed,” Elliott said. “There may be some changes that will make ‘business sense’ and I will want to explore all alternatives.” He said he will push for a pedestrian undercrossing in Leucadia similar to the one near Swami’s. He called this a “new part of the ‘streetscape’ current plan.”
Planning is already underway for an undercrossing in Leucadia at El Portal.
Elliott has also come under fire for his ties to Encinitas. In one candidate forum, he fielded two questions asking exactly how long had he lived in Encinitas. His answers at the forum appeared to avoid the question.
In an interview with The Coast News, Elliott said he lived in Encinitas in the 1970s for a period of time, then moved to Riverside after a divorce. He returned to Encinitas in May 2018, just before the birth of his grandchild.
He said it was that event that motivated him to run for office.
“I have posed this question to all of the elected officials: what type of Encinitas do you want to leave for your grandchildren?” he said.