Above: A rendering of the proposed modernization of El Portal pedestrian and bicycle underpass project, earmarked to receive funding from the proposed capital improvement budget. Courtesy photo
ENCINITAS — City officials are moving forward with a proposal to defund a controversial proposed staircase at Beacon’s Beach as part of its capital improvement project budget.
Additionally, the council is moving forward with a plan to use more than half of the dollars it had set aside for acquiring open space to pay for its long awaited circulation element.
The City Council at its May 22 special meeting advanced its proposed $61.6 capital budget plan to the June 12 council meeting for approval.
Council’s recommendation will redirect the $3.4 million for the Beacon’s project — which was voted down twice by the Planning Commission — to the El Portal pedestrian and bicycle underpass project.
But the budget also calls for the council to redirect $590,000 of the $1.18 million it has available to purchase open space to help pay for the circulation element, a plan that addresses how to move people through the city, including improvements to roadways, bikeways, pedestrian paths and other modes of transportation.
Councilman Tony Kranz has called on the city to prioritize the circulation element for several years. The new budget moves the plan into the city’s “tier 1” projects — projects that have the highest priority.
But Kranz also lamented that it was done at the expense of the open-space fund.
“I know that the acquisition of open space is a very important issue for not only for the community but especially for this council,” Kranz said. “So it’s a little bit painful to be using funds that were originally set aside for open space acquisition for the circulation element.”
Kranz, however, also said that he was comfortable with transferring the money because the city was not taking all of the funds.
“I guess the important thing is that we have been working to find open space to acquire, and I hope that my colleagues all agree that we should continue to try and find open space to acquire and as opportunities present themselves that we would be in a position to have to take a look at our budget and make some decisions about ways that those opportunities don’t go by the wayside.”
Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze called the decision “a tough pill to swallow,” but said she was encouraged by recent city action to approve the habitat stewardship management program as well as the completion of the living shoreline project — which created sand dunes along Cardiff State Beach — which she said added to the open space along the coast.
“To me our ocean and our beaches are an extension of our open space and really deserving of prioritization,” she said. “And we created more beach for us to enjoy.”
The proposed capital improvement budget, which amounts to more than $60 million over the next six years, proposes to fund the following projects:
North Coast Highway 101 Streetscape — $17.806 million
El Portal Pedestrian/Bike Underpass project — $10.184 million
Housing Element Update — $1 million
Circulation Element — $590,000
Tech Infrastructure Replacement — $458,354
El Camino Real – Mobility/Striping Improvements — $410,000
South Coast Highway 101 Safety and Mobility Enhancements — $400,000
B Street Sidewalk Project — $353,549
Balour Drive – Corridor Improvements — $350,000
Mackinnon ADA Sidewalk project — $302,000
General Mobility Improvements — $300,000
Safe Routes 2 School Program — $267,803 in the first year; $200,000 in the second year
Storm Drain Repair — $250,000
Cottonwood Creek Stormwater Basin Cleaning — $200,000
Santa Fe Drive – HSIP Improvements — $199,000
Update Inclusionary Ordinance — $100,000
Vulcan Avenue Traffic Calming Study/Implementation — $100,000
The proposed budget also calls for a proposed roundabout at Leucadia Boulevard and Hygeia Avenue, which was funded at just under $1 million, to receive $1.5 million.
A large portion of the money is front loaded over the first two years of the cycle to help pay for the streetscape, which staff said will likely take the issuance of bonds to complete, unless it can find grant money to defray some of the costs, city staff said in the budget staff report.
While the city is expected to have strong revenue projections over the next five years, staff said it wouldn’t be enough to pay for all of the city’s project goals.
“While these projections indicate a financially healthy city, it is insufficient to support the planned capital program in the next few years without issuing debt,” the staff report states. “For this reason, staff anticipates that it will be necessary to continue to seek grants or to borrow approximately $22 million in FY 2020-2021.”
The latter recommendation is likely to reignite simmering concerns over the project, which were a focal point of the 2018 election. Opponents of the project argued that one of the reasons to reject the streetscape was its heavy price tag.
Opponents of the project, however, did not fare well at the ballot box as incumbent Mark Muir and council and mayoral challengers Tony Brandenburg and John Paul Elliott — who all campaigned against the project — lost their respective races.