ENCINITAS — Don’t say goodbye, Mark Muir says.
The seven-year Encinitas councilman, who was defeated in his bid for a third term in office, is prepared to leave office this week.
But after 42 years of public service — 35 as a firefighter and seven with the City Council — Muir, 60, said he isn’t ready to say that service is over.
“You never know, there are elections every two to four years,” the former fire chief said. “But I am looking forward to taking a break and challenging myself.”
It’s a break that he really hasn’t had since he was 18, Muir said, when he joined the fire department, first in Lemon Grove, then in Village Park and finally in Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach, where he spent the bulk of his career before retiring in 2011.
He also served on the Olivenhain Municipal Water District board from 2003 to 2011.
Just as he was prepared to transition out of civil service, the Encinitas City Council appointed Muir to serve out the term of Maggie Houlihan, who died of cancer in September 2011.
Voters formally elected him in 2012 in an election that saw the face of the council change from a conservative to a more liberal majority, with Muir, a registered Republican, on the short end of 3-2 votes on major decisions, such as the financing of the acquisition of Pacific View Elementary School.
But he felt he and the council were able to get much accomplished, including his proudest achievement, getting the council to develop an open-space acquisition policy and setting aside money from the city’s annual surplus to pay for it.
“It first came up as a strategy and a council-initiated item, and now we are to the point where we are doing it,” Muir said.
He also pointed to actions the council took to enact a new cooperative fire service agreement (it saves over $1 million a year and improves the fire department’s service rating, he said), increase sheriff’s patrol, provide artificial turf at Leo Mullin Sports Park, open a fire station in Olivenhain, remove “spice” and synthetic drugs from stores as other accomplishments he’s most proud of.
And then, he pointed to his experience with water issues, which led to him in 2016 being selected to chair the 36-member San Diego County Water Authority board of directors.
Muir said at times that job was more time consuming than his duties on the council, but felt one of his greatest accomplishments was helping the regional water organization thaw its decades-frigid relationship with its largest wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District.
“We had been fighting with Metropolitan over billions of dollars — with a ‘b’,” he said. “We started to have informal talks with those guys, beginning between the chairman and I, and it got to the point where we were able to open the lines of communication, and we’re in the best position we’ve been in for decades as a result.”
Voters then re-elected him in 2016 in what proved to be the final year the city held citywide votes. Following the 2016 election, the city, acting to thwart a legal threat by a Malibu-based attorney who challenged the legality of the city’s at-large elections, transitioned to district elections.
Muir, who was vocally opposed to the change, criticized the council’s crafting of the districts as “blatant political gerrymandering” aimed at weakening his chances at re-election.
“I don’t want to make any excuses, but when you look at the districting, Tasha (Boerner Horvath) comes up with a map that is very gerrymandered, and 98 percent of the community you represent, you don’t live in it,” Muir said, referring to the district mapping process, that became controversial when it was revealed that Boerner Horvath drew the boundaries of the maps the council selected as the final proposals.
“I was complemented by Cardiff that they gave me as many votes as they did. I appreciate the votes and how well I did in an area that I don’t live in,” Muir said.
But Muir said he tried not to vote based on political ideology, but by listening to the community and responding to their needs. Frequently at meetings, Muir would repeat that mantra, that the council should seek guidance from the community.
“With politics right now you are seeing more party positioning than community positioning,” Muir said. “And I’ve been on both sides (of majorities) but I always like to say that I’ve been on the residents’ side, creating solutions.
“We have a tendency to get really tribal, and I hate to see that locally because people are so tired of that nationally,” Muir said. “Locally we should be focused on quality of life, not necessarily what’s going on in D.C.”
Muir said he hopes the new council will listen more to the community rather than partisan advisers.
“I think the important thing for the future council is to listen to what the public has to say, and don’t think you know more than the public,” Muir said. “You might be educated to a different level, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know better than they do.”
If not, Muir said, he fears the council could take the city down an ominous path.
“Like Berkeley, they are known for their activism, not for the city’s charm,” Muir said. “I see a little bit of that going on, and it’s unfortunate, so if I need to lend a voice to counter that I will. Whether I lead or follow depends on what the issue is and the time I have on my hands.”
Muir said he’s not done with local politics. He said that he will be jumping in to a role of activist and organizer on issues where he feel he can make a difference.
“I still live here, I still pay my taxes and my biggest investment is my home,” Muir said. “I will speak up and speak out about important issues that affect me and my property values.”
When asked which issues he might take an active interest in, Muir pointed to districting (potentially a referendum to redraw the lines), the 2020 initiative on marijuana and the Leucadia Streetscape proposal as issues where he might get involved.
“I’ve had a great career, and it’s not over with,” Muir said. “I know whatever I’ll do, I will be effective and enjoy it.”
Until then, he said, he looks forward to some time to recharge, and potentially take vacations — but maybe not with his entire family, seeing as how his wife, Maureen “Mo” Muir, just was re-elected to the San Dieguito Union High School District.
“I get to spend more time vacationing and she won’t,” he said with a laugh.