With 2018 upon us, it’s useful to consider the things we did well last year, the lessons we learned, and where we’re headed in the new year.
During the past year, we tackled our strategic priorities while also plowing through some unexpected controversies that consumed a lot of time and energy.
One surprise development involved a request for marijuana cultivation by a local grower and our ultimate decision to let the voters decide in this November’s election whether farmers can grow marijuana commercially within the city. Another surprise was the legal demand that we switch to districts for City Council elections. After analysis and deliberation, we divided the city into four separate voting districts — each electing their own City Councilmember — based on the requirements of the state Voting Rights Act.
Simultaneously, your elected officials have stepped up the crucial, complex task of deciding where to put new state-mandated housing.
We are wrestling with the reality that state housing laws have recently become much more strict and onerous. The city is now required to up-zone vacant land for high-density housing. In the previous housing plan, nearly all of the proposed up-zoning was on property that already had existing uses, such as a business in downtown Encinitas that could accommodate an additional story of apartments.
Now your elected officials are evaluating every vacant parcel of land larger than a half-acre and trying to fairly apportion the required new housing — totaling about 1,600 homes in a city with a total of about 25,000 homes — into each of the five communities of Encinitas. We are mindful of traffic impacts, compatibility with surrounding densities, the underlying land values and the need to balance the housing throughout the city. The intent of the laws is for each city to provide housing that’s affordable, which is a difficult task in a city with high land values.
Our next housing discussion is 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 10, at City Hall. If housing development interests you, please join us and share your thoughts!
Looking forward into 2018 and beyond, the city is tackling a backlog of capital improvement projects, many of them related to city streets. You’ve likely already noticed that we’ve painted green lanes to provide better safety for cyclists along Leucadia Boulevard and La Costa Avenue, as well as other streets. In the next two years, you’ll see better striping, improved sidewalks, more roundabouts and fresh repaving on the streets of Encinitas.
An unusually large number of regional construction projects are underway in our city right now, including widening the I-5 freeway to add a carpool lane in each direction plus a new auxiliary lane, a new wider Caltrans bridge over the San Elijo Lagoon, and doubling the railroad track in Cardiff and south through the lagoon.
Next year, the I-5 underpasses at Santa Fe Drive and Encinitas Boulevard will be widened by pushing back the sloped earth with a retaining wall to make room for dedicated bike and pedestrian paths. Those freeway underpasses will soon look like the one at Lomas Santa Fe in Solana Beach, complete with local art.
Please consider joining me and others for the “Mayor’s Homeless Challenge – WeAllCount 2018!” where at 4 a.m. on Jan. 26 volunteers assigned to teams will help count the number of people living unsheltered in Encinitas. For more information and to sign up go to www.encinitasca.gov and click on “news.”
We ended 2017 with some very happy news. The auditor’s clean annual financial report for the last fiscal year showed that our revenues exceeded expenditures in the general fund by $12.6 million, leaving us with a general fund of $25.7 million. Our capital expenditures last year were $15.2 million and our debt service payments were $4.3 million.
These excess revenues allow us to fund “pay as you go” capital projects without Encinitas having to incur additional debt. The city continues to be financially healthy, which was a wonderful way to ring in 2018!
Catherine S. Blakespear writes a monthly column for The Coast News. She can be reached at email@example.com with questions or comments.