ENCINITAS — In 2012, Encinitas voters passed two propositions, K and L.
Proposition K asked voters if they wanted an elected mayor, rather than the current system where the council members appoint a leader from among themselves, a system that has caused several bitter bouts over the years. Proposition L asked voters if they wanted the mayoral term to be two years.
As a result of the passage of both propositions, Encinitas voters will go to the polls to elect the city’s first elected mayor. They have five vastly different candidates to choose from.
The race includes three current or former city officials and two self-described “outsiders”: current Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, and former Mayor Sheila Cameron, as well as independent journalist Alex Fidel and longtime engineer Munawer “Mike” Bawany.
Each of the five bring with them different perspectives of how the city should be governed, and what they would do in their capacity as mayor. The Coast News has talked with the candidates and will publish their answers to a question-and-answer session in the online edition.
Nearly 30 years ago, Mike Bawany said he stood with his family on a Moonlight Beach and fell in love with the city.
Today, the soon-to-be-retired engineer said he believes it is time to give back to the community that has given him so much – a community, he said, is at a crossroads.
“I believe Encinitas is at a tipping point,” Bawany said. “We have got to take a stand against these developments that are threatening our community character.”
Bawany said preserving and enhancing the character of the five communities is paramount to his campaign. On the council, he said he would support efforts to curb density-bonus developments and help create stronger development standards.
Another key of his platform is fiscal responsibility. Bawany has been outspoken with his criticism of the $10 million purchase of the Pacific View Elementary School site, arguing it was too expensive and poorly planned.
“As an engineer, planning is critical, and to go into a purchase without a plan is not something I can support,” Bawany said.
Bawany said he would look to enact stricter controls and performance standards on city contractors, and believes that a contractor who performs sub-standardly on a city project should not be awarded any further tax dollars.
When asked whether his lack of political and civic experience puts him at a disadvantage, Bawany shook his head.
“I think the community is looking for someone with fresh perspective, and I can bring that to the council,” Bawany said. “I am not a politician, I am a citizen.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum of experience is Cameron, who served on the Encinitas City Council from 1996 to 2000 and has been active ever since in a number of community issues.
Some have characterized her stint on the council as rocky, as a council majority voted to remove her as appointed mayor on the eve of the completion of her year in the top spot, and voters did not re-elect her shortly thereafter.
Cameron said her term on the council has been misconstrued and misunderstood, and she would only change one thing about it.
“If you look at the video and listen to the tapes, you will never find anything wrong with what I did,” Cameron said of her council stint. “I came in every day with a positive attitude. I just had people who had a knife in my back and there was nothing I could do about it.
“The only thing I would do differently is that I would be tougher. I wasn’t tough enough,” she said. “If and when I am elected, I am going to kill all the rumors right off the bat, and let’s focus on the issues, folks.”
Cameron said she is re-energized and tougher than ever, and the right leader at the right time for Encinitas. Allying he self with council candidate Julie Graboi, the mantra of “residents first” is the crux of Cameron’s campaign.
“You gotta listen to the citizens, that is what is most important,” said Cameron, a longtime human resources manager. “We have the most intelligent people in the city, people come in and they just educate you.”
Cameron said on the campaign trail, people are most concerned about the quality of development — or lack thereof — in recent years in Encinitas, headlined by the density bonus projects that have dotted the city’s landscape. She has been critical of the city’s proposed housing element because she believes it will be an end-run around Proposition A, which guarantees the electorate a chance to vote on major zone changes or structure heights over 30 feet.
“The residents hate the development and the possible increase of density and intensity of use,” Cameron said. “I have a problem with the housing element, because they are wrapping spot-zoning into the housing element and using threats, such as ‘If we don’t pass this we won’t get money from the state, or we face serious consequences. What we need to be doing is not trying to get around Prop. A by increasing zoning and the intensity of use.”
Her solution? Identifying and providing amnesty for unpermitted converted dwelling units known as “granny flats,” which could then be used to help the city reach its affordable mandates.
While some critics — most recently Marco Gonzalez — have accused the anti-density-bonus crowd as being racist; Cameron said that it is a matter of the community’s character being under assault.
“There is a term called NIMBY, and what it really means is, ‘Next It Might Be You,’” she said. “That is what people should think about, because the areas that the city want to spot zone might be in your back yard. This is not about race, this about keeping developers from the opportunity of exploiting zoning and getting maybe two affordable units out of 30 units.”
Alex Fidel just recently celebrated his 23rd birthday, but he possesses a very developed worldview, one that he wants to tailor to local community issues.
A staunch and outspoken libertarian, Fidel’s campaign platform makes reference to many of the party’s talking points: free trade, protection of the constitution, ending corporatism, stopping police militarization, decriminalization of drug use and other non-violent offenses.
While critics might argue his platform is disconnected from local issues, Fidel argues the converse, and says that he hasn’t forgotten those local issues.
“The local issues are a given,” Fidel said. “As a community we have had these same arguments over time about density, roads, and then some. But everyone else is silent on these other issues, and to me, silence is compliance.”
For example, Fidel says he supports public safety, but believes the constitution calls for government to employ peace officers, a subtle difference from the law-enforcement officers most are common to seeing.
“We currently have law enforcement officers who enforce laws whether the law is moral or just,” Fidel said. “You have drug convictions, and law enforcement and the courts are ruining peoples’ lives off of drug convictions. This is going beyond the basic role of government.”
Going further with the public safety thread, Fidel said he supports rank and file firefighters, but not fire associations, which he said are complicit in bargaining for pensions that he believes the city cannot afford.
“They guarantee these pensions know they will go bust,” Fidel said. “And not just for future employees, but I feel they are affecting the present. With the decline in the global economy, they can only sustain so many promises, and the rank and fiel stand to lose by supporting these corrupt associations. “
Fidel is the lone candidate to support Measure F, which would allow for the city to regulate medical marijuana storefronts. He believes opponents are stepping into deeply personal medical decisions and calls them “busybodies.”
“I don’t believe we should be telling a child with epilepsy that they can not get access to medical cannabis because of someone overly concerned with something that doesn’t affect their life,” Fidel said. “They are way overstepping their boundaries.”
Ultimately, though, Fidel said, he hopes his campaign will spur others — especially young people — to become more engaged with the civic process.
Gaspar marks the second of three candidates with council experience, completing her first half term in the appointed mayor position on the eve of the election.
As part of the voting minority on such key issues such as the Pacific View Purchase, Gaspar said she has stuck to her priorities of fiscal prudence and maintaining priorities of public safety and road maintenance.
As mayor, she said she wants to bring the focus back on those critical priorities.
“With some of the votes made, especially as it pertained to Pacific View, there were concerned choices made to underfund priorities that I personally feel reflect more of the desires of the residents,” Gaspar said. “The Council majority frequently points out that even with the Pacific View purchase, more money was invested in roads than in prior years. While it is true that more money has been invested than in the last budget, it is still not enough to keep the quality of our roads at the level they are today…I have pledged to maintain those priorities and I feel my voting record is reflective of this.”
Gaspar touts her votes against Pacific View’s purchase, a vote against a sales-tax measure briefly floated earlier this year by the council majority and the underfunding of road maintenance and repairs of the city’s buildings and critical infrastructure. She also touts her support of voting for balanced budgets, completing the Encinitas Community Park and upgrades to Moonlight Beach.
One of the areas where Gaspar has differed from several of her opponents is the issue of the downtown night scene. Several of the candidates support a so-called “deemed approved” ordinance that would set tighter restrictions on downtown’s alcohol serving establishments. Gaspar has said that she supports enforcing the current laws on the books, and potentially beefing up fines, to get troublesome establishments in compliance.
“I voted for a proactive code enforcement approach instead of a Deemed Approved Ordinance (DOA) because a DOA would have solved few of the issues reported by residents regarding the Downtown area,” Gaspar said. “I expect that improved code enforcement will resolve specific issues related to establishments not meeting the City’s standards. I also welcome a discussion regarding the amount of fines for serious or repeat offenders of City policy.”
She also is in favor of the city’s current housing element approach, which she said does not guarantee that dense developments will be built, but demonstrate that the city can accommodate the affordable housing units mandated by the state.
“We must continue to demonstrate noticeable progress on the plan, in a good-faith effort to become compliant with state law, while keeping each community’s concerns and character at the forefront,” Gaspar added. “We must also avoid the possibility of having a state-appointed judge draft our plan due to lack of compliance with state law.”
While Gaspar has been in the minority, Kranz has been part of the three-vote majority that includes outgoing councilwoman Teresa Barth and Lisa Shaffer. A number of residents have criticized the voting majority of not being receptive or responsive to the community will, especially as it pertains to land-use and zoning issues, as well as the price tag on the Pacific View purchase.
Kranz has been an unbridled supporter of the Pacific View purchase, which reached a key milestone Wednesday when the council majority voted to move forward with selling $10 million in taxable bonds to purchase the land.
“It was a nod to history,” Kranz said. “Very few people argue that we shouldn’t have it as a piece of public property, they argue about the price and whether we paid too much, but these are all arguments 50 years from now will be forgotten and I think the people will be very happy.”
Kranz said as mayor, he would continue to spearhead the effort to get the property prepared for public use at the soonest time possible.
As it pertains to his opposition of Proposition A, which has been a talking point on the campaign trail, Kranz said he does not oppose the public’s right to vote. The council adopted a change to the general plan that removed a controversial clause that allowed for a supermajority of council members to vote on major zone changes, which was at the heart of Prop. A.
He believed, however, that the proposition contained issues that ran afoul of his philosophy on community planning, namely that it changed certain specific plans, such as the downtown specific plan, that had gone through months – and sometimes years- of public and council input.
“Very few people knew that Proposition A changes specific plans,” Kranz said. “We had specific plans for the 101 corridor, which were changed by Prop. A, which I believe is a terrible way to do land-use planning. But I did make good on my word in supporting the right to vote on upzoning when the council changed the general plan.”
Moving forward, Kranz said, he will respect Proposition A, as it is now the law, but he also feels it necessary that the city forge forward with potentially unpopular issues, such as the Housing Element.
“Everyone might grumble about what it is we are required to do, but the fact is, we do have state obligations,” Kranz said. “We can continue to operate that way and there will be lost opportunities if we don’t have a housing element. If the community is OK with this, we will continue to operate that way, but my hunch is that they will support a well thought-out plan meet states requirements and provides a robust traffic circulation element that will keep traffic from destroying our quality of life.”
These are issues that Kranz said he will continue to support, even if he is not elected as mayor, as his council seat is not up for re-election until 2016.