From a “blue wave” to “green” initiatives, from the grand opening of an airline to the closing of a psychiatric facility, North County saw its fair share of major headlines.
The region was at the epicenter of state movements and at the forefront of others.
What were the biggest stories in our region?
The Coast News has reviewed hundreds of stories and our staff has boiled them down to 10 storylines, some that encompass multiple stories with similar themes.
Here are the Top 10 storylines, as voted on by our staff.
The North County has been a reliable bastion of support for the Republican Party over the years, but as 2018 dawned, talk of changing demographics and dissatisfaction with the current presidential administration put the region’s political future in the balance.
Nationwide, pundits predicted that a so-called “Blue Wave” would prove to be a repudiation of the Trump administration’s politics.
North County became ground zero of the movement, as activists set their sights on the 49th Congressional District, where Darrell Issa had narrowly survived a challenge two years early. In 2017, protesters began the longest running demonstration of its kind as they picketed outside of Issa’s office for more than a year.
Those protests paid dividends, as in one of the first victories of the “blue wave” movement, Issa announced his resignation in January.
But the movement was just getting started.
It took nearly a month after election night to assess the true breadth and depth of the political shift, but when the Registrar of Voters certified the results, one thing was clear: A blue wave indeed had washed ashore in North County:
- Mike Levin became the first Democrat to win the district’s congressional seat in more than 40 years.
- Paul McNamara unseated longtime Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, a staunch conservative who had taken a hardline stance on illegal immigration, and the council shifted from a 4-1 conservative majority to a 3-2 liberal majority.
- Carlsbad voters elected two liberal candidates to shift the City Council to liberal majority for the first time in a generation.
- Encinitas moved closer to a unanimous liberal-leaning city council, with one vacant seat up for appointment.
- Not only did a Democrat win the 76th Assembly race for the first time, a single Republican did not advance out of the jungle primaries.
- San Marcos, a conservative stronghold, saw liberal-leaning candidates chip away at the council majority.
- And, with just days before the count was certified, a liberal candidate in Vista completed nearly a 20-point turnaround from election night to stun longtime Republican Councilman John Aguilera.
This truly marked a generational shift in the electorate in North County, the reverberations of which will be felt for some time.
2. Housing issues roil region
As the state continues to grapple with a so-called “housing crisis,” North County elected officials and residents continue to clash over state requirements for added housing and concerns over the impact of housing on traffic, noise and the character of the respective communities.
A group spearheaded by the Golden Door Spa successfully collected enough signatures as part of a referendum to rescind the county’s approval. The Supervisors, however, have placed the question before voters in 2020.
In Encinitas, a Superior Court judge has interceded in the city’s years-long attempt to come in compliance with state housing laws following the voters’ rejection of yet another proposed housing element update, Measure U.
The judge has given Encinitas 120 days to adopt an affordable housing plan certified by the state after invalidating a local proposition that requires such plans to be voted on by the people.
The judge’s ruling, however, doesn’t apply to future housing element updates.
In Del Mar, the city has found itself in a battle with the California Coastal Commission over an ordinance regulating short-term vacation rentals.
The city passed an ordinance that would limit rentals of less than 30 days in nearly all residential zones to minimum seven-day stays for no more than 28 days a year.
The Coastal Commission rejected the ordinance, arguing that it was too restrictive and would impact tourists access to the beach, and adopted in June a plan that would allow vacation rentals for a minimum of three consecutive days for no more than 100 days a year.
The following month Del Mar voted 3-2 to reject that decision and opted to let the courts determine who has land-use authority in the county’s smallest city.
And in the region’s largest city, Oceanside, voters rejected a controversial ballot measure, Measure Y, or the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) Initiative, which would have made it more difficult to turn farmland into housing developments.
3. The immigration debate hits home
In the lead up to the June primary elections, the state’s so-called “sanctuary city” status became a flashpoint of controversy, and several communities jumped head on into the skid.
The Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 in April to support the Trump administration’s lawsuit against the state and three of its immigration laws.
Carlsbad’s City Council voted to oppose sanctuary cities and reaffirmed it a month later despite a throng of residents urging them to reconsider.
Thousands of residents in North County participated in a rally in Carlsbad protesting the Trump administration’s policy of separating children of illegal immigrants.
Several elected officials actively campaigned on the topic of illegal immigration. One of the more prominent officials, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, lost his election, and some believe the city’s changing electorate were turned off by his hardline stance.
And in Encinitas, which made headlines in 2016 by joining the so-called “Welcoming Communities” movement, Mayor Catherine Blakespear wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the border-separation policy.
4. North County cities grapple with environmental issues
It’s no surprise that environmental headlines would dominate our coastal region, and this year was no different. Encinitas moved forward with a plan to ban plastic straws from restaurants, and also became the first city to in the region to adopt a “gold standard” climate action plan that hinges on the city adopting community choice energy with its North Coastal neighbors.
Oceanside officials began hearing from a group of residents, who are taking cues from Encinitas and other locals, who want the city to also ban plastic straws in restaurants.
Tiny Del Mar stood up to the Coastal Commission rejecting managed retreat as an option to combat sea level rise in its climate action plan, which is setting up a major battle that will no doubt play itself out in 2019.
Encinitas kicked off its “Living Shoreline” project in Cardiff-by-the-sea, which includes a series of man-made dunes that will protect Coast Highway 101 from flooding during storm events but also provide habitat for native species.
And in Carlsbad, after 64 years, the Encinas Power Station, one of the infamous landmarks along the San Diego coastline, was retired on Dec. 11.
5. Cannabis controversy continues
Cities across the region continued to grapple with the realities of Proposition 64 — the landmark 2016 statewide initiative that legalized personal recreational cannabis use — and cannabis regulation.
In Encinitas, the council deferred on deciding the fate of cannabis in the city until 2020, when citizens will vote on an initiative to allow and regulate cannabis storefronts, deliveries and manufacturing and cultivation. The city will postpone a decision to allow marijuana-related deliveries until the state decides whether it will allow such deliveries statewide, which would render local intervention moot.
Solana Beach voters will also get a chance to weigh in on the cannabis debate, as the council decided to put the question of cannabis storefronts to voters in 2020.
In Vista, voters legalized medical marijuana sales by approving Measure Z, despite the outcry from the largely conservative City Council. On the eve of the election, the city of Vista brought a five-count misdemeanor criminal complaint against a group which has spearheaded fundraising efforts for Measure Z, alleging various campaign finance violations.
The Oceanside City Council, after months of debate, voted to approve medical marijuana deliveries.
Expect this topic to continue to lead local headlines in 2019 and beyond.
6. Leucadia dominates headlines
Known as a sleepy surf town, Leucadia was alive with controversy all year, with some of the biggest — and in some cases, quirkiest — headlines throughout our pages.
The single biggest controversy involved a planned transformation of the community’s main drag, North Coast Highway 101, by way of the Leucadia Streetscape.
A group of neighbors formed an organized opposition, lining streets throughout the community with signs that read “One Lane: Insane,” referring to the plan to shrink the street from four lanes to two between Leucadia Blvd and La Costa Avenue. The group also sued the city to stop the project.
But the plan was endorsed by the City Council and Planning Commission and competing group of supporters, who argued that the street as configured imperils pedestrians, cyclists and is bad for local businesses. And in October, the California Coastal Commission unanimously endorsed the project.
Two months later, one of the project’s most ardent supporters, Roberta Walker, was critically injured when a truck struck her will she was riding her bicycle during the early morning hours on Dec. 8. Walker’s accident has galvanized the efforts to accelerate the start of the project.
Residents were also up in arms over a plan to build a staircase at their beloved Beacon’s (or Beacon, depending on who you talk to) Beach, to supplement — and ultimately replace — the beach’s iconic switchback trail. Supporters of the project argued that the project was necessary to protect beach access, as the bluff above the switchback could collapse and destroy it at any moment.
But the city’s Planning Commission denied the project in October, and again in December, shelving it until at least July, unless the project is appealed to the City Council.
At the same beach in September, 13-year-old Keane Webre-Hayes suffered traumatic injuries when he was bitten by a great white shark while lobster hunting. Keane’s injury became a national story, and later the city of Encinitas honored him and the Good Samaritans who were credited for saving his life with a proclamation in honor of their bravery and life-saving efforts.
And finally, from the “wait, what?” files, Leucadians were in an uproar when they found out that an apparel company had trademarked the community’s name, and sent out cease-and-desist letters to local T-shirt makers who were using the name on their clothing.
In one case, a letter targeted the T-shirt company that has been printing Leucadia brand shirts for nearly four decades.
The company behind the lawsuit threats, Flashbuz, dropped the letters in response to the community outcry. Several residents said they plan to sue to reverse the trademark.
7. Mental health closure rocks region
It’s been a while since Tri-City Medical Center was front-and-center in the news, but in June, when the public hospital announced plans to “suspend” its inpatient psychiatric facilities, the region responded in an uproar.
The hospital cited costs and a recent change in federal regulations requiring hospitals to remove from rooms all features that patients could use to hang themselves, known as “ligature” risks, for the need to suspend the activities.
Needless to say, the condemnation was swift and widespread, as law enforcement, mental health activists and elected officials implored the hospital to reconsider its decision. The district’s board of directors held a second meeting to reconsider the decision, but ultimately voted to shutter the facilities in the fall.
Mental health and suicide prevention were at the top of awareness this year following the deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and our reporter Kelli Kyle outlined the ongoing suicide prevention efforts throughout North County.
At Canyon Crest Academy, these discussions hit home the hardest, as the student body was left to grapple with two student deaths (one a suicide) and an injury that was possibly the result of self-harm. The events happened within a short period of time of each other, leading to questions of how these incidents could happen and what should be done about them.
8. Del Mar Gun Show suspended
Amidst rising nationwide concerns about gun violence — following mass shootings at a Florida high school, video game competition and a Thousand Oaks nightclub — activists in Del Mar have pushed to end a gun show that has been held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the past 30 years.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board — which runs the fairgrounds on behalf of the state — elected to suspend the show for the span of 2019, until a new policy concerning the gun shows could be drafted.
Controversy also arose over the show’s operators and his criminal record. The operator, in turned, slapped a local gun-safety advocacy group with a cease-and-desist letter accusing the group’s founder of defaming the gun show’s owner.
In Encinitas, officials adopted a resolution urging lawmakers to curb gun violence, in spite of calls from gun rights activists to reject the resolution. Carlsbad adopted a similar resolution in the fall.
And the organization Moms Demand Action held an anti-gun protest in June.
9. Come fly with me — or not
The McClellan-Palomar Airport dominated headlines in Carlsbad this year for a couple of reasons. First, after nearly 10 years of planning, California Pacific Airlines finally launched commercial service from McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.
The airline services four cities with plans to expand to two more, but two days of cancellations in December, and passengers stranded in Pierre, South Dakota, over Thanksgiving, rocked the company.
And then, the Board of Supervisors approved a controversial update to the airport’s master plan, which prompted a residents group to sue the county over what they say was a flawed environmental impact report. The city of Carlsbad is also considering legal action, in a story that will likely play itself out in 2019.
10. The failure of Proposition 6
The region became ground zero for the fight for Proposition 6, a statewide initiative aimed at repealing the so-called “gas tax,” Senate Bill 1. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in April 2017, which raised both gas taxes and vehicle registration fees in an effort to tackle the state’s infrastructure backlog.
The architect of the “Yes on 6” campaign, former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, staged a series of “cheap gas” rallies in Encinitas, Carlsbad and elsewhere to raise awareness of the repeal campaign.
In Julian, a group of Caltrans contract workers came under fire for allegedly campaigning against Proposition 6 while on duty, as activists filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission against Caltrans. The FPPC confirmed the investigation in September.
A number of conservative lawmakers — most notably 49th Congressional District candidate Diane Harkey and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed — latched their campaigns on to the gas-tax opposition. Still, other groups actively campaigned against Proposition 6, arguing that the boost to infrastructure spending outweighed any added burden caused by the increase at the pump.
Voters statewide agreed with opponents of the repeal and rejected Proposition 6 in a stunning 55-percent to 45-percent rebuke. Carlsbad recently celebrated the expansion of its carpool lanes along I-5 — funded by SB1.