Community Commentary

Town of San Dieguito voted down 30 years ago

In the first week of June 1982, Encinitas voters went to the polls to vote on cityhood — the community’s fifth attempt since 1927. But plans began three years earlier when a small group of slow growth activists from the Cardiff, Leucadia, and Olivenhain town councils met secretly in the Olivenhain Meeting Hall.

Everyone agreed we could no longer stay under county rule. The locally elected San Dieguito Planning Group would make recommendations to county planners to reduce housing density, only to have every decision on future developments overturned by the pro-growth Board of Supervisors.

Ken Harrison’s campaign photo taken in 1982 by the old “Coast Dispatch” newspaper, when he was a city council candidate for the proposed Town of San Dieguito. Courtesy photo

Our initial study showed that area residents were generating more in taxes than were being spent in the community. Frustrated with driving to downtown San Diego just to have local issues heard by five county supervisors, of which only one we directly elected, the push was on for local control-incorporation.

Our leader was then Olivenhain Town Council president and volunteer fire chief Marjorie Gaines. She stated, “We may be electing five more rascals (if we had our own city council) but at least they’d be our rascals.”

The county supervisors voted three to two to place incorporation on the ballot, led by then county supervisor Roger Hedgecock — not our supervisor mind you. Ours — Paul Eckert — didn’t want to tick off his developer friends by supporting cityhood.

Now came the work, studying city boundaries, special districts, and financial viability. Carlsbad didn’t want to split the Batiquitos Lagoon down the middle as we suggested. They took the whole thing. (Unbeknownst to us at the time, Carlsbad would soon “take” — annex all the unincorporated land south of La Costa Ave. to the now Encinitas boundary.) Large parcel owners in Olivenhain wanted protection by a new city, as they feared the county’s proposal for Hwy. 680, a four lane highway from Rancho Bernardo to Leucadia Blvd, traveling right through their rural properties. The Ecke Poinsettia ranch, then spreading out from Interstate-5 to El Camino Real, didn’t want anything to do with cityhood and Paul Ecke Jr.’s clout a got his hundreds of acres excluded.

Marjorie Gaines, who later become the city’s first mayor, and was to become lovingly known as the Mother of Encinitas, used to also say that she thought she was a redneck, until she moved to Encinitas and met some. Within the then good ‘ol boy business community along Highway 101, was the opposition against incorporation. Their shortsightedness later returned to haunt them, as they had no clue that future big box, chain store franchises along El Camino Real would eventually put most of their little shops out of business. The real estate and development interests funded the anti-cityhood campaign.

Incorporation advocates stepped forward, including Cardiff’s Cindi Townsend, Pat Rudolph, Bob Macfarlene, and Sandi Atkinson, Encinitas’s Bill Quinn, Leucadia’s Bill Dean and Bill Saltzman, and Olivenhain’s Bob & Mary Jo Nortman and Hershall Price, just to name a few. Scores walked precincts or stood at freeway off ramps durning rush hour, passing out literature.

We incorrectly believed at the time that the territorial folks in Cardiff, Leucadia, and Olivenhain would fear loss of their unique identities under the umbrella of the Encinitas name. So the area’s historic name — San Dieguito — was chosen. A little known Calif. law allowed a municipality to be named the “Town of . . .” rather than “City of . . .” The “Town of San Dieguito” went on the ballot.

One of the anti-cityhood campaign statements spread fear that one’s mail might not be delivered because of the post office’s confusion over San Diego vs. San Dieguito. But the main reason the 1982 incorporation failed by a two to one vote was the economy. The country was in a recession left over from 20 percent interest rates and lines for gas of the Carter years. People do not vote for the unknown in a down economy.

Of the 13 candidates that ran for the 1982 council, five of us joined together in a slow-growth slate. Four of us, Marjorie Gaines, Rick Shea, Gerry Steel and myself, received the most votes, along with our good friend Anne Olmsted.

In the 1986 winning, City of Encinitas incorporation vote, those original four were elected to the first council. I wisely chose not to run and to remain in the sanity found away from politics.

Ken Harrison was a ‘“slow growth” community activist in the 1970s and 80s. As President of the Cardiff Town Council, he wrote the incorporation study that led to the 1982 vote. If passed, Harrison would have been the city’s first Vice Mayor. Now a regular attendee of Politicians Anonymous, the native Cardiff by the Sea resident makes ‘em laugh at his statewide California Comedy Traffic Schools headquartered in Oceanside.