Former Encinitas councilwoman writes book on how to be civically engaged

Shaffer's book, which includes illustrations, teaches how to be more civically engaged.
(Illustration by Sharon Belknap)

Former Encinitas City Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, a self-described “lifelong political junkie,” tackled some of the most pressing environmental issues during her time at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But after moving to Encinitas in 2005, she realized how little she knew about City Hall.

The cover of “Potholes, Parks, and Politics”

When she was elected to the council in 2012, Shaffer realized she had a “huge learning curve” for understanding the machinery behind municipal government.

In a newly released book, “Potholes, Parks, and Politics,” Shaffer distills her knowledge and experience from the council into a guide that equips residents with the know-how to make a bigger difference in their communities. Former Encinitas City Councilwoman and Mayor Teresa Barth also contributed to the book.

Shaffer met Barth during the leadup to Barth’s successful City Council campaign in 2006, sparking her interest in local politics. Several years later, Shaffer was encouraged by former City Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, who died in 2011, to run for council.

“Potholes, Parks, and Politics” provides a rundown of city government employees and what they do, tells readers about the amount of information they can acquire from a quick call to the city clerk, and includes templates of letters that residents can use to reach out to their council members. The book, which is not limited to any particular city or state, focuses on local government, such as city council, county board, school district, or other local entities.

“I really believe in good government,” Shaffer said. “I know the government doesn’t always operate as well as it could, but I think good government has a very important role to play in our society and our quality of life. And I think the more people are educated and the more people understand how government works and how they can be heard within government, the better off we all will be.”

The book also has case studies of some of the typical issues that cause community flare-ups, such as new housing, and how residents can better understand them and be part of the decision-making.

“In normal times, people don’t really pay attention to local government because the streets are paved, the trash gets picked up,” Shaffer said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to figure out what’s going on.”

Shaffer, who stepped down in 2016 after one term, wrote a weekly newsletter that not only helped her engage her constituents, but helped her better understand local issues.

“We get the quality of government that we’re willing to accept, and it takes effort to get good government, but I think it’s worth the effort,” she said.

To order the book or for more information about “Potholes, Parks, and Politics: A Guide to Getting Things Done Locally (Without Having to Run for Office Yourself)” and the authors, visit