Mayor addresses key initiatives at State of City event
Oliver, the 9-year-old son of Mayor Catherine Blakespear, described the state of Encinitas as “strong,” essentially echoing his mother’s words at the conclusion of her State of the City address on March 27.
In her 20-minute speech at the Encinitas Community Center, Blakespear commended city efforts for maintaining a low crime rate, developing a thriving economy and providing “unmatched” scenery, parks, recreational programs and cultural events.
And, the mayor said at the event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, improvements in four key focus areas are underway to help Encinitas continue to thrive: obtaining a state-certified housing element, enhancing transportation, promoting green initiatives and making the rail corridor a better neighbor.
Blakespear considered the housing element as the city’s “most pressing, urgent and critically important issue.”
“The bottom line is that we need more housing,” she said. “We need to follow state housing laws. We need to get ourselves positioned to end the major housing lawsuits we’re currently in the midst of fighting.”
Encinitas is the only community in San Diego County without a Housing Element, a required document that spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people. The coastal city’s original plan, which it is still working off of, was created in the 1990s. Encinitas’ last attempt at obtaining a housing element, Measure T, failed in the November 2016 election.
The city council is currently working on a new draft housing element to take to the voters this November. Encinitas must zone for 1,600 more homes, a 6.4 percent increase from the city’s existing 25,000 homes, Blakespear said.
“This time [the housing element] will be simpler, more straightforward, more narrowly tailored to comply with state laws and hopefully more acceptable to residents,” the mayor said.
The city is also taking action to make it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as granny flats, by waiving fees, increasing the maximum allowable size of the unit and allowing residents to have junior accessory units inside existing homes.
In transportation, Blakespear said projects such as the Leucadia Streetscape and Coastal Rail Trail will hopefully make moving around the city simpler and more efficient. She also advocated for more people biking and walking in the city.
She added about one-third of trips taken in Encinitas are less than one mile and hopes improvements to bike lanes and city infrastructure promote more people riding bicycles around the city.
“Two-thirds of these short trips are taken by car,” she said. “If we could just shift people who drive these short trips to travel by bike, we would eliminate about 20 percent of all car trips.”
Blakespear also addressed the importance of promoting green initiatives and protecting natural resources.
The city passed its Climate Action Plan in January and is working with the cities of Del Mar, Carlsbad and Oceanside regarding Community Choice Energy, which would bring local control and competition to the energy market. Encinitas City Hall will also house a new electric vehicle charging station in the coming months.
The city is also undertaking a dune restoration project in Cardiff near the Solana Beach border to protect the shoreline from storm surges and preserve beach habitats.
In addition, Blakespear said the city is taking steps to make the rail corridor a better neighbor by pursuing quiet zones and planning more safe rail crossings.
Work on a quiet zone at Chesterfield is currently underway, and an El Portal underpass will begin to be constructed next year.
“Encinitas is a city that is committed to improving the quality of our residents’ lives, whether you live in Old Encinitas, New Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff or Olivenhain,” the mayor said in closing. “We’re raising the bar high in important areas.”
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