Encinitas to add money, re-advertise El Camino Real corridor planning project

The Encinitas sign shines above South Coast Highway 101 near the historic La Paloma Theater.
The Encinitas sign on South Coast Highway 101 near the historic La Paloma Theater.

Council agrees to contribute $315,000 from general fund to supplement state grant


Encinitas will more than double the funding for a proposed, large-scale planning project along the El Camino Real corridor to tempt companies to bid on the job, the City Council decided last week.

“I think this is great timing ... I think we’re on the right track now,” Councilwoman Joy Lyndes said.

Originally, plans called for financing the project with $300,000 from a state LEAP (Local Early Action Planning) grant, but Encinitas got no takers after advertising the job late last year.

After the city’s request for proposals deadline closed Jan. 11, city employees contacted four companies who had initially indicated they had an interest in doing the project and asked why they didn’t ultimately submit proposals, city planner Nick Zornes said. The lack of funding for the project was one often cited reason, along with issues related to the depth of work — a full Environmental Impact Report and extensive public engagement are required.

The project will create what’s referred to as a “specific plan,” a detailed document containing both the city’s goals for the area and the ways those goals will be achieved through certain development standards. Many cities in California have these specialty planning documents for communities where interest in preserving a certain look is high. Encinitas has specific plans for its Cardiff, downtown Encinitas, Encinitas Ranch and North 101 areas.

The City Council’s vote will add $315,000 in funding from the city’s general fund to increase the El Camino planning project’s total budget to $615,000. Council members also authorized city staff to re-advertise the job and approved spending $25,000 for communications work. That money will go to JPW Communications, which is already handling publicity related to the El Portal Undercrossing and Leucadia Streetscape projects.

Councilman Joe Mosca, whose council district includes the corridor area, said he looked forward to seeing the start of the planning effort. The El Camino corridor, which could be defined as beginning at the Santa Fe Drive intersection and continuing northward to the city limits at Leucadia Boulevard, is an area that’s likely to see much change in the coming years, he said.

“We definitely need to get in front of this,” he added, saying change is already happening in the Encinitas Boulevard area.

Home to many small shopping centers, the El Camino corridor is very car-dependent and one of the goals of the planning effort will be to see what can be done to make it much more walkable, Mosca said.

One issue that will be up for debate during the planning process will be what to do about the width of the roadway and whether that impedes pedestrian activity, Councilman Tony Kranz said.

“What we have here really is an eight-lane road ... Is that really what we want in this very important stretch of our community,” he asked.

Kranz, who serves on North County Transit District’s board, added that one proposal that could be up for debate is creating one dedicated traffic lane for bus service and said he expected lots of vigorous discussion on many proposals.

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said she hoped there would be proposals to move away from “gray fields,” huge spaces of asphalt and parking lots.

Work is expected to begin on the planning project this summer. Under the terms of the state LEAP grant, the city needs to complete the project by Nov. 30, 2023, a city staff report states.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union Tribune