Encinitas to embark on redistricting for council seats

City of Encinitas
(Karen Billing)

Short-term improvements to Vulcan Avenue also win approval


Encinitas will embark upon its first revisions of its district-based election system for City Council seats using the same process it tried out in 2017, much to the dismay of one council member.

In a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Tony Kranz opposed, the council decided June 9 that it will once again make the final decision on what the district lines will look like, rather than handing off the job to an appointed commission.

“To me, the right approach is to turn it over to a commission,” Kranz said, noting that Carlsbad has decided to use the commission approach, “and I think that’s the right road for Encinitas as well.”

But others on the council said the independent commission option was likely to cost double the $180,000 estimated price tag for the in-house option and said the system the city used last time appeared to have worked fine.

Councilman Joe Mosca said he was pleased to hear the city-hired consultants say that Encinitas might not need to change much about its previous process or the four council districts that resulted from it. The multiple public meetings that Encinitas held during that process are now mandated by state law and the city’s population figures for each of its four council districts aren’t likely to have drastically changed since then, consultants told council members.

“I believe that we did a great job last time,” Mosca said after hearing the consultants’ report, adding that he only hoped this time around to do even more public outreach and get many more proposed district designs submitted by the general public.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she was interested to hear that the strip district plan the council initially considered last time — a system which would have resulted in the four council members each representing a horizontal slice of the city from the coast to the eastern hills — was now not recommended under state law. She said she was glad the council hadn’t chosen that option last time.

Encinitas was pushed into creating a district-based election system after receiving a threat-of-litigation letter from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, who has sent such letters to many California cities and sued some of them contending that the at-large election systems dilute the votes of minority voters and thus violate state law.

During its first districting process, the council offered residents the chance to submit their own proposals for district designs and ultimately selected one map anonymously submitted by then-councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath. That map, one of 22 options the city received, carved the city into three coastal districts — one each for Leucadia, Old Encinitas and Cardiff — plus one inland district primarily containing the Olivenhain region.

A fifth community — New Encinitas — ended up being split between multiple districts. At the time, Horvath said she liked the map because it put Cardiff and Olivenhain each into their own districts. She noted that the New Encinitas region had to be sliced up no matter what map the council selected because it has a much larger population than the other areas. Proposed districts are required to have roughly equal populations under state law.

Kranz, who lives in the Leucadia region in what’s now District 1, was a passionate supporter of the old, at-large election system where council members were elected in citywide elections as the mayor still is today. He wanted the city to fight the districting demand letter at the time, and he reiterated that view Wednesday, June 9. He said the council “decided to throw in the towel” and should have fought Shenkman in court, mentioning that Santa Monica pushed back and won when it appealed an initial court decision.

District consultant Chris Skinnell said Santa Monica did win at the appeals court level, but the state Supreme Court has now decided to hear the case and the appeals court decision could be reversed. At the trial court level, Santa Monica was ordered to pay $25 million in attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs in the case, he said, adding “that doesn’t even count what they paid their own lawyers.”

Mosca, who is an attorney, then said Encinitas was “wise beyond belief” not to go to court over the districting issue.

Encinitas is required to redraw its council district boundary lines after every 10-year, federal Census population count, so the districts are balanced according to the latest population figures, Skinnell said. The release of the latest population data has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but initial figures are now expected to come out in mid-August, he said.

The state will then process that rough data to put it in a more user-friendly format and release the revised version in October. Once that’s done, Encinitas can embark on actually redrawing the district lines, with the goal of finishing the job by sometime in March 2022 — weeks before the April 17 deadline, Skinnell said.

In other action Wednesday, June 9, the council voted 4-1, with Kranz opposed, to move forward with a city traffic engineer proposal to make some interim changes to Vulcan Avenue in an effort to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety during several railroad corridor construction projects. The estimated $85,000 in safety improvements are proposed to include:

  • Narrowing the vehicle lanes on Vulcan to 10 feet in each direction;
  • Shifting the vehicle lanes toward the western edge of the roadway;
  • Painting “sharrows” markers on the new lanes indicating that cyclists can use them too;
  • Creating a pedestrian walkway area by painting it onto the pavement;
  • And adding raised crosswalks with flashing beacons at Vulcan’s intersections with Andrew Avenue, Sanford Street and Orpheus Avenue.

“Sharrows, I think in this particular stretch, are inviting problems,” Kranz said as he explained why he would be voting no.

In other news, the city manager announced June 9 that City Hall and the Community & Senior Center will reopen to the public Tuesday, June 15, when the governor lifts most of the state’s coronavirus-related health restrictions. The first in-person City Council meeting will likely occur June 23 — the council’s last scheduled meeting in June, she said.

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