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Encinitas council unanimously votes to remove Bruce Ehlers from Planning Commission

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

Dozens of his supporters decry decision, calling it politically motivated, vindictive and shameful

Bruce Ehlers, the chairman of the city’s Planning Commission and the key author of the city’s 2013 growth-control initiative, was ordered to resign immediately by the City Council during a raucous meeting Wednesday, April 13.

Critics of the decision called it shameful, vindictive and “one of the most outrageous political crimes” in the city’s history.

Council members, who voted unanimously to remove Ehlers from his commission spot, said they were doing so because they did not feel Ehlers could be impartial regarding housing development issues. They cited legal paperwork he filed supporting a court case against the city last year and recent comments he’s made to the news media about housing issues.

“It’s gotten to the point that it is simply untenable to have him remain as a planning commissioner,” said Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who along with Councilmember Tony Kranz put the item on the council’s agenda.

However, several dozen Ehlers supporters at the meeting said the decision was purely a political stunt, and praised Ehlers’ extensive knowledge of development issues, his integrity and his deep awareness of conflict of interest issues. They noted that Ehlers recently announced he’s running for City Council and said the current council members are trying to silence him, along with anyone else who criticizes their positions, particularly their support for higher-density housing projects.

During the hour-long public comment period, all of the some two dozen people who approached the speakers’ podium supported Ehlers, and conflict between the council and the audience members frequently erupted. At one point, the mayor, who has implemented a controversial policy of hand waving rather than clapping at during meetings, called for a 10-minute recess because audience members weren’t following the no clapping rules and public speakers weren’t adhering to the two-minute time limit.

Critics of the council’s decision to remove Ehlers included many people active in city political issues, several candidates for city offices, some former planning commissioners and one current commissioner, Kevin Doyle. Doyle called Ehlers one of his greatest mentors and said the council was making a mistake in removing him. Former city planning commissioner Ruben Flores called the council’s decision “one of the most outrageous political crimes in Encinitas,” while fellow former commissioner Gene Chapo called it both petty and childish.

“I think mostly what’s happening tonight is quieting an opposing viewpoint,” he said.

For his part, Ehlers called the council’s decision “a sad day for Encinitas” and said the council was partially acting on information that wasn’t accurate. A council report produced for Wednesday’s meeting listed as one reason for his removal that Ehlers had said in June 2021 that he was the treasurer for North County Advocates, a group that has been suing the city over one of its proposed high-density housing sites. Ehlers noted Wednesday that he’s no longer the group’s treasurer — he resigned some seven months ago to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Ehlers said that he did submit paperwork supporting a court case against the city last year over housing planning issues — a court case the city lost — but said it was logical for him to file the voluntary declaratory statement because he was the primary author and spokesman for the city’s Proposition A growth-control initiative.

His position was contested by Councilmember Tony Kranz, who said he thought someone else in the Prop. A group should have filed the voluntary document, given that Ehlers was serving on the Planning Commission at the time and thus shouldn’t have been going against the city’s position on housing issues. Kranz added that he thought the council probably should have removed Ehlers from the commission sooner, given the situation.

Planning commissioners, like other city commission appointees, serve “at the pleasure of the City Council” and can be removed at any time.

Blakespear said Wednesday she had privately asked Ehlers to submit his resignation earlier this year, but he refused and that’s why the item ended up before the council.

“I did not intend this to be a public execution,” as some people have charged, she said.


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