Encinitas to start citizens academy

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

Program to educate residents on how municipal government works, open to ages 18 and up


Encinitas expects to begin accepting applications for its first city-sponsored citizens’ academy in January and will host the first classes in the spring.

Modeled on a program run by the city of Carlsbad, the Encinitas Academy will consist of six, three-hour sessions. Participants will tour city facilities, meet with department heads and “see how decisions are made and how funds are allocated,” Jessica Contreras, the city’s information technology director, recently told the City Council.

In order to participate, applicants must be at least 18 and be a resident or a business owner in Encinitas. Each academy program will be limited to 20 participants.

Contreras, the leader of the city employee group that’s putting together the program, said it will be very similar in structure to the Carlsbad Citizens Academy. Both programs are free to participants, both are offered twice a year, and both feature once-a-week classes.

“We are going to cover every topic that’s in the Carlsbad academy,” she said.

However, the Encinitas program will have more of an emphasis on how various city departments are interconnected, she said. For example, when participants tour city public works facilities, they’ll learn how finance and public works teams must work together.

Hosting the six-week sessions is expected to cost the city $5,000 and money has already been set aside for the spring academy, Contreras said. The money will pay for course materials, multimedia expenses and other supplies.

Plans call for one class session to focus on public safety with the city’s fire and marine safety departments giving presentations as well as the county Sheriff’s Department. Another one will cover parks, recreation, cultural arts and the Encinitas Library; while a third will showcase public works, utilities and the San Dieguito Water District.

The academy will emphasize “why local government is important and how to get involved,” Contreras stressed.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she hoped the program would build the public’s confidence in city government, saying most people only ever interact with the city when they need permits or have complaints about city services.

“(Currently), to actually understand the functioning of the city, you have to run for office or serve on a commission,” she said.

Councilmember Kellie Hinze said she hoped program organizers would encourage renters and non-native English speakers to participate, while Councilmember Joy Lyndes said she hoped the program would include a graduation ceremony for participants as well as a way for them to report out to the City Council on what they had learned.

Carlsbad’s program began in 2001 and 1,718 people have graduated from it since then.