Newest Encinitas councilmember, Bruce Ehlers, to be sworn in Tuesday

He expects his background in budgeting, city planning to be very helpful in his new role

Encinitas City Council Bruce Ehlers.
(Bruce Ehlers)

Bruce Ehlers, who will be sworn in to office Tuesday as the newest Encinitas City Council member, comes into the job with a strong background in city planning rules and a keen interest in policy specifics.

“I’m an engineer, so I’m very detail-oriented,” said Ehlers, 64, a product development senior vice president for a security equipment company.

He expects to use his skills as he works on the lengthy list of goals that he’s created for himself while he’s in office. As a council member, he wants to protect the community from “excessive development”; improve transparency at City Hall by making more meetings open to the public; increase the use of solar power and carbon-free transportation options; help craft an ordinance that promotes the use of California native plants; and update city wildfire evacuation plans, among other things. He said he’s also looking forward to being involved in the city’s budgeting process.

Thanks to 10 years’ experience as a chief financial officer for a nonprofit, “I’m good at going through budgets and books,” he said.

Ehlers will represent the city’s District 4 region — an area that covers Olivenhain and parts of New Encinitas — on the City Council.

He’s very familiar with the city political scene and council meetings. He was the key author of the city’s 2013 growth control initiative, has twice served on the city’s Planning Commission, made a previous unsuccessful run for City Council, and served as former Councilmember Maggie Houlihan’s campaign manager during her 2000, 2004 and 2008 campaigns.

And, he’s well-versed in city controversies. His most recent stint as a city planning commissioner ended in April when the City Council unanimously voted to remove him from the post. Council members said they were removing him because they believed he could not be impartial on housing development issues, in part because he filed paperwork supporting a court case against the city last year. Ehlers and his supporters said the council’s decision was a political stunt aimed at derailing his council campaign.

His supporters included Kevin Doyle, who became Planning Commission chairman when Ehlers was removed. Doyle said Thursday that people who don’t know Ehlers think he might become a rule-breaker as a council member — a belief that Doyle said he finds ridiculous.

“Bruce Ehlers is like a Boy Scout,” because he’s so rule-oriented, Doyle said.

On the Planning Commission, Ehlers was the guy always stressing that they needed to have very detailed “findings of fact” to back up any decisions they made, Doyle added, saying that people often don’t realize just how knowledgeable Ehlers is about city laws. They’d also be surprised, he said, to find out that he is a former Republican who left the party and became an independent when Donald Trump became the party’s nominee for president in 2016.

“I have a lot of respect for him for that,” Doyle added.

When Ehlers worked on Houlihan’s campaigns, he was a practicing Republican and she was “as Democratic as a person could be,” Doyle said. Ian Thompson, Houlihan’s husband, said Ehlers and his wife, who died in 2011 from cancer, were a “very complimentary combo” because they didn’t always agree on everything. Ehlers was very analytical, while Houlihan was an “energetic extrovert,” he said.

Thompson said he’s looking forward to having Ehlers on the council, given his strong business background and his support for environmental issues. He only wishes that Ehlers and Houlihan could have served on the council together.

“I think that combo would have been a real force of nature,” he said.