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Encinitas council votes to fill vacant seat by appointment

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

County estimated special election would have cost the city $250,000 to $400,000

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Encinitas will appoint someone to fill a newly vacant City Council seat, rather than hold a special election.

On Wednesday, Dec. 14, the council voted 3-1, with newly elected Councilman Bruce Ehlers opposed, to pursue the appointment process, saying it would save the city money and get someone in the job faster. The council expects to select an applicant to fill the post by the end of January.

The earliest a special election could have been held is May 2, and the county’s Registrar of Voters has estimated the city’s cost for that special election would be $250,00 to $400,000, City Clerk Kathy Hollywood said.

Mayor Tony Kranz, a former longtime city council member whose recent election to the mayor’s spot created the new council vacancy, voted for the appointment process along with Councilmembers Kellie Hinze and Joy Lyndes. Both Hinze and Lyndes were originally appointed to the council themselves, and then later ran for election.

“We’ve been well served by the appointment process,” Hinze said.

Hinze said she’d rather spend money on infrastructure improvements rather than a special election, while Lyndes said the appointment process might turn up a candidate like herself who’s “more of a public servant than a politician.”

While the council majority supported appointing someone to the post, 11 of the 16 public speakers on the item said the city should host a special election, calling it the democratic thing to do and “well worth the money.”

Ehlers said he strongly agreed with them. Noting that he had just been elected, he said it was highly unlikely that the current council would have picked him as an appointee if his predecessor, Joe Mosca, had resigned before his term ended.

Ehlers is a former city planning commissioner who was removed from the commission in April. Council members said they unanimously voted to remove him because they believed he could not be impartial on housing development issues after he filed paperwork supporting a court case against the city. Ehlers and his supporters said it was a vindictive political stunt aimed at derailing Ehlers’ City Council campaign.

On Wednesday, Dec. 14, Ehlers noted that Del Mar and Carlsbad don’t allow council appointees to run for their seats when their seats next come up for election and said Encinitas should adopt a similar municipal code.

That’s not possible unless Encinitas wants to change its system of governance, Kranz told him. Del Mar and Carlsbad are charter cities, meaning that they have special governing documents, or charters, that their voters approved. Encinitas, like most cities in California, is a general law city, meaning it operates under the general laws of the state.

Under state law, cities must hold an election if there is more than two years remaining in the person’s term in office when the council seat is vacated. If it’s two years or less, cities have the option of either holding a special election or having the council appoint someone to fill out the term. When Kranz took over the mayor’s spot, there was slightly less than two years remaining in his four-year council term.

As a councilmember, Kranz represented the city’s District 1, which primarily covers the Leucadia region. The appointee who replaces him also will need to come from this area. Applicants also need to be at least 18 years old and a registered voter. The application deadline will likely be Jan 10 in order to meet the council’s goal of considering the applicants at its Jan. 18 meeting, the city clerk said Wednesday, Dec. 14.

In other action Wednesday, Dec. 14, the City Council:

  • Decided to look into other options, rather than putting an all-way stop sign at La Costa Avenue’s intersection with Sheridan Road. The council voted to table the item after hearing from nine public speakers, all of whom opposed the proposal.
  • Approved changes to the city’s municipal tree ordinance to make it possible for a grove of trees, rather than just one tree, to be eligible for heritage status. Melba Road area residents said they hope a group of trees along their roadway will be the first to qualify as a “heritage grove” under the new category.

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