Barth looks back at eight years on Encinitas council
Since 2006, most of Teresa Barth’s Wednesday nights have been spent in council chambers.
Instead of delving into city budgets and other council business, future Wednesdays will be spent indulging in local cuisine.
“I’ve said that I’m going to try a new restaurant every Wednesday,” Barth said with a laugh during an interview earlier this week.
Barth’s second term ended Dec. 9 when Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear was sworn in. After serving the city for eight years, Barth called moving on “bittersweet.”
“I decided months ago I wouldn’t run for re-election,” she said. “Once I set my mind to something, I’m ready to move forward. That’s why I’m excited about the future.”
Barth said she would have liked to tie up loose ends such as the new Moonlight Beach lifeguard tower before leaving, but added she can “watch from the sidelines without regrets.”
A Cardiff resident since 1994, Barth retired in 2003 from her position as an education and exhibit supervisor at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Not long after, she began volunteering for organizations like Cardiff 101 Mainstreet, sparking a wider interest in city affairs.
During Barth’s first six years in office, her stances emphasizing environmental advocacy and slow growth contrasted with the business-minded council majority. Barth said ideology differences are natural, adding that unfortunately, some matters turned needlessly contentious between councilmembers.
She said that by her second term in 2010, the council’s relationship further deteriorated because of a series of controversies. This included former Encinitas Mayor Dan Dalager accepting heavily discounted kitchen appliances from a man who had business before the council months later. Dalager later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge.
“There were a lot of external things that affected everyone’s working relationship,” Barth said.
In 2011, Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, a close friend of Barth and ally on the council, passed away after battling cancer. The loss was tough on the community, Barth said.
Because Houlihan’s appointed replacement, current Councilman Mark Muir, aligned with the council majority, Barth was a lone voice on the dais.
But the council’s balance shifted in 2012. Two like-minded residents — councilmembers Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer — were elected. And Barth was named mayor.
At that point, Barth’s main goal: help bring back civility to the dais.
“As the mayor, I could have gone either way,” she said. “I could have easily treated the council minority the way I was treated, or I could turn the other cheek and think about what was best for the city. I knew poisonous politics weren’t going to get us anywhere.”
Barth said although there’s disagreement, the council seems to have turned the page.
“There was recognition (that) tit-for-tat politics, as I call it, weren’t going to help,” Barth said.
However, the past two years haven’t been all smooth sailing. Barth, Shaffer and Kranz took heat last year from some former supporters when they opposed Proposition A, which ultimately won voter approval. It requires a public vote for major land-use changes.
Barth said she supported the thrust of Prop A. However, she maintained that the initiative as a whole will make future projects, including city plans to sell or lease a shuttered fire station in Cardiff, more difficult.
For those who disagree with the council on select hot-button issues, Barth said they should look at the council’s “body of work” over the last two years.
“A lot of good things are happening in the city, with supporting our small businesses, with our environmental efforts, with having a better relationship with transportation agencies,” she said. “None of this was happening before.”
She’s particularly proud that the council last summer adopted a plastic-bag ban, an issue that was kicked around for five years.
The local bag ban covers more retailers than a state bill that passed in September.
The Pacific View school site purchase and planting the seeds for an urban agriculture ordinance, Barth said, are other highlights. And she’s pleased the city is sharing more information about the budget and the status of construction projects on its website.
“The government has to keep pace with the digital revolution,” Barth said.
At her last council meeting on Dec. 9, residents and elected officials praised Barth for keeping a cool head and hearing out all residents.
“Even if you didn’t agree with someone, you listened,” resident Shirley Finch said.
“We’ll certainly miss the intrepid and gracious manner in which you dealt with so many trials, so many issues,” local Dennis Lees said.
And Supervisor Dave Roberts presented her with a proclamation dedicating Dec. 9, 2014, as “Teresa Barth Day” across the county.
Barth mulled a run for mayor last spring, yet ultimately stuck to a commitment she gave to her husband, Don Barth.
“Running for mayor was tempting, because it was only a two-year term,” she said. “But I committed to my husband only eight years.”
She added: “People don’t understand how hard it (holding office) is on the families, even at the local level.”
Barth also said it’s time for new viewpoints on the dais.
“Eight years later, you want someone with a fresh perspective, a fresh way of looking at things,” she said.
Government was far more complex than she imagined before taking office, making some decisions difficult. Core values, Barth said, guided her.
“I thought about the social impacts, the environmental impacts, the impacts to the community, financial impacts — and are there unintended consequences down the road?
“I tried to balance every issue with these core values. I think I succeeded. I’m sure there’s plenty of people who disagree, but the choices I made, I don’t regret because I did the best I could do with the information I had.”