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Encinitas looks to solve neighborhood disputes with mediation

Following in the footsteps of a Carlsbad program, a new Encinitas subcommittee wants to diffuse neighborhood and development disputes with mediation.

The first mediation subcommittee meeting was held April 29 at City Hall.

Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear said too often issues reach the City Council level, when they could be potentially be resolved earlier if the varying sides have the chance to sit down and talk.

Blakespear, one of the subcommittee members, cited the neighborhood controversy over Coral Tree Farm and Nursery. That culminated last fall in the council rejecting an appeal and reaffirming the farm’s right to sell produce without special permitting, but only after hours of public speakers.

“Some neighbors and the farm were essentially against each other and they marched their way through a public process that was very messy,” Blakespear said. She added one of the neighbors last week stated the sides should have discussed the issue earlier in the process to stop the matter from escalating so far.

According to Blakespear, the city gets about one dispute a month that could be referred to mediation.

The program would be free — and voluntary, too. But at what point during a dispute would mediation become an option?

One thought was that residents could go that route after the head of a city department issues a decision on a matter. Another was that mediation should be offered earlier, when the parties are first talking with city staff about the conflict.

Blakespear said for building projects that are at issue, the design should be nearly finished so the sides aren’t talking hypotheticals and know what’s at stake.

Councilman Tony Kranz, the other subcommittee member, said the goal for the program is to be budget neutral or save funds, since fewer disputes would make their way to the council.

Kranz said land-use disputes are complicated, so arriving at a solution via mediation in these instances would be challenging. But, on the other hand, mediation would help the parties understand the issues at hand, he added.

He said they’ve looked to Carlsbad’s mediation program for ideas. Similar to Carlsbad, they envision a program with volunteers serving as mediators. To do so, the volunteers would receive training from the National Conflict Resolution Center on how to be neutral and guide conflicts toward solutions.

A city staff member knowledgeable in the dispute matter would also sit in on the mediation meetings. That way, any agreed upon solutions would conform to city rules.

Carlsbad’s program focuses on disputes involving maintenance, noise, animal nuisances and other neighborhood conflicts. Resolutions reached during mediation are not legally binding.

Public speaker Abe Ordover, a former mediator, said “the mere exchange of information” can go a long way toward resolving conflicts.

“When they know, it tends to dampen the dispute,” Ordover said.

The details of the program will be settled on during one or possibly multiple subcommittee meetings down the line. Ultimately, to take effect, at least three of the five councilmembers would have to approve it.


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