Community issues take the spotlight at Olivenhain candidate forum


Four candidates vying for the one open council seat and four candidates running for mayor sounded off on several issues specific to Olivenhain during an Oct. 1 candidate forum at Olivenhain Meeting Hall.

In contrast, prior candidate forums held in Cardiff and downtown Encinitas focused more on citywide topics.

Candidates weighed in on how they would prevent state “density bonus” housing, an issue that’s taken center stage in Olivenhain due to the controversial Desert Rose development.

The law lets developers build extra homes on a parcel if one or more of the units is reserved for low-income residents. Residents argue they’re oversized projects that kill community character.

Mayoral candidate Tony Kranz, the city’s current deputy mayor, said public outcry prompted the council to take steps to discourage the developments. This includes rounding down on the city’s density bonus calculation, reducing the number of allowable units.

“I’m going to continue to work very hard to find ways to keep developers from invoking density bonus,” Kranz said.

Going forward, the council will discuss in closed session whether its recent changes to the law would impact the Desert Rose development. The developer has threatened to sue if the city tries to apply those new rules to shrink the size of the project.

Julie Graboi, a council candidate and adjunct community college professor, said the city’s lobbyist should push harder at the state level to overturn or amend the law.

“Density bonus is not working; it’s a mockery of good intentions,” Graboi said.

Earlier in the meeting, she noted Desert Rose led her to get involved in council meetings and ultimately run for office.

Bryan Ziegler, an attorney for the county who’s vying for council, said his legal background makes him best qualified to fight density bonus at the state level.

Candidates were also asked how they would improve stop-and-go traffic on Rancho Santa Fe Road in Olivenhain.

Mayor candidate Munawer “Mike” Bawany said he’s in favor of widening the road to accommodate more bikes.

Sheila Cameron, another candidate running for mayor, opposed that approach, stating it would hurt the rural character of Olivenhain.

“Maybe stop and go isn’t the greatest, but honestly, it’s part of the community character, and there are trade-offs,” Cameron said. “You give up that, you lose.”

Catherine Blakespear, a council candidate who sits on the Traffic and Public Safety Commission, said it seems most of those who are frustrated with the slow pace of Rancho Santa Fe Road live outside the city and use it as a cut-through route.

“From what I’ve heard, people here actually would rather wait at the stop sign traffic than any of the alternate changes,” Blakespear said.

She added roundabouts and widening likely aren’t feasible given that the road is sandwiched by private property.

Ziegler, who grew up in Olivenhain, said the stop signs installed on Rancho Santa Fe Road have cut down on traffic accidents and should remain there. He, too, opposed expanding the road.

“I would do everything in my power to keep this a rural community,” Ziegler said.

Later, candidates told the audience about their involvement in city affairs.

Council candidate Alan Lerchbacker called himself the “new guy” when it comes to city topics and council issues. But he touted his Navy, business and volunteer experiences as proof that he’s a problem solver.

Bawany, too, cited his professional experience, noting he’s an engineer who has worked with a number of high-profile companies.

Alex Fidel, running for mayor, has advocated for Measure F. If approved, the initiative would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Encinitas.

“It’s a rational initiative that should pass,” Fidel said.

He also opposed the Olivenhain Municipal Water District fluoridating its water supply more than a year ago.

Cameron said she’s a long-time city activist who campaigned for Proposition A, the slow-growth initiative that won approval last year. She called it the most important initiative since the city’s incorporation.

Kranz said in addition to being a council member, he’s the president of the San Dieguito Water District, serves on the council’s Urban Agriculture Subcommittee and represents the city on the North County Transit District board.

Blakespear noted she’s an attorney that has represented Coral Tree Farm and Nursery as part of a dispute over permitting.

“I want to make sure that agriculture —growing fruits and vegetables and having certain types of small animals — is part of our future and not just part of our past,” Blakespear said.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who’s vying for mayor, was absent from the forum because she was running a city commissioner appreciation event.

The next forum, which will feature only council candidates, is 7 p.m. on Oct. 9 at the Encinitas Library.

This story has been updated from its original posting to reflect why Gaspar was absent. After the story was posted, she emailed the Encinitas Advocate noting the city commissioner event.