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7 Encinitas stories to watch in 2016

Here are seven Encinitas stories to keep an eye on in 2016, from a fight over a seawall to urban agriculture to El Niño rains.

Start of Pacific View transformation?

After being closed for 15 years, the Pacific View property in downtown Encinitas could finally be revamped in the not-too-distant future.

A local group called the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance put forward a plan for Pacific View this September that won the tentative support of the Encinitas City Council.

The Alliance wants to transform the Pacific View buildings and surrounding land into a hub for arts workshops, theater, innovative agriculture, local history and cultural events. Now the group is tasked with putting some meat on the bone by presenting a detailed financing strategy.

If all goes smoothly, the Alliance could start overhauling the former school site in 2016 and even hold public events.

Councilmembers in September were thrilled that so many arts enthusiasts, business leaders and nonprofit representatives joined forces to form the Alliance, avoiding a fight over which group operates the 2.8-acre property. Even pro surfer Rob Machado and the band Switchfoot are involved in the Alliance.

A divided Encinitas council in 2014 bought the site from the Encinitas Union School District for $10 million, averting a planned auction.

Seawall fight goes to High Court

A seawall at Grandview Beach in Encinitas is at the center of a potentially precedent-setting legal fight.

The California Coastal Commission has stated it has the power to review and put a 20-year time limit on the seawall. Pacific Legal Foundation, representing two Encinitas homeowners, sued the coastal commission, arguing the agency’s ability to reassess the need for a seawall in 20 years infringes on private property rights.

California’s Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case sometime in 2016, possibly affecting the lifespan of seawalls across the state.

In June, the San Diego Surfrider Foundation threw its support behind the commission, stating seawalls choke off sand that maintains healthy beaches and thus wave quality.

How El Niño affects the coastline

Weather forecasters predict strong El Niño rains and surf from January to March, increasing the likelihood of local flooding, beach bluff collapses and infrastructure problems.

But Encinitas has already experienced coastline issues in recent months. Notably, the city in December made repairs to shore up Coast Highway 101 in Cardiff after extremely high tides damaged a bluff that supports the thoroughfare.

Past El Niños in Encinitas have wiped out beach access points, flooded arterial roads and one winter swell was powerful enough to sweep a wooden lifeguard tower onto the middle of Highway 101 in Cardiff.

To prepare, the city has been dumping rocks and sandbags in front of vulnerable spots and aggressively cleaning out storm drains and retention basins. City lifeguards have also been conducting special training, including taking out wave runners and simulating rescues in giant surf.

El Niño also presents a long-term problem, because consistently stormy conditions strip huge amounts of sand from beaches. On that note, Encinitas and Solana Beach have long been working on a 50-year plan to shore up beaches by regularly piping offshore sand onto beaches. It remains to be seen whether the project wins federal funding, a necessity for it to move forward.

Housing element heading for a vote

Voters in November 2016 will head to the polls to decide the fate of the city’s housing element, a plan outlining growth that’s been in the works for years.

For the state-mandated housing element, the city is looking to rezone select sites for higher density to accommodate 1,300 units.

Proponents argue an approved housing element would reduce the risk of lawsuits from affordable housing advocates and make the city eligible for more infrastructure grants. Critics say it would likely result in little low-income housing and that so many units would hurt the city’s character.

The council in February agreed on three different maps with candidate housing element properties. Based on environmental assessments of the sites, the council sometime in the next few months will whittle down the number of parcels and finalize a map that will go before voters in November.

High number of council seats up for election

With nearly all of the city’s elected positions on the ballot in November 2016, many are expecting a heated election season.

Voters will elect a new mayor and three of the four council seats. Only Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear, who was elected to a four-year term in 2014, is guaranteed to stay on the council.

Currently, there’s a pro environment, liberal-leaning council majority made up of Blakespear, Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer. Councilman Mark Muir and Mayor Kristin Gaspar are more conservative and often disagree with them on high-profile issues.

No one has formally entered the race for the two-year mayor role, though Blakespear has expressed interest in running from her safe council seat. And Gaspar is vying for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Tasha Boerner Horvath, a member of the Encinitas Planning Commission, is the only person who has thrown a hat in the ring thus far for the council election.

Shaffer has stated she won’t seek reelection, and Kranz and Muir have yet to announce whether they’ll run again.

One of the three council seats will be a two-year gig, instead of four years. The person who nets the fewest votes out of the three winning council candidates will be given the two-year term.

More debate over urban agriculture

An urban agriculture ordinance that would relax permitting for upstart farms hit a snag in 2015.

The Encinitas Planning Commission in the fall expressed concern that the ordinance could increase neighborhood conflicts. At a later meeting, the commission voted to set up workshops and get more public input on the matter before making a recommendation to the Encinitas council.

So, it could be a while until the council votes on the ordinance, even though it was originally expected to give the thumbs up or down in late 2015.

Meanwhile, a council subcommittee tasked with making recommendations on agriculture rules is no longer in favor of relaxing residential livestock buffers, which would have made it easier to raise chickens or goats without special permitting.

Instead, the subcommittee decided to focus on another part of the ordinance: encouraging new community gardens and small commercial farms by cutting red tape and reducing costs.

Rail issues take center stage

The train tracks were often in the news in 2015.

As the Encinitas Advocate reported in May, the Sheriff’s Department has stepped up ticketing for people illegally crossing the railway in Encinitas. Some residents believe the citations are unnecessary — and unfair, given the lack of legal crossings in the city. Law enforcement officials say that trespassing on the railway is dangerous, not only for pedestrians, but also trains that are forced to quickly brake.

Also, dueling websites in November triggered a renewed debate over the Cardiff coastal rail trail — a planned biking and walking path next to the tracks — four months after the city approved it. Norailtrail.com states the rail trail will hinder coastal access, while yesrailtrail.com argues the path will connect Cardiff neighborhoods and downtown Encinitas.

In response, the council majority reiterated its support for the rail trail, with construction slated to start late 2017.

This focus on the tracks will continue in 2016, with the Encinitas council continuing work on a rail corridor vision that addresses raill pedestrian crossings, quiet zones and more.

Honorable mentions to watch out for

• Intrepid Theatre Company is in negotiations with the city to build a performing arts theater on the theater pad at the Encinitas Ranch Town Center.

• A group called the E3 Cluster continues to team up on education and agriculture initiatives on Saxony Road and Quail Gardens Drive.

• “For-benefit” businesses that aim to turn a profit while giving back to the community are increasingly calling Encinitas home.


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