Friday, February 22, 2019

How a Developer Got to Build a Three-Story Hotel on the Leucadia Bluff

The California Coastal Commission first approved the project that’s become known as the Encinitas Beach Hotel in December 1992. Subsequent amendments, renewals, etc. were based on the first approval and did not change the height and grading specifications.

Quotes from the 1992 staff report:

• Page 3: “Said plans shall have received design review approval from the City of Encinitas and verify that no structure shall exceed 2 stories or 30 feet in height as measured from the lower of natural or finished grade.”

• Page 10: “. . . construction of an approximately 138,460 sq. ft., two-story plus basement level, 30-ft. high, 130-unit resort hotel complex on a 4.3 acre blufftop site in the City of Encinitas.”

This Orwellian paragraph appears on page 11:

• “Although the proposed buildings are to be constructed as two-stories with a basement level, portions will appear to be 3 stories. Most of the proposed north facing buildings will have a 3-story appearance, rising vertically for all three floors, giving the appearance of a solid wall of buildings along the north facing portion of the site.”

According to the CCC, a building can appear to be three stories but actually be only two. As the developer’s rendering above clearly shows, the north-facing wing of the building is three stories. The first story starts at the level above the basement and rises to three stories from the finished grade. About two-thirds of the building doesn’t only appear to be three stories, it is three stories.

Asked about this discrepancy, Katie Innes, a senior planner in the city’s Development Services Department, replied, “The Encinitas Beach Resort is required to meet the City’s height requirement of 30 feet and two stories. The subterranean levels of the building do not count toward the two story height limitation.”

Advised that “subterranean” means underground and that the developer’s rendering clearly shows three stories above ground, Innes replied, “When more than 50% of the perimeter of a building level is buried (<4 ft. exposed), it is considered a basement level. There are portions of the lowest visible level shown on the rendering that are located behind the building that are buried (more than 50%), which qualifies that level as a basement.”

When notified of the inconsistencies between the height specifics in the CCC’s approval and the building shown in the developer’s rendering, Eric Stevens, a coastal program analyst in the CCC’s South Coast District office, replied in part as follows:

“This response email was written in coordination with the Commission’s legal and enforcement divisions.” . . .

“The project was approved prior to certification of the City’s Local Coastal Plan and the standard of review was the Coastal Act.” . . .

“I understand that you have some concerns about how the City calculates and/or defines basements, and whether the proposed project is consistent with City requirements. Please understand that Commission staff has not and is not reviewing the project for conformance to the City’s requirements, but rather to the project as approved by the Commission.”

The CCC’s approval specified a height limit of two stories and 30 feet from the lower of natural or finished grade. The approval came before the city’s Local Coastal Plan was certified. Therefore, the standard of review should indeed be the Coastal Act and the CCC’s specifics, not the city’s convoluted definition of what’s above and below ground. The city’s specifics are irrelevant.

The CCC staff and its legal and enforcement divisions ignored the approved 1992 height limits, deferred to an irrelevant, convoluted city definition and improperly approved a three-story hotel on the bluff in Leucadia.
— Doug Fiske

Thursday, December 27, 2018

VOSD Persists in Getting Encinitas Housing Issues Wrong

Some local observers say Voice of San Diego (VOSD) has a pro-development stance because its principal funders require it. Recognizing the reporters and editors as objective journalists would be preferable, but the publication’s persistent bias in covering Encinitas housing issues makes that difficult.

VOSD is a nonprofit. According to its website, it’s “fully funded by individual members, major charitable gifts, foundations and community partnerships.” It carries no advertising. It was founded as an alternative to the Union-Tribune, which few would say has a history of objective journalism.

Publications have editorial processes to ensure objective, accurate reporting, clarity of expression and good English. Virtually no responsible publication gives its reporters free rein. What readers see has been scrutinized by editorial eyes. Reporters’ copy typically goes through a copy editor and a line editor. Weekly and monthly publications often have fact-checking departments. Dailies typically don’t because they don’t have the time or money. They have to rely on their reporters for accuracy.

With the decline of revenue, publishers’ budgets have tightened and staffs have shrunk. Factual errors, muddled writing, typos and poor English have become more common in many publications. Opinion has crept into what should be objective reporting because editorial eyes are no longer there to remove it.

VOSD has had a reporter assigned to North County for years. The personnel have changed, but the position has been consistent. The reporter writes the weekly North County Report. Currently, the reporter is Jesse Marx. In its daily Morning Report, VOSD often publishes a capsule summary of a North County Report story. Various writers compile the Morning Reports. Sara Libby edited two recent reports.

VOSD’s biased and often woefully inaccurate reporting about Encinitas housing issues seems to have begun with Maya Srikrishnan’s March 9, 2016 story headlined “Years of Defying State Affordable Housing Law Gets Encinitas Sued Again.” It’s odd the March 9 story took the tack it did because Srikrishnan’s September 4, 2015 story headlined “Encinitas Hopes to Comply With State Housing Law by 2016” was largely neutral and accurate.

A local observer characterized the March 9 story by saying, “Maya got rolled by David Meyer.” Meyer is a local developer who has sued the city and was quoted in the story.

Rather than heeding that remark or detailed comments from knowledgeable locals found below the story, VOSD stuck with the piece’s bias and inaccuracies, not only repeating them in subsequent stories but magnifying them. VOSD got on the wrong track. Despite corrective input and encouragement from several locals, the publication stubbornly stayed there.

Srikrishnan wrote the following in VOSD:

“. . . both affordable housing advocates and developers like the [density bonus] law: It lets private developers make more money if they build homes for poor people. The city of Encinitas has spent years trying to get around this law.”

“City leaders haven’t been bashful about their attempts to circumvent the law. They’ve routinely said one of their top priorities is finding ways to disobey it.”

“Residents are hostile to new development in Encinitas, density bonus or otherwise.”

Marx followed Srikrishnan’s lead, apparently with no independent research:

“. . . for years [Encinitas has] been defying California law by failing to craft and send a legally acceptable housing plan to Sacramento.”

“The voices that often dominate stories about Encinitas’ struggle to accommodate new housing are those of wealthy residents who oppose building.”

Adriana Heldiz stayed on the villainous-locals track: “Hero of the Week. This week’s hero is Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier, who’s poised to suspend an Encinitas law giving locals final say over major land-use changes.”

VOSD has portrayed density bonus, Proposition A and HEUs in Encinitas simplistically and largely ignorantly. They’re not black-and-white, heroes-and-villains issues. VOSD has characterized City Councils and voters as trying to oppress low-income people and prevent them from living in Encinitas. No VOSD reporter has researched the topic well enough to understand it.

To get it right, VOSD would have to admit its gross errors regarding housing in Encinitas, start over and thoroughly research the issues. The publication’s integrity and credibility are at stake.
— Doug Fiske

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Encinitas Convinced the Coastal Commission to Ignore the Coastal Act

To understand the Leucadia 101 Streetscape project, it must be seen in this context: Every City Council since the project’s approval on January 13, 2010 has been fiercely determined to push it through. Regardless of facts that argue strongly against it, the city has been dead set on getting the project done.

Toward that end, the city retained the civil engineering firm Michael Baker International (MBI) to design and direct the project. MBI also conducted the Environmental Impact Report and the traffic study. With those, MBI found nothing to upset its multi-million dollar contract. Ignoring the conflict of interest was part of the plan. Assigning MBI multiple roles ensured the project would go forward.

In the EIR, MBI identified only one hindrance the company couldn’t mitigate or find insignificant: The project would slow emergency response times that were already too slow. To get around that problem, the city committed about $700,000 to equip a fire department station for two personnel at the north end of the corridor. The trial period is two years. Originally, the department was to demonstrate acceptable response times before the project proceeded. The city and department are now ignoring that requirement.

In the traffic study, MBI glossed over or ignored the traffic jams that back up from the Leucadia Boulevard light. With the project, those jams will be more frequent and twice as long in time and distance. MBI could not admit the jams because saying the project would reduce beach access and increase travel time would prevent Coastal Commission approval.

MBI also ignored the effects of the placement of the roundabouts. Originally, there were six, all but one in 8/10 mile at the north end. Now there are four. Three in a half-mile stretch at the north end, one 1.2 miles south. MBI supported the false claim that roundabouts at one end and another more than a mile away would slow traffic and keep it flowing through the entire corridor.

Coastal Commission approval was a big hurdle. To help convince the San Diego staff and the commissioners themselves, MBI provided an EIR and a traffic study that were essentially false. Documents obtained through a Public Records Act request reveal that the city staff campaigned hard to have the commission staff greenlight the project. The commission staff stuck to the agency’s mandate to enforce the California Coastal Act of 1976. It prohibits anything that restricts beach access. Unquestionably and unavoidably, Streetscape does that.

On July 27, 2018, the commission staff released a report that required the city to prove the project would not restrict beach access and slow travel time. That was a condition of approval. Simply put, the city had to conduct studies to demonstrate the project’s legality.

Several residents and two commissioners appealed the Coastal Development Permit (CDP) required for approval. With other factors, the appeals cited the same points raised in the commission staff report. The city was up against a wall and had to do something about it.

Between July 27 and September 28, the city somehow got the commission staff to flip its position from effectively prohibiting Streetscape to permitting it. The September 28 commission staff report added this sentence:

“The portion of the suggested modification regarding future requirements for summer traffic surveys is not intended to be retroactively applied to projects already approved by the City.”

The staff reversed its earlier position by exempting the project. Its conditions no longer require the city to prove the project does not violate the Coastal Act.

On October 11, the Coastal Commission approved the project on the staff’s recommendation. One of the commissioners who had appealed the CDP made the motion to approve. The vote was 12-0. The commissioners who appealed the CDP did not reply to a post-hearing request to explain their reversal.

As the hearing opened, Commissioners Padilla and Uranga reported ex parte phone calls with Mayor Catherine Blakespear that had occurred days earlier. Padilla also reported an ex parte call with Encinitas Residents Coalition President Leah Bissonette. Padilla summarized the content of his conversations. Uranga said his was like Padilla’s. I requested ex parte phone calls with Padilla and Commissioner Turnbull-Sanders, who were the commissioner CDP appellants. Padilla declined, Turnbull-Sanders did not reply.

Documents obtained through a Public Records Act request show no smoking gun to explain how the city got the commission staff to flip and the commission to go along. The documents show intense collaboration between the city and commission staffs but no evidence of collusion.

A Coastal Commission attorney refused a subsequent request for documents that would explain the flip, saying internal communications are exempt from public scrutiny. That’s not transparency. It’s a coverup.

The city performed a master stroke in convincing the commission to ignore the law it’s duty-bound to enforce. How the city did that remains unknown.
— Doug Fiske

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Mayor Blakespear Doesn’t Represent the Majority of Encinitas Residents

On October 14, 2018, Mayor Catherine Blakespear posted the following regarding Leucadia 101 Streetscape in her weekly newsletter:

Last Thursday the California Coastal Commission approved Encinitas’ largest infrastructure project, Leucadia Streetscape. After an appellate hearing on the second day of the commission’s three days in San Diego, the vote was unanimous to approve Streetscape and the city’s underlying policy documents.

Encinitas City Councilmembers Tony Kranz, Tasha Boerner Horvath and I addressed the Commission in support of Streetscape. Dozens of residents showed up to passionately speak both for and against the project.

Leucadia Streetscape will transform 2.5 miles of Highway 101 through Leucadia from Encinitas Blvd (also known as A street) north to La Costa Ave. This major road deserves to be a destination in itself, not merely an alternative for those trying to avoid the traffic on the I-5 freeway.

The project involves installing roundabouts, wider and continuous sidewalks for both outdoor dining and pedestrian use, dedicated bike lanes so cyclists don’t have to travel in the same space with cars, planting 1,000 trees to restore the iconic tree canopy, and creating almost 200 dedicated parking spots in the rail corridor.

If, like me, you’re justifiably concerned about the severe consequences of a warming planet, you’ll appreciate that many of Encinitas’ climate action goals are addressed in this single project – less driving, more biking and walking, more carbon-eating trees, and slower continuous speeds instead of stop-and-start vehicle traffic.

Bold and effective evolution of our transportation sector depends upon projects like this.

Change is never easy. I can viscerally feel the emotion of those opposed to this project. But if we’re going to effect change locally and for our planet, we have to summon the political courage to repurpose public space and dedicate some of it to users who aren’t in cars.

On the same day, I replied as follows:


Very unfortunately for the community, you are grossly and woefully misinformed. You have supported a project you don’t know much about. That’s irresponsible. It’s not leadership.

• Encinitas Blvd west of 101 is B Street. One block north is A Street. From there to La Costa Ave is 2.4 miles.

• Ninety mature trees will be removed; 839 broomstick-diameter new trees will be planted.

• Net gain on parking spaces is 134; the three parking bays total 176. That means 42 parking spaces must be lost on the west side. Parking capacity for the corridor will decline because curbs and sidewalks on the east side will prevent parking anywhere but in the bays.

• NCTD has not agreed to yield the ground for the bays and the roundabouts. Unless you and your cronies can corrupt them as you corrupted the CCC staff and commissioners, they won’t. It’s their policy not to yield property they plan to use for transit. There’s not enough room in the ROW for parking along Vulcan, the CRT, a second set of tracks, parking bays along 101, a sidewalk, and the buffer space needed between all those elements.

• What about the 16,535 sq ft of private property that must be taken for Streetscape to squeeze in? What scam does the city have going to steal that?

• Bikes and walking are not going to replace cars. That’s a downright silly notion. A few recreational bikers and walkers in Leucadia won’t do a thing to affect climate change. Virtually nobody uses a bike for transportation. You didn’t ride a bike or walk to the Cardiff forum. One person in the audience did. That represents the zero effect of your feel-good policies that are impractical and have no beneficial effect whatsoever.

• Anybody who wants to bike or walk through Leucadia can use Neptune. It’s safer and much more pleasant.

• If two traffic lanes and dedicated bike lanes will be great for Leucadia 101, why don’t we have them from Encinitas Blvd south to Solana Beach?

• Those of us who are paying attention know the true purpose of Leucadia Streetscape is to create a linear shopping mall. The tragic irony is there’s not enough commercially zoned property on the west side, and there’s not enough parking anywhere to sustain a shopping mall. For the sake of that monumentally stupid goal, the project you ignorantly support will squeeze the traffic into two lanes and force it through pointless roundabouts. Traffic gridlock and failing businesses will be the result.

Your great failing as mayor and the gross failing of the council you lead is you don’t practice representative democracy. You don’t reflect the majority view in the community. You pursue your own and the special interests’ agenda, the public be damned.

It’s a shameful and reprehensible performance. You, your council and your predecessors have destroyed my faith and confidence in elected, selected and employed Encinitas people, many of whom are my neighbors, to do the right thing.

I’ve lived in Encinitas longer than you’ve been on the planet. I’m ashamed of you.

Doug Fiske
West of 101

P.S.: Don’t give me the “respect” line. Respect has to be earned. It’s not granted simply because you’re sitting in the chair.

Result: Blakespear dropped me from her newsletter mailing list.

My P.S. is a reference to an earlier post from Blakespear in which she said she would discuss issues with me only if I treated her with respect. I’ve heard the same line from Tasha Boerner Horvath. Politicians use it to shame opponents.

My response: You don’t deserve my respect. You don’t represent the majority of the residents. You’re violating a fundamental principle of representative democracy. When you consistently respect that principle, you will have earned my respect.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Encinitas Deceived the Public and the Coastal Commission About Streetscape 

The city and its allies used increased parking and a tree canopy as selling points to convince the public to accept Leucadia 101 Streetscape and the California Coastal Commission to approve it.

First, parking. Documents obtained through a Public Records Act request show the city knew the parking areas were temporary at best.

The railroad right-of-way is 100 feet wide for nearly its entire length from La Costa Avenue to Encinitas Boulevard. Parking and the Coastal Rail Trail will very likely go along Vulcan Avenue in Leucadia as they go along San Elijo Avenue in Cardiff. The city and the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group have stated that preference. That would put the second set of tracks west of the current set — where the Streetscape plans show the three parking pods.

The North County Transit District notified the city: “Proposed parking pod locations are too close to existing NCTD track. Any approved encroachment into NCTD right of way shall provide a minimum perpendicular clear distance of 25 linear feet to the nearest running rail.” The bold type above and below is NCTD’s. Note “existing” track in each context.

The city responded: “The City respectfully requests a meeting with NCTD staff to discuss potential encroachments and easements. 22' from centerline of rail to be discussed.” From the centerline to the outside of either rail is about 2.5 feet. That means NCTD’s standard prohibits encroachments within 27.5 feet of the centerline. The city wants to shave 5.5 feet off that safety standard.

A 27.5-foot safety space is more than half the 50 feet from the centerline of the tracks to the Vulcan Avenue or Highway 101 pavement. That leaves 22.5 feet on each side for encroachments NCTD might approve.

Further, NCTD notified the city: “Proposed parking pods are too close to existing NCTD track. Any approved encroachment into NCTD right of way shall take into account the future installation of an additional Main Track within the limits of the North Coast Highway 101 Streetscape project limits.”

Further still, NCTD notified the city: “Proposed parking pods are too close to existing NCTD track. Eliminate parallel parking row closest to NCTD Main Track. Consider shifting parking lots closer toward Highway 101, elongating parking pods with a single row of parallel and/or diagonal parking.”

In a September 18, 2018 letter to NCTD, the city said, “The parking areas are designed to be truncated or eliminated as necessary to accommodate future double‐track, coastal rail trail, or other future improvements that will benefit our region.”

The bottom line: There’s not enough room for parking along Vulcan, the Coastal Rail Trail, a second set of tracks, wide parking pods along 101, a sidewalk, and the necessary safety spaces between those elements. That’s not what the city told the public and the Coastal Commission.

Second, trees. The city and its allies claimed Streetscape will add 1,000 trees in the Leucadia Highway 101 corridor. According to the EIR, the real number is 839. They will be broomstick-diameter saplings. If they ever grow to form a canopy, many decades will have passed. The city hides the fact that 90 existing trees will be removed, including the iconic Leucadia Boulevard eucalyptus.

NCTD notified the city: “Proposed trees shall be of the variety that do not grow overly tall or with large diameter canopies in order to avoid future potential to foul the Main Track or impact signal sight distance.”

In other words, NCTD prohibits tall trees and the large crowns necessary to form a canopy.

The city responded: “Existing and proposed trees and canopies are indicated on the proposed plans.” It sounds as if the city conceded NCTD’s point.

The city and its allies have been deceiving the public since Streetscape’s inception about 12 years ago. Between July 27 and September 28, the city somehow got the San Diego CCC staff to flip its position from effectively prohibiting Streetscape to permitting it. On October 11, the Coastal Commission approved the project.

Before and since that approval, the city has been trying to persuade NCTD to compromise its safety standards. The city turned the Coastal Commission. Whether or not they can turn NCTD remains to be seen.                    
Doug Fiske

Friday, October 19, 2018

Encinitas Deserves Better Candidate and Issue Forums

As well-intentioned as they are, the League of Women Voters doesn’t do a good job of moderating candidate and issue forums in Encinitas.

The League cites members not being residents of Encinitas as a plus. In the sense that ensures their lack of bias, maybe it is. But because none of the members live here, they don’t know the issues. That means they don’t know which audience questions to ask. They don’t know a good question from a bad one.

On top of that, they take way too much time talking up the League. Then they conduct the forums at a very slow pace. The residents want more and better questions and answers. We get shortchanged.

Suggestion to improve Encinitas forums: Have them moderated by local journalists. Aaron Burgin of the Coast News, Brittany Woolsey of the Encinitas Advocate, Alison St John of KPBS and Jesse Marx of VOSD are possibilities. Choose two or three. Let them ask their own questions and select questions from residents in the audience.

Journalists moderate national, state, county and other city forums. They generally do a good job. Chances are journalists would do a good job in Encinitas.
—Doug Fiske

Saturday, October 13, 2018

City namesake Señorita Encinita.
Encinita’s Cross to Bear

Jeff Spicoli told me Encinita’s is named after a Mexican señorita who was here before anybody except the Indians. That must be right.

Two things pushed me into paying attention to Encinita’s politics: the Streetscape “workshops” and Dan Dalager’s getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

I was first here as a visitor in ’63, came to surf Cardiff Reef, Swami’s and Beacon many times in ’66, and became a Cardiff resident in September ’69.

Like most residents, I assumed because it was still a small town when the city incorporated in ’86 — a place where you’d often cross paths with council and staff members — that the City Council would do right by the residents. After all, government is a representative democracy and, further, these people are our neighbors.

I was shocked and disillusioned to find that the same selfish, dishonest, backstabbing crap that goes on in county, state and federal government happens right here in little ol’ Encinita’s.

Well, I thought, they can’t be all bad, so a few years ago I devised a little test of the council’s decency, honesty and integrity. I did deep research that proved the authentic, historically accurate name of Leucadia’s midway beach access is Beacon. There was an aeronautical navigation beacon on the bluff there. That’s where the name came from. I demonstrated that the City Council circa 1986 had made a mistake in naming it Beacon’s.

I showed the documentary evidence to council and staff members. Nobody could say it was wrong. Some groped for lame reasons to keep the name wrong. The issue was agendized for a council meeting. In effect, the council said, we know it’s wrong, but we’ll keep it that way. They didn’t have the decency, honesty and integrity to admit the error and fix it.

Some people think this is a small thing. It’s not. It represents the attitude and action of every City Council since I started paying attention. They were against Prop A, they were for Measure T, they are for Measure U. With one weak exception, they are for Streetscape. Those are four examples among a countless number where the council does not represent the majority of residents. We elect them to serve us. They don’t. They do whatever they want, residents be damned.

Encinita’s cross to bear is local government that serves itself and special interests, not us.

Doug Fiske