Law firm to tackle initiative report

The Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative could shift approval of zoning changes from City Hall, pictured Feb. 8, to voters. (Photo by Roman S. Koenig)

The Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative could shift approval of zoning changes from City Hall, pictured Feb. 8, to voters. (Photo by Roman S. Koenig)

Ernesto Lopez

Encinitas city planners have selected Costa Mesa law firm Rutan & Tucker to conduct a report on possible effects of the Right to Vote Initiative, as asked for by the City Council on Feb.13, the planning department confirmed.

Specifically, the City Council asked for the report to highlight the initiative’s fiscal impact and effect on land use, among other points.

Diane Langager, a principal planner for the city, said the firm is working on a tight deadline. The City Council is looking to have the analysis in its hands by Feb. 27, although the time could be extended if needed.

“City manager (Gus Vina) can give direction to take more time if need be,” Langager explained.

With two choices at hand, the City Council is due to convene in mid-March to deliberate on the Right to Vote Initiative and make a decision.

The ballot initiative would impose a citywide height limit of two stories or 30 feet for all buildings and structures, among other major amendments to zoning. It earned special election status after its supporters managed to collect 8,347 signatures, of which a threshold of 5,668 were verified to meet criteria for such a ballot. The registrar of voters verified a total of 6,850 signatures.

The council will either adopt the ordinance as is or immediately order a special election. If the council declines to adopt the measure, the initiative would likely go up for a vote either June 4 or July 1.

The special election could cost the city between $350,000 and $400,000, according to Encinitas City Clerk Kathy Hollywood.

Mayor Teresa Barth said at the Feb. 13 City Council meeting that requesting an analysis was the “prudent” thing to do.

“I would prefer to do this right, rather than quickly, because this is of critical importance to our community,” she said.

Although initiative spokesman Bruce Ehlers urged the council to adopt the initiative on the spot instead of going to a vote since it has strong backing, he expected it to order a report.

“We were completely expecting they would want a report,” Ehlers told the North Coast Current on Feb. 18.

About the council’s next decision on the initiative, Ehlers said, “It is their choice if they want to spend $350,000 on a special election; they could potentially save the money.”

Encinitas Right to Vote, the grassroots community group that collected the signatures, explains on its website that the initiative seeks to “protect community character and protect Encinitas from future intrusive development that will compromise quality of life.”

Ernesto Lopez is a San Diego freelance writer