Will ‘right to vote’ really save the magic?

Roman S. Koenig

2013_COLUMN_KOENIG_RIf you want to find a hint of the North County coast that once was, take a trek up to the Central Coast.

Each January, I take a trip to Morro Bay for a college journalism faculty conference. It’s one I look forward to all year, in large part because the small town by the bay reminds me of some characteristics that Encinitas and surrounding communities had not all that long ago. Anyone who has lived along the North County coast for a good 25 years will likely recall those characteristics.

True, we don’t have a fishing industry. And true, Carlsbad does have a hulking power plant similar to Morro Bay’s. What always strikes me is the downtown area and side streets. From the houses and business district to the mature trees such as Monterrey cypress and a quaint old Vons store that’s now an independent grocer, I often find hints of the Cardiff, Encinitas and Leucadia I grew up with.

This year’s trip was particularly poignant given the upcoming special election for the Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative. It has me thinking – perhaps it’s time that zoning decisions be put to a vote of residents.

The initiative, if approved in June, would put height limits on projects and put zoning changes to a vote of the populace.

After witnessing years of scraped hillsides, ripped-up agriculture and an ever-growing population of nasty drivers thanks to the resulting crowd, perhaps the Right to Vote Initiative is one way Encinitas can preserve what little is left of those things that make this region so magical.

Experiences I had as a child, up to the 1980s, included treks through nature that were in some cases only a short walk away from home. There was even a time when the beaches had a fair amount of sand.

We have very few classic craftsman homes left, replaced by oversized concrete fortresses on lots that barely allow a tree. Even our commercial centers over the past decade-and-a-half have become big-chain monstrosities, squeezing the independent businesses that, again, make this area magical.

In the past several years, it seems as if Encinitas city planning has leaned more toward bulk than reason.

Given all that, I’m on the fence about whether I support the Right to Vote Initiative. I support the reasons behind it. But I also worry.

If the initiative passes, what’s really to stop Encinitas residents from approving a monster project? And, then, what’s wrong with the occasional three-story structure if it’s designed well?

Escondido seems to have had reasonable success with a similar initiative enacted in the 1990s, according to a story in the North Coast Current. Like Escondido, perhaps all the worry is over nothing, and the Right to Vote Initiative will become part of the political fabric of Encinitas, and that will be that.

No matter what the outcome of June’s special election is, I understand where its backers are coming from. Whether it’s approved or not, Encinitas must do a better job of preserving what’s left of its special qualities.

No one should have to leave Encinitas to find the magic of Encinitas.

Roman S. Koenig is editor and publisher of the North Coast Current