Is there a punch line to Encinitas politics?

Roman S. Koenig

2013_COLUMN_KOENIG_RI first learned that Encinitas politics was nasty business when the punches were thrown. Literally.

The realization hit me – figuratively – when I was attending a community business meeting in 2002. Not surprisingly, politics was just as much on the agenda as business.

I don’t know what the kerfuffle was about between the two community members after the meeting broke for the mixer that followed. Fortunately, the punches never actually reached their targets because others intervened to stop them. Nonetheless, I was shaken. More so, disillusioned. One of those community members had been a teacher of mine many years before.

Late Encinitas political observer Bob Nanninga and I talked about the scuffle after the event wrapped up. He gave me frank words of warning: Encinitas politics can be a nasty game. (He also talked about how Encinitas’ growth policies at the time led to the preservation of only “vertical habitat” for wildlife and open space – an astute observation I never forgot.)

What followed in the years to come proved those impressions to be true: A “clown” hired to harass late Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan at public events in 2004. The effigy and tasteless name-calling of Houlihan in 2006. Both incidents were linked to development interests of some level, according to news reports at the time.

Those incidents went above and beyond what should be expected in political conflict. I emphasize “should” because history is generally rife with ludicrous political nastiness of a far worse ilk. Nonetheless, it begs the question: Does it have to be this way?

Fast-forward to 2012. In the heat of an incredibly contentious City Council race, a conservative political faction questioned now-Councilman Tony Kranz’s fitness for office based on its loose hint that he was emotionally unstable. (Remember the campaign mailer?) Last year’s council race was slathered in virtual mud.

Now we come to this month’s special election on Proposition A, the Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative. This time around, the fracturing is even worse. Political allies are now pitted against each other.

Former supporters of City Council members Teresa Barth, Lisa Shaffer and Kranz are now playing attack politics against the very people they voted for. Even with the council members’ stated opposition to Prop. A, they have distanced themselves from an anti-initiative flier (with a link to a group called www.encinitashope.com) that quoted them without their apparent knowledge.

And yet parties on both sides worry about a poor special-election turnout.

At a certain point, the barrage of negativity becomes the political equivalent of spam in your inbox: annoying at best, destructive at worst.

So in the big picture – when all the spam is cleared out – what will really happen if Prop. A succeeds or fails at the polls?

If Prop. A succeeds? Nothing much, if you take Escondido as an example.

In the years since that city passed its own “right to vote” initiative on land use and zoning, such issues have remained stable, according to Escondido city planners. “We have seen no lawsuits in meeting housing element requirements,” Escondido City Planner Jay Petrek told a North Coast Current freelance writer in March when asked about meeting state standards. In some cases, residents have actually approved zoning increases.

So in the end, for Encinitas, one could argue that the city will see little difference in the trajectory of land-use decisions if the initiative passes.

If Prop. A fails? Nothing much, if you take Encinitas as an example.

Land-use decisions have always been contentious in this town, and it’s a large part of why residents voted to incorporate in 1986.

Ironically, wresting control from the county to preserve the quality of character in Encinitas really didn’t do much. Already by the late 1990s, the city had Orange County-style big-box shopping centers, oversized houses on undersized lots and a water-hungry golf course. The breathing room that’s left is, for the most part, Bob Nanninga’s “vertical habitat” … the remaining slopes that haven’t been graded.

There is nothing to indicate that voting no on Prop. A will change anything, either.

So vote how you like. The city will function with or without Prop. A. Just save your punches for the bags at the gym.

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