By Julie Thunder
It has been said that the most “liveable” cities are known as much for their open space as they are for their culture. That is why in 2016 Retired Fire Chief and Council Member Mark Muir created an Open Space Reserve Fund. The purpose of this dedicated reserve was to protect water, provide habitat for wildlife, and support human health and recreation.
Open Space Impact fees are collected from builders or developers of residential property for the purpose of defraying the cost of acquiring community assets of open space land.From the City’s recently approved budget document, seen here
Unfortunately, two budget cycles later, the City Council has voted to transfer nearly $600,000 from the dedicated Open Space Reserve to help pay for other projects. This transfer eliminates over half of the entire open space reserve monies.
2016 City-wide survey: The top priority from the survey respondents, focus groups, and community listening sessions is the preservation and acquisition of additional open space and natural areas.Survey results were published in the City’s 2016 OPEN SPACE MASTER PLAN
You may be curious what prompted this sudden change in strategy when preserving open space ranked #1 in a recent citywide survey. The main cause for defunding the open space account and delaying several promised projects is the $30 million dollar Leucadia Hwy 101 Streetscape project. This project includes the controversial lane reduction (four to two) and the addition of six roundabouts along the Leucadia 101 corridor.
While the Council contends the reallocated funding is necessary for circulation improvements, it is unfortunate that other lower priority budgetary items or consulting contracts were not considered for elimination first. If the Council claims that there is no other place in the budget to get the money, then they haven’t fully read the budget document or don’t understand basic budgeting principles. Encinitas has long operated with zero-based budgeting, which is the practice of starting over from scratch each budget cycle to eliminate any unnecessary, unjustifiable or untimely requests.
Open Space is not the only casualty of the new budget. A sampling of other projects that will be delayed includes safety enhancements for Beacons Beach access, the Verdi Avenue pedestrian rail crossing, Leucadia drainage projects, Birmingham Drive improvements, and basic citywide road repairs.
Several concurrent actions are also compromising Encinitas’ open space opportunities. Agricultural property has long been considered a type of open space worth preserving considering our strong roots in the agricultural industry. The council majority supports upzoning these parcels to high-density low-income housing (e.g. apartments).
Mayor Blakespear stated that “California’s population is growing, jobs are available here, populations and demographics are changing, and people are finding themselves without homes or unable to afford homes. The homelessness epidemic is directly tied to the lack of affordable housing, among other factors.” The Mayor has also stated that she believes the coastal areas of Encinitas should provide more low-come housing for the county’s housing needs.
Additionally, our local water district recently sold long held open space to developers for a profit. With continued decisions like these, very few open space opportunities are likely to remain in Encinitas.
Open space provides the best means to maintain the overall character of our small beach community. It reduces building density while providing economic and environmental value, now and long into the future. I’m both surprised and concerned over the City Council backpedaling on such a high community priority. I’ll strongly oppose any candidate for council who doesn’t value and prioritize open space.Retired Fire Chief and ex-City Council member Mark Muir after hearing of the transfer of Open Space funds.
Open space benefits reach far beyond humans. Wildlife and native plants also need large parcels of undisturbed open land. Learn more at Threatened and endangered species in San Diego County, and The Nature Conservancy’s San Diego page.
The top photo of the Great Horned Owl is from World Atlas. Visit their site to learn about the owls and how they contribute to a better environment.