Rail corridor, bonds, climate action & El Portal
Jan. 18 & 25, 2017 Encinitas City Council Update
Dear Friend,

From the San Dieguito Water District, EDCO and the Community Resource Center (CRC) to the League of California Cities and State Assembly representatives, I appreciate everyone for taking the time to help me better understand the issues relevant to protecting our quality of life!

On 2/1 at 6 PM at the Encinitas Community Center, we will have a meeting on next steps with the state-mandated Housing Element. Please join us!

Cheers,

P.S. My apologies in advance for the long newsletter. Hopefully, the headlines/bullet points make it easy to follow.

The week at a glance.
  • Climate Action Plan status update and timeline given, with draft 2017 Plan expected in June 2017. We have a long way to go!
  • Bond refinancing approved 5-0 to save over $200,000 and reducing overall debt beginning in the next fiscal year. We have the highest bond rating of AA+!
  • Unanimous direction to staff and the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group (CMLWG) on several points, including:
    • Proceed with evaluating a quiet zone for the entire corridor and affirmed proceeding with the quiet zone at Chesterfield and the El Portal Underpass
    • Look at the long-term plan for connectivity in the corridor, including trenching, design guidelines, additional crossings, esp. between Leucadia and La Costa Blvd
    • Explore the best underpass in Cardiff, including one at Verdi
  • Approved the El Portal pedestrian rail underpass 5-0 for a contract for design and permitting, including a traffic study that will evaluate the Union and Vulcan intersection control options.

January 18, 2017 City Council Meeting.

CLIMATE ACTION PLAN UPDATE

Last week we heard an update on where we are in meeting the 2011 Climate Action Plan as well as the new draft 2017 plan. I appreciate the previous Council for initiating an update on our Climate Action Plan. While I understand the delays over the last nine months, I fully expect our Climate Action Plan Manager to hold course on the robust timeline presented last week.

In my estimation we have not come close to implementing the 2011 Climate Action Plan, which is the basic issue with aspirational plans. Since the main drivers of our emissions are transportation and energy, my expectation is that our 2017 Climate Action Plan will have clear, measurable activities and we will regular monitor actual versus planned target emissions.

Our 2017 goal is to meet the state mandate of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. When you think about how many fewer cars and homes were in Encinitas in 1990, you can begin to imagine that we need to have clear, measurable and accountable activities in our plan needs to be to meet state law. These decisions won’t be easy, will require us to take a serious look at game changing activities, like establishing clean energy providers, investing in bike, pedestrian and mass transit infrastructure, or incentivizing electric vehicles. But this is what is necessary to be good environmental stewards and leave Encinitas better than we found it.

 Take a look at my December interview with Brad Pomerance from Cox-Charter Local Edition.

January 25, 2017 City Council Meeting.

BOND REFINANCING

This week we approved 5-0 the refinancing of our outstanding bond debt for the land for the Encinitas Community Park to save over $200,000 and reduce overall debt. Because we have followed good fiscal practices we received a bond rating from Standard & Poor of AA+ — the highest a city can receive. The current market predicts a net present value savings of almost 7% with a minimum savings of 5%. This is well above the prudence threshold of 3% for refinancing. I appreciate staff and our Finance Director Tim Nash taking the initiative to  bring this to council and making sure we are saving where we can.



I participated in Mayor Blakespear’s challenge to help count the homeless in Encinitas, which determine funding levels. I joined up with the Community Resource Center’s (CRC) Rebecca Palmer (fuzzy picture shortly before dawn) and we counted in the Encinitas Highlands. The respect and training for this count was impressive (as was the 3:30 AM reporting time). It was insightful to see what the CRC is doing to collaborate with the city, the sheriff’s department, the county and other non-profits to address a truly complex problem.


THE COASTAL MOBILITY AND LIVABILITY WORKING GROUP (CMLWG):

On Wednesday, we spent a bulk of our evening discussing the rail corridor. This discussion is rather lengthy, so if this is not your thing, go ahead and jump down below. In the end we provided unanimous direction to staff and working group to:

  • Evaluate a quiet zone for the entire corridor, including affirming moving forward with the quiet zone at Chesterfield and with the pedestrian rail underpass at El Portal as planned
  • Look at the long-term plan for connectivity in the corridor, including trenching, design guidelines, additional crossings, esp. between Leucadia and La Costa Blvd
  • Explore the best underpass in Cardiff, including one at Verdi
  • Set up a best practice/lessons learned exchange with the City of San Clemente, the only city in the country to have received federal approval to quieter wayside horns (see below) for pedestrian rail crossings
  • Include landscaping buffers and physical separation of bike lanes to SANDAG’s Coastal Rail Trail proposal on the 101 through Cardiff

Many thanks to Mayor Blakespear and the previous council for setting up a new approach to finding consensus in our community on controversial issues. To me the CMLWG, aka the rail corridor working group, represents a diverse mix of highly talented and engaged community leaders who are able to collaborate to make reasonable, educated and well-researched recommendations to Council on the rail corridor.

Quiet zone, please!

We spent a good deal of time talking about train noise: train horns, options for quieter, directional stationary horns (called wayside horns) as well as the process for a quiet zone. Since we are still in the “discovery phase” of the project, there are still a lot of unknowns: Do we need horns at existing vehicular crossings? Can we have a quiet zone throughout our city and if so, how much does it cost and how long does it take? How much will supplemental safety equipment (required by the feds) cost and what will be required? Can we use directional, quieter wayside horns for potential future pedestrian crossings? 

The answer to most of these questions is, unfortunately, “We don’t know yet.” Those questions will be covered in depth between now and summer by the working group. What is important is to have accurate and complete information about costs so that the working group can make the appropriate recommendations to council. By inviting San Clemente to share their best practices and lessons learned, we will also take a big step in clarifying much of this uncertainty.

What we do know is that it looks like the Chesterfield vehicular and pedestrian crossings appears to qualify for the quiet zone with just over $600,000 in safer gates, medians, lights and bells, but without horns. I am hopeful this will also be true for the three crossings in downtown Encinitas and Leucadia Blvd., which will dramatically increase our quality of life, but we need to do a bit more homework before we know for sure. And the council gave unanimous direction to evaluate what is necessary for a quiet zone for the entire corridor as well as affirmed the quiet zone application for Chesterfield crossing and the El Portal Underpass.

Moving to a rail corridor vision

For me, the vision of the rail corridor is like a ladder, with pedestrian, biking and parking infrastructure on either side of the tracks. The “rungs” of the ladder are the crossings. But I am looking to the working group to really flush out their vision of the corridor.

The working group has some qualitative data to make some recommendations, but I think further qualitative and quantitative input on the location of these crossings is necessary, especially related to where folks actually want crossings. With regard to an underpass alternative in Cardiff, we provided funding the working group to be presented with the best underpass option, which may be at Verdi, rather than Montgomery. In addition, there has been little to no conversation about crossing location or type north of Leucadia Blvd, which is critically important for connecting businesses, residents and beaches. We provided direction to fill this gap, as well as discuss trenching (partial or entire). I am confident that this will result in a productive discussion about what is the vision for our rail corridor.

Design guidelines for the rail corridor

One thing that the recent images of the draft Coastal Rail Trail (CRT) through Cardiff on the 101 (I’ll link in a future newsletter) has demonstrated is that we don’t have a set of guidelines for our rail corridor to share with other agencies who operate in this corridor. Other agencies are not able to work from a set of standards we have agreed for our community. While we cannot force an outside agency to follow them, it does provide a constructive starting point for our discussion. It is my hope that a draft is completed as soon as possible to facilitate ongoing conversations.

As for the draft of the CRT through Cardiff, the plans are quite utilitarian by nature. Mayor Blakespear suggested including a funding option for landscape softening of that CRT segment in our budget discussion. I added the option to fund physical separation of bike lanes from travel lanes. It might be a slow journey, but with Mayor Blakespear on the SANDAG Transportation Committee, and through constructive collaboration, we will get to a place where this works for us.

For me I want the rail corridor to stay as natural as possible and include appropriate landscaping and public art and spaces. What’s perhaps even more important to me is that we use as little impervious surface as possible as well as physically separate bike paths. While the entire corridor should be aesthetically compatible, it can be very different between Leucadia, Old Encinitas and Cardiff and reflect the individual community character. We provided direction to the working group to come up with these design guidelines, including path material, width, landscaping, type of bike separation, public art, etc. What’s also important is to look at what type of trail/path would be acceptable through the entire corridor on the east side.


Council Member Joe Mosca and I with EDCO President/CEO Steve South and VP/COO Jeff Ritchie at their facility in Escondido. I was impressed by their forward-thinking strategy, focus on sustainability, minimizing waste, especially food waste, and fair business practices. They have 40 three-generation families and over 100 two-generation families working for EDCO! Thank you Steve, Jeff and Divison Manager Elmer Heap for the surprisingly inspiring tour!


EL PORTAL UNDERPASS

The El Portal pedestrian rail underpass is a vital element to safely connecting our business corridor to residents, schools to families and everyone to the Sunday Farmer's Market. Thank you to the parents, administration and PTA of Paul Ecke Central Elementary School, who have relentlessly advocated for this project. I’d like to give a shout-out to Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz for having the foresight to suggest a local match of $700,000 for the state grant which funded this underpass last year, which clearly made this expensive project possible.

One issue brought up by the Paul Ecke Central community was the inclusion of an intersection control evaluation for Union St. and Vulcan Ave. Once built, the mid-block cross walk across Vulcan is planned to be moved to Union Street (something we can do now, in my opinion). Currently the Union and Vulcan intersection doesn’t work well when school is in session and during the Sunday Farmer’s Market. Add on the dramatic increase in pedestrian traffic from the underpass, and that is a disaster waiting to happen. It was reassuring to learn that as part of the environmental clearance, a traffic study, the intersection of Union and Vulcan will be evaluated for intersection control options.

We approved 5-0 a contract for design and permitting that is estimated to take 16 months, which is a comfortable timeline: 5-6 months for environmental clearance; 5-6 months for authorization by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); and 5-6 months for the design phase which will include direct input from the CMLWG, Leucadia 101 Mainstreet Association and Paul Ecke Central Elementary School. The construction will take another year. 

I suggested a number of ways to move this project along more quickly, but ultimately we decided that the council and city manager will keep very close track of the timeline to ensure that we meet or accelerate the timeline wherever possible. I’ll keep you posted!


Honoring our firefighters at the Pinning Ceremony on Thursday, January 26. So inspiring to see how these highly qualified public servants honor each other, their families and our community. 

Other News.

HOUSING ELEMENT NEXT STEPS
Please join us on Wednesday, February 1, 6 PM, Encinitas Community Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024 for an informal, conversation-oriented, post-Measure T City Council meeting on the next steps on the state-required Housing Element.


COMMITTEE UPDATES

  • SANDAG Border Committee: I was appointed as the alternate for the The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Borders Committee, a policy committee focused on all aspects of our county’s domestic and international borders. At my first meeting yesterday I was encouraged by the local leaders — especially those with districts directly on the US-Mexican border — who reaffirmed their intent to carry on the good working relationship on both side of the border through the Border Committee, SANDAG and other regional and local agencies. This cooperation positively affects the quality of life of our residents and fosters regional economic growth so valuable to San Diego County and the US.
  • Cultural Tourism: We are having our second meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 9 am in the Poinsettia Room at City Hall and will be discussing the 2017 focus areas as well as continuing the tradition of information sharing.
  • Community Choice Energy: We are looking at having a committee meeting mid-February to get everyone on the same page, since both Mayor Blakespear and I are new. 
  • School District Liaison and Sea Level Rise: Still looking for dates.
  • League of California Cities: In addition to attending the very informative New Council Member Training in Sacramento last week, I also attended my first meeting of the Policy Committee on Housing, Community and Economic Development. Our focus areas for 2017 are: Housing affordability, economic development, homelessness, group homes (aka Residential Care Facilities), housing element reform and marijana legislation. There are a slew of bills coming up the pipeline dealing with affordable housing, since the Governor’s proposed budget does not fund affordable housing despite the declared housing crisis.

    The bill to watch for us, though, is AB 72, which is seeking to fund the attorney general to be able to prosecute cities without compliant housing elements. There seems to be strong support for this bill in Sacramento and if passed, will open Encinitas up to not only litigation from private parties, but from the state as well. 

Public Works Shout Out!

I want to give a shout out to our Public Works department for their handling of the recent storms. There has been much appreciation from the community for the preparation and quick reaction times that seem to really have improved the flooding situation for many residents. There are projects in the works and much to still be done (stay tuned), but the team pulled together and the community appreciates it. Thank you Public Works!


RECOMMENDED LINKS
  • Mayor Catherine Blakespear’s Newsletter: If you don’t subscribe already, I’d like to encourage you to subscribe to Mayor Blakespear’s email newsletter. Her journalist prowess, strong leadership and sound judgement shines through and offers a different perspective on our city.
     
  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS): Some may know that a friend’s son, Ben, was diagnosed with Leukemia four years ago. I have been inspired for the last four years, not only by how Ben has fought and beat leukemia but how families and friends have rallied to support LLS. I have decided to join the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training and will be running a half marathon in June to raise money to fund cures to bone cancers. If you are interested in finding out more, please visit my LLS page.
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