North County Report: Oceanside Might Cheat on Its Road Diet
The Valley Center Water District is underwater on its pension plan, Encinitas farmers hope marijuana will buoy their businesses and more in our weekly roundup of news from North County.
A city choosing to forgo a new crosswalk might not normally raise eyebrows, but in Oceanside, it signals the city’s slowing commitment to a planned road-diet along Coast Highway.
In January of last year, the city implemented a pilot study of a road diet – taking road space from cars and using it instead for pedestrians, bikes or landscaping – on a half-mile section of Coast Highway between downtown and South Oceanside. That included reducing the road from four lanes to two, and installing buffered bike lanes and a lighted crosswalk. Last month, the City Council put the crosswalk on hold in case it decides not to narrow the road in that section – or anywhere else.
When the city began the environmental reviews in July, the plan was for a road diet throughout the length of Coast Highway. In November, however, a memo sent to the City Council said the city was also studying an alternative that left South Oceanside, including the pilot study area, out of the plan.
So, where did that come from?
Program managers for the study didn’t respond to my emails, and the only indication was in an email from the city’s traffic engineer to one of the road diet’s supporters, in which he said staff was directed to include that option in the environmental impact report.
The city has received significant pushback from business owners in South Oceanside, who are afraid a road diet will hurt access to their businesses. At the same time, supporters of the road diet say the pilot study area is “non-negotiable,” because their kids have to walk or ride bikes through that section to get to the elementary school in South Oceanside.
In 2015, a boy was killed while riding his bike to school, by a truck that was pulling out of a driveway in that section of road, before the pilot study. Ever since, residents have been arguing online and at City Council meetings, in less-than-tasteful fashion, whether it was his fault for choosing to ride on the sidewalk, or whether the infrastructure was so poor that he felt it was safer riding on the sidewalk.
The environmental reviews should have been completed by now, but it looks like they won’t be ready until summer or fall, and it’s unclear how much of that is due to the new project alternative.
Last year, VOSD’s Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts gave a provisional “Hero of the Week” on the podcast to the city for implementing the pilot study.
“Message to Oceanside: If you reverse course and undo this road-diet at a later date, we will give you a goat,” Keatts said.
Gentleman, prepare the goat.
Seeking a New Scent in the Greenhouse
In order to keep farming in Encinitas, some of the city’s remaining flower growers are looking to a new crop to stay afloat.
Voice contributor Jared Whitlock writes that in an era of drought, high water and energy costs, and international competition, some farmers want the city to let them grow marijuana in agricultural areas.
“I care deeply about farming,” longtime grower Bob Echter told Whitlock. “Without this, the path to keep doing that here isn’t as clear.”
Echter has been an innovative farmer over the years, switching to hydroponic growing to conserve water and energy, but he said that by devoting just one .91-acre greenhouse to marijuana, he could generate nearly half his business’ income.
Encinitas has already established a subcommittee to explore new marijuana regulations, and one of the challenges is deciding where marijuana could be grown. With fencing and armed guards needed to protect a marijuana farm, Encinitas residents don’t want to see little prisons sprouting up in their neighborhoods.
Other North County cities are also exploring allowing some form of commercial marijuana.
Vista is moving forward on an ordinance, ahead of a ballot initiative that would be more permissive than City Council members would like.
Oceanside doubled down on its ban on medical and recreational marijuana operations earlier this month, but now two Council members are looking to establish a citizen’s committee to help devise new rules.
In all three cities, a majority of residents approved Proposition 64, the statewide measure to legalize recreational marijuana.
Water District Has Worst-Funded Pension Plan in the County
With expectations for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s investments drying up, one North County water district faces a huge bill for its employees’ pension obligations.
Ashly McGlone writes that the Valley Center Water District is in the worst position out of the local agencies with 50 or more employees.
The water district’s $49 million pension obligation is only about 61 percent funded, meaning it has only $30 million in assets. That’s about $19 million short of what it’ll need to pay the retirement benefits it’s already promised its employees.
Small Cities Don’t Like Proposed SANDAG Reform
In response to recent scandals at the San Diego Association of Governments, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher has proposed a bill that would give more voting power on the board of directors to larger cities.
And small cities ain’t having it, Keatts reports.
The current system gives smaller cities more weight in the voting algorithm the board uses, by essentially capping how many weighted votes the city of San Diego gets.
AB 805 would make it proportional to each city’s population and also gives the chair and co-chair positions to the two largest cities, San Diego and Chula Vista.
Poway and Escondido have already passed resolutions opposing AB 805.
Also in the News
• Encinitas is re-considering a “deemed-approved” ordinance, which allows a city to crack down on loud bars that are grandfathered in under existing zoning ordinances and liquor licenses. (The Coast News)
• Oceanside is making a push for more murals downtown. (KPBS)
• One of Rep. Darrell Issa’s Democratic challengers, Mike Levin, has already raised $276,000 this year, compared with Issa’s $350,000. (Union-Tribune)
• Southern California Edison will negotiate a deal to move waste from San Onofre off-site. (Union-Tribune)
• The fight for retail space at the Oceanside Harbor is coming to a head. (Union-Tribune)