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Encinitas: The hallmark of public input

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 12, 2002


"Everything may serve a lower as well as a higher use." — Henry David Thoreau

A great deal can be said about the City of Encinitas, some good, some bad, and some downright embarrassing. But then again that is true for every municipality in the San Diego region. Where the city of Encinitas stands out, is its overriding commitment to allow citizen participation in the messy workings of local government.

Encinitas is known throughout the region as a city of diverse opinions and lifestyles, a volatile mix of haves and have-nots, soccer dads and surfer moms, youth culture and senior sensibility. Hardly the complacent consumers like their neighbors to the north and south; Encinitans are always ready for a good civic rumble. One need only look at the ongoing library squabble to see no how no good idea goes unchallenged in that city of 60,000 people.

Currently the bone being fought over is the planning process for the 43-acre Hall property park. Purchased with 17 million in municipal bonds, this future park promises to be the crowning glory of the Encinitas park inventory, which is slowly coming together 15 years after incorporation. To make sure that the park meets the needs of all Encinitas residents, council and staff have not only sought public input, but have scheduled a series of public workshops to facilitate the uses and design of that city's biggest public amenities project to date.

The first workshop, held at the brand spanking new community center, began with a field trip to the future park site. Participants were given questioners designed to facilitate responses to issues facing city planners, access, environmental considerations, noise mitigation, adjacent residential development, the Hall home, and commercial interests bordering the property. Wedged between the I-5 and the yogurt shop, the walking tour of greenhouses and possibilities ensued.

Up close and personal residents were encouraged to "interact with the sites with all of your senses-sight, sound, imagination, etc…" without "any implication of a right or wrong reaction to what you are experiencing."First asked how they would enter the new park, the dotted line led them to the Hall residence where opportunities and constraints of this historic structure were discussed. They were also given a minute to considered the impact the existing tress had on the character of the region. Site six and seven regarded an access easement for Raspy Growers, a cut flower wholesaler. Site eight, a parcel of land behind Raspy growers, which is part of the park site but not contiguous. There were sixteen purposeful stops on the "Site Awareness Tour."

Back at the community center participants were then separated into random groups and queried about the pros and cons of the site, and issues perhaps missed by city staff. Responses from this initial query were recorded in Magic Marker, for the group to see. At some point brown bag lunches were served. This would prove the easy part.

Then came the part requiring teamwork and consensus building. Suffice it to say this is where the tension began to surface. It seems to some workshop participants, active and passive uses of the 43-acre park cannot peacefully coexist. A few even were overheard as saying that the whole process was a sham as evidenced by the color cut outs offered as part of the imagineering process. When youth sports became such a detriment to community is a mystery to me.

I get the traffic conversation, as I'm sure the rest of Encinitas does. Traffic is a problem everywhere, but that should be no reason not to build a park or remedy a vital lack of civic sports amenities. Regardless of the final design of the park, it is assured that there will be ample parking and people using the park. What residents should be most concerned about is how access can be provided with out gridlocking the surrounding neighborhoods. Nobody wants congestion to prevent them from reaching the nearby emergency room or Blockbuster Video.

When the hands-on design portion of the workshop was complete, once again the results were displayed for all to see. Surprisingly there were strikingly similar design aspects. All included ecological restoration, an aquatic center, a dog park, tot lots, and plenty of open spaces to play. My favorite was the surrounding greenbelt buffer of trails and trees, which most included in their vision of the park.A few, probably lobbyists for Hondo, Japan, envisioned a teahouse and accompanying Zen gardens.

It seems Encinitas is designing itself a very cool park.

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