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When the only choice is change

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
February 19, 2004


"What do you do when the past is no longer a guide to the future?" — Jesse Ansubel

Things are heating up in Encinitas over two memorandums of understanding entered into by the City of Encinitas and Paul Ecke Ranch regarding an exchange of property, the siting of an Environmental Services Center, and a change in zoning and land use designations for 67 acres known as East Saxony Planning Area, and a subdivision. To date, these negotiations have been up front, by the books, and of course controversial. This is Encinitas after all.

Asked by numerous readers to comment on the looming project, it was expected I would launch, in opposition, a tirade against the proposed development. Myself included. The concept currently being discussed includes 201 dwelling units on 38 acres currently zoned for agriculture. And like most observant residents I understand 201 dwelling units equals enough traffic to completely overburden Saxony neighbors already dealing with infrastructure insufficient to handle traffic generated by the ever-expanding Magdalena Ecke YMCA.

The truth of the matter is agriculture in Encinitas is dead and floriculture is dying a slow painful death as growers are forced out by land prices, property taxes, market forces known as the WALMARTIZATION, and Nimby neighbors who forget floriculture predates the stucco subdivisions we call home by more than a half century. To remain competitive the folks at Paul Ecke Ranch believe they must evolve to a changing reality or risk losing the legacy started by the Poinsettia visionary Paul Ecke I.

When the proposed project first surfaced I accepted an invitation to tour the 67 acres in question. My guide was none other than Paul Ecke III. Knowing my journalistic beat is environmental sustainability; Paul first walked me around the existing greenhouses, greenhouses that were in no way energy efficient. Relying on plastic to keep the heat in and elements out, these dilapidated greenhouses utilize antiquated equipment to maintain the ongoing operations. Very third world.

According to Mr. Ecke remaining competitive depends on consolidating existing facilities, as well as a complete renovation of outdated greenhouse operations. Revenue generated by the development of housing on the Northern section of the property would allow Ecke Ranch to upgrade poinsettia production to current environmental standards by reducing the consumption of water, natural gas and electricity, while diminishing water run-off and the use of non-biodegradable materials, such as the aforementioned plastic.

State of the art green building technologies is something I can't find fault with. Nor can I argue with business owners seeking to be better environmental citizens. There is also the issue of property rights, and the economic contributions made by the floriculture industry in Encinitas.

I also support the concept of an Environmental Services Center (Public Works yard) in a centralized and consolidated facility. Ideally the Environmental Services Center will be another showcase of Green Building technologies. The proposed two-acre park could then be used for environmental education such as composting and organic gardening.

I do however have a problem with the lack of vision being utilized when planning for the housing element of the proposed project. Sadly, the conceptual plans I've seen do not go far enough in meeting existing housing needs, and offering nothing in regards to diverse housing choices and smart growth infill models. Instead the only thing being discussed is the addition of 201 Mc Mansions to Encinitas's housing stock. The last thing Encinitas needs is more of the same.

Zoning for the land holding in question is currently agricultural, so any project other than the continued growing operations would require revisions to the Encinitas Ranch Specific Plan and Development agreement. The City of Encinitas should take this opportunity to consider mixed-used planning for this project, which could allow for higher densities, while promoting smaller, and therefore affordable housing units in tandem with revenue generating commercial space.

The East Saxony project is an ideal opportunity for the City of Encinitas to pursue green housing models by requiring builders to incorporate the concept of walkable communities as part of all infill projects. To settle for anything else would be proof of a lack of future focus and environmental leadership on the part of city planners and elected officials.

Population has crowded out the quaint rural community that once was the San Dieguito region. Gone are the flower fields and family farms that once provided our community's character. There is no going back. The only option remaining is to embrace change or stagnate while fighting the inevitable.

Either way, the Encinitas that once was is history.

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