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It's time to raise the bureaucratic bar

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
May 20, 2005


A redevelopment project in Leucadia was recently brought to my attention. On the surface it would seem to be your run of the mill extreme commercial makeover. At the center of this small redevelopment project is Chevron Texaco Corp., a multinational corporation seeking permits from the city of Encinitas to bulldoze its current establishment and rebuild a bigger, brighter, and busier gas station complete with convenience store and car wash.

Upon receiving the news of the Chevron expansion, I went to City Hall to get the 411 on the 911 called in by a neighbor and reader of this column. Adding to my curiosity, the gas station in question can be seen from my front door. Way beyond nimbyism, I am more interested in understanding the mendacity which would allow a carwash to be built on a bluff top, with the potential to drain directly into the Batiquitos estuary.

Talking to the city planners it was clear this "redevelopment project" (their words not mine) has little to do with Leucadia and everything to do with the corporate mauling of an established neighborhood. Looking at available plans it's obvious they were produced from a cookie cutter template, easily replicated in Des Moines, Duluth, Delano, and Dearborn, with no since of place or community. The redevelopment of the Leucadia Chevron is really about Chevron making sure the folks who get off the freeway to get gas leave all their money with Chevron without venturing in to Leucadia.

For readers not up to speed on the latest attempt to gentrify the funky charm of Leucadia, the project of which I speak consists of a Major Use Permit, Coastal Development Permit, and Design Review Permit applications to demolish the existing service station and construct a new one with a 2,945 square-foot convenience store, a 1,248 square-foot self service car wash, and twelve new fueling stations covered by a 5,780 square-foot canopy. All without an environmental impact report.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the folks at Chevron and Encinitas City Hall are so convinced that placing a car wash, complete with phosphates and car wax will have no negative impact on the biology of the nearby Batiquitos estuary, they will forego a comprehensive Environmental Impact Report in favor of superficial mitigations to protect possible archaeological resources, industry lighting standards, and color palates "with the intent of utilizing darker flat colors that reduce the brightness of the building and canopy in contrast to the surrounding environment."

It seems Christopher Lowell is the new Planning Director in town.

As usual the City of Encinitas is more than willing to sacrifice environmental stewardship in the name of corporate pandering. After a few readings of the legal notice of Environmental Review and Comment Period prepared by the Planning and Building Department it is not hard to understand how an environmental review, based solely on biology, geology, typography, and hydrology, is not in the best interests of Chevron or the Encinitas planning department.

Tough words? You bet.

Looking at the landscaping palate of the proposed mega gas station, ecologically concerned citizens will notice that no indigenous plant species were included in the redevelopment plan. The proposed plan does however include plants from New Zealand, Africa, Texas, Burma, China, Afghanistan, and Jamaica. When I mentioned that to city planner Gene Ybarra he sheepishly said "we didn't even think of that."Planners did however think enough to prohibit natives such as California Sycamore (Plantus racemosa), Western Cottonwood (Populus fremontii), and all other deciduous natives.

For too long, regional planners have hid behind development inducing bureaucracy that cites a lack of regional environmental policy as reason to ignore the long term biological and ecological consequences of uncontrolled growth and regulating against native species, while permitting potentially hazardous commercial endeavors, such as a carwash perched on an unstable coastal bluff top.

In a nutshell, the "redevelopment" of the Chevron station in Leucadia is the perfect microcosm for understanding the planned "redevelopment" of Leucadia along Coast Highway 101.The priorities used to measure the potential impacts to the cultural and ecological of economic development will be the same. By the time Encinitas is finished having it's way with the community of Leucadia, it will be as charismatic as the new Chevron and as sustainable as the low cost of gasoline.

Encinitas doesn't "get" funky.

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