A movement is growing to give more authority back to Oceanside’s citizen advisory groups.

The city’s commissions are composed of Council-appointed volunteers who often have experience in the particular field that they are tasked with overseeing. Some argue their work complicates government and puts more strain on city staff, and occasionally their recommendations are at odds with the goals of the City Council.

Commissioners say they want more meetings so they can work on issues, and they want the City Council to stop passing them over on important issues.

Tom Frankum, a two-year member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, described a culture where brief agendas, and meetings held as infrequently as three times per year prevent innovative policymaking.

“I checked two or three weeks ago with city staff if we had any assignments. The answer was ‘nothing.’ We make the recommendations to (the City Council), but we need to have a work plan, and an assignment, and that’s controlled by them.”

Frankum said the commission should be weighing in on a planned $13 million aquatics facility, and finding specific sites at parks to replace grass with water, to cut consumption at the city’s largest water consumer, Parks and Recreation.

But the all-volunteer groups have a turbulent past, as the U-T reported in 2010, and at one point Oceanside spent $360,000 in staff time each year to support 24 advisory groups. Sometimes meetings were canceled because there were not enough members to have a quorum. In 2012, after some commissions were consolidated, the schedules were reduced to once every two months, as part of broader cost-cutting measures.

Frankum and others have said it’s time for at least some of the other advisory groups to move back to a monthly schedule.

Joanne Tawfilis, a member of the Arts Commission, said similar issues emerged in trying to draft a mural policy for the city that would allow the commission to match property owners with artists, to get more murals painted in town. She said she has been “hamstrung” by the meeting schedule, and called for a full-time arts administrator, although she regained hope when the library, which oversees the Arts Commission, appointed an additional staff member to support the commission.

The move toward more empowered commissions has support from Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery, who used to sit on the Art Commission. He said Council members use terms like “public input” to bypass the advisory groups, which provide an extra layer of transparency when they hold their own meetings.

He added that the groups already have the ability to amend their work plans to include more meetings, and don’t have to wait for the Council to take up work on an issue.

Ultimately, approval of the work plans lays with the Council, which is scheduled to take up the Art Commission’s work plan this week.

Luxury Mall in Carlsbad Sent to February Election

Carlsbad Council members opted to send the controversial proposal for a mall at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon to a special election on Feb. 23, the earliest date allowed by law.

About 30 people lined up to say when they thought the Council should hold the election, or if they should hold one at all. A representative from Caruso Affiliated, the developer of the mall, asked the Carlsbad City Council to hold an election at the earliest possible date3.

The Council had the option to repeal its approval of the project and let the developer send it back through the planning process. Instead it chose to hold the special election; opting for a date 88 days away instead of putting it on the June primary or November general ballots.

Inside the Purple Pipe Price War

The city of San Diego’s plan to raise the rate it charges for its non-potable recycled water landed a North County water agency in hot water. As Ry Rivard explains, plans to expand service to the Olivenhein Municipal Water District have spurred complaints of economic injustice from the city’s largest customer in South Bay, the Otay Water District.

Otay says although some increases are in order, raising the rate from 80 cents per unit to $1.73 per unit would intentionally overcharge South Bay customers, in order to bring water to North County customers. They say it would be unfair to charge poorer South Bay communities to put infrastructure to North County in place, after South Bay already paid for its own.

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council passed increases to recycled water rates across the board.

Zoning Out

VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan writes about how San Diego coastal communities’ zoning decisions raise the price of homes. Restrictive zoning – zoning that doesn’t allow for many homes in certain areas – affects housing prices throughout the county. She looks at two cases from Encinitas that show how down-zoning property contributes to high housing costs and reveals that some of the cheaper housing in the city was built on property zoned for higher densities. But up-zoning will only lead to lower housing costs if all coastal communities act in unison to allow denser housing.

• Del Mar is the latest North County city to tackle vacation rentals. Currently the city’s regulations are a bit unclear: The zoning code doesn’t name vacation rentals as an allowed use, so they’re technically prohibited, but the code does allow residents to rent rooms in their homes for undefined periods of time. City planners presented a draft ordinance last week, will present a revised version next month and the City Council will likely vote on it next year. (Union-Tribune)

Also in the News

 CBS8 analyzed crime data by ZIP code from every law enforcement agency in San Diego County, and found that downtown Oceanside had 2,678 crimes in the last six months — second only to downtown San Diego, with 3,893 crimes reported.

 San Marcos is getting one of its first complete streets just south of Palomar College and a light rail station. (Coast News)

• The 22nd Agricultural District, which runs the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds, is looking at new businesses for the Surfside Race Place. One proposal includes an indoor concert venue, tasting room and brewing museum. (Del Mar Times)

 The future of the northern white rhino is in a certain citizen of Escondido. (Coast News)

• Union members at TriCity Medical Center protested a fundraiser over concerns about the outsourcing of up to 460 jobs at the public hospital. (Seaside Courier)

• A group tasked with updating rules for raising chickens and goats in residential areas of Encinitas reversed course on livestock setbacks, and will focus on creating a new agricultural permit. (Encinitas Advocate)

Clarification: This post has been updated to better reflect the actions an Encinitas group took toward regulating livestock.

Ruarri Serpa is a freelance writer in Oceanside. Email him at ruarris@gmail.com and find him on Twitter at @RuarriS.

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