The Encinitas City Council has reaffirmed its selection of Robert Prendergast to replace Bruce Ehlers on the city’s planning commission after some residents raised concerns that his decision last month may have violated city codes.
Prendergast, managing director of investment sales at Jones Lang LaSalle, was chosen in late May to fill the vacancy created when board members ordered former planning commissioner Bruce Ehlers to step down. Ehlers’ supporters have accused the board of not only removing him for political reasons — Ehlers is currently running for a board seat — but also of botching the appointment of his replacement by choosing someone who sat on another municipal commission.
They note that the current municipal code states, “People appointed to a municipal board will not be selected from among members who currently serve on another municipal board.”
Out of ‘abundance of caution,’ Prendergast did not attend any commission meetings while city workers investigate whether the council followed city codes when selecting him, the clerk said. municipal Kathy Hollywood at the meeting on Wednesday, June 8.
Council members said the code likely needed to be clarified and voted unanimously to direct city staff to pursue this, but said the intent of the code was not to prevent someone who was part of a commission to apply for another, as long as that person resigned from the first position immediately after being chosen for the second.
Prendergast was selected for the planning commission at the May 25 council meeting. He tendered his resignation from the city’s Mobility and Road Safety Commission on June 2 – the same date as the Planning Commission’s first meeting since his appointment.
“When we considered these nominations, I didn’t think twice (about picking someone from one city board to sit on another board),” council member Tony Kranz said.
Councilwoman Joy Lyndes, who supported rewriting the city’s code but opposed Prendergast’s nomination, said she had direct experience with commissioners moving from one commission to another. When she served on the city’s environmental commission, three of her appointed colleagues transferred to other commissions and the city benefited from their prior experience in their new assignments, she said.
However, five public speakers on Wednesday (June 8) said the council could have avoided the issue altogether had it chosen one of two other candidates for the Planning Commission spot. The other two nominees were engineering firm president Frederick Snedeker and Daniel Vaughn, biopharmaceutical consultant co-founder and president of Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development.
Cindy Cremona, who is running for mayor, said the council ‘opened a hornet’s nest’ of problems when it chose Prendergast for the Planning Commission. She added that she thought the process had been so mishandled that it would be better if Prendergast resigned.
The city faced the sudden vacancy of the Planning Commission after council members ordered Ehlers to resign in April, saying they did not believe he could be impartial on housing development issues. They cited legal documents that Ehlers, who is the lead author of the city’s growth control initiative in 2013, filed in support of a lawsuit against the city last year. and recent comments he had made to the media regarding housing issues. Ehlers’ supporters called his ousting a vindictive political stunt that was done to silence him because he is running for a city council seat.
Ehlers supporters lobbied the board in May to choose Vaughn as his replacement on the Planning Commission.
Lyndes supported Vaughn’s nomination, saying he was the candidate who appeared to have the strongest community support, but other council members opposed it. Mayor Catherine Blakespear said it would “give her pause” to select Vaughn because he leads a group that has filed multiple lawsuits against the city over a controversial apartment complex development.