Ecke Poinsettia Ranch--the 900-acre, Encinitas property known for its brilliant red flowers--probably will remain in the city’s domain after a City Council decision late Thursday to put a new road away from the ranch’s sensitive floral areas.
“Now, (the council’s) action is not final, but at this point, it appears their decision is being sensitive to agricultural values,” said Chris Calkins, manager of Carltas Co., the landholding company for Ecke Ranch. “If that is the case, it would remove the basis for our application to move Ecke Ranch into the Carlsbad sphere of influence.”
After city officials determined the need for a third route from the inland areas to the coastal corridor and beaches--La Costa Avenue and Encinitas Boulevard are the existing east-west arteries--they identified the Ecke Ranch as a logical area for a road.
Months of Debate
After months of heated debate during which city, community and business leaders tried to map out the new road, the council voted, 3 to 1, Thursday to extend Leucadia Boulevard eastward, across the northern end of Ecke Ranch and connect it with Olivenhain Road. Final approval of the action is expected in about two weeks.
The action by the council dismissed another road proposal that would have carved a route through the southern, agriculturally vulnerable sector of the ranch.
To protect its business property--and persuade the council to abandon the latter proposal--Carltas Co. began planning to move its land out of Encinitas’ “sphere of influence” and into the domain of a neighboring city, Carlsbad.
Sphere of influence is a planning term for areas expected to be annexed to a city sometime. The Ecke property, an island between Encinitas and Carlsbad, remains undeveloped and unincorporated.
Complaints From Residents
The council, however, had to consider more than preserving the prized poinsettia property--it had to weigh complaints from residents who also oppose the roads, fearing they would cut through residential property.
Some council members said Carltas’ tactic of threatening to move the Ecke Ranch was clearly successful. Council members Greg Luke, Anne Omsted and Gerald Steel voted for the extension plan supported by the ranch.
But Councilwoman Marjorie Gaines, who cast the only dissenting vote, expressed disappointment at her colleagues’ action. She said the other council members succumbed to corporate “blackmail” and failed to protect residential neighborhoods.
“The Ecke action and verbiage about moving out was intended to blackmail the city,” Gaines said. “And I’m saddened to see the three council members were willing to abandon the Leucadia residential neighborhood for the convenience of motorists.”
Calkins said Ecke Ranch preferred not to have any road expansion, but realizing a solution was needed to cope with the city’s growing demands, the ranch approved of the council’s decision, saying: “They chose the significantly better option of the two necessary evils.”
“Both options would have a dramatic impact on our farming operations,” Calkins said. “The direct connection to Olivenhain Road will sever the northern end of Ecke Ranch, but it will preserve the southern end, the principal area of the poinsettias. More than anything, it allows us the possibility of continuing our business.”
However, Councilwoman Omsted did not believe that Carltas Co. was “threatening and bullying” the council to go its way, as opponents have claimed.
“I saw their move as a large property owner trying to defend its business interests,” Omsted said. “I have nothing against what they did.”
But the council’s action clearly revealed how much the city prizes possession of Ecke Ranch.
‘Wanted It Guaranteed’
“As far as Ecke Ranch goes, my vote was made to keep it in the city. . . . I wanted it guaranteed,” Omsted said. “Absolutely, their action was an influencing factor. From the city’s perspective, I don’t see giving up 900 acres of land, extremely valuable land.”
The road-extension issue has created a rift in the community.
Residents who live along Leucadia Boulevard--its eastern end now stops at the border of agricultural fields--say that extending the road will expose them to excessive traffic and lower their property values.
Forced to Absorb More Traffic
Such arguments are countered by residents in southern Encinitas who say that, unless the new road is built, existing routes in their area, already saturated with vehicles, will be forced to absorb even more traffic.
Omsted acknowledged the residents’ concerns and conceded that the council’s decision was “not a wonderful solution” but a choice that would affect the least number of neighbors.
“All of our choices are lousy,” Omsted said. “We didn’t get a chance to plan a road network. The existing roads were made before the city was incorporated. And, quite frankly, the decisions made over the last 30 years have not been well thought out. And we’re paying for it now by having to take these actions.”