ENCINITAS, Calif. – Encinitas city leaders Wednesday unanimously voted to oust the chairman of the city’s planning commission after elected officials say he failed to “remain neutral” in evaluating projects and programs that came before the body.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, right, at an Encinitas City Council meeting held on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. (Photo by Elliot Macias Rioseco, KSWB)

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said the basis of her vote to remove Bruce Ehlers from his post was due to his “self-created conflicts of interest and his public advocacy against the city’s goals and legal requirements” to create affordable and market-rate housing. In an agenda report penned by Blakespear and Councilman Tony Kranz, they wrote Ehlers disclosed he was the treasurer of a group contributing money to a party suing the city over their opposition to a local housing development.

The removal of Ehlers is effective immediately.

Ehlers, currently a candidate for city council, was requested to resign from the role in March by Blakespear, but he declined, saying he “required a public discussion for his removal,” the report shows.

Kranz said that while he considers Ehlers a friend that he’s known for more than a decade, he said there are “institutional issues” that are important, too.

“As a city, the role of commissioners is to carry out city policy adopted by the legislative body,” Kranz said. “That is the city council. There have been many city councils before me and there will be many after me. It’s really important that the institutional integrity remains intact.”

Wednesday’s meeting was packed with attendees, some of whom were wearing stickers supporting Ehlers.

The city also received many written public comments prior to the vote with the majority voicing support for Ehlers and urging the council to vote against removing him.

“Mr. Ehlers is the most knowledgeable of all on the Planning Commission,” Encinitas resident Lois Kelly wrote in an email Tuesday. “He listens to the citizens unlike some other Commissioners. The fact that he is a Treasurer of an organization which chose to sue Encinitas does not show or prove his partiality or bias toward any specific project.”

Addressing the body Wednesday, Ehlers said, “the fundamental issue is the silencing of opposing voices and differing opinions.”

“We have a difference in interpretation,” Ehlers told FOX 5 after the vote. “They say, ‘Oh, our hands are tied.’ I don’t agree.”

The Coast News reported Blakespear and Ehlers have been at odds for a while over issues of land use and zoning density. Quoted by the news outlet, Ehlers said he and Blakespear’s primary differences have come with “the overdevelopment of Encinitas.”