City council creates Housing Element Task Force

After a wide-ranging discussion Feb. 1 regarding where the city should go with its pending Housing Element, the city council and residents met once again at a special meeting Feb. 6 to go over its options in moving forward with a plan.

The council voted unanimously to create a Housing Element task force — consisting of Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, former Planning Commissioner Kurt Groseclose and No on T spokesperson Bruce Ehlers — to discuss the plan moving forward. The group will also give periodic updates to the Planning Commission.

The idea of maximizing accessory units and a housing task force were the most recommended methods among the discussed options to help the city create its state-mandated Housing Element after its last initiative — Measure T — failed in the November election.

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County without a Housing Element, a required document that spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. The city’s original plan, which it is still working off of, was created in the 1990s.

State law currently mandates Encinitas should zone for 1,093 high-density units, according to city officials.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear, a lawyer, has said the zoning plan update — which has been opposed by members of the community — is necessary to comply with state law and avoid lawsuits.The city, which currently has about 25,000 housing units total, is already facing two lawsuits — one from the Building Industry Association and another from a local developer.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, resident Bob Bonde, who first moved to Encinitas in 1970 and has long been considered "The Father of Encinitas," encouraged the city council to look at the potential of accessory units for low-income housing. He said the city needs to work more closely with Housing and Community Development [HCD] to develop a state-compliant plan that is acceptable to residents.

"Because the housing problem is getting worse instead of better, HCD should be asked to consider allowing Encinitas to conduct a supply side study to try to determine if, over time, an excess supply of market rental rate accessory units will naturally produce the desired low-income rents needed without the current onerous covenants, restrictions and reporting requirements," Bonde said.

Eileen Troberman, a 65-year-old business owner in Encinitas who has lived in the city since 1987, said she has lived in an accessory unit for the last 18 years and could not afford current rents otherwise in the city.

Blakespear, who has said she would like to get a plan back to the community within a year, said Feb. 6 she would love to see accessory units be at least part of the solution. However, she said, the city would need to look into how and if they could be pursued.

Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath, who said there are accessory units in her neighborhood, added the city may have to trade off parking for accessory units.

"I think the problem of accessory units and parking is something we all need to face together," she said. "A lot of the units will have more than one accessory unit, and that's something we should consider. ... We have to grapple with that as a community."

She also said the city should look at the potential of using in-lieu developer fees to help fund affordable housing, as well as look at reducing the average unit size to discourage the luxury condominiums that are often looked down upon. 

The city could also look at the potential of "tiny homes," Boerner Horvath said, but such developments might pose similar parking problems as accessory units.

She considered working on the Housing Element "one of the most important things [the council is] going to do for the community."

Boerner Horvath said the task force should work to come up with a plan that is less complex than Measure T, better communicated and includes interactive parcel maps.

Council member Mark Muir said it was important that representatives from all five communities and of different age groups were involved in the task force.

"At the end of the day, you have to have a completed project because you have to sell it to the community," he said. "In the end, I think we'll all have something we can agree on. ... I think we have the talent within the city to put together a good task force to come together for something we'll all love."

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