Encinitas adds properties to housing document

Following last month's removal of a controversial piece of city-owned land from the list of properties proposed to be upzoned for affordable housing, the Encinitas City Council on May 9 voted to add in nine sites to its draft housing element update.

The council also agreed with city staff and consultants to remove the previously approved Strawberry Fields site from the submitted housing element. Dave Barquist, of the development consultant firm Kimley-Horn, said the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) — which is evaluating the city's plan — believes the site is "not a viable site for a number of reasons."

Included on the updated list are:

  • The "Armstrong Parcels" on El Camino Real in New Encinitas
  • The "El Camino Real South Parcel" in New Encinitas
  • The "Dewitt Property" at 1900 North Highway 101 in Leucadia
  • The "Seacoast Church" site at 1050 Regal Road in Old Encinitas
  • The "Manchester Avenue West Sites" at 2951 and 2955 Manchester Avenue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea
  • The "Rancho Santa Fe East Site" on Rancho Santa Fe Road in Olivenhain
  • The "Harrison Sites" at 364 and 371 Second Street in Old Encinitas
  • The "Meyer Property" at 672 and 682 Clark Avenue, as well as 556 Union Street, south of Leucadia
  • And the former "Frog's Gym" site at 780 Garden View Court

An additional property on Lake Drive, which could yield 131 units, will be studied and discussed with the owner.

A proposed "highly viable" property on Orpheus Avenue and Leucadia Boulevard was heavily discussed and removed from the list of properties.

Critics said upzoning that land would add to already-existing traffic stemming from a Starbucks drive-through and expressed concerns about its proximity to a fire station and the I-5 freeway.

"This kind of traffic increase next to a fire station... and an already-troubled intersection is a recipe for absolute disaster," said resident Susan Turney.

Some residents expressed their disappointment with the removal of the 7.6-acre, city-owned L-7 property, at 634 Quail Gardens Lane, which would have yielded 190 units. Others urged the council to pursue affordable housing for people who work in but cannot afford to live in the city, such as lifeguards, teachers and elder care providers. They pressed for the development of at least 80 affordable units by 2020.

One woman, who described herself as a former nurse and instructor, said yearly rent increases have made it difficult for her to stay living in her apartment. After requesting to move to a lower level unit due to her hip problems, her building manager told her that her rent would be increased once again to $1,375.

"How can a retired person with a pension and social security afford such a rent?" she asked. "How can any of us? How do we live in Encinitas?"

Mayor Catherine Blakespear asked for the reconsideration of the L-7 property at a lower density for affordable housing, but the majority of the council did not agree. Council member Tony Kranz said the city should study the site further for future property swap possibilities.

Damien Mavis, whose family has owned a property on the southeast corner of Manchester Avenue and El Camino Real for 30 years, once again recommended his property to the city council. He said he could offer 50 percent affordable units through a partnership with Community Housing Works. His proposal was once again dismissed due to threatened litigation from the adjacent San Elijo Lagoon and potential environmental impacts.

Resident Glen Johnson, who has been vocal at many of the housing-related meetings, shamed the council for dismissing Mavis' property and the L-7 site, which he considered the city's best options for affordable housing.

"You heard loud and clear that there is a pressing public demand for less expensive housing," he said in an email to the council, which was also sent to reporters. "However, you as a group voted to exclude the only two sites that could guarantee affordability."

Blakespear commended the council for developing the list of additional sites in a single meeting, and noted that she understands there are properties that not everyone agrees with.

"With this plan, I think all of us are a little unhappy with it," she said. "But that's the nature of this messy compromise."

The Planning Commission will meet May 17 to discuss the proposed housing element update.

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. The city’s original plan, which it is still working off of, was created in the 1990s.

The city’s last attempt at a housing element, Measure T, failed in the November 2016 election.

The city is also the subject of three lawsuits regarding the lack of the updated document. At a court hearing April 30, Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier granted Encinitas an extension until after the November election to rule on whether the city has failed to comply with state law and whether it should be forced to adopt a previously written plan.

Encinitas must zone for 1,600 more homes, a 6.4 percent increase from the city’s existing 25,000 homes. At least 51 percent of high-density housing must be zoned on vacant land, according to a recently passed state law.

The city council plans to take its proposed housing element to the voters this November. Encinitas submitted its draft housing element, which includes proposed sites for high-density zoning, to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) on April 13.

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