Housing Element at issue with city council, residents

One thing was apparent at the Feb. 1 housing workshop: high-density development will likely come to Encinitas, but there's no clear route how it will be implemented.Encinitas residents and city council members had a wide-ranging discussion at the community workshop as everyone tried to reach a resolution regarding the Housing Element.

About 400 residents turned out to the community center to offer ideas such as maximizing accessory units, looking into installing “tiny homes” and creating a better parking plan at the meeting, which was moderated by Jerry Harmon, a former Escondido City Council member.

No decision was set at the meeting. Instead, the city, No on Measure T campaign group and dozens of residents entered a dialogue to discuss how they’d like to see high density in the city.

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County without a state-certified 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 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.

Blakespear said the city council could do nothing and wait for the issue to play out in court, but she would rather have a Housing Element that the city can suggest to the court that is agreeable among elected officials, staff and residents that is also compliant with state law.

The last effort for a housing plan — Measure T, which was placed on the November ballot — failed.

Blakespear at the meeting acknowledged advocates of the No on Measure T campaign group for their dedication to the community.

“I would really like us to get to the point where all that energy and passion is on the same side... so we go forward arm in arm to where we want to be in the city,” Blakespear said during the city’s presentation at the meeting, adding that she hopes to get a plan back to the voters within a year.

She also provided examples of current high-density buildings in the city that future locations might be modeled after, including the mixed-use Pacific Station area.

The campaign argued Measure T would have added too high of density in the city, required no additional affordable housing, caused a lack of on-site parking requirements, and provided huge profits for developers with no benefits to residents, according to pamphlets from the No on T campaign.

Bruce Ehlers, spokesperson for the No on T campaign, and former Encinitas Mayor Sheila Cameron presented suggestions in a 20-minute presentation including: the city should use the current General Plan for policies, procedures and guidelines; preserve the five communities’ characters; and keep protections and voter approvals from Prop A — the city’s Right to Vote initiative aimed at controlling growth that was passed in 2013.

He also said the city should include only changes required by a Prop A vote and/or the state; leverage new state laws on accessory units; limit increased zoning to a range of 20 to 25 units per acre instead of 30 units per acre, as proposed in Measure T; retain Prop A limits; eliminate mixed-used zoning; rezone city, district and county land; and add a new affordable housing program.

Properties included in the plan should require 25 percent of units be affordable, Ehlers said.

“These are good mechanisms that could result in more affordable units,” he said.

Cameron referred to a video from the state’s Housing Community Development’s Deputy Director Glen Campora stating the state would not sue cities that don’t have a Housing Element. The city has repeatedly said lawsuits from private developers have the same effect as lawsuits from the state.

Ehlers proposed a community task force to look at Housing Elements in nearby cities. The motion was echoed by several community members.

Nancy DeGhionno, a 20-year Leucadia resident who was wearing a T-shirt that read “Reduced parking spaces equals reduced quality of life,” said the city needs more parking and should not adopt a plan that allows fewer parking spots.

Many residents pushed for maximizing accessory units and creating affordability by design.

Victoria Balentine, 25, an Encinitas resident who was an employee with the Newport Beach-based Community Development Partners, affordable housing developers, said the city should cease allowing in-lieu fees for developers.

But Marco A. Gonzalez, a resident and lawyer at the Encinitas-based Coast Law Group, suggested that developers actually need to pay more for the in-lieu fee for the city to have money to subsidize affordable homes. Gonzalez threatened a lawsuit against the city if it does not create a Housing Element.

“I believe — and a lot of lawyers believe — that the law says U.S. citizens don’t get to vote on whether you pass a housing element,” said Gonzalez, who has represented environmental groups and developers, including an affordable housing developer in Solana Beach. “That’s because of what we’ve already seen for the past four years when a Housing Element hasn’t been passed. ... Residents voted for the city council to do their bidding.”

David Hovis, who has been living in Encinitas for 22 years, said his issue is not making sure housing is affordable. He suggested redeveloping a corridor on El Camino Real that isn’t “quite so nice” and rezoning certain areas of the city.

“The idea of my neighbor putting an accessory unit in his backyard scares me to death,” he said. “The thing that I don’t like about Encinitas is the infrastructure, the crowded trafficky corridor of El Camino Real. I don’t think the land is being properly used with retail crowding the roadway.”

Council members seemed to describe the meeting as productive in their closing comments.

“I’m encouraged about us moving toward the next step and coming together to formulate a plan that’s acceptable to everybody,” Council member Mark Muir said. “I think we should focus on coming up with the best plan that we should agree upon. It’s not you and I having to agree to this. It’s a community effort.”

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