Task force proposes housing expert at first meeting

The Housing Element Update Task Force at its first meeting Feb. 13 jumped right into its assignment: working to find a way to create a state-mandated Housing Element that complies with the law and meets residents’ needs.

The group — comprised of Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, former Planning Commissioner Kurt Groseclose and No on T spokesperson Bruce Ehlers — ultimately decided at the meeting to interview for a housing element expert to answer technical questions regarding state requirements and survey similar cities to see how they met the state’s Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) numbers.

“We want to ask [the California Department of Housing and Community Development] the right questions but we want to get legal in the Encinitas way, not the Sacramento way,” Groseclose said of the need for a housing expert. “We need to get more specific about what is possible.”

The task force, which was created at the Feb. 6 city council meeting, also agreed to pursue capping up-zoned properties at two stories, provided they meet RHNA requirements. It will also look to minimize the buffer zone, which is the number of units above the state-required 1,093 zoned high-density units.

The city would return to the general plan for definitions, specifically how height is measured.

Ehlers also will send a list of cities that could be considered as models for comparison by the next Housing Element Task Force meeting, scheduled for Feb. 23 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall.

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.

The city’s last effort for a Housing Element — Measure T — failed in the November election. The plan called for allowing additional housing on a series of sites along busy roadways in all five communities of Encinitas. In order to meet state targets for new housing growth, the plan proposed easing city height restrictions and allowing 20 to 30 dwelling units per acre on those sites.

During the campaign, critics charged the proposed zoning changes would allow the construction of extra-dense, extra tall buildings that would destroy the city’s small-town character.

About two dozen residents showed up to the meeting to voice their opinions on how the city should move forward regarding high-density development.

Resident Bob Bonde, who has long been considered the Father of Encinitas, said he believed that the city was “too hung up on smart growth” and also discouraged mixed-use.

“We have to look at what public lands are available in this community that we might be able to lean on,” he said. “We need to lean on those before taking out our commercial beast with mixed use.”

Resident Robyn Reis encouraged the city to create housing that’s designed for affordable housing, not luxury housing.

“Think of it in terms we want affordable housing designed for affordable housing,” she said.

Kranz agreed the city needs to look at affordability by design.

“I’m not saying Encinitas should become La Jolla,” he said. “But there’s an example of high density that’s not affordable. Density does not equal affordability necessarily in Encinitas.”

The group also said they would consider calculating bedrooms per acre instead of units per acre, and work to count as many accessory dwelling units as possible.

Ehlers encouraged coming up with a plan that is “palatable to the voters.”

“We want to do what absolutely has to be done by statutory requirements but we want to show the citizens they don’t have to do more,” he said.

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