Council discusses bill on housing units

Accessory dwelling units could be a more realistic option for Encinitas to reach its state-mandated housing requirements, following the draft of a locally-initiated bill regarding the units.

The Encinitas City Council at its meeting on March 8 heard an update on the status of legislative relief, proposed in December, for accessory dwelling units.

Such units have been favored by residents to help Encinitas reach its mandated state numbers for housing.

“We hear this at all of the [housing] meetings we ever have,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said at the meeting. “We hear we need to figure out how to get them included in our [Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA)] numbers. ... If we can get more accessory units in there, we might even be close to what we need for our future RHNA numbers.”

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.

Blakespear said this was the first time in many years that the city has proposed a state bill on any subject.

“We’re doing it because the accessory dwelling units are an important part of the fabric of our community,” Blakespear said in an interview after the meeting.

The council in December gave direction to city staff to pursue legislation to ease building codes for unpermitted accessory dwelling units in the city. One of the hopes is Encinitas avoiding a situation like the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire, in which 36 people on Dec. 2 died in a warehouse that contained unpermitted residential units, according to city documents.

The suggested bill, carried by California Senator Patricia Bates, would allow a local inspector to certify that the accessory dwelling units meet basic health and safety codes, Blakespear said.

“Homeowners would no longer have to worry about the threat of removing the housing or having a neighbor report them for violating local ordinances,” according to the draft of the bill.

Jonathan Clay, of JGC Governmental Relations, the agency that has been handling the legislative process on the city’s behalf, said the bill would likely get a double referral with housing and finance committees.

The first hearing will likely be later this month or early in April, and the second hearing could take place sometime in mid-to-late April, he said.

April 28 is the deadline for all bills to get out of their policy committees, and Clay expects some fiscal costs associated with the bill, though those costs weren’t immediately detailed.

If approved, the bill could end up on the Senate floor in May or June, Clay said.

“That’s the typical legislative process,” he said. “Then we kind of repeat the whole cycle over on the Assembly side.”

Resident Bob Bonde, who has long been considered the father of Encinitas, advocated for the accessory dwelling units.

Still, he said the city’s current proposed accessory housing legislation would not be sufficiently comprehensive enough to meet community needs.

He said the bill in its current state allows greater local jurisdiction on building code permitting standards for only five years, follows state health and safety codes, requires certification of structural engineers, requires energy calculations and requires extensive drawings.

Bonde suggested the request for specific state building codes amnesty should be permanent, and not just for five years to allow property owners, in the future, to obtain accessory dwelling units without “unreasonable and expensive state conditions.” He also said the bill should “allow local jurisdictions to set amnesty conditions and time lines that fit their needs, and allow local jurisdictions to determine how to provide necessary building inspection.”

Bonde also said all accessory units under 700 square feet should be automatically considered low-income housing and be counted in the RHNA as such.

Blakespear, in an interview after the meeting, said the city is “doing the best [it] can given existing state laws in trying to propose a bill that would be passed.”

Clay said the issue around the RHNA would be difficult.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would be very difficult to get it through,” he said, citing similar fights for accessory dwelling units by the League of California Cities in 2016. “Dipping the toe into the RHNA fight about what counts and doesn’t count would, I think, sink the overall proposal.”

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