Encinitas hit with another housing element lawsuit

The City of Encinitas was slapped with another lawsuit April 14 regarding its failure to include a state-mandated housing element.

San Diego Tenants United, an affordable housing group, sued the city for failing to facilitate the development of housing for low-income families, as required by California law.

In a news release, the lawyer representing San Diego Tenants United and a San Diego resident specifically calls out Proposition A, which Encinitas residents approved in 2013 and requires voter approval for zoning changes in the city.

“Our clients’ request is simple: that the City stop violating state law,” said Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi, supervising attorney for San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program. “For over two decades, the City has evaded its legal obligation to provide for the housing needs of its low-income residents. The City is now hiding behind its local growth control measure, Proposition A, and applying it in an illegal manner that conflicts with the California Constitution to avoid its statutory obligation to facilitate the development of affordable housing.”

San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Cozen O’Connor P.C. and the Public Interest Law group represent San Diego Tenants United and Lorraine Del Rose — a San Diego County resident who says she has struggled to find affordable housing — in the case.

The group threatened the city with a lawsuit last month if it did not adopt a housing element by March 30.

Further, the group wants a judge to declare Proposition A void since it has, so far, prevented the passing of a housing element.

Rafael Bautista, president of San Diego Tenants United, said in a statement that San Diego County remains one of the top 10 least affordable metropolitan markets in the county.

He also said he believes the city is trying to keep people of color out.

“Members of our tenant association are forced into an unjust burden where they spend most of their income on housing," he said. "This prevents individuals from meeting other basic needs of survival such as food and transit. Encinitas hides under a guise of protecting community character and the environment, but the City’s real goal is evident: keep out the working class people of color.”

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.

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.

Encinitas formed a Housing Element Update Task Force — consisting of No on T spokesperson and recently appointed Planning Commissioner Bruce Ehlers, Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and former Planning Commissioner Kurt Groseclose — earlier this year to help the city develop its housing element.

The group is currently in the process of finding model cities and a housing consultant. Blakespear said she hopes to bring a new plan back to the voters by next year.

Blakespear referred to the lawsuit as a "reflection of the urgency" that Encinitas faces in getting a state-compliant housing element.

The city has already had to pay more than $800,000 in attorney fees and settlement costs in past lawsuits regarding the housing element.

"There are an unlimited number of potential litigants, and this lawsuit is the most spoken on whether residents should be allowed to vote on housing element updates," she said. "This lawsuit takes a straight aim at Prop A."

Copyright © 2017, Encinitas Advocate
72°