Building group files another lawsuit against Encinitas

The Building Industry Association of San Diego County has filed a second lawsuit against Encinitas over the city’s failure to adopt a state-mandated plan for future housing growth that was rejected by city voters in November.

The lawsuit, filed last month in Superior Court, notes that the BIA sued the city in 2014 over its lack of a housing plan and, as part of a settlement agreement in that case, the city agreed to get the document done.

The new lawsuit says the city has “failed to do so” and has been out of compliance with state housing law for years because it hasn't updated its original housing plan, which dates from the 1990s.

The BIA wants the court to compel the city to enact the plan as it appeared on the November ballot, without any amendments.

The group also seeks payment of attorneys' fees and any other relief that the court "may deem just and proper under the circumstances."

"Our suit aims to cause compliance on a time table that differs materially from the city's feet-dragging record," the organization's CEO, Borre Winckel, wrote in an e-mail July 12.

He later added, "We think the city should comply now. It's up to the judge as to when."

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said Wednesday that the city is trying to get the job done.

"We know there's urgency," she wrote in a text. "We're working on it."

Encinitas is the only city in the county that lacks a current, state-certified Housing Element, a state-required document that details how each city proposes to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people.

Over the years, the city has drafted several replacement options for its original, outdated housing plan, but all of them faced opposition and were later dropped. The latest proposal — the the Measure T "At Home in Encinitas" plan that voters turned down in November —- took two years to produce and the city is now attempting to tweak it to make it more palatable to voters.

It calls for allowing additional housing on a various sites along busy roadways in all five of the city's communities. In order to meet state housing targets, the plan proposes easing the city's building height restrictions and allowing 20 to 30 dwelling units per acre on the various sites.

Opponents have argued that the plan will allow the construction of huge, oversized structures, particularly in the city's downtown corridor, and those buildings will destroy the city's small-town charm.

They've been participating in a series of city-sponsored meetings aimed at revising the housing document, with the next set for 5 p.m. Aug. 10th in City Hall's Poinsettia Room.

Blakespear said the August meeting will go forward as planned, despite the new lawsuit.

"We're already proceeding as fast as possible, so the new lawsuit doesn't have an effect on our timeline," she said.

Bruce Ehlers, one of the leaders in the No on T campaign, said Thursday that one of the guarantees they want to get out of this revise process is that the upzoning of the properties will actually result in a substantial increase in housing for low-income people.

Measure T increased housing density on various properties, but there was no guarantee that the extra housing would go to low-income people, he said.

"We want to get this done, but we want to get it done right," he said, adding that it's untrue that opponents don't want any extra housing density in town.

That's not the way the San Diego Tenants United —- a group that's been active the rent-control movement in San Diego —- sees the situation. One of the group's organizers, Rafael Bautista, said Thursday that the group believes Encinitas is trying to get out of accommodating its low-income housing needs and that's why it hasn't met its state housing plan requirements for years.

The tenants' group filed suit against Encinitas in April over its lack of a certified housing plan, saying the city was failing to meet the needs of low-income people. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for late August and the group plans to hold a rally in San Diego on the Encinitas issue at that time, Bautista said.

Bautista said he wasn't aware that the BIA had filed its lawsuit. Winckel said the BIA hopes the two cases will eventually be consolidated by the courts.

Barbara Henry is a freelance reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune in Encinitas.

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