New legislation creates snag for housing task force

After making significant progress earlier this month toward creating a state-certified Housing Element, the Housing Element Update Task Force had to take a few steps backward Sept. 26 to accommodate new state legislation.

At the beginning of the meeting, Barbara Kautz, the special counsel the city hired regarding the housing element, said Gov. Jerry Brown is planning to sign 15 housing-related bills, three of which affect local housing elements. The bills would become effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The most substantive changes will make it more difficult to designate non-vacant sites for future higher-density housing and require more justification for the number of units shown as being accommodated on each site, Kautz said.

"It's really a push for trying to find vacant sites," she said. "The whole goal of this is to make cities zone more [vacant] sites."

At the Sept. 5 meeting, the task force — consisting of Mayor Catherine Blakespear; Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz; Planning Commissioner and former No on T spokesman Bruce Ehlers; and former Planning Commissioner Kurt Groseclose — had planned to winnow down the list of properties mentioned in the failed Measure T to reduce public outcry and increase the chance of voter approval.

However, as a result of the pending legislation, the task force must now find more vacant land to hit at least a 51 percent threshold, or between 550 to 650 units of high density housing on currently vacant land. The group will likely have to look outside Measure T's sites, as most of the sites designated on the failed Measure T map had existing development, either residential or commercial, already on them.

Dave Barquist, the consultant the city hired to help the city develop this draft of the housing element, showed the task force nine parcels of vacant land on Encinitas Boulevard, Quail Gardens Drive, Rancho Santa Fe Road and Manchester Avenue.

The task force also looked at a vacant property known as the “burn site” behind the sheriff's station near El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard, where trash was once burned. The property is owned by the county.

One resident who lives nearby the location shared concerns that upzoning the property could mean people use her neighborhood as a shortcut around already-existing traffic, causing more congestion in the area.

"If this is developed, Encinitas Boulevard is going to be a funnel," she said.

Groseclose stressed that just because a site is selected to be part of the Housing Element does not mean it will be developed.

Resident Damien Mavis once again promoted his family-owned site, on the southeast corner of Manchester Avenue and El Camino Real, saying it could help the city meet its needs for affordable housing. He announced at the meeting that he has partnered with Community Housing Works to offer 50 percent affordable housing on his site.

However, his request has been met with opposition from the nearby San Elijo Lagoon, which threatened litigation should the city decide to re-zone Mavis' site at a higher density.

Kranz said he opposed developing Mavis' site, but Ehlers — who shared concerns about developing on Rancho Santa Fe Road and creating more congestion in that area — stressed the importance of coming into compliance sooner than later.

"We get back into compliance, and life can go forward," Ehlers said.

The group also began considering placing a proposed Housing Element on the November 2018 ballot, which would have to be approved by the city council by August.

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 task force will reconvene Oct. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. to review all of the city’s vacant sites as potential recommendations for the city council to consider.

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