Encinitas Advocate News

Residents to vote on latest housing element update attempt in November

After more than a year of council deliberations, Encinitas residents officially have a housing element they will be asked to vote on in the November election.

Two days before the county's deadline to file ballot measures, the city council on Aug. 8 voted 4 to 1 — with Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath dissenting — to approve its latest attempt toward a housing element update, a required document that hasn't been updated since the 1990s and spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people. The city’s Prop A — which residents passed in 2013 to allow more transparency on future zoning — requires the plan to go to a vote in the Nov. 6 election.

Encinitas’ last attempt at a housing element, Measure T, failed in the November 2016 election. The current proposed plan is the city’s third since 2012.

The council was originally scheduled to make a decision July 18 but was unable to do so when the group remained gridlocked with fifth member Mark Muir absent. Council members Tony Kranz and Joe Mosca voted in favor of the document, while Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath voted against it. Because of the tie vote, no action could be taken that night. In the past, Muir had voted in favor of the plan.

In a turn of events, Blakespear — who previously voted against the plan — joined Kranz, Mosca and Muir on Wednesday in their support of the document. Blakespear said while she disagreed with certain zoned sites on the housing element, she wanted residents to be able to vote on the matter.

Kranz has considered the current housing element as the best version to be approved by the voters because it removed several sites contested by residents. But the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) warned in a June 12 letter that removing sites could mean Encinitas not meeting the required number of sites.

Encinitas must zone for 1,141 more homes, a 6.4 percent increase from the city’s existing 25,000 homes. HCD and legal counsel have additionally recommended a buffer of about 450 homes to allow for possible future changes.

Kranz also referenced pending litigation, in which Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier granted Encinitas an extension until after the November election to rule on whether the city has failed to comply with state law and whether it should be forced to adopt a previously written plan.

Boerner Horvath, the lone opponent at Wednesday's meeting, continued her stance that she couldn't agree with her colleagues due to potential legal issues as a result of the plan, and she was also not in favor of certain properties on the map. She later said she supported residents voting on the matter and was solely against certain language in the document.

Barbara Kautz, the city's special counsel on the housing element, said she believed the document as-is complies with state law, even if HCD doesn't support it.

Kranz acknowledged the voters may not pass the measure but remained hopeful, adding the city should regularly talk with property owners and developers to ensure nothing is built that would drastically change the community's character.

"If it does pass, the critical part of all this is it never hurts to stay engaged and make sure this project has as many mitigation measures as possible," he said.

More than 30 residents spoke in favor and in opposition of the plan on Wednesday.

Some residents backed the plan as-is to encourage more affordable development in the city. Resident and tax attorney Bill Hartsock considered the plan a "sweetheart of a deal,” arguing new developments can generate annual property tax revenues for the city and school district.

However, several residents argued against the proposal and said properties like the "Cannon Property" on Piraeus and the "Meyer Proposal" on Clark Avenue were unsuitable for development due to concerns such as potential traffic, overcrowdedness at nearby schools and health concerns.

Residents advocated for removing the Meyer site and replacing it with the "L-7" property, which is owned by the city and was removed from the plan in April when hundreds of neighbors in the Quail Gardens area spoke in opposition. HCD had recommended L-7 as an ideal site for affordable housing.

City staff advised that revising the list of sites was not an option at this time due to the need for a public hearing and the deadline to file for the November election quickly approaching.

Opponents also shared concerns that the plan catered more to developers than to residents.

Peter Stern, of Cardiff, considered the plan "laughable" and "worse than Measure T." He instead advocated for a plan with more affordable housing for people like seniors, students and people who can't otherwise afford to live in Encinitas.

"We're not fighting for ourselves," he said. "We're fighting for our community and the type of community we want."

The council plans to meet again Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. at city hall to discuss language for the measure's ballot argument.

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