Nearly 100 community members packed the Solana Beach City Council chambers on Aug. 15 for what ended up being a heated and, at times, hostile public informational workshop regarding a controversial proposed mixed-use affordable housing project on the 500 block of South Sierra Avenue.
The three-story project, called “The Pearl,” would include 54 parking spaces, 10 apartments and 1,300 feet of commercial space, which developers hope to fill with a high-end neighborhood market or “boutique deli.” The development would replace a city-owned beach parking lot that is less than a third of an acre in size, but no parking spaces would be lost.
In January, the Solana Beach City Council approved a $630,000 loan for the $6 million project, said City Manager David Ott, which would satisfy the terms of a decades-old lawsuit against the city for removing affordable housing. The city has agreed to reimburse half of the developer’s expenses up to $315,000, said Ott, paying out the rest of the loan only if the project clears approval. So far, the developer has spent $123,000 and the city has spent $40,000 on the project.
The meeting began with an introduction by lead developer Ginger Hitzke, president of San Marcos-based Hitzke Development Corporation, which specializes in affordable housing. Her introduction was interrupted by comments by audience members, such as “You’re hiding facts” and “I drove three hours to comment and I want an open forum.”
“Who’s opposed to the project?” asked one audience member, prompting a majority of hands to shoot into the air.
Another person responded, “Some of us are not opposed and are here for information.”
Hitzke told the full room that she would share a PowerPoint presentation on the development plan, and that the workshop would be strictly informational, with community comments being saved for a public hearing. Officials said a public hearing will likely take place in September.
“Where are we in the process? We came here expecting some public comment, some dialogue,” said audience member Marty Schmidt, who passed out informational handouts in opposition to the project. “If this PowerPoint is just a marketing plan, then we will be offended. We are taking time out of our dinners to be here.”
Ott agreed to change the format of the workshop and accept questions after the presentation.
Hitzke said affordability does not equal low-income. For a household income of $150,000, an affordable rent would be $3,750 a month, she said. For an income of $25,000 a year, $625 per month for housing is considered affordable (30 percent of the household income). The proposed rental prices for The Pearl are about $730 for a one-bedroom up to about $1,200 for a larger family.
Households that qualify as low-income bring in $17,000 to $47,000 a year, Hitzke said, naming several local job listings she found on Craigslist that would qualify. For example, a medical assistant at Dermatology Specialists, Inc., located at 530 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Suite D, makes $24,000 to $29,000 a year, and a marketing assistant at Brian Tracy International, located at 462 Stevens Ave., Suite 305, makes $29,000 to $31,000 a year. Many senior citizens would also qualify, she said.