Council removes four sites from Housing Element Update

In an impassioned meeting that began on the evening of June 20 and lasted into the early morning hours the next day, Encinitas City Council members agreed with a state housing agency to remove two controversial sites for zoned future development from its draft Housing Element Update.

At just about 2 a.m. June 21, the council voted in favor of removing two of three HCD-recommended sites, as well as two additional, contested sites. Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath opposed the motion.

Encinitas submitted its draft update to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) in April and sent revisions over the next couple months. In a letter dated June 12, HCD recommended to the city council to not consider the Armstrong parcels on El Camino Real in New Encinitas, the El Camino Real south parcel in New Encinitas and the Dewitt property at 1900 North Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia. The state agency cited ongoing uses at the sites, lack of owner interest and environmental concerns as possible constraints. But Councilmember Tony Kranz, who made the motion, argued the Armstrong parcels should be kept on the list, while the other two should be removed.

In addition to the elimination of the El Camino Real South parcel and Dewitt property, Kranz also recommended removing the former Frog's Gym site at 780 Garden View Court and a site on Rancho Santa Fe East in Olivenhain, with Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca and Council member Mark Muir agreeing. Both added sites received strong vocal opposition from residents at the meeting.

Boerner Horvath contested that removing the sites would mean the city would not meet state-mandated laws, such as at least 51 percent of sites being on vacant land, and the city also would not have a strong enough buffer.

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 argued the removal of his proposed sites could still allow for a 20 percent buffer.

Boerner Horvath shared concerns that the council would ask the voters to decide on a concept that could possibly violate state law.

Kranz argued that removing the site was the best option for voter approval and the city could make its case in court. The city is currently involved in three lawsuits regarding a lack of affordable housing.

"In the end, what I think we owe the community is something that can pass," Kranz said.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear argued adopting the HCD's recommended plan — without Kranz's added sites — as the city's best choice despite more than four hours of opposition regarding various properties on the housing element. Blakespear added that the council will have to revisit the housing element in 2020 to adhere to updated state standards.

"We have to start biting at this apple because we have to realize 2,000 more units will come to us in months," she said.

More than 90 residents shared their various concerns for several sites in the proposed housing element update, including the Rancho Santa Fe East location, the former Frog's Gym site on Garden View Court, the "Cannon Property" on Piraeus near Capri Elementary School and the "Meyer Property" on Clark Avenue. Petitions were submitted for the removal of the Rancho Santa Fe East and Cannon sites.

But some residents also encouraged the council to pass its housing element despite the disapproval so the city can spend more money on other areas of concern, like infrastructure and roads.

"I want us to think of the community, not so much what’s happening specifically in our backyards," said resident Christine Schindler.

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. The city’s original plan, which it is still working off of, was created in the 1990s.

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, Blakespear noted.

At the June 20 meeting, resident Peter Stern considered the latest housing attempt as "the son of Measure T" except even "more onerous" and "burdensome."

"It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result," Stern said, encouraging the council to prioritize its residents and not segregate affordable housing tenants. "We don't want stigma. We want a happy family. We need to open our hearts to what the community wants, not what the developers say they need."

Blakespear argued the city does a good job at balancing residents throughout neighborhoods and once again shared the importance of passing the housing element to avoid more litigation.

More than $900,000 has been spent on court fees in the three lawsuits so far, she said. At a court hearing April 30, 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.

"I think we need to stop that bleed and get ourselves out of the penalty box," Blakespear said.

The city council plans to adopt its plan next month and take it to the voters this November.

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