Encinitas' battle for housing to continue at next meeting

The residents of Encinitas will have to continue to wait on the fate of affordable and high-density housing in the city as the Encinitas City Council on July 18 was unable to reach a majority decision on whether to send its latest housing element update to the voters in November.

After hearing from nearly 30 public speakers — who advocated to remove several properties and support low-income workers who can't afford to live in the city — the four-member council, with fifth member Mark Muir absent, remained gridlocked on their ability to make a decision. Council members Tony Kranz and Joe Mosca urged for the housing element to be placed on the ballot, while Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Tasha Boerner Horvath said they could not agree with potential legal issues as a result of the document.

The city council is expected to discuss the housing element again Aug. 8, when all five members are present. The city must turn in its ballot measure to the county registrar by Aug. 10 to be considered for the November 2018 ballot.

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.

At the July 18 meeting, Kranz repeated his June 20 remarks that the housing element, as is, was 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.

"It's important that we have something on the ballot for the voters to consider because we made a commitment to a judge," Kranz said. "In the end, I suspect if the voters approve it, HCD would also find it compliant."

But Boerner Horvath disagreed, adding that many resident-contested sites had not been discussed with the public until April and shared concerns about the document not being compliant with state law. She has said the city might not meet a requirement that at least 51 percent of sites be on vacant land and also feared the city would not have a strong enough buffer.

"When I read [HCD's] letter, it was all the fears that I've had," Boerner Horvath said, pushing for a more "fair and equitable" document that complies with state law. "We can and we must do better. I believe there's a path for us if we were to choose to come together."

Several residents at the meeting argued against proposed sites, including the "Cannon Property" on Piraeus and the "Meyer Proposal" on Clark Avenue, due to potential traffic, overcrowdedness at nearby schools and health concerns.

Other speakers encouraged eight-foot ceilings, rather than the proposed nine feet, and lower building heights.

Some expressed their distrust in the council after sites were added and removed throughout the process without much input from the public.

"We trust the state, who we don't even know, more than we trust you," one resident told the council after arguing against the Meyer property. "There's something wrong with that."

Former Mayor Sheila Cameron said the city should re-think its housing element and re-add previously removed, vacant sites — like the city-owned L-7 property on Quail Gardens Drive, a site on Rancho Santa Fe East in Olivenhain and land on Birmingham Lake — while eliminating the Cannon and Meyer properties to help Encinitas achieve equitable distribution housing. Cameron also proposed the elimination of in-lieu fees, alternative sites and any changes to the city's specific plan. She advocated for lower height restrictions, a minimum of 25 percent low-income units and a maximum of 25 units per acre. She also said the city should fight to be considered a suburb rather than a metropolitan area.

"It's only fair, it's only right," she said. "They are sitting on empty lots there. ... If you want this to pass, you've gotta do something different."

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