Encinitas hesitant to expand low-income housing requirements

The question of whether to bump up Encinitas' low-income inclusionary housing requirement needs more research to make sure the change won't adversely impact new housing development in town, the City Council decided Oct. 24.

The vote to turn what was initially forecasted to be a $65,000 research effort into a $171,000 project was unanimous, though several council members expressed reservations before they voted.

Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath said she thought the city-hired consultants — Keyser Marston Associates, Inc. — should do some additional work, but said she thought that part of what was proposed was unnecessary.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Councilman Joe Mosca both said they would support expanding the study, but wondered when the work would end and whether they would get to the point of voting on a proposal.

"I feel like it's a lot of money and I fear it's not the end," Blakespear said.

Councilmen Tony Kranz and Mark Muir both said they were fine with waiting before voting, mentioning they had concerns about the proposed changes. Muir said he actually would like more information than what was proposed, while Kranz said he worried that changing city housing requirements might result in developers deciding not to pursue projects.

"Ultimately, I would prefer to go slow and have as much information as possible," he said.

Increasing the city's inclusionary requirement, or the percentage of low-income housing that developers are required to include in their projects, has been promoted in recent months as a way to help win passage of Measure U.

The city-sponsored Nov. 6 ballot measure aims to bring Encinitas into compliance with state housing laws by up-zoning some land so that more apartment complexes and other multi-family housing can be built. The ballot measure proposes upzoning 15 privately owned properties, allowing their owners to exceed city height limits and to construct 25 to 30 housing units an acre.

Measure U supporters say it could increase the city's supply of low-income housing, while opponents say there's no guarantee that the proposed zoning changes actually will result in more housing for low-income families. They contend the upzoning will increase the town's housing density, but those new homes will be higher-cost units.

To counter this concern, city officials have been looking into changing the city's inclusionary requirement. Encinitas currently requires developers to either set aside 10 percent of their new homes for very-low income people or 15 percent for low-income people.

Using San Diego County's annual median income figure of $81,800, the qualifying rate for a low-income family of four would be an income of $77,850 or less, while the very low figure would be an income of $43,800 or less.

Encinitas' current inclusionary housing requirement was set last summer by the City Council as a stop-gap measure while the research project was underway. At the time, a housing attorney told the city that it could set those rates without needing to do an impact study because those percentages were commonly used by many California cities.

The consultants the city has hired to research the impact of changing the inclusionary rate have concluded that Encinitas could bump up its requirement by an extra 5 percent citywide and 10 percent for the 15 properties mentioned in Measure U, without adversely impacting housing developers -- a conclusion that's been fiercely contested by area developers and the Building Industry Association of San Diego County.

Earlier this month, the city's planning commissioners said they would need a great deal more information before they could make a decision about whether to change the requirements. The consultants' draft initial report offered some information, but nowhere near enough, they said. They asked for additional research on land value calculations and the likely impacts of any proposed changes on a wider range of residentially zoned properties.

Their request led the council to consider the extra funding request for the research work Oct. 24.

-- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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