State department advises revisions to proposed Encinitas housing plan

Two months before a court-mandated deadline to become compliant with state housing law, Encinitas has hit yet another snag.

In a Feb. 4 letter to the city, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) said a number of items on the city's latest proposed plan were not compliant with state law.

In 2018, many city discussions centered around the city's need for a state-mandated housing element, which spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people. Encinitas voters in November rejected Measure U, the city's latest attempt toward meeting the mandate and second failed plan in six years.

The city must adopt a new housing plan every eight years and hasn't updated its plan since the 1990s.

A superior court judge told Encinitas on Dec. 12 that it must adopt a housing element plan by April 11. The council voted to send Measure U to the California Housing and Community Development (HCD) for approval. In a January interview, Mayor Catherine Blakespear explained despite the arguments against Measure U — which she considered a "compromise plan" — the city simply did not have the time to go back to the drawing board.

In HCD's Feb. 4 letter, the state agency said one of the proposed plan's biggest constraints is language regarding Encinitas' Proposition A. That measure allows residents to vote on all upzoning in the city. Because residents voted down the city's last two attempts at a housing element, HCD said Prop A should not apply to state-mandated development.

At the council's Feb.6 housing authority meeting, resident Donna Westbrook noted Prop A also protects natural resources and wildlife habitats. She also noted several of the sites are located near or on wetlands.

But with its "back against the wall," as Blakespear put it, the Encinitas City Council directed staff to discuss options with HCD regarding Prop A and to come up with a reasonable position that the state agency will find acceptable.

"It was a real sinking feeling to have that response come back but we have to deal in reality here, and that means making tough choices," Blakespear said.

Deputy Mayor Jody Hubbard suggested the city eventually revisit Prop A and see what it controls.

Additionally, HCD said in its letter that it has continued to find that two of the 15 sites on the proposed housing element update, the Armstrong Parcels, are not adequate for proposed development because the owners have not expressed interest.

The elimination of those sites places Encinitas in an approximately 50-unit shortfall of the 1,141 state-mandated units for zoning.

Damien Mavis, a resident whose family has owned a property on the southeast corner of Manchester Avenue and El Camino Real for 30 years, once again recommended his property to the city council as a solution to make up the lost numbers. He said he could offer 50 percent affordable units through a partnership with Community Housing Works. His proposal, however, has been met with threatened litigation from the adjacent San Elijo Lagoon and potential environmental impacts. The city has, so far, not considered his offer.

Another resident suggested the council reconsider a city-owned parcel -- known as L-7, at 634 Quail Gardens Lane -- as an option for affordable housing. The council voted to remove the site in April following concerns from residents living near the property that it wasn't appropriate for high-density housing and not ideal for access to mass transit or retail.

HCD also advised a number of changes to development standards, including increasing allowable three-story heights to a minimum of 35 feet for a flat roof and 39 feet for a pitched roof.

Resident Glenn Johnson considered height to be one of Measure U's biggest battles. He believed greater building heights equate to more expensive housing and suggested the city should negotiate the height limits with HCD.

Blakespear said the city must come into compliance with court and state orders, and litigation costs for the last two failed measures, T in 2016 and U in 2018, have totaled to about $3.5 million, so far.

The council is expected to resubmit any changes to HCD by Feb. 18. Additionally, the planning commission will meet Feb. 21 to recommend necessary actions, and the city council will adopt its housing element and introduce the zoning ordinance and amendments March 13. The plan would receive final council approval March 27.

This year, the council will also begin preparing for the next housing plan update, which covers 2020 to 2029 and must be adopted by 2021. City staff expects to receive updated state housing numbers in July or August.

Copyright © 2019, The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. All rights reserved.
57°