Court orders Encinitas to submit state-mandated housing plan

Five years after Encinitas missed its deadline for creating a state-mandated housing plan, a judge ordered the city Wednesday, Dec. 12, to submit the required document by April 11.

To comply with Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier’s ruling, City Council members voted 4-0 Wednesday night, with little discussion, to send the state’s Housing and Community Development Department essentially the same plan, with slight modifications, that Encinitas voters rejected in November.

In his decision, Frazier acknowledged that the voters’ initiative process at the local level has the power to enact restrictions constraining land-use plans required by the state.

“(H)owever, if the people exercise their referendum power in such a way as to frustrate any feasible implementation of the land use plan, the Court is required to find a way out of the impasse,” Frazier writes.

California mandates cities and counties submit proposed “housing elements” that are sections of their master land-use guides, called general plans, for approval by the state housing department.

The elements, which cover 8-year cycles, are required to illustrate how jurisdictions will be able to accommodate their shares of regional housing needs, including units affordable to moderate, low and very low income households.

Most jurisdictions accept the mandate and manage to meet the deadlines, though they sometimes meet with opposition regarding land-use modifications to allocate space for low- to very-low income housing.

The most recently required revision to Encinitas’s housing element was due April 30, 2013, for the 2013-2021 cycle. However, the city in 2013 enacted a growth-control initiative labeled Proposition A. It requires voter approval of significant changes such as increases in housing density and building heights.

The proposition creates a Catch 22 for the city in trying to meet the state housing-element requirement, since the mandate inevitably requires the loosening of regulations or zoning restricting housing density.

The city submitted a draft element that the housing department found acceptable in 2015, but it was voted down by Encinitas’ electorate in November 2016.

The plan was revised and resubmitted to voters in the November 2018 election as Prop. U, but it was once again shot down by a majority.

Meanwhile, the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, San Diego Tenants United and a citizen sued the city for failing to have a plan meeting affordable housing requirements.

In his ruling Wednesday, the judge supported the plaintiffs’ argument over the city’s failure to achieve a state-certified housing element, but rejected various other demands.

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