Del Mar, Solana Beach brace for added density from new state housing mandate

Solana Beach City hall
(Sebastian Montes)

Solana Beach Mayor David Zito said it will be “extremely difficult” for San Diego County’s smallest cities to absorb the surge in housing units over the next decade that regional leaders are asking them to accommodate. But a recent “longshot” effort to reduce their future housing requirements fell short.

As part of its decennial Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), the California Department of Housing and Community Development is requiring San Diego County to add 171,688 new units over the next 10 years, a 6% increase from the 161,980 it asked the county to add over the past decade.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is the regional agency tasked with dividing those units among the county’s cities and unincorporated territory, developing a methodology that places 65% of them near transit and 35% near jobs.

Among the county’s five smallest cities, Solana Beach and Del Mar are being asked to accommodate more than double the new housing that was required of them during the past decade’s RHNA cycle. Lemon Grove and Imperial Beach’s numbers are more than tripling and quadrupling, respectively, and Coronado faces a 1,900% increase.

Zito, a SANDAG board member, said the methodology is “unfairly targeting small cities,” a claim echoed by local leaders and residents in cities like Solana Beach, Del Mar and Coronado. But a motion he proposed at the Sept. 6 SANDAG meeting calling for a 55% reduction in the RHNA numbers assigned to the county’s five smallest cities was rejected 10-9. Under his plan, 1,575 units would have shifted into unincorporated San Diego County, and hundreds more into cities including Carlsbad, Santee and San Marcos.

Instead, the SANDAG board approved the 65/35 transit- and jobs-based distribution. The board first rejected that methodology on a majority vote before approving it by a weighted vote, in which a smaller group of board members from larger cities can overrule their small-city colleagues.

Pending approval from the state, Del Mar’s share of San Diego County’s RHNA number would be 163, the lowest of any city in the county, but a 167% increase from its previous requirement of 61 over the past decade. Solana Beach’s would be 876, the second lowest countywide, but a 157% increase from the 340 it received during the previous RHNA cycle. Zito’s motion would have resulted in new RHNA numbers of 340 for Solana Beach and 73 for Del Mar.

Several of their bigger-city neighbors will receive percentage decreases in their new RHNA allocations, although they’re each responsible for more total units than Del Mar and Solana Beach combined. For example, Encinitas’ proposed number would be 1,555, a 33 decrease from its previous requirement of 2,353. Based on density, however, the city would be responsible for 78 new units per square mile, compared to 242 per square mile in Solana Beach, underscoring the issue some small-city leaders and residents have with the methodology.

“It makes no logical sense that Solana Beach is being asked to support three times the density as Encinitas,” Zito said.

His colleague on the Solana Beach City Council, Jewel Edson, told the SANDAG board during public comment that small cities are “unfairly burdened” under the methodology.

Del Mar City Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland urged the SANDAG board to challenge the calculations the state used to generate San Diego County’s 171,685 RHNA number, based on a similar but unsuccessful challenge by Newport Beach. In a letter to the board, she also mentioned the transient jobs at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and military housing in Coronado as two of several factors that could be altered to produce a lower RHNA mandate for the small coastal cities.

After the meeting, Gaasterland said Del Mar Deputy Mayor Ellie Haviland, who represents the city on the SANDAG board, voted in “the diametric opposite interest” of Del Mar when she joined the majority vote against reallocating units away from Del Mar and the other smallest cities. But Haviland said Zito’s motion was inconsistent with SANDAG’s transit- and jobs-oriented methodology, which the Del Mar City Council had agreed to support. She also said the state would probably not approve carve outs for small cities.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to then push something that is going to cause our RHNA methodology to be rejected,” Haviland said.

Had Zito’s motion passed, it likely would have been overruled by a weighted vote anyway. A 2017 bill by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez allows a weighted vote by SANDAG board members to overrule a majority vote. Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blaskespear, the vice chair of SANDAG’s board of directors, said during the meeting that “we’re not going to be able to come up with something where everyone’s happy.”

Haviland added that Del Mar and several other cities need “all the time we can get” to come up with a housing plan to support the new RHNA allocation ahead of the April 2021 deadline for cities to update their housing plans.

Based on the methodology approved by the board, the city of San Diego would have the largest RHNA number in the county, at 107,897, followed by Chula Vista, Escondido, unincorporated San Diego County and Oceanside. Like the vast majority of cities throughout the county and across the state, neither Del Mar nor Solana Beach met its RHNA requirement over the last decade. San Diego County as a whole reached about 60,000 new units out of the state-mandated 161,980.

“We need to work together to find solutions to get the units in our communities,” Haviland said.