Del Mar submits housing document for state scrutiny

By Claire Harlin

Del Mar’s draft housing element, which has been at the forefront of city discussion for months and brought about both controversy and awareness in regard to affordable housing, is on its way to the state after the Del Mar City Council on Jan. 14 signed off on submitting the document for preliminary review.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is expected to offer “a great deal of scrutiny” on the housing element, a part of the city’s general plan that is required by law to be updated periodically, and the draft will return to the city within 60 to 90 days, said Adam Birnbaum, Del Mar’s planning director.

Last time the city submitted to HCD its housing element, which addressed housing needs and programs for the 2005-2010 cycle, the state denied it, citing a lack of firm commitments and time frames for implementing housing programs, as well as an inadequate sites inventory, which identifies areas where housing can be built at a density that would meet affordable housing needs. To feasibly build a mandated 22 affordable units out of 71 new units total, the city must allow a density of 20 units per acre, according to the state.

According to the city, there are currently no affordable units in Del Mar that would accommodate those earning $40,000 per year or less, however, people in that earnings group make up 20 percent of the city’s population.

Bud Emerson, who has worked on the issue of affordable housing for years under the city’s Housing Corporation as well as more recently under the Housing Element Advisory Committee, said changing city regulations to accommodate affordable housing is not only a requirement of the state, but it’s also part of the Del Mar Community Plan.

“It enables us to get a much richer socioeconomic mix in town, people who bring a lot in terms of the richness to our community,” he said. “I’d like us to stop being so reactive to the heavy hand of the state and know that this will enhance the community and make it more vibrant.”

In drafting the housing element for the 2013-2020 cycle, Del Mar had to propose some serious regulatory changes involving land use and zoning to show it can accommodate affordable housing development, and the notion that HCD will crack down with penalties and a possible legal suit if its housing element isn’t approved has loomed.

The housing element addresses one of its major challenges — the sites inventory — by putting emphasis on rezoning in the north commercial zone, located south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. It also outlines the possibility of allowing residential development in city-owned zones.

One of the major points of contention among the community was the proposal to zone the downtown (central commercial) zone to allow for zoning at a density of 20 units per acre.

Regulations for condo conversions and second-dwelling units were outlined, and the Planning Commission recently added additional measures allowing for assistance for those who would be displaced because of conversions. Square footage and flexibility measure were also put in place for those looking to built second units and offer them at an affordable rate.

City officials have been working on the housing element for years, but got the ball rolling in recent months with the presentation of an initial draft last fall and several subsequent public meetings and workshops. Local groups such as the Housing Element Advisory Committee, Housing Corporation and Del Mar Community Connections got to work on the issue, and their revisions, as well as concerns and suggestions from the community, resulted in a draft that had evolved extensively from its first-proposed form and, after much deliberation, achieved Planning Commission approval on Jan. 2. That draft sailed through council approval on Jan. 14, however, the council will be charged with discussion and possible adoption this spring. At that point, HCD would review the document for final certification.