Solana Beach City Council approves affordable housing project

By Kristina Houck

Although neighboring residents packed City Hall to halt the proposal of an affordable housing project, the Solana Beach City Council on April 23 unanimously approved the development and a more than $2 million loan for the developer.

Called “The Pearl,” the-three story building will feature three one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 505 to 1,032 square feet, one 1,383-square-foot four-bedroom unit and 795 square feet of commercial office space. In addition to the 10 apartments and office space, the project will provide 53 parking spaces in structured parking, replacing the existing 31 spaces and adding 22 residential and commercial spaces.

“I really think that this is a good project,” said Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner. “I feel that we need affordable housing, not just because of the laws, but because it is the right thing to do.”

The 10-unit project will not only help the city satisfy a state requirement, but make good on a legal settlement.

All cities are required to provide affordable housing, but Solana Beach has been subject to lawsuits since the 1990s after the council took action that closed a mobile home park. Rather than go to trial, the city entered into what became known as the Perl settlement, which mandated the replacement of 13 affordable units. So far, only three units have been built.

Prior to the council’s vote, many neighboring residents argued against the project during the meeting. Some spoke in favor of affordable housing but argued the development is not suitable for the specific property. Other feared the project would increase crime and traffic while decreasing property values.

Most of the speakers lived in Seascape Sur, a residential community located across from the project site at 555 South Sierra Ave. The manager and assistant manager of Sand Pebbles Resort, a timeshare complex located adjacent to the site on Highway 101, also spoke in opposition of the project.

“There is only one place this beautiful project fits, and that’s on a projector screen,” said Seascape Sur resident Martin Schmidt, who has lived on South Sierra Avenue for 20 years. “It’s painfully clear to everyone that lives in the neighborhood that it just doesn’t fit. “When you take this project off the screen and you put it on this small parking lot, what you have is a project that is simply bursting at the seams. It is bursting at the seams on a street that is bursting at the seams now.”

Concerned about the possibility of increased crime, Seascape Sur resident Sharon Frank noted that her parents’ Las Vegas home was burglarized a few years after an affordable housing project opened nearby.

“They were given the same promises that we’ve been given here tonight — the same story — and their lives were significantly changed,” she said. “If this project is allowed to be built, we may be looking at a very serious security problem.”

Some opponents argued the council’s decision should have been delayed or the project should have been denied, claiming residents didn’t receive proper notice of the meeting. Several speakers also pointed out that the city denied applications for view assessments from the Seascape Sur Homeowner Association and Sand Pebbles Resort.

“The bias against the neighborhood is strong,” said Seascape Sur resident Bill Gifford, who serves as president of the Seascape Sur Homeowner Association.

The city is required to publish the staff report at least 72 hours prior to a public meeting.

City Attorney Johanna Canlas and City Manager David Ott noted city staff hand delivered copies of the staff report to both the Seascape Sur Homeowner Association and Sand Pebbles Resort 10 days prior to the meeting — the same time the council received the report. Notices of the meeting were also published via the city’s website, email distribution list and social media pages.

“Obviously, the notices worked,” Canlas said. “You received lots of correspondence. You have a room full of people that heard about the project. The process is working; they’re here to be heard.”

She also explained that a homeowner association, which is a corporation, cannot file for a view assessment. A timeshare, which is defined as commercial use under the city’s zoning ordinance, also cannot file for a view assessment.

“Our own ordinance specifies who can actually apply,” Canlas said. “While everybody has focused on the definition of a person, I think the whole language needs to be read. In this particular case, only a person who owns or is in possession of a residence in which a view may be impaired by a proposed structure may file for view assessment.”

A few supporters spoke in favor of the project and particularly the need of affordable housing in Solana Beach.

“I know it’s difficult to listen to residents of your community who are very concerned and genuinely so about the impacts of this project — on the site and off the site, now in the short-term during construction and perhaps in the long-term,” said Catherine Rodman, a San Diego-based attorney for Affordable Housing Advocates.

“But you just don’t represent the vocal minority that are here tonight or that have appeared by letters to you. As elected officials, you represent the entire community, including my clients and other low-income households that struggle to live in this paradise that is Solana Beach and have a right to be here just as much as anyone.”

Hitzke Development Corporation originally submitted its proposal for an affordable housing project to the city in 2009. In July 2010, the city entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with the company. In January 2011, the council approved a $648,000 loan to help defray the estimated $1.1 million in predevelopment costs, including architectural, planning and engineering studies, designs, utility analyses, and legal and application fees. The applicant redesigned the project twice after holding meetings with city staff and hosting three public workshops.

The state dissolved redevelopment agencies in 2012, delaying the project.

The council elected to become the successor agency and, since then, the state’s Finance Department approved the transfer of the predevelopment loan funds to the city.

The Pearl is estimated to cost more than $6 million. With the council’s vote, the city will loan the developer more than $2 million for the project, which includes $648,000 in redevelopment funds and more than $1.4 million in general funds to be used for housing.

The loan must be paid in 55 years with 3 percent interest when the long-term lease expires.

Initially, the council on April 23 discussed continuing the pubic hearing so the developer could explore occupancy sensors and other ways to improve parking in the structure. The council also briefly discussed the possibility of eliminating the office space by purchasing additional parking spaces.

“Please think about housing people more than housing cars,” said Ginger Hitzke, president of San Marcos-based Hitzke Development Corporation.

“What’s the cost of doing something right?” asked Nichols. “The office isn’t housing people. If we take the office out, we’re not taking away anybody’s house.”

Ultimately, council members agreed the project should move forward.

“We really, really try to do what’s right and we try to do what’s best for the city of Solana Beach,” said Mayor Thomas Campbell. “We really have to do what we think is best for the city as a whole. I don’t think having affordable housing on that street provides a burden to the residents that live across the street. We have affordable housing integrated throughout Solana Beach.”