ENCINITAS — A community group known as Encinitas Project is pushing for a ballot initiative that would let voters decide on whether to approve major density or height increases that are a part of proposed building projects, also known as “up-zoning.”The group created the initiative out of concern of overdevelopment and where 1,300 state-mandated housing units will be built.
Currently, the Encinitas City Council can approve up-zoning projects with a four-out-of-five council member vote.
Under the initiative, certain up-zoning projects, including those that increase the number of permitted dwellings on a residential lot or change a parcel’s zoning type from non-mixed use to mixed use, would require a majority vote from residents.
According to Bruce Ehlers, the spokesperson for the initiative, the group must submit 5,700 signatures to the city by mid-December. The group began collecting signatures at the end of June and has more than 1,000 so far, Ehlers said.
“We’re asking for signatures everywhere in Encinitas right now,” he said.
Ehlers said the initiative is a response to “a Council that’s sympathetic with developers over citizens.” He also takes issue with recent housing workshops that “pitted five communities against each other.”
During the housing workshops, residents were each given 10 blue stickers and asked to mark on a map of Leucadia, Old Encinitas, New Encinitas, Cardiff and Olivenhain where 1,300 state-mandated housing units should be located.
Proposals for the state-mandated housing units define density as 30 plus units per acre. Currently, most of Encinitas isn’t zoned for more than 25 units per acre.
The results of the workshops have yet to be released to the public. Calls were placed to the City Manager’s office to see when the workshops’ results would see the light of day, as well as requesting comment on the proposed initiative, but were not returned.
The city started the housing workshops, along with open houses and a new advisory committee, to engage the public after discontent with a plan to cluster state-mandated housing on El Camino Real.
But Ehlers said his group wants to go a step further and give residents the final say on up-zoning projects, similar to Proposition S in Escondido.
“This isn’t a no-growth initiative,” Ehlers said. “Residents can decide what kind of development they want to live with.”
One issue some have raised with the initiative: Residents would continuously vote against housing requirements, potentially drawing lawsuits.
The state requires most cities to have a set amount of “affordable housing,” though the units are sold at market rate, based on projected growth and population trends. Should Encinitas fail to comply with state-mandated housing requirements, it could face lawsuits from developers and potentially the state. Also, if housing units aren’t approved by the city, they would carry over into the next planning cycle.
Ehlers argued lawsuits aren’t a threat as the city hasn’t been in compliance with state-mandated housing “for a long time.” But if lawsuits become an issue, he believes citizens would react accordingly, he said.
“I trust the people to do what’s best for Encinitas,” Ehlers said.
If the initiative accrues enough signatures, voters will likely weigh in on it, but it’s up in the air when that would be.
According to City Clerk Kathy Hollywood, if election workers verify the required number of signatures, the initiative will go before City Council. Council members have three options: Adopt the ordinance, place it on the 2014 ballot without changes or order a staff report on the initiative.
Hollywood said a special election is also a possibility if the signatures are verified and the initiative requests one. The special election would cost $350,000, but that’s only a rough estimate and depends on a number of factors, according to Hollywood.