ENCINITAS — A State Assembly Bill that would further reduce local control of land-use decision involving so-called density bonus projects appears to be headed toward approval.
But Encinitas officials are still trying to fight it, and have enlisted one of its own elected officials to head to Sacramento this month to speak on the city’s behalf against its passage.
The City Council recently voted to send Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear to the state capitol to voice the city’s opposition to Assembly Bill 2501, which would, among other things, strip cities of the ability to require developers to prepare additional reports or studies as a condition of their projects and would require cities to “round up” in the event the number of units proposed on a site of the number of allowable units is a fraction.
“We need to advocate in the strongest possible terms for state laws that serve our community, and I am an elected representative of this community and I think the voice of elected officials carries weight and we need to make sure that it is clear what our position is,” Blakespear said about her upcoming trip, which could be as early as later this month. “Sending a letter isn’t nearly effective as sending someone to testify on important issues that matter to our residents.”
State law allows for developers to build extra, or “bonus” homes on land if one or more of the homes are earmarked for low-income residents.
Encinitas, where developers have built a proportionally large amount of density bonus projects, has been at the forefront of the fight against the proliferation of such developments, which their residents said have created a rash of projects that are inconsistent with character of the communities surrounding them.
This clash has put them in the legal crosshairs with developers: the city has been sued twice over the past two years over its density bonus stance. The Building Industry Association of San Diego sued Encinitas in 2014 over a July 2014 vote that changed how the city interpreted state law.
The council and BIA announced a settlement in 2015 that preserved the city’s right to “round down” in the event of fractional units, which prompted another developer, David Meyer of DCM Properties, to sue the city over the provision.
Blakespear said that AB 2501 would further strip the city of its ability to regulate development and maintain community character.
“The amount of density in our city affects our community character,” she said. “We need to be able to have local control over permitting of our land use. This bill reduces local control and that doesn’t serve us.”
But the assembly bill has gained steam in Sacramento. The Assembly recently passed it out of its hall with a 45-7 vote and Gov. Jerry Brown, in his May revised budget, specifically called out the bill as an important piece of the state’s ability to increase its housing stock to meet increasing demands.
“Local land use decisions surrounding housing production have contributed to low inventories — even though demand has steadily increased,” Brown said in the revised budget. “Local land use permitting and review processes have lengthened the approval process and increased production costs…. It is counterproductive to continue providing funding for affordable housing under a system that slows down approvals in areas already vetted and zoned for housing.”
Blakespear said she has followed the bill through the state legislative process and is aware of the sentiment in Sacramento that local jurisdictions have thrown up roadblocks in front of developers.
“To me, the big picture is that we have a zoning code for a reason, and you have higher density closer to transit so that you don’t have high density sprawl, you don’t have it all over the place,” Blakespear said. “The idea that our zoning states an area is zoned R-3 (three units per acre) and what’s actually being built is doubling that density is not respecting the vision behind our zoning code.”
Blakespear said the housing laws are missing a critical component — improving the state’s transportation network to accommodate the increased population that comes along with denser development.
“We need to be able to address that head on, how people aren’t spending hours in traffic, and I believe these two issues are linked,” she said. “I don’t think you can say, ‘Let’s put housing all over the place without having that other discussion.’”
While the odds are likely that the bill will reach Brown’s desk sometime in August, Encinitas isn’t alone in its opposition. San Francisco heads a list of cities that are opposed to the bill, said Jonathan Clay, the city’s contract lobbyist.
Clay on Wednesday said that he believed Blakespear’s visit at least will ensure the legislature directly hears the city’s plea.
“It doesn’t hurt at all,” Clay said. “A lot of legislators are former local government officials, so there is at least understanding of what some of the challenges are.”