ENCINITAS — California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that reduces local control over so-called density bonus projects that Encinitas and several other jurisdictions statewide have opposed.
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.
Brown inked Assembly Bill 2501, authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), which, among other things, strips cities of the ability to require developers to prepare additional reports or studies as a condition of their projects and requires cities to “round up” in the event the number of units proposed on a site of the number of allowable units is a fraction.
It was one of more than 60 bills that Brown signed into law on Wednesday, two days before the Sept. 30 legislative deadline.
Encinitas, where developers have built a proportionally large amount of density bonus projects, has been at the forefront of the fight against the bill and 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.
City officials said AB 2501 would further handcuff local jurisdictions in their attempt to balance housing needs with community character concerns.
The city’s stance has put the city in the legal crosshairs of developers, which have sued Encinitas several times since 2015 over its interpretation of density bonus law, and local activists, which have sued the city for settling the lawsuits in a way they believe was not in the community’s best interest.
Advocates for the bill have argued that cities and counties have used community character and other land-use policies to stifle the development of affordable housing, creating a so-called “housing crisis” in the process.
Encinitas recently relented in its fight against the state’s density bonus policies when it adopted a revised ordinance that essentially mirrors what Brown signed into law on Wednesday.
The revised ordinance, of which the City Council approved a second reading Wednesday, was part of a settlement between the city and David C. Meyer of DCM Properties, who argued that the city’s policy of “rounding down” fractional units violated state law.
Meyer sued the city over a previous settlement between Encinitas and the Building Industry Association of San Diego in 2015, which had preserved the city’s right to round down outside of six projects that were already in the development pipeline.
The BIA had sued Encinitas in 2014 over a July 2014 vote that changed how the city interpreted state law.
On the other hand, a group called the Encinitas Residents Alliance also sued the city for the DCM settlement, challenging its legality, and threatened to sue the city in August as the council was poised to adopt the revised ordinance, which it claimed violated the voter-approved Proposition A as well as the California Environmental Quality Act.
The group, spearheaded by former Planning Commissioner Bruce Ehlers, has argued that the change to rounding up is tantamount to a city-wide zone change that should be voted on by the people under Proposition A, which was approved in 2013.
It also argues that the increased density citywide would create a significant environmental impact that under state environmental laws should trigger a stringent study of its effects.
The Coast News had not contacted the Encinitas Residents Alliance to see if it would pursue its lawsuit in the wake of Brown’s approval, but will update the story in coming days with reaction from the group.