ENCINITAS — The merits and drawbacks of Encinitas proposed housing element update were on display at a recent forum dedicated to the proposal, known by its ballot designation Measure T.
The forum, held Oct. 13 at the Encinitas Library and hosted by Engage Encinitas, and moderated by the League of Women Voters, featured two former planning commissioners, one who supports the measure and the other the chairman of the committee leading the opposition to it.
The city’s proposed update would create a new land-use designation dubbed “At Home in Encinitas,” which would encompass the 13 sites the city has identified as potential housing sites. The designation would allow property owners in the site areas to develop between 20 and 30 units per acre and build up to three stories of housing, the density that the state uses as a proxy for affordability.
Under the “At Home” designation, the city’s housing element update proposal would accommodate nearly 2,000 units of this type of residential development, more than the 1,089 that the state is mandating. City officials said the buffer is necessary to ensure if people opt not to use the new land-use designation there would still be enough designated properties to satisfy the state mandate.
Among the sites identified on the housing map are:
• two sites in downtown Cardiff, including the Town Center
• sites along Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia,
• several commercial areas in New Encinitas, including the Encinitas Ranch Shopping Center on El Camino Real and two spots at the Encinitas Boulevard intersection.
• four areas of Old Encinitas, including along Coast Highway 101,
• two areas of Olivenhain at the intersection of Rancho Santa Fe and Encinitas Boulevard.
For more than an hour, former commissioners Kurt Groseclose and Bruce Ehlers fielded questions from the audience that were read by a moderator, as well as outlined their positions for supporting and opposing the measure.
Groseclose, who favors it, said he believed Measure T was the best plan before voters and that the city needed to pass a housing element to come into compliance with state law. Encinitas is currently the only city in the county without an updated housing element plan.
Groseclose also believed that the impacts of the measure would be limited because it only deals with 13 sites citywide that represent less than a percent of the land area.
Groseclose also said that failure to pass Measure T would continue to put Encinitas in the legal crosshairs of developers and affordable housing advocates, at least one of who, according to the Voice of San Diego, has vowed to sue the city if the measure fails.
Ehlers, who also played a critical role in the 2013 passage of Proposition A, the city’s landmark land-use initiative, is opposed to Measure T. He argued that the plan could potentially lay the blueprint for over 4,000 new housing units in the city that would be far too densely packed and would further snarl traffic.
Ehlers arrived at the 4,000-unit number by calculating the maximum units that could be build if each site was built out at 40 units per acre — which would require developers to request density bonuses at each of the sites. Groseclose vehemently disagreed with this assessment, saying that he doubted developers would build to that extreme in Encinitas.
Ehlers argued that the city’s buffer is too large and unnecessary, and that they could develop a less intense plan with a smaller buffer that would pass muster with the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which certifies each city’s housing plan.
Additionally, Ehlers said the measure would eliminate the 30-foot building height limit at the proposed sites, which Proposition A currently imposes.
Finally, Ehlers argued, Measure T doesn’t guarantee affordable housing since it has no requirement for a certain percentage of the units to be affordable. Groseclose argued, however, that the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which currently requires at least 10 percent of larger developments be set aside for affordable housing, and other programs provide some assurances that affordable housing would be developed.
Ehlers said the city could come up with a better housing plan that lowers the proposed density to 25 units per acre and maintains the 30-foot housing cap, pointing to Pacific Station in downtown Encinitas as an example.
In a rare moment of accord, Groseclose said he agreed with the Measure T opponents that the state use of density as a proxy of affordability doesn’t always work along the coast.
But, Groseclose said, the only way to change that is not by protesting the housing element, which limits the city’s abilities to acquire certain grants, but by forming coalitions with other cities to get the state to change that mandate.