ENCINITAS — Encinitas’ proposed housing element update has failed, as residents voted no on Measure T by a 56-44 margin.
The controversial measure, which aimed at getting Encinitas in compliance with a law that requires cities to map out sites for future affordable housing, had been panned by some residents as creating the potential for too dense and too tall of developments in the coastal community without guaranteeing affordable housing would be built.
They argued it also undermined the voter-approved Proposition A, which put a 30-foot height cap on development and required major changes in zoning and land-use to go before a vote of the people.
A number of city officials, including the entire City Council and six of the seven candidates, favored Measure T because it would end the city’s scofflaw status, which exposes it to lawsuits by developers and affordable housing advocates.
Encinitas is the only city in the county without a housing element, a dubious status that could result in lawsuits that could, at worst, strip the city of its land-use decision making authority, supporters of the measure said.
With 100 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, 10,204 people voted against the proposal, while 8,007 cast votes in its favor.
“Last night’s vote, showed the sharp contrast between the Council’s unanimous
support and the electorate’s rejection of Measure T,” Bruce Ehlers, president of the committee opposing the measure, said on Wednesday. “Without Prop A, the small, beach town character of Encinitas would have been irreversibly altered.
“We thank the voters of Encinitas for adopting Prop A and rejecting Measure T. Now it is time to move on, together,” he said.
Measure T would have created a new land-use designation dubbed “At Home in Encinitas,” which would have encompassed 13 sites the city identified as potential housing sites. The designation would have allowed 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 proposal would have accommodated 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 was 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.
Opponents ran a grassroots campaign that focused on the potential impacts to traffic and quality of life the measure could have due to its allowances for density and building heights above and beyond anything seen in Encinitas.
They also argued that the measure downplayed the full amount of housing that could be developed under the plan if you took into account density bonuses that developers could request, which would push the number of units up to nearly 4,000.
The Measure also had no guarantees that any of the units built would be earmarked for low-income residents, opponents argued. Supporters, however, said the city has several mechanisms in place already that guarantee large developments set aside at least 10 percent of the units for low-income residents based on the state income guidelines.
Supporters also argued that opponents greatly exaggerated the measure’s impacts on traffic, density and community character. Their campaign started in earnest much later in the election season than the organized opposition, and was fueled by independent expenditures by developers.
They also warned that failure to pass a housing element would lead to further lawsuits, a threat likely to be realized as two attorneys have already promised to sue the city if the measure failed.
Tony Kranz, who supported Measure T, also pointed out that a settlement the city agreed to with the Building Industry Association of San Diego required the city to place it on the ballot.
“That settlement basically pushed pause on the lawsuit, but if it fails, we will have business with the BIA in court,” Kranz said.
Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney who represented a density bonus developer in a lawsuit filed against the city and developer over a proposed Olivenhain subdivision, previously told Voice of San Diego that he also planned on filing a lawsuit if Measure T failed.
Opponents, however, hailed the failure and vowed to commit to an alternative plan.
“I am glad that Measure T failed, I think we can get something together now that is palatable for the entire community that is in line with Prop. A,” said Tony Brandenburg, the lone council candidate who opposed Measure T. “I think it is time we all come together, I don’t think it’s not passing is a great loss. I think if we work together we can make the situation with low-income and low-cost housing work.”
City officials have yet to determine how they will move forward with a new housing element proposal. Complicating matters is the recent departure of the city’s top planning officials, Manjeet Ranu and Mike Strong.
The Coast News talked to 15 voters at several polling places on Tuesday. Only one said they voted in favor of Measure T. The others said they voted against it for various reasons.
“I don’t want to see the interloping of affordable housing into certain communities,” said Greg Joumas, whose Olivenhain home served as a polling place. “I think you should live where you can afford to live.”
Another resident, Angel Fontanez, said he wouldn’t mind if the city were sued for standing its ground against the state requirement.
“What happens if we litigate and we draw it out as long as possible?” said Fontanez, who said he wanted to see a housing element with more assurances of affordable housing that blended in with the community.