Mayor’s Minute: New housing laws add complexity

You may have heard the saying, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” It’s a good mantra to keep in mind these days.

New housing laws

New state housing laws have thrown a wrench in our housing task force’s recent efforts. The bottom line is that higher-density zoning will, at some point, come to more vacant land in Encinitas because of new state housing laws signed by the governor last week.

From my perspective, it seems no one wants higher density development near their homes or the roads they commute on. However, new California housing laws addressing the housing crisis demand results in cities throughout the state — higher-density development and smaller, apartment-sized homes, built in a shorter period of time on more land.

There is a widespread perception among lawmakers in Sacramento that our housing crisis, and the shortage of affordable homes in particular, is largely the result of cities creating roadblocks to development. They believe that requiring cities to upzone vacant parcels is one way to get more development kick-started.

Our previous housing plan, Measure T, was defeated by the voters in last November’s election. It had proposed to upzone a total of about 200 sites, and only nine of them were vacant or semi-vacant. The rest of the parcels had development of some type already on them.

Our consultant and housing attorneys have told us that we will need a plan that provides a minimum of 550-650 units of high density housing on vacant lots. And the chances of receiving state approval for our plan are better if we zone for even more units on vacant land. Our consultant asked for three weeks to do a complete inventory of every vacant site in the city that could yield more than 16 units, which is another threshold to determine whether a development project is feasible. You’re invited to our next housing meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16, at City Hall, if you’d like to add your thoughts or hear more about this issue.

Meanwhile, the housing lawsuits that challenge the legality of Proposition A when it comes to housing elements, among other allegations, are ongoing. As your mayor, I’m pushing the task force and the housing consultant to move as quickly as possible to get a new housing plan back to the voters. I remain heartened that the task force continues to work together, all of us pulling in the same direction.

Doing more on hep A

San Diego’s hepatitis A public health crisis that has resulted in 17 people dead and more than 400 sickened is a result of people living unsheltered on the streets without adequate sanitation, bathrooms or the ability to clean themselves.

No city is immune to this. People move around and the incubation period of hepatitis A can be up to 30 days, which means it’s likely infected people who haven’t fallen ill yet who may be vectors for the virus. Wash your hands with soap and water!

I met with our parks department and representatives from the Community Resource Center last week to determine what we can do locally. Currently there are no bathrooms open 24 hours a day in Encinitas, which means that if one of the 100-plus people who live unsheltered on Encinitas’ streets needs to go in the night, he or she is using alleyways, bushes, medians or other places.

We also don’t have any way for people to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom outside of a restroom. Hand sanitizer is not effective at killing hep A or preventing transmission. What’s required is the soap that weakens the bonds between the virus and the skin, and the water that washes the virus away.

It’s challenging for cities to install, monitor, staff and clean public bathrooms. But that’s a surmountable problem. Our city staff is going to return to City Council quickly with a plan for providing bathroom(s) open 24 hours, hand-washing stations and the possibility of a hep A vaccination clinic, similar to the blood drives we do periodically at City Hall.

Ultimately, this hepatitis A outbreak is a symptom of the larger problem of homelessness, which we as a society need to be addressing comprehensively. But it’s also a public health and human dignity issue.

There are lessons to be learned from San Diego’s initial faltering efforts to solve this problem, as well as the delayed critical assistance after the hurricane in Puerto Rico. We can’t allow bureaucratic obstacles to keep us from doing what is right when time is of the essence. It is our responsibility as stewards of this city.

Outfall pipe in Cardiff

Have you wondered what’s up with part of the beach and road being blocked off in Cardiff just south of restaurant row? A “land and ocean outfall” pipe, dating from 1965, is being replaced.

For some background, the nearby wastewater district takes water from your house and turns it into recycled greywater for irrigating golf courses, freeway easements and road medians. Some of this treated water ends up not being used and is piped into the ocean through an outfall pipe.

What you see happening out there now is an elevated construction site to build this pipeline. To minimize impacts to mating birds and public beach access, the Coastal Commission allowed the work only between September and March. But this is when the surf and tide surges are the largest, necessitating the elevated work site. When the pipe is replaced, everything will be removed and the beach will be restored to normal.

This project is unrelated to the sand dune and walking trail project that the city is doing along the beach, which hasn’t started yet.

I hope you’re enjoying our refreshingly crisp fall weather! Autumn in Encinitas is one of my favorite seasons.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine S. Blakespear can be reached at cblakespear@encinitasca.gov.

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