I have great news to share this week.
Encinitas residents will get to vote on the latest version of a housing plan in this November’s election.
This may not seem like news, but actually it is.
This week, a Vista superior court judge agreed with the city’s position that Encinitas voters should have another shot at passing a housing plan, instead of the city being forced by lawsuits to adopt the plan rejected by the voters in the last election, or being forced to halt development permits until we have a compliant housing plan.
The court wisely postponed discussion of those forced remedies -— called injunctive relief — until after the voters have their say in November.
Although Encinitas hasn’t had a state-approved housing plan for multiple decades, the voters have only rejected one single plan, in 2016.
Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier narrowed in on this. He pointedly and rhetorically asked one of the plaintiffs, “Are there cases that say, “only one bite at the apple and that’s it?” He knew the answer, stating that he had closely read the case law. He didn’t indicate how many “bites at the apple” he would give Encinitas. He did go on to ask, “If this (housing plan) doesn’t pass, the question is at what point have you had enough time?” One of the plaintiff’s attorneys muttered “36 years” under his breath, but the judge ignored this.
We clearly have our work cut out for us. The court’s decision is the best possible development for Encinitas, given the reality of our situation.
The three parties suing Encinitas and the city itself all agree that we are not compliant with state housing laws. But we are diligently working on it, and we are making tangible progress.
We have sent a plan for upzoning more than 1,400 units to the state housing regulators for review. We’ve adopted a less restrictive accessory unit policy, waiving all city fees and streamlining the process for residents to build more affordable granny flats. We have a density bonus ordinance that has been recently updated. And we are actively pursuing sites for purchase or swap to build deed-restricted affordable housing.
The initiative process that established the voters right to weigh in on upzoning — called Prop. A in 2013 when it passed — has become a critical part of Encinitas’ voting heritage. As our attorney Dolores Dolton said, “Implicit in the right to vote, is the right to say no. The process should be allowed to finish.”
The court appeared concerned that the city might not make the required deadlines and set a status conference for August 17, which is shortly after the deadline for the housing plan to make the November ballot. He also set a status conference for November 13th, the week after the election.
The state legislature has made providing more housing a top state priority. The growing homelessness epidemic, which fundamentally is about people not having homes, coupled with the affordability crisis, has led the legislature to enact increasingly strict laws requiring cities to provide more housing.
More than a dozen new housing laws took effect just five months ago, and one of them requires that Encinitas upzone vacant property for higher density housing. The rationale behind this is that vacant land is more likely to be developed in the short term. The properties must be upzoned for higher density because higher density homes are smaller and therefore naturally more affordable.
We have been working very hard to come up with a plan that the voters can support. I remain hopeful that this November we’ll see a positive result, and we’ll avoid having a solution forced upon us.
Catherine Blakespear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.