ENCINITAS — A week after voters rejected Measure T, the city’s housing element update, questions still remain.
Where does the city go from here regarding the housing element? Is it possible to create a housing element that passes muster with voters?
Does the city council have to go back to voters for another attempt at passing a housing element, or should they take the issue up themselves?
And are the threats of lawsuits real because of the city’s failure to pass a housing element?
The Coast News tries its best to answer some of these questions.
1. What is the path forward?
This still remains unclear. The City Council voted Wednesday night to form a subcommittee composed of Mayor-elect Catherine Blakespear and Councilman Tony Kranz that will meet publicly with members of the community — including those who ran the No on T campaign — city staff and housing attorneys to efficiently move forward with a plan that passes muster with the community and state regulators.
Blakespear, in her comments, said that the subcommittee’s goal shouldn’t be to go “back to the drawing board,” but for the city to come up with something that was “practical and quick,” possibly in months.
The main opposition group to Measure T has said all along that it is committed to finding a housing plan that works for Encinitas residents, and the head of that group, Bruce Ehlers, reiterated that commitment on Wednesday.
In order to proceed, however, Encinitas will likely need to fill the upcoming vacancy on the council left by Blakespear’s mayoral victory and — perhaps more importantly — fill the vacancy at planning director following the departure of the city’s interim planning director and his second in command.
2. What is the soonest Encinitas could have a housing element update on the ballot?
Without calling for a special election, the soonest voters would get another chance at approving a housing element update would be 2018.
If the city were to get the update on the 2018 ballot and voters approved it and the state Department of Housing and Community Development certified it, it would narrowly make the deadline for the current housing element cycle, which runs from Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2020. This, however, means that under the current system provided by Proposition A, which requires a public vote for future housing element updates, voters would have to prepare for the next housing element cycle update as early as 2022.
3. Is Encinitas going to be sued?
That is certainly a possibility, especially after Wednesday night’s council meeting, when attorney Marco Gonzalez essentially told the City Council that he would sue on behalf of several groups if the City Council chose to put another housing element update before voters rather than approve it themselves.
The Coast News talked with Gonzalez earlier this week, and he said that the election results confirm in his mind that under the current system set forth by Prop. A, voters will never approve a housing element update in Encinitas due to the anti-growth sentiment among the electorate.
This, he said, would mean that residents were using Prop. A to preempt state housing law, which is illegal.
“What we are seeing in Encinitas is typical of a wealthy, elitist coastal city,” Gonzalez said. “They don’t want change, they don’t want housing and they don’t want affordability.”
In addition to Gonzalez, affordable housing developer David C. Meyer and the Building industry Association are also prime candidates to challenge the city’s stance on the housing element.
The City Council met in closed session this week to discuss Meyer and the BIA’s previous lawsuits against the city.
A court could decide to invalidate part of Prop. A that it deems preempts state law, such as it pertains to the housing element or density bonus projects.
4. Could the City Council approve a housing element without a public vote?
This issue would be at the heart of Gonzalez’s lawsuit. In almost every city outside of Encinitas, city councils have legislative authority over all land-use decisions, including housing element updates.
Prop. A, however, ensures the public has a vote on any decision that results in an intensification of use or major rezoning. But as previously stated, Gonzalez has argued that the council shouldn’t be bound by Prop. A if abiding by it pits the city against state law.
This stance, however, would also likely wind up with the city facing legal action, this time from Prop. A supporters (many of whom were prominent Measure T opponents), who would argue that a council vote would circumvent the local measure.
Anyway it stands, expect the housing element/ Prop. A debate to be determined in court.