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Coastal Commission approves Encinitas housing element

ENCINITAS — The California Coastal Commission has signed off on Encinitas’ housing plan, putting the city one step closer to receiving the “magic letter” of state certification.

The state coastal watchdog’s board on June 13 unanimously approved the so-called housing element with a proviso that one of the sites the city tabbed for future affordable housing instead include a mix of housing, tourist retail and at least 30 hotel rooms.

“Hopefully we get the magic letter from the state if it’s finally certified,” City Development Services Director Brenda Wisneski said to the coastal commissioners. “Our last certified housing element was in the ‘90s, so we are really excited about this final step, but we’re thankful to say that this last step has been an easy one.”

Relative to the marathon hearings, two failed ballot measures, and fierce opposition to the most recent court-mandated housing plan, the June 13 commission hearing was “easy”: the commission approved it without any discussion.

Several residents opposed to the plan spoke before the commission urging them to reject the plans.

“If this state really wants affordable homes and to take care of homeless, they will need to cough up money to help,” longtime Leucadia resident Dolores Welty said. She and others said the city’s plan was a giveaway to developers without the promise of substantial affordable housing, and would irreparably change the character of the neighborhoods.

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney representing one of the property owners, was the lone speaker to speak in favor of the housing element.

“These 15 sites, distributed widely throughout the city, do not amount to a wholesale change to our community character in Encinitas,” Gonzalez said.

Originally, coastal commission staff recommended the housing element update be amended to remove a property in north Leucadia from the inventory of proposed sites, arguing that its inclusion goes against the commission’s charge of providing hotel and motel space for coastal visitors.

The 2.97-acre site is known as the “Jackel Property,” the namesake of Fenway Capital Advisors’ Managing Partner Larry Jackel. Fenway Capital is developing the 124-room Encinitas Beach Hotel on property just north of the site.

But staff, the city and the property owner agreed to a compromise that keeps the property in the housing element with the proviso that it be developed as a mixed-use property with at least 30 hotel rooms and retail space in addition to the affordable units.

State Housing Element law requires cities to provide enough housing to meet the needs of all its residents, from very-low income earners to above-moderate ones. Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that lacks a state-certified plan and was under a court order to enact one by April 11.

The city has been subject to multiple lawsuits, by both the building industry and affordable housing advocates, because of its lack of a housing element. Voters rejected the city’s most recent attempts at passing a housing plan in 2016 and 2018, which prompted a judge to give the city 120 days to adopt a plan.

The council unanimously adopted the second reading of its plan at its March 27 meeting.
It includes several controversial recommendations from state housing department officials, including:

  • Raising the maximum building heights from 33 feet for a flat roof and 37 feet for a pitched roof to 35 feet and 39 feet, respectively.
  • Changing where building heights are measured from.
  • The inclusion of parking lots, driveways and drive aisles in calculating the project’s density — which could result in additional “bonus” housing.
  • Eliminating sections from the city code aimed at requiring developers who propose super-dense projects to conform to the surrounding neighborhood and provide public benefits beyond the statutory requirements.
  • The elimination of any subjective language from the update. “HCD directed that all standards must be objective in nature, containing no subjectivity,” according to the staff report.
  • Several community stalwarts oppose the plan, which they said is a giveaway to developers and select landowners and also that the plan invalidates a city law that gives the public the right to vote on it and future housing elements.

1 comment

taxpayerconcerns September 9, 2019 at 7:58 pm

The Coastal Act doesn’t require that the Commissioners vote to change an LCP based upon the demands of the Building Industry Association of San Diego (BIA). Yet, that is what happened.

A January 18, 2019 demand letter by a representative of the BIA was sent to the state Housing and Community Development agency (HCD). In the BIA letter these demands to HCD were to change the city’s General Plan, Municipal Code, Specific Plans, and the LCP. These changes would financially benefit the members of the building industries.

A February 4, 2019 demand letter from HCD was then sent to the City of Encinitas with these BIA demands. However, the HCD letter didn’t disclose that information.

The Commissioners certified the Encinitas LCP amendments WITHOUT the knowledge that their votes would financially benefit developers and property owners. The San Diego staff in the Coastal Commission office should have alerted the Commissioners about the financial benefits they were conferring on developers and property owners.

There was a developer trying to buy up older Clark Avenue properties that will be up zoned to 30 units with the Commissioners’ approval. A small neighborhood of older homes will be destroyed for the financial benefit of the new developer/owner.

There is also the case of the developer who brought an already approved tentative map that required the restoration of wetlands as a condition of approval. The City Council has up zoned this property to 30 units per acre. The developer and new owner of the property wrote that he wouldn’t restore the wetlands with the new zoning. This is how the Coastal Commission staff protect wetlands? This is how the Coastal Commissioners protect wetlands?

Attorney Marco Gonzalez worked a deal behind the scenes with the Coastal Commission office and Encinitas planning to get his client a change in the LCP that will financially benefit his client.

The Coastal Commission Act certainly prohibits the Commission from approval actions that convey financial benefits.

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