Council members originally eliminated the City Hall property as a potential site for affordable housing, but recently added it back to the discussion as the city works to create a state-mandated housing plan. Del Mar hasn't had a certified housing element for years, making out of compliance with state law, subject to penalties and ineligible for grants. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Council delays action on housing element

DEL MAR — As city officials work to obtain a certified housing element, some residents are accusing them of using the state requirement as a means to implement part of Proposition J, a downtown revitalization initiative defeated in the Nov. 6 election that was supported by all council members. 

Meanwhile, the city attorney presented a worst-case scenario in which the state could require the city to build affordable housing on city parks.

“It looks to me … that items that were rejected by the voters on Nov. 6 in Prop. J have somehow leaked into the housing element,” former Councilman Henry Abarbanel said as the issue was discussed at the Dec. 3 meeting.

“Retribution feels foremost in my mind right now,” resident Drew Cady said. “It feels like this is a convenient way of sort of railroading some of this action through.”

“A part of me is feeling like we said no (to increased density downtown) but it’s going in there anyways,” Robin Crabtree said. “I’m sorry, but I don’t trust you guys … right now.”

“It sounds as though you had a job to do last year that you chose not to do,” Del Mar resident and outgoing County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said. “That was to work on the housing element at the time that it should have been addressed. That did not need to be a part of Prop. J.”

But not everyone agreed with that assessment.

“I think this has absolutely nothing to do with Prop. J,” resident Barbara Mandel said. “Prop. J didn’t focus on affordable housing. … I see them as very separate.”

Mandel said she believes “there’s a huge miscommunication about what the housing element is supposed to be.”

She said it’s a long-term plan that merely identifies potential but realistic sites for future housing, something the city needs to do given its poor reputation at the county level.

“Del Mar looks terrible in the eyes of the greater San Diego County community,” she said, conveying the tone reflected during several San Diego Association of Governments meetings she attended. “That we cannot come up with 22 units is an embarrassment.”

Mayor Carl Hilliard agreed, saying the head of HCD has said “enough is enough. We’ve been giving you latitude over a long period of time. Don’t kick the can down the road any further.”

The city must have a housing element certified by the state Department of Housing and Community Development by April 27, 2013. Because HCD takes about 90 days to review the document, the preliminary plan must be submitted by Jan. 27.

Following a regional assessment by the San Diego Association of Governments for the 2013-2020 cycle, Del Mar is required to identify sites for 71 housing units. Of those, 10 are penalty units for not currently having a certified plan and 22 must be affordable to those who fall in the low- or very-low income category.

While the units don’t need to be built, the city must demonstrate they can be.

City Attorney Leslie Devaney said a number of cities in the state, like Del Mar, have been out of compliance with no action taken by HCD. However, Devaney said, HCD officials have indicated penalties will be on the table going forward.

She likened the department to a sleeping lion that could be awakened at any time. If and when that happens, there’s no way to know how it will react, she said.

HCD could require the city to be compliant within 60 days, deem all approved permits as at-risk or put a moratorium on issuing any building permits, Devaney said.

“The HCD could decide during a moratorium to impose low-income housing on city-owned lands and your parks,” she said. “That is a potential carnage.”

“We do not plan based upon the promise of grants or the fear of litigation,” former Councilman Dave Druker said. “We plan based upon what is best for the community. … We’ve always done it that way.”

HCD has determined, in Del Mar, the affordable requirement could be met by increasing density to allow 20 units per acre, a low number compared to some cities. Proposition J included plans to add mixed-used development and increased density in the downtown area.

After the initiative failed, council members at the Nov. 19 meeting directed staff look at modifying some or all of the central commercial zone development standards from the current one dwelling unit per parcel to 20 units.

That plan was scheduled for discussion at the Dec. 3 council meeting and adoption at the Dec. 5 Planning Commission before being sent to HCD.

“I don’t think that there’s anything sinister (that’s) been plotted here,” Councilman Mark Filanc said, adding that Proposition J likely failed for a variety of reasons, not just the density element.

Because it didn’t pass, Filanc said, the city needs to move on.

Council opted to continue the discussion at the Dec. 5 Planning Commission meeting and hold another workshop possibly before the end of the year, and again in January.

“I think it’s more important that we get that input,” Filanc said. “I think I would rather face that lion than the repercussions of all the citizens of Del Mar.”

Councilman Terry Sinnott also said he would rather consider constructive suggestions from the community than go forward with the plan presented at the Dec. 3 meeting.

“The timing is just unfortunate,” he said. “I think we need to kind of regroup, readjust. It’s not going to be a killer, but it’s going to be tough to do but I think we can do it.”

Hilliard said drafting a housing element is made more difficult because 20 percent of the city is occupied by the Del Mar Fairgrounds, a state agency over which the city has no control.

He said a portion of the land in the city is in the 100-year flood zone, some areas are slopes the California Coastal Commission won’t allow the city to build on and the city is built out.