Encinitas finalizes housing element update

Encinitas finalizes housing element update
Encinitas City Councilman Tony Kranz agreed with some residents' frustrations but ultimately conceded to a plan with limited choices due to judge's order to pass a certified Housing Element. Photo by James Wang.

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council cast its final vote on its long-anticipated affordable housing plan on Wednesday night, a few days after a Superior Court judge rejected a last-ditch effort by residents to intervene on two lawsuits related to the 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.

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, known as a housing element, and is 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 housing element now goes to state housing officials who must approve it before the April 11 deadline. 

At Wednesday’s meeting, seven people spoke, all chiding the council for taking the step and urging them to reconsider. 

Former Mayor Sheila Cameron said that current Mayor Catherine Blakespear was leaving a legacy of being tone dead to residents’ concerns about increased density, building heights and other changes to city codes that she and opponents feel would damage the character of the community.

Donna Westbrook, who frequently opines on city issues, said that the proposed housing element was a “developer’s wish list.”

One of their biggest concerns was that the city was seeking the courts to invalidate Proposition A, which requires a public vote on future housing elements and other major zone or land use changes citywide, for future housing elements. 

Councilman Tony Kranz said the city tried its best to balance neighborhood concerns with the fact that it was under court order to adopt a plan. 

Kranz, speaking about additions that the Housing and Community Development Department recommended be added to the housing element in February, said the city didn’t have great options.

“That’s the frustration of being in a position in which we have a lot of terrible choices,” Kranz said. ‘When we put the parcels before HCD, not only did they approve the parcels, they put a long list of things that they wanted. 

“Donna (Westbrook) referred to it as a ‘developer’s dream list’ and I can’t disagree because these were all things developers wanted,” Kranz said. “But because of the court order we didn’t have a whole lot of choice.”

Judge Robert Dahlquist recently also ruled against a request by a citizens group called Preserve Proposition A to intervene in the two active lawsuits. 

Dahlquist ruled March 15 that the group’s request was very late in the court proceedings and would unnecessarily delay the resolution of the lawsuits.

“Now, after the merits of the lawsuit have been fully adjudicated, (the group) wants to jump into the fray and re-litigate the case all over again,” Dahlquist wrote in his decision denying the intervener request. “There is no good reason for the court to allow this to happen, and there are very compelling reasons not to allow it to happen.”

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