EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has recently been updated and features new information
ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council continues to play a dangerous political game with the Housing Element, now putting the ballot-filing deadline at risk.
After hours of public comment and about 10 minutes of councilmember discussion at the July 18 meeting, the council moved to vote on whether to approve the Housing Element in its current form. The vote tally on the screen flashed 2-2, with Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Tasha Boerner Horvath opposed. Councilman Mark Muir was absent.
As the city’s attorney, Glenn Sabine, then explained, the tie vote meant that no decision could be rendered. Because approving the Housing Element was a prerequisite to approving the ballot measure, no action could be taken on that measure either.
The shock in the room was palpable. Councilman Tony Kranz said, “It seems clear that the mayor is willing to sabotage this.” His comment was interrupted by loud outcries of dissent from attendees. After Blakespear quieted her supporters, Kranz continued, “We have a lot of professional fees that we’re paying tonight and we’re doing a lot of things that we could have postponed until we had five councilmembers here.”
One attorney from the Bay Area who was scheduled to speak about the ballot measure, for instance, didn’t even get a chance to talk.
After the meeting, Blakespear said, “Given that this was the second reading, I didn’t feel it was right to cancel the meeting based on my speculation about who would show up or how they would vote. If I had canceled the meeting it would have pre-empted the public’s chance to participate and my colleagues’ chance to hear testimony and vote.”
She further elaborated, “Holding the meeting allows the process to work and the decision makers to vote their conscience.”
At the previous council meeting on June 18, the council appeared caught between trying to please the state and please voters. That night, Blakespear and Boerner Horvath voted against the other three councilmembers who decided to drop four housing sites.
Removing those sites might jeopardize compliance with California housing law, per a letter issued on July 5 by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Part of the letter states: “Barring additional information, analysis, programs or newly identified vacant sites, if the housing element is adopted with these revisions [the ones voted for on June 20], HCD would not find the housing element compliant with state housing element law.”
The letter further offered various solutions to ensuring compliance, such as putting L-7 — a site the city owns and that has been the source of much contention — back on the list. While some public commenters voiced support for this option, the L-7 property was not discussed in any detail by the council.
The city’s housing ballot measure must be filed with the registrar by Aug. 10. The council moved to put the Housing Element and ballot measure back on the agenda for Aug. 8, leaving very little time to meet that deadline.
Encinitas, furthermore, must return to court on Aug. 17 for a status hearing, which serves the purpose of verifying that the city has filed a state-compliant housing plan with the registrar. The hearing is a condition of the stay imposed by the judge on the litigants who are suing the city for its lack of compliance.
During discussion, Boerner Horvath expressed her displeasure with the Housing Element in its current form. She said, “The two options that I see tonight are either to consider something that is fair and equitable that may risk putting it on the ballot this time around — or ask the voters to do something that does not comply with state law.”
Boerner Horvath continued, “And that’s something within my heart that I can’t do. I don’t think it’s right to spend taxpayer money and rile up our entire community on something that the judge would find illegal at the end of the day.”
Kranz and Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca disagreed that the current plan violates state housing law. Mosca said, “We would never put forth something that doesn’t comply with state law. We pushed back on HCD [Housing and Community Development] because HCD’s scrutiny of the original Housing Element was, we thought, not very fair.”
Mosca pointed to a new housing law that mandates that 50 percent of the sites selected for development must be vacant, yet it defines vacancy in a way Mosca found unreasonable. A city site at the corner of Quail Gardens and Encinitas Boulevard is not considered vacant because it contains a dilapidated structure, for instance.
But as Brenda Wisneski, development services director, pointed out, the city expects to have a permit in early August to demolish that structure. Wisneski said, “HCD again did indicate that once we have that permit in place, they would most likely consider that site vacant.” If that were the case, then Encinitas’ Housing Element would once again be in compliance with that particular law regarding vacant sites.
City staff also discussed a development standard regarding third-floor setbacks that they felt could be resolved with Housing and Community Development.
A recently added site in Leucadia, the Meyer property on Clark Avenue (AD31), has been the source of much public outcry due to traffic and congestion concerns as well as lack of capacity to accommodate significantly more students at Capri Elementary School. One speaker at the meeting said the Meyer site would add 163 units to a neighborhood with about 160 homes.
During deliberation, Boerner Horvath said she highly doubted the landlocked AD31 site would be approved due to the lack of fire access. She voiced her frustration with the fact that the council had dropped L-7 and then replaced it with sites like the Meyer property. She said, “So you’re putting on a false site and riling people up. That’s not transparency. That’s not the open government that I want for my city.”
It remains to be seen what the majority of the council will decide is best for the city when the members reconvene on Aug. 8 for what is sure to be a high-stakes meeting.