Encinitas adopts housing element update

Encinitas adopts housing element update
Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that lacks a state-certified plan, known as a housing element. Courtesy photo

The Encinitas City Council unanimously approved the adoption of a housing plan that it hopes would end its well-documented status as an affordable housing scofflaw just weeks before a judge’s deadline to adopt a plan. 

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.

With much less public comment than at previous meetings, the City Council voted 5-0 in favor of the plan, which included 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.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said the city has no option but to comply with the state recommendations under the truncated time frame and need for state officials to OK any plan brought back before a judge. 

“We are under court order to adopt a housing plan in 120 days, and if we don’t we could be held in contempt,” Blakespear said. “We have no bargaining ability, no leverage, and we are having to make changes that we may or may not like because HCD is requiring them. We can’t say no because we have to have HCD’s approval before we go back to court.” 

A divided Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the plan on Feb. 21, the penultimate step in a years long process during which time voters have rejected two attempts at adopting an update, and several entities sued the city for its lack of one and to overturn a 2013 law that they say has empowered voters to block those attempts. 

That law, Proposition A, requires a public vote on major zoning and land-use changes, such as the housing element update. Voters in 2016 and again in 2018 rejected the city’s attempts, Measure T and Measure U. 

Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier in December 2018 gave the city 120 days to adopt a housing element and overturned Prop. A for the current eight-year housing element cycle, which ends in 2021. 

But the City Council, as part of the proposed housing plan, will go back to the courts to seek declaratory relief to allow it to pursue future housing element updates without a vote of the people.

Several residents at the meeting called on the city to not pass the element, which they said went against the will of the voters who rejected much of the plan when they rejected Measure U, which they said doesn’t provide affordable housing as much as it is a giveaway to developers and select land owners. 

“We don’t need the state of California in our back pockets, we just don’t need it,” former mayor Sheila Cameron said. ‘The majority of voters shot this down and all you’ve done is bobble headed this back into existence.”

Donna Westbrook, who frequently opines on municipal issues at council meetings, said the city’s inclusion of the elimination of midrange density requirements came without a full public vetting at workshops and should be removed from the plan.

“These detrimental changes haven’t been discussed in community workshops,” Westbrook said. “Now it will effect neighborhoods.”
Westbrook said that the argument that declaratory relief from Prop. A would only apply to housing elements is misleading because the housing element updates comprise most of the city’s major zoning changes. 

Westbrook and others also pointed out that the city appears to have a disproportionate housing requirement than other similar cities, such as Newport Beach, which only had to plan for two affordable housing units in the current cycle. 

Blakespear, speaking to the public before the vote, said that she believed, despite the criticism of the plan, that the city could absorb any new housing and make it compatible with the city’s suburban character. 

“To me, we can add little bit of that housing and maintain our community character, so it’s not a zero-sum game,” Blakespear said. “To me, we don’t have any options here.”

Councilman Tony Kranz said he agreed with Westbrook that the public “has a legitimate beef” regarding the inclusion of the 11th hour requirements by HCD, but said he would support Wednesday’s vote because it would likely be challenged by residents in court. 

“It seems like we have a formula in place that the other parts of the update can move forward while we litigate that issue,” Kranz said. 

Kranz, who in February disagreed with the decision to ask the judge for declaratory relief from Measure A, said that he feels that a judge won’t grant it, and the question will have to go before voters. 

1 Comment
  1. taxpayerconcerns 5 days ago

    The Housing Element Update 2019 wasn’t presented to the residents of Encinitas at public workshops as the city did with Measures T and U. There were no workshops and no public conversation on the new changes in the Housing Element Update 2019. The Council violated the state law and local ordinances by not providing full public participation.

    Public participation is required under State housing law Section 65583. Section 65585(b)(2) requires that: “The planning agency staff shall collect and compile the public comments regarding the housing element received by the city, county, or city and county, and provide these comments to each member of the legislative body before it adopts the housing element.”

    One Councilman stated that this change “came out of the blue” as he questioned the city’s consultant attorney on who wanted the elimination of the midrange density. It was revealed that letters to HCD prompted that agency to demand the removal of the city wide ordinance. The Mayor quickly made a motion to approve the Housing Element Update 2019 which passed with a 5-0 vote. The residents were cut out of any future discussion of the new Housing Element Update 2019.

    The midrange density ordinance has been part of the Encinitas Code for about 30 years. The municipal code lists the midrange and maximum density for property in each zone in response to subdividing. For an R-5 zone the midrange density is 4 houses per acre and maximum density is 5 houses per acre. That would mean a 10,890 sq.ft. lot for midrange density as opposed to an 8,712 sq.ft. lot for maximum density. A developer could use maximum density if the following was shown:
    The project shows high sensitivity to the neighboring properties and area to ensure compatibility with land uses and community character; and
    The project design significantly exceeds the minimum standards for development (lot size, setbacks, lot width and depth, landscape standards and design standards); and
    The project either:
    (A) Provides needed public improvements that are significantly beyond the requirements for the project, or
    (B) Provides private or public recreational facilities that significantly exceed the project’s requirements, or provides other significant benefits.
    The removal of the midrange ordinance and policy in the General Plan is one of many changes in the developer driven HCD approval demands. The Council has abandoned protecting the city ordinances and General Plan. Send emails to HCD asking them to deny this Housing Element Update 2019.

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