VISTA — In one crucial way, Encinitas continues to be a city without a plan. Still lacking a state-approved housing plan and reeling in the aftermath of a contentious City Council decision to remove a site called L7 from its list of potential affordable-housing locations, Encinitas received temporary reprieve in court on April 30.
The three lawsuits brought against Encinitas centered on the city’s failure to enact a Housing Element, a state-mandated document that details how a city will meet its housing obligations, with particular attention paid to accommodating low-income residents.
Vista Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier granted Encinitas additional time to win voter approval for a Housing Element. The hearing will be postponed until Nov. 13, after the ballot. At that time, Frazier will rule on whether Encinitas has satisfied California law and, if not, whether the city should have to adopt an earlier plan called Measure T.
When Encinitas residents in 2016 voted down Measure T, a housing proposal that would have paved the way for state compliance, the Building Industry Association of San Diego County (BIA) and San Diego Tenants United filed suits against the city. The BIA sued on the grounds that Encinitas failed to reach consensus on enough new housing developments, while San Diego Tenants United based their suit on the lack of affordable housing available to tenants.
Attorneys for those two entities argued in court on Monday that Encinitas should be forced to immediately comply with state law, with BIA lawyer Timothy Hutter requesting that Frazier make Encinitas adopt the previously voter-rejected Measure T in its entirety.
This is the second time that BIA has sued Encinitas over housing. The city settled the first 2014 suit, but BIA followed up with a second one when Encinitas failed to adopt a Housing Element through the 2016 ballot.
As reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune on July 13, 2017, BIA’s CEO Borre Winckel described the second lawsuit as a means to “cause compliance on a time table that differs materially from the city’s feet-dragging record.”
Although the third lawsuit, brought by DCM Properties Inc., had already been settled, the DCM attorney claimed at the April 30 hearing that the city’s continued lack of a state-approved plan constituted a violation of the settlement. Frazier denied that claim.
Frazier is requiring the city to attend a status hearing in August in order to verify that the measure gets submitted in time for the November ballot.
In an email correspondence with the Coast News, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear stated that the court’s decision to allow residents a chance to vote on the next housing proposal is “the best possible outcome for the city of Encinitas.” She also wrote that the judge’s decision “to give the city until after November before deciding the merits of this case was his attempt to fairly balance state housing laws against the rights guaranteed by the initiative process.”
Blakespear has faced stiff opposition by residents who do not want affordable-housing units built in their neighborhoods or who worry about the traffic that such developments could bring. She was dealt, what she described on her April 22 blog post, a “disappointing setback” for both herself and the city when the City Council voted 3-2 on April 18 to withdraw L7 from the proposed housing plan. L7 would have contributed 190 units of affordable housing, more than any other site on the plan.
Putting the numbers into perspective, Blakespear wrote in that same post: “In the last six years, the city has only seen 66 affordable units built, instead of the 1,286 units we are required to produce under state law. That’s 5% of the target.”
Encinitas is one of few cities in the state — and the only one in San Diego County — without a currently enacted Housing Element. The city is running on borrowed time to adopt a plan that should have been, by law, implemented years ago.
Voters in November will ultimately decide whether Encinitas becomes compliant with California law or faces a tougher day in court. Blakespear is hopeful, noting in her email, “We are working very hard to come up with a housing plan that voters will embrace. I have every confidence in our ability to be successful this time around.”