If Encinitas is to succeed with a housing plan that meets both state requirements and public acceptance, we need to get over simplistic reactions that paint all developers as bad; city staff as untrustworthy; and all residents as arbiters of truth. We are all stakeholders, and we will need residents to work with developers to ensure that the housing that will inevitably be built is well designed, well constructed, and as affordable as possible.
At the April 4 Encinitas City Council meeting, a public speaker angrily denounced the city for holding what was labeled as a “stakeholder meeting” with a group of developers and affordable housing organizations. There is reason from our past to be distrustful of staff and elected officials who approved projects with little public input and questionable consideration of community character. The City also has been out of compliance with state law for 20 years. Some past elected officials seemed to favor developers and in the last cycle, some seemed more interested in keeping vocal neighbors happy than in fulfilling their legal obligations. The response was Prop A which requires a public vote on rezoning, and three expensive lawsuits that demand that we rezone to meet state law.
Some scoffed at the need for rezoning and said “what are they going to do, sue us?” and then “they” in the form of the BIA and affordable housing developers sued. Whether or not the courts decide that state law takes precedence over a local initiative, it is in the City’s interest to develop a plan that has public support. It is also essential that the plan incorporate input from developers. After all, someone has to design, finance, and build the units for us to achieve our affordable housing goals.
Staff might do better to refer to developers and affordable housing organizations as technical advisors rather than stakeholders, but meeting with them is entirely appropriate. One reason housing is so expensive is the complexity and duration of the entitlement process. The City has an interest in trying to streamline the system to reduce time and uncertainty, which can translate into lower costs. Asking experts for their input is both appropriate and useful. We have new staff and they need the latitude to do their job, including working with building professionals as well as the public.
I hope the residents who have invested so much time and energy in advocating against particular parcels will turn their attention to working with the many local architects and builders in our area to design and support creative housing solutions. It is nonsense to refer to Quail Gardens Drive as rural or as ranch land as one speaker did.
But it is essential that whatever gets built in that corridor takes into account the horticultural, agricultural, and educational enterprises currently thriving there. Let’s work together to address the traffic impacts and ensure safe walking, cycling, and transit alternatives. If we are open to respectful dialog and mutual education, we can succeed.
Lisa Shaffer is the former Encinitas Deputy Mayor