In surprising reversal, council removes Leucadia site from affordable housing plan

In surprising reversal, council removes Leucadia site from affordable housing plan
Encinitas, one of the few cities statewide without a certified housing element has struggled to find a plan that would pass muster with voters. Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — A divided Encinitas City Council made an about-face, removing a controversial city-owned parcel in Leucadia from its affordable housing plan just a week after voting to keep it on.

Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca reversed course and joined council members Mark Muir and Tony Kranz in a 3-2 vote to remove the property, known as “L-7,” from the housing element.
Encinitas, one of the few cities statewide without a certified housing element — the document that outlines the city’s plans for meeting regionally mandated affordable housing goals — has struggled to find a plan that would pass muster with voters.

The city’s most recent attempt, Measure T, failed at the ballot in November 2016. A City Council subcommittee has been working since last February on a plan that would succeed in the November 2018 general election, but the current attempt has been frustrated by recent changes in state law.

At the same time, the city is being sued by a development consultant, an affordable housing advocate and the Building Industry Association for its lack of a housing plan. Those cases are set to be heard April 30.

The current proposal called for zoning that would accommodate 1,600 units of denser development, slightly more than the 1,170 the state is mandating the city account for during the current housing cycle, which ends in 2021. State law requires cities to have a buffer in the number of units in the event that a property owner opts not to developing housing on one of the sites.

Under the city’s current proposal, certain vacant and sparsely populated sites around town would be rezoned to accommodate upwards of 30 units per acre.

Under this plan, the  7.6-acre site on Quail Gardens Drive — on which current zoning would only allow seven units — could have seen as many as 190 units developed in an area dominated by less dense homes on acre plots.

For months, residents in the surrounding neighborhood have implored the city to remove the property from consideration, arguing that dense development would exacerbate parking and traffic issues along the two-lane street.

A number of residents again came to the April 18 meeting, which was supposed to be a discussion about the design standards for the newly zoned sites, and took aim at the majority who voted to include L-7 on the draft housing element plan, which the city submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development April 12 for certification.

Several residents said they felt blindsided by the decision, despite the ongoing discussion about the L-7 property for several months. They vowed that if the city moved forward, they would vote against the housing plan and sue to have the property removed, which could further delay the housing element.

Mosca, who met with residents in Encinitas Ranch over the weekend, said that he believed the best decision was to take the property off of the housing element plan and zone it to allow for three units per acre and sell it or swap it with another property in the city.

When he made the motion to do so, a visibly Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath and Mayor Catherine Blakespear — who voted against the proposal — criticized Mosca’s decision.

Alluding to the lawsuits the city faces as a result of its scofflaw status with state housing laws, Horvath said she believed the city’s legal adversaries would use the decision in court to show the city’s lack of commitment to affordable housing.

Horvath and Blakespear said the allure of the L-7 site was that the city owned it and could guarantee that all of the units would be dedicated for affordable housing, as opposed to other sites, which could be developed largely as market rate units – defeating the purpose of the housing element.

“We look like complete fools to do this,” Horvath said. “We are jeopardizing the integrity of our entire process with this choice.”

Blakespear said that at some point, the city needed to make tough decisions about where to place affordable housing, rather than removing sites due to political pressure from neighbors – as they have done in the past.

“The idea that you’re … meeting with people in their homes thinking this is going to make a difference and it’s not going to make the difference,” Blakespear said to Mosca. “What’s going to make the difference is actually if we do build some affordable housing… If you pull off L-7, we are not doing our part.”

Blakespear echoed Horvath’s concerns that the removal of L-7 would be used against the city in court.

“We are handing them another argument, for them to say Encinitas is a NIMBY city that does not believe in affordable housing and is not going to build any,” Blakespear said. “And the idea that we are going to sell property after zoning it and somehow we are going to buy a spot in the city that is not going to have opposition is completely specious and absurd.”

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