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.”

15 Comments
  1. MartinWat 1 month ago

    Hellow my name is MartinWat. Wery good article! Thx 🙂

  2. Teresa Barth 1 month ago

    This was a shameful display of NIMBY-ism and political posturing by Mosca. I’m proud of the two women on the council who didn’t backdown from the verbal intimidation from the neighbors. The idea that selling the property would provide the city with funds ‘to support affordable housing elsewhere” in the city is just lip service.

  3. Glen Johnson 1 month ago

    Mosca’s flip under pressure has put our City into a very difficult position. The Housing Element was to have been about providing housing sites for people without the money to buy big palace homes. The plan that was left provides sites just for market-rate housing, with a few scraps maybe being affordable. I cannot support this scam.

    Teressa, I agree with your comments.

  4. Maria Gualda 1 month ago

    Seriously, we are not trying to put a drug recovery house on Quail Gardens! We just want our grown children to be able to raise their families in the beautiful city where they were raised. We elect our city council to make the difficult decisions for us. That’s what leadership is about. Good leaders see the bigger picture and do not succumb to pressure from the NIMBY’s. The three council members who voted to remove the site are heroes to the residents on Quail Gardens. Will you now open your wallets and help Encinitas pay the mountain of legal costs that will continue over yet another failed attempt at affordable housing? We need more leaders like Catherine Blakespear who aren’t afraid to be unpopular with the few for the betterment of us all.

    • Tom Apple 4 weeks ago

      Well said.

  5. Melissa Catania 1 month ago

    Calling the residents of Quail Gardens Drive NIMBYs is divisive and untrue. No one here is opposed to affordable housing. Around 40% of all the affordable housing sites submitted are on Quail Gardens Drive…about 200 units at Quail and Encinitas, about 200 units on Quail and Leucadia, and about 200 units on L7. That’s a lot of density on that 1.2 mile, already impacted street. Meanwhile only a negligible amount of sites were submitted in Cardiff and Olivenhien. Nobody here is opposed to the sites on Encinitas or Leucadia, but L7 has long ago been deemed to be an inappropriate site, and both task force members are opposed to L7 being used. Furthermore, that property is worth around 8 million dollars. Selling that property makes much more sense than. giving that land to developers for free.

    • Glen Johnson 1 month ago

      Melissa, the other sites on QGD are all about market rate housing with maybe 10% after Density Bonus for affordable. The Baldwin representative is quite clear on their objective. This being said, the entire plan is hopelessly flawed.

  6. Christopher Edward 1 month ago

    It is sad that such an obvious solution to our problem would be taken away like this. This town is missing its sense of unity. The pros for this land outweighed the cons by so much. It is funny what people will do to maintain their sense of self worth. Lord forbid we sacrifice our sacred parking spots so our city can have more affordable housing and come into compliance. Let’s look past our selfish egos and do what is right.

    • Glen Johnson 1 month ago

      Agreed but adequate parking is one of the more important amenities in housing. This issue has been brought up to mask the greed of developers wo want to leave town with the profit and leave the town with a big problem.

      • Bob Kent 1 month ago

        The current draft Housing Element shines a very bright light on where we are today: for the seven-year period covered January 1, 2010 – December 31, 2017, the City has produced only 66 of its 1,286 state mandated obligation with 1,220 units remaining, this represents reaching only 5% of the target.

        It’s through this lens that I am so disappointed that L7 was removed, without first providing a viable replacement property–which will produce much needed affordable housing, now, in our community. The current Housing Element List now only includes privately held parcels, which will produce much less affordable housing, over a longer period of time, taking into account the City’s inclusionary housing ordinance. By not fully up zoning L7, the number of affordable housing units to be built over the next several years has been cut almost in half–at a point in time, where we are already so far behind in meeting our obligations, from both a legal and most importantly from a human perspective. Also, the future sale of L7 does not guarantee any new affordable housing will be built, since without land, we cannot build an affordable housing community. If land is identified, it could take years before the housing is built.

        With respect to the neighbors’ legitimate concerns regarding the concentration of sites in Quail Gardens, the City is constrained by the new state mandate requiring 50% of all sites be on vacant land. So how about keeping L7 on the list for affordable housing now and consider removing another site in that same neighborhood? The result being fewer units concentrated in this neighborhood, while increasing the number of actual affordable units produced.

        The status quo is not sustainable. So, the question now is: What should we be doing differently in Encinitas to achieve a much better result in producing affordable housing for our community members? Our community members are the young entrepreneurs and college graduates who are working but may be living with their parents because they cannot afford to rent on their own. They include the retail worker and hospital staff who make between $15-$20 hour to support their families and seniors who are getting priced out the very expensive rental market. These community members are our children, parents, grandparents, friends and co-workers. We all know these folks. They are us.

        There is no doubt that our elected officials, the Housing Element task force members, city staff and other stakeholders are working diligently to solve a housing problem that’s been in the making for decades. I will continue to support our collective efforts to provide much needed affordable housing to our community members.

  7. DThom 1 month ago

    I do not support “affordable” housing. What I do support is individuals working and saving so that they can live in this beautiful area. All of those who are pushing the affordable housing issue would also be pushing the “We are too crowded” issue and the “There are too many cars” issue. Well, why do you think there are too many cars, too much pollution, etc.?! We are trying to cram too many people into too small of a space (anyone like driving on the freeway around here?) and all because people should be “entitled” to live here! I think not! The last time I checked my “values meter,” it indicated people should save, strive and work for what they have, not be given something that the rest of us have made sacrifices to achieve. I grew up in Orange County and have seen what’s been done to that once beautiful area-San Diego/Encinitas is fast approaching the same cliff….and all because of the untethered opinion that people who cannot afford to live here should be allowed to live here simply because they “want to.”

  8. Jean Keyes 1 month ago

    When we have council members that consider responding to the reasonable objections of citizens as “bowing to public pressure” and a Planning department that has named developers as the “Stakeholders” on this issue something is seriously wrong. L7 has never been an appropriate location for 190 homes. Both of the appointed Housing Element commissioners advised against it. What we need now is true leadership to move forward with removing/upzoning L7 and producing a Housing Element that will pass with voters. This is entirely possible. The modified list still has the required number of units, vacant, land and buffer to potentially pass HCD’s review. There are other city owned vacant sites that can be considered. SeaCoast Church has stepped up and offered vacant land on it’s site and they are likely to accept a much higher yield of affordable units than profit driven developers. And there should be more pushback and negotiation with developers who want to build in Encinitas. Blakespear could be the one to provide this leadership. We’ll see if she is up to the task.

  9. Tom Apple 4 weeks ago

    Why is Encinitas not building along El Camino Real and Encinitas Blvd.? There is acreage available to support affordable apartments and condos with mass transit and shopping destinations. The roadways sufficient to handle additional traffic as well.

    • Jeff Anderson 3 weeks ago

      Exactly what I was going to post. Who owns the area between Armstrong nursery and home Depot? Sell L7 and go acquire that. It’s perfect for high density building

  10. Eric Maundry 4 weeks ago

    The opposite of a NIMBY is a LULU. Locally Unwanted Land User. As long as people here believe name calling is substantive debate, let’s get both of these fine acronyms into the mix.

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