In the last month, we received news about the amount of housing the state is proposing for San Diego County in the next eight-year housing cycle.
I hope you’re sitting down — it is 21,000 new homes annually, which is more than three times the 7,000 homes that San Diego County is currently producing each year.
The state is proposing 171,685 housing units countywide for the cycle that begins in 2021.
To recap, here’s the process: the state assigns a specific number of new homes to the county and then the county divides that number of homes among all 18 cities and the unincorporated area using a complex formula. This is usually a contentious and divisive process. Each city is required to put together a plan that hits those required numbers, then the plan heads back to the state for approval.
What happens if we don’t put together a plan for approval by the state? You get sued, as Encinitas has been. The first major hearing in our existing housing lawsuits is this month, on April 30.
Driving around the county, we all notice lots of new homes already being built. The idea of tripling that seems unappealing and frankly completely unrealistic. Furthermore, the most common feedback I hear from constituents is concern about the time they spend sitting in traffic, which is inevitably lengthened by adding more homes, bringing more cars.
Despite this on-the-ground reality, there is no serious policy discussion about whether more homes are needed in every city and county in the state. The entire state focus is on how to get local governments and the private markets to build more homes.
These policy level housing discussions seem to take place in an alternative universe from the one in which many residents live.
Policy makers at the state level point to growth forecasts indicating that cities aren’t even close to keeping up with demand. This demand is based on “housing formation trends,” which means starting new families, the amount of overcrowding within existing homes, birth rates, projections of housing loss, and anticipated new jobs in the county. These factors all drive the need for more housing.
Encinitas has been in the trenches with our housing battles for many years. And we’re fighting on all sides — with community members who don’t want more housing, with lawyers in three court battles over whether voters are legally allowed under Proposition A to vote on a housing element, and sometimes we spar with each other as we try to determine where to zone for more housing. (In the lawsuits, the City Council is defending Proposition A, which the voters passed in 2013, and requires upzoning be taken to the people for approval.)
As your mayor, I see our city held up as Exhibit A as to why the state is in a housing crisis. Local governments like ours that don’t comply with state housing laws are blamed for the housing shortage. And Encinitas is the only city in the county without a state-approved housing plan.
On a recent conference call with a state senator’s office, where I was advocating against a proposed housing bill that would require cities to accept by right development up to eight stories within a half-mile of transit centers, there was a reference made to cities that are “good actors” and “bad actors,” with those that are “good actors” having the right to comment on the bill. The implication about Encinitas was clear.
Choosing to support more housing is often an intellectual decision, not an emotional one.
It’s deciding that we want a community where our parents can afford to rent or buy when they want to downsize. Do we want a city where our adult children can live when they first start earning money? It’s recognizing that when we try to shut the door after ourselves, and say, “I’ve got my house, and I don’t want you or your car in my city,” it implicates race and class assumptions about who we keep out and why.
When people have homes they are, by definition, not homeless. None of us want our neighbors to live on the streets, for their sake and for ours. But those who have a lower income such as a low-wage job, or only a social security check or a VA benefit, have to be able to afford a place to rent in order to get off the street.
I’m trying to do the best possible job navigating the housing realities facing us in Encinitas.
I know that we can’t house everyone here. There are limits. But we can do more than we’ve done up to now. And we can do it in a way that respects our community character.
The newest housing plan, which voters will see on their ballots in November, will allow the zoning for about 1,600 smaller, more attainably priced homes in our city, which is about 6.5 percent of the 25,000 housing units that we already have here.
The city is spending time and energy updating policies that raise the number of affordable homes required in every market-rate development project. We’ve incentivized building accessory units by waiving fees and relaxing regulations. We’re also focusing on housing development in Encinitas that results in housing credit with the state rather than allowing housing uses that give us no credit. Our efforts are paying off, with at least 10 new granny flat projects since we introduced the ordinance waiving fees a few weeks ago.
Creating and implementing housing policy is painful and exhausting in Encinitas, but we press forward, doing our level best with all available tools and strategies.
Catherine S. Blakespear is Encinitas elected mayor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.