Encinitas to miss housing element deadline, path forward proposed

ENCINITAS — The deadline for turning in a housing element — Aug. 30. 

“For the record, we are not on target to meet this deadline,” said City Planning Director Jeff Murphy.

Cities could potentially face lawsuits for not adopting a housing element. However, Encinitas hasn’t certified a housing element since incorporation in 1986, and yet the city hasn’t been significantly penalized.

Still, Murphy said the threat of a lawsuit from a developer or housing advocacy group is “very real.”

“Over the past several years, several jurisdictions have been sued over their housing elements,” Murphy said, citing Oxnard, Calif. as an example.

Also, he said not having a housing element in place makes the city less competitive for transportation grants. And the city will have to update the state on its housing element every four years, instead of eight.

Plus, if the city fails to certify a housing element in three years, builders could take advantage of a penalty known as “builder’s remedy,” which allows developers proposing affordable housing projects to override local zoning rules, Murphy said.

Cities must turn in a housing element every eight years, as per the state department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). For the housing element, cities have to pencil out the potential location of housing, including for low-income residents.

Murphy explained that HCD equates housing density with affordability. In turn, residents have criticized HCD’s approach since the housing units are sold at market rate.

Still, as part of a housing element, the city was initially required to show where 1,300 “low-income” units, zoned at 30 units per acre or greater, could be built.

Murphy said the city has worked to bring down its assigned 1,300 units by taking stock of current housing and zoning in the city. By taking credit for sites zoned for increased density, past building projects and new construction, the city knocked down the 1,300 figure to 853, Murphy said.

And the city is also looking at bringing the figure down further by counting “second-dwelling units,” which are small, second homes built on the same lot as an existing single-family house. Also, the city is investigating if HCD will give it credit for some homes zoned at 25 units per acre.

Councilman Tony Kranz encouraged staff to look for more solutions that don’t require any kind of re-zoning.

“It seems less controversial than re-zoning,” Kranz said. “It would seem to me, if we can create some action toward addressing these numbers without re-zoning, it would be prudent.”

Encinitas has had a difficult time reaching consensus on a housing element. Two years ago, citizens rejected a draft of the housing element that called for concentrating housing units on El Camino Real. In response to residents’ frustrations, City Council scrapped that draft and asked for more input from residents.

At the beginning of the year, two citizen organizations and the city’s planning commission, tasked with reviewing the housing element, presented recommendations for where the HCD units could be located. Additionally, residents were asked last summer to identify where housing could go by taking part in a dot-mapping exercise.

Murphy said the consensus among all the groups was that housing should be distributed roughly equally throughout the city.

Averaging the recommendations out, they recommended 24 percent of units in New Encinitas, 23 percent in Old Encinitas, 23 percent in Leucadia, 15 percent in Cardiff and 15 percent in Olivenhain.

He noted the groups’ results contrasted with the draft-housing element two years ago that focused two-thirds of development in New Encinitas.

Also, the groups recommended placing housing near transit and commercial services.

Based on the recommendations from the groups, City Council directed staff to develop maps for each community showing which areas could accommodate housing. From there, the city will hold meetings in each community, slated for the fall, with the mapping results as a starting point for discussion.

“Ultimately, we’d like to bring back a single community endorsed map,” Murphy said.

 

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