Encinitas pushes housing element vote back

Encinitas pushes housing element vote back
A map shows where state-mandated housing could be placed in Encinitas. Each Encinitas community will review the suggestions with the goal of submitting a citywide map for a public vote in 2016. Image courtesy of the city of Encinitas

ENCINITAS — The city’s housing element will go before voters in November 2016, instead of this fall.

With some reservations over the delay, the City Council unanimously approved the new date at its meeting on Wednesday.

Previously, city officials planned to place the housing element — a map listing locations throughout Encinitas that could accommodate state-mandated housing units — on this November’s ballot.

But city Planning Director Jeff Murphy said that “extremely aggressive timeline” is unrealistic given that documents like an environmental impact report still need to be completed.

Additionally, he said it would take time for the city to get feedback on the housing element through community workshops and online engagement.

“One thing to highlight is that this housing element update is still an urgent matter,” Murphy said.

Encinitas missed the Housing Community Development’s deadline for its blueprint this past August. Because the city is out of compliance, it’s subject to lawsuits from affordable housing advocates.

Plus, the city is losing out on grant opportunities by not having an approved housing element.

For example, SANDAG recently ranked the city’s proposal for a railroad undercrossing at Leucadia Boulevard last on a list of 20 projects competing for funding. If the city had a housing element in place, that project would have been fourth in line, according to Murphy.

Mayor Teresa Barth said she was disappointed when she first heard the housing element wouldn’t make this November’s election.

“But I think it’s far more important that we get it right, rather than just to do it fast,” Barth said.

For the housing element, the city will have to up-zone some parcels. Based on residents’ input, the city released a map last September showing which target areas could potentially be rezoned.

The city has stated residents have a choice of just how much land to rezone.

Residents could “plan up: not out” and raise the height limit to 33 feet in some parts of the city. This would result in having to rezone less land and likely plan for 669 units.

Or they can “plan out: not up” by keeping the city’s current height cap of 30 feet. Doing so would mean the city would have to plan for 1,028 units.

However, Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said the public shouldn’t have only two options. That plan would be divisive and revive the Proposition A debate, which set a citywide height limit of 30 feet.

“Based on the specific locations of those target areas, give us a sensible, integrated proposal as a starting point,” Shaffer said, adding the city shouldn’t encourage residents to take one side or the other.

Two public speakers promoted an amnesty program for “accessory units” — housing built behind or attached to single-family homes — to reduce the number of units the city must pencil out.

The City Council is due to consider the amnesty program in several months. However, Murphy said there’s question over whether the amnesty program could be applied to this housing element, or if it would impact the next one.

Resident Gene Chapo noted the housing element aims to provide affordable units. To actually meet that goal, on land that’s been up-zoned for the housing element, the city should require that developers dedicate most units for low-income residents, he said.

Councilman Tony Kranz said discussions over up-zoning should take traffic into account.

“It’s a non-starter to many people to even consider more density in that area,” Kranz said, referring to a parcel near El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard.

In response, Murphy said he would consult the city’s Traffic Engineering Department to see if there’s a cost effective way to assess the traffic impact of potential re-zone sites.

In mid-February, the city will present a plan for gaining residents’ input through community workshops and online services like Peak Democracy.

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