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Del Mar grapples with looming housing crisis

Above: California has allotted 171,685 housing units to San Diego County based on regional housing needs. Courtesy photo

DEL MAR — As housing mandates from the state trickle down to the local level, small coastal cities like Del Mar are struggling to come to terms with the state’s looming housing crisis.

The state has apportioned 171,685 housing units to San Diego County based on regional housing needs, and the San Diego Association of Governments is currently figuring out how to distribute those units among the county’s 19 jurisdictions — a process called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).

Del Mar City Planner Kathleen Garcia estimated at a May 20 council meeting that Del Mar could be allocated anywhere between 160 to 225 units for the next eight-year housing element cycle, which will start in 2021.

The units will be divided among four income categories: very low, low, moderate and above moderate income.

As the smallest city in the county, Del Mar is beginning to brace itself for the real numbers. Del Mar has a population of about 4,100 in an approximately 2-square-mile area, and in the words of several city council members, is essentially “built-out.”

“We’ve already lost,” said Mayor Dave Druker, as council members discussed how to confront the ever-growing numbers mandated by the state.

Though not yet finalized, the methodology developed by SANDAG will distribute those units per city based on nearby transit opportunities, the number of jobs in the city and equity.

The “equity” standard aims to spread affordable units — or low and very low income units — throughout the county, regardless of any city’s existing demographic.

“That’s wonderful if you started out with a city as a blank slate,” said Druker in regard to the equity goal. “We are not a blank slate.”

When it comes to the upcoming housing element cycle, Del Mar would not be given any units based on transit — at the moment, the most frequent transit offering Del Mar has is a bus running at half-hour intervals, and residents are not within walking distance of rail or rapid transit.

“That’s the end of the good news,” said Garcia.

However, Del Mar does have jobs — and by SANDAG’s count, the sum of jobs that will be used to determine Del Mar’s allocation is 4,484. The city has a more modest estimate under its belt — in the realm of 2,000.

Garcia assumes based on the job categories outlined by SANDAG that the elevated numbers take into account both part-time and full-time jobs.

And a large portion of the area’s part-time jobs come from the Del Mar Fairgrounds, which employs predominantly part-time workers.

With that in mind, council members are looking to the state-owned property for solutions to the city’s lack of housing stock -— though at this point the dialogue is preliminary. The fairgrounds takes up about a third of the land in Del Mar.

“That’s our ace in the pocket,” Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland said. “That’s our only way we’re going to solve this.”

Del Mar has struggled for years with how to comply with affordable housing mandates, particularly as a city so tied to its quaint village feel (single-family homes, height restrictions), and where the cost of land is prohibitive to developers.

“It seems like quite the uphill battle,” Garcia told The Coast News.

The city embarked on a study in 2016 to determine how it might be able to accomplish the 22 affordable housing units it was allocated by the state during its current housing cycle. Ten of those units were allocated as a penalty for not fulfilling its affordable units during the fourth housing element cycle.

The study — called “22 in 5” — looked at various options, such as “unlocking land” owned by the city for redevelopment, securing units through development projects, and partnering with the 22nd District Agricultural Association to create affordable housing on the fairgrounds property.

Del Mar currently has zero units deemed “affordable,” though the city will soon have three: one accessory dwelling unit and two affordable units through the voter-approved 941 Camino Del Mar project.

The city is in the process of completing its fifth housing element — taking steps toward affordable housing through tasks such as studying the potential rezoning of certain city-owned parcels in order to accommodate housing.

The city was allocated 61 units during the current housing element cycle, across all income categories. The city has produced 33 of those units since the housing element was established in 2013, with all but one falling into the “above moderate” income category.

SANDAG’s RHNA subcommittee has not yet finalized its methodology for the upcoming cycle — Garcia said the final numbers should come in mid-June, after which SANDAG’s board of directors will adopt the RHNA plan. After that process has been finalized, Del Mar will have until April 2021 to develop its next housing element and get it certified.

Del Mar is not alone in its struggle to meet regional housing needs — only 31% of housing allocated to San Diego in this cycle has been implemented.