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Dave Druker
Councilman Dave Druker voted to block residential land-use changes during a Sept. 8 meeting. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Cities Community Del Mar Del Mar Featured

Del Mar risks state enforcement of affordable housing mandate

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that two council members blocked certain land-use changes on two clusters of parcels. In fact, they blocked changes on only one of the clusters. Additionally, the accompanying graphic has been updated to reflect this change. We sincerely regret the error.

DEL MAR — Two Del Mar City Council members blocked long-planned residential land-use changes at a Sept. 8 meeting, leaving others worried the city will run afoul of state affordable housing law and face myriad consequences.

Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland and Councilman Dave Druker cast no votes, preventing the four-fifths supermajority required to give full effect to a raft of proposed legislation.

The aborted measure aimed “to bring the city into compliance with state law,” Principal Planner Amanda Lee told the Council on Tuesday. “These actions are long overdue, and are a key piece of the city’s balanced housing strategy.”

Specifically, the blocked change would’ve allowed denser multi-family residential development on 16 parcels under the North Commercial (NC) land-use designation. These parcels form a cluster near the San Dieguito Lagoon across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Their zoning currently allows various commercial and light industrial uses, as well as certain very-low-density housing.

Council unanimously agreed to the same change on four other parcels under the Professional Commercial (PC) land-use designation along Camino del Mar near Shores Park.

However, failure to implement the changes on all the parcels in question, according to a city staff report, could result in the state overriding local land-use authority, ineligibility for state grant funding, lawsuits, fines by the state up to $100,000 per month, and accelerated planning requirements that will eat up city staff’s time — what Councilman Dwight Worden called a “parade of horrors.”

“[This decision] is going to decimate our city budget. … We just signed up for all kinds of penalties, legal fees, staff time,” Mayor Ellie Haviland said.

Graphic by Dan Brendel

The state-approved 2013-2021 Housing Element of the city’s General Plan obligated the city by 2015 to amend these parcels’ zoning with the new residential use, at a density of 20 units per acre. The state deems that density the minimum necessary to spread development costs sufficiently to finance building lower-income housing units.

An updated Housing Element, currently in the works, also presumes these changes to meet state-mandated affordable housing targets between 2021 and 2029. A draft update, the development of which has cost the city some $415,000 so far, will come before the Planning Commission next week and council next month. The draft update was to head to the state government for review in October, leaving time for back-and-forth revisions ahead of an April adoption deadline, though that timeline is now in question.

“We are backing up our Housing Elements to a point that I don’t know how that’s all going to play out,” Planning and Community Development Director Joseph Smith said.

“In the years we’ve all been on council, this has come before us many times … and each time it was clear we were moving forward with the NC/PC amendments,” Worden said.

“We don’t have months and months to play around and come up with alternatives. This has been studied over and over and over,” Haviland said. “It’s reckless to give our public the perception that we have all the time in the world to debate this and study this and spend more time and staff resources on this.”

But “no one approached [the state] with an alternative to the NC up-zone, ever,” Gaasterland told The Coast News. “Now, with [Tuesday’s] vote, we will be obliged to approach them.”

Gaasterland pointed to alternatives outlined in a June 15 report from certain members of the city’s Housing Element Ad-Hoc Citizens’ Task Force. The report prioritized repurposing various city-owned properties and the Del Mar Fairgrounds for affordable housing, as well as encouraging homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (“granny flats”).

Gaasterland said allowing more residential density near the lagoon would put residents at risk of a constrained evacuation route in the event of wildfires, as well as sea-level rise.

“We just need to postpone and take a harder look,” she said Tuesday. “I’m not being reckless. I’m providing credible, feasible alternatives.”

“[The property in question] should be residential, I want it to be residential. I just don’t like the 20 units per acre zoning,” Druker said, preferring a lower density cap instead. “By allowing it to be 20 units per acre, we create the potential for a massive number of units to be in that area.”

City staff estimate as many as 111 units in total. However, Gaasterland figures more than double that figure.

Smith and City Attorney Barry Schultz concurred that capping density any lower would prevent the city from achieving compliance. A recent Environmental Impact Report also concluded a lower-density alternative “would not feasibly attain the most basic objectives of the proposed program.”

Druker said the Council should hold off deciding such “a hot button issue” until after the November election, where three of five council seats are up for grabs.

4 comments

concerned September 16, 2020 at 3:26 pm

Del Mar should sue HCD for false pretenses.

The residents of Encinitas were told that upzoning “to meet the law” required 30 housing units per acre and 20 units weren’t allowed. The builders told HCD that they needed taller buildings to give occupants more spacious apartments. HCD agreed, the Encinitas council also agreed and increased the building height. Builders wanted to count unbuildable areas on property to get more housing allowed. HCD and council agreed. These changes and more were part of the 5th cycle housing element update (HEU).

Flash forward to the draft 6th cycle where results are given on 7 submitted projects of the 5th cycle upzoned properties. Buried in Appendix C part 1 of the 6th cycle draft HEU shows only 227 low income apartments to be built out of the projected 847 low income in the HEU. Another 1,453 market rate apartments for the financial benefit of the developers will be build. One apartment building complex will be 7 stories tall with 283 apartments but only 42 low income apartments.

Encinitas Mayor Blakespear and council have repeated to residents that no more upzoning will occur. However, HCD has put the city on notice more upzoning is needed to meet the 5th and 6 cycle HEU low income. Unfortunately, that upzoning won’t come until after the election where Blakespear, Kranz, and Hinze want to be elected to continue the upzoning but haven’t revealed all the upzoning in the city that they can approve. Only a simple council (3 members) vote is needed to increase zoning.
Encinitas needs new leadership.

Anne Farrell September 11, 2020 at 3:03 pm

The State of California, in response to the statewide housing crisis, has mandated very clear parameters for every municipality, including Del Mar, in terms of how many affordable housing units must be available. Culminating with the September 8th City Council meeting, there has been considerable misinformation put forth by Councilmembers Druker and Gaasterland on this issue—and their “no” votes at the meeting will have profound negative impact on Del Mar for years to come. It was a shameful act of “politics” over “community good.” Because of their obstruction, the zoning amendments that were unanimously recommended by the Planning Commission and professional staff were rejected, and now we face stiff penalties from the State that will be very costly to our already-strained budget thanks to COVID. The red herrings of their “concern” over fire safety, traffic, or environmental issues were all dealt with extensively by the staff and Planning Commission in the zoning amendments, but they are being used as excuses to placate nearby neighbors who don’t want additional residential development near their neighborhood. Del Mar currently has ZERO low- to moderate-income housing units that qualify for the state’s mandate. This kind of elitism will only exacerbate the difficulties of complying with California’s very clear housing mandates moving forward. Del Mar now faces lawsuits, court orders, and penalties. But this housing issue was also about making our community more accessible to all, not just the very rich. That laudable and important goal was made all the more difficult, thanks to the obstructionism of Druker and Gaasterland.

Jill Gartman September 11, 2020 at 2:16 pm

I served on the recently concluded housing task force, and this is just a political game Terry and Dave are playing along with those that put together the housing preservation and production report from the task force (one which is also running for city council). If you read the very bottom of the housing production report referenced in this article, which is available on the city’s website, you will find a disclaimer that says the law AB 1397 wasn’t considered in this report because the authors didn’t know about it. AB 1397 is the state law that requires rezoning to a minimum of 20 units per acre! Terry and Dave are ignoring all expert advice and instead referencing a layman’s report put together by every day citizens including Gaasterland. Does this make any sense to you logically? I hope not. It’s all a game to fool voters into thinking they are the ones that can stave off increasing housing density in Del Mar.

Dave wants to appear to be a hero but the reality is it is reckless behavior. Del Mar residents should not be be fooled by their antics. If we don’t rezone North Commercial as promised then we rezone the North Bluff AND South Bluff to 20 units per acre. It is the law. Thanks, Dave and Terry. After all that hard work to save the North Bluff with defeating Measure G you are now putting it at risk for rezoning at 20 units per acre! That’s no hero to me.

Bud Emerson September 11, 2020 at 2:12 pm

Readers should know that in a public workshop eight years ago that Druker advocated 20 units per acre on that site.

Comments are closed.