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Del Mar split over state-mandated housing allocation

DEL MAR — There are very few — if any — cities in the region that are pleased with the housing allocation they received for the upcoming housing element cycle, according to San Diego Association of Regional Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata.

And Del Mar — the smallest city in the county — is certainly no exception.

Faced with the reality of the housing crisis, the state of California allocated about 171,000 housing units to San Diego County for the 2021-2029 housing cycle —  to be split among the region’s 19 jurisdictions.

In Del Mar, the allocation of 163 units has prompted a mounting discussion over how exactly to accommodate the units by 2029 in a nearly built-out city, with ever-climbing property values. The number is well over double what the city was allocated for its current cycle.

The process has also revealed an apparent rift in the council and community at large. During a Sept. 30 City Council discussion, residents split over whether to fight the “bad data” used to formulate the final allocation, or to accept the allocation as is and move forward.

“ … it’s fractured the community because there’s unrealistic expectations that we’re going to somehow find some magic number that’s going to make us not have to do anything,” said active resident Bud Emerson.

The methodology used to determine the allocations has now been approved by the SANDAG board and awaits a final stamp of approval by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We just don’t have a lot of degrees of freedom in terms of being able to get numbers changed,” said Mayor Dave Druker.

Regardless, several residents urged the council to take a second look at the allocation and see if there is any way to mitigate the numbers.

Resident John Imperato said during public comment the council should “see if it’s appealable,” specifically when it comes to the weighing of jobs.

The methodology puts a 65% weight on job density and a 35% weight on the presence of major transit stops and rail and rapid stations in a city. It also takes into account equity in order to determine the number of each housing type (i.e., moderate-, low-, very-low-income levels) for each city, so that wealthier cities are allocated more affordable units, for example. Del Mar currently has zero built affordable housing units.

For Del Mar —  which has no transit centers — the entire weight of its allocation was placed on job density. For months, the council has been raising concerns over how jobs at the Del Mar Fairgrounds are being integrated into the allocation. Of the approximately 4,400 jobs that SANDAG calculated for Del Mar, nearly 2,000 of those are jobs at the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds, most of which are part-time and/or seasonal.

“The fairgrounds is the biggest driver (of jobs), yet to this day, we don’t understand how they categorized the fairgrounds jobs,” said Greg Rothnam, speaking during public comment on behalf of local group Moving Del Mar Forward.

SANDAG staff at the meeting said the numbers were determined based on Employment Development Department data, which “counted” a job if an individual considered it their “primary job,” according to SANDAG Principal Regional Planner Coleen Clementson.

The methodology was approved at a SANDAG meeting on Sept. 6; however, Solana Beach Mayor Dave Zito proposed an alternative methodology that would take 55% of the allocations from the region’s five smallest cities and redistribute them to jurisdictions that saw their allocations decrease from the last cycle.

If the motion had succeeded, it would have brought Del Mar’s allocated number of units to 73.

Del Mar and Imperial Beach — two of the five small cities considered by the alternative motion — voted no on Zito’s proposal. This was shortly after Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland spoke during public comment to question the data behind SANDAG’s methodology, as well as the weight put on the region’s seven smallest cities. She said that such cities received 8% of the RHNA allocation but have less than 2% of the habitable land area.

At the Sept. 30 council meeting, Clementson and Ikhrata explained that land area, current zoning and land values cannot be considered in the methodology, based on requirements in state law.

“As far as the state of California is concerned, every jurisdiction should be able to rezone, no jurisdiction is built out and we all need to be planning for more housing,” Clementson said.

Councilwoman Ellie Haviland, who represents Del Mar on the SANDAG board, told The Coast News that Zito’s proposed motion was “never really a valid option,” and would have been contrary to the region’s transportation and climate action goals.

SANDAG staff confirmed at the council meeting that redistributing units away from small cities — especially the very wealthy cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach and Coronado — would have been a “red flag” for HCD.

The apparent divide between the council members at the Sept. 6 SANDAG meeting was met again with a mixed response from the community. Some praised Gaasterland for analyzing the data, and others were concerned that her comments at the meeting portrayed a lack of unity in the council.

“This will only undermine the credibility of Del Mar as a regional leader,” said area resident and prior City Councilwoman Lee Haydu.

After HCD approves the methodology, cities will have until April 2021 to get their housing elements certified.

During the Sept. 30 meeting’s council priorities item, Councilman Dwight Worden reported that the city’s community relations committee has started looking at possibilities for housing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Staff reported that they are looking to integrate some of those options into the next housing element.

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