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Del Mar
The state's Department of Housing and Community Development said the city's Housing Element "no longer substantially complies” with state requirements. File photo
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Del Mar takes conciliatory position on housing, uncertainty remains

DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council took steps unanimously on Oct. 19 to avert punitive actions by the state government, despite protracted disagreement about bringing local land-use policies into compliance with state affordable housing law.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) cautioned in a Sept. 30 letter that the city’s Housing Element, a chapter of its Community Plan (aka General Plan), “no longer substantially complies” with state requirements. HCD gave the city until Oct. 30 to respond. Continued noncompliance could result in various consequences, including the state overriding local land use authority.

HCD’s shot across the bow stemmed largely from the city’s years-long failure to implement its current Housing Element’s so-called Program 2-G. According to that program, the city would, by 2014, allow extra residential density and ministerial development approval on two properties — the “Watermark” parcels — in the city’s North Commercial zone.

Councilmembers authorized city staff Monday to initiate these changes.

They also authorized a written response to HCD, which says the city will undertake Program 2-G “expeditiously,” “strongly desires to cure its non-compliance” and “respectfully requests HCD refrain from further enforcement.”

The city’s letter also refers to Program 2-E, according to which the city would, by 2015, allow residential development at an increased density in the North Commercial zone.

The city’s compliance status regarding this program, and the council’s commitment to implement it, are unclear.

Fully implementing this Program 2-E would require (1) adding residential as an allowable North Commercial use; and (2) amending North Commercial zoning to allow more density. Reversing the typical order of adoption, the council passed the second in a bitter 3 to 2 vote on Oct. 5, with Councilmembers Terry Gaasterland and Dave Druker dissenting. The first would require a 4 to 1 supermajority, which Gaasterland and Druker blocked Sept. 8.

According to its response to HCD: “The city would also take local action on the North Commercial land use designation before April 15, 2021 … to ensure internal consistency between all sections of its Community Plan.”

Councilmembers don’t agree with what “taking local action” means.

For some, it means Gaasterland or Druker changing their minds, or else voters electing new councilmembers in November to enable the amendment’s required supermajority.

“The hope is that before the April deadline we have four councilmembers who have the good sense to keep our commitment and to get back into compliance with state law,” Mayor Ellie Haviland told The Coast News.

For Gaasterland and Druker, taking action would mean negotiating some alternatives with HCD.

“One alternative is to split the [North Commercial] zone into two zones …, then we can create a Community Plan update for the less environmentally sensitive parcels,” Druker said.

“While the city may seek alternatives for addressing statutory requirements to demonstrate adequate sites, … [HCD] has not seen or reviewed any new alternatives for compliance,” HCD told The Coast News. “Any changes to the approved strategies would introduce uncertainty for compliance and significant pause given the timing in the planning period.”

“[This statement] indicates to me that they are indeed willing to consider alternatives,” Gaasterland said. “I respectfully and humbly ask HCD to give Del Mar one more chance.”

Asked what they’d do if HCD won’t budge, Gaasterland and Druker demurred.

“I cannot speculate now on what may happen,” Gaasterland said.

“Until we know the options, I will not opine as to what the city council will do,” Druker said.

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