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Encinitas chooses court over ballot for housing guidance

ENCINITAS — Caught between the will of the people and the power of the state, Encinitas has chosen to let the court play the role of referee.

At issue is how Encinitas becomes compliant with state housing laws while also honoring city residents’ right to vote on high-density housing developments taller than two stories.

By a 4-1 vote on Feb. 20, the City Council decided to seek “declaratory relief” in court and let a judge decide whether to nullify or amend Proposition A for future Housing Element cycles — a demand recently issued by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

State Housing Element law requires cities to provide sufficient housing to meet the needs of all its residents, from very-low income earners to above-moderate ones. Encinitas remains the only city in San Diego County lacking a state-certified plan and is under a court order to enact one by April 11.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier already overturned Proposition A for the current housing cycle, 2013 to 2021, after two successive attempts in 2016 and 2018 to pass a Housing Element failed at the ballot box and landed Encinitas back in court.

While Frazier found the people’s right to vote an impediment to Encinitas’ current ability to meet state housing targets, he held off on applying that ruling to the future.

California’s housing authority, however, wants assurances that Proposition A will not continue to pose problems down the line. In its Feb. 4 letter to Encinitas, Housing and Community Development clarified that “a local government may not adopt ordinances that conflict with the State Planning and Zoning Law.”

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said at the Feb. 20 council meeting, “I think we need to rip off this Band-Aid and march into court and seek declaratory relief.”

Referring to legal counsel’s explanation that Proposition A could only be amended through a court order or a vote of the people, Blakespear said if a new ballot measure failed, the city would end up in court asking for declaratory relief anyway. She saw attempting a vote first as a waste of time and taxpayer money.

Councilman Tony Kranz found Blakespear’s Band-Aid remark offensive. Kranz voted against seeking declaratory relief in court, which he called a “shortcut,” and voiced his preference to educate voters on what’s a stake rather than circumventing them.

“To not even make the effort to amend the law in the way the government code requires is a failure on our part,” Kranz concluded.

Councilman Joe Mosca expressed that since “state law trumps local law,” asking the people to vote on whether to amend Proposition A seemed like a non-starter to him because the residents would have no real power or choice should the vote fail.    

Encinitas’ proposed Housing Element must demonstrate that it has enough sites and amenable development standards to allow for the creation of 1,141 units of lower-income housing, the city’s current shortfall.

Kellie Shay Hinze, the newest and youngest council member, addressed the long view of changing Proposition A. “I run with a lot of renters, and I also have a lot of friends who are seniors who will not be able to stay in Encinitas if we do not change something,” she said.

Hinze shared her hopes for the city’s future, stating, “In my vision for Encinitas, it’s inclusive. It’s diverse. And we’re able to keep generations of us living here.”


Dr February 26, 2019 at 8:57 pm

Recall .

JP Elliott February 25, 2019 at 11:58 am

This is the reason why we have housing issues.
All the city needs to do is cut the greed from housing crisis. So simple
The City can fix this
There is no will to do so.
Over 5,100 voters agreed but sees the housing. Issue as A DATA POINT?
A DATA POINT SHE INGORES. We need a changed mind set. Please call or email the Mayor, we won’t take her leadership laying down nor should we. Maybe we need Public meetings?

taxpayerconcerns February 23, 2019 at 2:30 pm

One of the statement of purposes and intent of Prop A is to protect the Encinitas natural resources such as lagoons, watershed, riparian, wildlife habitat, natural vegetation, bluffs, and hillsides. Prop A also helps insure that infrastructure and public benefits, such as schools, parks, roads, sewer, and water facilities, are adequately planned and funded prior to approving any increase in zoning.
The Encinitas City Council wants to do away with those protections and needs the orders from the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to destroy the voters rights under Prop A. This Council and previous Councils disliked losing their super majority vote where 4 of 5 Council members yes votes could override any opposition to increases in density and building heights for the benefit of developers. HCD ordered Prop A to be amended or invalidated and offered no discussion of the harm to the natural resources or the new burden on infrastructure, schools, and other public benefits. The February 4, 2019 letter from HCD had more orders that were citywide and would be very beneficial for developers but detrimental to neighborhoods. The HCD orders of February 4 followed what developers had requested of HCD staff – increased heights above what was in Measure U, more density allowed than what was in Measure U, and other changes to the programs and policies in the Housing Element that weren’t in Measure U. The previous Measure T was a goldmine for developer lawsuits because the city added at least 10 new program promises that weren’t required by housing law but could be used as the basis for lawsuits. The housing element must be rewritten.
There is also the question of why HCD has approved other housing elements from other cities where their required number of low income houses is two. Beverly Hills, Malibu, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Hermosa Beach, Compton, Newport Beach only need to build 2 low income houses each. Encinitas must build 1,033 low income houses. These other cities are in the SCAG region. Many more cities in that region have far lower housing numbers than Encinitas. Mayor Blakespear doesn’t consider the vast difference in the mandated housing numbers to be important. Does Mayor Blakespear’s family own some land that will benefit from the HCD changes and Measures U and T if this new Encinitas 2019 housing element update become the law in Encinitas?

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