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.”