The Coast News Group

Encinitas passes housing element, sends plan to voters

The Encinitas City Council voted 4 to 1 on Aug. 8 to approve its long-debated and frequently modified Housing Element and put it before voters at the Nov. 6 election.

During deliberations, Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca explained that while the plan was not perfect, it offered the city a solution moving forward. The majority of Mosca’s fellow council members expressed similar sentiments, but Tasha Boerner Horvath could not endorse it.

The councilwoman said that while she was “very disappointed because we have a housing crisis” to address, she could not vote for a plan that kept the controversial Clark site (also referred to as Meyer, AD31 and #19) on the proposed list of properties to develop.

Boerner Horvath told the crowded room that the Housing Element planning process had been “hijacked in April” with the removal of the city-owned site known as L-7, and the addition of properties like the Clark one. Her comments were met with applause.

Many residents showed up again to Wednesday’s meeting to express their dismay at how the council could possibly consider putting 163 housing units on Clark Avenue, essentially doubling the number of residences in a land-locked neighborhood of narrow streets.

Councilwoman  Tasha Boerner Horvath was the lone vote against the approved Housing Element, saying she could not support a plan that kept the Clark Avenue site. Courtesy photo

The council, however, could not remove or add sites to the Housing Element if it wished to get a ballot measure filed by the registrar deadline of Aug. 10. The Aug. 8 meeting constituted the second reading of the measure, so any significant changes that went beyond clerical errors would have to go back through the noticing and public-hearing process, according to the city’s outside counsel.

As housing attorney Barbara Kautz pointed out, the city returns to court on Aug. 17 for a status hearing, “the purpose of which is to verify that the city has indeed put the Housing Element on the ballot as it said it would.” The city still faces two lawsuits after being granted a temporary stay by a Vista Superior Court judge on April 30, allowing Encinitas officials more time to put the latest housing plan before voters.

One public speaker said the April removal of L-7 “showed cowardice by the city” and accused Mosca of going to “the dark side” by voting to support it. He said that in the end, if the current plan passes, “We won’t have created any affordable housing. We’ll just have created high density.”

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said that while certain changes to the Housing Element were “profoundly difficult to come to terms with,” such as L-7 and Clark, the city strove to come up with “the least objectionable plan that the most people could support.” Despite its imperfections and controversies, Blakespear expressed her belief that “the greater good” was to “give voters the chance to weigh in.”

The mayor also expressed her belief that the housing plan is in the “gray area” of compliance with the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Given that one site has now been re-designated as vacant, it appears that the city’s plan meets the new law that at least 50 percent of sites be developed on vacant land. The city put itself in compliance limbo, jeopardizing its pre-certification by the state housing agency, when it voted on June 18 to remove four sites.

Kautz stated her belief that the current plan adheres to state law and that the city is in the process of addressing Housing and Community Development’s concerns via new information and analysis.    

As the only city in San Diego County lacking a certified Housing Element — a state-mandated plan that addresses how to provide housing to meet the various income needs of its residents — Encinitas has struggled for years to come up with a legally compliant solution that could get the city out of the court and pass with voters.

While it’s unclear how residents will vote in November, the council chose to take the necessary steps to get out of what Blakespear commonly calls its “penalty box” and toward compliance.