ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council’s recent unanimous ratification of a SANDAG grant application received backlash from some residents questioning the city’s choice of individuals and organizations as partners to help promote the affordable housing initiative.
The Housing Acceleration Program, or HAP, grant for $310,000 will be used to fund three items related to the city’s 6th cycle Housing Element — updating the city’s permit-ready accessory dwelling units to be in line with new building electrification requirements, continued use of a consulting principal planner and completion of a displacement risk analysis study.
According to SANDAG, HAP grants are designed to help cities “accelerate housing production” and “can be used to fund a variety planning activities, such as staff augmentation, density bonus ordinances, housing plan element updates, anti-displacement strategies, objective design standards and more.”
As part of its grant application, the city identified two local nonprofits, Encinitas4Equality and Keys4Homes, as “project partners” to promote the permit-ready ADU programs and conduct outreach related to the displacement risk analysis study.
The city said neither organization will receive any compensation for work related to the grant funds nor will they have control over the funds themselves.
“We work with lots of different interest groups within the community but those specific two were identified,” said Jennifer Gates, the city’s planning manager. “And this doesn’t preclude us from working with any other community groups to help market either the (permit-ready accessory dwelling unit) plans or help spread the word about the displacement risk analysis study.”
Despite the city’s explanation, which was also provided in a written memo before a council meeting last Wednesday, some members of the public still expressed displeasure with the partnership, particularly with Encinitas4Equality.
Many pointed to what has been interpreted as combative social media posts directed at residents by Mali Woods-Drake, a union organizer who serves on the city’s Equity Committee and Pacific View board.
“What causes me concern is, why would the city want to be associated with a partner whose words and actions are divisive and destructive? This type of behavior discourages active, positive participation,” said resident Kathleen Lindemann. “It is the antithesis of what a partner is supposed to do.”
A contingent of Encinitas residents is also skeptical of the city’s relationship with Woods-Drake, expressing transparency and cronyism concerns about the entire grant process.
“I am concerned as a resident of Cardiff about the Mayor and the council’s overall actions and decisions, the direction you are taking our city, and the lack of adequate time allotted for citizen input on most matters,” resident M. Boone Hellman wrote. “…That you have preselected two people (Woods-Drake and Kent), who appear to be unqualified individuals as city ‘partners’ to consult on housing, is wrong.”
Elena Thompson, an Encinitas resident and vocal critic of the council, suggested the lack of public input or discussion was heedless and unethical.
“This rush to ratification appears reckless, full of ethical breaches and sound governance, while partisan (yet again), and should be halted,” Thompson wrote.
The city responded to residents’ concerns by clarifying that Woods-Drake and Kent would only be responsible for outreach and promotion of the program.
“City staff will manage the grant and all aspects of the consultants and everything. (Woods-Drake and Kent) will not be involved with the project themselves,” Gates said.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear attempted to clear up the record as well, reiterating the groups would not receive any of the SANDAG funds.
“I think there is a lot of concern that’s misplaced and statements that are untrue that were stated about what the role of these organizations is,” Blakespear said. “I think it’s very important that we do identify organizations in our community that are working to advance our equity goals as well as housing.”
Woods-Drake founded Encinitas4Equality in May of 2020 in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death to help promote racial justice in the city. Keys4Homes has been active in the city since 2018 advocating for affordable homes in Encinitas.