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Encinitas to seek professional help on Housing Element outreach

ENCINITAS — Nearly a year after the council suspended its web-based Housing Element outreach efforts, the City Council agreed they need professional assistance as its housing element efforts hit a critical set.

The council voted on Feb. 24 for city staff to search for an election consultant that would, among other things, potentially conduct scientific polling that would help them develop a strategy for public outreach on the Housing Element, which voters will be voting on in November.

“I think understanding what the needs are is important and the only way to get there is through a scientific approach that looks across demographics and communities,” Mayor Kristin Gaspar said.

The housing element is the city’s first comprehensive overhaul of its housing and residential zoning map in more than 20 years, and will map out where an anticipated 1,300 units of affordable housing will be placed within the city.

Encinitas is the only community in San Diego without an updated housing element, a dubious distinction that city officials say hurts them when competing for certain regional grants.

Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir were among the most vocal proponents of scientific polling as a way to get a grasp of what the community wants in the housing element to give the proposal the best chance of passing muster with voters.

They were also the most critical of the city’s initial outreach approach with a Berkeley-based online civic engagement platform provider, which the council cancelled the contract after decidedly critical reviews of the eTown Hall format that guided the first round of public engagement in 2014.

The first phase netted comments from about 500 residents, which Gaspar at the time said was unacceptable for a city of 63,000 people.

City officials are expected to receive a final report on the draft environmental impact report on the housing element and attempt to narrow the housing maps that voters will see on the November ballot from four to potentially one.

An elections consultant could provide the city with clarity on what it would need to do to move the housing element forward along a path that would make it more successful in November, officials said.