ESCONDIDO — The city has dissolved its commission responsible for reviewing development projects in historic districts in the hopes of accelerating the permit process for new housing.
The Escondido City Council unanimously agreed on Feb. 7 to dissolve the Historic Preservation Commission, a volunteer advisory panel consisting of members appointed by the mayor and council.
The commission was responsible for reviewing historic site surveys, Mills Act contracts – an agreement between the city and the owner of a historic structure to ease property taxes in exchange for the building’s preservation — and reviewing projects proposed in historic districts of the city.
In 2022, the city’s Development Services Department initially suggested disbanding the commission, saying the group was struggling to make quorum at meetings due to a lack of commissioner attendance. The department also cited a failure to recruit qualified candidates to serve on the commission.
These issues caused projects to be delayed, according to staff. At the time, the city’s Boards and Commissions Subcommittee, which oversees the city’s various commissions, decided to observe the Historic Preservation Commission for a while longer. However, the subcommittee eventually recommended the commission’s dissolution as well.
“I never get excited about dissolving a commission, but this is something we’ve been talking about for a while,” said Councilmember Consuelo Martinez, who also serves on the Boards and Commissions Subcommittee.
City Clerk Zack Beck said the primary purpose of dissolving the Historic Preservation Commission is to better align the city with its Comprehensive Economic Development Study, which identified that the city’s process for permitting housing is slow.
“In a region with strong housing demand, the pace of housing permitting in Escondido is slow, relative to its peers,” the study states.
According to the study, Escondido does not face any significant obstacles to the development of new housing, and even though there has been an increase in the number of processed permits since 2017, the city is still lagging behind its neighbors, particularly in the development of new multifamily housing.
According to the study, slow permitting has two major effects on Escondido’s economy: it makes the city more expensive and thereby less attractive to younger, working families; and represents an “unnecessary drag” on the construction industry. The study notes that construction added more jobs in Escondido than any other business sector between 2016 and 2021 but could have added more with faster permitting.
Staff and the Planning Commission will absorb the dissolved commission’s responsibilities.
Eliminating the commission also means the city would be ineligible for certain historical grants, but Beck said the city currently lacks the necessary staffing levels in order to apply for such grants.