ENCINITAS — By next year, the city of Encinitas anticipates triggering California’s No Net Loss Law— a failure to maintain a sufficient supply of adequate sites in Housing Element inventory — unless it can identify additional locations for lower and moderate-income households.
“The city will need to approve additional sites to accommodate the remaining unmet share of our city’s [Regional Housing Needs Assessment],” Planning Manager Jennifer Gates told the Encinitas City Council at its June 22 meeting.
A motion for city staff to draft a request for proposal for a Housing Element Update passed 4-0, with Mayor Catherine Blakespear absent.
The city is seeking a consultant to develop a Housing Element Update that includes community engagement, analyzing available and appropriate sites, and proposing necessary changes to the city’s Fair Housing approach. An environmental impact assessment is also listed in the scope of work.
The bidding is expected to start in July. The project would wrap up in March 2024 to meet the deadline for a Proposition A vote during the June election.
If all pending housing projects in the city are approved as written, a net loss is anticipated by 2023. The state’s No Net Loss Law requires cities to maintain the availability of sites accommodating its share of low and very low-income earners.
Susan Turney, a voice in city housing issues, is one of many residents who aren’t entirely on board with the city moving forward in a seemingly-similar direction as in previous years.
“My question would be, ‘What will the consultant be trying to do? Conducting ‘outreach’ sounds like more of the same – these workshops, this gathering input — we’ve seen it before,” Turney said. “I think it’s a dog and pony show to once again check a box. Our Prop A Right to Vote was recently upheld in court, so ultimately, the council will have to present projects, levels of affordability, and sites that will pass voter muster.”
Turney said the loss of the unit buffer should not come as a surprise. In the city’s housing plan, parcels were designated with the assumption that 100% of the buildouts would be affordable housing units. According to Turney, the percentage of affordable housing was closer to 20% on approved parcels.
For example, if the city were required to accommodate 1,000 affordable housing units under RHNA, it would build 1,000 units at 100% affordability. However, only 150 affordable units (per 1,000 units) would be built at 15% per parcel, a dilemma that led to the city’s current gap.
The city’s request for proposal, or RFP, seeks a consultant to alleviate these issues and work with the community on potential solutions for affordable housing locations.
“As we reduce from the Housing Element Regional Housing Needs Allocation where we identified these sites, we have to make sure that we have identified other sites,” Gates said when asked how the RFP would impact intended housing under the El Camino Real Specific Plan.
Gates explained a Housing Element Update would be required when units are quantified in the El Camino Real project or in any development that impacts the city’s share of affordable housing.
Despite agreeing to give staff time to identify new sites before the anticipated 2023 cut-off, several council members were wary of repeating previous mistakes regarding residential housing capacity.
“I cannot support moving forward without additional conversation regarding how we’re going to do this,” said Councilmember Tony Kranz, noting he was surprised the initiative was brought before the council at this time “because I’m not going to repeat the same process that we used last time.”
Others echoed that sentiment, Councilmember Joy Lyndes reminding her colleagues of the “lessons learned” over the past several years.
However, Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca said some time-sensitive aspects could cost the taxpayers later if the city isn’t organized.
“We know, based on our read of the new net loss law and what our site selection was with the Housing Element, that we’re going to come to a point where we don’t have a buffer, and we’re going to eat through whatever we have in terms of buffer,” Mosca said. “But this time, we’ll have to put it on the ballot, and it’s going to take time.”
Due to the city’s previous entanglement in the courts over the previous Housing Element (Measure T, Measure U), the last site selection did not go before voters. However, this year, residents will be able to weigh in on the city’s housing plan.
Elected officials and residents disagree on the best way to increase density in Encinitas – an initiative brought forward by the state across all cities. There’s a feeling of a stalemate on where affordable housing should be located and who gets to decide.
The RFP doesn’t preclude deliberations into the goals and initiatives under a Housing Element Update. Mosca said that identifying potential sites will take time, adding he wants to put an adequate plan before voters come June 2024, and consultants can help quicken that process.
Mosca did recognize that “we absolutely do stick to the fact that we need to do this differently, and we need to have a conversation now about what that process is going to look like.”