The Coast News Group

Law throws wrench in city’s housing plans

ENCINITAS — Several new state housing laws have set back the city of Encinitas in its efforts to draft a long-overdue affordable housing plan.

Encinitas is the lone city in the county without an updated Housing Element, a state-mandated plan that maps out where cities intend to zone for denser, more affordable housing units.

Voters rejected the city’s most recent attempt, Measure T, in 2016, and a four-member subcommittee has worked since early this year to create a plan that would pass muster with Measure T opponents and the community at large.

But a city-hired consultant informed the Housing Element task force at its most recent meeting in September that three housing bills signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown would significantly change the city’s approach.

One of the laws makes it tougher for cities to use already developed sites in future housing element plans, the state making the case that cities have included such sites without a reasonable expectation that housing will ever be developed on them.

Another requires cities trying to satisfy more than half of their housing element needs on non-vacant sites to provide evidence that the current use on the site would be discontinued.
Much of the city’s previous and current housing element attempts have centered around commercial properties that could be converted to mixed-use housing, as residents have fiercely opposed zoning some of the city’s prominent vacant properties.

This, however, is going to change, city officials said.

“There’s no question that we’ve had our housing element turned upside down,” said Councilman Tony Kranz, one of two elected officials on the task force. “The new laws essentially will cause us to revisit all of the sites that were studied for this version of the housing element.

“We were looking at this as more of an infill thing that replaces infill structures, and clearly the state is not too keen on that approach,” Kranz said.

One of the sites that the city previously considered but kept off of the Measure T housing map is property along Quail Gardens Drive, which residents fiercely opposed.

“The challenge for us is to come up with sites that are … acceptable to voters,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said at the city’s most recent council meeting. She serves with Kranz on the task force. “Previously, sites like Quail Gardens and the flower fields were removed. Those things are going to be back on the table.”

The final law will require cities to accommodate surplus sites in the event that a market rate development is built on a housing element site and doesn’t provide low- or moderate-income housing. This was an unpopular element of Measure T, which included a large “buffer” in the event housing couldn’t be built on one of the primary sites.

Kranz said that this was already a requirement for cities, but the new law reinforces that cities have to plan for additional sites if market-rate development occurs on the chosen sites.

The new state laws go into effect Jan. 1, 2018, and most cities would have to comply with them during the next housing element cycle, in 2020. Since Encinitas doesn’t have an updated element, the new laws will apply to the current housing cycle.

Much of the task force’s discussions over the past few months has been on how to craft a plan that would satisfy the state’s housing mandates while capping building heights at 20 feet and keeping the density of the developments at lower than 30 units per acre, sticking points for opponents of Measure T.

Without the luxury of using infill sites, city staff will have to determine if the city can meet the housing mandates on less land and satisfy resident’s wishes for less dense and shorter developments.

David Barquist, the city’s contract housing element specialist, will return to the task force at 5 p.m. Oct. 16 with an analysis of the vacant sites so the task force can proceed with its overhaul of the plan.

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