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Mayor’s Minute: How far will the judge go to remedy our housing impasse?

It’s nice to be back writing my monthly “Mayor’s Minute” column after a three-month election season break, requested by the Coast News, to promote an even playing field and not appear to favor one candidate over another.

Now that I’ve been re-elected with nearly 84 percent of the Encinitas vote, I’m happy to continue letting you know in this column what we are working on at city hall. I’m honored by your overwhelming support! Thank you. I’ll always to do my best to justify your faith in me.

Once again, housing dominated last month’s biggest news in Encinitas. After the ballot box failure of two housing plans in 2016 and in 2018, it appeared at the latest court hearing that the judge had had enough.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier indicated that the city’s days without a plan for future housing are numbered. His final written decision on what Encinitas must do to comply with state housing law will be released on Dec. 12.

There’s a common misperception that Encinitas is being targeted by housing lawsuits that aim to force Encinitas to zone for more housing, and that somehow other cities avoid this. The reality is that every city in the county needs to have and does have a state-certified plan that allows for more housing, mostly for lower wage people. Encinitas is the only city without this required housing plan.

You don’t hear about the housing struggles in other cities because their elected city councils adopt housing plans as part of the routine business of what they are elected to do. They take public input, hold hearings, and in the end the councils follow the law by adopting a plan that complies with state housing laws.

In Encinitas, we follow the same procedure, but with an added step. After our city council adopts the plan, it goes to a vote of the people. This is because of Prop. A, which requires that upzoning must be approved by a majority vote of the residents. Prop. A passed in 2013, the same year this housing plan was due to be adopted.

So when our last of the two proposed plans didn’t pass muster with the voters, Judge Frazier indicated that he was considering what he called “limited preemption.”

Preemption is the idea that state laws override city ordinances when the two are in conflict. 

In our case, state housing laws which require more housing preempt Prop. A, when the voting requirement appears to stand in the way of our city complying with the state law. 

What remained unclear from the hearing is the extent of the possible preemption. It almost certainly appeared that it would apply to the housing plan in this housing cycle – we’re six years into the current eight-year cycle with two failed attempts. But immediately after this cycle ends, a new one begins, during which state law stipulates that we’ll have to zone for even more housing.

Even if there is court-mandated preemption, there may be circumstances where proposed upzoning isn’t required by state housing laws. In those cases, the Prop. A vote requirement would still apply.

My feeling remains that, in our two attempts, the city worked in good faith with tremendous dedication of time and resources to develop a housing plan that both met the state’s requirements and addressed community concerns about design standards and site selections. Both the first and second process were intensive, divisive, emotional, and required sometimes painful compromise.

Both the judge and the parties in court repeatedly referred to our situation as an “impasse.” Now it will be resolved by the court.

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to focus on the pieces of the housing puzzle that we can control, specifically the creation of pre-approved plans for backyard homes. I’m excited about the roll-out of our pre-approved accessory dwelling unit plans.

Two local architects have developed eight different floor plans, from studios to three-bedroom designs. Using a pre-approved plan to build an accessory unit or granny flat should dramatically reduce the plan check and city processing review time. The point is to reduce costs, barriers and friction to allow homeowners more flexibility to provide additional housing, plus potential rental income for themselves. 

On Jan. 9, the City Council will hear a preview, and on Jan. 22, Encinitas will hold a public workshop to unveil the opportunities. Both events are at city hall at 6 p.m.

In other City Council news … at our last council meeting, we honored outgoing City Councilmembers Tasha Boerner Horvath and Mark Muir. Tasha has been elected to represent us in California’s 76th Assembly District, and Mark say she’s retiring but will remain active in the community. With great appreciation, we wish them both the very best! 

If you can join us on for the inauguration ceremony for Councilmember Joe Mosca, Councilmember-elect JodyHubbard and me at city hall on December 11, at 6 p.m. we’d love to see you there.

1 comment

taxpayerconcerns January 4, 2019 at 10:47 am

According to the state agency HCD, they have been given police powers to declare a housing element out of compliance at any time even if the document was deemed compliance years ago. That could mean all of the city and county housing elements are on a precipitous cliff with HCD demanding immediate upzoning and not requiring low income housing units to be built on the properties HCD is approving. The Encinitas City Council is using this new law for the benefit of the BIA developers to build more market rate housing units on the upzoned properties.
A part of state housing law is dedicated to involving the residents that will be affected by the increase in zoning density with crowded schools and gridlocked traffic. In Encinitas the City Council knew they were selling out the city to BIA developers who will mainly build market rate housing on the HCD approved upzoned properties. The City Council, HCD, and the Court didn’t listen to the voters and the facts.
Several of Mayor Blakespear’s political money contributors will benefit from the programs/projects she is pushing.

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