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Mayor’s Minute: The truth about Encinitas housing

The City of Encinitas just accomplished something truly historic. For the first time in 24 years, we sent an approved housing plan to the State of California.

For nearly all California cities, submitting an approved housing plan is routine — one of the core functions of city government. State law requires cities to prepare a plan detailing where future housing can be built, specifically for lower-wage people. 

However, in Encinitas it is literally an existential reckoning every time we attempt to accomplish this task. Developing a plan that would accommodate more housing has been the single biggest source of strife in our city for many years. 

Given our history, this isn’t surprising. Our city’s very origins lie in our desire to control growth. Encinitas incorporated 33 years ago because we were unhappy with development decisions being made by county government, specifically the approval of strip malls and apartment complexes. 

Some city founders wanted to severely limit specific types of zoning, namely apartment complexes. Compared to every other city in the county, we now have the lowest percentage of multi-family housing (i.e. apartments) at 19 percent. The regional average for cities is 40 percent.

As your mayor, I can viscerally feel the fear and angst about what more housing would mean. One recent email said, “I do not want this quiet bedroom community suitable for families raising their children to evolve to a high-density slum by the sea.”

At the core of these deep concerns is the belief that more homes equals lower quality of life and loss of our cherished Encinitas community character. 

However, it’s incorrect to assume that it all boils down to a hard choice between more homes and a charming Encinitas. 

What’s missed in this false equivalency is that adding some new homes to our largely suburban community actually enhances the diversity and vibrancy that is our community character.

Because of our economic reality as a prosperous city, Encinitas is not in danger of becoming a “slum by the sea.”

Our largest household income category is those making more than $200,000 a year. Between 2003 and 2016, we added 1,484 homes in the “above moderate” category, only 21 homes in the “moderate” income category and a mere 61 units in the “very low and low” income category. (A “low income” single person earns $51,000 a year or less; a moderate income single person earns a maximum of $66,000 a year.) 

It’s also important to recognize that Encinitas exists within the state of California, whose laws have taken aim at the state’s critical housing supply shortage. No city in the state can decide that it wants to live outside the state system.

Last year, California was ranked 49th out of 50 in housing units per capita, meaning that too many people are crowded into too few homes, and too many people live on the street. 

Obviously, Encinitas alone cannot solve our statewide housing problem. Some think that those who can’t afford the high housing prices in Encinitas should simply move elsewhere – essentially saying that we don’t owe those poor people anything. But the consequences of multiple communities sending that same message hurts all of us. 

California’s housing crisis has resulted in increased poverty, steep yearly increases in home prices and rental rates, and employers facing increasing difficulty in maintaining a workforce. People are also experiencing increased health problems and diminished quality of life by being forced into long commutes that can exceed three hours a day because of the long distance between their jobs and homes they can afford.

This isn’t propaganda pushed by the building industry, as some say, but a daily reality for many people.

Statistics show that we have serious commuting to and from Encinitas every day – people trading places to keep their jobs. According to SANDAG statistics, 87% of civilian employed Encinitas residents drive outside the city for work; while 84% of jobs in Encinitas are held by people living outside the city.

The three largest job sectors in Encinitas are healthcare, accommodation/food service and retail/trade. Many of these jobs pay lower wages. 

So what’s the truth about Encinitas housing? It’s that we need to provide a modest increase in the amount of it — because a roof over everyone’s head serves the public good and enriches our local culture. And because every city needs to do its part to tackle society’s biggest challenges, including reducing monster commute times to help combat emissions that are creating climate change.

There must be a mix of housing types to attract the diversity of families that is so essential to the vitality of our city. We can zone for a certain number of smaller but still-desirable places for ourselves to live as we age — and for our adult children to live as young, emerging adults — while also preserving the Encinitas that we all love.

That’s why I supported our first state-approved housing plan in 24 years, and why I’m already working to create a sensible, community-enriching and protective housing plan for the next 24 years. 

1 comment

taxpayerconcerns April 8, 2019 at 9:53 pm

If the Mayor and Council asked residents in the 5 communities if spending $30 million dollars for the Highway 101 Streetscape (removing vehicle lanes for more bicycle lanes) is something to celebrate, the Mayor would find that the 101 street makeover for bicyclists is far down the list of spending projects.
The housing plan is a giveaway to the BIA and developers.
The Mayor and Council made drastic changes to the city’s General Plan and municipal code in this latest housing element such as:
Increasing the building heights from 33 feet for a flat roof and 37 feet for a pitched roof to 35 feet and 39 feet plus an additional 5 feet for roof projections.
Instead of measuring from original grade for the building height the developer can build up the house pads to any height and then measure height from there. (This would allow apartment/condo buildings to tower over adjacent buildings.)
Parking lots, driveways and drive aisles must be used in calculating the project’s density for building houses. Presently, developers can’t include these unbuildable portions to increase housing density.
Sections of the municipal code requiring developers to conform to the surrounding neighborhood and provide public benefits beyond the statutory requirements are eliminated.
No more subjective language in the housing element update. Which is very strange because HCD uses subjective language in their decisions on what constitutes compliance with state housing law.
When the state housing agency, HCD, divided up the number of housing units among the counties or COGs in the state for the 5th cycle housing element (2013-2021). Los Angeles County received a housing quota that was 100,000 housing units less than the previous 8 year 4th cycle. Orange County also had a lower housing quota. Look at the RHNA numbers for the regional SCAG agency. Cities such as Malibu, Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Hermosa Beach, and Compton are only required to build 2 low income restricted houses/units. Huntington Beach was told they had to up-zone for 533 low income houses. The “law” according to HCD is that cities must up-zone property to higher density, that is 30 housing units per acre.The theory is that the increased density would mean apartments buildings and a few apartments in the building could be low income while the rest would be market rate. There’s no discussion of gridlock, overcrowding of schools, etc. in the state government thinking. The state housing law is unjust, unequal, and unfair.
Mayor Blakespear and the rest of the Council are stack and pack politicians. Email the HCD and ask them to deny this latest version of Housing Element Update 2019.

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