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.