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Planning Commission recommends council defend housing ordinance

ENCINITAS — The city’s Planning Commission voted this week to recommend the Encinitas City Council not repeal one of two ordinances reportedly in violation of housing law and instead work to negotiate and defend its merits with state officials.

In a special meeting last month, the council had agreed to rescind a pair of ordinances, both of which the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) claimed were out of line with state law.

Ordinance 2020-09 was passed by the Encinitas City Council in December 2020 in an effort to make the city’s municipal code in accordance with state bonus density law.

However, a March 25 letter sent to the city from the state’s housing agency said the ordinance introduces burdensome requirements to developers and is not consistent with state law.

“The city’s proposed ordinance is impermissibly inconsistent with state density bonus law because it increases, rather than decreases, the costs and burdens on applicants,” Megan Kirkeby, deputy director of HCD housing policy development, wrote in the letter to City Manager Pamela Antil.

The council agreed in a 4-1 vote in its early April meeting to repeal the ordinance, and another ordinance the agency also claims violated state law, within three months.

The city’s Planning Commission was asked to make a recommendation on the council’s decision to repeal. After discussions, the commission came to a split 3-2 vote in favor of recommending that the council not move forward with the repeal.

“In the end, I’m not sure how much our recommendation will weigh,” Chair Bruce Ehlers said. “They’ve already made their policy decision. We are free to disagree with it and recommend something different because we think there are ramifications.”

The council is not likely to change its position based on the commission’s recommendation, but the discussion during the commission meeting will be relayed back to the council at a later meeting.

“They can see what we discussed tonight and they can take it from there,” Commissioner Susan Sherod said.

Commissioner Kevin Doyle defended the city ordinance and said the demands from HCD were not reasonable.

“It’s absurd. And it’s worth fighting for,” Doyle said. “By forcing us to repeal this ordinance they’re negating an opportunity that was given to every other city in the state. And we did everything properly and HCD is going to try and punish us for it, singling us out.”

Commissioner Steve Dalton, one of the votes against the motion to recommend the city not repeal the ordinance made a simple argument that if the state is telling the city the ordinance is not in line with state laws, then that is the case whether or not you agree with the laws as they currently stand.

“I don’t know where the argument is with how what we’re doing is justifiable under the state law,” Dalton said.

The word “fight” was used more than once in the meeting when describing the commission’s possible recommendation to the council in regards to their response to HCD’s demands.

However, Commissioner Susan Sherod made clear this was not about picking a fight but coming to an agreement that the city and the state can both agree with.

“I think the word ‘fight’ is a bad word,” Sherod said. “We want to have things be copacetic. We want to comply. We want affordable housing. But we want to do it right. And we want to do it right for the state, but for us too. And I don’t think that means fighting, I think that means negotiating and doing things in a way that are amendable.”

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