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An apartment complex building in Solana Beach. File photo
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Solana Beach housing plan open for public comment

SOLANA BEACH — The City of Solana Beach, in a draft affordable housing plan, has identified sites whose existing zoning could accommodate more than 900 additional units, the vast majority on commercial parcels in the city’s southwest quadrant.

The Solana Beach City Council, at its Oct. 28 meeting, suggested they might like to consider some alternative sites, in hopes of distributing new residential development more evenly. However, councilmembers gave no formal direction to that effect to city staff.

“It seems less than equitable that only one portion of town gets all of the units,” city resident Tracy Richmond said.

“There’s a very significant impact on one quadrant of the city, which is unfortunate,” Councilman Dave Zito said.

Any sizable redistribution likely isn’t possible without additional “up-zoning”— allowing more units per acre, likely in taller multifamily buildings — elsewhere in the city.

“When you look at our zoning, … very few of the sites on the east side of I-5 allow for multi-unit developments,” City Manager Greg Wade said. “This is largely what you end up with,” council having earlier directed staff “to allocate the units without having to make zoning revisions.”

Of parcels east of I-5, only the Lomas Santa Fe Plaza shopping center (Vons, HomeGoods, etc.) could support a significant number of housing units under current zoning, Community Development Director Joseph Lim told The Coast News, assuming one or more of the center’s parking lots or buildings were redeveloped.

The public may weigh-in on the city’s draft affordable housing plan through an electronic survey and a Nov. 12 virtual workshop, links for which are posted on the city’s website. City staff will take comments through Nov. 23, make changes and submit a plan in mid-December to the state government for its initial review.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Without upzoning parcels elsewhere, commercial parcels predominantly in Solana Beach’s southwest quadrant would undergird most of the city’s affordable housing plan for the next eight years. BIGGER CIRCLES = more potential units; PINK = “low / very-low-income” units; BLUE = “moderate-income” units; YELLOW = “above-moderate” income units. 

State law requires the city plan for the additional housing units — including nearly 600 priced for lower-income households — as part of a cyclical update to the Housing Element, or chapter, of its General Plan.

Required planning includes, in particular, zoning enough parcels for sufficient allowable densities in order to meet regionally assigned housing production quotas at various income levels. In general, deeper levels of affordability — i.e., capping prices farther below market rates — require higher densities. The rationale is that with more units, private and nonprofit developers can spread costs and offset submarket prices in order to make their projects financially viable.

For Solana Beach, state law considers 20 units per acres the minimum necessary to enable the private market to generate affordable housing for the lowest income brackets.

State-mandated municipal planning measures may also include various policy incentives. Popular among these are policies streamlining homeowners’ ability to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs, aka “granny flats”) on their properties, or to convert portions of their homes for renting (“junior ADUs”).

Solana Beach appealed its assigned affordable housing unit quota, seeking a lesser target. SANDAG, a regional agency, denied the appeal in July.

No matter the assigned target or what the city’s land-use regime technically allows, nothing requires planned-for affordable units ever actually get built. And if history is a guide, most of them won’t.

The private market yielded only 4% of the lower-income units Solana Beach designed for in its last cyclical planning period, according to the city’s last annual progress report. Such low yields were common countywide and statewide, as The Coast News has previously reported.

“There’s no absolute mandate to generate the housing that results in any penalty” if units on paper never come to fruition, Wade said.

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