ENCINITAS — In order for Encinitas to comply with a court order to adopt a legally compliant Housing Element by April 11, the city must meet new demands from the state’s housing authority.
In its Feb. 4 letter, the California Department of Housing and Community Development stated that Encinitas has to increase allowable building heights, modify other development standards, and “amend or invalidate” the citizens’ right to vote.
The restrictions pertain to projects developed with the intent to fulfill state housing quotas.
Housing Element law requires cities to provide sufficient housing to meet the needs of all its residents, from very-low income earners to above-moderate ones. Encinitas remains the only city in San Diego County lacking a state-certified plan and has been sued multiple times for its noncompliance.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear said at the special Encinitas City Council housing meeting on Feb. 6, “Our back is against the wall.” Referring to the court order and impending April deadline, she continued, “I don’t feel that we really have any options at this point” other than complying with the letter’s orders.
Blakespear said the city has spent $3.5 million since 2014 in legal fees, consultants and other costs incurred in the two attempts to secure voter approval for a housing plan, Measure T and Measure U, which failed at the ballot box in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
“That is a lot of taxpayer money,” Blakespear said, insisting that it was time to get this Housing Element passed because preparation for the next cycle will start this summer.
Proposition A — which gives Encinitas residents the right to vote on housing projects with substantial density increases and building heights greater than two stories — has hamstrung the council in getting a Housing Element approved. That’s why Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier overturned Proposition A for the current housing cycle in his Dec. 12 ruling.
But Housing and Community Development is pushing that a step further into the future, noting that “a local government may not adopt ordinances that conflict with the State Planning and Zoning Law.”
The right to vote has led to failed measures that have led to Encinitas’ noncompliance with California law, a situation that the state does not appear willing to tolerate much longer.
Under guidance from its legal counsel, the City Council agreed to have its staff and housing attorneys look into what amendments to the proposition the state would find acceptable.
Councilman Tony Kranz suggested that the city explore the option of allowing a supermajority council vote to stand when a vote of the people fails.
The Feb. 4 letter does not challenge Encinitas’ insistence on capping building heights at three stories, but it does require that the maximum height of a flat roof be increased to 35 feet and a pitched roof to 39 feet. The city had suggested caps of 33 and 37 feet.
Building heights need to be measured from the finished pad, not the natural or finished grade as put forward by Encinitas as an option. Furthermore, net-acreage calculations cannot omit driveways, parking lots or access roads. The idea is to maximize buildable space.
The city’s insistence in its municipal code of upholding “community character” with new developments will also need to go back to the drawing board.
Housing and Community Development finds language like the housing project “would tend to cause the surrounding neighborhood to depreciate materially in appearance or value” too subjective.
Encinitas’ proposed plan must demonstrate that it has enough sites and amenable development standards to allow for the creation of 1,141 units of lower-income housing, the city’s current shortfall.