ENCINITAS — The California Attorney General’s Office on March 24 issued a warning letter promising to take “prompt action” against the City of Encinitas should it fail to greenlight a modified version of the controversial Goodson Project housing development in Olivenhain.
In a letter addressed to Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Atty. Gen. Matthew Struhar, on behalf of Attorney General Rob Bonta, expressed consternation over the city’s failure to approve the proposed 277-unit development on Encinitas Boulevard.
The Encinitas City Council unanimously voted down the project in November, citing concerns raised by the city’s Planning Commission about the project on several issues, including wildfire evacuation safety and traffic concerns.
The project’s lead developer, Randy Goodson, has subsequently said his firm intends to submit a revised project proposal he thinks city leaders will find more appealing.
In the state’s letter, Struhar warned that if the city refuses to approve Goodson’s modified project, the state is prepared to file a lawsuit against Encinitas in state court.
“We urge the city to take prompt action to consider and approve the revised project if and when a new application is submitted,” Struhar wrote. “If the city fails to do so, the Attorney General is prepared to take immediate steps to hold the city accountable.”
Struhar argues that failure to approve the development violates the Housing Accountability Act, which stipulates that municipalities are required to greenlight projects that are consistent with relevant local and state law and meet certain public health and safety criteria.
Additionally, because the project is partially composed of affordable housing units, denying the proposal violates California statutes aimed at furthering state affordable housing goals, Struhar wrote in the letter. The Goodson Project would see the construction of 236 market-rate units and 41 units meant for lower-income residents.
“…The City has identified the Project site as suitable for the development of multifamily, lower-income housing,” Struhar said. “Indeed, it is the only location in Olivenhain that has been designated for such development. Thus, the Project presented the ideal opportunity to provide fair housing and foster inclusive development in the City. The City’s decision to instead block the creation of 41 lower-income households in this community is a contravention of state law.”
Mayor Catherine Blakespear issued the following statement to The Coast News in response to a request for comment:
“The City cannot comment on pending litigation but Encinitas takes its housing obligations seriously and remains committed to doing its part to address the state’s housing crisis,” Blakespear said. “Less than one year after getting state approval for the city’s housing plan, the city has approved more than half of the City’s total assigned goal for the next eight years.
“The city is aware of state housing laws and is working diligently to stay in compliance with them. I appreciate the Attorney General’s reminder about the applicable laws and if the Encinitas Blvd. Apartments application is resubmitted, the City Council will consider the application right away.”
The state’s letter comes just months after Goodson filed a lawsuit against Encinitas over the issue, arguing that based on state law, the city’s Planning Commission had no legal case for denying the development’s approval.
“There is no basis to deny this project. And it’s going to have very dire consequences to the city,” Goodson warned in November after the City Council’s rejection of the proposal.
In addition to suing the city, the state Attorney General’s Office can utilize numerous other steps to penalize Encinitas, according to Marco Gonzalez, an environment and land use attorney with Coast Law Group.
If the city continues to deny the Goodson Project, the state could move to decertify the city’s Housing Element status, which would make the city ineligible for a whole host of state and regional grants and loans, Gonzalez said.
In a worst-case scenario, Encinitas could even lose its housing and land-use authority, essentially surrendering those decisions to the state.
“This letter is extremely serious…even if you don’t like this project — and a lot of us don’t like the way it’s come down — the city still has to follow the law,” Gonzalez said, who noted Encinitas does not have a good track record in the state’s eyes in terms of following affordable housing requirements. “With a relatively recent rise in property values and the desirability of this area, this made us a community where developers would pay a lot of attention, you couple that with high property values and housing costs along with the fact that we haven’t met the state’s demands for multi-family housing, and you’re left with a perfect storm in terms of drawing the state’s attention to us.”
Fighting the state is likely to be costly and unsuccessful, Gonzalez added, suggesting the city should instead try to work with the developer to come up with a new, more amenable proposal that satisfies the interests of all parties involved.
“The city can either choose to litigate against the state which comes with a number of different costs politically and financially or they can work with a developer to scale the project appropriately and try to come to something that is more palatable than what’s been on the table this far,” Gonzalez said.
Some residents are nonetheless urging city leadership to fight the state on the issue.
Former Encinitas Mayor Pam Slater-Price said that the state Attorney General’s warning is an example of state overreach into municipal control of housing.
The Goodson Project, as it stands, would not only lead to fire evacuation complications for Olivenhain residents but also represents a threat to the unique rural character of the community, Slater-Price added.
“I would say that as a former mayor, had I been in this position, I would push back like a lot of other cities did against the onerous requirements of the state,” Slater-Price said. “This [project] conflicts with fire safety evacuation, preserving our trees and open spaces, and preserving the community–that ought to be the priority here.”
Slater-Price leveled heavy criticism toward state officials for imposing affordable housing requirements on municipalities that do not meet the needs of communities and are not based on a proper methodology. Additionally, such mandates lack the necessary capital investments from the state level to be implemented on the local level, leaving cities in a bind, according to Slater-Price.
“The state’s own data on this has all been wrong,” Slater-Price said. “The RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) numbers are inflating what was actually needed, it was done in a half-hazard and unprofessional way in my mind, I mean they just came up with these numbers and started handing them out.
“If they really want affordable housing, it’s not going to happen without significant subsidies — builders don’t come in and sell things below market value. I mean to me this is a complete farce.”
Based on Blakespear’s statements, Slater-Price said she is pessimistic about the prospect of the current City Council taking any action to resist the state’s demands.
“It seems like the mayor of Encinitas and the council members have gone in the other direction and encouraged the state to come down on the local citizens and local governments and inappropriately hand out mandates with no funding,” Slater-Price said.
“I’m going to watch and see how she [Blakespear] handles this,” Slater-Price said. “I mean she’s asking for a big promotion running for [state senate], so will she just acquiesce as she’s done so far to the state, or will she stand up for once?”
Dan Vaughn is a representative of Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development, a local nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing for low-income residents and young families.
Vaughn said that the Goodson Project poses environmental and safety concerns, fails to meet the housing needs of Olivenhain residents, and clashes with the community’s bucolic character.
“The Goodson project is a bad match, especially for the rural community of Olivenhain,” Vaughn said. “It is high density for a rural community. The density [of Goodson] is about 45 units/net acre, which is the average for Manhattan island. Olivenhain is less than 1 home/acre.”
The current proposal could also exacerbate existing environmental hazards faced by the community, Vaughn added.
“Olivenhain is also an urban-wildland interface at extremely high risk of Wildfire,” Vaughn said. “Recent studies by both us and independently by Encinitas Fire show that even before this project adds 10% more evacuees, there is not enough time to evacuate existing residents and livestock from a Santa Ana-driven fire.
“It would also literally be a car-centric project (built in a wrap design around a 6 story parking garage) that would contribute over a million miles of new GHG. There is no meaningful public transit, only a rare alternate of a single bus line that passes once a day in one direction and twice in the other, but only on weekdays.”
While Gonzalez acknowledged that the city likely has little choice but to heed the state’s warning, he also criticized Goodson for playing a “bait and switch” with the city over the question of senior housing in the development.
Initially, developer Goodson told city officials the complex would include a 160-unit senior living facility, according to Gonzalez. But after the land was rezoned, Gonzalez said Goodson “changed his tune” and backed out of this commitment.
“He did a full bait and switch,” Gonzalez said. “That really just makes it harder for other folks to build projects like this going forward. There’s a general feeling in this community of ill will towards similar sites and I think a lot of that sentiment is driven by the way that this project has been handled.”
Why is the city of Encinitas getting these nasty untrue letters from the CA Attorney General? It goes back to the mayor and council lying to the residents.
The state has something called RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) that is divided into 4 categories with very low income and low income that must be built in the building cycle composed of 4 years. If they aren’t built the number is carried over to the next cycle. The regional agencies (SANDAG is San Diego County) divide up the state numbers that demand each city build. With the coming of the 5th cycle RHNA, Encinitas had a few hundred carry over units from previous years. The council and city planning ballooned that number to over 1300 low income units which to them became the upzoning to 30 units per acre to build all low income.
Some other cities in LA only had to build five (5) low income units for the 4 year cycle. When Blakespear was told about this her attitude was that isn’t Encinitas. The Goodson project was upzoned for 113 low income units that would fill the property. How many low income units should be build on the 15 different areas? Appendix C from the city website: https://encinitasca.gov/…/Appendix%20C_20180711-reduced…
How many should be built on the Goodson property? See pages C-13-C17 of Appendix C above. It shows 113 low income which would cover the property. Goodson wants to build 277 units with only 41 low income units. This property is landlocked. A very narrow driveway leads to it from Encinitas Blvd. The Attorney General Bonta is not looking at the evidence.
This project is our red line and I hope Blakespear and the Council think long and hard before approving this monstrosity. Encinitas won’t be a place they are going to want to continue living in as the repercussions from their vote will be volcanic.