ENCINITAS — The state says Encinitas must revise its proposed affordable housing plan by estimating more plausible site development capacities and modifying its process of zoning-by-referendum.
The revisions “are necessary to bring the city’s draft Housing Element into compliance with [state law],” according to an Aug. 27 letter to the city from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
Cities must regularly update the Housing Element (or chapter) of their General Plans, ostensibly to enable private sector housing production to satisfy forecasted demand, affordably, at all incomes. Encinitas submitted its 2021-2029 update in June for the state’s review.
In its letter, “HCD cautions the city on its approach to estimating realistic capacity on sites identified to accommodate the city’s lower-income [housing target].”
The city’s plan assumes developers would build only lower-income units on 15 parcels. Yet, as The Coast New previously reported, sites with pending development proposals would yield only about one-quarter of their forecasted unit capacities as affordable. At that rate, the city’s plan would generate about half its target.
To make up the deficit, Encinitas would likely need to “up-zone” additional parcels to allow more density — namely, bigger multi-family buildings. The state generally considers 30 units per acre the minimum density necessary to spread costs to finance building lower-income units.
HCD wants Encinitas to modify the process by which future up-zoning would occur so it doesn’t recurrently fail to meet Housing Element deadlines, as in the past.
Council up-zoned sites for its expiring 2013-2021 Housing Element only after a judge compelled the city to comply with state housing law, long past the statutory due date.
The delay stemmed from an impasse between state rules and Proposition A, a 2013 initiative requiring Encinitas voters to approve certain land uses and building heights. Voters blocked Housing Element up-zoning twice, rejecting Measure T in 2016 and Measure U in 2018.
To break the deadlock, the judge let the Council temporarily bypass voters. But he declined to annul Proposition A, citing initiative and referendum powers enshrined in the state constitution.
HCD worries history could repeat itself, saying in its letter the city’s submitted plan “is wholly inadequate to mitigate the effects of Prop A” on timely future compliance.
“The city is currently litigating issues regarding Proposition A,” City Manager Jennifer Campbell said. She expects to respond formally to HCD by month’s end.
Some Encinitas residents believe Proposition A merely checks plans with excessive up-zoning but doesn’t inherently obstruct all up-zoning a Housing Element might require.
“It’s not a cap on growth, it just puts the people in the position of the final approval,” Planning Commissioner Bruce Ehlers said at a Sept. 13 panel.
“I do not believe that Prop A needs any mitigation,” said Susan Turney, District 2 council candidate. “I trust residents to pass a plan that delivers on the promise of affordable housing while adding only the minimum [density] required by law.”
Turney believes voters would approve some, albeit less, up-zoning if a stricter inclusionary housing policy required builders to reserve more of the added density as affordable units. Otherwise, she says up-zoning is mostly just a boon for developers, who profit from extra market-rate units.
“HCD has consistently identified Proposition A as an unlawful impediment to compliance with state housing element law,” HCD spokeswoman Alicia Murillo told The Coast News, citing published guidance. “Local inclusionary policies are not an alternative to compliance with state Housing Element law.”
“The only thing that should be done about Prop A is to respect it by honoring the will of the voters,” mayoral candidate Julie Thunder said.
“Poorly conceived plans may be rejected under Prop A, but it isn’t the absolute barrier it is made out to be,” said Alexander Riley, District 1 council candidate. “Yorba Linda and Escondido have similar laws to Prop A [which haven’t] been a hindrance to new development.”
The Building Industry Association of San Diego didn’t respond to a request for comment.