The Coast News Group
An uphill battle over affordable housing in Encinitas continues. Courtesy photo

Uphill battle for housing plan consensus continues

ENCINITAS — As the deadline looms to submit a ballot measure in time for the November election, debate over Encinitas’ high-density housing plan refuses to “go gentle into that good night.”

At the June 7 Planning Commission meeting, which ran until almost one o’clock in the morning, numerous speakers expressed their discontent with several sites on the City Council’s list of potential locations for building high-density housing for various income levels.

The Planning Commission unanimously agreed that City Council should re-examine the 19 sites it’s considering for high-density rezoning, with the possibility of swapping some of those sites for a new one at Lake and Birmingham Drive.

Sites 8a, 8b and AD12 on Rancho Santa Fe Road near Encinitas Boulevard have some Olivenhain residents upset and signing a petition. The Olivenhain Town Council recently submitted a letter to City Council stating, “We believe that high density (up to 30 units/acre) 3-story apartments are inherently inconsistent with our rural Olivenhain character.”

Another Olivenhain resident, Robert G. Dyer, wrote in his letter, “The unsightliness of over 300 apartment units as an introduction to a community which traces its history back to German farmers in the 19th century, and in which still reside descendants of those historical pioneers cannot be overemphasized.”

The City Council will convene on June 20 to do a first reading of the Housing Element that will be put before voters in November. A second reading — and what’s expected to be the council’s final vote — has been scheduled for July 18. City Council must finalize the ballot measure and submit it to the Registrar of Voters by Aug. 10.

What’s at stake is compliance with state law and all that comes with it. The lack of a certified Housing Element, which requires jurisdictions to provide housing that meets the needs of very low-income, low-income, moderate and above moderate-income earners, has cost the city hefty legal fees in settling and fighting lawsuits, some of which are still pending. Loss of control of land use and zoning is a potential penalty for noncompliance.

Because Encinitas residents voted that any high-density housing plans would have to be approved by voters first in order to be authorized, the City Council has for years been trying to put forward a proposal that the people would support at the ballot.

For its part, the City Council continues to tweak the draft Housing Element and order studies recommended by staff, as it did at the June 13 meeting.

The city’s inclusionary ordinance — the amount of affordable homes required to be included in a developer’s mostly market-rate project — received some updates. For projects containing seven or more housing units, developers must guarantee that at least 15 percent of the units will be deed-restricted affordable for low-income earners. Alternatively, the project can be 10-percent affordable for very low-income earners.

The possibility remains of increasing the inclusionary percentage, but by law Encinitas cannot implement a rate higher than 15 percent without first conducting an economic feasibility study. The study would have to show that the higher percentage would not pose a financial impediment to development. A final decision regarding the inclusionary ordinance does not need to be included in the ballot measure.

In addition to authorizing the economic feasibility study, the City Council also approved a nexus study to evaluate what the city could reasonably charge as an in-lieu fee for developments with fewer than seven units. Thirdly, a gap analysis would “evaluate formalization or exclusion of in-lieu fees,” according to a staff report. Those fees, currently determined on a project-by-project basis, are determined by “the difference or ‘gap’ between what a target household could afford to pay and the median home price for the area.”

The city plans to hire a consultant who prepares those types of studies, but one has not yet been identified.

The council also decided that affordable housing units should be deed-restricted in perpetuity rather than for a 55-year term. New developments in single-family residential zones could satisfy the inclusionary ordinance by including accessory dwelling units (aka granny flats) in the construction, but five would be the maximum.

As Encinitas struggles to get its current Housing Element cycle certified, the county is now looking toward the next cycle of 2021–2029.

The San Diego Association of Governments Board of Directors voted on June 8 to accept, rather than contest, the state’s housing allocation. As part of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, the state determined that San Diego County should build 171,000 units between 2021 and 2029. That amount will get apportioned to each of 19 jurisdictions in the county.

SANDAG had considered contesting the Regional Housing Needs Assessment determination with a counteroffer of 116,000 units, but it ultimately voted not to. A press release noted that SANDAG committee members believed that previous negotiations with the state to reduce the allotment had “contributed to the housing crisis seen today.”

City Councilman Tony Kranz, who represented Encinitas at SANDAG, voted against accepting the housing determination.

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