Encinitas council gets pushback on low-income housing requirements


Encinitas will explore hiring school crossing guards to help keep Oak Crest Middle School kids safe and it will place additional scrutiny on golf course operations, but a draft proposal to increase low-income housing requirements faced opposition Wednesday night, Sept. 26.

A representative for the Building Industry Association of San Diego, as well as area landowners and developers, informed city leaders that plans to change the city’s regulations could actually result in less low-income housing being built, rather than more. And, they sought extra time to review the proposals.

Michael McSweeney, the BIA’s senior public policy advisor, noted that a new city-funded, preliminary financial assessment was released just a few hours before the Sept. 26 City Council meeting and asked for a special session in the coming weeks with city planning department employees to discuss builders’ concerns.

“To get something like this that has large impacts on our industry and not be able to have time to digest it and then come back with really substantial comments, either for or against, we’re at a huge disadvantage,” he told the council.

The council debated his request and ultimately decided to have the Planning Commission discuss the proposed changes at a public workshop session on Oct. 9 as city staff members originally suggested, rather than the private staff meeting McSweeney sought.

However, several council members said they themselves wanted more data before they would consider changing the requirements, and likely would not vote do so before the Nov. 6 elections.

Changing the city’s rules regarding how much low-income housing developers must include in their projects has been promoted as a way to help win passage of Measure U -- a city-sponsored ballot measure that proposes upzoning 15 privately owned properties to encourage the construction of low-income housing and bring the city into compliance with state housing law.

Opponents have argued that the November ballot measure, which allows the owners of the 15 properties to exceed current city height limits and construct 25 to 30 housing units an acre, will greatly increase the city’s housing density, yet not achieve the goal of producing more low-income housing.

In response, the council ordered an economic feasibility study in August to determine whether new housing projects would still be viable if the city’s set-aside percentage for low-income housing was bumped up.

The preliminary assessment, which was produced by Keyser Marston Associates at a cost of $115,000, found that the city could increase its existing set-aside requirement by up to 10 percent and developers would still have viable projects. The city currently requires developers of larger projects to either set aside 10 percent of their new homes for very-low income people or 15 percent for low-income people.

The qualifying income rates are calculated using the area’s median income statistic, which in San Diego County currently is $81,800. The low-income, cut-off rate for a family of four is $77,850 and for very low it’s $43,800.

Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath mentioned that the city-hired consultants had only analyzed four properties out of the 15 proposed for upzoning, and she’d like a broader review. Councilmen Tony Kranz and Mark Muir also said they thought more information was needed.

“I think that getting it right is more important than getting it fast,” Kranz said.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she thought the city ought to move forward now with increasing the requirements, saying the existing rules aren’t “meeting our goals” for low-income housing.

“I think this really is a change in the right direction,” she said.

In other action at the Sept. 26 meeting, the City Council agreed to direct city engineer Chris Magdosku to look into ways the city could fund and organize a school crossing guard program to supplement the ones already in place at area elementary schools.

The existing, school-funded crossing guards service roadways immediately adjacent to individual schools, but there’s a need for crossing assistance at major congestion points where students from multiple schools pass through, council members said. Key among these spots is the intersection of Balour Drive and Melba Road, several parents said Sept. 26. People crossing at that spot are heading to several preschools, as well as Ocean Knoll Elementary, Oak Crest Middle School and San Dieguito High School Academy.

Council members said the city of Solana Beach has recently established a crossing guard program and asked Magdosku to research it and other options, including possibly asking senior volunteers who work the Sheriff’s Department to serve as city crossing guards.

City employees also were asked Sept. 26 to collect additional information about finances and employee policies at the Encinitas Golf Course, which is run by an independent public entity known as the Encinitas Ranch Golf Authority. The authority was jointly established by the city and Carltas Co., the company that built much of northeastern Encinitas, before the course opened in the late 1990s.

J.C. Resorts, the company that manages day-to-day operations at the course, gives an annual presentation on its financial status to the City Council each year and this year’s assessment occurred during the Sept. 26 meeting. After the presentation, an employee at another J.C. Resorts golf course who is attempting to unionize his fellow employees, asked the council to produce more data about J.C. Resort’s Encinitas facility. Council members asked city staff to produce a memo on the topic.

--Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune