At a contentious meeting with emotions running high, the Encinitas City Council voted 5-0 on Wednesday, March 27, to give final approval to an update of the city’s housing plan, bringing the city in compliance with a state mandate to allow more homes within its borders.
About half a dozen residents spoke at the meeting, most of them strongly opposed to the housing plan as drafted by the city. Wednesday’s hearing marked the second and final reading of the housing plan, after its first reading on March 13. The plan now must be approved by the state Housing and Community Development Department and the California Coastal Commission, which is expected to hold a hearing in June.
The vote comes on the heels of the defeat of Measure U, a proposed housing plan, at the ballot box in November, and rejection of another plan by voters in 2016. Until Wednesday, Encinitas was the only city in the county without an updated housing plan.
In December, Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier ordered the city to adopt a housing plan within 120 days, in response to lawsuits filed against the city by the Building Industry Association of San Diego and San Diego Tenants United.
City officials have cited the court cases, and possible sanctions for failing to approve a housing plan — such as a suspension of the city’s right to issue building permits — for their support of a housing plan that has riled some residents.
The plan would “upzone” a number of privately-owned properties in the city, meaning that more homes would be allowed per acre. Also, it would allow building heights of up to three stories. Most residents who spoke Wednesday objected to both aspects of the plan, claiming that increased density -- more homes on a piece of land — would negatively affect the character of their neighborhoods and exacerbate traffic problems, among other issues.
Speakers, some overcome with emotion at the podium, charged that the council has failed to hear their concerns, and that the panel is bowing to the wishes of developers. Some asked for specific parcels to be added or removed from the updated housing plan.
In approving the updated housing plan, the council “chose to walk in lock-step with the building industry,” said Sheila Cameron.
Others asked the council to push back against the state’s housing mandates.
“Stand up for the people of Encinitas and fight back on the state’s demand of too many (housing) units and crazy upzoning,” said Karen Kaden.
Council members said that although they empathize with residents’ concerns, their options are limited due the failure of Measure U, the lawsuits and the state’s housing mandates.
“I know it seems like we don’t listen, but believe me, we hear you loud and clear,” said Councilman Tony Kranz. “We have terrible choices.”
In the run-up to last fall’s election, council members warned that if Measure U didn’t pass, a judge would likely be making decisions about Encinitas’ housing plan, Kranz said.,
Some residents have called the updated housing plan a building industry “dream list,” and “I can’t disagree,” Kranz said.
However, Kranz said, he supports the update because, “I think it’s time we got into compliance with state law.”
Mayor Catherine Blakespear said there are consequences for failing to adhere to the judge’s order regarding the updated housing plan.
“As I’ve said, adding more housing... is an existential reckoning for us. It’s very difficult every time,” said Blakespear. “We’re not in a position where we can be tinkering with the plan right now. We need to get in compliance with state law.”
Now that the city has approved an updated housing plan, officials must begin planning for the next update. The plans are intended to be blueprints for meeting a city’s projected housing needs over an eight-year period or “cycle.” The next cycle begins in 2021.
Further complicating the process is Prop. A, a measure approved by voters in 2013, which requires that any proposal to increase housing density be put to a public vote. City officials are uncertain whether Prop. A will supersede the state’s housing mandates in the new cycle.