Encinitas council endorses housing plan


Six years after Encinitas officials were supposed to submit a mandated housing plan to the state, the City Council finally approved one Wednesday, March 13, to comply with a court order and looming deadline.

Council members voted 5-0 in favor of the plan, dubbed in bureaucratic jargon a “housing element,” to meet the Superior Court-imposed deadline.

The city has until April 11 to forward a legally acceptable housing element to the California Housing and Community Development Department.

Since local government agencies must pass legally binding actions in two steps, final approval of the housing plan is scheduled before the council March 27. Then, the plan will go to the state department for review and certification.

In explaining her support for moving ahead with the plan, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said that to delay approval, as some some residents demanded, could result in sanctions, such as the suspension of the city’s power to issue building permits.

“We don’t have any options right here,” Blakespear said. “We have our back against the wall. We have lawsuits (and) the state (and) HCD requirements.”

She added, “We were elected to govern and to follow state laws. It is not optional for us to just say, ‘Screw it.’ ... I’m not going to be a leader who does that because to me it feels irresponsible.”

As in past hearings over the housing plan issue, a majority of residents appeared before the council to voice opposition, either because it might result in denser housing or might limit more affordable housing opportunities.

“Tonight, the City Council is increasing density on every property in Encinitas,” said Donna Westbrook, an ongoing opponent of the city’s housing element proposals.

Of the six speakers, only Bob Kent urged the council to adopt the plan, which must also be submitted for acceptance by the California Coastal Commission.

“It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s the law and it’s in our common interest,” said Kent, who advocates for expanded affordable housing opportunities within the city.

“It’s time we begin to move forward and actually build some quality affordable homes,” Kent said.

Every local government land-use agency is required to submit housing elements for certification by state housing officials.

An element is supposed to demonstrate how each agency will accommodate its fair share of the region’s housing growth over an eight-year cycle. The current cycle began in 2013 and will end in 2021.

Like many affluent coastal communities without much developable land left, Encinitas has struggled with the requirement since it became a city in 1986.

Many residents fear complying with the state mandate will cram more housing into their neighborhoods, deteriorate community character and lower property values.

Others such as Kent support the concept that the government needs to ensure adequate housing opportunities are available in each community for all income levels.

Meeting the state mandate in Encinitas is complicated by the passage in 2013 of Prop. A, which requires zoning changes resulting in density increases be put to a vote of the electorate.

Since meeting the housing state’s mandate inevitably requires zoning changes allowing more housing units, the city submitted election measures to the public in 2016 and 2018 attempting to get voter approval for the housing elements.

Both of those measures failed to pass, leaving the city in the position of not being able to meet the state’s demand for a certified housing element as part of its general plan.

Litigation filed against the city over its failure to comply led a judge in December to resolve the dilemma by ruling the state’s mandate superseded the failed propositions and ordered the city to comply by submitting a certifiable housing element within 120 days.

That timeline should be met by the council’s action Wednesday. However, that still leaves city officials wondering how to deal with Prop. A in the future when they must develop a new housing plan to meet the state’s next cycle beginning in 2021.

While waiting for its housing element to be certified by the state, the city is returning to court to seek a ruling on whether Prop. A must apply to the housing element process in the future, or if the state requirements always supersede the local voter-approved mandate.