Encinitas asks courts to weigh in on Proposition A conflict

(File photo)

Encinitas filed a court motion Friday, March 6, asking for judicial guidance to resolve a conflict between the city’s growth-control initiative and the state Housing and Community Development Department, which is considering revoking the city’s recently achieved compliance status with state housing law.

“We need a judge to determine the ultimate question of how far the state can go in clawing away residents’ ability to vote in Encinitas,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear wrote in a statement regarding Friday’s filing in Superior Court.

Blakespear said the city needs “judicial clarity” when it comes to how to handle the conflict between what state officials are requiring the city to do to accommodate future housing growth and what’s mandated in Proposition A, the Encinitas citizens’ initiative that requires the city to obtain voter approval before up-zoning properties for development.

“The city wants to protect the right to vote on all discretionary up-zoning and the state wants that right eliminated,” Blakespear wrote. “So, we named them as the defendant (in the new court paperwork) to get a definitive answer.”

For years, Encinitas has been struggling to bring itself into compliance with state housing law, which requires cities to have valid Housing Elements, planning documents that spell out how a city proposes to handle its future growth, particularly the housing needs of low-income people. In these plans, cities list properties where they will change the zoning to allow more homes to be built.

Encinitas has tried twice to win voter approval for proposed plans that increase housing density. Measure T failed to win voter approval in 2016 and Measure U failed in 2019. After the second plan failed, the courts stepped in and ordered the city to get the job done within 120 days. The courts allowed the city to temporarily exempt itself from the public vote requirements of Proposition A in order to accomplish the task.

The state now is seeking a permanent exemption from the general public vote requirement, arguing a simply majority vote by the City Council is enough, or the city will continue to repeatedly fail to meet state housing planning requirements.

The city’s next housing plan update deadline is April 2021.

In a Feb. 7 letter, state housing officials announced their intent to revoke the city’s compliance status. The letter declared that the city had to provide a written response detailing how it planned to take “affirmative, definitive corrective action” to resolve the situation. The deadline to respond was initially the end of February, but the city received an extension allowing it to respond by March 6.

In addition to filing the court paperwork Friday, March 6, the city’s housing attorneys submitted a nine-page response letter to the HCD officials with multiple attachments. In their letter, the attorneys wrote that the state “wrongly claimed” that the city wasn’t in compliance with part of its newly approved Housing Element plan, saying Encinitas is taking steps to follow the requirements of that document and is trying to meet the state’s next planning update deadline.

The city’s attorneys declared that they were “respectfully requesting” that HCD withdraw its “unfounded allegations.”

Their letter also stressed the plan compliance issue was the main source of discussion when state HCD officials met with city representatives on Feb. 18 and March 2. However, there were several other items mentioned as compliance issues in the state’s Feb. 7 letter.

One of them mentioned the city’s newly opened, overnight parking lot for homeless people who are living in their vehicles. Any limitations on who could use that lot might be discriminatory, a state official wrote.

In the city’s response letter Friday, March 6, city attorneys wrote that the state officials later assured them during their two recent meetings that they were focused on the housing plan compliance issue and there was “no intent to pursue any legal action against the city” related to other items mentioned in the Feb. 7 letter.

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