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Encinitas finally wins state certification for new housing plan

Staff photo of Encinitas
(Karen Billing)

Conflicts over planning methods, individual projects remain

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development has informed Encinitas that its latest housing plan is in “substantial compliance” with state law, giving some city leaders a reason to celebrate this month.

“I’m excited about and celebrate the fact that we have finally made it across that finish line,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said Thursday, Aug. 5, noting that this is the first time in the city’s history that it has submitted the required housing plan on time and the state has approved it.

Known as a Housing Element, the state-mandated planning document details how a city proposes to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly the needs of low-income people. If cities fall out of compliance with the state requirement, they can lose their eligibility for state grant money and face legal action.

Blakespear said the state’s new compliance certification was evidence of the city’s recent “good governance,” but others have been far less happy with the city’s housing process of late.

Several members of the city’s Planning Commission have said that the new housing document greatly benefits developers at the expense of the city’s existing residents. They argue that the plan will permit the building of lots of high-density housing, but little of it will be truly affordable and they say the city should have set stricter development standards.

Meanwhile, the state HCD department continues to have its own issues with the city, the state compliance letter indicates.

In the six-page letter dated July 13, state HCD land use and planning unit chief Shannan West wrote that HCD will be keeping a close eye on Encinitas in the coming months and expects the city to do much more to accommodate high-density housing projects if it wants to remain in the state’s good graces.

HCD is particularly concerned about how the city currently is handling the Vulcan Avenue apartment proposal, West wrote. Department officials believe the city’s Planning Commission used a “subjective process” when it denied permits for the controversial, 72-unit apartment project in June and the City Council had better not do the same when it considers the applicant’s appeal of that decision later this month, West wrote.

“HCD will continue to monitor the city’s processing of the Vulcan project and other by-right housing projects,” West added, mentioning that HCD has the ability to revoke the city’s compliance status and could even refer the issue to the state’s Office of the Attorney General.

Encinitas and state HCD officials have long been in conflict over housing issues. Encinitas didn’t approve its previous Housing Element plan — the one that covered the period from 2013-2021 — until 2019, and that City Council approval vote came after multiple building industry lawsuits, threats of legal action by the state and two failed city ballot measures.

Approval of the latest plan came in April, and City Council members said they had to make compromises to get the job done on time and avoid getting sued. Among other things, the council agreed to adopt a consultant’s recommendation for a new building requirement for low-income housing, rather than picking the stricter standard recommended by the city’s planning commissioners.

“The last thing we want to do is to be marching into another lawsuit over this,” Blakespear said at the time as she described why she supported the consultant’s proposal instead of the planning commissioners.

On Thursday, Aug. 5, she said she wasn’t surprised that the state HCD would be watching the city’s actions in the coming months and was already raising some concerns.

“What I read in the letter is there are a lot of ways to fall out of compliance,” she said, later adding that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the state will be closely watching the city because that’s been the case for years.

Encinitas is required to update its new housing plan by April 15, 2025. If it does so, it will then be eligible for the state’s less time-consuming, eight-year housing update schedule.

To view the new Housing Element plan, visit the city’s web site at: https://encinitasca.gov/I-Want-To/Housing-Plan-Update/Housing-Update-2021-2029


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