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Encinitas council comes out against new ‘density bonus’ bill

In a letter that recently went out to state representatives, the Encinitas City Council staked its opposition to a new bill that would increase the size of “density bonus” projects.

California’s density bonus law lets developers build more housing on a parcel than city zoning allows, in exchange for reserving one or more of the units for low-income individuals. Many residents have argued the law results in overstuffed developments, while builders have made the case the law supports affordable housing.

AB 744, introduced by Assemblymember Ed Chau of Monterey Park, proposes to amend the law by requiring that cities “round up” a density bonus calculation, increasing the number of homes in such projects. The Encinitas council last summer voted to round down the calculation as part of a larger effort to shrink the footprint of the developments.

“Many cities, such as Encinitas, include provisions under their respective codes requiring that fractional units are rounded down to the nearest whole number when determining density,” wrote Mayor Kristin Gaspar in the letter, which was endorsed by the rest of the council. “This calculation is often referred to as the base density.”

The letter goes on to say: “By rounding up the base density calculation, applicants receive upwards of two or three additional units than they normally would receive under the local land-use controls. The density is further inflated when the density bonus calculation is applied to the artificially high base density number.”

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer at the May 13 council meeting said the city should consider doing more than sending letters to promote its legislative positions, including on density bonus. The council agreed an agenda item should be brought back to discuss how the city can best advocate for or against state bills.

“I think we need to be more aggressive on legislative activity,” Shaffer said.

AB 744 states that as a matter of clarity, fractional units should be rounded up, but the bill doesn’t go into more detail on the reasoning for this provision.

It would also ease parking requirements for new density-bonus developments located within a half mile of a major transit stop like a rail station, senior housing development or special needs facility.

“In some cases, cities and counties apply minimum parking standards to housing developments that may not reflect the demand from tenants for parking,” the bill states. “These projects may be close to transit stations or home to seniors or individuals with special needs who drive less frequently and have fewer vehicles.”

In response, the city’s letter says that cars are often a necessity in smaller communities, because alternative transit networks aren’t fully developed.

“This bill, in effect, says the state knows local land-use better than the local community,” the letter states.

Besides state legislation, Encinitas’ policy of rounding down is threatened by a lawsuit from the Building Industry Association.

The association sued the city last summer, after the council voted to round down and alter other density bonus provisions.

AB 744 is currently in the state assembly’s appropriations committee, where it’s scheduled to be discussed May 27 or 28, according to Bob McSeveney, the city’s senior management analyst. Prior to these dates, the city will send letters again on the matter to state representatives, he said.

Resident CJ Minster said it seems state legislators hadn’t received earlier city letters opposing the bill. She said residents phoned and emailed state legislators a few weeks ago to advocate against AB 744, but were told formal opposition hadn’t been registered at that point.

“I would very much appreciate if council would consider my questions and provide those of us in the community a rundown on why our city’s letter of opposition appears to have been ignored,” Minster said.


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