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Encinitas opposes state bill on ‘density bonus’

The Encinitas City Council on April 27 approved a letter opposing state legislation that would strengthen “density bonus” law, a source of controversy locally.

California’s density bonus rules let developers build more housing on a property than city zoning allows, and in exchange, they’re required to set aside one or more of the units for low-income individuals.

AB 2501 would, among other things, mandate that cities “round up” density bonus calculations, an approach that results in at least one additional market rate house in a density bonus project when compared to the round-down method.

The council’s vote authorized Mayor Kristin Gaspar to send a letter to Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who co-wrote the bill, stating that cities should have the power to round down.

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“We maintain that existing density bonus law is not clear in addressing the rounding of base density; therefore, base density rounding is dependent upon local ordinance,” said a draft letter included with the agenda report. It also states that some cities in San Diego County round up, while others round down, so local jurisdictions should have a choice.

In addition to statewide legislation, a lawsuit is challenging the city’s stance on rounding. Local developer David C. Meyer sued the city in January, arguing the city’s density bonus ordinance is too restrictive and violates state law.

Months earlier, Encinitas settled a separate lawsuit over the matter. As part of that agreement, the council agreed to reverse several policies it passed in 2014 to shrink the footprint of the developments. However, the city retained the power to round down density bonus calculations.

Residents have made the case that density bonus projects are too large and result in little affordable housing. Advocates of the law say it’s an important tool in solving the state’s housing crisis.

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The city’s letter also takes issue with AB 2501 prohibiting a local jurisdiction from requesting additional studies or special reports from a density bonus developer. This is among the provisions in the bill intended to speed up permitting of the projects.

“Because density bonus projects do no conform with local planning and zoning, the exceptions requested have not been studied, and disallowing full project analysis may be detrimental to the welfare of the local community,” the letter states.

The bill is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. As part of the city’s legislative positions program, the council regularly sends out letters weighing in on state bills.


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