Encinitas gearing up for housing element


The city will soon roll out community workshops and an online forum to collect input for the housing element.

The goal is to put the housing element — a map listing locations throughout the city that can accommodate state-mandated housing — to a public vote in 2016.

During the workshops and virtual town hall meetings, residents will be asked to identify where units could be located in their respective communities.

As a starting point of conversation, the public will be presented with maps of candidate sites throughout the city, which are based on recommendations from three groups made up of citizen and business representatives.

To get the word out about chances to weigh in, the city will send out a mailer and engage residents online. The City Council received an overview of the housing element’s next steps. In addition, the council directed staff to rewrite outreach materials at the June 18 meeting.

After reviewing a draft of the outreach language, the council agreed it should be more in-depth, but in a way that avoids land-use planning jargon.

“We need to make sure it’s in simple English that a non-planner can relate to,” Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said.

City planner Manjeet Ranu said the aim is to communicate that the housing element “can be more than a mandate.” He noted completing the element would make Encinitas eligible for more grants, for instance.

The housing element aims to provide low-income units.

However, two public speakers pointed out the units could be sold at market rate. That’s because the department of Housing and Community Development only requires that properties be zoned for higher density, not necessarily that the housing is affordable.

Shaffer said the city should reserve the units for low-income residents when possible. But she noted there are limitations; state law says the housing projects must still be feasible for developers.

“It’s going to be important to get the community buy-in to show this really will generate affordable units, not just market units,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer went on to say the housing element should take traffic and other factors into account. Residents largely opposed the first housing element draft on the grounds of potential congestion on El Camino Real, she noted.

Councilman Mark Muir asked city staff to include a flow chart with the outreach materials. That way, residents know what to expect next.

On that note, dates haven’t been set for the workshops and online forums, but they will likely take place in late July or early August.

From there, the input will go to the Planning Commission and council for consideration. Then, the council would select a final housing element map and possibly an alternative for voter consideration.

To place the housing element on the ballot, it would take about a year for city staff to complete the necessary environmental documents.

Workshops will be held in each of Encinitas’ five communities, and there will be a citywide meeting on the topic. Feedback will also be collected through Peak Democracy, a virtual town hall service Encinitas recently signed up for.

How many units will residents have to plan for? City staff members have said this could depend on the approach.

One idea is to “plan up: not out,” which entails raising the 30-foot height limit by three feet in parts of the city. Such an option would require penciling out an estimated 670 units.

Another potential approach — “plan out: not up” — would keep the city’s height cap, with 1,000 units needed.

But several public speakers at the June 18 meeting said the city should investigate alternatives that don’t require building additional units.

Resident Sheila Cameron said the city needs to take a harder look at amnesty for “accessory units” — illegal dwellings behind or attached to homes — because they’re a source of affordable housing.

Planning Director Jeff Murphy said it’s unknown how many accessory units exist, but it’s unlikely they could fulfill the housing element numbers on their own. In the next few months, the council will be presented with potential options for including the units, Murphy noted.