Encinitas council agrees to study three housing element maps


Three maps with candidate sites for the housing element will soon undergo in-depth environmental review.

In a marathon meeting Feb. 5, the Encinitas City Council unanimously approved three maps, each one with a different strategy for the housing element, a plan for growth.

Once the environmental assessments are released, the council will whittle down the number of parcels and finalize a map that will go before voters November 2016.

Council’s big push to certify a housing element, which calls for rezoning parcels for higher density to accommodate 1,300 units in Encinitas, comes after years of stops and starts. The council has stated an approved housing element would satisfy a state mandate, make the city eligible for more grant opportunities and lessen the chances of lawsuits from affordable housing advocates.

Two of the approved maps were based on public input at E-Town Hall, an online forum the city launched last year to gain input on civic issues.

One map, called the “ready made” option, looks to add mixed-use structures, primarily along Coast Highway 101, as well as sites along Encinitas Boulevard, where it intersects El Camino Real and Rancho Santa Fe Road.

The “build-your-own” map favors larger parcels, including those located along Encinitas Boulevard near Quail Gardens Drive, El Camino Real, Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia, Santa Fe Road in Cardiff and Manchester Avenue in Olivenhain.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar said she was hoping E-Town Hall would have captured more feedback and better represented each of Encinitas’ five communities. Nonetheless, she said the input shouldn’t be ignored. She then made a motion to approve those two maps.

“I’ve never been supportive of discarding that input,” Gaspar said.

At a council meeting Feb. 3 that was dedicated to the housing element, Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir said they were unsupportive of using E-Town Hall for future housing element feedback.

In response, at the start of the Feb. 5 meeting, Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear said the council would have to be united to pass a ballot measure.

“We can’t pass a ballot measure in 2016 if we don’t have our own house in order,” Blakespear said. She then asked Muir and Gaspar if they had an alternative in mind for how to move forward with the housing element.

Gaspar and Muir said they were in favor of exploring alternative strategies for meeting the housing element numbers, rather than approving any maps for environmental review that night.

But Blakespear said the council is on a tight timeline to put the housing element on the 2016 ballot, adding their stance would likely delay the housing element to 2018.

Councilmembers Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer said they support continuing with E-Town Hall, arguing it’s educational and another tool for gauging public feedback.

Ultimately, Blakespear voted with Muir and Gaspar to bring back an agenda item to consider eliminating E-Town Hall. Because that vote built consensus, Muir and Gaspar later joined the rest of the council in supporting the three maps.

Kranz made a motion to approve the third map, which has elements from the other two maps, along with parcels councilmembers and the public recommended last week.

At the Feb. 3 housing element meeting, the council agreed to strike four properties from consideration: the Pacific View property; the Strawberry Fields off of Manchester Avenue; 11th Street and Rancho Santa Fe Road; and a parcel just south of Vulcan Avenue and Leucadia Boulevard.

During the public comments section, resident Brian Burke said the city has made vague arguments in an attempt to push the housing element forward. For one, he questioned whether the city would face a lawsuit from outside entities for not complying.

“I tend to think the risks and consequences are probably somewhere between negligible and non-existent,” Burke said of not certifying a housing element.

Resident Marco Gonzalez, an attorney, said at the Feb. 3 meeting the Building Industry Association’s lawsuit last fall over the council’s changes to the “density bonus” law laid the groundwork for further legal action should the city fail to certify a housing element.

At the Feb. 5 meeting, Gonzalez urged the council to get going on environmental review so the city can make the 2016 ballot.

The environmental analysis for the maps is estimated to cost the city between $250,000 to $300,000, City Planning Director Jeff Murphy said after the meeting.

Additional maps are also a possibility. Two community groups are slated to present maps in March.

The housing element aims to provide affordable units.

But as public speakers pointed out, the state department of Housing and Community Development defines low-income as parcels zoned for higher density of 30 units per acre. That means many of the housing element units would potentially be sold at market rate.

But the council has expressed a desire to make sure a significant number of housing element units actually go to low-income residents. The council is slated to discuss ways to accomplish this in the next month or two.