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Encinitas launches online outreach for housing element

After a monthlong publicity campaign, the city on Nov. 10 launched an online forum to gain feedback on a plan for growth called the housing element.

The virtual approach is in contrast to three years ago, when the city asked residents to place dots on maps indicating which locations could accommodate housing element units. However, this new effort is only taking comments through E-Town Hall, which can be found at encinitasca.gov.

“We’re extremely excited that this is a different and new way of obtaining input from the community and business members,” said City Planning Director Jeff Murphy. He added that the city chose E-Town Hall for the housing element to easily record residents’ input.

Encinitas rolled out E-Town Hall, powered by the company Peak Democracy, this summer to gather feedback from those who haven’t historically attended city meetings.

“It’s transparent, letting people see others’ comments,” Murphy said.

The city has promoted the housing element as a way to provide diverse housing options for seniors who are downsizing and young professionals who prefer multi-family units near transit and retail centers. And Murphy said an approved housing element would open the door for more city infrastructure grants.

Slated to go to a public vote November 2016, the housing element seeks to rezone select sites to accommodate 1,300 state-mandated units. The city has allocated units throughout Encinitas’ five communities. Cardiff’s share, for instance, is 192.

At E-Town Hall, residents can select one of three building strategies they would prefer for meeting the number assigned to each community. Options are: mixed-use projects, clustering units along major corridors or concentrating housing in one area.

And the public has the option of commenting.

“Mixed-use places — not only does this fit the character of our community, it also beautifies the commercial center,” New Encinitas resident Marti Rosenberg wrote on E-Town Hall.

“There are already some not-so-attractive buildings in Leucadia, so highly concentrated would not be a good option,” wrote one resident, who chose not to list his or her name. “Focusing on mixed-use along Leucadia Boulevard would connect the communities east of 101 and expand Leucadia in a positive manner.”

Residents also have the ability to create customized rezone maps by selecting sites from a larger pool. And they can comment on what characteristics they’d like to preserve or introduce in each of the five communities.

To give residents a heads up about the housing element, city staff has met with community stakeholder groups and sent out door hangers to homes over the past month.

Those who’d rather learn about the process in person or ask questions of city staff can attend upcoming open houses anytime from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in each of the communities.

The schedule: Nov. 13 at the Seaside Center for Spiritual Living; Nov. 15 at Encinitas Library; Nov. 17 at Beacon Bible Church; Nov. 18 at Ranch View Baptist Church; and Nov. 22 at Diegueno Middle School.

Each open house will have six stations. At the last one, there will be computers for residents to post their feedback on E-Town Hall, or they can sign in later at home.

The online forum closes Dec. 5.

While putting all comments online is easier for staff to track, some city activists have raised concerns at council meetings that the system is ripe for fictitious names and spam.

In response, Murphy said those posting on E-Town Hall are tracked and authenticated through their IP addresses and Peak Democracy’s computer software, preventing people from spamming or posting multiple times.

“We can identify questionable entries,” Murphy said, adding that in the name of transparency, those entries will be flagged for the public and council to review.

Input from E-Town Hall will be shared with the council and planning commission in December and January. In February, the council will develop around housing maps for environmental review. These will eventually come back for the council and public to weigh in on.

“Multiple opportunities are there for the public to stay engaged in this process,” Murphy said. He also noted that residents who sign up for Peak Democracy are required to provide an email address. So, the city can keep them in the loop with follow-up emails ahead of key steps.

Encinitas is the only city in the county without an approved housing element. In 2012, the process was derailed after a city consultant released a widely panned report in favor of concentrating most units on El Camino Real, leading the council to restart the process.


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