Council chooses housing plan, now it’s up to Encinitas voters


With no choice but to adopt a city Housing Element Update — not only to stay within state law mandated by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), but also to live up to the terms of a 2015 lawsuit settlement with the Building Industry Association — the Encinitas City Council on June 15 voted unanimously to adopt two resolutions and a related ordinance to go forward with a plan recommended by the planning commission and city staff.

Residents of Encinitas, however, will have a choice as the final direction from the city council was for staff to prepare to place the Housing Element Update on the Nov. 8 ballot, in accordance with Prop A, the “Encinitas Right To Vote Amendment,” which passed narrowly in 2013.

“I would love to just keep us the way we are … and say no to high-density housing,” said City Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear, who was teleconferencing in from Tennessee. “But we do live in the real world and … we have to think about the consequences.”

After two hours of public comment and anther 90 minutes of deliberation, the five members of the council agreed just before midnight to adopt the Sustainable Mixed Use Places alternative, a plan that came about following more than a year of public outreach and diligent work by city staff. It was chosen from four possible alternatives and, after hearing from several Cardiff-by-the-Sea residents during public comment, the council approved it with slightly altered language to remove the possibility of development beyond two stories at one site in that neighborhood.

While the council had hoped to examine each site in each plan, and have the option to remove or add sites, city staff and a pair of lawyers hired as special counselors for this project explained that those changes would likely cause the need for a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Performing a new EIR would take too long to get the plan on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Adopting the original EIR was the other resolution passed by the council on June 15, although a couple of small changes were made. Most of the tweaks involved adding options to mitigate traffic problems should the voters agree to the plan in November.

The Housing Element Update isn’t an actual plan for new development, but merely a change that gives the current owners of property at several sites around Encinitas the right to build/develop — rights they previously didn’t have. This extra availability of sites for housing puts the city in compliance with the HCD’s affordable housing rules.

But while about half of the 31 residents speaking during public comment supported the council adopting the resolution, nearly everyone had an opinion on which exact sites should be designated in the plan.

The Sustainable Mixed Use alternative eventually chosen by the council — which was agreed upon by almost everyone as the most environmentally-friendly plan — would see 13 sites among the five neighborhoods of Encinitas change property rights (see accompanying graphic).

In Leucadia, a patch of land along Highway 101 just north of Leucadia Blvd., could now see mixed use development, while Old Encinitas sites on Highway 101 south of Encinitas Blvd. and on Encinitas Blvd. between Quail Dr. and Quail Gardens Dr. would be designated.

Two sites in New Encinitas are next to each other on Encinitas Blvd. at El Camino Real and another is on El Camino Real just north of the Leo Mullen Sports Park. Olivanhain could see side-by-side sites on the corner of Encinitas Blvd. and Rancho Santa Fe Rd.

Cardiff, which had by far the most residents on hand to speak during public comment, gets designated sites between Encinitas Community Park and Santa Fe Dr., and in the Seaside Market area on the corner of Birmingham Dr. and San Elijo Ave. It is that final site where the council directed city staff to limit development to two stories, in accordance with a previous Cardiff planning initiative.

With just that change and the other small tweaks to the EIR resolution, the council adopted the entire Housing Element Update, which was presented as a group of initiatives under the heading: At Home in Encinitas.

“You’re seeing two different (resolutions) in front of you, but they are carrying the same measure, which is At Home in Encinitas,” special council Mike Durkee explained to the city council and the audience. “It is a composite measure that will go everywhere from updating the Housing Element and amending the related provisions of the General Plan, to then implementing that into your zoning code, municipal code, design guidelines and local coastal plan.”

With the plan for the Housing Element Update selected, city staff will now work to create the exact language for the measure to go on the ballot. On that same Nov. 8 ballot, Encinitas residents will also be voting for Mayor and three open spots on the city council.