Encinitas council agrees to consider Santa Fe Drive site for housing plan


Taking a suggestion from the Encinitas Taxpayers Association, the Encinitas City Council voted April 8 to add a site at 601 Santa Fe Drive to a list of candidate sites for the housing element.

The Encinitas Taxpayers Association presented a plan with potential properties for the housing element, with some of the parcels overlapping with earlier council-approved plans. However, council members were concerned about other ideas in the association’s proposal.

“I’m afraid there are too many elements of this proposal that you’ve made that would leave us subject to legal challenge,” Councilman Tony Kranz said.

For the state-mandated housing element, a plan outlining city development, Encinitas must rezone select sites for higher density to accommodate 1,300 units.

After hearing from residents online and at city meetings, the council in February approved three housing element maps with potential sites, which will soon undergo in-depth environmental review. To gain additional feedback, the council also agreed to invite community groups to submit their own maps.

Bob Bonde of the Encinitas Taxpayers Association took the city up on the offer, recommending five sites and a number of strategies to get an approved housing element. He said the proposal is better than the council’s current plan.

“The ETA (Encinitas Taxpayers Association) plan will have a far greater chance of passing at the polls,” Bonde said, referring to the housing element going to a public vote in November 2016.

The San Dieguito Water District, which is part of the city, owns the Santa Fe Drive parcel. Projects aren’t planned on the site, and about .8 acre of the property could be built on, according to a staff report.

It’s unlikely more sites in the proposal will be added. Next month, environmental review will begin in order to measure how candidate parcels will affect traffic, along with other factors.

Once environmental documents are complete, the city will whittle the number of sites and finalize one or possibly two housing element maps for the ballot.

Kranz said Bonde’s proposal relies too heavily on secondary dwelling units.

Also known as “granny flats,” the units have long been considered a source of affordable housing. Hence, they would theoretically reduce the number of housing element units the city must plan.

For this reason, the city recently began a program to give homeowners incentives to legalize their second dwelling units.

But Bonde maintains the city isn’t doing enough to count them — the proposal calls for a citywide housing inventory to identify granny flats.

Kranz said Encinitas shouldn’t automatically bank on including so many secondary units. He noted an L.A. County Superior Court judge recently ruled that Malibu can’t count accessory units toward its housing element, stating the units often don’t go to low-income residents. The ruling ordered Malibu to revise its housing plan.

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said there’s some agreement between the association’s proposal and council plans. She noted two of the sites in the association’s proposal — 634 Quail Gardens Lane and 137 N. El Camino Real — are among the properties in the three council-backed maps.

However, Shaffer said an old county landfill site in the association’s plan has been deemed unfit.

The landfill, at 2099 Encinitas Blvd., closed in 1977, but harmful gases there remain above environmental standards for development, states the staff report.

Another key part of the proposal says housing element sites should be rezoned at a density no greater than 20 units per acre. According to a staff report, the city is trying to negotiate a maximum of 25 units per acre based on documentation. Should this fail, the city would be subject to 30 units per acre, the state’s standard for housing element density.

The council vote to include the Santa Fe Drive property was 4-0. Councilman Mark Muir was absent from the meeting.

The council has stated that an approved housing element would make the city eligible for more grant opportunities and lessen the chances of lawsuits from affordable-housing advocates. Critics have said it would result in too much development at the expense of community character.