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Encinitas council maintains opposition to ‘density bonus’ bill

The Encinitas City Council last week maintained its opposition to proposed “density bonus” legislation, despite the bill’s author asking the city to reconsider its stance.

California’s density bonus law lets developers build more housing on property than city zoning allows, and in exchange they’re required to set aside one or more of the units for low-income individuals.

AB 744, which is working its way through the California legislature, was written to ease builders’ parking requirements when constructing density bonus developments.

But the council’s main beef with AB 744 is over how it calculates the number of homes allowed in density bonus projects, which residents have protested across the city.

Introduced by Assemblymember Ed Chau of Monterey Park, AB 744 originally mandated that cities “round up” a density bonus calculation, increasing the number of units. The council registered opposition in May, advocating for “rounding down” as part of its efforts to shrink the footprint of the developments.

In response, Chau updated the bill with language from the current density bonus law that governs rounding. But the council last week said this language is ambiguous on whether cities should round up or down.

So the council on June 24 voted unanimously to direct Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear to write a letter to Chau, stating that it should be clarified that local jurisdictions have discretion to round down.

“If you feel it necessary to prescribe the rounding of fractional units, we urge you to require that fractional units be rounded down to the nearest whole number,” Blakespear wrote in the letter.

“The city of Encinitas recognizes and values the need for affordable housing. But rounding up density calculations results only in additional market rate units, not in additional affordable units.”

Another council qualm with AB 744: It would relax parking requirements for new density bonus developments within a half mile of a major transit stop like a rail station, senior housing development or special-needs facility. The bill states that those living in such projects drive less frequently, so fewer parking spots are needed.

Blakespear’s letter says the city only has one transit center, and the half-mile radius outlined in the bill includes “an area that already presents a parking challenge.”

“There appears to be an assumption that seniors aged 62 or older do not require automobiles, or do not have visitors requiring parking,” Blakespear wrote.

AB 744 will be referred to potentially two policy committees in the California Senate before reaching the Senate floor for a vote. Bills must pass the floor no later than Sept. 11 to reach the governor’s office, according to a city staff report.

To reduce the size of density bonus projects, the council last summer voted to round down when calculating the number of homes in a density bonus project, among other changes. But the Building Industry Association sued the city, and the lawsuit has yet to be resolved.

Five public speakers during last week’s meeting urged the council not to budge. Resident Gerald Sodomka said withdrawing opposition would weaken the council’s stance on rounding.

The council vote in favor of sending the letter was 4-0. Councilman Mark Muir was absent from the meeting.


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