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Encinitas finally gains state certification for contentious housing plan

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(Courtesy)

Pro-Proposition A group says city is now ‘suing its residents’ over public vote compliance issue

After multiple years and many false starts, Encinitas has finally won the necessary state certification for its citywide housing planning document.

“It’s a major milestone,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said Tuesday, Oct. 15. “This was hard-fought and tremendously difficult.”

She said now that the city is finally compliant with state law, it is eligible for more grant funding opportunities.

The city received a letter last week from the state Housing and Community Development department, declaring that Encinitas had taken all the necessary final steps to achieve state compliance for its plan, which is formally known as a Housing Element. One of those steps was gaining state Coastal Commission approval.

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Encinitas also has taken another necessary step. It’s attempting to resolve an ongoing legal conflict associated with its housing planning situation, state officials noted in a press release. If a recent court filing is successful, the city will be able to “implement strategies that accomplish the city’s goal of providing more housing,” the press release states.

That upbeat assessment of the current situation isn’t shared by the lawyer who represents the Encinitas citizens’ growth-control group Preserve Proposition A.

The city’s new court filing -- a “complaint for declaratory relief” filed against the Preserve Proposition A group in early September -- essentially can be described as a city effort to restrict residents’ free speech rights and exempt the city forever from the public vote requirement contained in Proposition A, lawyer Everett DeLano said Tuesday, Oct. 15.

“I’d challenge the city to say otherwise. It is the city suing the residents,” DeLano said. “There is an Alice and Wonderland quality to that.”

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Approved by voters in 2013, Proposition A requires the city to win voter approval for any changes to city zoning that accommodate higher-density housing. It’s been cited by city officials as one key reason why Encinitas has been unable to comply with state housing planning laws in recent years.

Up until last week’s certification, Encinitas was the only city in San Diego County without a valid Housing Element, a state-mandated document that details how a city proposes to handle its future growth, particularly the housing needs of low-income people. In these plans, cities identify sites that will be rezoned to accommodate higher-density housing projects.

Encinitas has put two different Housing Element plan proposals before voters -- the Measure T plan in 2016 and the Measure U plan in November. Each listed various sites where higher density housing would be permitted. Both failed to win approval.

After the second plan failed, the courts stepped in and ordered the city to get the job done within 120 days. The judge allowed Encinitas to temporarily exempt itself from the requirements of Proposition A to accomplish this task. The latest housing plan, a revised version of the Measure U plan, is the result of that court order.

The new complaint for declaratory relief asks the courts to permanently exempt the city from the public vote requirement when it comes to housing elements and state law. It also seeks reimbursement for the city’s legal expenses and any other relief “the court deems just and proper.”

DeLano said Preserve Proposition A hasn’t officially been served with the court paperwork and group members haven’t yet decided how they will respond to the court filing, but they don’t believe the city should have taken this step.

“There are other avenues other than suing the residents,” he said, comparing the city’s complaint to a boy saying “the dog ate my homework” and arguing that he should never ever have to do homework again because of the dog.

For her part, the city’s mayor said she believes the city had no choice but to file the complaint.

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“The state is requiring us to go into court,” she said, adding that Encinitas officials tried to go with a temporary exemption and failed to win state support for that idea. “It’s obviously not our preference on a way to proceed, but we don’t have any other options.”

— Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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