Encinitas starts work on new housing element

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Encinitas city leaders are hard at work developing a new Housing Element required by the state of California, just a few months after an earlier plan was rejected by city voters.

The Encinitas City Council on Feb. 6 created a Housing Element Update Task Force, consisting of Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, former Planning Commissioner Kurt Groseclose and Bruce Ehlers. Ehlers led the campaign to defeat an earlier Housing Element plan, which was on the November ballot as Measure T.

A week later, the group got to work. In her weekly newsletter, dated Feb. 19, Blakespear recapped the meeting: “We agreed to hire an expert to help us answer the technical questions that we no longer have the expertise on staff to answer, and to provide an analysis of whether it’s possible to fit the required density into two stories instead of three.”

Under California law, each governing body of a local government is required to adopt a comprehensive, long-term general plan for the physical development of the city or county. The housing element is one of the seven mandated elements of the local general plan. Housing element law, enacted in 1969, mandates that local governments adequately plan to meet the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community, including those with low and very low incomes.

But the sky-high cost of land and housing near the water makes it difficult for coastal towns like Encinitas and Carlsbad to comply with this law – a difficulty compounded by concerns about traffic, congestion and preserving the character of coastal communities.

Measure T would have upped the density in certain areas, like the Highway 101 Corridor, by raising the height limit to three stories, allowing ground-floor residential units, calling for more mixed-use development (meaning stores and businesses sharing the same building with condos and apartments), and easing restrictions on subdividing.

The Encinitas City Council in June 2016 voted unanimously to place the issue on the ballot, with members conceding that while the plan wasn’t perfect, it would bring the city in compliance with state law and avoid costly litigation.

Critics of Measure T said they feared the proposed zoning changes would allow too many dense, tall buildings that would destroy the city’s small beach-town character. The ballot argument against Measure T, signed by former Encinitas Mayor and county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and veteran community activists Ehlers and Robert Bonde, claimed the proposition would increase traffic by up to 24,000 more cars on the road each day, didn’t guarantee that any affordable housing will be built, and gave developers an incentive “to increase the number of units by 35% over zoning.”

In her newsletter, Blakespear wrote, “I feel a particular urgency about remedying our non-compliant housing plan, which to me indicates a city that can’t get its act together. In addition, being vulnerable to lawsuits that waste taxpayer money is an ongoing problem. As the mayor, I don’t like this and I’m committed to remedying it, as I know the entire council is.”

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