A year after Measure T failed on the November 2018 ballot, we are still working hard to get compliant with state affordable housing law. Once this Council was elected, our Mayor has shown great leadership in changing how we engage with the public on such a contentious issue as housing. This has resulted in a productive, collaborative dialog and I thank everyone who has made this possible.
At the heart of the issue is how for us to comply with state law, that requires the zoning for, not building of, housing for all income levels. Most other cities zone a few acres for 30 units per acre and allow three stories, but one thing we heard loud and clear is that our residents don't want to zone more than we have to and would like to keep the height as close to our current regulations as possible.
Housing Element Task Force
Back in February our Council created the Housing Element Task Force, consisting of Mayor Blakespear. Deputy Mayor Kranz, Planning Commissioner Bruce Ehlers and former Planning Commissioner Kurt Groseclose. They have had an open dialog with interested community members over the last eight months with almost a dozen public meetings! That is a lot of work!
Changes in State Law Drive a Re-Think
However, recent changes in state laws, requires us to have at least 50% of our sites for the Housing Element be vacant or underutilized land. That threw a wrench in the system, since previously the Council had directed the Task Force to only look at Measure T sites, which were largely on developed land.
Direction to the Housing Element Task Force
That was a long bit of context to our meeting last Wednesday, when we had a working meeting to discuss the short list of the selected sites and some new options offered by the public. My biggest concern with our vacant land is much of it is not built out for a reason. Most, but not all, have steep slopes, wetlands, habitat or occasionally a combination of all three! Regardless of the sites, these are the parameters that are important:
- Realistic: Calculate a realistic number of units based on the buildable area, considering excluded areas for wetlands, habitat, steep slopes, ingress, egress, stormwater and a number of other requirements. We should keep our high environmental standards and avoid sites that require expensive and unpredictable environmental clean-ups.
- Compatible: Reserve as much as possible the transition zones and development standards that were the good part of the last housing element update. I'm sure we will have to make some compromises if we want to reduce, or eliminate, third story coverage. But let's try hard to keep development standards (set backs, outdoor space, transition zones, etc.) that make these developments more compatible with surrounding neighborhoods
- Affordable: Chose sites to maximize affordability. When the development standards require expensive retaining walls or underground parking, these costs will be passed onto the home buyer and drive up the cost of market-rate units. I also agree with Commissioner Ehlers that we should resurrect the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance that the Planning Commission approved over two years ago back when I was a Planning Commissioner, which provided for 20% affordability.
- Geographic Equity: We should retain the idea that we have geographic equity between our five communities.
- Innovative: We received a number of new proposals, the most exciting of which was an "agrihood," proposed by a local farmer. The exact concept and location needs to be properly vetted, but the general idea seems pretty compatible with Encinitas: half farm, half community-centered housing, which could also be counted towards our low and very low income requirements. As we learned, an urban agrihood combines small-scale living with a 50% of the land dedicated to a working farm. There are farm-centered activities, like farm-to-fork dinners and events, on site. The units are more naturally affordable because they are smaller and denser. I am open to the idea and think there are many sites where this might be a very compatible option for Encinitas.
On Wednesday, we reviewed a short-list of sites, but it was clear that this was a sub-set of what we ultimately need to review. We decided to return to another meeting of the Council and the Task Force to go through the sites with more information on actual buildable units and hopefully have clear direction on number of stories from the state agency for Housing & Community Development (HCD). Stay tuned!