Since the failure of Measure T in 2016, the City has been pursuing a new plan to get compliant with State Housing Law. Originally we thought we could make key changes to the previous plan and send to the voters. But changes in state law this year mean that is not possible.
NEW LAWS, NEW PLAN
Whereas previously we needed to just zone for housing for all income levels, the new laws look at the production of that housing in current planning period. For us the planning period is the next three years. The City is not responsible for the production of those units, but held accountable if they are not built.
LIMITATIONS OF DEVELOPED SITES
One of the requirements that is key for a built-out city like Encinitas is that if the property is already developed, we should have a letter from the property owner, indicating that they would like to re-develop the site within the planning period. This disqualifies many of the sites on the Measure T map. In addition, state law now requires about 50% of the sites to come from vacant or underutilized land, with the idea that vacant land is more likely to develop in the next three years.
VACANT OR UNDERUTILIZED SITES
This vacant land requirement is hitting us hard. There are very few parcels in Encinitas that are vacant that don't have some sort of issue with them. For example, sites near freeways are an issue because of significant health and safety impacts of pollution from cars for sensitive populations, like children, pregnant women and the elderly. The California Air Resources Board's recommendation to protect sensitive populations, states that cities should "avoid siting new sensitive land uses within 500 feet of a freeway, urban roads with 100,000 vehicles/day, or rural roads with 50,000 vehicles/day." Additionally, many of these sites present environmental issues, like steep slopes, habitat or wetlands. We cannot compromise either public health of our residents or environmental standards when choosing sites for higher density, 25 unit per acre sites.
SPECIAL JOIN CITY COUNCIL & HOUSING ELEMENT TASK FORCE MEETING
On December 16 in a joint City Council & Housing Element Task Force meeting we reviewed all the housing sites put forward by staff and the public. A few days earlier the Task Force and staff met with the state office responsible for certifying Housing Elements (Housing and Community Development, or HCD) to make sure we had as much information as possible for our meeting.
Overall I thought the Council/TaskForce meeting a succeess, though I was very disappointed to see that the proposed agrihood on the Dramm and Echter property was removed. This site proposes a future for retaining our agricultural heritage (10 acres of farmland in perpetuity) without cannabis cultivation and addressing one of our biggest problems: housing. And more importantly, there are folks in the surrounding neighborhood who support this project and no one came out in opposition, even after two public outreach meetings. Higher density (25 units per acre) seems almost always controversial, so removing a site with no environmental issues, no freeway pollution and no opposition appears shortsighted.
KEY TAKE AWAYS
Key take aways include:
- Calculating the number of planned units based on 25 units an acre and gross acreage.
- We are looking at two and a half stories -- two stories and maximum 50% third story coverage.
- 1,600 units are necessary to make sure we have a sufficient buffer (see next bullet point).
- SB166 has a provision that if we don't have enough units zoned for higher density housing, within 180 days a City must up-zone a site. This tough timeline allows public input, but would likely preclude going to a vote of the people.
- Each community should carry its fair share. At the end of the meeting was clear that New Encinitas had only one smaller site included, so we asked staff to check with the property owners of the sites on Measure T to see if there was any interest.
On January 10, 2016 we will have a follow up meeting to further narrow down the selection of sites. Hope to see you there!