The Encinitas City Council took the first step this week in changing how the city would implement the state’s density bonus law after a state bill strengthening the law was passed by the Legislature.

The density bonus law lets developers build more homes on a property than city restrictions allow if they include some low-income homes. It also lets them build less parking, taller buildings or other deviations from city restrictions that make the project more profitable in exchange for building low-income homes.

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Encinitas has actively tried to evade the law.

One of the big battles the city has been having over the law is in how to calculate the number of homes in density bonus projects. Encinitas always rounded down on these calculations, meaning fewer units would be built.

But state law, claims developers who’ve filed suits against the city, says you should round up for these projects to provide more housing.

A new bill passed this session, AB 2501, adds language that makes it clear Encinitas is wrong.

With the new bill, the density bonus law would read: “Each component of any density calculation, including base density and bonus density, resulting in fractional units shall be separately rounded up to the next whole number.”

The bill also clarifies that since these projects are meant to encourage the development of affordable housing, they don’t require special approvals from planning commissions or city councils. It also speeds up the timeline for how these projects are processed, so inaction form local governments won’t delay housing development proposed under the law.

Encinitas has continuously opposed the bill. Encinitas City Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear went to Sacramento to lobby against it over the summer.

But the measure passed with overwhelming support on Aug. 31. Days later, Encinitas submitted a letter to the governor asking him to veto the bill.

The governor hasn’t signed it yet, but has indicated that this was one of the housing laws he would support.

Despite its objections to the new law, the Encinitas City Council floated changes to its density bonus policies, as part of a settlement agreement from a lawsuit. The Council ultimately decided to wait until the Legislature passed the bill.

At Wednesday’s meeting, City Council members said changing city policies wasn’t what they wanted to do, but that the new bill, if it becomes law, would tie their hands.

“It’s very clear to me that at the Legislature that in Sacramento there is the perception of a housing crisis that is discussed extensively and how this bill will solve the housing crisis and it will also allowed for more housing affordability,” Blakespear said at the Aug. 17 meeting. “That is how the bill is being promoted. It has nearly universal support from lawmakers.”

Unfortunately, Blakespear said, this is just what the city has to do to comply with state law.

Many residents are unhappy. A group of residents who are suing the city over a density bonus project threatened more litigation if the city adopts the ordinance.

“We are basically accepting defeat in this argument,” said Kathleen Lees, a Leucadia resident at the Aug. 17 meeting. “We’ve lost lawsuits and the state Legislature is about to pass a law that clarifies the issues against us. This is a problem that started in Sacramento and can only be dealt with in Sacramento. … So I’m asking all of you, who in this community is willing to run for state Legislature and move to Sacramento?”

– Maya Srikrishnan

Billz II Lawz

Monday was a big day for San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. First, she made an appearance on Politico’s list of 50 visionaries transforming U.S. politics, which hailed her as “the nation’s most ambitious progressive scientist.”

Later that day, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, one of her highest-profile measures to date, which allows farmworkers to collect overtime after they surpass 40 hours in a week – drawing kudos from Hillary Clinton and Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Brown also gave his stamp of approval this week to these bills from San Diego lawmakers:

• AB 1978 by Gonzalez creates new workplace protections for janitors. The bill was inspired by this Reveal investigation.

• AB 2470 by Gonzalez allows the Sycuan Indian tribe access to water from the Colorado River, North California and the new desalination plant in Carlsbad.

• AB 168 by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein would make it easier for federal grant funding to house people with severe mental illness.

• AB 1757 by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron increases the compensation limits for North County Transit District board members – doubling the pay they receive per meeting from $75 to $150. (SANDAG and MTS board members currently get $150 per meeting.)

• AB 1747 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber requires public universities to accept CalFresh.

• SB 1455 by Sen. Marty Block makes it easier for military families to enroll their kids in new schools.

• SB 1359 by Block requires state colleges to clearly highlight courses in their online schedules that exclusively use free digital course materials.

RIP, Diapers, Tampons, COIN Program Bills

Despite all the good news for Gonzalez this week, she also had a letdown: Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed her bill to exempt diapers from California’s sales tax, which was co-authored by Sen. Joel Anderson. (Brown has yet to weigh in on a separate diaper affordability bill from Gonzalez that provides a monthly $50 diaper voucher to parents in the CalWORKs welfare-to-work program.)

“We knew from the beginning that making the case for addressing diaper need would be a long journey, and today’s disappointing setback just means we’ll be back to try again,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “We will continue working to achieve sales tax reform and bridge the diaper gap that forces too many of California’s working families to struggle.”

Brown also vetoed Assemblywoman Toni Atkins’ bill to extend the COIN tax credit program, which funds community revitalization projects.

Brown cited the same reason for vetoing those bills and others that involved tax breaks:

“As I said last year, tax breaks are the same as new spending – they both cost the general fund money. As such, they must be considered during budget deliberations so that all spending proposals are weighed against each other at the same time.”

Another of the bills that Brown vetoed was a high-profile bipartisan measure to repeal the sales tax on tampons. That drew some very heated responses, including from the two lawmakers who wrote the bill:

We had a chance to make our tax code equitable for women. Instead the targeted tax on women will continue. #notampontax #caleg

— Ling Ling Chang (@LTwoC) September 13, 2016

@Calefati@JerryBrownGov please #mansplain why it’s ok to balance the budget on women’s backs? The unfair #tampontax continues

— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) September 13, 2016

Golden State News

• A good catch by the Sacramento Bee’s Christopher Cadelago: On the day drugmaker Bayer announced it was acquiring seed company Monsanto, Monsanto made some last-minute donations to several California politicians – including $1,500 to Assemblywoman Toni Atkins for her state Senate campaign.

• Liam Dillon did a good moratorium on Jerry Brown’s housing plan. (L.A. Times)

• Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill that would create a school accountability system could upend a new system instituted by the state Department of Education earlier this month. Some big names in education expressed some extreme wariness about that new system this week. (KPBS, CalMatters)

• Here’s more on two lesser-known state ballot measures involving money for schools: Prop. 51 and Prop. 55. (New York Times, Politifact California)

 New sex-crime laws are driven by the news, particularly the cases involving Brock Turner and Bill Cosby. (Sacramento Bee)

• I’m guessing this isn’t the last we’ll hear of this issue – the Coastal Commission has told an HOA in Ventura County to back off its restrictions on short-term vacation rentals. (Ventura County Star)

• California might need the help of a short-sighted, penny-pinching federal government to fund Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to ensure water supplies for Southern California. (Associated Press)

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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