Homes overlook San Elijo Lagoon. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

When it comes to housing, Encinitas has a penchant for pushing back against state law. Until recently, that is.

Last week, the Encinitas City Council voted to rescind its recently crafted ordinance for higher-density developments, deemed a necessity to pass a local housing plan.

The move seeks to avoid the drama of recent years, when the city’s insistence on strict local control over development created all sorts of legal and regulatory troubles.

Most cities haven’t had a problem passing what’s officially known as a housing element — a zoning document that spells out future housing production for different income levels. Not so for Encinitas.

As an Encinitas beat reporter early in my journalism career, I had a front row seat to Encinitas’ struggles over where housing should go. I remember housing consultants. So many consultants.

Then Encinitas voters twice rejected housing element proposals — in 2016 and 2018. Ultimately, under court order, the Council adopted a modified version of the 2018 voter plan.

It took so long to comply that now Encinitas faces another housing planning cycle: 2021 to 2029. This round, though, Encinitas is slated to be on time. On April 7, the Council submitted a housing element that accommodates 1,550 units, including 838 low-income units.

To reach this point, the Council simultaneously scrapped its new “density bonus” ordinance that the California Department of Housing and Community Development cast as a non-starter in housing element negotiations because it didn’t go far enough to help alleviate the state’s housing shortage.

Under California law, developers can boost the size of developments in exchange for including a certain number of affordable units. Encinitas’ ordinance notably calculated density via net acreage — only areas of land that can be developed. The state uses gross acreage — a project’s entire plot of land, which increases a project’s size.

There’s a history here. Legal challenges from the Building Industry Association of San Diego doomed earlier city attempts to shrink density bonus projects.

“The city’s emergency meeting last week seems to demonstrate a renewed awareness of its obligations under state law, and a willingness to confront the city’s challenges, but there are several more steps that will be necessary in order for the city to be fully compliant,” said the association in a statement, which didn’t elaborate on the additional steps.

Speakers at the virtual Council meeting — along with resident emails to the Council — urged the city to stand up to state regulators, but some acknowledged the city’s tough position. They fear increased density would ruin the city’s character.

“What I see is an overreach by the state,” said Jeryl Kessler.

In an interview, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she gets the desire for local control. “But, the truth is, we lose control by not having an approved housing element,” she said. Without a housing element, she noted, the city would be vulnerable to litigants and judges crafting housing plans.

She added that a housing plan would hopefully bring an end to Encinitas operating under a microscope.

Getting on California’s good side required another concession. The Council jettisoned its ordinance to regulate sober-living homes. Encinitas has become a magnet for these homes, which market kicking the habit near beaches and under sunshine.

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, the lone vote against the Council’s 4-1 motion, advocated for further analysis of California’s position. That way, the city ordinances could potentially be amended, instead of thrown out altogether, he said.

In Other News

  • California State University San Marcos may strike references to the late William Craven, a benefactor to the school who made a controversial policy proposal and remarks regarding undocumented workers. (Union-Tribune)
  • A judge awarded more than $47,000 in attorneys’ fees to two men who Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher accused of social media harassment in a restraining order. (The Coast News)
  • Oceanside officials moved the people living in a homeless encampment created as a “trauma-informed safe center” to motel rooms. (Union-Tribune)
  • Two North County water agencies are moving forward with plans to leave the San Diego County Water Authority, and buy water from Riverside County instead. Voice of San Diego previously reported on the proposal, driven by fed-up farmers. (Times of San Diego)
  • The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution condemning anti-Asian racism. (City News Service)

Jared Whitlock is a freelance writer in Encinitas. You can email him at and find him on Twitter at @Jared_Whitlock.

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