Encinitas coastline / Photo via Shutterstock

Encinitas is already behind on the low-income housing it said it could build in a state-mandated plan it approved two years ago. 

The City Council last month revealed the city hasn’t kept pace with that plan. The problem may be rooted in how Encinitas put the housing plan together in the first place. 

State law requires that cities outline how they can accommodate enough new housing to meet their population’s needs. That’s known as a Housing Element.  

Encinitas is required to make way for 838 lower income units. But once all pending housing projects are approved, the city will be behind on these units by 55 to 148 units, depending on how those projects sort out. 

But now, Encinitas doesn’t have enough land that is available and suitable for residential development identified in its Housing Element to accommodate the rest of the low-income units that the state said it needed to plan for. The city could then need to identify new sites that could be turned into low-income housing. 

This could all mean the city violates the state’s so-called No Net Loss law, which says the assumptions cities make in their Housing Elements must reflect what gets built. 

How we got here: Encinitas was required to identify sites available for 838 low-income units. The Housing Element, though, had capacity for 1,696 lower income units, giving it a buffer. 

If a project has fewer lower income units than were projected or fewer total units than are shown in the Housing Element, buffers provide cities with the flexibility to use other sites in the Housing Element to make up the difference. 

Barbara Kautz, the city’s attorney, said during the meeting that Encinitas’ buffer was larger than any other city she’s worked with, and still the city ran through it. 

When the city approves housing projects with fewer lower income units than estimated in the Housing Element, those units have to be made up in other sites. And if there are no more sites left, the city has to find eligible sites elsewhere, or to upzone more property to make other sites viable for low-income housing development. 

But because of the Housing Accountability Act, Encinitas can’t deny a project unless it has a negative impact on health or safety, or if it’s inconsistent with zoning and land use laws.  

This means Encinitas can’t deny a housing project because it has fewer low-income units than the city hoped for to satisfy its Housing Element, and it also can’t require a developer to increase the number of low-income units. 

Either way, the actual projects proposed by developers and approved by the city yielded fewer low-income units than the city planned for. 

Susan Turney, a former City Council candidate, argued during the City Council meeting that the issue could have been avoided if the city planned its Housing Element better.  

In the city’s housing plan, Encinitas assumed each housing project on the sites that it identified as viable for low-income projects would have upwards of 60 to 100 percent of the units reserved for low-income residents. In reality, most housing projects the city has approved have reserved about 20 percent of units for low-income residents. 

“Had a realistic plan been submitted to the state in the first place, we would not have triggered No Net Loss and we wouldn’t be here today,” Turney said. 

The city should have initially used the actual 15 percent affordable housing assumption rather than the false 100 percent assumption and identified a lot more sites in order to meet its affordable housing requirements, she said.

Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz argued that a lot of thought and work went into designing the plan, and if the city had made lower assumptions to begin with, it would have a lot more sites it would need to upzone. Any upzone in Encinitas requires approval by voters at the ballot box. 

This isn’t the first time Encinitas has faced criticism for how it handles affordable housing. The city has a history of pushing back against affordable housing laws and new development altogether. 

In 2019, it was one of a group of Southern California cities that were deemed “out of compliance” with state law when it comes to creating new housing for low-income residents by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

In 2020, it tried to exempt itself from the state density bonus law, which provides incentives for private developers to create affordable housing. 

The city has repeatedly tried to get around this law over the years by creating policies that would make it harder for developers to use it, resulting in multiple lawsuits

Last year, I wrote about a warning Encinitas received from State Attorney General Rob Bonta after the City Council rejected a housing project that would have created 41 lower income housing units. The city ultimately approved a revised version of the project after Bonta threatened further action. 

The city is now considering a 100 percent affordable housing project at the “L-7” site on Quail Gardens Drive to close its affordable housing deficit and directed city staff to come back with further analysis of the site. 

Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. I cover North County for Voice of San Diego. I’m proud to work at a values-based nonprofit newsroom that delivers investigative journalism for a better San Diego. If you love reading the North County Report and all the other valuable content my colleagues and I produce, please consider supporting our reporting coverage with a contribution today to help us reach our spring fundraising campaign goal of $150,000. You can donate by visiting vosd.org/NCountynews. 

In Other News  

  • ICYMI: A sobering center in Oceanside serving primarily homeless people closed down after just two years because the city determined it was underutilized, but limitations imposed by the city may have contributed to its failure. (Voice of San Diego) 
  • Escondido and San Marcos are the latest cities to join the Clean Energy Alliance, which means they will buy electrical power through a community choice energy program, rather than from San Diego Gas & Electric, an investor-owned utility. (Union-Tribune) 
  • The state has allocated more than $37 million to the San Diego Association of Governments for the next phase of stabilizing the railroad tracks on the fragile Del Mar bluffs. (Union-Tribune) 

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the percent of of the units reserved for low-income residents.

Clarification: The post was updated to clarify a quote.

Tigist Layne is Voice of San Diego's north county reporter. Contact her directly at tigist.layne@voiceofsandiego.org...

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  1. The City is only interested in building $2 million mansions/farmhouses. Therein lies the problem.

    1. Not a problem at all, I’d rather be surrounded by $2 million homes than a low income tenement building.
      The problem is the woke bureaucrats who can’t do math.

  2. If the City has not had development, Whats is the current process? How can builders know how to navigate permits and fees?

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