A housing development being built in Oceanside on Dec. 8, 2022.
A housing development being built in Oceanside on Dec. 8, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

We’re only a few days away from Politifest, our annual public affairs summit that brings politicians, policy experts, journalists, authors, and activists to you – our readers. 

This year is all about water and housing and will feature panels, discussions and interviews with a variety of water and housing experts. It will be at the University of San Diego on Saturday, Oct. 7, so get your tickets here if you haven’t already.  

I’ll be moderating a panel about an issue I’ve been following for a while, and if you’ve been following this newsletter, you know that North County’s small coastal cities are a key player in this discussion.  

It’s called Sacramento v. Small Cities: The Housing Battle, and it will feature a robust discussion with four panelists: State Sen. (and former Encinitas mayor) Catherine Blakespear, Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey and Executive Director of the Local Initiatives Support Council Ricardo Flores. 

Some background: Amid a statewide housing crisis, California lawmakers have passed laws that attempt to hold cities accountable for not allowing development and, in some cases, allow builders to circumvent local restrictions.  

Housing Laws and Policies We’ll Be Talking About

View looking through the fence near where a potential affordable housing project will be built on Del Mar bluffs on April 25, 2023.
View looking through the fence near where a potential affordable housing project will be built on Del Mar bluffs on April 25, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler
  • The Housing Accountability Act: This prohibits a city from denying or reducing the size of housing developments that are compliant with its zoning code and other objective standards. In other words, cities can’t reject housing projects that are legally compliant. 
  • Density Bonus Law: This provides incentives for private developers to create affordable housing. Developers can increase the size of their developments in exchange for including a certain number of affordable housing units.  
  • Housing Element Law: This mandates that housing be included as an element of each jurisdiction’s general plan. A Housing Element is a state-required plan outlining how a city can accommodate enough new housing to meet its population’s needs.   
  • The Builder’s Remedy: This says if a city doesn’t have a compliant Housing Element, the city can’t use its zoning code or general plan to deny an affordable housing project.   
  • AB 1398: This requires cities that don’t have a compliant Housing Element to rezone all of the sites identified in its Housing Element that need rezoning.   

These laws, along with the housing goals that each city must meet, aim to increase housing development, whether cities want to or not. Many small cities argue that the state is taking away local control, that the housing goals are unrealistic and that they don’t have enough land to plan for so much new housing. 

It’s safe to say that there’s some tension between small cities and the state when it comes to housing. 

A Few Examples 

A rendering of the proposed Seaside Ridge development in Del Mar / Courtesy of Seaside Ridge

Del Mar: A couple months ago, I reported on Seaside Ridge, a proposed housing project in Del Mar.  

The development would be located on an ocean bluff site near Del Mar’s Dog Beach. It proposes 42 low-income units, 43 moderate-income units and 174 market-rate units.   

Del Mar isn’t on board with it. City officials argue they would have to rezone the site, or parcel of land, to even consider moving forward with the project. And they say they already have enough sites identified in their Housing Element to meet their state-mandated housing goals.  

But the developers argue that the city has no choice in the matter because at the time they submitted their application to the city, Del Mar’s Housing Element hadn’t been approved by the state. In fact, it had been rejected by the state three times.  

They’re applying the Housing Crisis Act, which says cities can only rely on rules that were in place at the time the developer’s preliminary application was submitted when they’re reviewing a development project.   

The developers and the city are still going back and forth about the project. Del Mar officials have now asked the developers to resubmit their application four times and have repeatedly said they don’t agree with the developers’ “legal theories.” 

Encinitas: Last year, I wrote about a warning Encinitas received from the State Attorney General about a housing project the City Council had rejected. Encinitas had violated state law, according to the warning letter sent by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. 

When Encinitas rejected the project, it violated the Housing Accountability Act and the Density Bonus Law, the letter said, meaning the project met the necessary standards to be approved, but the city turned it down anyway. 

The city also violated its obligation to create more fair housing, Bonta wrote, as it effectively blocked the creation of 41 low-income housing units.   

That wasn’t the first time the city has caught the attention of state officials. A few years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the State Attorney General warned Encinitas about its failure to complete its Housing Element. 

In 2020, Encinitas tried to exempt itself from the state density bonus law, and has faced multiple lawsuits over the years for trying to get around the density bonus law by creating policies that would make it harder for developers to consider it as an option.   

Homes in Encinitas / File photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Encinitas, again: More recently, Encinitas was in danger of triggering the state’s No Net Loss law, which says the assumptions cities make in their Housing Elements must reflect what gets built. 

That’s because Encinitas wasn’t keeping up with the affordable housing units it promised in its Housing Element. 

When crafting its Housing Element, the city identified 15 sites, or parcels of land, available and suitable for residential development. Those sites would offer affordable housing.   

But when the city first identified the 15 sites for low-income housing it assumed 100 percent affordability on all of them, meaning it predicted that all 15 sites would be made up entirely of low-income units.   

Of the 15 sites, none of them have been 100 percent affordable so far.  

Inclusionary housing requires developers to set aside a certain number of units as low-income. Cities implement these policies to ensure that affordable housing units are produced along with market-rate units.  

In Encinitas, the inclusionary housing requirement is 15 percent for very low-income and 20 percent for low-income units.  

Because developers aren’t obligated to create more affordable housing than is required of them by this policy, all the sites approved so far have fallen short of 100 percent affordability by a lot.  

The city had to then identify more sites to reach their state-mandated affordable housing goals. According to Kranz, the city plans to move forward with a new development that will be 100 percent affordable and will allow it to reach its goal. 

But, that’s not all: There are a lot more housing and water issues we’ll be covering this year at Politifest, including SB 10, homelessness, rent prices, the Colorado River, sea-level rise, cost of water and more. Attorney General Bonta is also joining us for a live podcast discussion at the end of the day.  

View the full lineup of events here. 

In Other News 

  • ICYMI: Palomar Health rolled out a new terms of use agreement on its website a few weeks ago that users have to accept to access the site. As a public health care district, it contradicts a few state laws about public agencies and their obligations to public access.  (Voice of San Diego) 
  • The city of Del Mar and The Winston School reached an agreement Friday to reinstate the school’s lease. The Winston School, a nonprofit that serves about 100 special education students in grades 6-12. The city terminated the school’s lease a couple of years ago, and the school sued. Now, the city has reinstated the original 55-year lease, which will expire in 2063. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Encinitas approved an agreement with Vista to jointly create a 48-bed homeless shelter in Vista. The shelter, which will have 12 beds dedicated to Encinitas’s homeless residents and 36 beds for Vista’s homeless residents, will make it legally possible for Encinitas to enforce its homeless camping ban. (Union-Tribune)  Related: After learning about a lack of open shelter beds for Vista’s homeless residents  over the past 10 months, Vista leaders decided last week to move forward with a low- barrier, shelter in their own city. This will also make it legally possible for Vista to enforce its own homeless camping ban. (Voice of San Diego) 

Tigist Layne is Voice of San Diego's north county reporter. Contact her directly at tigist.layne@voiceofsandiego.org or (619) 800-8453. Follow her...

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  1. I don’t think this is a small city problem. It looks like it is a small, rich city problem. I don’t know the detailed arguments against the developments, but it appears to me that perhaps these cities don’t want low-income people in their neighborhoods. Of course I could be wrong.

  2. State control over local housing is a disgrace. Building without the needed infrastructure is foolish and without an environmental review would be something that would get Democrats up in arms if it came from a Republican.
    Why does Developer Puppet Blakespear get her minion Kranz to appear?

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