It’s been almost two weeks since Politifest rocked our world, and hopefully yours. This year, our annual public affairs summit was all about water and housing and featured panels, discussions and interviews with a variety of public officials and water and housing experts.
If you missed it, make sure to visit our Politifest News and Media hub to watch and read all about this year’s panels.
I moderated a panel called Sacramento v. Small Cities: The Housing Battle, a 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 Corporation Ricardo Flores.
The premise: 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. And it’s caused a lot of tension.
The Coronado Issue: It’s no secret that Coronado has spent the last few years openly defying the state’s affordable housing laws despite. That’s in spite of state lawmakers cracking down on cities to compel them to make way for more housing for a variety of income levels.
Coronado has to accommodate 912 new homes over the next eight years, 70 percent of which should be affordable to low- and middle-income residents. That’s compared to the 50 homes that were expected of Coronado a decade ago.
City leaders have been resistant to the state’s efforts. Some have openly acknowledged their defiance and thought they had a few years before the state would crack down on them.
They even filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Association of Governments last year that ultimately failed. SANDAG is the agency that lays out how many units of affordable housing each city and the county must plan for between 2021 and 2029.
Fortunately, things are starting to turn around for them, something Attorney General Rob Bonta hinted at during the VOSD live podcast at Politifest. The Coronado City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a draft housing plan that it will send to the state for review. If the state approves it, Coronado will finally be in compliance with state housing laws.
During the panel discussion, I asked Mayor Bailey about Coronado’s failure to comply with these state housing laws, and he said he does think the city has made a good faith effort to get into compliance.
But when I asked him specifically about affordable housing and Coronado’s obligation to make way for a variety of income levels, things got a little murky.
“The idea that local government can actually control for and set aside housing for certain income levels really ignores the market reality, which is that more people on average want to live in certain areas than others,” Bailey said.
‘Money Is What We Need’
Encinitas Mayor Kranz described himself as “pro-housing” during our panel discussion. Kranz was a council member from 2012 to 2022 before he got elected mayor, and his voting record hasn’t always reflected an eagerness to comply with state housing laws.
Last year, I wrote about a warning Encinitas received from the State Attorney General about a housing project the entire City Council, including Kranz and Blakespear, had voted to reject. Encinitas had violated state law, according to the warning letter sent by Attorney General Bonta.
In 2020, Encinitas tried to exempt itself from the state density bonus law, Kranz and Blakespear both voted in favor of that effort. The city has also 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.
During a March 2014 City Council meeting, Kranz called the law troubling and said the city should “figure out a way to discourage people from invoking the density bonus law.”
During the panel, though, he admitted that Encinitas has become a “city of CEOs because the working-class people that do the jobs in our city can’t afford to live here.”
He also said state lawmakers were enacting so many housing laws that it became a “nightmare” to try to figure out how to comply with them.
One of the key issues with so many housing laws, Kranz said, is the lack of help from the state in addressing what so many cities are dealing with: inadequate infrastructure, traffic issues, water issues and storm-water issues.
Single-Family Zoning: Ricardo Flores, executive director of LISC San Diego, took the discussion one step further, imploring city governments to reconsider their single-family zoning laws.
LISC stands for Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and it’s a nonprofit that provides support to community development projects, including housing projects, through grants, loans and investments.
Single-family zoning is a residential area where only one housing unit can be built on a given parcel of land. Flores argued that current single-family lots are “antiquated” and way too big, and they should be subdivided to make space for more homes on each parcel of land.
“You’re living on the size of a basketball court with a home right in the middle. That’s unsustainable,” Flores said. “When you start subdividing these properties, you lower the price point, but you also create new homeowners, which goes right back into cities for tax revenue.”
More tax revenue, he said, would help cities with their infrastructure issues, storm-water issues and anything else they would need to improve their city. At the same time, they could accommodate for more housing and comply with state housing laws.
On Preserving Community Character
I posed a question to the panelists about a phrase that city leaders throw out a lot – it’s the concept of preserving community character.
Many leaders of small cities have said they don’t want too much more housing because they want to preserve the character of their cities. But this can sometimes come across as an unwillingness to integrate other races and income levels into their communities, especially because they’re typically talking about their small, wealthy, majority-white cities.
State Sen. Blakespear, formerly the mayor of Encinitas, said there are people who see adding housing as a threat to community character.
“We can add housing while retaining community character. And in many ways, we need to reorient ourselves and see that if we don’t add more housing, community character will change because the diversity will be priced out,” Blakespear said.
Kranz acknowledged that community character is important to him, but said any notion that he’s trying to avoid building more housing in Encinitas is wrong.
“We want to focus on having a vertical community character income-wise as opposed to a horizontal one, which just continues to increase in Encinitas.”
In Other News
- Del Mar Councilmember Dan Quirk was reprimanded by his fellow councilmembers for sending out an email to constituents Monday criticizing the relocation plan for the Del Mar train tracks. In the email, Quirk called the San Diego Association of Governments, which is heading up the multi-billion-dollar project, “fraudulent,” and said the agency has led a “misinformation campaign” to cover up their low ridership. The other council members said Quirk didn’t make it clear that this wasn’t the council’s official position. (Coast News) Related: Read more about the plan to relocate the train tracks along the fragile Del Mar bluffs into an underground tunnel.
- A housing project called Tierra Norte in Oceanside that would build up to 400 homes on land historically used to grow strawberries and tomatoes now has some limitations after a settlement with Preserve Cavalera, a grass-roots organization that aims to protect open spaces in North County. These limitations include heigh limits, all-electric appliances and a traffic management plan. (Union-Tribune)
- The Escondido Chamber of Commerce last week fired its CEO James Rowten over alleged financial misconduct. The rest of the staff was also laid off because the Chamber allegedly couldn’t make payroll. But Escondido police Lt. Suzanne Baeder told the U-T that other than news reporters, no one has contacted the police department about any crimes, financial or otherwise, at the Chamber. (Union-Tribune)