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Ballot Measure T Forces Encinitas To Confront Growth Plans

Reported by Katie Schoolov

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that does not have a state-mandated housing plan.

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that does not have a state-mandated housing plan.


Even with its back up against a legal wall, there’s plenty of opposition to Measure T — a plan for where to increase housing density in Encinitas.

If you walk around the streets of Encinitas, you’ll see signs for and against Measure T sprouting from landscaped front yards in residential areas and clogging the corners of major intersections. The coastal city is the poster child for communities fighting to keep their small-town character and resist the tide of growth.

But California law requires all local governments to have a plan, called a housing element, “to meet the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community.”

Photo caption:

Photo credit: City of Encinitas

This undated map shows sites where more density would be allowed if Measure T in Encinitas passes.

“No” on Measure T

Encinitas residents just can't seem to agree on a plan of where and how to grow. Measure T is the result of more than a year of community meetings, but attorney Peter Stern is still adamantly opposed.

“Encinitas is not bucking state law,” Stern said. “Encinitas is wrestling with the future it wants.”

Stern recently flipped through the pages of the initiative, which is the size of a small telephone book. "This whole shopping center can be knocked down and turned into 200 to 300 condominiums. They would be three-story condo blocks up to 48 feet tall," he said, pointing to drawings of multi-family condos that could replace the small shopping center near his home.

Stern said there’s no guarantee the new plan will result in any new affordable housing in Encinitas. He believes higher density will simply benefit developers’ profits.

Photo caption:

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Single-family homes in Encinitas were built as a result of a density bonus that permits the developer to build more homes per acre in return for including a home categorized as affordable, Oct. 20, 2016.

But it’s worth noting that, even though Encinitas is the only city to break state law by not adopting a housing element, its density bonus law has resulted in more new affordable homes than in many other coastal cities.

The density bonus law allows developers to build more houses per acre if they include an affordable house. In 2014, when California cities submitted annual reports to the state on their home-building progress, Encinitas reported building nine homes for low-income families when many other coastal cities had built none.

Measure T does not mandate affordable housing be built, but it does allow for more density in a few clearly defined areas.

The plan has 13 sites where more dense development would be allowed in the future, including along parts of Highway 10I in downtown Encinitas and Leucadia. New three-story developments have not been permitted in most of Encinitas since the city was incorporated 30 years ago.

“Yes” on Measure T

Even Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear, who is running for mayor, said she is reluctant to see more density come to Encinitas. But, like everyone else on the council, she said she’d vote “yes” on Measure T.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Paul Gaspar/Catherine Blakespear

Encinitas mayoral candidates Paul Gaspar and Catherine Blakespear.

“We’re in the middle of three lawsuits related to our lack of compliance,” she said, “and we have spent almost $1 million in attorneys’ fees and settlement fees associated with those lawsuits.”

More expensive lawsuits are sure to follow if Measure T fails, Blakespear said.

“We have a fiduciary duty not to waste taxpayer money,” she said. “We can’t have a city that says, ‘We’re going to close the door and not let anybody else come.'"

Blakespear’s challenger in the mayor’s race, Paul Gaspar, said in an email he will also vote yes on Measure T.

“Measure T is certainly not perfect, but I plan to vote for it because of the likely consequences should it fail. Should Measure T fail, I will work with its opponents, the City, and the leadership in Sacramento to come up with a more broadly supported solution to come into compliance with legislative intent and state law.”

Attorney Stern wants the city to go back to the drawing board.

“Keep Leucadia funky,” he said. “Let these things mature organically by themselves, not be centrally planned by university planners who like making cookie-cutter shopping centers and block buildings and designs. The local people should determine what type of city they would like.”

But Blakespear said the city has already spent time and money trying to come up with a better plan.

“I just don’t think there is a better plan,” she said, “We have tried again. This is the ‘try again.’ We spent almost ($1 million) on a consultant’s plan that put a lot of the new development on El Camino Real and there was an outcry that it was unfair, so we went back to the drawing board, scrapped that plan and we had 140 community meetings. This is considered the environmentally preferred alternative.”

Blakespear said the plan adopted in Measure T was analyzed to result in the least amount of extra traffic. Plus, it adds the density almost equally throughout the five distinct communities of Old and New Encinitas, Leucadia, Olivenhain and Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

The Building Industry Association and DCM Properties filed successful lawsuits against the city for failing to agree on a housing plan. And an environmental attorney, Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group, is threatening to sue Encinitas if Measure T fails.

Gonzalez said he used to fight to stop development projects, but now he’s fighting to get good development plans approved.

“Folks who are against Measure T say, ‘We don’t want anything that’s going to change our character,’ and unfortunately the law says you have to evolve, you have accommodate more growth,” Gonzlaez said. “That means your character is going to change. Now the questions is: How is it going to change?”

Gonzalez said Measure T puts growth in the right places: close to existing main roads and the railway line.

The bigger issue

More importantly, Gonzalez said, the decision facing Encinitas is part of a bigger dilemma facing San Diego County: Do voters say “yes” to development in urban areas like Encinitas, or do they allow sprawl, like the proposed Measure B, which would allow the development of Lilac Hills in Valley Center? Both measures are on November’s ballot.

"We really only have two choices," Gonzalez said. “Either we sprawl into the backcountry, or we do infill development. On any metric you could possibly measure, infill development is more sustainable and better for the environment than in sprawl development.

“So I see it as a choice,” Gonzalez continued. “Do we sacrifice the economy of our small farms in the backcountry, do we sacrifice the natural resources of the Cleveland National Forest, or do we infill where we already have transit corridors?”

What voters decide on measures T and B in November could be an indication of the direction that San Diego takes as the region continues to grow.

Election 2020 news coverage


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