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Encinitas Falls Short of Housing Goals, Seeks Solution

Real estate signs advertise the sale of three houses in a row in Encinitas in San Diego County, July 13, 2006.
Associated Press
Real estate signs advertise the sale of three houses in a row in Encinitas in San Diego County, July 13, 2006.
Encinitas Falls Short of Housing Goals, Seeks Solution
Encinitas Struggles With Housing Goals GUEST: Catherine Blakespear, Encinitas Mayor

>> The city of-- the city of Encinitas is struggling to make goals. It city is required to provide space for a certain number of new homes to help meet the growing need. Encinitas is the only one that has not approved a housing element, which is a plan were enough new housing could be built. Thanks for being with us. >> You advocated for a change in California law that could help cities all over the state bump up affordable housing stock. You went to Sacramento to lobby for a bill. >> The idea is that we want to allow residents to permit their accessory dwelling units or granny flats. What we found when we started talking to people who have these accessory dwelling units is that sometimes it is completely unfeasible to bring the unit up to current codes because of things like if someone's unit was built 30 years ago and the drywall throughout the unit is too thin, it doesn't meet fire codes. Or if the ceiling is too low. Things that would require them to rebuild the entire unit. What we were trying to do is give homeowners more discretion and abilities to bring their unit out of the shadows and permit it. The goal of that is twofold, to help residents because residents don't like to live in fear that their neighbor is going to turn them in for having a flight that is a permitted. They want to have a permit but they can't. The other thing is we want to make sure the housing stock is habitable and safe. This gives one more tool for the homeowner to be able to get a permit. >> How many do you estimate can be brought into circulation? >> We think we have 1000 units and have about 25,000 total housing units. We have not gone door to door and check and that's not what we want to do, but when you look in the older sections of the city we know there are unpermitted accessory units and homeowners are using them to supplement their income or house family members or caregivers. It's an important part of our housing stock and is particularly acceptable to people so we have a really hard time building apartment complexes which are more naturally affordable than bigger homes. Accessory dwelling units are another example of things that can scattered density because it allows people to have just one unit. It's less developer driven and more homeowner driven which is particularly appealing. >> You may have a little unit over the garage but have never declared it because you are afraid it's not up to code. If this passes would you be meeting goals or is it actually creating more housing? >> State goals are designed to provide new housing so the way that state law is currently written is supposed to provide for new residents and have growth in cities everywhere. Cities responsible for absorbing some amount of growth in California. These units because they are existing under current law would not count. State housing laws are always changing. It's possible if we started permitting a large number of these I could see at some point we could pursue this at the state level. At the moment if someone permits and unpermitted unit, it is still existing and not a new unit. >> The city is being sued because it does not have a housing element. Your residents are very protective of the small-town coastal community feeling. How many units do you need to plan for to meet state law? >> We need to plan for 1600 units which we are five years into the cycle. We are supposed to not just zone for that the market is supposed to build it. We are very behind for that and in the midst of a difficult situation as we are trying to move forward with lawsuits and regulators because we need to take our plan to a vote of the people. The struggling is happening on multiple fronts. >> How important is this initiative on the ballot that you have just put together after months if not years of meetings? How important is it that this measure passes? >> It's important that we get ourselves out of the mess that we found ourselves in so having a plan and getting that on the ballot, we need to see if people pass it and in the meantime we have lawsuits. It's not just about complying with state law but it's the right thing to do. We need to provide housing for all income levels and that's an important thing to remember. Why are we doing housing at all? You cannot close the door after you and said-- and say I got mine and no one else can come in. We need to have people at all income levels who are able to afford living in Encinitas. >> Thank you so much for your per spec of.

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that has not yet approved a “Housing Element”: a plan where enough new housing can be built. The coastal community is struggling to meet state-mandated goals for adding new housing, in the face of resistance from its residents. With a shortage of affordable housing getting more serious every year, each city is required to provide space for a certain number of new homes to help meet the growing need.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear went to Sacramento to lobby for a new law, SB 1226, that could potentially help cities all over California. The bill would add to the housing cities could report to the state by relaxing laws on older, existing granny flats that currently do not meet code.

Blakespear said there are up to 1,000 such "accessory dwelling units" in Encinitas that residents have not declared, because it would be too expensive to bring them up to code. She said this “citizen-driven” housing is more acceptable to her residents than “developer-driven” housing.

However, she said, under current law, the extra granny flats would not help the city meet its state mandates goals, which only apply to new housing. Like many cities, Encinitas recently lifted restrictive fees on new granny flats.

Blakespear said the city is about 1,600 units short of meeting the state goals of producing new housing. With just two years left in this eight-year housing cycle, the deadline is short. Encinitas residents have already rejected two initiatives that would have allowed more dense development, and the city is about to put another initiative on the ballot this November.

Even if it passes, Mayor Blakespear does not know if it will meet state requirements. The requirements recently increased and residents successfully lobbied to have several potential sites for development removed.

The city has already spent more than a million dollars defending itself against lawsuits over development, and several suits remain unresolved.