Commentary: Big moment in Encinitas

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By Julie Thunder

There is a dramatic moment looming in Encinitas – don’t miss it.

A recent action taken by the Encinitas Planning Commission presents Mayor Catherine Blakespear’s City Council with a decision to be made.

The Commission recommended changes to the City’s Affordable Housing ordinance.  Most prominent is an increased “inclusionary rate”, up from 15% to 50%.  This change will apply to R-30 properties going forward.

The Planning Commissioners concluded that an increased affordable housing requirement would reduce adverse impacts on our City while still enabling sufficient developer profitability for multi-family projects to be viable.

In order to validate this point they also recommended that the Affordable Housing Financial Feasibility Analysis prepared for the City be amended to include factors that had been overlooked. This is necessary because, as stated by Jennifer Gates, the City’s Principal Planner for Housing, municipalities “cannot take actions that constrain new development to such a degree that it renders new development financially infeasible.”

According to the Planning Commission staff report, Encinitas has been mandated by Sacramento to build 1,146 new affordable units during the current housing cycle (more will come later). With the current 15% affordable allocation, it would take 7,640 new units (combined market rate plus affordable) to achieve that result.

If the requirement were 50%, the result could be achieved with only 2,292 new units in total. The difference between those two outcomes – over 5,300 households – is huge for a city of our size.

In comparison to the approximately 25,000 households in Encinitas today, another 7,640 would make an enormous impact. Each new household could contain an estimated 2.4 persons. Many of these will attend school, drive a car, generate a waste stream, interact with authorities, and consume water.

Yet the development plans imposed by Sacramento and embraced by the mayor are not accompanied by expansions of our resources and supporting services.

Back to that looming decision:  Mayor Blakespear and the Council could prioritize the interests of current residents by accepting the Planning Commission’s recommendations; or they could favor the interests of the real estate developers, who have been the Mayor’s most important financial backers.

Retaining the 15% mandate would give developers the opportunity to sell more market-rate housing at lofty prices. And it would satisfy Blakespear’s party bosses in Sacramento for whom, the mayor admits, it’s all about density.

Will the mayor stick with her money men, or will she stand up for the residents of Encinitas? Three of the four council members owe their seats to Blakespear, were initially appointed by her, and have consistently voted with her, so it seems likely they will follow her lead in this matter.

The moment is stark for Blakespear – will she act to serve the interests of the residents of Encinitas, to help them preserve the character of the community, or will she pursue the interests of real estate developers, enabling the production of more high-priced housing while pursuing Sacramento’s urbanization agenda?

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