After nearly 25 years of non-compliance with state law requiring municipalities to provide space to develop affordable housing, the city of Encinitas is headed back to court.
According to a petition filed to San Diego County Superior Court by the trade group Building Industry Association of San Diego this week, Encinitas hasn't updated its housing element, the background policy that drives housing development, since 1992. The existing policy, by the city's own admission in 2013, is on track to meet only one-third of the city's need for housing to low- and very-low-income residents.
In 2015, the association agreed to a settlement with the city, whereby Encinitas would develop and implement a plan to address affordable housing needs through 2021. The resulting plan, At Home In Encinitas, was put to voters on the November 2016 ballot per the city's mandate of voter approval for such plan updates. It failed to pass, with voters defeating the measure by a ten percent margin.
Encinitas is the only city in the county that doesn't have an up-to-date affordable housing plan in place.
Following the defeat, the city council in February appointed a new task force to develop a plan that might be more palatable to local voters. Builders, however, say that such posturing amounts to a stall tactic that will be stymied by residents opposed to any new development whatsoever within city limits.
The association cites a presentation at that February meeting by a group called Committee for a Better Plan as particularly troubling.
"The [committee] presentation began and ended with quotations from [California Housing & Community Development] deputy director Glen Campora at a December 2015 Housing Forum, wherein he purportedly stated that his group has never instituted a lawsuit against a city for failing to adopt a housing element, and that lawsuits are instead brought by housing advocates and builders, resulting in courts halting the issuance of any building permits until a community adopts a compliant housing element," notes the association's court petition
"The opinions and approach expressed in [the committee presentation] are a crystallization of the problem in the city of Encinitas: the city and Committee for a Better Plan are committed to the idea that state Housing Element law must bend to the will of the voters in Encinitas, and the harshest penalty available to those seeking compliance with state law is the cessation of all building activity in the city. Such a sanction would be welcomed by those city leaders and residents who not only oppose the adoption of a housing element complaint with state Housing Element Law and/or fair housing laws, but all new building activity in the city."
Essentially, the trade group argues, as long as Encinitas residents keep voting against affordable housing, the city will remain out of compliance with state housing laws.
"If residents of certain cities were permitted to vote, through an initiative or other process, to exempt themselves from the requirements of state housing law, the structure established by the state legislature would cease to function," the association argues.
Instead of asking for the court to halt all new construction, which the petition implies may be the unstated goal behind continued foot-dragging, builders are asking for a writ of mandate compelling the city to move forward with its At Home in Encinitas plan, submitting for approval to Housing & Community Development and the California Coastal Commission. Further, the group demands that future plan updates (another is due in 2021) be exempted from city provisions requiring voter approval prior to implementation.