Over the last two weeks, all five Encinitas communities had a chance to attend a community open house and listen to the city planners tell us what is driving the need for additional multi-family housing, and what growth will look like in the future.
The meetings were pretty well attended with roughly 50 to 60 people at each one, except New Encinitas where roughly 160 people showed up at Park Dale Lane Elementary.
Each meeting started with an introduction from Gus Vina, the new city manager, followed by a presentation by Michael Strong, associate city planner, who told the audience where the “required” number of 1,300 multi-family units is coming from and why we need to comply with the state housing mandate. Following, was a presentation by Patrick Murphy, director of the planning department, that detailed what could be expected at the two upcoming workshops (May 7th and Mat 14th at the Encinitas Community Center from 6 to 8pm). This is when the residents will give their input as to where these 1,300 high-density apartment units should go.
The most entertaining part of the presentation was witnessing the city planners and Peder Norby attempt to answer some of the tough questions asked by the public. Unfortunately, questions were submitted on 3x5 cards and answered by staff with no opportunity for the public to engage in a discussion on some of the most contentious items of the presentations. The format of this Q&A was regrettable and did not allow for a dialogue, but it may have been the best format for the organizers to avoid having the discussions degenerate into an all-out verbal fight.
Judging from the questions, the public was not enthusiastic about the plan for growth. Some questions were very community specific, but most of them revolved around city-wide issues that could be summarized in a few bullet points:
1. The population forecast presented by the State Department of Finance is way too aggressive and does not account for the latest population trends in California. It also does not take into account the 2010 US population census, which SANDAG itself proclaimed to be the “gold standard”. Since 2008, the net migration has been negative with more people leaving than arriving, and the birth rate has been declining since the onset of the recession. Both of these factors should continue for the foreseeable future according to a SANDAG demographer. Marginal growth is coming from the aging baby boomers.
2. The State, through the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), is concerned about showing the ability to offer housing for all ranges of incomes. That sounds like an honorable idea, but unfortunately not a likely outcome in Encinitas. According to the HCD logic high density (30+ units per acre) is the only way to yield affordable housing. Since there is no mandate to control rent and affordability, these high density units will be available at market rate which, given current conditions, would garner a rent of $1,500 for a one bedroom apartment and $2,000 for a two bedroom apartment. Not exactly what you would call affordable. In the end, we are planning for luxury condos and apartments. Let’s not pretend we are planning for affordable housing, we are really planning for high-density dwelling units.
3. Very little information was presented as to how these new potential housing developments will impact our city infrastructure. How will public safety, schools, water needs, traffic, and pollution be affected by this plan? This is short-sighted planning at best.
4. The city planners were very skilled at not accepting any blame for the failure of the first round of planning in which El Camino Real and Encinitas Blvd were targeted for most of the growth. They projected the blame on the public that attended the city workshops in 2011, mentioning that there was very adequate representation from Encinitas residents. They failed to mention that New Encinitas residents were unaware of the plan, and therefore the recipients of the growth.
What will these workshops accomplish? They will most likely result in communities turning against one another and neighbors putting this unwanted growth in someone else’s backyard.
All this for what purpose? Just to make sure we comply with Regional Housing Need Assessment (RHNA) guidelines so that we won’t have to fear potential litigation from builder/developers associations and low-income advocates? The city has not had a compliant housing element for two decades, with no monetary or legal penalties imposed, so why the urgency to push compliance through now?
We need to preserve our quality of life and community characters and not support a dubious allocation process.
We like our communities just the way they are: Olivenhain with its rural charm, New Encinitas with its highly functional suburban feel with good amenities, Old Encinitas with its beautiful coast and its many landmarks, Cardiff with it beautiful views and its small community charm, and Leucadia with it funkiness and patch work zoning.
Ultimately, this will be resolved in November with your choice of candidate.
Proceed cautiously during the general election. A lot is at stake for the character of our communities.