2/12/17: Housing Task Force & SANDAG

Reflecting the urgency of our city’s failure to have a state-certified housing plan, the Encinitas City Council held a rare Monday evening meeting to discuss the feedback we received at our previous special housing forum last week.

Our commitment to include the community in all aspects of the planning process continues. Breaking with council meeting tradition, we invited the public to speak in multiple rounds of information gathering at this single-issue meeting.

As you can likely imagine, making decisions in a very large group can be especially difficult. In order to be more nimble, we’ve convened a task-force of four members to come up with the first draft of a new housing plan.

The group consists of Bruce Ehlers and Kurt Grosclose, both former planning commissioners who have represented opposite viewpoints on past housing plans and have demonstrated collaborative capacity, plus Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and me.

Our first meeting, open to the public, is this Monday, February 13, at 5:00 p.m. in the Poinsettia Room at City Hall.

As part of the conversation last week, the City Council unanimously expressed a commitment to creating a simpler, more streamlined plan; a desire to see fewer higher-density sites, if possible, and not to add new sites; to figure out if there’s a way to get the required density in two stories instead of three; to maximize the use of accessory dwelling units; and to minimize the number of overall sites rezoned to gain state compliance.

One issue that remains unresolved is the fact that we currently have to zone for 1,093 new units of housing but the numbers for the next housing cycle will come out within about a year. Ultimate compliance with that next housing round isn’t due until 2021. It’s too soon to say what the new number of assigned units will be, because the methodology for assigning units to cities hasn’t been worked out yet. All 18 San Diego County cities will have to accept the share allotted from SANDAG. According to the staff at SANDAG, no city wants the units so any hope of another city requesting our units isn’t likely. As your SANDAG rep, I plan to fight for our interest as hard as possible in this multi-city negotiation.

The task force will have to wrestle with this unknown when it comes to figuring out the numbers in our plan.

There was also interest in us discussing if there’s a way to cap the size of the units to create housing that is more affordable by design, and/or cap the total number allowed to be actually be built (instead of just zoned).

On a parallel track, we’ve also given direction to city staff to update some related housing policies, including increasing the percentage of our inclusionary housing ordinance, which currently mandates that 10 percent of units have to be affordable in any housing development over 10 units; and updating our in-lieu developer fees.

In addition, we’ve asked staff to help us determine what changes we can make in our local regulations to make accessory units easier to build and permit. Accessory units are part of the fabric of the Encinitas housing inventory and we are working at both state and local levels to make these units safe and habitable, and hopefully more plentiful.

(Here are articles about the meeting from the Encinitas Advocate and the San Diego Reader.)

The Blakespear family was proud to support Saturday morning’s spirited Defend Planned Parenthood march that began and ended at Moonlight Beach. Congratulations to high school student organizers Sophia Stremel and Elena Scott, and the estimated 2000 concerned citizens who participated! I firmly believe that a woman’s ability to choose when and whether she has children is central to her equality and liberty. (Here is a San Diego Union-Tribune article about the march.)

Soul Searching at SANDAG

I attended a SANDAG board retreat at the end of last week. I’m new to this agency, which is comprised of a mayor or a council member from all 18 cities in the county, plus the Board of Supervisors.

In the last election, this agency lost a county-wide ballot measure for a half-cent sales tax increase that would have funded transportation projects around the county. In light of that loss and the recent media spotlight on the agency overestimating the amount of money projected to be raised by the tax, the retreat featured some soul searching by long-time members.

Here are a few of my initial impressions.

There seemed to be a lack of consensus about the way forward and about the reasons for the measure’s failure. The sales tax was opposed by both the Republican and Democratic party, and didn’t even have the unanimous support of its own board. In fact, San Diego’s mayor voted against it. Given the heft of the City of San Diego in regional decision making, this was clearly a problem.

Several members mentioned interest in what they termed a “sub-regional approach,” which is meant to allow more urban areas to focus on mass transit while more suburban areas focus on road construction. There were no details available about how this would work.

One relevant point was that our transportation infrastructure has to encompass all 3.3 million people in the county because people routinely cross city lines. After the public’s vote, which several felt was a vote of no confidence in the agency, there is a clear need to rebuild trust and credibility, establish the agency’s ongoing value and somehow come up with a shared vision that the board can get behind.

As the mayor of a relatively small city in San Diego County, and a new member of this regional agency, I find the cross-city information sharing fascinating and very useful. It will ultimately benefit Encinitas.

In ongoing service,

 

 

P.S. If you see a problem in Encinitas, you can easily notify the city through a new smartphone app called SeeClickFix. I’ve sent in pictures of graffiti and other small, local problems. No need to look up a city department or find a phone number. It’s really easy to use and I encourage you to put it on your phone. When you do, explore the app to see what types of issues people are reporting and how our city services respond. It’s very cool!

P.P.S. The City Council will begin a discussion at this week’s Wednesday meeting about how to regulate marijuana in our city after California voters approved recreational use of marijuana. Specifically we’ll be deciding whether to allow it to be sold out of storefronts in our commercial areas and grown in our agricultural areas. My City Council colleague Tasha Boerner Horvath is doing a survey to assess public opinion here. Currently, medical marijuana can not be sold out of storefronts in the city but it can be delivered to someone’s home by a delivery service.

I’m honored to be the subject of an article written by Kyle Thomas in Encinitas Magazine this month, which also describes my family’s history here. The article is unusually rich with historic details and pictures of Encinitas. The photo above shows me at 11 years old, gleefully wielding the gavel after my mom, attorney Tricia A. Smith, served as a temporary judge for the day.