by Olivenhain resident Juliana Maxim
The consultant for the next Housing Element reassured us that no additional sites will need to be rezoned in Encinitas in order to satisfy the affordable housing units mandated by the State of California. A look at the current (5th cycle) Housing Element shows that his optimism is unwarranted.
I am talking about the unreasonable R30 rezoning scheme that underpins the current Housing Element, and which is bound to spill over into the next cycle.
In general terms, inclusionary zoning is a give and take between city and developer: we grant the developer the ability to build bigger and faster in exchange for some affordable units.
But how much are we giving, and how much are we getting in return?
The rezoned Goodson site in Olivenhain, at the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and Rancho Santa Fe Road, is an object lesson that shows the citizens are giving a lot and getting very little in return. As the first application of both the housing element and the new California housing laws, the project forces a reckoning that deserves the full attention of both our City Council and the Encinitas residents.
On a site of almost 7 acres, the Goodson project proposes a hulking 69-foot high building with 277 apartments and a 6-story parking garage at its center. The details of the project deserve urgent public scrutiny and discussion, but its implications for the future of the entire city of Encinitas can be summarized in just two numbers.
First Number: 41
In agreement with the Housing Element and other city and state laws, out of the total 277 units, the Goodson project sets aside 41 low-income units. We can extrapolate from this a ratio of roughly six market rate units for one affordable unit, or 6 to 1.
Our city is mandated to provide 1141 affordable units for the current housing cycle. (I am setting the buffer aside for the sake of simplicity, but the buffer would increase that number). With a ratio of 6 to 1, this means that in order to secure 1141 units, the city will also have to absorb about 6800 market-rate units. Combined, this brings us to a total of almost 8000 new housing units.
To put this in context, Encinitas has currently 26,000 housing units: the R30 strategy requires us to enlarge our city by almost a third.
Traffic engineers estimate 7 car trips per day per apartment: 8000 units are projected to generate 56,000 additional car trips daily in Encinitas. Such is the unreasonable logic of the Housing Element, according to which the solution to the housing shortage requires the city’s destruction. It is a solution that exacerbates the problem.
Second Number: minus 108
The low-income unit deficit created by the developer, that will need to be shifted to another project within Encinitas.
To satisfy the state mandate, the Housing Element calculated that 149 low and very low-income units would be built on this site (see map for reference below). Goodson proposes only 41 units, 72% less than the city was hoping for, despite having received from the city the right to build at an unprecedented R40 density (the result of a 35% density bonus increase).
In other words, the project devastates a whole community, choking it with traffic and making it unsafe during fire evacuation, and in exchange leaves the city well below target.
Mind you, this is a developer acting entirely within the rights the Housing Element so generously granted him.
There is more. While the city comes out short, a pro forma calculation shows that this developer stands to make about 15 million dollars. This represents more than 200 times the yearly income of the families the Housing Element is supposed to help.
This is, therefore, the logic that lies at the core of the Housing Element, both past and future: the developer is guaranteed a profit, the city is guaranteed a shortfall. No wonder that the Building Industry Association president refers to this scheme as a form of subsidy. I say it’s better than this: it’s Robin Hood for speculators.
What these numbers make clear is that providing affordable housing to our residents is not a technical task, but a political project.
The thinking that gave us the Housing Element is based on numbers, acronyms, RHNA allocations, and bureaucratic intricacies that left most of us thoroughly alienated. Very few of us can find their way through the layers of laws, policies, and ordinances – I certainly get lost. This makes for a profoundly anti-democratic debate.
What we need instead is a political expression of our shared aspirations. Here is mine: housing no longer built and sold to maximize profit, but to ensure equitable living conditions. If the current council members are to be our leaders, we should ask them for a full shift in mindset, one that no longer conceives of housing as a financial instrument but instead as a basic human right. We want a better story, defiant of the developers’ orthodoxies.
Of course, such aspirations will require very real forms of investment. More urgently, however, they will require a political class that has both courage and imagination. And that is much harder to find than money.
Below is the City’s map of the current Housing Element showing all 15 upzoned sites. By clicking on the map you can see the Goodson Olivenhain Apartments are Site #8 and the City expected 149 affordable units from this project. Also, we’ve been told some of the other sites’ development plans will soon be submitted to the Planning Department and to expect less affordable units at those sites also.
Top photo: Juliana Maxim addressing the Mayor and City Council in a crowded City Hall on December 11, 2019. Video of the meeting and all public comments can be found here.
Zoning Map of Encinitas by parcel
(useful interactive map tool that hasn’t been updated with the Housing Element R30 parcels, yet)
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