California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is taking a keen interest in a controversial Encinitas housing project and says he will hold the city accountable if it fails to approve a new version of the building plans, which were rejected last year.
In a letter written for Bonta and addressed to the city’s mayor, Deputy Atty. Gen. Matthew Struhar wrote Thursday that he understands the developers now are planning to submit a revised version of their previous proposal.
The new proposal is expected to contain even more low-income housing units, and this time around, Encinitas had better do right by the project — or else — Struhar wrote.
“We urge the city to take prompt action to consider and approve the revised project if and when a new application is submitted,” Struhar wrote. “If the city fails to do so, the Attorney General is prepared to take immediate steps to hold the city accountable.”
Reached Thursday afternoon, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she could not comment on specifics related to the Encinitas Boulevard Apartment project because of the threat of litigation, but said, “Encinitas takes its housing obligations seriously and remains committed to doing its part to address the state’s housing crisis.”
“Less than one year after getting state approval for the city’s housing plan, the city has approved more than half of the city’s total assigned goal for the next eight years,” she continued. ”We are aware of state housing laws and working diligently to stay in compliance with them. I appreciate the Attorney General’s reminder about the applicable laws, and when the Encinitas Blvd. Apartments application is resubmitted, the City Council will consider it right away.”
The fight over the apartment complex proposal dates back several years. The massive development is currently proposed to be 277 units plus a multistory parking garage on a nearly 7-acre site.
The apartment buildings are proposed to top out at 69 feet — far higher than the city’s standard height limit of 39 feet. The size of the proposed structures has alarmed residents in the surrounding Olivenhain neighborhood, which is known for its upscale, single-family homes on large lots.
In November, the City Council rejected two appeals of city permit decisions related to the project, and ruled that the city’s Planning Commission acted correctly in August when it denied permits for a development proposal. One appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision was filed by developer Randy Goodson, who argued that the city didn’t have the authority to deny the building plans because this should be considered a “by-right” development under state low-income housing laws. Goodson is proposing to set aside 41 of the proposed 277 units for low-income residents, which would make the project eligible for special treatment and waivers from some city building requirements.
The other appeal was filed by opponents’ group Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development. It argued that the Planning Commission should have denied the permit requests on additional grounds, including fire safety concerns.
In his four-page letter to the mayor Thursday, Struhar said the city violated both the state’s Housing Accountability Act and the Density Bonus Law when it failed to approve the development plans. Encinitas needs to do more to address “significant disparities in housing needs” and prevent the creation of segregated housing areas, he added.
It’s particularly noteworthy that the proposed project would be located in Olivenhain, which has “even higher home values than the city as a whole,” he wrote. Given that this is the only site in the Olivenhain area that has been set aside by the city for multifamily, lower-income housing, the city’s decision to deny the permits is particularly troubling, he added.
And, if the city fails to address this situation, it could find itself out of compliance entirely with state housing law and thus would lose the authority to reject housing projects even if they are inconsistent with the city’s zoning or its general plan, he wrote.
“Although the city violated state law when it disapproved the project, it appears that the city will have the opportunity to correct that error by approving the revised project in the near future. If the city fails to approve the revised project, then the Attorney General will take prompt action to hold the City accountable,” he concluded.