/North County Report: Mayors Split on Regional Housing Plan

North County Report: Mayors Split on Regional Housing Plan

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The SANDAG board approved its strategy for accommodating new housing across the region last week, with North County mayors split on the region’s approach.

Board members from Encinitas, Carlsbad and Del Mar voted to approve SANDAG’s methodology, while those from Escondido, Poway, Solana Beach, San Marcos and Vista voted against it.

The current formula determines the number of homes that need to be planned for in each city based on population growth expectations, and prioritizes housing in cities near local jobs and transit hubs. The state has allocated more than 171,000 homes to the San Diego region.

Solana Beach Mayor David Zito proposed a substitute approach that would have reduced the requirements for coastal cities or those that already had a higher number of low-income households.

Zito said on Friday there had been a failure in SANDAG’s housing element process.

That failure, he told VOSD, was that the methodology is supposed to represent a regional effort with a regional approach, but it has not been passed with a vote reflecting a regional consensus.

A majority of cities in the county voted for Zito’s alternative approach, but they were overruled by a smaller share of cities that together represent a majority of the county’s population, as permitted by a shift in SANDAG’s voting procedures thanks to recent state legislation.

Zito criticized the weighted vote change.

“It’s basically the city of San Diego plus their friends,” he said. “The process is setting us up for failure.”

“I think it’s important to produce units and actually solve housing crisis rather than cramming a formula down our throats because most evidence says to the contrary,” he said. “It’s a clear indication that this is going to fail.”

Zito’s motion – supported by board members from North County cities Poway, Vista and Del Mar – would have reduced Solana Beach’s housing allocation by nearly 400 homes. It would have also reduced the number of homes needed to be planned for in Coronado, Del Mar, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Solana Beach and Vista.

His plan would have reduced the number of homes allocated to cities in the state’s coastal zone, reallocating those units to jurisdictions with a lower number of existing low-income households.

Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher voted against Zito’s motion and for the approach proposed by SANDAG staff, but said laws need to be changed at the state level to diminish density expectations for coastal cities like Carlsbad.

She said an ongoing study from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography on sea level rise and impacts to coastal bluffs related to density and development should inform future housing expectations in the coastal area.

Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara called the methodology flawed and said he supported the opposition.

“We can’t overbuild and we shouldn’t be having someone outside of the region telling us to overbuild,” McNamara said.

Zito told VOSD he expects multiple cities to file appeals.

“Lemon Grove said they would be filing an appeal and there’s a very good chance Solana Beach will be filing an appeal,” he said. “It’s important to continue to work this on this and set ourselves up for success. Some cities are targeted more than others.”

Encinitas Is Getting a Safe Parking Lot for Homeless Residents

Encinitas will be the first city in North County to have a safe parking program for homeless residents, despite pushback from local residents who live near the Leichtag Foundation on Saxony Road – the future location of the lot – who voiced concerns about drugs and alcohol on the property and its close proximity to the local YMCA.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear and other City Council members voted 4-1 at the Nov. 19 meeting to move forward to open the lot by the end of the year. The Leichtag Foundation will host 25 parking spots for families, students and others living in their cars.

Blakespear wrote in her weekly newsletter that she believes Encinitas did the right thing by approving the program. “Sometimes doing the right thing can be complicated, and not everyone agrees it’s the right thing,” she wrote.

The program will be run in partnership between the city and Jewish Family Service with a focus on getting constituents into permanent housing, Michael Hopkins, CEO of the Jewish Family Service, said at last week’s Council meeting.

“In time, every city in California will probably have a parking lot in their homeless plan,” he said at the meeting. “What’s really at heart of the matter is the individuals that are sleeping in their cars.”

In 2018, the regional point-in-time count identified 1,975 people experiencing homelessness in North County. Of those, 354 were found to be living out of their vehicles, including 51 in Encinitas.

Jewish Family Service currently operates three other safe parking lots within the city of San Diego and has served 1,529 people, according to its website.

Charlene Seidle, executive vice president of the Leichtag Foundation, said the lot will prioritize and focus on vulnerable families and individuals and older adults currently living in their vehicles within Encinitas and North County.

Blakespear wrote in her newsletter that she expects the population to include car-bound students attending Mira Costa College, families of local elementary school children, elderly people, and referrals from the local YMCA and the Community Resource Center.

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