EDITORIAL: ‘No’ on Encinitas Measure T

North Coast Current

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It’s understandable why voting “yes” on Measure T — an Encinitas city initiative seeking residents’ approval of a massive new housing program — could be seen as an easy way out of possible state penalties and building-industry lawsuits. However, the North Coast Current urges a “no” vote on Measure T for one reason: It’s time to call the state of California out on its misguided approach to shoving high-density development down communities’ throats.

It’s disappointing to see Encinitas face this problem, especially as it celebrates its 30th anniversary of incorporation, built by a grassroots movement for autonomy in 1986 away from county rule over community character and overbuilding.

The Current applauds the efforts of Encinitas city officials and community members who have spent countless amounts of time trying to find ways to make sense of the state’s mandated housing element, which requires cities to address housing needs based on state agency-generated population, affordability and environmental models. The result is the @Home in Encinitas housing element, on the ballot as Measure T.

The problem is not with the effort, it’s with the state mandate, which also plays into the hands of building industry interests. Cities are independent municipalities for a reason. It’s one thing to have state regulations overseeing water quality, for example. But a state mandate dictating how a community is to literally grow is another issue. The government overreach in this respect is not acceptable.

Conflicting language on community character

The state’s mandated housing program forces Encinitas residents to vote on a measure that is counter to Encinitas communities’ character, in some cases cramming three-story blocks of fit-the-mold dwellings throughout the city, including areas known for their already-threatened quaint historical or rural character.

Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Leucadia and Old Encinitas all have lost homes and business buildings that held value in terms of character and historical interest, mowed over by boxlike McMansions and state-sanctioned density bonus infill.

The state’s density bonus law — much like the state’s housing element — gives developers incentives to either work around communities’ own laws and elected officials or finesse those local interests into building high-density projects despite objections, all under the guise of “affordable housing.”

In some cases, depending on the project and its affordable allowances, a developer “is entitled to the density bonus and other assistance as of right, regardless of what the locality wants,” according to a guide for developers published by Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard.

Supporters of Measure T would argue that preservation of community character is written into Encinitas’ plan. If that’s true, it’s difficult to justify statements such as this regarding Old Encinitas on page 18 of the @Home in Encinitas “Design Guidelines” document: “Take cues from older buildings in their proportions, dimensions, and materials, without replicating historic styles.”

Does that mean if an 80-year-old Craftsman-style home is destroyed, new dwellings can’t replace it in the same style? There’s no reason a new development can’t pay homage in design to the buildings it has replaced, especially if community character is the goal.

It’s equally difficult to justify calling for three-story blocks of housing and commercial space in rural, equestrian Olivenhain.

Important goals, unrealistic plans

The state’s goal, by proxy through cities such as Encinitas, is to direct a future where people live and work within their own communities. How realistic is that given our current economic structure? No version of Measure T would work in that regard. The state’s demands force Encinitas and other communities to create plans based on laudable but unrealistic goals.

How realistic is it for Encinitas to be a community of 60,000 people where a significant number of those residents actually live and work in that community, and can afford to do so? Scripps Hospital and MiraCosta College, for example, only have so many employees, and no amount of housing stock would allow for a coffeeshop worker or supermarket cashier to buy or rent their own home here and get ahead. In fact, often, such service workers commute from outside Encinitas to work here, while the upper-middle-class population leaves to work outside of the city.

Encinitas has no true industrial center, and the industry it was built on — agriculture — is now covered in housing for those who commute outside the city for work. Whether by car, train or bike, it doesn’t matter.

State overreach without end

Orwellian characterizations of “Neighborhood Centers” and the like don’t mask the crux of the problem that Measure T represents.

There’s nothing to stop the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (through legislation or outright authority) from demanding even more accommodations in the years ahead, forcing yet another seemingly unwinnable argument over the rights of an individual community. Measure T proposes three-story blocks of housing now, but what will city leaders and residents say when the state requires another update, with no other alternative than massive projects such as Casa Mira View near Scripps Ranch?

The comparison may be alarmist, but it illustrates the North Coast Current’s biggest concern: state overreach over individual communities.

Fear of sanction or lawsuit — no matter the special interest — is not a reason in this case for residents and city leaders to throw their hands up and say that Measure T is “good enough.” It’s not. Fight the state and building interests or go back to the drawing board. Either way, vote “no” on Measure T.

Editorials solely represent the opinions of North Coast Current ownership. The Current welcomes letters to the editor and longer commentaries sharing opposing points of view.

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