News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

Save 10% On Your Order with code OSIDE at

City Report: Debate over Oceanside housing rules puts city at crossroads

Oceanside city sign. (Photo by albertc111, iStock Getty Images)

It’s hard to talk about California politics without mentioning housing. The Golden State is facing an unprecedented housing crisis, with Californians struggling to make ends meet. The problem is vast, and finding a solid solution can seem impossible.

To understand this, we’ll be looking over Oceanside’s recent inclusionary housing amendment to see how it plays a role in what’s happening.

What was voted on?

The City Council is changing Oceanside’s inclusionary housing rules. The ordinance amendment, if adopted, will require real estate developers to price 15% of their upcoming units affordably.

Inclusionary housing policies are common in California, with each city having its own threshold. Right now, Oceanside’s is 10%, but if the amendment gets final approval, it’ll bump to 15% citywide. But there’s a catch.

City Report: OceansideIn the past, companies would have to reserve housing if they were building three or more units. But if the ordinance passes, that number will rise to 10, meaning any new complex with fewer units won’t have to add affordable housing. The ordinance also requires developers to add equal amenities to all units, ensuring fair treatment.

How did we get here?

California is one of the priciest states to live in, leading the country in homelessness. The problem stems from multiple angles with conflicting interests. The impact has reached all cities, especially Oceanside. In other words, housing policies are a mess to sort out, and Oceanside’s recent rulings reflect that.

Last August, the city of Oceanside hosted a housing workshop for leaders and the public. The goal was to come together and find local solutions to the state’s growing housing crisis. More than 40 people attended, going back and forth with the council on a reasonable goal. Their compromise was to raise the minimum to 15% citywide.

But on Dec. 6, council members Rick Robinson, Peter Weiss and Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim backtracked. They were worried about disrupting single-family neighborhoods with large-scale developments. The council voted 5-0 to keep the citywide rate at 10% but raised the areas of Mission Avenue, Oceanside Boulevard and Vista Way to 20%.

Despite the unanimous vote, Mayor Esther Sanchez and Councilman Eric Joyce were upset by the pivot. Joyce said he was “frustrated,” feeling the council was further restricting inclusionary housing. Sanchez warned of a looming state mandate that requires cities to plan for adequate housing distribution.

“We are so behind,” Sanchez said. “We are going to be in violation by 2030, because we are not providing the affordable housing that really has been the goal.”

The Dec. 6 vote sparked backlash among residents. This led the council to revert back to the citywide 15%, voting 4-1 with Keim opposing, echoing his concern for single-family preservation.

Weiss, despite voting in favor, warned the council of possible community uproar among neighborhoods facing construction.

“The neighbors are not going to be pleased with that,” he said.

Why does this matter?

California is in a housing crisis, with San Diego at the forefront. Business Insider ranked it the most expensive city in America. Notably, 12 of the 20 listed are in California. In Oceanside you could be paying more than $2,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, not including amenities. The cost of living has kept potential residents from moving to Oceanside.

People flocked to Dec. 6’s City Council meeting, sharing their struggles with the housing market.

The problem has hit close to homeowner Jeanne Clark.

“We were lucky. We were able to buy a home with the GI bill in ’91,” Clark told the council last month. “But my daughter, who’s a single mom of two … when she tried to buy a home in Oceanside, she could not afford to buy a home.”

Clark’s daughter is a registered nurse, working as a first responder. She fought hard to qualify for affordable housing but was only offered a $450,000 loan. Unable to afford a home, Clark let her daughter and child move into theirs.

“We’re building an ADU in our garage for my husband and I to move into, so she can move into our home,” she said.

Amber Kae Niuatoa, a sociology professor at MiraCosta College, felt the initial policies were a “bare minimum,” adding that affordable housing is what kept her in Oceanside.

“My students are unhoused right now,” Niuatoa said. “I have several students who are unhoused that are dealing with housing insecurity, and not being able to find a place to live.”

“My rent is half my salary,” resident Mitch Silverstein said. “And I think I’m in a much better position than many other people in Oceanside … please support this item.”

Here’s where density comes in

Because these policies center around construction, discussions over density — how many units you can fit in an area — will naturally occur. Historically, suburban homeowners tend to fight against large-scale housing projects.

Last month, the council upheld a new housing development in the Fire Mountain neighborhood, led by Rincon Homes. According to a city staff report, 19 single-family houses will be built, spanning 3.43 acres. One unit will be reserved for “very low income” owners.

But according to Leilani Hines, the director of Housing and Neighborhood Services, the price will range from $90,000 to $100,000.

When the planning commission approved the project, resident Leslie Rush filed an appeal, laying out safety and transparency problems. The city denied her appeal, moving forward with the process.

Fire Mountain residents allege construction would block a fire evacuation path, ramp up traffic, and cause excessive noise. Other opponents say one cheap home does little to address affordable housing, arguing the developer added it to take advantage of density bonus laws to raise profits.

Resident Patricia Downs said she’s worried about traffic. She lives half a mile from the proposed project and says the streets are already too narrow to handle more cars.

“Once those are built, our poor Fire Mountain is going to be gone to the dogs,” she said.

But the density talk goes beyond suburbs. On Oct. 18, the council capped downtown density to 86 units per acre. But just like December’s vote, previous disagreements around limits divided the council. When discussing the matter at an Oct. 4 meeting, Joyce said he was concerned over building too much housing over a short period of time.

“Even if there are some changes, Oceansiders want to come home and recognize their hometown,” Joyce said to the council. “They don’t need these incredibly massive projects popping up out of nowhere. Yes, we need housing, but we need incremental and smart, reasonable housing.”

So, what now?

For Matthew Lewis, communications director for California YIMBY, cities need to evolve with the times and be open to higher-density housing.

“It’s been too long,” Lewis said. “Too many cities in California have prohibited all multifamily housing all over.”

California YIMBY is a nonprofit dedicated to fighting California’s housing crisis by supporting equitable, affordable housing policies.

YIMBY stands for Yes In My Backyard. The acronym encourages an open-arms mindset toward affordable housing.

“I think what Oceanside’s going to have to do is take a hard look at neighborhoods that are exclusionary with single units and say, ‘We’re going to have to make some changes here.’ That’s just the reality,” he said.

“The challenge that cities like Oceanside are going to have to face is … you can no longer just protect all of your single-unit neighborhoods and think that you can achieve your housing targets,” he said. “It’s not possible.”

Lewis emphasized the impact working-class people have on large cities, arguing that their economic needs are important.

“One of the reasons I do the work that I do is I think, ‘No, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be nurses or police officers and firefighters on my block,’” Lewis said. “If you have to build an apartment building so they can afford it, what’s the problem?”

“I need people like that in my community,” Lewis said. “I rely on people like that in my community, so let’s build housing for them.”

But to Lewis, community backlash over housing projects means something different: fear of the unknown.

“Trees fall down, kids grow up and leave, people die, new people move in, that’s happening all the time,” Lewis said. “I would hope that people who are afraid of these things take a deep breath and ask, ‘What is it I’m actually afraid of?’ Because at the end of the day, it’s just different, nothing else. It’s just change, and we don’t need to be afraid of change, because that’s happening all the time.”

Owen Pratt is a freelance writer in the region.