The California Attorney General and state Department of Justice continue to challenge cities not complying with state laws aimed at increasing housing and creating affordable housing. They called out the San Diego County city of Encinitas Thursday for not approving a permit to build a large apartment complex last year and threatened to hold them legally accountable if they don’t pass a modified version of the apartments soon.
In November of 2021, the Encinitas City Council unanimously voted to reject approval for the 277-unit Encinitas Boulevard Apartments, an Olivenhain neighborhood project that would have had 41 units set aside for low-income families. The City Council said that poor wildfire evacuation capacity and poor road capacity left many safety issues open. Developers vowed to legally challenge the decision.
That same November, Attorney General Rob Bonta created the Housing Strike Force, a group that looks into and reports on cities complying with the state’s housing law SB 9, as well as other laws designed to increase housing and housing units in California. Last month, the Strike Force went after the San Mateo town of Woodside for attempting to stop new housing projects by declaring themselves a mountain lion sanctuary. AG Bonta and the California DOJ are also currently trying to pressure Pasadena into dropping their Landmark District exemption, stopping the city from preserving any more historic areas, to increase housing. In addition, they have also gone after developers and landlords, such as taking multi-million dollar actions against unlawfully evicting people after foreclosure sales.
On Thursday, they announced targeting Encinitas for not following state law and denying the construction of high-density housing projects. While there was no legal action taken, Bonta threatened it in a letter on Thursday to the city by “holding them accountable” if the Encinitas Boulevard Apartments project decision isn’t reversed soon. Specifically, Bonta said Encinitas was violating multiple housing laws aimed at more units and greater density, including the Density Bonus Law and the Housing Accountability Act.
“While we’re pleased the City may have the opportunity to take corrective action by approving a modified version of the Encinitas Boulevard Apartments project, it shouldn’t take the threat of legal action to induce compliance with the law,” said Attorney General Bonta on Thursday. “As we work to tackle California’s housing crisis, we need local governments to act as partners to increase the housing supply, not throw up roadblocks. Our Housing Strike Force is working to hold those who break our housing laws accountable in order to help California families wrestling with the high cost of housing, and we’re in this fight for the long haul.”
Encinitas latest city to be challenged over high density housing laws
While city officials have not commented on Bonta’s letter as of Friday, officials from the city noted Thursday that the city is still awaiting new plans to turn 20% of the project into affordable housing units, or 5% more than planned. Encinitas residents and housing experts have also said that the response to the project in the city has been largely mixed, similar to the feelings of Pasadena residents over their DOJ housing problems that still have not been resolved this week.
“Cities don’t want more luxury apartments or luxury units, and many especially want to keep single family residences intact,” developer Martin Schules, who stopped building new housing in California two years ago in favor of other Western states, said in a Globe interview Friday. “But therein lies the problem. California and local cities have so many laws, including some that demand green space and parking spots for each resident, that the only ones we can build where we get our investment back are luxury units. Even though 41 of the 277 units were set aside for lower-income people, it’s still outwardly luxury, and to many residents, gaudy or not fitting in with the architecture of the city. Not to mention that that still means hundreds of very expensive rental units being added.”
“When we talk about being squeezed out of California and people wondering why no new housing units are being built, this is why. Developers can’t afford to build anything besides units geared toward higher paying people because of all these state laws, residents in the city want to keep their aesthetic and don’t want these huge buildings coming in and stressing city resources and roads, and the city doesn’t want to face issues stemming from both. It’s no wonder why Encinitas and Pasadena and other places are doing everything they can to stop it and try to find better solutions.”
“But the California government and thugs like Bonta keep trying to rope the law into all these cities that are trying to find their own path. It’s not about ‘every city doing their part’ to them. It’s city leaders and residents knowing what their limits are and developers doing what they can to get a return on their investment. Encinitas exemplifies this. Bonta and the Housing Strike Force aren’t trying to solve housing problems. They are the problem. Or at least a very big part of it.”
As of Friday, the city of Encinitas has yet to respond to Bonta’s letter.