State Threatens Encinitas With Lawsuit Over Housing Policy

Encinitas housingGov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has put another coastal town on notice that it must meet state mandates to add a significant amount of units affordable by low-income families – reflecting the newly elected governor’s view that a lack of housing is one of California’s biggest problems.

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In a Feb. 4 letter to the city of Encinitas, state housing official Zachary Olmstead said the city needed to ”amend or invalidate” a 2013 ordinance approved by voters that said developers had to get voters’ blessing if they wanted to increase the density of their projects or make zoning changes. The letter noted that this law and other city actions had the effect of blocking Encinitas from meeting state requirements that it add 1,141 affordable units. The city of 63,000 has few such units now.

While the Encinitas City Council once seemed as strongly anti-growth as the public, state threats under the Jerry Brown administration led the council in 2016 and 2018 to seek voters’ approval of what’s known as a Housing Element plan, failing both times. The plan is a formal document submitted to the state that outlines what projects will be built so that the city meets its commitment to “accommodate the housing needs of Californians of all economic levels.”

Like Huntington Beach, Encinitas could face lawsuit

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County without a similar state-approved plan. It is among the richest cities in the country. As of the latest Zillow data, the median average home price is $1.05 million, and the latest RentCafe data puts the average monthly rent at $2,056.

While the 2013 city law targeted by the state has already been suspended until 2021 by a Superior Court judge as being pre-empted by state law, that wasn’t viewed as going far enough by state officials. Olmstead’s letter cited the cumulative effect of a “complex set of regulations” that make it impossible for new projects that would help the city comply with state requirements.

If Encinitas officials don’t change course, the letter warned that state grants might be withheld, including for transportation projects funded by the Legislature’s 2017 increase in state vehicle taxes – and that the Newsom administration would ask Attorney General Xavier Becerra to sue the city for defying state law.

In a case involving the same issues, the state and the city of Huntington Beach filed lawsuits against each other last month in Orange County over whether Huntington Beach is breaking state housing laws. Becerra says 2017 legislation passed in Sacramento clearly empowers his office to sue to enforce plainly written state mandates. Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates, however, says as a charter city – one with its own voter-approved de facto constitution – Huntington Beach has the authority to reject some state edicts that infringe on the city’s right to self-govern its “municipal affairs.”

Can charter cities claim exemption from mandates?

A League of California Cities primer on the rights of charter cities offers ammunition for Huntington Beach’s claim. It notes that with “some exceptions,” charter cities control land-use and zoning decisions. But a 1975 Loyola University of Los Angeles Law Review analysis cited by the league said ambiguous language in state law left it unclear precisely when charter city ordinances took precedent on land-use issues.

Encinitas is a general law city not eligible for charter city protections from some types of state interference. But if Encinitas officials proposed and city voters approved a charter city amendment in a special election, Encinitas could become a charter city within months.

Last year, after disputes with the state, officials in Menlo Park in Silicon Valley considered a quick push for charter city status before putting the issue on hold for the time being.

This article was originally published by


  1. The state should read Article 34 of the State Constitution that mandates voter approval for housing.

  2. As a 45 year real estate broker in San Diego, I don’t think that Encinitas has any room for low-income housing. At least not city-owned property, Would the City have to buy private property to accomplish this goal? I bet Huntington Beach has very little space left. It was “built-out” years ago.

  3. Michelle Harper says

    It’s about time Encinitas steps up to become part of a solution to San Diego’s affordable housing crisis.

    With abundant land and a welcoming, inclusive community the change coming to Encinitas will be good for all San Diegans.

    • Skeptical Rick says

      The affordable housing problem covers most of populated California and it is due to insufficient land allocated to building, expensive regulations, such as the most recent one to force all new homes to have solar panels, and the slow, arduous process of receiving approval to build anything, anywhere. All of these factors make housing and development generally much more expensive than it is in other, less restrictive states and communities.

    • Why should property owners lose value in their property because the state rolls out welcome wagons for the nation’s most needy? Sorry but ruining a private community is not the way to end this massive problem.

  4. If cities can declare themselves “sanctuary” cities, they should be able to also declare themselves “Mandate Free” cities.

  5. Low-cost housing built along transportation corridors is one answer.
    When the government gets into the real estate business, highest and best use development goes out the window. This is how ghettos were first created.

    • Skeptical Rick says

      When it doubt, look at Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor projects in Chicago and Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. They, among many others, prove what happens when city government creates low-income housing, fails to maintain it, and it ultimately becomes a breeding ground for crime and drug use.

  6. Skeptical Rick says

    Intimidation and threats do not provide funding, land or thwart the NIMBY mindset that dominates most land use decisions in affluent coastal communities.

    Where will the money come from to build all of this ‘required’ housing? The tenants/occupants of the ‘affordable’ housing will not be able to pay sufficient rent or come up with the purchase price, even if it is heavily subsidized by businesses and property owners. Sacramento will not be supplying any funding to build 1,000 + units of housing in Encinitas.

    This smacks of the same ridiculous thinking as L.A. Mayor Garcetti recently demonstrated when he decreed that the LADWP could not rebuild three natural gas electric generating plants and would have to “figure something out” in coming up with non-existent renewable energy projects/battery storage that don’t pencil out financially, or from an engineering standpoint. He is placing upwards of 30% of L.A.’s electricity supply in peril.

    • I’m glad you mentioned the Garcetti story. Tossing three natural gas electricity plants in the name of green virtue-signaling is going to come back to haunt all of us with blackouts and skyrocketing energy prices. This story should be more expansively explored and reported on. Garcetti doesn’t know what he is talking about or doing. He is so puffed-up by the sound of his own voice and blind to practicalities he cannot be bothered to learn what is needed to supply energy for our large population… it’s not possible, never mind feasible, to rely exclusively on unreliable renewables

  7. California accuses cities of “defying state law” while at the same time
    the state defy’s federal immigration laws. Hopefully cities will band together and take this lawsuit to the federal level (counter sue) and win.
    In the meantime they can tell Sacramento to keep their money.

  8. Why isn’t there low cost or subsidized housing in Beverly Hills or the other areas in California, right next door to those huge multi-million dollar mansions? Come on, let’s be fair about this. We can move all the new illegal aliens into those communities. Oh wait, they don’t want walls, and all those homes are behind walls.

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