ENCINITAS — It’s seemingly the end of a yearslong fight over a controversial multi-family housing development along Encinitas Boulevard in Olivenhain.
The Encinitas City Council on June 8 unanimously approved developer Randy Goodson’s amended application and density bonus requests for Encinitas Boulevard Apartments, known colloquially as the Goodson Project. The change-up was seemingly an attempt to avoid the threat of litigation from the state’s Attorney General Rob Bonta.
“The reality is that the responsible thing to do is comply with the law,” said Councilman Tony Kranz. “The impacts of denying this project would be very significant.”
Goodson and the state argue the city did not have sufficient evidence to deny the project per the Housing Accountability Act, Density Bonus Law and other state and local housing guidelines.
Councilwoman Kellie Hinze made the motion to approve the proposed project while tacking on language that attempts to recognize legal pressures and public concerns over wildfires and fire evacuation safety.
Under findings for a design review permit, the council changed language from “no evidence has been provided indicating that the proposed project would adversely affect health, safety or general welfare of the surrounding neighborhood or community” to “the project doesn’t violate any adopted objective standards for healthy safety, or general welfare of the community.”
The change clarifies the boundaries that the city was under when drafting the resolution in favor of demolishing the current single-story structures and erecting from the site a five or six-story affordable housing complex.
Some residents would have the city push back and deny the application.
Eighteen individuals spoke during public comment, many reiterating fire evacuation concerns and citing a fire evaluation analysis plan from Charles Weber, a third-party contractor.
Weber is a long-time emergency service provider and currently the assistant fire marshal at the University of San Diego. Acting under his private consultancy, Weber found numerous causes for concern in the plan.
The developer and state Attorney General’s Office both insist the project does not present a danger to Olivenhain residents.
“We understand that the location and structure of this single development does not pose a wildfire ignition risk,” Supervising Deputy Attorney Christina Arndt wrote in a May 25 letter to the Olivenhain Town Council board of directors. “… and the Encinitas Fire Department concluded that fire evacuation was not a problem. Therefore, this concern does not provide a basis for rejecting this project.”
The project reduces the visual massing of buildings by reducing one level from the structure and trimming the total units from 277 to 250.
Of those units — which Goodson ensures would also be geared toward seniors — 50 need to be designated affordable units. The breakdown will be 21 units for very-low income households and 29 for low-income earners.
Rents for the low-income units shall be set using 30% of the 80% income limits established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Twenty percent of the site will be affordable housing for low-income households, under this threshold the developer qualifies for density bonus requests.
The Goodson Project, as amended, is allowed two concessions and four waivers per California Density Bonus Law. Goodman took advantage of those state-ordered giveaways on Wednesday, adding the fourth and final waiver.
These allowances include: maintaining existing utility lines setups on the western and northwestern ends of the property, and adding a masonry wall on the rear and side properties; and waiving the maximum height of the project, number of allowable stories, storage requirements and specific outdoor lighting requirements.
Jim Frost, a resident that lives off McClain Road, the projects’ entrance, is disappointed in the council’s decision to affirm the amended Goodson Project.
Frost said the council was in “a rush to please [Attorney General] Rob Bonta by settling a lawsuit with the developer,” which is not in the best interest of the community. In Frost’s perspective, the council’s actions toward the Olivenhain community suggest residents should “take one for the team.”
“Bad decisions bringing bad decisions all at the community expense and the taxpayers expense,” Frost said. “Once this train leaves the station, there’s no going back.”
Other residents have given up on the efficiency of their elected officials, joining the online council meeting instead to speak to fellow residents rather than council members.
One resident, who was identified only as Juliana, feels her community was pushed aside for the sole purpose of bureaucratic games.
“The biggest betrayal tonight that you will have when you hear these politicians claim that they had no choice but to approve this project,” Juliana said. “In anticipation of their excuses and self congratulations, I want to remember how we got here.”
Kranz doesn’t support the project, but supported the motion citing his disappointment in the developer for not caring out with that initial plan that was in the city’s Housing Element.
While Goodson has unsuccessfully attempted to develop in Encinitas since 2004, public debate over the recently-approved project began about four years ago. In 2018, the site nestled between McClain Road and Rancho Santa Fe Drive was added to the city’s Housing Element as a 149-unit project geared toward seniors as proposed by Goodson’s team.
In 2020, the Goodson Project went before the Planning Commission with 283 by-right units and 35% bonus density (about 42 apartments for low-income households). However, this plan was withdrawn from the city.
In 2021, Goodson came back to the Planning Commission with a 277-unit application with a request for density bonus, parking reduction, two concessions and three waivers — the same allowances asked for in the year prior.
In August 2021, the Planning Commission unanimously denied Goodson’s application, but rezoned the site into an R-30 overlay for high density accommodations. Both actions were immediately appealed by Goodson and the Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development, respectively.
Two months later, the City Council denied the appeals.
In January, California Department of Housing and Community Development called out the city for violating its Housing Element and threatened to revoke its mark of compliance. Shortly after, Goodson filed suit against the city challenging its denial, again.
Following a threat of litigation from the Attorney General Bonta’s office, a settlement was signed in April — initiating the amended application approved on Wednesday.
“The most bitter pill to swallow for me, however, is the claim that this project will help us solve the affordable housing crisis in Encinitas,” Juliana said.
While most seem unsatisfied with the council’s decision, some are in favor of Encinitas welcoming higher density projects.
In a letter to the council, resident Lauren Thompson spoke in favor of large complexes, adding that they help fight climate change and alleviate housing shortages.
“Allowing for increased density, in this project and in projects to come, will alleviate some of the supply pressure,” Thompson wrote. “This is one important part of a solution that will allow people to afford to live where they work.”