Julie Thunder and Susan Turney have talked about their housing "plan" in debates, Zoom forums, Facebook posts, and emails. They have a miraculous prescription for Encinitas that will solve the most challenging issue facing our city.
It's also pure fantasy. If they actually do try to implement their radical ideas, Encinitas would quickly go out of compliance with state law and would be sued right and left.
As taxpayers, we would have to cough up many millions of dollars in legal fees fighting lawsuits that we'd inevitably lose. And even worse, while we're tangled up in litigation, the city will forego state grant money which we rely on to build improvements like pedestrian rail crossings.
Don't buy the magical thinking and easy answers. Julie Thunder and Susan Turney do NOT have a realistic housing plan. All they have is a recipe for lawsuits and legal fees.
Here's an explanation of their plan and why it's doomed.
Thunder and Turney say they can manifest a state-compliant housing plan that can survive a Prop A vote, which is the hat trick that has eluded the city for many years.
How would they do it? Simple. They would just increase the percentage of affordable housing mandated for each new housing project, which reduces the total number of housing units Encinitas is required to build under state law.
Voila! Wave a magic wand and the current 15% requirement becomes 25%. At 25%, Encinitas only needs to build 3,352 units of new housing over eight years instead of 5,587.
See, it's easy! Which begs the question: Why stop there? Why not mandate 30%? Or even 40%? At 40%, we don't have to build much new housing at all! Only 2,095 new housing units over eight years! Yay!
Actually, why don't we just make those nasty developers build 100% affordable housing? That way the city only needs to build 838 new housing units over eight years. We can minimize the population and traffic increases from new housing and keep things just like they are now.
In fact, Susan Turney wants to exclude developers from the planning process so they don't even have a voice in the proceedings. If they're not in the room, we can just make them eat the requirements for affordable housing and that's that.
You've probably figured out by now that the solution isn't this easy. There are two huge problems with this approach.
First of all, those much-maligned developers are usually just property owners. And property owners subject to the affordable housing mandate are essentially paying a form of tax to build housing. At some point it stops making sense for them to build anything on their land. An overly aggressive affordable housing mandate becomes a taking of their land by the city. But well before that point, the property owners are going to revolt.
Any Thunder-Turney housing plan with a high percentage of affordable housing will run into a buzz saw of opposition from property owners. They'll organize and spend money to defeat such a plan at the ballot box. When the Thunder-Turney plan comes up for a Prop A vote, there will be a flood of ads, signs, and mailers.
If the property owners weren't even consulted in the development of the plan - as Susan Turney proposes - then the level of opposition will be off the charts. And if all that isn't bad enough, the angry hornets nest of property owners will have plenty of allies in their battle against the offending housing plan. Which brings us to the second problem with the fantasy Thunder-Turney plan.
Most properties targeted for upzoning with high percentages of affordable housing are surrounded by neighbors. And those neighbors are often fiercely opposed to high density housing being built nearby. They don't want the added traffic and crowds. They don't want the character of their community to change. And they don't want their property values depressed by all that affordable housing. The word "density" is thrown around like a curse-word in the debate about Encinitas housing, but any increase in affordable housing percentages is going to result in more density for the parcels that are up-zoned.
Entire neighborhoods will organize and fight any housing plan with high affordable housing mandates. In any plan, some parcels have to be up-zoned somewhere - and in a Thunder-Turney plan, the resulting controversy will be acute. Neighbors will make common cause with property owners. The resulting coalition will be well organized, very well funded, sympathetic (to other voters), and very angry.
Who is supporting the Thunder-Turney plan against the mobs with the pitchforks and torches? Well, there's no natural constituency in favor of a housing plan. So likely nobody.
What is Susan Turney's well-thought out approach to dealing with the tidal wave of opposition that will roll over any plan incorporating these higher percentages of affordable housing? There isn't one. She basically assumes that residents will just pass her unrealistic plan.
How about Julie Thunder? Does she have any ideas for how to untangle this ugly dynamic that will pit residents against each other? Nope. She's silent on this point.
We've already seen what happens to housing plans that are opposed by motivated special interest groups and supported by nobody. That's pretty much the story of Measure T in 2016 and Measure U in 2018. Those housing plans were unpopular compromises that pleased no-one and were fought by several special interest groups. They failed at the ballot box.
Any Thunder-Turney plan with a high percentage of affordable housing will be destroyed at the ballot box. And that will happen again and again, which means that the city will be out of compliance with state law... and we'll be sued. We'll pay millions of dollars in legal fees. We'll lose out on grants. We'll ultimately inevitably lose the lawsuits and the state will dictate our housing plan.
Some people have insisted that we offer up city property like parcel L-7 to solve the first of the two problems mentioned above (property owner opposition). However, there is only so much city property. And even the parcels that we have don't solve the problem with energized neighbors and communities. In a perfect example of the neighborhood dynamic described above, parcel L-7 was proposed for Measure U and then removed because of a storm of opposition from neighbors who showed up to the City Council en masse and threatened to organize and defeat Measure U and then work to push the Council out of office.
The good news is that T and U didn't lose by much. So there is hope that we can still find a balance of all interests - with everyone at the table. We got close the last two times. Let's keep trying to work towards a plan that can pass a Prop A vote and serve all interests. And let's lean into smart, experienced, and pragmatic leadership while we solve this very complex problem.
Mayor Blakespear and the current Council are best positioned to finally untangle this knot for us.
TWO FINAL NOTES
First, Julie Thunder and Susan Turney are using fake statistics to support their unrealistic proposals.
Thunder and Turney keep quoting examples of high affordable housing requirements for other cities around California to give support to the idea that their radical approach to disenfranchising property owners can actually work. However, they're quoting fake statistics.
For example, they cite Los Gatos as having a 50% affordable housing requirement - which is just wildly wrong. Los Gatos has a sliding scale from 10% to 20% depending on project size... and averages out to a weighted 15% or so, which is what Encinitas is working towards in its current plans.
Their other examples include Capitola, cited at 25%. In reality, Capitola has a sliding scale from 0 to 15%.
Second, Thunder and Turney both continue to make the absurd claim that Encinitas sued its residents in connection with the Prop A litigation, which is also wildly misleading. It's just crazy to keep making that claim. Several weeks ago we offered $1,000 to any legitimate charity in the name of the first Encinitas resident who can prove they were sued by the city. We got no takers.
We're upping the charitable contribution to $2,500 for the first resident who can show they were named or served in connection with the supposed Prop A lawsuit against residents. We're confident there will be no takers this time either.
Thunder and Turney don't hesitate to cite fake statistics and make false claims. Why would you believe they can solve the most complex land use problem facing Encinitas? Actually, they can't. All they'll do is keep us in lawsuit hell.
Re-elect Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Council member Kellie Hinze, and Council member Tony Kranz.