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Encinitas General Plan Strictly Limits Growth

Times Staff Writer

Culminating nearly two years of debate and scores of hearings, the Encinitas City Council on Wednesday adopted the fledgling municipality’s first general plan, an ambitious blueprint for the future that includes strict limits on growth.

The council approved the plan on a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Gail Hano dissenting because of her opposition to the slow-growth provisions of the document.

Mayor Anne Omsted said adoption of the plan marks “a milestone in city history,” but echoed Hano’s concerns about the tough controls on growth.

200 Units Annually

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Omsted expressed hope after the meeting that the council could work together in the coming months to hammer out less restrictive slow-growth measures acceptable to all factions in the city, which incorporated in 1986 on a wave of anti-development sentiment.

Aside from dramatically reducing projected housing densities from the days of county rule, the new general plan includes a cap on housing construction of about 200 units annually and requires voter approval for significant changes in land use or for density increases.

Taken in total, the density reductions would allow a population of 65,000 at buildout, contrasted with an eventual population of 75,000 under the old county land-use plans.

City officials say adoption of the plan represents a significant symbolic step for Encinitas, the final act in throwing off the yoke of county rule.

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“I almost feel choked up thinking of all the things we requested for so many years, all of them finally being put into one general plan,” Councilwoman Marjorie Gaines said before the meeting.

Acting as a sort of municipal constitution, the plan embodies a wide range of rules and standards for development, among them tighter grading restrictions, tougher landscaping requirements, strict design reviews and regulations to better protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Effort for Migrants

Although city officials were bullish on the new general plan, critics remained to the end. In particular, advocates of more low-income housing for migrant workers mounted a last-ditch effort to alter the plan.

During the past year, migrants camping out in the hills around Encinitas have come under increasing pressure from local authorities eager to see them uprooted.

Advocates for the immigrants argue that the city’s new plan is a barrier to the construction of affordable housing for those displaced from their simple homes of scrap lumber and plastic sheeting in the squalid migrant encampments.

Officials with California Rural Legal Assistance, a group that aids the impoverished migrants, wrote letters to the city and state in an effort to argue their case.

“This plan is stunningly exclusionary,” Claudia Smith, regional counsel for California Rural Legal Assistance, said in an interview before the meeting. “It makes Newport Beach look good. Encinitas officials don’t want poor immigrant workers in any way, shape or form, and this general plan is the proof in the pudding.”

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Smith protested an effort by the city to get a one-year extension on Friday’s deadline for adopting the general plan. Under state law, cities have 30 months after incorporation to approve a general plan, but Encinitas is seeking to extend its deadline until next year to immunize its land-use plan from legal challenges while authorities tinker with the document.

Considered Suing

Smith characterized the city’s request as “a transparent attempt to foil litigation for a year.” Her group has considered suing the city because of concerns about the plan’s effect on low-income housing.

If the state grants the one-year extension, Smith said, the city should be allowed to approve construction of large projects consisting of 10 or more units only if 25% of the homes are set aside as affordable housing.

City Manager Warren Shafer agreed that the city wants the time extension as a safeguard against litigation.

But he said officials are wary of legal challenges simply because the general plan is still scheduled for review by the state Coastal Commission, which could order changes in the document. Moreover, city planners will continue to work on zoning provisions of the plan during the coming year. A lawsuit or two would only complicate either process, Shafer said.

Although a suit over the migrant issue could loom, city officials contend that their greatest concern is a legal challenge by developers.

“Basically, we’re just trying to avoid unnecessary litigation and expense,” Shafer said, noting that officials hope to have the city’s plan before the Coastal Commission for review in the next few months.

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