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California attorney general right to push for more housing

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For years, the California Legislature has passed laws meant to make it easier to add housing and to require local governments to permit and promote such housing. Now state Attorney General Rob Bonta is taking decisive steps against the city of Encinitas to pressure it to approve a modified version of a proposal it rejected last year, the 277-unit Encinitas Boulevard Apartments, 41 of which would be for low-income people. In taking an interest, Bonta noted the median home price in Encinitas is $1.67 million, more than double the figure statewide.

In a letter to Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, state Deputy Attorney General Matthew Struhar wrote, “We urge the city to take prompt action to consider and approve the revised project if and when a new application is submitted. If the city fails to do so, the attorney general is prepared to take immediate steps to hold the city accountable.”

This isn’t the first time the state Attorney General’s Office has targeted a city for not meeting housing obligations. In 2019, at the behest of Gov. Gavin Newsom, then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued Huntington Beach over its failure to add affordable housing — the first such lawsuit in state history. The city also sued the state over its requirements. The state settled its lawsuit in 2020 after city concessions, and the city lost its lawsuit in 2021. But Huntington Beach continues to have an “acute” housing shortage, and its leaders make grudging remarks that show the issue is not a high priority.

Encinitas must do better. Blakespear’s initial response struck the right tone. “Less than one year after getting state approval for the city’s housing plan, the city has approved more than half of the city’s total assigned goal for the next eight years,” she told a reporter on Thursday. “We are aware of state housing laws and working diligently to stay in compliance with them.”

But like all cities, especially coastal ones, Encinitas has a large, loud group of homeowners with NIMBY views. The community group Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development, which says it has a mailing list of more than 1,300 Encinitas and neighboring community residents, thinks state edicts are “disastrous.” The much bigger disaster is how housing is so costly that it forces so many California adults with six-figure incomes to live paycheck to paycheck and so many parents to worry that their children won’t be able to afford a home in the state. Realtor.com actually lists the current median price of a home in Encinitas at $1.8 million. Good for Bonta for appreciating the situation there.